Monday 28 February 2022

Drunk On Moonlight Bay

The best drunken fish in cartoons have to be in Porky's Duck Hunt (1937). The nascent version of Daffy Duck takes a back seat as the fish swim through hootch that leaked through a barrel, then get in a boat and sing “On Moonlight Bay.”

We had some frames of this sequence posted quite some time ago, but lets give you some more. The fish are hiccoughing as they sing.

The Billy Bletcher fish slurs a sentence at the audience in between lines of the song, and thrusts his head at us. “Don’t yuzz EVER go away!”

The fish boat floats behind the bullrushes and the song ends. Farewell!

Cut to the next scene. Director Tex Avery and his writing team have Porky add a groaner. “There’s something fishy about that,” he speculates to us, looking at the camera.

Virgil Ross and Bobe Cannon are the credited animators.

Sunday 27 February 2022

The Night They Raided Jack Benny's Show

A combination of factors managed to put Jack Benny in the radio business, and he reminisced about them in 1963 as he was returning to New York.

Jack was about to do a show at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Of course, he recalled it well, turning back the clock about 35 years.

We’ll let him tell the story. This column appeared on the news wire starting February 23rd.

Benny Back on Broadway at 69
Previous Appearance Was 32 Years Ago, When Police Raided the Show
By Jack Gaver
UPI Drama Editor
NEW YORK, Feb. 23 (UPI)—WHEN JACK BENNY returns Feb. 27 to the New York stage in an intimate revue of his own devising after a 32-year absence—during which he aged exactly two years to his perennial 39—he is sure of one thing.
Backstage at the Ziegfeld Theater won't be swarming with cops, and they won't be backing up the paddy wagon to the stage door to haul away the boss and some of the cast.
That's what happened with the last New York show in which he appeared, and it was only because of the stoutness of the Benny moral fiber that he wasn't one of those in the Black Maria.
The show was the eighth edition of the late Earl Carroll's lavish "Vanities" revues in 1930.
"I must tell you," Benny interpolated, "that in that show Carroll really did out-Ziegfeld Flo Ziegfeld and his 'Follies.' He was always trying to do that. There were never so many gorgeous girls in one show as in that 'Vanities.' Audiences cheered the sight of them. It was a really beautiful production."
And a funny one, too, according to reviews of the day. Four comedians—Jimmie Savo, Herb Williams, Patsy Kelly and our hero—headed the cast. Funny but quite dirty at times.
"There was this one pantomine sketch especially," Benny recalled. "It involved the apprentice window dresser of a department store getting into all sorts of difficulties with the dummies. There were numerous suggestive bits of action. The laughs, of course, were inspired by the fact that the dummies were real live and scantily clad showgirls.
"I was supposed to have played the window dresser. When I found out what the sketch was like, I told Carroll I wouldn't do it. He threatened me with breach of contract charges, and I said that if Actors’ Equity ruled that I had to do the scene, I'd quit show business. He gave in and had Jimmie Savo play it.
"The police got into action soon after opening night. They took a few looks at the number and then hustled Carroll, Savo and Faith Bacon, a beautiful fan dancer who had a principle role in the manhandling, off to the station house. The result was that the sketch came out."
That stand by Benny against a powerful producer was a courageous one. He really wasn't a big enough stage personality to be certain of getting away with such defiance—“Vanities” was only his second legitimate show—although his years of vaudeville experience after World War I had boosted him into a term movie contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that paid well.
"The trouble," the comedian explained, "was that M-G-M wasn't giving me enough work, and when this 'Vanities' offer come along, I persuaded the studio to free me to take it. I've played a number of hunches through my career and—knock wood—they've worked out.
"I was paid $1250 a week by Carroll while the show was in New York, and $1500 for touring. Do you realize how much money that was in those days with low taxes, depression prices and a hard dollar? And I didn't have to work very hard in the show, either."
Benny got another of his hunches after the show went on tour. "I hadn't been paying any attention to radio," he said, "but everywhere we went I'd hear people talking about Amos and Andy and other unknown guys who were suddenly becoming stars out of nowhere because of broadcasting. Maybe this annoyed me a little. It certainly made me curious about a medium that could do that in a short time.
"In the spring of 1932, an old friend, columnist Ed Sullivan who had a 15-minute radio show for CBS, asked me to appear on it just for kicks—no money. We cooked up some dialogue between us, and the right people happened to hear me and liked what they heard.
"Within a week, I had a sponsored half-hour radio show twice a week. And we did it with one writer. Can you imagine that? I've been in broadcasting ever since." It was on the first radiocast of his own program that Benny uttered that classic self-introduction, a line that set the pattern for the Benny character as a performer. "This is Jack Benny—and who cares?"
And now the veteran of 31 years of radio and television—69 years old and the past Thursday, Valentine’s Day—approaches the five-and-a-half-week engagement at the Ziegfeld, following a two-week tryout in Toronto, like a newcomer with his first chance to make good.
"I've been threatening to—wanting to—do this for years," the comedian said. "I managed to put together a pretty good show last spring for a short engagement in Las Vegas, where I make an occasional night club appearance just for kicks, and I just made up my mind that I'd better make the move to New York now or I never would."

Benny’s first radio series wasn’t a week later, but it’s generally conceded Jack’s appearance on Sullivan’s show led to it. And not once, until his TV series ended in 1965, was he raided again.

Saturday 26 February 2022

Those Offensive Cartoons

In a way, it’s amusing seeing old films and TV shows given anything but a “G” rating. That’s because all that ancient stuff was vetted by prudes at the time it was made.

Some examples can be found in this New York Sun story of September 30, 1939. Much like TV networks of later years, Columbia Pictures cow-towed to the wishes of people with sticks up their butts to ensure none of its cartoons were offensive. Someone objecting to a parody of Goldilocks because it was a parody? Yes, it really happened. Patriotism and religion, yes! Spanking children, yes! But a canary getting stuck in a bottle? Heavens, no.

We should point out these cartoons were never pulled from distribution. This only involves one theatre’s programme. Columbia was allowed to bore audiences elsewhere with its lacklustre cartoons.

Four Women Judge Films for Happy Hour.
But They Pass Group Singing the National Anthem.
The four men watched the pen-and-ink antics of Goldilocks in the animated cartoon with chuckles of approval, but the four women smiled seldom.
It was at a showing in the Columbia Pictures' executive screening room at 729 Seventh avenue of six short subjects for one of the "Happy Hour" units, the short subject programs designed especially for children. The men were connected with Columbia, and the women were club women who act as jurors to see that the "Happy Hour" units are happy in a nice way.
They were reviewing the fifty-third unit in the fourth year of this series of children's shows. Fifty-two units already have been indorsed by various civic and women's organizations throughout the nation.
The first short on the program was "Krazy's Bear Tale," a cartoon poking fun at the tale of Goldilocks end the three bears. This unorthodox Goldilocks didn't like the baby bear's porridge, and in the end instead of fleeing from the three bears, she was trucking while they played hot music.
Then to Bermuda.
Following was a travel short on Bermuda, in which the hottest thing was the weather.
Then a sports reel on skiing was shown, and one of the women laughed when a skier fell on his head.
A "Happy Tots" cartoon, showing a lot of happy tots frolicking among the stars brought smiles every face, including those of Columbia men.
Next was the "Book of Books,” picturing the many processes that go into the printing of the Bible, and the final short was a "Community Sing."
In this, men in uniform sang patriotic songs, beginning with "Hail, Columbia." One of Columbia men hummed a little on this one.
Next the men sang “Yankee Doodle," then "America” which two of the critics hummed. Then came "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," "Dixie" and finally “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Everybody stood up for the last, and one woman stood in the light from the projection room, blotting out part of the picture on the screen. She moved out of the way.
“How was it ladies?” asked a Columbia man when the lights went on.
One Is Rejected.
“All but the first one were fine," said Mrs. Rega Van Nostrand, representing a club in New Jersey.
The other women agreed, and one said: "You should change part of that picture.”
"Madam," said one of the Columbia men, "we cannot change it. We can substitute another short."
"First, let's get a picture of the ladies,” said another Columbia man.
One of them, Mrs, J. W. Emrich of the Motion Picture producers and distributors of America, didn't want to pose.
“We know you're timid," said the Columbia man.
“No, I have a complex about pictures,” said Mrs. Emrich.
After every one had posed, another animated cartoon was screened, showing the tribulations an early bird that tried to catch a tough worm.
“How was that?” asked the Columbia man.
The critics didn’t like that either, much.
"Do you think the children will want their money back?" said the Columbia man rather testily.
"That isn't the point," said one of the ladies.
They agreed to come back and select another short to round out the program.
Their Reasons.
Mrs. Emrich explained that she opposed the two shorts because they didn't come up to the high standard of the rest of the program.
"The rest was fine" she said. "At first I thought it would be nice to end with the Bible picture, but the community sing brings it to a veritable crescendo with the national anthem."
Mrs. H. A. Meyer, another juror, didn't like the Goldilocks short because Goldilocks spat out some porridge.
"We spank our children for things like that," she said.
She also thought that the early-bird film was vulgar, because the bird got his tail caught in a nipple from a milk bottle.

Mrs. Van Nostrand called the tail-in-the nipple point silly, but said that she didn't like the picture either. She was vague about the early-bird short, but disliked the Goldilocks film because it debunked a fairy tale.
The other judge, Mrs. J. W. R. Cooper, hurried away before she could be interviewed.
"Five out of six good," said the Columbia man. "Phew!”

Of course, judgementalists are still among us. Just the judgements are different. Any bets that, today, someone would play find singing “Dixie” offensive??

Friday 25 February 2022

Today's Radio Reference

Radio references found their way into countless cartoons (well, I guess you could count them, but it would take a while). Some were indirect (ie. having a character do a spoof of the Lucky Strike tobacco auctioneers), some were borrowed catchphrases (ie. “hmmm...could be!”), and some were direct takeoffs or impressions of personalities on the air, like Jack Benny, the Great Gildersleeve, Jerry Colonna and many more.

Here’s an example from the Columbia cartoon Tooth or Consequences (1947). Yes, the title is a play on Ralph Edwards’ audience participation show but that’s not what I’m referring to.

This is a short starring the Fox and Crow, the latter heckles the former. In this plot by Cal Howard, the crow has decided to pretend to be a dentist to harass the dimwit fox. He tells the fox to open his mouth wider, and wider, and wider, creaking every time it opens. The fox looks at whomever is actually watching this cartoon, points and says “Inner Sanctum” and then laughs and pokes his head at the camera.

“Inner Sanctum” was a dramatic anthology show that opened with a squeaking door. It lasted on radio until 1952.

Howard Swift directed the short, with Grant Simmons and Paul Sommer getting animation credits and Darrell Calker coming up with another score that could fit in a Dick Lundy Woody Woodpecker short.

For some reason, Frank Graham is not voicing either character for a change. I can’t tell if Will Wright is sped-up and doing the crow. The fox has the same dullard voice as the dog in Kitty Caddy and Up N’ Atom (also released in 1947) as well as Meathead in the MGM Screwy Squirrel cartoons.

Today’s coincidence: Cal Howard later went to work for Ralph Edwards on Truth or Consequences.

Thursday 24 February 2022

The Doors of Tomorrow

“Why, it even has a separate entrance for each member of the family,” says narrator Frank Graham before Jack Stevens’ camera pans over a Johnny Johnsen background of The House of Tomorrow.

There’s one for Fido.

For Junior (Scott Bradley plays “The Alphabet Song”).

For the Missus. “She just loves sweets,” Graham explains (Bradley plays “Mother”).

For Dad (Bradley: “For he’s a jolly good fellow”). Evidently 1949 suburbia is loaded with bars and taverns. Or maybe he drives home drunk after a few at a bar in the city.

And, chuckle, for the mother-in-law.

Yes, the mother-in-law joke, a comic staple of stand-up comedians of the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and...

Well, the battle-axe mother-in-law goes back to silent film comedies and who know how long before then. Avery dredged it up in several cartoons at MGM: Car of Tomorrow, Field and Scream, The Last Bad Man. I can’t think of any at Warners where he used it. He makes up for it with three mother-in-law gags in this one.

I can’t tell you who did the layout on this, but Rich Hogan and Jack Cosgriff helped Tex Avery gag it.

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Meatball Man

He was a star on the stage, he was an award-winner, he was all over television 50 years ago. But anyone who saw him back then likely doesn’t know his name.

For the record, it’s Jack Somack.

He’s immortalised in minds of those watching TV in the early ‘70s for the words “Mamma Mia, thatsa spicy meatball.” Yes, Somack is the guy who starred in the commercial-within-a-commercial for Alka Seltzer. It was a monster hit with viewers. People could identify with the plight of the man in the phoney commercial.

At least three syndicated columnists out of New York sought out Somack. Here’s one report, published January 9, 1971.

Jack Somack Has Discovered It’s Never Too Late For Acting

TV Key
NEW YORK — Thirty-five years ago when Jack Somack went out into the Depression-ridden streets of Chicago to find a career for himself, he was aware of one thing: He did not look like an actor. Given his choice, he would have chosen a life in the theatre because he had always liked acting and felt quite at home on the stage in amateur productions. But he also enjoyed eating, and he entered the world of commerce where he spent a good part of his life as a traveling representative for a chemical company, raising a family and taking care of his theatrical ambitions by joining little theatre groups wherever his work relocated him.
Today, at 52, Jack Somack is a successful actor who built a career on one basic fact: He does not look like an actor.
His meteoric rise to fame began four years ago when he was appearing gratis in a workshop production of “The Seagull.” The theatre being used also housed an off-Broadway revival of “A View from the Bridge” and author Arthur Miller and director Ulo Grosbard caught amateur Somack’s performance and he was asked to take over the lead in “A View from the Bridge.”
"I didn’t even have an Equity card,” he recalls. “But I played it straight, went to the Union and undoubtedly became the oldest man ever to receive a junior membership. Then I talked it over with my wife. We had put the kids through college and I thought now I’d like to take that chance I couldn’t take in the ’30s. She went along and I became the star of an off Broadway play at seventy-five a week.”
Within a year, he was earning more in a good month than he might have expected in his best year in business. The non-actor face and physique turned out to be readily merchandiseable in the lucrative field of commercials. If your set is on at this moment, you can probably catch Jack as the man eating “thatsa spicy meatball” in the amusing Alka-Seltzer commercial. For delivering that frustrating line so well, the scale pay—according to Jack—is $8,000 for the amount of times that particular spot has been seen and, he adds proudly, he now receives well over scale wages.
And ‘‘Thatsa spicy meatball” is just one of many commercials in which Somack appears. “Now the nondescript face is a tremendous advantage,” he points out. I somehow look different in every situation and I am able to appear in as many as six commercials which are being telecast in the same 13-week cycle without any of the sponsors complaining. Naturally, I don’t do competitive products.”
But Somack is doing a lot more than getting rich in commercials. He is soon to open off-Broadway in a play “The Shrinking Bride” which he can afford to do because of the income he receives from the sales pitches. He recently completed his first important role in a feature film with Shirley MacLaine, and he played in “The Price” on tour. He even made it on Broadway last year in a short-lived little farce called “Paris Is Out” with Molly Picon.
He’s been a professional actor for four years but he still hasn’t recovered from the thrill of finally finding himself after so many years in the world of commerce. "I honestly expect to hear the phone ring some morning and when I pick it up I'll find out that this has all been a dream, I’ve overslept, and it’s the factory calling to tell me I’m fired.”

This is from the Newspaper Enterprise Association, October 13, 1971

Road to Success Is Paved with Spicy Meatballs

HOLLYWOOD – (NEA) – If you follow Jack Somack's advice, you'll take spicy meatballs for your headache.
Somack's story is one of those lovely, incredible tales that make Horatio Alger's heroes look like the Born Loser. Until five years ago, he was in the chemical business, selling his wares like Willy Loman for a quarter of a century.
He had always wanted to act. And over those 25 years he participated in little theater activities wherever he was based —Memphis, Tenn., Lexington, Ky., Jacksonville, Fla., Pittsburgh. He estimates he had the leading role in some 50 plays during that span.
"But I always had headaches, he says. "Constant headaches."
• • •
HE SAYS he dreamed constantly of turning professional, giving up chemicals for greasepaint.
It was only that — a dream. He couldn't give up a steady income for the wispiness of an acting career, certainly not with a wife and two kids to support.
But by 1966 things had changed with the Somack family. His son was in the Peace Corps and his daughter was a senior in college. He suddenly realized the days of financial drain were over.
"So I said to my wife, 'if I can make $200 a week, we can get by and I'd like to try,'" he says. "And she said, 'Go ahead.'"
WITHIN A few months he had replaced Richard Castellano in "A View From the Bridge" on Broadway. And he also began a career in commercials that was to lead him, ultimately, to Hollywood.
He did dozens of them, notably the man with the cymbals for TWA, the harried driving instructor for Americana Motors, and his masterpiece, the spicy meatballs commercial for Alka-Seltzer.
He says 80 per cent of that most famous of commercials was improvised. They just kept shooting and he kept improvising and they wound up with enough for 10 commercials.
"I made more money on that," he says, "than I'm making in my first movie — but that's not true of my next movie. I made more in one day on that than I'll make in 10 weeks on this."
• • •
HE SAYS few people recognized him in the spicy meatballs spot. He called his mother in Chicago and told her to watch it. She said she already had. and had remarked to his father, "Jack could have done that commercial."
His agent put together a 7 1/2-minute film, consisting of those three commercials and a bit he had done on N.Y.P.D. and submitted it to Warner Bros., then casting "Portnoy's Complaint."
Now Jack Somack is co-starring with Richard Benjamin and Lee Grant in the film, playing Portnoy’s constipated father. He's loved every minute of every day since he turned pro in ’66.
"I haven't had a headache in five years," he says.
• • •
THE PART in "Portnoy’s Complaint" is, of course, the current culmination of the dream. He read the book when it was first published but the idea of playing a part in it was then beyond his wildest reveries.
“This is like a dream world,” he says. "I love Hollywood. I was here" three years ago for four days, making a commercial, but I saw nothing. Now I'm like a kid on a holiday. We love it here and we hope to stay. Warner Bros, has an option for three more films, so I think I’ve found a new home."
He says that everything has broken well for him since he made his big decision five years ago. What ever he touches turns out well — he sold most of his stock before the market took its big drop and if he loses an acting job a better one comes along the next day.
So if you've always wanted to act, don't let age stop you — do as Jack Somack did and become an actor. Only be sure you also have 25 years of experience before you do it.

The commercial won the grand sweepstakes award at the 11th Annual International Broadcasting Awards in Hollywood, with laughter and applause ringing out throughout its showing over a Century Plaza Hotel stage.

While no one gets a screen credit on a commercial, Somack got an unusual one in 1983 on an episode of Benson: “In Memory of Jack Somack.” He was supposed to play a plumber but died during rehearsal of a massive heart attack. He was 64.

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Western Cliche Time

Directors of Westerns found different ways to set up shots of scenes leading up to the climax gun battle. In their hunt to avoid clichés, they created clichés. Director Chuck Jones, layout artist Phil De Guard and writer Mike Maltese got a chance to make fun of them in Drip-Along Daffy. It was released in 1951, a year before High Noon.

Here are the angles they came up with.

Maltese’s story has “comic relief” Porky Pig undermining the whole thing. He casually winds up a little toy that blasts, and disposes of, bad guy Nasty Canasta.

All Daffy Duck knows he is a Western hero and steadfastly continues to behave like one, walking with his guns toward a shootout that will, now, not happen, as a crowd rushes past him to mob Porky. Carl Stalling plays one of his stand-bys, “Cheyenne,” on the soundtrack.

Backgrounds are by Bob Gribbroek.

Monday 21 February 2022

Duck Shoes

Want a gag out of nowhere from Walt Disney? We’ll go back to the silent days for one. It all started with a girl. And a Felix knock-off.

In Alice’s Mysterious Mystery (1926), our heroine and Julius the cat are detectives. Even their car gets into it, sniffing footprints like a dog.

Aha! They come across an end to the trail. A duck is sitting there, and gets ignored when it senses Alice looking it.

Surprise! The footprint belong to the duck, who is wearing shoes. It struts off rather indignantly, and out of the cartoon.

Disney gets credit in “A Winkler Production.” All “Winkler” did was release it.

Sunday 20 February 2022

No Watergate For Benny

If you listen to Jack Benny’s radio show, there’ll be reference to current political events on occasion. But they were the same kind of jokes everyone else was doing—the Republicans celebrating Thanksgiving on a different day than the Democrats, Alabama having two governors, Thomas Dewey unexpectedly losing to Harry Truman in the presidential race, the Marshall Plan for Britain, Al Smith unable to say “radio,” that sort of thing.

But it was all in good fun.

Watergate wasn’t.

It divided a nation and Jack Benny stayed away from it. Nor would you hear him joke about current affairs in the ‘60s. He stuck to the favourites of audiences for years and years, namely Benny making fun of himself.

Five months before he passed away, he stopped in Spokane, Washington to perform at Expo. He was greeted by the usual pack of reporters and at least one came away with a positive story. This is from the Spokesman-Review of July 26, 1974. Even he talked about his radio show, a subject he kept telling reporters was part of the past, and done, and to talk to him about what was ahead.

39 or 80 – Benny Sharp as Ever


Spokesman-Review Staff Writer
Jack Benny, the ageless comedian who has entertained three generations of enthusiastic fans, proved at least two things at a press conference Thursday.
He really does have those baby blue eyes that he often brags about, and he dosen't [sic] need a bank of writers to provide laugh lines for him.
Asked if a book was going to be written about him which would be made into a movie, he grinned and said:
"What's there to say about me? I've been married to the same woman for 48 years. You people would rather read about someone with eight divorces.
"Today's audiences are much more sophisicated [sic] than those of a few decades ago, but you still all laugh at the same things."
He said he would probably open his show here with the same jokes he uses in London, Singapore or Tel Aviv, but would use some jokes relating to Expo and Spokane before the end of the show. He will open at 8 p.m. at Expo's Opera House today and will give two performances Saturday, one at 7 p.m. and one at 10 p.m. His final show will be at 8 p.m. Sunday.
"I generally stay away from Watergate and other problems in Washington. In the first place, they are not always funny, and I think I should know a lot more about it before making comments.[”]

Benny, who built a career on kidding about his stinginess, his constant age of 39 years and his old Maxwell, doesn't look even near his real age, 80 years. "I don't feel my age," he said, and added a quick aside. "There are moments, of course."
"I think the secret of staying young is to keep working until you can't.
"Bob Hope works even harder than I do. He claims that I am the biggest ham, but he never stops working. Actually, most engagements are like vacations for me. I just finished one in Colorado Springs, Colo., the other day. I had a show at night, but spent the days in the Broadmoor Hotel swimming pool end its excellent golf course."
Reminiscing about his lengthy radio career, the comedian said the biggest laugh ever garnered on his shows would have to be credited to Mary Livingston [sic], his real wife, who was also his maid and television wife. [!]
It involved a segment in which opera singer Dorothy Kirsten was discussing opera, a field supposedly alien to the comedian.
"After about an eight-minute build-up, I opened my mouth obviously to comment on opera, and said, ‘Well, I think . . .’
“With that patronizing look Mary did so well and in her dry delivery, she said, 'Oh, shut, up'."
Benny maintained that was the classic of all time as far as he was concerned.
Making light of the media asking him about the $300,000 he lost in the recent, highly publicized Home-Stake Co. oil swindle, Benney [sic] said he didn't mind that type of question and then defended Frank Sinatra, who seems to be constanlty [sic] in hot water with the press.
"Frank is one of my three closest friends. For every fault he has, he has hundreds of good qualities. Nobody does as much for people as he does, and he does it anonymously, without fanfare.
"How can you not like a guy like that?" he asked.
Benny also praised the chic and pretty Kaye Hart, the strawberry-blonde songstress, who will appear with him at the Opera House.
"Tell them you think I'm great," he kidded her.
"I really do," was her quick answer. "You could have heard me scream from Chicago across the nation when he hired me."
Yes, Benny will play the violin at his Expo appearances. "I would rather play with a symphony orchestra anytime than just be a comedian. I do lots of concerts and maybe I can do one for you in Spokane someday.
"It had better be quick, though," he quipped.
Adding a nostalgic touch, Benny spoke briefly about the famous cast of his radio shows.
"I see Phil Harris regularly in Las Vegas, Dennis Day is around every once in awhile, and Rochester, well, he spends his time at the races, but our paths do cross now and then. Don Wilson, the rotund announcer with me for so many years, is involved in a Palm Springs television company," he said.

Saturday 19 February 2022

Goodbye, My Baby

In a corner of the internet called “Facebook,” there is circulating a 1964 newspaper column by someone named Paul Jones upset at the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. He goes on to burn Sullivan for “catering to screaming teen-agers.”

People are ridiculing this guy for being on the wrong side of history. But they don’t seem to realise Jones was far from alone. Elvis Presley (who Mr. Jones doesn’t like, either) was “sinful” in the minds of many. And do a search of “record burning” on the internet to see what members of a certain generation thought of rock and roll.

The Jones column should not be a shock or surprise. Disliking the younger generation’s music has been going on for decades. Animation fans should know this. Bing Crosby and crooners in general came in for ridicule in several cartoons in the 1930s. We laugh in long hindsight. No one in this day and age thinks the Old Groaner is subverting morals. He’s considered pretty old fashioned these days, when he’s considered at all. To us today, the idea of getting worked up into frenzied anger about Rudy Vallee is ridiculous.

But let’s go back even further. Let’s go back to 1899. There’s outrage over a new hit record. Lots of outrage.

What’s this horrible song?

I’ll bet many people here, 123 years later, have heard it and may even know some of the lyrics.

The chorus starts off:

“Hello, my baby,
Hello, my honey,
Hello, my ragtime gal.”

Can you imagine today, much like they once did about the Beatles, people going ballistic about a song that was re-born in 1955 thanks to Chuck Jones, Mike Maltese and a cartoon frog?

The song was certainly ubiquitous in the Gaslight Era. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Atlantic City correspondent, in the August 6, 1899 edition, complained about the erection of new piers, then went on to another topic:

There are other affairs that will soon claim the attention of the authorities, however, unless some charitably inclined person comes along and devises a remedy very soon. That is the awful hold that "Hello, My Baby" has taken here. No matter where you go you will hear this mongrel ballad. There is no escape apparently, and the more one tries to get a moment's relief the worse are the chances. Yesterday a visitor was driven almost frantic in his endeavor to find a place where the strains of the song would not reach his ears. He took a seat early in the morning on one of the piers and prepared to enjoy himself reading the papers. Suddenly the band struck up "Hello, My Baby." For a while he did not mind it. But finally it dawned upon him that every time a person came through the gates the band director displayed a sort of sympathetic feeling for the newcomer, apparently thinking that he had never heard the piece, and the band would repeat it. He stood it for quite a while and then made a dash for a pavilion. Hardly had he become comfortably seated ere the dulcet strains came floating toward him from one of the merry-go-round organs. Then he went to a bath house, and, donning a bathing suit, plunged into the surf in a vain effort to find relief. But, alas! He reckoned wrong, for when, he had swam out a fair distance a pleasure yacht hove in sight. Perched upon the cabin was a gentleman of color playing a banjo and the tune was the old familiar one. Then the visitor became desperate. Hurrying back to the bath house he changed his clothes and went to his hotel. On the porch there was a strolling band of musicians and they, too, were playing the piece. Once more he made a break, this time going to the seclusion of his room, and, closing the windows he felt that he was safe. Again was he foiled, for a young girl at the piano in the parlor thumped the familiar air for all she was worth. There was no escape, and the visitor decided that he would endeavor no more to fight shy of it. Wherever one goes this tune is heard, and it is becoming a positive bore here.

The Washburn Review of Topeka, Kansas of November 24, 1899 called the song a “pest.”

The story page of the New Orleans Semi-Weekly Times-Democrat of January 9, 1900 included a tale by S. Rhett Roman, where he treated the year 1899 as a human. What Roman’s opinion was is hard to say, but no doubt he gave voice to what some people thought:

Some one just then coming noisily down the hall whistled cheerfully, if not over-musically. Hello, my lady! Hello, my baby! Hello, my rag time gal!" which seemed to set 1899's nerves more actively on edge than ever.
“Now, in heaven's name, what do you call that?” he snapped, thrusting his bands deep in his pockets and scowling aggravatedly [sic] at the door as he sat back.
“Here we are on the verge of a new century, which I'll wager a hat will be an improvement on mine, and this is the popular music which delights humanity!
“Some few centuries ago Mozart, Haydn and Gluck shed the glorious light of true melody over the world; Sebastian Bach wrote his marvelous Passions, and later Ludwig Van Beethoven donated to futurity those incomparable sonatas and symphonies which ought to have served a better educational purpose.
“Having learned the magic of such seraphic sounds, is it possible, is it credible, that the world should retrograde to “Hello, my baby,” and such trash? Bah!"

Yes, in 1900, the offending music was not the Beatles but (ugh!) ragtime. Only classical music would do outside the confines of those lowbrow theatres. The Kansas City Star put this on the editorial page sometime in June 1900. One other paper was so horrified, it printed this story in consecutive weeks. Unfortunately, the editorialist added race into the mixture. Newspaper stories of the day mention the song was heard in minstrel shows in certain parts of the U.S.

On the recent occasion of the commencement exercises of the Western Girls' High School in Baltimore, the ceremonies had been about concluded and the honors had been distributed, when one of the sweet graduates in white went to the piano and began to play, "Hello, My Baby!" In an instant the faculty was in a state of indignant excitement. The class song had been set to the tune of a coon song, but proceeded no further than the first stanza. It was embarrassing for the young woman, but the faculty felt that the line must be drawn somewhere, and that "Hello, My Baby" was about the limit.
It is reasonable to suppose that ragtime compositions will continue to do service as an inspiration to the votaries of the agile two-step and as a proper adjunct of vaudeville performances. It has its place and its proper sphere of influence, but it seems high time that the monopoly which has driven out the higher and better class of music which educates the ear and refines the taste, should be broken, and that the former standards should be restored.

Much like the people who chuckle at Mr. Jones’ attitude toward rock and roll, others enjoyed the song, even without a frog. The Los Angeles Record peeked in at the Orpheum Theatre and reported on January 20, 1900:

There is no question that Fougere, the amusing French artist from the Concert des Ambassadeurs in Paris, has been the magnet that has drawn many. While the Los Angeles audiences do not take kindly to an act which they do not understand, they wake up when Fougere sings in her broken English style. “Hello My Baby,” the popular telephone song, always wins applause.

Generational disagreements about music have been carrying for an awful long time. I suspect 20 years from now, “old” people will be dewey-eyed about whatever it is they listen to today as they snark about what their kids and grandkids are listening to.

And they’ll probably complain about the cartoons the youngins watch, too.

Friday 18 February 2022

There's Always Room For Jerry Jello

Mouse-flavoured Jello?

That’s evidently what we get in Calypso Cat, where Tom attacks Jerry with a mould of gelatin dessert.

No, Tom, don’t play with your food! It’s dangerous.

The weird off-modelness of this scene can mean only one thing—it was produced by Gene Deitch.

Steven Konichek’s music certainly doesn’t sound like anything you’d hear in a cartoon. Or anywhere else, really. He starts the scene with an echo-ey vibraphone which gets suddenly cut off and replaced with a solo piano and flute while Tom fingers the Jello, which is interrupted by a squeak toy noise and some other odd sound when Jerry bites Tom. It then jumps into a jazzy number with vibes, drum/cymbal and a horn (maybe a trombone) for a few seconds. Later, we get a violin accompanied by a ratchet. There are continual tempo changes. A melodic score it’s not. And the acoustics sound like something in a subway tunnel.

Freelancer Larz Bourne came up with a story reminiscent of the Hanna-Barbera unit shorts where Tom is pining over Toots and ignoring Jerry. At least Joe Barbera’s stories had likeable characters and some laughs. This has Tom turned into a vibrating turtle.

For Gene Deitch, this Tom isn’t terrific.