Sunday 31 October 2021

Benny and the Beavers

Jack Benny put some classic Christmas shows on the air. Hallowe’en? Well, not so much.

Oh, he had Hallowe’en shows. The radio broadcast of October 31, 1954 had a couple of perfunctory jokes about trick-or-treating then re-used a script from 1946 about firing the Sportsmen (in 1946, the firing built up over several episodes while, here, it came out of nowhere).

There were a few others, including one with a guest appearance by Basil Rathbone. In 1948 and 1952, he went trick-or-treating with the Beverly Hills Beavers, the neighbourhood kids group where he somehow became treasurer. He spends most of his time making up phoney stories of personal grandeur to the kids, but he displays a fatherly kindness to them, so he’s not a total putz.

The Beavers evolved. Jack used boy characters at the start of the 1947-48 season and it was decided there was a potential for more laughs if they were organised into a club, so the Beavers were born February 15, 1948.

An awful lot of Jack’s radio scripts were adapted for television, including some of the ones involving the Beavers. He’s a story from the Boston Globe of February 27, 1955. Yes, little Harry Shearer grew up to write for Fernwood 2 Night, Saturday Night Live and voice umpteen characters on The Simpsons.

Benny, 39, Still in Quest of His Youth With Bearer Patrol Boys Aged 9 to 12

TV & Radio Editor
Jack Benny's present TV schedule has him on the air every other week. We honestly think he would like to be on camera every day. He is almost alone as a performer who works with ease before the TV cameras. Many stars these days are shouting: "TV Is a killing job. Let me put my shows on film!"
Next Sunday, Benny s telecast will be an all-color presentation and his special guests will be The Beavers. For more than six years, listeners have enjoyed the shenanigans of the Beverly Hills Beaver Patrol. Now the patrol will be seen in action—their first appearance on TV.
The Beavers, ranging in age from 6 to 12, are a mythical group which Benny has featured from time to time on his C. B. S. radio series. On TV, their roles will be enacted by Jimmy Baird, Harry Shearer, Ted Marc and Stevie Wooten. There will be fun galore next Sunday when Benny takes the children to a carnival. And they will have the time of their lives—plenty of it at their host's expense.
Of course, Benny is a member of the patrol. As such, he portrays a frustrated grownup who tries to recapture lost youthful adventures. At one time the boys even honored Benny with an official mantle. To show further esteem, Benny was elected treasurer of the Beavers organization—his reputation for stinginess won him this spot. True to tradition, on one occasion he called an executive meeting to decide whether the patrol should purchase a three-cent stamp.
Benny, the underdog always, had a bitter pill to swallow the year he was up for election. He locked horns with a 12-year-old rival. It was a David-Goliath contest that rocked the film colony. Jack licked his wounds in bitter defeat, went home to devote his undivided attention to his own cash vault.
A few weeks ago viewers saw the Benny vault in a TV skit which included scenes in the Benny boudoir. The safe, hid behind a picture on the wall, was devoid of valuables as a porcupine is of curls!
Other hijinks by Benny with the patrol included Halloween pranks as well as periodic trips to the ole swimming hole. Benny's Gang has come in for its share of jabs. Benny has brought Dennis Day, Mary Livingstone, Mel Blanc and Don Wilson to the Beavers' Clubhouse so that the Beavers could do impersonations of the Gang.
With this introduction of the Beavers to TV, undoubtedly Benny will bring them back occasionally. There should be many laughs in next Sunday’s telecast out of Ch. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Wife Mary Livingstone appears only rarely on Jack Benny’s TV shows. On a recent visit to Boston, Benny told us Mary prefers not to be on radio or TV!

One pleasant piece of trivia from those 1948 and 1952 shows—the song being parodied during the Lucky Strike commercial is “Ghost Dance.” It was written by Cora Salisbury, Benny’s first partner in vaudeville when he was just out of junior high school. Jack had to have known about this, and perhaps it meant its use would provide a little money to the Salisbury estate.

Saturday 30 October 2021


Toby the Pup gets lost in the history of animation. His cartoons were never seen on TV over and over like Bugs Bunny and Popeye. In fact, his cartoons weren’t seen on TV at all.

The Toby series was produced for one year for R-K-O by the Charles Mintz studio, which had the rest of its cartoons released through Columbia. When Columbia took over Mintz some years later, I wonder if anyone in the upper echelon knew the cartoons had even been made. They seem to have been thought of as lost and, in fact, there are some shorts in the series that have not been tracked down.

Recently, though, there’s been some interest in poor Toby. A DVD set of some of his cartoons came out a couple of years ago. They have some imaginative little gags, like a Fleischer cartoon, but they remind me more of some of the Krazy Kats I’ve seen that Columbia was also producing.

The first reference I can find to Toby is in Film Daily of May 5, 1930.
Charles Mintz, of Winkler Pictures, has contracted to produce a series of 26 cartoons, under the title of “Toby the Tar.”
Where “tar” and the number 26 came from, I don’t know, but the trades had the correct name and number (12) by the end of the month.

Here are the cartoons and their release dates; the first two come from Motion Picture News, the rest from Harrison's Reports.

Toby in the Museum, Aug. 19, 1930
Toby the Fiddler, Sept. 1
Toby the Miner, Oct. 1
Toby the Showman, Nov 22
Toby in the Bughouse, Dec. 7
Toby in the Circus Time, Jan. 25, 1931
Toby the Milkman, Feb. 20
Toby in the Brown Derby, March 22
Toby Down South, April 15
Toby Hallowe'en, May 1
Toby in Aces Up, May 16
Toby the Bull Thrower, June 7

We’ve cautioned before here about taking release dates for shorts as dogmatic. Theatres were able to show films as soon as they got to the exchange. The Museum is a fine example. It was appearing at RKO-Keith’s in Washington D.C. on July 27, 1930, according to a newspaper review.

Some random newspaper ads for shows with Toby on the bill.


Variety reviewed Toby’s first cartoon in its edition of August 6, 1930:
Cartoons have become disposed to follow routines. As a consequence each creation has followed the design of a preceding success until nearly all of them possess much sameness. But this one has a marked quality of novelty that marks it suitable for filler on any type of program.
It is in the setting. Where most of the animal cartoons have resorted to woodland scenes or in general outdoor settings, this “Toby” cartoon takes an indoor setting and with it a comedy dance. It’s the Art Museum where “Toby” works as a sweeper and makes funny antics as he strums on makeshift instrument and statues of Alexander, Napoleon and Caesar dance with him.
But not a lot of attention was given to Toby. He wasn’t the only new cartoon character of 1930—there was Flip the Frog at MGM and Bosko at Warners, in addition to the brand-new Terrytoons shorts. What looks like a short news release appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on February 15, 1931.
Toby the Pup Catches On
Toby the Pup, contrary to predictions of the wise guys, has not gone Hollywood. Nor has he waxed temperamental in any sense.
And this, despite the fact that he is single in a land of beautiful four-footed sirens, and is not restrained by any morality clause.
Toby the Pup, in other words, is just one swell and easy proportion to handle, according to Charles Mintz, producer of the. Toby the Pup cartoon series now being distributed by Radio Picture.
But the end was nigh for Toby, thanks to corporate deal-making. RKO purchased Pathé in January 1931. Pathé had been releasing Van Beuren’s Aesop Fables, so there was no need for a separate deal with Charles Mintz for cartoons. That spelled the end of Toby, who was replaced on RKO’s star roster with the human versions of Tom and Jerry.

In keeping with the season, let’s look at one of the Toby cartoons. Hallowe'en is an odd one. The first half has nothing do with the second. In the first half, Toby’s kissing girls, getting shamed by Patsy in song, then plays the piano (and a goat).

The scene cuts to an interior of a church at night, with the bell separated from building playing that “horse’s ass” tune. It’s time for Hallowe’en fun with a stylised witch, heads floating in the darkness and, my favourite gag, a skeleton drinking punch. Dick Huemer or whoever wrote this milked the gag and we get four skeletons, each of reduced size, doing the same thing.

The cartoon ends with Toby scaring away ghosts by crowing like a rooster, then discovering he’s laid an egg, from which a baby ghost pops out.

I’ve liked the few Tobys I’ve seen and it’s too bad the series didn’t continue, especially considering some of the lame shorts the Mintz studio put out in the late ‘30s. Do a search on-line and see what you think.

Friday 29 October 2021

Wot a Bat

Put Van Beuren cartoon characters in surreal situations and you generally get a weird cartoon. Weird enough to be likeable.

Tom and Jerry star in Wot a Night (1931). It has crazy and impossible skeleton gags. It also does something Disney cartoons liked doing.

Tom is paranoid as Jerry tries to open a window blind.

Here are two really ugly in-betweens.

Tom is balancing his hat on his nose.

Lifting the shade reveals nothing, so Tom and Jerry look around the corner.

Something oozes through the bricks on the floor.

It’s a bat! See the quiggly lines around Tom to show he’s shuddering (the drawing alternates with another with smooth lines).

The bat flies off in perspective near the camera so the theatre audience can get a close-up. Jerry, for some reason, is rubbing his finger against a pointed claw on the bat.

John Foster and George Stalling receive a “by” credit on the cartoon. Gene Rodemich supplies the score.

Thursday 28 October 2021

Shadow Monsters

Felix is frightened by strange shadows in Sure-Locked Homes (Released Apr. 15, 1928). There’s no plot in this scene, but lots of imagination.

Educational Pictures was releasing a Felix every two weeks in 1928, and director Otto Messmer’s batting average was pretty good. This short was followed by Eskimotive, then Arab’antics. Other Felixes that year were Futuritzy, Outdoor Indoor (Indore) with attractive line-art backgrounds of India, Astronomeows with its beings on another planet, and Japanicky, with its elaborate settings of the Orient. They’re all worth seeking out on-line (even if they have added soundtracks with endless noise from Felix).

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Is the Great Pumpkin All That Great?

55 years ago today, Charles Schulz didn’t put on the small screen a character he didn’t put in the Peanuts comic strip. The character is the Great Pumpkin.

I guess I should qualify this. The beneficent vegetable isn’t seen in the strip. Is there a Great Pumpkin at all? The fact Linus continues to believe there is, despite no proof and annual no-shows, would make for a deeper discussion viz-a-viz religious faith than a mere comic strip would attempt. And certainly we won’t do it here. We shall, instead, discuss the TV special born after annual Hallowe’en seasonal plot-lines Schulz wrote and drew starting in 1959.

Schulz explained how the Great Pumpkin came to be in what looks like a network PR release that papers picked up before the special first aired on October 27, 1966.

The Great Pumpkin Now 'Real' Legend
Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz had never heard of the Great Pumpkin until Linus brought it to his attention.
Neither had anybody else.
But now largely because of the faith and loyalty of the little blanket-toting philosopher of the "Peanuts” comic strip the Great Pumpkin is fast becoming a legend in his (or its) own time.
Schulz, creator and artist-author of the “Peanuts” syndicated cartoon strip, also writes the stories for the Charlie Brown animated holiday specials, the third of which—“It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”—will be broadcast in color Thursday on CBS-TV as a salute to Halloween and a tribute to the mysteries of the Pumpkin.
Who Is He (It)?
Who (or what) is the Great Pumpkin and where did he (or it) come from?
"It all came about," Schulz recalls, “when I was trying to write a sequence for the strip involving Linus's confusion between Halloween and Christmas. The holidays run together so quickly at the end of the year — Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s— that it all becomes kind of a jumble to little children.
"Linus is a youngster to whom everything must have significance nothing is unimportant Christmas is a big holiday and it has Santa Claus as one of its symbols. Halloween is also a special kind of day so it ought to have some sort of Santa Claus, too. That’s what bothered Linus. And it bothered me. So between us we came up with the Great Pumpkin.”
Linus’s Definition
According to Linus's definition the Great Pumpkin rises out of its pumpkin patch on Halloween night and flies through the air with its bag of toys for all the good children everywhere.
“It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” tells the story of how Linus, in spite of the jeers of his fellow "Peanuts,” takes up his vigil in the pumpkin patch to await the appearance of the magic Pumpkin.
Each year Schulz receives hundreds of letters from readers all over the world inquiring into the legend of the Great Pumpkin.
"A number of professional scholars have written me about the origin of the legend they insist that it must be based on SOMETHING,” the artist says.
"I can't prove that there is a Great Pumpkin but then again — I can't prove that there isn't.”

What did the critics think? Ben Gross of the New York Daily News said it was “marked by whimsy and some touch of subtlety,” taking a shot at Saturday morning action-adventure cartoons. John Heisner of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called it “a half-hour of good, clean fun,” concluding with “it was an enjoyable show.”

The Associated Press’ TV columnist had her review printed in papers across the country, mentioning a TV appearance I’ve never heard of before.

‘Charlie Brown’ Charming, Witty

AP TV-Radio Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Charlie Brown and his little friends celebrated Halloween on CBS Thursday night and demonstrated that faith and an optimistic attitude triumph in the end.
The worried little cartoon character, Charlie, continues to have a hard time. He was invited to his first Halloween party but hard-hearted Lucy immediately chopped him down by telling him that it was a mistake. When he went out trick-or-treat tag, the other kids wound up with the money and the candy: He got a bag of rocks. But in the end, he was certain he had been having fun.
Chief protagonist of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," was his friend, Linus, the boy with the blanket. Linus, although jeered by his pals, shivered all night in a pumpkin patch awaiting the arrival of "The Great Pumpkin Who Flies Through the Air and Brings Toys to All the Children in the World."
As in two past specials about Charlie, the half-hour animated show had charm, adult wit and wisdom.
- - -
One of the contestants on Thursday afternoon, "To Tell the Truth" on CBS just happened to be the director of CBS, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," and not only was the evening special plugged repeatedly but a bit of it was previewed for the home audience. The whole segment, including the plug occupied close to one-third of the half-hour program.

But you know there had to be a least one sour pumpkin in the critic crowd. In this case, it was the man who called The Flintstones “an inked disaster.” Jack Gould of the New York Times proclaimed the special was for fans only.

Charlie and Friends
To the admirers of Charlie Brown and his little friends it is axiomatic that their creator, Charles Schulz, can do no wrong. Accordingly last night’s Halloween cartoon special on the Columbia Broadcasting System undoubtedly satisfied its intended audience. Linus sadly learned that no Great Pumpkin would appear in his patch of innocent sincerity.
Charlie was invited to his first party and Snoppy [sic] survived an aerial dog fight.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was for aficionados of the “Peanuts” comic strip. One suspects their imaginations and fond recollections may have supplied the humor and charm that to the unaddicted seemed notably missing from the TV variation.

We’ll leave the last word to Clay Gowran of the Chicago Tribune. He accurately predicted the future, pointing out Linus told Charlie Brown at the end of the special he would try to attract the Great Pumpkin “again next year”:
We hope he does, and that he brings the whole gang back with him, because these little animated specials have become a high point of the video season.
Attempts to shove it onto pay cable notwithstanding, the “little animated special” is still with us.

Tuesday 26 October 2021

The Time's Not Right For Murder

The victim has read the book “Who Killed Who?” (from the cartoon of the same name). He tells the audience watching “if this picture is anything like the book, I get bumped off.”

A message on a dagger zooms past him.

11:30 is an inconvenient time for death. Another message flies past.

A newspaper squib from the MGM publicity department pointed out:
For the first time in cartoon history an organ and Novachord will be used as background music for the animated murder mystery, “Who Killed Who?” directed by Tex Avery under Fred Quimby’s production supervision. Musical director Scott Bradley wrote the score which was played by Bernard Katz. Full orchestra recorded the main and end titles.”
Katz was related to Mel Blanc. Blanc isn’t on this cartoon, but Kent Rogers supplies the Richard Haydn voice of the victim.

Monday 25 October 2021

Bewitched Bunny Backgrounds

Here’s Phil DeGuard’s work in Bewitched Bunny, the first of the Witch Hazel cartoons released by Warner Bros. Even though there are characters in front of some of them, they’re worth studying to see what DeGuard put on the walls.

Maurice Noble draughted the layouts. The cartoon was released in 1954.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Mrs. Wilson

It took Jack Benny several tries before he found an announcer that would stick with him for years—Don Wilson. And it took Wilson several tries before he found a wife to share his life with.

She was Lois Corbet, who was acting on a number of radio series. One of them was Glamour Manor, starring Kenny Baker, where Wilson was the announcer. They were married in 1950. Lois appeared occasionally on Jack’s radio and TV shows as Wilson’s wife. When they retired to Palm Springs, they were on the air together.

Radio Life magazine profiled Lois in its edition of March 9, 1947. She and Donzie would have met by this point; Wilson and his third wife Marusia filed for divorce in mid-1949. Wilson is not mentioned in the article.

Corbet, Camille and Camillias
Lois Corbet's Hobbies Keep Her as Busy as Her Radio Work Does
By Joan Buchanan

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 9:00 a.m.

LOIS CORBET seems as far removed from "Jane J. Corbet" as a person can be. Though Lois portrays the pugilistic "Aunt Jane" on "Glamour Manor," in real life she's an attractive lady with a sense of humor all her own.
"I've never been an ingenue, though," she averred when we exclaimed over the difference between her and her characterizations. "On both the stage and radio I started out doing characters and gradually got younger." Lois names as her favorite parts those she does on mystery programs. " I like the neurotic parts with lots of screaming and frenzy. Yes, they're wearing," she agreed, "but it's such a good workout." She also likes her comedy work as "Aunt Jane" and as "Mrs. Potts" on the Frank Morgan show.
"When I was a very little girl I wanted most of all to play the leading role in 'Girl of the Golden West,' " Lois laughed. "After I grew up I wanted to do 'Anna Christie' and 'Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire'—and I still do."
Raised on the California countryside Lois first decided through poring over the Victor Book of the Opera that she was going to be an opera star. Her father, a short story writer, had had stage ambitions, and her grandfather had managed an opera house in the middle west. Father suppressed his own stage ambitions, according to Lois, because he thought he wasn't tall enough to be a hero. Lois, however, inherited the ambition and at a very early age was a veteran theatergoer, busy hatching secret plans of her own.
"Whenever we came to Los Angeles I was taken to the theater and at five and six I was soaking up movies," she recalled. Her vocal ambitions were restricted to singing in church, but Lois admits that she used to practice trills a la Galli-Curci alone in her room. "One day I tripped in the middle of a trill," she sighed, "and decided to be an actress."
Memorizes Easily
She joined a stock company doing character parts and dramatic leads, sometimes learning as many as one hundred sides each week. "I couldn't do it now," she admits. Lois and the ingenue lead, being the youngsters of the company, learned each new part with ease and spent their spare time going out on dates with the local boys. The older members of the company, who had to work to do the memory. task each week, still have Lois's sympathy. "They were actors in the day before it was fashionable to be an actor and they worked hard all their lives," she said, reflecting on the comparatively easy life actors live now. (Although when Lois arises at six in the morning for "Glamour Manor" and extends her working day to include the Frank Morgan and Borge –Goodman shows at night, it still doesn't sound like a terribly easy life!)
"We played all the tank towns and every city in the state. Now, whenever I take a trip, I recognize theaters where I've played in every little jerkwater town we pass."
In Los Angeles and Long Beach she appeared with the Majestic and Morosco players. Introduced as a native Iowan, she received a mighty ovation from Long Beach audiences, neglecting to mention that she had left Mason City at the age of three Gayne Whitman, J. Ronald Wilson, Victor Rodman and Hanley Stafford were some of her fellow artists in these companies. Lois and Hanley had the big reunion last year when Lois appeared on the Fanny Brice show as "Mummy."
"My hobby," replied Lois in answer to a question, "is a French poodle, Camille. It started once when I was low and discouraged. My sense of humor was at a very low ebb. I happened to read one of Alexander Woollcott's stories about French poodles and their wonderful sense of humor. I got one and—well, I haven't had a dull moment since!" she exclaimed.
Smart, Indeed
Lois has owned as many as five French poodles at one time and while she claims that none of them has lived up to the reputation the breed has for intelligence, that their sense of humor is as unpredictable as advertised. Which is why Lois's other hobby, the raising of camellias, takes place in the front yard while Camille is ensconsed in the back. It seems that Camille was so impressed one day by Lois's dainty clipping of flowers that she carefully bit off all the blossoms in the yard and deposited them neatly on the badminton court.
Camille, according to Lois, dislikes people and loves other dogs, who, however, don't like her. "Her idea of a good time is to catch me climbing up the hill. She runs about one hundred feet ahead, turns, and charges straight down for me. I scream and beg her to stop, but she butts right into me and down we both go".
Lois said we could do her a favour by helping correct the mistaken ideas people have about her favorite breed of dog. "They're not sissies or lap dogs," she exclaimed, pointing out that people still think of them as the tiny white variety that was popular at one time. The large, or standard, size poodle is used as a work dog and hunter in Russia and Germany, and though their fancy haircuts may make them look sissy, they're not, according to canine fancier Corbet.
"By the way," we asked, "how are the camellias doing this season?"
"Well," sighed Lois, "in spite of the fact they're kept away from Camille—not too good."

The two left Hollywood for Palm Springs, where they had a TV show together until one of those “we’re going in a different direction” conversations with management. Lois died in January 1983, less than nine months after her husband.