Monday 31 January 2022

Triggered by a Butt

Snafu can’t get his fat butt past the censor’s infra-red ray in the 1944 cartoon Censored.

Frank Tashlin’s a real master of direction in this. There are lighting effects and perspective animation. Oh, and a leggy woman in lingerie. However, back to Snafu. He realises he’s caught and tries to escape.

Snafu is stopped in every direction by a wall of bars which create a cage, taking him back to the censor who tears up his letter.

I haven’t any idea who is responsible for these scenes, but Art Davis, Izzy Ellis and Cal Dalton were in the Tashlin unit, along with George Cannata for a brief time.

Sunday 30 January 2022

Howard Hesseman

Anyone who worked in the radio business in the 1970s will likely tell you they knew some of the characters on WKRP in Cincinnati.

They’ll feel a kinship with Dr. Johnny Fever, the itinerant rock jock portrayed by Howard Hesseman, who has died at the age of 81.

Hesseman had some experience to draw from, as we learn from this wire service story of July 9, 1979.

WKRP's Johnny Fever Spent Time Underground

Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP)—Howard Hesseman's portrayal of Dr. Johnny Fever, the laid-back DJ at Cincinnati's WKRP, is so convincing, it's no surprise the actor actually spent some time spinning records for a radio station, underground rock at that.
Hesseman says of his stint at KMPX in San Francisco, "Very little and very poor." Nonetheless, you get the feeling—through Dr. Johnny Fever—that Hesseman learned a good deal in six months on the air. "While we were making the pilot for 'WKRP,' a number of people I'd known in radio would slide into the back-brain," Hesseman recalls. "The character originally was Johnny Sunshine—narrow lapels, cheap dark suit—and I said that just didn't seem right to me.”
Hesseman says Hugh Wilson, the show's producer who wrote the pilot, was receptive to his suggestions for changing the Howard Hesseman character, and the eccentric, dissheveled Dr. Johnny Fever emerged.
"Nobody serves as a specific role model," the actor says. "In a symbolic and sentimental way, it's a salute to those guys we've all heard on the radio. It seemed like an excellent way of personifying a sort of minor cultural hero."
"WKRP in Cincinnati," which airs on CBS Monday evenings at 8:30, in the gap between "M-A-S-H" and "Lou Grant," got off to a bumpy start last fall, suffered from several pre-emptions, and was pulled back until after the first of the year.
The comedy was a big success on its return, and has been renewed for the fall.
It's the story of a small station that turns to rock ‘n’ roll under an energetic new program director, played by Gary Sandy, in an effort to attract new listeners and advertisers. Dr. Johnny Fever signs on as WKRP's first rock disc jockey.
Several strong and independently developed characters share the lead in "WKRP in Cincinnati"—Gordon Jump as Arthur Carlson, the station manager, Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe, the station's secretary, Richard Sanders as news director LesNessman, Tim Reid as D J Venus Flytrap and that, perhaps, is the strength of the series.
"For network television," says Hesseman, "there's an awful lot of give and take between the actors and the writers. I came from an improvisational background, and I seem to have blundered into a situation where a lot of improvisation is not only allowed, but welcomed.
“Each character is different, and all of us have slightly different relationships with one another," the actor says. "I see Johnny as rather remote, restrained, not a joiner, whose one prime motivation in life is to do a good job."
Hesseman, born in Oregon, didn't take up acting until he moved to San Francisco after graduation from the University of Oregon. He acted in "Murder in the Cathedral" with the Company of the Golden Hind in San Francisco, and later appeared in productions of The Committee, an improvisational revue.
He appeared in his first movie, "Steelyard Blues," with Jane Fonda, in 1971, and has since acted in a dozen films, including "Petulia," "Billy Jack," "Shampoo," "The Sunshine Boys," and "Silent Movie."
His TV credits include parts in "The Life and Times of Sen. Joe McCarthy," "The Ghost of Flight 401," and "Howard, The Amazing Mr. Hughes," as well as several series.
“I’m negatively oriented,” he says of his commitment to a series. “The schedule can only be looked on by me as preventative to doing the kinds of work I could do on a freelance basis.
“It wasn’t, I’m pleased to say, the first series I was offered, and I took it because it seemed to offer some real promise.
"Comedy, with the blessing of the Great God of Satire, has been easy on me," Hesseman says, "but I would very much like to do more straight work, as it were."

After WKRP went off the air, Hesseman told the press he didn’t want to do another series. He ended up working on two, one being the lead in the school comedy The Head of the Class.

Hesseman quit after the fourth season. Anyone could see it coming. He told syndicated writer Frank Lovece at the end of 1987 he wasn’t happy with the writing:

“We did an episode where one of the characters breaks into a computer network to obtain information,” he explains. “Somebody says something to the effect of, ‘But you can’t do that,’ and the joke is, ‘Sure I can. Look.’” The culprit was not reprimanded, which bothers Hesseman. “In my mind, that seems to be condoning felonious behavior,” he says. “It may be only on a subliminal level, but the message is less than responsible — someone lies or breaks the law under some banner he’s waving in order to achieve his ends.”

And Scripps Howard writer Luaine Lee heard the same thing in August 1989 as Hesseman was about to begin his final season. To quote from the story:

It’s not necessarily true that there’s no socially redeeming value to his hit TV show “Head of the Class,” Howard Hesseman says. “It’s true in my opinion,” he adds with a wry smile, “but not necessarily true.”
“We’re not doing the show that I was led to believe I’d do. And it’s difficult for me to get off that,” he says. “I don’t want to air dirty laundry in public, but I do feel that the educational arena is one that offers a variety of story ideas as a means of investigating our lives — what we mean to one another and what’s important.”

What kind of show Head of the Class was is almost irrelevant. When you think of Howard Hesseman, that isn’t the show you think of.

The CBS publicity photo to the right has Johnny Fever holding a stack of carts. Back when WKRP was on, they were used to play recorded commercials and, at some stations, songs. With computer technology, I’d be surprised if any station still uses them. Back when WKRP was on, guys like Johnny Fever would go from one job to the next, finding a new station after being inevitably fired at the last one. Radio was their life. Today, radio stations sit empty, owned by corporations that save money by airing satellite programming.

The kind of radio that gave the world people like Dr. Johnny Fever is long gone. And, now, so is the actor who played him.

Jack Benny, Sailor and Lyricist

Laughter can fight an enemy.

Jack Benny could tell you that. During World War One, he was in a U.S. naval uniform entertaining not far from his native Waukegan, Illinois. He was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in May 1918 and that’s where legend has it he cut a lot of the music from his vaudeville act and added a comic monologue. No doubt it was a welcome morale boost to the men in uniform.

Since this is before jokes about the Maxwell and being heckled by Mary Livingstone, the question comes up about what exactly did he do in his act?

An eyewitness had the answer for Washington Star amusements writer E. de S. Melcher in the paper’s Oct. 24, 1934 edition.

THIS for you, Jack Benny. Thought it might remind you of the old days—a couple of them anyway:
“Dear Mr. M————: I read with interest your summary of Jack Benny’s career which you printed in the Sunday Star, and thought you might be interested in one or two additional items. During the war Benny and I, along with about 100,000 others, fought and bled for our country at the Great Lakes Training Station. I was just a humble hospital apprentice. Benny—well. I doubt if he knew himself what his rating was, but he was nominally attached to the station headquarters and his real job was to act as entertainer at the various recreation halls scattered over the camp—boost the morale, and so on. And a very good job he made of it, too.
“I first saw him in action one evening at the Red Cross Recreation Building on the hospital grounds. The hall was packed with convalescent patients, with a good quota of doctors, nurses and hospital corpsmen. When the Red Cross director announced that the next act would be ‘Benny Kubelsky and his jazz fiddle,’ there was a big outburst of applause that made me think that we were in for something good. Benny came strolling out, with the same bored, nonchalant manner that he has today, and looking very much as he does today except that he was wearing a sailor’s uniform, with a white hat stuck over his “starboard eyebrow” (do you know which is your starboard eyebrow, sir?)
“He started playing—he really played the violin in those days, instead of carrying it—and in less than 5 minutes I was one of his most enthusiastic admirers, which I have remained ever since. I have never heard any one who could play jazz on a violin as he could, and his dry, satiric humor laid me out cold. I was not alone in that, for from the minute he came out he had the crowd in the hollow of his hand.
“After a few numbers he stopped to let the applause die down, looked the crowd over sadly and said: ‘Gosh, when I think of it. Six months ago I was getting a good salary in big-time vaudeville: and here I am, playing jazz on a fiddle for a bunch of dumb gobs — and for 30 bucks a month.’ Whistles, cat calls and miscellaneous noises greeted this remark. Benny asked the crowd what it wanted him to play next, and on learning that they wanted ‘The Darktown Strutters’ Ball,’ he tucked his violin under his chin, then put it down, glanced mournfully at it and said: ‘It’s a shame to treat a fine instrument like this. No use playing anything good, though — you guys wouldn’t appreciate it.’
“In the moment of silence that followed, some one in the back of the hall gave Benny the bird. It was a beauty. Benny raised his eyes soulfully to the calling and said, ‘Ah, my public, my public!’ “However, Benny and his public understood each other thoroughly. The applause he got after each number made the rafters ring. The prize number was one of Benny’s own compositions, a catchy little thing that started off:

“‘Monday roast beef. All you little rookies, we wish the same to you.
Tuesday haa-ash.
Monday roast beef.
All you little rookies, we wish the same to you,’

“And so on, with additional lines for each day of the week, through fish for Friday, Saturday inspection and Sunday lunch.
“I have always considered Benny to be a wit of the first rank, and I think it is a credit to the intelligence of the Great Lakes personnel that they appreciated so thoroughly his brand of humor. During the intervening years I have seen him whenever I had a chance, and this Saturday evening will find me at the National to witness his initial venture into the ‘legitimate theater.’ I haven’t read the reviews yet, but I have no doubt about the outcome. Very truly, “EUGENE GUILD.”

You don’t think of Jack Benny as a song-writer, but the U.S. Copyright office actually registered the running gag song “When You Say I Beg Your Pardon, Then I’ll Come Back to You” in Benny’s name on October 19, 1951. (Today, it is registered both in Jack’s name and that of his arranger, Mahlon Merrick).

His help for the war effort went beyond camp shows. The Great Lakes Bulletin of October 24, 1918 talks about how Jack and others from the Training Station “worked indefatiably [sic] night and day, playing and singing at the many street booths in Chicago’s loop district and in the hotel lobbies during the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive...Wherever these talented man stopped and entertained thousands of dollars worth of bonds were sold and a large measure of the credit for putting Chicago over the top belongs to them.”

Among the names are Edward H. Sobol, the pioneer television director at NBC and Edwin E. Confrey, a pianist and composer better known as “Zez.” Confrey and Benny had an act called “Fooling Around With Piano and Fiddle” and the Bulletin of February 25, 1919 reported they were booked for vaudeville as soon as Confrey could get his discharge. But on March 12, Jack was doing a solo act at the Orpheum in Madison, Wisconsin, using the name “Ben K. Benny.” More laughs were ahead—and a little over 20 years later, more soldiers to entertain.

Funding for this post came from The Kathy Fuller-Seeley Foundation.

Saturday 29 January 2022

Tex Avery Won't Flee Fleas

Mike Lah, I believe it was, said that Tex Avery started doubting himself, wondering if the cartoons he was making at MGM were funny.

He had reason to. Some of them after he returned from a year of medical leave in the ‘50s weren’t all that funny compared with his work in the 1940s.

Tex hadn’t lost it, though. He went over to Walter Lantz and directed three cartoons I really enjoy, some even borrowing ideas he seems to have liked (the fourth, “Sh-h-h-h-h-h,” leaves a bit to be desired in the story department).

I think Tex got caught in a world of change. Cartoons had become a lot calmer. America had become a lot calmer. In the ‘50s, there was no Depression, and the World War was done. America started getting out of the noisy, busy cities and wanted to relax on a lawn chair in suburbia and fire up the barbecue. Cartoons reflected this. Almost all the studios got away from noisy, busy characters (ie. Screwy Squirrel) and calmed down what they put on the screen (re-issues an exception). Inertness came along just in time for TV animation, as lack of action on screen was the only way the cartoons could make any money.

Back to Tex Avery...

It could be the insecure Tex felt he needed to go back to the tried and true to get laughs, especially in an uncharacterly pathos-laden short. Avery regurgitated a bunch of old concepts in The Flea Circus, released in 1954. He must have found fleas funny. A flea ends Dixieland Droopy, he came out with a hobo flea cartoon in the ‘40s (What Price Fleadom), and used a flea-on-the-stage gag at Warner Bros. in Hamateur Night (1939, itself a gag borrowed from 1935’s I Haven’t Got a Hat).

In The Flea Circus, we’re treated (?) to a string of flea-on-the-stage gags, complete with lowered microphone as per Hamateur Night. We even get a cuspidor gag (in 1954?). Avery borrows Droopy’s voice for some reason and puts it in a flea. Said flea even sings “Clementine” like we heard in Magical Maestro. Both of the earlier cartoons are much funnier. The “Droopy” flea doesn’t behave like Droopy. He’s self-pitying because he’s in love with a self-centered flea. Hey, Droopy François, she looks exactly like every female flea in the cartoon. Why not date up one of them?

I don’t know if there ever was a flea cartoon that didn’t have a dog in it, and one shows up in this cartoon at the stage entrance door, sniffing around like you’d expect a dog to do (at least, in full animation).

The fleas, who are dancing to “Applause” by Ira Gershwin and Burton Lane, lifted right off the soundtrack of the MGM musical “Give a Girl a Break” (1954), spot the dog and run off stage, stopping to do a spelling gag with an Ah-OOO-gah car horn in the background.

Here’s Mike Lah in action. Anticipation and take.

The dog runs away, the fleas in pursuit.

The dog trips down the stairs. The fleas find a new home. Another shock registration by the Lah dog, and a bit of scrambling in place before running away.

Tex ends the cartoon with a procreation gag, something he used (though not the same) at the end of the 1938 Warner Bros. cartoon The Mice Will Play. He did the same thing in Little Johnny Jet (1953). In that cartoon, as in this one, the male isn’t all that crazy about the idea but somehow having children is patriotic (“Vive la France!” shouts Fifi to conclude the cartoon). And very suburban.

MGM seems to have had a brief French fetish. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera set two cartoons in France, both of which included the voice of Françoise Brün-Cottan, who plays Fifi in this short opposite Bill Thompson’s François.

Walt Clinton, Bob Bentley and Grant Simmons join Lah as animators, with Joe Montell painting backgrounds. If Ed Benedict designed the characters (I presume he did), he isn’t credited. An unsigned model sheet is dated July 27, 1952, almost six months before Fred Quimby shut down the Avery unit.

Friday 28 January 2022

Loosey Goosey

In Porky’s Preview (1941), Porky makes his own child-like title cards for his movie. In Walter Lantz’s Mother Goose on the Loose (1942), the idea is extended to the opening titles.

“Fluke of the Month Club” is “Book of the Month Club.” Get it? “Fluke?” “Book”?

Yeah, that’s Bugs Hardaway and his puns at work.

To translate, Frank Tipper and Les Kline animate, Lowell Elliott co-wrote the story and Darrell Calker supplied the boogie-woogie, brassy versions of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes” and “Three Blind Mice” that open the cartoon.

Thursday 27 January 2022


Papa Bear spends all winter trying to hibernate but ends up battling noise instead in What’s Brewin’, Bruin?

Finally, when everything’s quiet in his cave and he can sleep, winter ends. Birds tweet. A moose bellows. Icicles drop on a metal tub. Papa looks outside. And reacts.

Everything reverses and winter returns. Papa Bear is pleased. Iris out.

Papa Bear is played by Billy Bletcher, except for the “Quiet!!!” line done by Mel Blanc.

Warners released this Chuck Jones-directed short in 1948.

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Parading Jo Anne Worley

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In fans will know Jo Anne Worley but they may not know Herminio Traviesas. Yet he had an ever greater effect on the show than Worley or any of the other cast members.

He was the NBC censor assigned to the show.

In 1970, Traviesas set his sights on one of Worley’s lines in the cocktail party segment: “Boris wanted a memento of our love, so he bronzed the back seat of the car.” Traviesas demanded it be taken out. “My job is to take out as many dirty jokes as I can,” he said. Executive producer George Schlatter sputtered: “You’re ruining the show! I've seen Dean Martin get away with worse than that.”

Whether it stayed in or out, I don’t remember, but Worley was always doing something loud and “zany,” a term that was probably passé when Laugh-In debuted in 1968. We dug out some old newspaper clippings about her last year. Here are some more. First, from King Features Syndicate papers of February 9, 1969.
A TV Keynote Feature
Laugh-In Has Bold Brassy Female To Keep Show's Tempo at Fast Pace

There's always one in a crowd—the big, noisy, extrovert who helps set the room temperature. On "Laugh-In" Monday nights, the big laugher is a lady—dark-haired, boisterous Jo Anne Worley, endowed with a bray that bounces off walls, a kind of picker-upper inserted when the tempo threatens to cool off. Miss Worley's laugh is sorely needed in these troubled times, a commercial item keeping Jo Anne steadily employed except for one month during the last eight years. That's a pretty good track record for young comediennes.
Jo Anne comes by her loudness naturally, being raised on a Lowell, Ind., farm. "We did not have to worry about disturbing the neighbors," she says. "We yelled at the pigs and let go in general. Both my sister and I can never be accused of being quiet."
In Las Vegas
Laughing just comes naturally to Jo Anne. Over the Christmas holidays Ruth Buzzi, Allan Suess [sic], Dave Madden and Miss Worley played Las Vegas with bosses Rowan and Martin, performing "Laugh-In" type blackouts. Between shows the kids caught a hypnotist act and soon were on stage as guinea pigs. Ruth Buzzi went under at the count of two, even allowing the practitioner to stand on her 108- pound frame, while Jo Anne fell into a giggling spell.
"I couldn't open my eyes," she recalls. "It was a ticklish sensation which made me roar with laughter."
Jo Anne should have brought the hypnotist along on New Year's Day when she rode the Silver Slipper float in Pasadena's Tournament of Roses, because it was no fun. After finishing the Las Vegas midnight show with the "Laugh- In" gang on New Year's Eve, the comedienne took a 3 a.m. plane for Los Angeles in order to be in Pasadena at 5 a.m. She arrived at the parade formation area at 6 a.m. Both Jo Anne and her driver were unable to find the float, and officials were just as vague. The actress finally spotted the beauty, then stood by until 10:30 a.m. without coffee or any other relief, joking with the crowd.
"That was physical work," she reports. "Reacting to all those people. They wanted 'Laugh-In' gags and I did my best until I learned to pantomime, indicating a sore throat." Jo Anne was stunned by the number of youngsters who knew her name and her routines. "They know you so well," she said in awe. "Last spring Goldie Hawn and I felt we were doing absolutely nothing on the show. Then, this summer we went out on the road and discovered the 'little nothing bits' counted. The Rose Parade proved it once more."
It also taught Miss Worley a lesson about parades. Her float had mechanical troubles which almost crushed her at one point. At the end the actress dismounted with relief, thinking the worst was over, only to spend 4 hours getting out of Pasadena traffic.
“The only way they can get me back is to make me Queen,” she says.
Like many of the young comedy talents considers herself a writer, putting together her own nightclub act, using her wacky songs on "Laugh-In." Now she's reached the point in the club business where agents suggest hiring writers whose material isn't up to her standards. "They're submitting things I rejected when I was writing," she says, "and that rubs me the wrong way."
Jo Anne can't sit down and turn out material because she's trained another way—trying out gags before audiences in New York clubs like Upstairs at The Duplex where she once worked with Joan Rivers and Dick Cavett. She would chatter about her days as a door-to-door sales lady for Dabit, or her job as truck stop waitress. When the dialogue fell flat, Jo Anne mode faces, giggled and moved out among the audience, marking time while she was feverishly thinking of something. She can sweat out a crowd, but sitting down at a desk to write is simply too hard.
“I was born under the sign of Virgo,” she adds, “so I tend to be over-critical of myself.” For assurance and advice Jo Anne often consults a voice teacher who dispenses astrology lore, telling her former pupil "she can make things happen," offering general clues to future plans.
So far the voice teacher has high marks. "When I'm going out with a guy I bring him around to my friend to check him out," say Jo Anne. "It's handled very diplomatically and I can tell by her attitude if there's no future to the guy. The thing is not I get married if you can cool it.
There's another routine that should become a Worley act. Now if she can only talk it out or break the habit—sit down and let it just come out!
And now from another of the syndication services, dated May 3, 1970.
Jo Anne Worley Says: "I Want to Be Loved!"

ATTACHED to Jo Anne Worley's telephone is a sign which boldly proclaims "I AM LOVED!"—almost as if she were trying to convince herself. And therein lies the struggle of tv's "Laugh-In" star, famous for her loud, raucous laughter, feathers and fringes, and exaggerated style of comedy.
From the very beginning of "Laugh-In," which made its debut in January of 1968, Jo Anne Worley has capitalized on her special brand of camp. Her now familiar offstage whoop heralds an on-camera performance in which Jo Anne mugs, hugs, sings, dances, makes google eyes, and casually tosses off throaty comic lines.
In private life, however, Jo Anne is shy and introverted, particularly where men are concerned. She has a down-to-earth Midwestern attitude, a religious background that causes her much consternation over today's changing mores, and a yearning to be loved.
This wanting to be loved dates back to her early school days in Lowell, Ind., when she towered head and shoulders over her classmates. "It was impossible to find a boy who could get enthused about that!" she exclaimed. (Today she stands 5' 8½" and weighs 135—"I'd like 10 pounds less!") Yet when she did start to date, Jo Anne's strict upbringing ("I was brought up under the commandment 'Thou shalt not touch'") caused her to be painfully insecure.
Jo Anne's childhood prepared her for hard work all right, but not necessarily theatrical work. She was one of five children who lived on a farm. She learned the meaning of taking one's responsibility, seriously. As soon as Jo Anne was old enough, she had to help with the farm chores—milking cows and feeding livestock.
It was not until Jo Anne began to feel something of a misfit in school because of her height that she struggled for acceptance through other means. She soon discovered that a gay, loud, and outwardly assured manner could cover up a lot of inner insecurities. Before long, Jo Anne became the "star" entertainer of her high school. The fact that she was not cast as a romantic type bothered her, but she kept that fact secret. Openly, she was a-laugh-a-minute. And very popular.
After graduating, Jo Anne headed for Los Angeles and moved in with her sister, who was living there. Jo Anne planned to attend City College there and get a secretarial job on the side. But soon she got wind of some auditions, turned up for them, and was signed for a spot with the "Billy Barnes People" revue which went on tour and ended up in New York.
Finding herself out of work, Jo Anne began making the New York audition scene and found that her old Hoosier luck had not left her completely. She found work in a number of small night-club revues, which opened the door to some tv-talk shows, particularly Merv Griffin's. A major break came when she understudied Carol Channing on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly." She then went to Las Vegas to appear on the "Bill Dana Show" and landed a regular spot with Joey Bishop's, "Son of a Gun Valley Players."
During this period, Jo Anne was in a good position to hear of anything that was happening on tv. And by now she had developed her comic personality more than ever. So it wasn't surprising when a friend told her about auditions for "Laugh-In" and thought she would be perfect for it. Executive producer George Schlatter thought she was perfect, too, and hired her for the show.
Jo Anne is the only one of her family never to have married. Some day she would like to—very much. And have a couple of children. She stems from a belief in marriage, a home, a life shared.
Currently there is a man in her life, actor Roger Perry, an old friend whom she met when she first went to Los Angeles and worked at the Music Box Theatre. Time will tell whether Jo Anne has finally overcome her shyness and insecurity enough to really share her whole life and allow herself to be loved and love in return. Sighed Jo Anne, "It would be lovely to get married—if it worked out. I am really a very normal human being! Otherwise I'd be in a nuthouse."

Peter Robbins

It’s been something like 50 years since Peter Robbins faced a TV camera for purposes of regular employment. After that, he hosted a radio talk show in Palm Springs, pitched Peanuts merchandise at a shopping centre kiosk, managed an apartment building, sold real estate, dealt with addiction and mental health difficulties, and spent time in jail.

Now, the original voice of Charlie Brown has taken his own life.

Amateur psychologists and internet-made experts may be tempted to equate Robbins’ life with that of his most famous role. Instead, I choose to look back on happier times.

An unbylined promotional story appeared in newspapers at the end of 1978. By then, Robbins was out of show business but came back for a TV special. The following story isn’t quite accurate as far as I know, because Peanuts characters appeared on TV spots for Ford several years before the Christmas special.

Peanuts Celebrates Birthday
Charlie Brown was speechless when he met Peter Robbins.
The beloved little “Peanut” had spoken only through the inspired pen of his creator, Charles M. Schulz, his thoughts encased in comic-strip balloons for all the world to see—but not to hear—until Charlie and his pals took the giant step into network television with their first animated special on CBS in 1965.
Peter Robbins was the youngster selected, after exhaustive auditions, to be the voice of Charlie Brown in that historic debut.
Robbins, now a 23-year-old graduate student, is reunited briefly with Schulz and the “Peanuts” when he appears in “Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown,” a one-hour special that will celebrate the beginning of the 30th year of the popular comic strip, Friday, Jan. 5 from 8 to 9 p.m. on CBS.
Robbins remembers the first audition when he competed with some 50 other children in an intensive search for just the right voices to interpret the unique characteristics of each “Peanut” personality and bring them to life on the screen for the first time. He was nine years old and a young veteran of several motion pictures and television appearances—the only “professional” in the crowd of young aspirants.
“I was a ‘Peanuts’ fan even then,” Peter recalls, “and I felt I knew all the characters In the cartoon strip personally. I remember an enormous sense of responsibility when it was pointed out to me that the world would hear Charlie Brown for the first time through my voice. It was pretty heavy for a nine-year old kid.”
Producer Lee Mendelson remembers, too. “We listened to kids’ voices for days and days. I heard them in my sleep—if I got to sleep. We knew that everyone of Schulz’s millions of readers had his own idea of how each character should sound-especially Charlie Brown.”
The production team, Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez, selected Peter Robbins for the role because they felt he had “the Charlie Brown sound.” “It’s a wistful quality,” Mendelson explains, “an elusive something one feels rather than hears.”
Robbins voiced a half-dozen Charlie Brown specials and then “retired” from acting to concentrate on school and other activities. He is interested in film production and is a student in communications and psychology at UC San Diego.
“I haven’t acted in 12 years,” he said. Then looking around at the new troop of young voices, the cameras, the lights, the hurly-burly of the set, he said in a Charlie Brown-ish accent “Good grief! Maybe I’ll get back into acting after all.”

Let’s jump ahead to 1995. Dave Walker of the Arizona Republic had a chance to chat with him and the story was sent out to various papers. This was published December 10.

Peter Robbins is the Voice Behind the Peanuts Legend
Peter Robbins at the ripe old age of 9 years gave his dusky, down-and-out voice to Charlie Brown.
Robbins, now 39 and works as an account executive for a Palm Desert, Calif., advertising agency, said he got the lead role in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at a standard Hollywood casting call. “They liked my voice, I guess,” he said. “I was very, very depressing. ‘This kid needs a break. Let’s give him a job.’”
After winning the role, Robbins and the rest of the cast worked out their parts individually with animator Bill Melendez, whose vocal inflections, he joked, gave Charlie Brown “a little Latin accent.”
“We each (recorded) our own little segment separately because having 7-, 8- and 9-year-ods in one room together was too chaotic,” Robbins said. “I would mimic Bill, who would basically break up the dialogue into little segments.”
Although “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz has said he didn’t like Robbins’ voice, it set the standard for Charlie Browns for years to come. Robbins provided Charlie Brown’s voice for four subsequent TV specials (including “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”) and the first Peanuts movie, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.”
Easier than being on TV: “It was a relief to do a voice thing like this,” Robbins said. “On other shows, you’d have to get up early and wear makeup, look nice, have your hair combed. For this, I could just come in after school and play around in a recording studio and say ‘Rats’ and ‘Good grief.’ Then I went home.
“It was a lot easier than doing some of the other stuff.”
Some of that other stuff included TV commercials, feature-film parts and guest roles in such classic TV series as “Dragnet,” “Gunsmoke” and “F Troop.” But Robbins’ acting assignments began to dry up about the time he reached high school.
These days, there’s no way a new acquaintance could guess that Robbins once spoke for Charlie Brown. His voice sounds nothing like the perpetually discouraged cartoon character. But folks never fail to be impressed when they learn.
“They usually find out through friends, ‘Robbins said.” ‘Hey, you were the original Charlie Brown?’ Then they say, ‘Say something.’”
On a resume that includes appearances on such TV series as “Get Smart,” “The Munsters” and “My Three Sons,” as well as several motion pictures, including Sonny and Cher’s camp classic, “Good Times,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” remains Robbins’ favorite credit.
“I’m quite proud of it,” he said. “If you can be the voice of any cartoon character, I’d pick Charlie Brown.
“As I get older, I appreciate it more. It really has turned out to be a classic.”

It was inevitable the Charlie Brown role would have to be re-cast if Peanuts TV specials were to carry on into the future indefinitely. Robbins’ mother didn’t want the money train to stop. Robbins told the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2005 his mother fed him female hormones to try to keep his voice from maturing.

All kinds of glib, Peanuts tie-in endings for the post are coming to my mind, but they just don’t feel right. I was pulling for Robbins and hoping life would be good for him again. I’m sad that it didn’t turn out that way.

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Screwy Water Fountain

Screwy Squirrel heckles Big Heel-Watha by substituting a sign at the Old Faithless geyser with a drinking fountain. You can guess what happens. Then we gets dry-brush swirls (there was a lot of that in the first few Screwy cartoons) and then the take.

MGM released Big Heel-Watha in 1944. Screwy doesn't make his appearance until about half-way into the cartoon. Ed Love seems to animate a lot of Heel-Watha, the Droopy Indian, but not here. Preston Blair and Ray Abrams are the other animators, with Johnny Johnsen painting some fine forest backdrops.

Monday 24 January 2022

It's Time

The construction foreman wonders if his pocket watch is working in the 1928 Oswald silent film Sky Scrappers. He bangs it against some humanised contraption pulling a rope.

The rest of the scene goes like this.

Only Walt Disney gets credited, along with Winkler Productions.