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!


  1. Hey, Yowp, with all duer respect, I like this, strange in hindsight seeing Chuck and Bob both on the animation crtedits given thier lkegendayr fued so many years later.

    I've also known about (adaptions of) those Fox (later part of Capitrol Librtary) pieces, and of course, in reverse, (apparently due to the 1958 music strike) Warner Bros,cartoon studio used the 50s library for six fall 1958 cartoons, and some ads, but, strangely, none of the Fox music, like my boss, Art Clokey, or H-B would..(would be neat if Hanna and Barbera, whose use of Sam Fox on Quick Draw McGraw might have some uncredited Zamecnic cues, had used that piece,too..perhaps some "Ruff and Reddy" episodes used that..
    anyway, thanks for the post,even with parting of opinion with me on it..,Fe-Dora!

  2. Sorry..Jones-Clampett's "legendary feud.."

  3. PS Still, I dont' think anyone, including me, likes obnoxious children..!

    1. Hans Christian Brando30 November 2021 at 17:47

      Except their mothers, who are usually worse.

    2. Hans Christian Brando30 November 2021 at 17:53

      I know what you mean about the small thrill in seeing a pre-bullseye Warner Bros. cartoon title card, particularly the black and white Merrie Melodies. (At the time, the pre-1943 Looney Tunes were badly colorized and anachronistically prefaced with the 1968 W7 opening.) I always felt I was in touch with genuine antiquity.