Saturday 31 December 2022

Practical Pig Warns Against Nazi Wolf

Daily Variety told readers on January 16, 1942 about a cartoon. “Fred Avery will supervise production of ‘Blitz Wolf,’ cartoon subject at Metro.”

Avery had arrived at MGM the previous September and busied himself with The Early Bird Dood It. This was the first cartoon Avery and his unit—Irv Spence, Ray Abrams, Preston Blair and Ed Love, likely assisted by effects animator Al Grandmain—worked on, with The Blitz Wolf following. It seems odd that Avery would be employed on only one short for the first four months he was at Metro, but that’s what the trades at the time indicate.

Even odder is a blurb in Daily Variety of June 17, 1942 saying Rich Hogan has bought himself out of his contract with Leon Schlesinger and “his first assignment being ‘Blitz Wolf.’” Why would he be writing a cartoon that had been started six months earlier? Especially one the Hollywood Reporter said on June 2nd was “in last stages of work.”? And when the MGM newsletter of January-February 1942 revealed he was already at the studio.

(Hogan was loyal to Avery. He returned to Avery’s unit after WW2 military service and quit animation when Avery took time off to get his life together).

Avery and Hogan brought with them from Warner Bros. sign gags, fairy tale send-ups, characters talking to the audience, radio show references and Sara Berner’s voice talent. With ex-Disney animators under him, he could try for animation that was a little more elaborate at times than what he put on the screen when working for Leon Schlesinger. There are a couple of scenes of perfect perspective animation with something large in the foreground flying into the background.

Oh, there were unmatched shots, too. Here are two consecutive frames. Sergeant Pork, the Practical Pig, drums his fingers and begins to point. But his finger doesn’t get there.

The GI-garbed pig urges the other two to buy bonds and be prepared for the Big Bad Wolf. Here are some poses. The pig’s gestures are not way-over-the-top like in a Clampett cartoon. They seem perfectly natural. This is the work of the great Preston Blair. Sgt. Pork’s voice is courtesy of Pinto Colvig. He had finished his work in Florida on Gulliver’s Travels and was back in Hollywood freelancing.

You can find more frames from the cartoon by searching here. There’s a profile of Mr. Hogan as well.

The Hollywood Reporter quoted Fred Quimby as stating on August 18th the cartoon was “winding up production.” If so, it wound up very fast. The press got a sneak preview the next night at the Filmarte Theatre by the Motion Picture Academy. It was the last short to be screened, and the programme included Superman’s Terror of the Midway, the very good Norm McCabe war short The Duck-Tators, Goofy in The Olympic Champ and the Fox and Crow in Woodman, Spare That Tree. About all Daily Variety said about it was “solid laughs.” The Reporter pronounced it “an especially ingenious release.”

The 887-foot film hit theatres on August 22nd, a week before Early Bird. In Weekly Variety’s edition of September 2nd, it concluded “With such a childish topic, Director Tex Avery and his crew have concocted a refreshing, laugh cartoon. Strong on any program.” (It also praised Avery in its review of Early Bird in the same issue).

Boxoffice, on September 5th, was more lavish in its praise: “They don’t come any better...Audiences, recovering from their laughter, will stand up and cheer this one. Tex Avery, who directed, is a man to watch.” (It, too, thought Early Bird was a “Top notcher...Tie the roof down when this one hits the projection machine”). From Motion Picture Daily of September 2nd: “Top honors for ingenuity, comedy and brilliant satirical handling go to M-G-M for this color short...Directed by Tex Avery, this short is an added attraction on any bill” (It also mentioned Tex in its review of Early Bird: “clever and amusing, and not above poking fun at the company that made it”).

Motion Picture Herald, misguided about who was responsible, wrote on August 29th: “is Fred Quimby, executive producer, at his best in the field of cartoon, and a subject which had the audience screaming.” And Showman’s Trade Review included frames in its little story on the cartoon in the September 5th edition, calling it in a critique “novel, amusing and entertaining...Entire subject is excellently animated and contains much to humorously impress the need of precaution and preparedness.” It also notes that Hitler is blown to a Hell where he is greeted by Jews.

The Filmarte again screened the cartoon on February 3, 1943 as the Academy narrowed down its list of nominees for animated cartoon. Also on the list: All Out For V (Terrytoons), Juke Box Jamboree (Walter Lantz), Tulips Will Grow (George Pal), Pigs in a Polka (Schlesinger/Warner Bros.), Der Fuehrer’s Face (Walt Disney). Alas, it lost to Disney with his elaborate dream sequence. However, in May, it did top a Motion Picture Herald poll of exhibitors as the best industry-produced war cartoons (and was second on the list of shorts).

And Canada loved the cartoon, too. The Hollywood Reporter revealed on April 1, 1943 “For its Fourth Victory Loan Drive, starting April 15, the Canadian government will distribute MGM’s cartoon, ‘The Blitz Wolf,’ which was also used as a war bond sales stimulant in this country. W.H. Burnside, director of production for the National Film Board of Canada, is here [in Los Angeles] making arrangements for 195 (16mm.) and 65 (35mm.) prints. The negative was furnished gratis by MGM.” This didn’t mean theatres. The cartoon was shown with other NFB propaganda films on a screen at Eaton’s in downtown Toronto every hour, seven times a day, in April 1944. In Vancouver and Victoria, “bond” shells were set up downtown where the cartoon played for anyone passing by.

Then The Blitz Wolf disappeared, to return some time later with the bombing of Tokyo excised and a now-unflattering reference to the Japanese rubbed out. Hitler, of course, was still hated so he remained a rightful target of satire on both the big and little screen.

As for the story of how producer Quimby told Tex to take it easy on Adolf Wolf, I call B.S. I don’t know where the tale started but as the U.S. was fully involved in the war at the time the cartoon was made, the whole thing sounds like it was cooked up by someone who didn’t like Quimby or thought it was a funny story. Add in the fact Quimby was supervising the studio’s training films for the Army Air Corps. Oh, and at the time, Quimby had his son in a military academy.

As hard as it is to believe, Avery got even more attention for the next cartoon he put into production—another fairy tale parody. It was Red Hot Riding Hood.

Friday 30 December 2022

Barbara Walters

It seemed like she was on the fast track in the early 1950s.

She left the Rand ad agency in 1952 to be a PR assistant at NBC’s local radio/TV opearations in New York. The next year she moved to producing WNBT’s “Ask the Camera.” A year later, she was producing “The Eloise McElhone Show” on WPIX. Within weeks, she was put on camera when McElhone took a vacation.

So it was that on Monday, April 12, 1954, at 2:30 p.m., TV viewers first greeted Barbara Walters.

Her rise in the industry is legendary, mainly because of her aggressiveness and having to deal with old-school newsmen who felt a woman’s place was not anchoring or interviewing on a network, except maybe for fluff pieces on cooking or fashion. Her million-dollar deal putting her next to the suddenly unhappy Harry Reasoner at ABC-TV in 1976 was historic. Her interview specials made news.

How have things changed? Her later programme, The View, was somewhat reminiscent of a panel tabloid show, including McElhone, called Leave It To The Girls that started on radio in the 1940s. McElhone, called “a man hater” by critics at the time,” is long forgotten and a show with “girls” in the title would likely bring howls of outrage and cries of sexism.

I’ve looked around to find any early interviews about Walters’ career, and spotted one in the October 7, 1956 edition of the New York Herald Tribune. There is no byline. Almost every reference to her I’ve spotted in the first half of the ‘50s refers to her father.

BARBARA WALTERS was brought up in an atmosphere of show business. She couldn’t much help it—her father Lou Walters, is the popular proprietor of one of New York’s famous night spots, the Latin Quarter. The shapely, green-eyed beauty could make a successful career in the bright lights if she so wanted, yet Broadway’s glitter and glamour can’t attract Barbara, and it “probably never will.”
The closest Lou Walters’ daughter has gotten to the world of entertainment is with her present job, that of a feature-producer and writer on CBS TV’s “Good Morning!” show starring Will Rogers, Jr. She helps create and stage the fashion vignettes that decorate the show, in addition to contacting guest celebrities and feature acts.
“It’s funny,” she said with a pert smile, “but I vowed some time ago that my father’s unorthodox hours weren’t for me. That’s one of the reasons I don’t particularly care for showbusiness. Anyway, he goes to work when other people come home, and he gets in after three a.m. I never used to see him more than a few minutes each day, if at all. So what happens! My life is just as ridiculous as his now! I have to get up for work at 4:30 a.m. He comes home, and I leave!”
In spite of the ironic twist of things, Barbara is quite happy with her lot and just now is content to exercise her creative talents behind the cameras.
In her early twenties, and married to businessman Bob Katz (who is far and away from showbusiness) Barbara admires Will Rogers, Jr., because of his success in carving out a career for himself entirely on his own merits.
As for future plans, Barbara would like to stay with TV, but her upper-most dream is to “work at a newspaper, perhaps write a TV column. “Then,” says determined Barbara, “I wouldn’t care about the hours!”

Walters spent 1958 to 1961 working for Tex McCrary’s public relations outfit, then moved to Rowland Co. It would seem to have been a comedown when she ended up at the Today show before the year was out; she went from running a radio and TV division of a PR firm to a writer. But Walters was canny. When Jackie Kennedy announced a tour of India and Pakistan for March 1962, Walters was in the media entourage, the only American woman who was part of it, reporting live via short wave (for the record, Lisa Howard anchored five-minute daily reports on the trip from ABC-TV in New York. The Herald Tribune pointed out they were geared to housewives).

Slowly but surely, she continued to be handed reporting assignments on the show—some hard news, some not—and when Today was revamped with Hugh Downs hosting, Walters, who “came in by the back door” in her own words, continued to increase her stock with viewers and the press, which flooded newspapers and magazines and stories with her, starting in 1965. It was noted by one columnist she and Downs were chatting on camera more often and she was handling more commercials. When Today co-host Jack Lescoulie was fired the following year, Walters was there and ready (and respected by producer Al Morgan, unlike Lescoulie).

There were other women regularly on the networks at the time—Marlene Sanders (began TV anchoring at ABC in 1964), Nancy Dickerson (CBS’ first female reporter in 1960) and the veteran Pauline Frederick (reporting on ABC starting in 1947, TV in 1948), not to mention part-time interviewer Arlene Francis—but Walters, through sheer force of personality, is the one who is getting credit in stories about her death for opening doors and breaking glass ceilings for women in the media.

How To Uncrush a Dog

A dog gets crushed by a barrel of...Roman Punch? Well, that’s the name of this 1930 cartoon from Terrytoons.

The mashed dog is turned into hot dogs, which get up, move toward the background and re-form as the dog—minus his tail.

The capper to the gag is the most fun. The last hot dog flat on the ground develops crutches, hobbles over to the dog and jumps on him to create a tail.

The earliest Terrytoons were named for foodstuffs. This was the fifth cartoon Paul Terry and Frank Moser made under the auspices of Audio-Cinema. Phil Scheib is the musical director.

Thursday 29 December 2022

It's Not Doing the Backstroke

How far back does the “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” joke go?

There’s a version in the Flip the Frog cartoon The Soup Song (1930).

The fly shakes itself dry, congratulates itself, and flies out of the cartoon.

The “sound” in this sound cartoon are music and effects. No dialogue. Ub’s still in the cartoon-star-makes-music-using-things-around-him stage.

As for the joke, the earliest I’ve found in print is from a newspaper of August 4, 1870. The same joke appeared for the next number of years in various American publications.
Guest: “How comes this dead fly in my soup?”
Waiter: “In fact, sir, I have no positive idea how the poor thing came to his death. Perhaps it had not taken any food for a long time, dashed upon the soup, at too much for it, contracted an inflammation of the stomach, which brought on death. The fly must have had a very weak constitution, for when I served the soup it was dancing merrily upon the surface. Perhaps, and the idea presents itself only for this moment, it endeavored to swallow too large a piece of vegetable, this remaining fast in the throat, caused a choking in the windpipe. This is the only reason I could give of the death of that insect.”
Yeah, there’s nothing like stiffly-worded sarcasm. Iwerks cartoons were not exactly known for wit and rollicking humour, but I’ll take Flip’s joke over the overblown facetiousness of the newspaper.

Wednesday 28 December 2022


There were two Frank Sinatras.

There was the Rat Packer who sang those great tunes backed by Billy May or Nelson Riddle, the pal of mobsters who got people banned at Vegas clubs if they “invaded his space” (this happened to a former co-worker of mine).

Then there’s the mellow singer that radio shows and cartoons made fun of, the thin guy with the bow tie who made girls hyper-ventilate after he left the Tommy Dorsey band.

Volumes have been written about Sinatra’s personal life, real and rumoured. I doubt there’s anything new to discuss. I’ll drag out something old instead.

This is a 1943 feature story from Hearst’s International News. It’s an effective piece of P.R., just what Sinatra’s handler George Evans wanted. Frankie appears to be just the aw-gee-shucks husband and father down the street, even though old Blue Eyes was already playing the female field. For his incessant, effective pushing that year, Evans won a scroll from Billboard for the “Most Effective Promotion of a Single Personality.”

At this point, Sinatra was on Your Hit Parade, sponsored by American Tobacco. At that point, Frankie didn’t rate more than having a CBS staff announcer assigned to his show. Later, the maker of Lucky Strikes would send in their big gun—Don Wilson.

Thousands Swoon
But interview with crooner fails to explain his ecstatic magnetism
By Inez Robb
International News Service Staff Correspondent
New York, July 10.—Why girls leave home in anno domini 1943 is spelled S-I-N-A-T-R-A.
When gals leave home from coast to coast these days the nation's police save themselves good bit of time and trouble by simply going and sitting on Frank Sinatra's doorstep in Hasbrouck Heights, N. J, until the kids turn up there.
Those are the incontrovertible facts, chums. But don't look at me and ask Why, Why, Why? Don't ask me either why almost as quickly as Sinatra's photo is posted outside a theater or radio studio, it's all covered with girlish love messages written in lipstick of every hue.
She Doesn't Get It.
Because darned if I know. I still don't know after thirty minutes in his presence, during which the greatest crooning phenomenon of the ages lived, breathed and talked. Even after seeing the current Miss Subway of New York City almost faint when actually presented to her idol, I still can't case it.
Furthermore, after watching his radio audience heave and, sway, moan and shriek, whistle and stamp in ecstacy at his presence, I don't get it.
Because if this undersized, pleasantly homely kid is the re-incarnation of Rudolph Valentino, Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby and Charles Boyer, then I am Lana Turner in a bathing suit! What Frankie has got that the rest of you boys haven't got is beyond me!
But getting down to cases. I must admit that I found Frank Sinatra, at 25 the Casanova of the air, a right nice guy. And that's eating an awful lot of crow on the part of your correspondent, who went to the interview with a chip on her shoulder, prepared to pin back the ears of a conceited young mug over whom the nation's femininity at the moment is swooning in droves. (Just ask your neighborhood druggist about the upward curve in the sale of smelling salts!).
So, right away in the dressing room of the theater where he was rehearsing his radio show, I popped the $64 question.
"What," I purred, "does your wife think about a whole nation full of women sighing and lolly-gagging over her husband?"
Nancy Undertands.
"Well, Nancy's never said much about it," said Sinatra earnestly, as he puffed on his pipe with the long, long stem. "Nancy's a wonderful girl, and she doesn't resent it, I'm sure."
"You see," he explained, his blue eyes intent in his thin, sunburned face beneath a mop of very dark brown hair, "Nancy's got a sense of humor. And she knows how to reason."
And, after all, Nancy never had a ten-room house in Hasbrouck Heights, N. J., or a genuine mink coat until her own sex got taken by hysteria every time it tuned in on Sinatra or saw him do his stuff on the movie theater stage as an "added attraction."
Sitting there in the dressing room in a pair of chocolate brown slacks, a Barrymore shirt unbuttoned at the throat, a pale yellow sweater and a camel's hair sports jacket, and a gold wedding band on his left hand, this kid certainly did not look like my—or anybody else's—conception of Don Juan up to six months ago.
And I told him so without softening the blow.
"Well, gee!" he said. "Don't you think that I think I'm the reincarnation of Valentino! I'm going out to Hollywood in August to do a picture for R.K.O. All I ask is a nice, small, sympathetic part where I can sing a little.
"I don't know if I could ever carry the whole romantic lead in any picture, and get the girl in the final clinch.
"Gosh," reiterated the kid who has reintroduced the vapors to the nation as its leading feminine pastime, "I don't feel up to sweeping a girl off her feet! Look at me,” he demanded and I took a good gander, realizing that I was privy to a pleasure for which millions of women would gladly have swapped me rubies and gold.
"Just look at me? And how I photograph! I photograph horribly, honest," he grinned.
So when he goes out to Hollywood in August, Sinatra does not expect to erase Cary Grant, Fred MacMurray or Randolph Scott in a single scene. His voice may get into the boudoir, but the kid doesn't expect to follow it up. He'll let the other boys do the romantic work, while he sits out in the parlor, preferably with an accompanist and a good piano.
He's Eager to Learn
At rehearsals for his radio program, through which I sat, he could not have been more modest or more eager to learn from veterans like Milton Berle and Herbert Polesie, director of the show. Carefully and gratefully, he followed their instructions and suggestions about reading his lines.
During rehearsal, he grinned at Berle as the latter ad libbed, "What is it that Sinatra has that I haven't got and where can I get it?"
Success has happened so suddenly to Sinatra, only child of a city fireman in Hoboken, N. J., that he is as surprised as everybody else.
"I guess you'd say a whirlwind named Lady Luck has picked me up and here I am," he said. "Nancy and I are both thrilled to death by it. Neither of us has ever been happier in our lives. I can't put into words how thrilled I am by all this good fortune."
Sinatra even says a kind and hearty word for that lowest form of metropolitan life, the autograph hunter. Long before he was due to arrive for rehearsal, the front of the theater was seething with ‘teen age girls in cotton frocks, saddle shoes and ankle socks, all poised with pencils and autograph books.
But when he gets away from it all in that new 10-room house over in New Jersey, he mows his own lawn and clips his own hedge. It’s relaxing, he says. He also does a lot of carpentry at a work bench, which he built himself after moving into the house.
Sinatra is just plain nuts about one young lady, Nancy, Jr., 3, his only child.
“She is especially wonderful,” he said and I had to restrain him from relating innumerable smart sayings.
Both Get Mail.
Between his wife and himself, they get about 3,000 fan letters a week. Yes, Nancy, Sr., has her public too, with people wanting her picture and autograph no less than her spouse's. It keeps two secretaries busy answering the mail.
The dough, to put it bluntly, is rolling into the Sinatra bin at the moment. But except for the modest house and Nancy's mink coat—which he couldn't wait to buy her—"we haven't changed our way of living very much," Sinatra insisted. “Life is just about as it always was for us. We’re happy this way. Why should we change?”
Last winter, when Sinatra was suddenly swept into national fame through an engagement at the Paramount Theater in New York, the delirious, moaning, swooning ecstatic audience used to get so out of hand that it scared the wits out of Sinatra—the guy who was causing all the commotion.
"But now I know enough to clown around and string 'em along with me," he said.
Well, I can tell you that his audience may no longer scare Sinatra, but his radio audience scared the liver and lights out of me.
Finally the announcer, Olin Tice, had to ask the ‘teen age maniacs, mainly young girls from 16 to 19, to pipe down so the program could proceed. They literally had hit the roof when Sinatra put in his first appearance on the stage. He couldn’t open his mouth without such a gust of sighs going through the theater as was momentarily apt to waft away the proscenium arch.
"Modern hysteria in our time," muttered one of the boys in Raymond Scott's Orchestra, accompanying the phenom.
"You said it, brother," I agreed.
“Wimmen!” he snorted, as he picked up his sax.
Wimmen is right! But the gals had better know right now that one reason Nancy isn’t jealous of their delirium is because her husband still thinks she is prettier than any fan he’s ever seen.
“You bet!” he declared.
As for this disgruntled correspondent, she can pay Sinatra, the dream boy of the ages, no greater compliment than to say that to all appearances, the kid's hat still fits. And that, under the circumstances, is a major miracle.

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Laff at This One

Once upon a time, there was a radio show called “Hobby Lobby,” where host Dave Elman would bring on people with unusual pastimes or accomplishments. Also once upon a time, director Norm McCabe and the writing staff at the Leon Schlesinger studio decided to parody it.

Some of the gags in Hobby Horse-Laffs (1942) are telegraphed. Some are weak. Maybe the most surreal one is when amateur magician Chutney Giggleswick (voiced by Kent Rogers as Richard Haydn), where he promises to make a fish bowl (including the fish and the cloth covering it) disappear.

McCabe has his animator move the magician's fingers and arms around a lot, otherwise the character would just be standing there.

The gag? You might have seen this coming. The magician disappears.

The body-less suit lifts the cloth. Chutney's head is in the bowl, with the fish staring at him. He looks at the empty suit and says "A fine magician you are!"

Tubby Millar gets the writing credit for the blah effort. McCabe seems to have had Millar and Don Christensen as his writing staff. Cal Dalton was picked for the rotating animation credit; John Carey, Izzy Ellis and Vive Risto were also in the unit. Robert C. Bruce is the narrator and a rube mail deliverer, while Mel Blanc continues to be ubiquitous in a number of roles.

McCabe’s other 1942 cartoons were Who’s Who in the Zoo (another spot gagger), Daffy’s Southern Exposure (one of McCabe’s best), Gopher Goofy (needs overly polite gophers), The Duckators (pretty good propaganda short), The Impatient Patient (Daffy anarchy) and The Daffy Duckaroo (fun Daffy song, war message spoils end).