Tuesday 31 August 2021

Fighting the Mouse

Why, look! It’s a sort-of familiar mouse watching the champ work out in time to the music in The Big Cheese, a 1930 Van Beuren cartoon.

The champ smacks a punching ball, then does the same thing to “Mickey’s” head. The head spins around and becomes a phonograph record. The champ puts the mouse’s tail on the record, and music comes out. The mouse sways in time to the hot clarinet jazz. The champ has a good laugh.

The mouse’s head spins back into its normal shape. The dizzy mouse staggers out of the scene.

Actually, Mickey the mouse isn’t done yet, but we’ll save that scene for another time.

The Exhibitors Daily Review of November 5, 1930 said: "There are some tough guys in this one — square-jawed eggs that might have been reared in the stockyards district of Al Capone’s bailiwick. Tough is no name for ’em. They’re animated cartoons but, tough just the same — and funny, and well done and all that sort of thing. They’re a prize fight, too. A good number."

The cartoon was part a Van Beuren fest on the Great White Way, judging by this story in the Review, December 12, 1930. What’s really cool is these 90-year-old cartoons are (at last check) all available to watch on-line. I’ll bet Harry Bailey and John Foster never thought their work would be seen today. I still love Gypped in Egypt and its goofy-looking camel and angry sphinxes, while Hot Tamale has some good timing and what looks like Jim Tyer wobbly-eye animation.

Monday 30 August 2021

The Old Ball Game

“Let’s see you drive it right down my throat,” says Foghorn Leghorn to Widder Hen’s brainiac son in an attempt to get him to hit a baseball.

Well, he does. (You knew it was coming.) Some random frames by Rod Scribner.

Herman Cohen, Phil De Lara and Chuck McKimson also animate Little Boy Boo, a 1954 Looney Tune from the Bob McKimson unit. Tedd Pierce wrote the story.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Ed Asner

Ed Asner was irascible. Lou Grant was irascible. Maybe that’s why Asner will always be associated with the newsman he played on TV for a dozen years.

No doubt being Lou Grant would have pleased Asner’s mother. Asner appeared in all kinds of dramatic TV shows in the ‘60s—The Defenders, The Naked City, The Untouchables, Run For Your Life and Gunsmoke are part of a long list. He was in the John Wayne movie El Dorado. This prompted the following report in the Kansas City Times of January 17, 1966: “Edward’s mother, Mrs Morris Asner of 1840 Oakland avenue, Kansas City, Kansas, who is 84 years old, can’t understand why her son always gets killed.”

All that changed in 1970 when he began a seven-year run as the TV news director version of Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Only Chuckles the Clown got killed on that show. Lou, however, got killed off by CBS after five years as the title character of a TV drama; Asner always insisted it was because of his very public activism surrounding the Reagan administration’s policies about El Salvador and other issues.

Asner was a 1947 graduate of Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas. He signed up for the Korean War in 1951 but two years later was performing for the Playwrights Theatre Club in Chicago (including Shakespeare). He decided to try his luck in New York in 1955, made his TV debut on April 29, 1956 on WCBS-TV’s Camera Three, and continued his stage work Off-Broadway for several years before taking a chance at Hollywood.

Print reporters must have loved Lou Grant. Surely many of them must have worked for a grumpy editor with a bottle in a desk drawer. Not many months after The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted, there was a flurry of newspaper articles about Asner. Several used the word “gruff” to describe his character but hastened to say Asner was no Lou Grant (Vernon Scott of United Press International went into lengths about what his wife Nancy cooked for him). This article is from December 5, 1970.

A Gruff Fellow He Isn't
Gannett News Service

BEVERLY HILLS — What a gruff-looking fellow this Edward Asner is! And what a gruff fellow he isn’t.
Asner, who plays Mary Tyler Moore's boss on CBS’ comedy winner, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” is thoroughly irascible on the series.
But get him away from that part he plays, like into the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel for brunch, and it’s a whole new ballgame. Asner is a pleasant, articulate man who seems to be just beginning to sort out what it means to be a major part of a successful new television outing.
For one thing, Asner is doing something that he hasn’t done much of in an acting career that takes him back to his college days at the University of Chicago. That’s playing comedy.
Asner has been known for heavy roles. Not tough guys, but heavy dramatic things in plays by people like Shakespeare, Shaw and Yeats and in vehicles like “Murder in the Cathedral,” “Oedipus Rex,” “Purgatory,” and “Antigone.”
“I had done comedy on the stage, but I was more interested in casting myself in the heroic image. As the No. 2 man, a heroic character man.”
But some people talked him into this try at full-time comedy and we may have an ex-dramatic actor on our hands.
“Five years from now, people will say, ‘I didn’t know he could play dramatic parts.’”
Asner is delighted with the show.
“I think we’ve got staying power. We have a most fascinating collection of nuts to build a show on. It has been such a shot in the arm for me. The catalyst for all is Mary. She’s our sparkplug.
“People operate in different ways. Some could surround themself with half-asses so they’d look radiant and glorious. But when you have talent in depth, it’s continually a stimulus. Although I may be subject to petty jealousies, I thank God we have everybody we have on the show. We jive together.”
Things have not always been so rosy for Ed Asner.
“They needed to prod me out of the encrustations of the past 10 years.”
After his University of Chicago acting experience, including a performance in a play which was Mike Nichols’ first attempt at directing, Asner quit school and tried to figure out how to become an actor while waiting for the army to grab him up. He worked as a hooker-helper at Open Hearth No. 1 in a steel mill in Gary, Ind., then went to an auto plant in Chicago, each time getting bored with the job.
“All of which fortified my desire to be an actor even more.”
The Army came and he went to France for two years and wound up managing a basketball team. Back in Chicago, he spent a couple of years with the Playwright’s Theatre Club and then decided to see what he could do in New York.
There were some bad experiences, but in 1956 things started happening and before he left New York a few years later, he had appeared with Jack Lemmon on Broadway in “Face of a Hero,” in many off Broadway works, including “Three Penny Opera,” in Shakespeare festivals and in stock.
“I always figured I’d become a star on Broadway and be flown to California in a private jet.”
It didn’t exactly work out that way. He had done a “Naked City” episode in New York and they wanted to repeat the role in another segment. He had to come to California to do the part the second time.
He had intended to go back to New York when he was done. But people encouraged him to look for work in Hollywood. He did. Since 1961 he has been in movies and a number of dramatic television series.
“And here we are in the Polo Lounge.”
He lives in Bel Air now with his wife, their seven-year-old twins, and a three-year-old daughter. He desciibes the character he plays as an “irrascible curmudgeon,” which is what somebody called him one time.
“He’s brusque and he has a lot of drive. It’s part of the heart of gold bit. He loves people, but he tries not to let them see it. He loves his work. I love my work now and that makes a big difference.”

Fame and popularity emboldened Asner to speak out on political issues that concerned him. He was part of a group that toppled the leadership of Screen Actors Guild under Bill Schallert, best known as the dad on The Patty Duke Show (in an odd twist, Duke replaced him).

The Boston Globe ran a feature piece on Asner after he visited Harvard in 1983. Print reporters found Asner a willing interview subject on a variety of issues—including the cancellation of his TV show. Asner had successfully turned his comedic character into a dramatic one with new supporting characters in an hour-long format; one that I believe avoided any mention of Mary’s gang at WJM-TV. A paragraph has been inserted that ran in syndication but not in the original Globe story of October 24, 1983.

Ed Asner remains bitter about show cancellation
Boston Globe

Independent Press Service
BOSTON — The first thing to remember about Ed Asner is that he is not Lou Grant. The second thing to remember about Ed Asner is that he remains extremely bitter about not being Lou Grant.
But first things first. In the hours if not days before meeting Asner at Harvard recently, the interviewer was constantly prodding himself, "Whatever you do, don't say, 'Hi, Lou.' "
Asner spent six days at Harvard as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Politics. At a dinner before Asner's speech on "Television as Public Policy," the interviewer was gratified to find that many of the 30 or 40 other guests were equally on guard. Unfortunately, one Harvard Business School professor had done less than sufficient homework. He shook Asner's hand and said, "Glad to meet you, Ed . . . er, excuse me, Lou."
Actually, the difference between Ed Asner and Lou Grant is rather profound. At 54, the actor seems about 10 years older, 20 pounds heavier and 50 IQ points brighter than the actee. If the city editor of the Tribune said whatever came to his mind as fast as it came to his mind, the president of the Screen Actors Guild paused after every question, formulated his answer and carefully articulated each word of each response.
At times, Asner seemed almost professorial. Perhaps it was the Harvardian atmosphere, perhaps it was the controversial quotations or as he says, misquotations of the past.
But no, Ed Asner is not Lou Grant. Nevertheless, he continues to charge CBS with canceling the program in September 1982 for political reasons, rather than for ratings' slippage, which was the network's stated rationale for ending home delivery of the Los Angeles Tribune.
"I condemn the network for giving in to the pressure of the far-right boycott before it went into effect. . . . The vice president of CBS went to great lengths to explain to me why the program was canceled. Whatever the reason, by canceling it when they did, they gave the victory to the boycotters."
Why was it so important for Lou Grant to continue after five years?
"There were two losses. A show about journalism had been created that had great reality to it. Within that framework, issues were raised that dealt with our lives, and deaths, that no other show could deal with," he said.
"Second, it tended to keep other performers from exercising their First Amendment rights on speaking out about the president's Latin American policies.
Both Ed Asner and Lou Grant are (or in the latter case, were) professionals who are (were) willing to bear some of the world's heavier burdens on their shoulders. While the city editor veered away from the ideological, the union president does not. In case you hadn't guessed, Asner's ideology tends to be of the liberal persuasion.
"I can remember how frustrated I was with the incursions into the Dominican Republic under Johnson, the missiles in Cuba, the advisers in Vietnam. Wanting to succeed as an actor, I kept my mouth shut. When I did speak out, I made sure to speak out on an issue (medical aid to Latin America) that no one else was speaking out on. I succeeded all too well."
Even when the suggestion is made that after 12 years of playing Lou Grant (seven years on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, five on Lou Grant) it might be something of a blessing, that he can take his career in other directions now, Asner will have none of it. He speaks not only with pride of the other parts he's played (he won Emmys for Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots), but also with longing for Lou (he won Emmys for the part on both shows).
Although Asner was elated that CBS had decided to give the show that took the place of Lou Grant another shot, he admits that "I never saw Cagney and Lacey. I caught pieces of two shows. There was certainly not any bitterness toward the show, but yeah, there was plenty of bitterness about the time slot.
"One of the cable companies offered us a final show of two hours, but the producers said 'No,' and I certainly agree with that judgment." Still, if a cable service had engineered a continuing series for "Lou Grant" as Showtime had for "Paper Chase" or Cinemax for "SCTV," Asner says "I would have examined and considered. Certainly. . . . "Paper Chase" was not an expensive show so they could get it onto cable and create their world anew far more cheaply than Lou Grant.' "
Perhaps though, it's not the inability to create Lou Grant anew as the inability for Asner to create himself anew that seemed to eat at his soul whenever the subject was brought up at the dinner, the speech or the later interview.
For while Ed Asner is more politicized, articulate and intelligent than Lou Grant, he gives the overriding impression that there is an Ed Asner who would rather loosen his tie and roll up his sleeves than dress up for an appearance at Harvard, who would rather "speak first and regret later" than carefully formulate his answers and who would rather indulge in earthy conversation at a neighborhood bar than submit to yet another interview in yet another academic conference room.
Lou Grant, the TV show, and, Lou Grant, the character, gave him those outlets, at least vicariously, and if Asner has reason to be bitter about CBS' cowardice (be it economic or political), the Moral Majority and the program's sponsors, he may also have reason to be bitter that CBS may have taken a little of the Lou Grant swagger out of the life of Ed Asner.

Asner picked up regular roles in a few forgotten series—does anyone remember Off the Rack or MTM’s The Trials of Rosie O’Neill or Hearts Afire?— and a number of animated cartoon shows and, in fact, worked steadily into his 80s. But I suspect most TV viewers will remember him as the news director who hated spu— well, I told myself I wouldn’t use the word in this post. You’ll see it everywhere else.

Listen, Mac!

Jack Benny hired many of the top secondary players in radio—Bea Benaderet, Mel Blanc, Sara Berner, Joe Kearns, Frank Nelson, Elvia Allman, Blanche Stewart, among them—to play a variety of characters. All of them were radio veterans. But he hired someone in the 1950s for his radio show whose career had been mainly in feature films.

In a wonderful choice of casting, he brought in Iris Adrian to play the part of a loud, tough-broad waitress. She was perfect.

That’s probably because Adrian was close to that in real life. She was a show girl, for Flo Ziegfeld no less. Maybe not hard-bitten, but she could handle herself in a world where not all patrons of Broadway were legitimate businessmen.

Benny had a “sisters” act that had toured with him since the mid-‘30s; Blanche Stewart and Mary Kelly were originally part of this lousy singing trio. Jack kept resurrecting it for road shows and television, and Adrian became part of it.

Here’s a North American Newspaper Alliance story where Adrian talks about working with Benny. By then, she had become ensconced in the Wonderful World of Disney, not exactly a place you’d find someone who had hobnobbed with underworld figures in the Depression. This appeared in papers of June 22, 1969.

Jack Benny Still Awes Co-Worker Iris Adrian
NEW YORK (NANA)—You may not be able to put a name to the pert, lively face, but most Americans have seen it many times in movies (she's made 250) and on the Jack Benny show. It belongs to Iris Adrian.
"I've worked with Jack for 20 years in radio, TV and nightclubs," she said. "I'm still in awe of him. He once said to me. You're so uncomfortable with me, you make me nervous. Can't you stop thinking of me as a TV star? Can’t you think of me as a jerk?'"
In most of her movies, Miss Adrian is the blonde stereotype, wisecracking, hard-boiled and heart-of-gold. She acts another in the new Walt Disney production, "The Love Bug," with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett.
“I play an old beat up car-hop,” she said. "It's my second picture for Disney and I love to work there. The atmosphere is different from any other studio. They hire the cream of the world."
Back to Benny:
"JACK LOOKS better now than he did when I first met him. He's amazing. I do a nightclub act with him that we've done all over the world since 1952. It's never changed and we never get it right but whatever he does is funny.
"I still don't know whether he's tight or not. There are two other girls in the act and not long ago he handed me $20 and told me to take them to lunch 'and bring back the change.' Was he serious, do you think?"
Miss Adrian doesn't exactly throw her money around.
"For years I've put money into houses and land in California. It's not how much you make that counts, it's what you do with it. I've played little bits and big bits and a few second leads in pictures, so I never made any thing but chicken feed—but didn't have any chickens.
"When hear about actors who made big money being broke, it burns me up. It's just stupid."
SINCE 1950, she has been married to Fido Murphy, strategist for the Chicago Bears. He's her fourth husband.
"Football is a very big business and you play it on paper first," she explained. “This is the biggest thing in the world to him. If a guy puts on four pounds Fido has a fit. If a guy wants to get married, Fido says, 'we don't want any lover on our team. You wouldn't believe it.”
“Fido played football at about 18,000 colleges. Wherever there was a weak team, they'd send for him.”
Born in Santa Monica, Miss Adrian came to New York at 15, trailing several beauty contest titles. She was in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931, last of the woman-glorifying extravaganzas produced by Florenz Ziegfeld.
"ZIEGFELD SAW ME in another show and sent for me. He's supposed to have had my legs insured for a million dollars but of course he never did. I was in the chorus; Mary Carroll and I split center. Once in a while he would put us on an elephant.
"The girls were beautiful. Young girls are always beautiful. When you grow older you may be beautiful in another way but you don't attract the gangsters any more."

There’s another mention of Jack Benny in this interview with Adrian, published in the Desert Sun, April 9, 1979.

Iris Adrian With the Perfect Back

HOLLYWOOD—When Iris Adrian was 13, she won a "perfect back" contest ("Not a perfect front," she deplores) which set her on the path to show biz.
Her march toward the stage and screen was encouraged when her mother couldn't pay the utilities bill.
"One night I was doing my homework, and they turned off the electricity," Iris recollects. "So my mother said, ‘You have to get a job.’"
Quickly, in 1929, Miss Adrian got a job at Paramount studios, where a girl with a back like hers was appreciated.
She's worked much of the time over since handling a variety of assignments which she remembers with zest.
"I understudied Dorothy Lee in 'Rah Rah Days' with Fred Waring on the stage," she tells, recollecting one phase of her career.
"Dorothy was madly in love with Fred. She was hoping he'd marry her, but I don't think, he ever did. Anyway, when she left the show, I replaced her." To continue:
"Ziegfeld sent for me for the Follies of 1931 and put me under a five-year contract.
"Harry Richmond [sic] was in the Follies and asked me to go out on his boat. He was the cutest thing! "But I was young, and my mother wouldn't let me go.
"I was so mad I said, 'Mother, you never will let me do anything. You are ruining my life.'
"I argued, but she still wouldn't let me go, so a girl named Helen Walsh went, and while she was on the boat, it exploded, killing her."
Adrian says she literally danced nationwide, doing the rumba from coast to coast with George Raft who'd seen her in a restaurant and liked her style.
"I danced with him clear across the country," she says, "and the studio wanted to cast me as the lead in his picture, 'Rhumba.'
"But he said, 'Hell, no. I want Carol Lombard.'"
During another phase of her career, Iris recalls that she "played the Palladium in 1933 and went all over Europe with a knife-throwing act."
She also toured extensively with Jack Benny, who threw jokes rather than knives, and who was, she recalls, "a serious, lovely man."
"He used to say, ‘We're all miracles. But what happens when we die?’
"I miss Jack so much. He'd call and say. 'We've got a job,' and off we'd go.
"Jack was a serious man who loved humor."
Iris has been married for years to "Fido" Murphy, former football star and later a consultant for the Chicago Bears who was given his canine nickname by the late Grantland Rice.
They first met at the Gay '90s Club when Iris walked up to Fido's table and announced, "You look important," adding. "Are you a gangster?"
"No," he said. "Call me for breakfast."
They’ve been breakfasting together almost ever since.
Occasionally, Iris has attempted retirement but without much success.
"They called me and asked me to do 'Bustin' Loose,'" she relates, "and then they sent me the script by mistake.
"I thought about staying retired, by [but] my husband asked, ‘What are you going to do? Spend the rest of your life going to lunch?’"
The question decided Iris that she preferred work to leisure.
Within relatively recent years, she's worked in eight Disney films; though she declares, “Working for Disney is like not working!”

Iris Adrian Hostetter died September 17, 1994 from injuries she suffered during the Northridge Earthquake in January. She was 82.

Saturday 28 August 2021

How To Make a Van Beuren Cartoon

Sound cartoons were still reasonably new in 1930 and—thanks to a Mr. W. Disney and a mouse—were getting a fair bit of publicity.

Popular Mechanics decided to satisfy the curiosity of its readers by explaining and showing how the cartoons were made now that characters talked, sang and played musical instruments on screen.

This story appeared in its edition of September 1930.

Mr. W. Disney and a mouse don’t appear in this article. Instead, it focuses on the Van Beuren studio, which had made the transition from silent Aesop’s Fables to sound ones.

The pictures accompanying the story are more interesting than the text to me, and it’s truly unfortunate the photo scans are of such low resolution that you can’t make out details through the murk. Also unfortunate is that no one in any of the pictures is identified. I’d love to see a bigger, clearer shot of the cartoon studio itself. Oh where, oh where, did Van Beuren’s photo files go? The picture to the right shows a background drawing from Jungle Jazz starring Don and Waffles. It’s another one of those really warped early Van Beurens with zooming heads, weird character designs, skeletons (okay, a skull) and that swirling fear animation the studio loved doing.

The makeshift sound room where the effects are made is fascinating, even if it’s blurry. With the mike in mid-studio, I wonder if the dialogue was recorded at the same time. Until Cubby Bear came along, most cartoons seem to have the same one or two people voicing everything. Anyway, you can click on the pictures to make them larger, but not clearer.

BETWEEN ten and twenty thousand penciled drawings, including no exact duplicates, are sketched on separate sheets of translucent tissue paper by a staff of fifteen artist-animators, to serve as the basis of a single Aesop’s sound fable, animated talkie cartoon.
In addition to this prodigious task, every single one of those drawings must then be traced from the tissue to a sheet of celluloid of the same size, which is conveniently handled on an ordinary drawing board. Twenty-five artists, who are called “tracers,” are engaged in this work on one cartoon.
These “cells” are then used by the photographers to make the movie film, which is accompanied by music from a twenty-five piece orchestra and by numerous supplementary sounds which the “effects men” produce. The photographers make the pictures of the cells by photographing them, one at a time, with a special camera, so that, when the resulting reel is run off, there is an optical illusion of movement, because the pictures are changed so rapidly as to deceive the eye.
So, altogether, nearly one hundred experts combine their art and skill to produce one of these amusing little fables. The staff is reported to be three times the number required to make a silent animated cartoon. It requires three times as much time, too, to make a sound cartoon as it does to produce a silent one
This new sound cartoon may be compared to the ancient puppet play in that inanimate persons and animals occupy the stage, walking, talking, singing, laughing, sighing, eating, drinking, and in other ways sustaining interest of the audience. To see how the wheels go around in the puppet play, it is necessary to go backstage. Also, it is behind the scenes that a spectator must look to view and understand unseen human forces which are combined to produce a modern sound cartoon.
In viewing a sound cartoon, the talkie audience sees no sign of human activity, yet back of it all is the harmonious cooperation of almost one hundred actors. It starts with an idea. This idea is someone’s suggestion about a possible plot. In the studio in a New York skyscraper, fifteen artists sit at drawing boards and rapidly sketch on tissue paper. They make arms and legs and funny faces and folks and animals and barns, and all sorts of seemingly unrelated things. They are visualizing various ideas of the artist-animators and other members of the staff. For several days conferences are held every morning between the artists and the musical director and the “song and dance man.” You see, everything must be in time with the music. The characters that dance must be given steps that are not merely a jumble of hops and jumps, and funny “gags” must be enhanced by the music.
After many thousands of penciled drawings have been completed and approved, they are handed to the tracers, who transfer them from the tissue to celluloid sheets. The completed drawings are then numbered by the supervising artist, and the number of photographic exposures to register the desired action is made. Sixteen pictures or frames are made per second by the ordinary motion-picture camera, but the cameras that are used in photographing sound cartoons are so arranged that only one frame or picture is taken with each turn of the camera crank. The cameras are so designed that the operator merely pushes a pedal to turn the handle which brings about an exposure. Between 10,000 and 20,000 sheets of celluloid drawings are handed over to the photographers. A background is placed under the lens of the camera. The cell is fitted onto two pegs that protrude from the camera table. The camera is poised above the cameraman and is directed downward to the pictures on the table. A schedule of what cells should be put together to make a completed picture hangs in front of him.
Suppose the scene shows Henry Cat emulating Robin Hood shooting an arrow into the air. Sherwood forest is pictured on the “setting sheet” or painted background. This drawing is placed under a frame directly beneath the camera, which is focused from overhead. A cell, bearing a drawing of Henry standing is superimposed over the background. This shows Henry in a natural position for archery except the arms, bow and arrow are missing. On a second or third sheet of celluloid these members appear. The extra sheet or sheets being placed atop the background and the first cell, the complete picture is photographed. To show the cat shooting the arrow, the arms are made to draw back the arrow on the string by substituting various sheets that contain drawings of the arms and bow and arrow in stages of progressive movement.
The next step is to synchronize the picture. The scene shifts to a sound studio. Here, in front of a motion-picture screen, is seated an orchestra of twenty-five musicians. These men have their backs to the screen and face their director. A few feet from the orchestra is a long table upon which there are scores of all sorts of odd instruments and gadgets. These things are to be used by the three effects men who are behind the table.
At a signal, the lights of the studio are turned out. The animated cartoon is flashed upon the screen. As the main title appears, the conductor waves his baton and starts to lead his musicians through the picture, keeping perfect time with the action, antics and dances of the characters exactly as he planned to do when the picture was first discussed in conferences. The effects men watch alertly for those spots in the film where effects are needed.
Five times the orchestra and the effects men rehearse with a complete showing of the film. Then the final “take” is made for showing throughout the world.

Friday 27 August 2021

Jelly and Eels

Who dreams about jellyfish that come out of a jelly jar?

Betty Boop does. Or at least whoever wrote Betty Boop’s Life Guard (1934).

Betty passes out in the sea and dreams of being a mermaid, wondering why she’s not being rescued by Freddy, the aforementioned life guard. The sea creatures sing a little song “Where’s Freddy?” The jellyfish are among them; when they say the “dy” in “Freddy,” they shake like, well, jelly.

We have non-singing, but happy eels swaying and giving off electricity to the music. They turn into electric lights, too.

I’m afraid this isn’t one of Betty’s better efforts, even with lobsters acting like a rowing team. And despite a barrel chest, Freddy looks like he’s just been to the beauty parlour, and would be more interested in Popeye than Betty.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Not the Jetsons

Hanna-Barbera always knew a good idea when they saw it.

Magazines like Popular Science speculated on technology and life in the future. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 and Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 focused on The World of Tomorrow. There was so much looking at how inventions would make things easier for us in the far-off world of, say, 1970 that Tex Avery spoofed it in his “Tomorrow” trio of cartoons.

All this found its way into The Jetsons in 1962. Staffers brought copies of various “future” magazine articles for design inspiration. Seattle’s Space Needle seems to have provided an idea or two to the artists.

There was another cartoon that looked at the Wondrous World Ahead. Your Safety First was a 1956 industrial short produced by the John Sutherland studio which speculated about what life would be like in the year 2000.

The cartoon starts with the main character at the office, his feet up on his desk, reading the Futureville Press. It’s on paper, but a special kind of paper. A headline scrolls across like a ticker on a building outside Times Square.

In 2000, there are peaceful Martians with a far-advanced version of the A bomb.

He turns the page. The ad for the steak gives off a meat aroma, while another for a women’s clothing place has a model turning to display her dress.

The next page brings an ad for new cars with Jetson-like bubble tops. The idea wasn't new. Popular Science showed off a bubble-top racer in its January 1952 edition.

Layout artists Gerry Nevius and Charles McElmurry may have been responsible for the designs. The director of the cartoon was former MGMer George Gordon. The writer was Norman Wright, who went from Disney to his own studio in the late 40s into the early 60s, so he must have done this on the side. As a side note, Wright produced an animated version of the 1952 book Hoppy, the Curious Kangaroo. Has anyone seen it?

The animation is by Cal Dalton, Ken O’Brien, George Cannata and Fred Madison, who became head of the Screen Cartoonists Guild a year later. And while the lead character here sounds like George Jetson, George O’Hanlon insisted he never acted in cartoons until The Jetsons. If you listen closely, especially after the first line, the man is voiced by Marvin Miller, doing a voice similar to his Captain Cosmic heard that same year in the Sutherland short Destination Earth.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Hands of Burns

They survived 30-plus years of vaudeville, radio and television, and their act broke up solely because Gracie Allen wanted to retire.

Even then, George Burns took rest of the cast of The Burns and Allen Show into a new TV sitcom, which failed miserably.

On camera, Gracie did most of the talking. Off camera, it was a different story. Burns bent the ears of all kinds of reporters, talking about Gracie, the old days, his singing, Jack Benny and, eventually, his age.

The two were featured several times on the cover of TV Guide. George does all the talking in its edition on November 6, 1954. It’s an unusual subject—Burns regales the reader with the importance of hands for a comedian. Burns, of course, was never without his cigar, and he explains why.

Hands Tell The (Funny) Story
With TV spilling entertainment all over the living room rug and at times breeding the contempt of familiarity, it’s the rare viewer who doesn’t pride himself on being able to spot a phony actor from the genuine article.
What the viewer doesn’t realize, however, is just what makes the difference. “Watch a fighter’s feet,” the boxing experts will tell you. “Keep your eye on the line,” is the cry from the football people. Theater experts say: “Watch his hands.”
George Burns, a working craftsman who would rather talk show business than eat, but who nevertheless manages to eat very well, is particularly eloquent on the subject of hands.
“An actor’s hands,” says Mr. Burns, waving his own delicately through the air, “become important only when they are unimportant. When an actor has nothing specific to do with his hands, what to do with them becomes increasingly important.”
The subject arose when someone noted that Burns himself never appeared before an audience without a freshly lighted cigar. “I would be lost without that cigar,” Burns explains. “It is many things to me—a prop, a crutch, a straight man, a timing device. It’s also,” he adds thoughtfully, “a good smoke.”
In Burns’ view, “good hands” are as vital to an actor as a good voice or a good sense of timing. They become particularly significant to the stand-up comic who does nothing but tell jokes and who has no straight man for “bouncing” purposes.

That,” says George, “is where a comic’s hands must become his straight man. Jack Benny, you will notice, will tell a joke and then deliberately fold his arms. He is bouncing the joke off the folded arms. More accurately, he is bouncing the joke off the time it takes to fold the arms. In that time, the audience hears, digests, interprets, understands and finally reacts to the joke. Of course, if it’s not a good joke, he’s in trouble.”
Burns is inclined to miss the good old days of radio when actors emoted from the neck up, their hands firmly anchored to their scripts. He recalls gleefully the time producer Max Gordon issued a casting call for a new Broadway play. A number of radio actors turned up and Gordon was amazed at the facility with which they read. “Radio actors, of course,” Burns explains, “are the best readers in the business and Gordon was so impressed that he hired every one of them on the spot. He died on opening night in New Haven, however. The radio actors kept walking around the stage sort of holding their hands at half mast, clutching thin air where they were so accustomed to clutching their scripts.”
Without professing to lay down anything even approaching a Burns’ Law on the subject, it is the comedian’s offhand opinion that Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar possess the best hands in the business today among the comedians. “You can’t stop and recall ever having seen them. Their hands, that is. They know how to use them. Without props.”

Burns reserves the accolade, however, for his wife, Gracie Allen. “She never does the same thing twice,” he says, “which is remarkable. Watch an actor in rehearsal the first time. If he picks up a glass with his left hand, that’s the way he’ll do it every time. Gracie will change from performance to performance. Says it keeps her from getting in a rut. Yet you’re never aware of her hands.”
Burns’ own trademark, the cigar, has long since become a habit he couldn’t break if he wanted to. He uses as many as 40 cigars on a shooting day and has been singled out by the American Cigar Institute as a “clean cigar smoker.” “I’m not sure,” he says, “whether it’s because I never spill ashes all over the place or because I never play a gangster.”

If you can’t guess who Burns is imitating, from left to right: Jackie Gleason, Eddie Cantor, Sid Caesar, Red Skelton.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Ding Dog Dud

There are times when Pinto Colvig’s Goofy voice is funny in other cartoons. Little Rural Riding Hood comes to mind. Ding Dog Daddy doesn’t.

It’s a 1942 cartoon by the Freleng unit at Warner Bros. Colvig plays a dog who is so stupid, he can’t figure out a metal statue of a dog isn’t a real female dog. Even after “Daisy” has been scrapped and turned into a bombshell for the war effort, the Colvig dog still thinks of it as real somehow.

That’s just too stupid for my tastes.

Here are some frames of a scene where the dog kisses the statue, which is hit by (and conducts) lightning.

The story is by Tedd Pierce. He and Colvig were both at the Fleischer studio in Miami; Pierce returned to the Leon Schlesinger studio on June 26, 1941. Gerry Chiniquy was given the animation credit, while Sara Berner plays a snooty, snubbing dog with a word edited out of the soundtrack.