Tuesday 30 November 2021

No Yen To Be a Hen

Not one person thinks there’s something insane about substituting a rabbit’s brain for a chicken’s brain in the Bob McKimson short Hot Cross Bunny.

This being a 1948 McKimson, it means the doctor is waving his arms around. Every time he says “rabbit,” he put his fingers by his ears and wiggles them.

Bugs Bunny is the rabbit involved. Naturally he objects to be turned into a chicken. At the end of the cartoon, the scientist, purely for plot purposes, puts on a metal cap and he and the hen reverse personalities. Bugs does a bend-down laugh that I’m sure I’ve seen in other McKimson cartoons.

Manny Gould, Chuck McKimson and Phil De Lara are the credited animators.

Monday 29 November 2021

Groucho, Zeppo, Chico, Harpo and Birdo

Get on with it, Walt!

Sometimes, it takes forever to get to anything mildly amusing to happen in a Silly Symphony. In The Bird Store (1932), the audience is treated to nothing but singing birds for about two minutes. Finally, get we get some funny shaped birds.

And then the only celebrity reference in the picture.

I don’t know when the Marx Bros. first appeared one way or another in a cartoon, but this certainly must be one of the earliest.

Sunday 28 November 2021

Did You Hear the One About...

A symbiotic relationship bloomed between columnists and stars. Columnists needed to fill space. Stars needed publicity. What better way than for a star (well, their PR people) submitting a joke to a print reporter to finish off a column with a little fun?

It happened all the time, once upon a time. Sometimes it seems odd. One never thinks of Alan Reed as a comic, but I’ve read a bunch of old columns that go “Alan Reed says...” followed by a somewhat corny observation about mothers-in-law or bosses or some such thing.

Jack Benny found his name in print the same way.

A nice gentleman named Phil Wala has collected a bunch from the early ‘30s, before Jack was appearing on radio. We’ve found a few others prior to that. They all come from Walter Winchell, back before he became rabid and vengeful, destroying friendships in his path. I think the one about Frank Fay was closer to truth than humour. Evidently, straight vaudeville was considered dead in 1930. And though we still use “Brits” and “Yanks” as contractions today, others employed once upon a time aren’t deemed as tasteful any more.

Winchell’s stuff showed up on various days depending on the newspaper, so these dates aren’t all accurate for all newspapers.

December 28, 1928
Jack Benny, vaudevillian, brings back the one about the student who was on the university football team, but was never allowed to participate in any of the games for three years, being on the bench all of that time. One day the captain gathered the eleven in the clubhouse and warned them that they had to win the game. "It is imperative, he yelled, "our good name is at stake."
Then he looked around and observed the lad who warmed the bench for three years sitting in a box of resin.
"What the hell's the big idea, sitting in that resin?" he asked. "You don't think I want to slip off that bench in such an important game, do you?" was the retort.

February 13, 1930
Jack Benny telegraphs that during his travels west he discovered a vaudeville theater still open in Duluth!

April 27, 1930
It is Jack Benny’s tale of the heavily-insured old man who left his young bride while he went on an ocean trip. The shop was wrecked and all hands drowned except the heavily insured old husband.
A month later when he was delivered at an English port he cabled this message: "I was the lone survivor of a shipwreck. Please break the news gently to my wife."

June 1, 1930
Eddie Conrad and Jack Benny were talking about rival comedians in Hollywood.
"Howz Frank Fay doing out there?" asked Conrad.
"Very good," was the retort, "but not nearly so good as he thinks he's doing."

June 5, 1930
JACK BENNY, the two-a-dayer, tells the one about the drunk who zig-zagged into a third rate restaurant and clapped his paws madly for some service.
A waiter, whose right leg was shorter than his left, suddenly appeared.
"I'm in a hurry," hiccoughed the stew, "Just bring me a swish sheez "shandwish."
The waiter with the gimpty leg gimped away, bobbing up and down on his crippled stem.
"Aw!" bellowed the impatient drunk, "if you have to go down shtairs for it—then the hell with it!"

July 19, 1930
Jack Benny, of "Vanities," who wasn't arrested because they didn't know him with his clothes on, says that things are getting worse in Chicago. "I just heard," he bellows, "that the gunmen out there have giyen the Chicago police 24 hours' notice to get out of town!"

March 24, 1931
Jack Benny, the nimble-witted monologist, is appearing in Baltimore this week. Last week he played one of those immense sized movie theatres in Washington. "The house was so large," he writes, "that they do not hire a manager every four years. They elect a governo !"

March 27, 1931
One of the newspapers contained a layout of photos of Mayor Walker. One showed hizzoner in a beret and bed sheet, another, on a stage coach driven by cowboys, and one pictured him in New York.
"Look," said Mrs. Jack Benny to Jack, "here's one of him in New York."
"Hmmm," hmm'd Benny, "they must have snapped that one quick."

May 31, 1931
Jack Benny tells of the two long idle vaudevillians who were growling to each other about their professional brethren.
"Show business is gettin worse 'n' worse," said the first as they ankled up Broadway through the Furious Forties, "the minute you think up a new joke or a new sit-cheeashun, what happens? Along comes some rat and he steals it from you. You can't tell a gag at the Palace any more and expect it to be yours exclusively after the opening matinee!"
As he grumbled, a messenger boy on a bike was felled by a taxi, which sent the kid sprawling.
"Humph!" growled the other with disgust, "get a load of that pirate! Chaplin got laughs with the same stunt year ago!"

June 5, 1931
Jack Benny of the Big Time says that maybe it is a good thing that the Sharkey-Carnera fight has been called off.
"I'm afraid," says Jack, "that Sharkey couldn't hit Carnera high enough to foul him."

June 7, 1931
At the Palace Joe Wong, a China lad, and his oriental act start the program.
Jack Benny, the master of ceremonies, follows the turn. "You must admit," says Benny with a poker face, "that we have an unusual act to begin the show—a Chinese act! Gosh, I always thought in vaudeville you had to have Japs or better to open!"

July 5, 1931
And it was Jack Benny who said that he a horrible dream. He dreamed Dracula ran into Jimmy Durante.
"And what happened?"
"Dracula ran like Hell!"

July 19, 1931
Jack Benny relates the one about the dialecticians, who crashed a snooty and exclusive country club which also featured swimming, fishing, boating, tennis, etc. On their first day at golf they drew the states and frowns of members, because they were attired in overalls, instead of golf outfits.
"Of all things!" they heard people say, "they do not even know what to wear for golf! What etiquette!"
The next day at breakfast, however, the members were kindlier, for the dialecticians were smartly attired in white shirts, ducks, red ties, white shoes and golf sweaters.
But their prestige was lost again when they put on silk top hats and Moe turned to Jake and chirped: "Jakey—deed you remamber to breeng de feeshing teckle?"

September 14, 1931
Jack Benny's thrust at Abe Lyman (at the Palace): "Aw, if your musicians didn't show up what could you do with that stick?

October 2, 1931
When Jack Benny, the big-time comic was in London recently he discussed Evelyn Laye, the British star, with his booking agent there.
"Her name," said the agent, is not 'Ev-lin' but 'Eve-a-lyn'!"
"But it always sounds so funny," said Benny, "to hear you all say 'Eve-a-lyn' when you mean 'Ev-lin.'"
"Please," begged the Englishman "It sounds just as funny to us to hear you Americans say 'Ev-lin.' Don't forget. After all, we came first!"

November 16, 1931
(Okay, this is from O.O. McIntyre, not Winchell)
Jack Benny tells of the dialect Bronxite who popped into a delicatessen to look around. He inquired the price of various articles, such as preserved fruits, home made cakes, roast turkeys and the like.
Finally, pointing to a hefty Kentucky ham, he asked the price. As he did so there was a violent clap ot thunder and vivid flash of lightning.
Cowering and looking upward, the Bronxite whined: "Can't I even esk?"

April 17, 1932
Jack Benny says that too many of us try to stop the show and only succeed in slowing it up.

This pretty well brings us up to when Jack’s show for Canada Dry debuted May 2, 1932. It’s conceded he got the job from his appearance on Ed Sullivan’s 15-minute show on March 29, 1932 on CBS. “Sisters of the Skillet” was on at the same time on the Blue Network while the Red Network was airing “Mary and Bob.” One of the many fish stories that grew over time was that the Sullivan appearance was Jack’s first on radio, which is poppycock. We’ve given a number of examples; one was on September 4, 1931 on the NBC Red network.

Saturday 27 November 2021

Fedora! For Dora!

It’s taken almost 11 years to post something about My Green Fedora, a Friz Freleng effort released in 1935. Part of it because only murky versions of this cartoon existed for years. Mainly it’s because I have never liked this one. I am not a fan of Joe Penner. I am not a fan of obnoxious children. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been upset if the weasel that shows up mid-way through this short ate baby Elmer Rabbit. He’d probably get indigestion, though.

The funniest thing may be unintentional. Peter Rabbit may have the worst falsetto in cartoons. His “I’m coming Elmer” is ridiculously scratchy (I think it’s Tedd Pierce, but I can’t be sure). It doesn’t sound like a child; it sounds Jack Lemmon trying to do a woman’s voice in Some Like it Hot.

The best part of the cartoon is the pristine opening title card now available.

When I was a child decades ago, I got excited seeing this title card and hearing the music that was different from the Warners cartoons I was used to watching because it meant it was a really old cartoon. Only one station I could get on my TV set aired them. It was KTVW in Tacoma and the signal was poor. There were days it didn’t come in at all, but when it did the picture was snowy and faded in and out. There’s just no comparison looking at this restored card and what I tried to pick up on a black-and-white set 55 or so years ago.

The “jester” cartoons themselves were a mixed bag when it came to humour. Tex Avery was just arriving at the studio and pinpointed one problem with the Merrie Melodies series around this time. He told Mike Barrier in 1977: “We were forced to use a song, which would just ruin the cartoon. You’d try like a fool to get funny but it was seldom you did.” Barrier points out in his book “Hollywood Cartoons” that Freleng cut the number of complete choruses from two to one.

The title song in this short was written by Joseph Meyer, Al Sherman and Al Lewis and copyrighted by Harms, Inc., a Warners-owned music publisher, on June 30, 1934. The Boston Globe of August 8, 1934 reported the song could be heard that evening on a 15-minute CBS radio starring Gordon, Dave and Bunny (they also sang “I’ve Got Rhythm” in case you’re wondering). The song found its way into this cartoon, which was formally released May 4, 1935. We’ve mentioned before that release dates for cartoons are only approximate; whenever a short got to an exchange, a theatre could snap it up. You see an ad to the right from the April 1, 1936 edition of the China Press showing the cartoon screening in Shanghai.

A love song about wearing a hat with a play on “Fedora” and “For Dora” doesn’t sound like something a boy bunny would sing to his baby brother. It is within the realm of possibility, and perhaps some real proof will surface, that Joe Penner sang it on the air, considering Peter and Elmer are both doing Penner impressions during this cartoon. Not only that, but the other two times the song was put in Warners cartoons, characters are doing Penner impersonations and the animation from this short was reused. One is Freleng’s Toy Town Hall (1936), where we even get a baby in a crib giving out with the Penner laughter. The other is The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (1937), a Frank Tashlin-directed cartoon where I believe Danny Webb is doing the voice.

Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett are the credited animators. Clampett told Mike Barrier, as revealed in 1970 in Funnyworld No. 12, he entered a studio contest and came up with the concept that was later made into this cartoon. The animation’s pretty good in places and I like how Friz found stuff to do in the slower-paced cartoons of the 1930s. Here, the weasel that has captured Elmer and is holed up underground waits for him to pop through a hole. The expressions are natural and solid. Some of the animation is on ones.

The weasel punches Peter through a tunnel that comes up on the other side of the weasel's hideout. The bad guy punches him again. Friz resists any temptation just to reverse the drawings and ink the other side to save money.

This may the only cartoon in animation history which features pepper but no sneezing gag.

The extended piece of music that is heard during this chase scene was added to future scores by Carl Stalling, particularly Falling Hare with Bugs Bunny and the gremlin. I mentioned to the late Earl Kress years ago that I had a copy of it on the Capitol Hi-Q library, and he said he had been trying to find the title of it for years. Capitol got it from the Sam Fox library, put its own title on it and deleted the composer’s name. It wasn’t until Earl passed away I learned the cue was “Traffic” and written by the great silent film composer J.S. Zamecnik. The Warners cartoons in the mid-‘30s seem to have had a Zamecnik piece in every cartoon, even after Carl Stalling replaced Norman Spencer.

There’s a cringing sound edit (well, maybe to those of us who edited sound for a living) when the score goes from “Traffic” to “I’m Wearing My Green Fedora” (in the usual double-time that Spencer loved using during chases or rescues). Part of a note seems to be missing and it’s not a clean transition.

Peter and his trusty garden hose (assisted by a convenient cactus) vanquish the villain.

Freleng ends the cartoon with the hose being used on Elmer, who annoys Peter with his Penner laugh, Penner scrunched shoulders, and Penner’s limp wrists at his chest level. Elmer goes up with the rush of water and lightly thumps to the ground. He blinks as the iris closes. Not exactly hilarity, but you have to end a cartoon some way.

The restored jester looks great, even in two-tone Technicolor.

That’s all, folks!

Friday 26 November 2021

Electric Woody

Woody Woodpecker comes up with an evil idea in Solid Ivory.

A dumb cluck (ie. a clueless hen) thinks Woody’s cue ball is one of her eggs. To get rid of her, Woody decides to lure it out of the chicken coop with a cob of corn (swung in perspective at the camera) on a fishing rod.

Alright, so the chicken isn’t all that dumb. After sucking off the corn, she plugs the cob into a light socket.

Consecutive drawings.

A fine (Sid Pillet?) explosion effect follows. A star zooms into the camera, making the background white. When it disappears, we see Woody is now multi mini-Woodys. We don’t see him re-form when he hits the ground; director Dick Lundy cuts to animation of the delighted chicken following the action with a spy glass. Drawing all that separating and rejoining would bust Walter Lantz’s budget.

Grim Natwick and Hal Mason get screen credit for animation but as Lantz had only one unit, likely every animator in the studio got a piece of this.

The version on DVD is loaded with DVNR. I wanted to show a scene of Woody with an axe but there are so many erased lines, it’s a disservice to whoever animated the scene. It’s nice that the cartoons are available and if you watch it, the action goes by so fast you don’t notice it. But still...

Thursday 25 November 2021

Jack-Rabbit and the Beanstalk Backgrounds

What do things look like in Giant Land? Judging by the background artist in Jack-Rabbit and the Beanstalk (1943), olive green with half-dead trees and rocky mountains.

Here’s a panorama from one scene that’s panned left to right.

It seems carrots—giant ones at that—can grow in such a desolate place. Note the diagonal shafts of light.

In one shot, Bugs is surrounded by giant carrot. But when director Friz Freleng cuts to a shot further back, the carrots are replaced by a giant. How does that happen?

This is one of the Warners cartoons with an immobile figure that’s rendered with shadows and textures that you can’t get with an animated drawing. You’ll see some in Bob Clampett’s The Great Piggy Bank Robbery as well.

Who is the artist? Paul Julian was still away on wartime work so I imagine this is the work of Lenard Kester.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Betsy Cola Hits the Spot

Fans look back at the Golden Era of network radio with affection but columnists in the day did not. Radio was crass and witless, they told readers time and time again.

Perhaps that’s why critics loved Fred Allen. He made fun of the crassness of radio and did it in a high-brow way; critics seemed to think of radio as beneath them. Allen took music from operas and operettas (can there be anything more high-brow?) and concocted parody lyrics making fun of his target.

Allen spoofed or joked about radio commercials on many shows. One guest starred Lanny Ross who sang on radio and in movies but was not really in the category of a popular singer, such as Dick Haymes, Tony Martin or Frankie. He fit in more with the high-brow crowd.

Here’s what happened on their broadcast of December 1, 1946; I don’t believe it’s on the internet. This is from PM of December 4th. Some of the references may be lost on readers today. I’m surprised Allen didn’t employ the famous “nickel” Pepsi Cola jingle of the day for Betsy’s song; the meter is exactly the same. Perhaps Standard Brands couldn’t get permission or didn’t want to pay the money to use it. The last-mentioned song fits in one of Standard’s two products that Allen plugged.

“Irium” was an ingredient in Pepsodent tooth paste. Adler’s Elevator Shoes were advertised by a man shouting “Now you can be taller than she can!” Grossinger’s was a resort in New York’s Catskills Mountains. I admit the manly/patriotic All-Bran bit eludes me.

Fred Allen Tips the Met Off On How to Get Rich Quick

I hope Edward Johnson and the other bigshots of the Metropolitan Opera were listening to Fred Allen last Sunday. For Allen, touched by the Met's financial troubles, offered them a sure-fire way to get into the big money. Allen's advice: be like radio, get sponsors, lots of sponsors.
Allen even showed the Met how to do it in an opera written by himself and Irving Caesar, titled El Commerciale. El Commerciale put new words to music from the famous operas, and managed to get in 25 commercials in the ten minutes it took to act out.
Here, then, is how an opera might sound at he Met if the Met were run like radio:
El Commerciale is the story of Mr. Cola (played by Lanny Ross) and his five daughters. Three of the daughters are married, but Mr. Cola is trying to find husbands for the other two. He sings (to the tune of O Evening Star):
I have five daughters—two unwed,
One men adore—and one they dread.
One is a beauty, men all say,
The other one frightens men away.
I lie awake, my nerves are shattered,
Tums and Aspirin, I've tried all brands.
If only a man would pop the question,
He'd have a wife and she'd be off my hands!
Papa Cola's beautiful daughter, Betsy, enters. She sings (to the tune of Caro Nome):
Betsy Cola is my name.
I'm that celebrated dame.
You have heard of me a lot.
I'm the gal what hits the spot.
Betsy and her three married sisters worry over their ugly sister, Mirium (to the tune of the Habanera from Carmen):
Poor Mirium! Poor Mirium!
Why don't you use a little Irium!

Mirium answers:
For Irium, it's too late, chums.
My teeth are gone and I have only gums.
Along comes a suitor for the hand of Betsy, played by Allen himself. To the majestic, impassioned music of the Ride of the Valkyrie from Wagner's Die Walkure, Allen woos the fair maiden:
I just came from Barney's!
I just came from Barney's!
My suit comes from Barney's!
It's size 33!
My shoes come from Adler's!
My shoes come from Adler's!
My shoes come from Adler's!
Now I'm taller than she!
My hat is from Knox, dear.
The ring has two rocks, dear.
It's from a Cracker-Jack box, dear.
You can tell at a glance.
Slip these rings on your fingers,
I'm not one who lingers,
We're off to Grossingers,
The land of Romance!
Before Mr. Cola will let Allen marry Betsy, he questions him (to the music of the Quartet from Rigoletto):
PAPA: Have you ever tasted Kellogg's Bran?
ALLEN: No, I've not.
PAPA: And you dare to call yourself a man?
ALLEN: Yes, so what?
PAPA: Just imagine, ladies, if you can:
Here stands a man who hasn't tasted Kellogg's Bran!
ALLEN: Sad my lot,
I eat Wheaties, though.
PAPA: Then there's hope.
ALLEN: And Wheatena, too.
PAPA: He's no dope.
But you'll never know, no,
you'll never know what
Kellogg's Bran can do,
You can’t be an American,
For no American will go
without Kellogg's Bran!
Allen promises to try Kellogg's Bran, whereupon Papa Cola consents to his marriage with Betsy. What about poor unmarried Mirium? To the tune of the Sextet from Lucia, Allen tells her he sees "a ray of hope" if she will "use a cake of Lifebuoy Soap."
Then he and Betsy leave for their honeymoon (to the Soldier's Chorus from Faust):
Now on their honeymoon, he and she,
Off on a life of economee,
Their bags packed as merrily they flee
To Niagara Falls, with 48 balls of Tenderleaf Tea!
"Gad," said Allen, contemplating all the sponsors he had gotten into his little opera, “this will be bigger than the Make Believe Ballroom.”
What is the Met waiting for?

Peck’s PM was a left-leaning paper which, to no great surprise, was viewed as a hotbed of Commies and Pinkos by scare-mongers in the U.S. government. Peck was convicted of contempt of Congress in March 1957 for not revealing names of Communists to a Senate subcommittee. He was employed by the New York Times at the time and continued to be until his retirement. He was killed by a drunk driver in a head-on crash on New Year’s Day 1985.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

A Van Beuren Cartoon is About to Start

I’ve always liked the opening of the Van Beuren cartoons with various animals swaying in time to the music, with the leopard getting clunked on the head and his tail twanged.

If you look at old prints of the cartoons featuring this, you’ll notice tops, bottoms and sides chopped off so you can’t even see some of the characters. I can’t remember the reason for it now. But for you fans of Blinky Owl (or whatever his name is), Steve Stanchfield had transferred some of the Van Beurens for DVD/BluRay from original 35mm prints with the whole frame visible.

The timing is really odd, but on the screen, it works. Some drawings are on fours, some on threes, some on twos and some appear for one frame. There are 14 drawings in a 36-frame cycle. I’ve turned it into an animated gif below. The box with the title jiggles more than I would like, but it’s because I had some problems and the frames are not from the same cycle. Also, I’ve copied the duplicate frames instead of using each of the 36 frames. Still, you can see the movement of the animals, which is the main thing, at the speed in the actual cartoon (in this case, The Office Boy).

Who drew the sequence may be something lost to the ages.

Thanks to Steve Stanchfield and his group for restoring these cartoons.