Tuesday 31 May 2022

Wide Vs Academy

Not all cartoon studios succumbed to the 3-D gimmick in 1953 but most of them resigned themselves the following year to jump into a wide screen format.

MGM announced:
New York, Oct. 21.—Four Fred Quimby "Tom and Jerry" cartoons will constitute the first Metro CinemaScope briefies. Titles include "Pet Peeve," "Touche Pussycat," "Southbound Duckling" and "Pup On a Picnic." "Pet" will be released Nov. 20.
How much of the cartoon did theatres lose showing it in Academy ratio instead of wide screen? Take a look at these drawings from Pet Peeve. The first two are by Ken Muse. (Sorry, the drawings look a little scrunched in the only way I could save the Academy ones).

Four more Tom and Jerrys were made for regular screens, then starting with That's My Mommy (released in 1955) all of the pair’s shorts were in Cinemascope until MGM ran out of cartoons.

Irv Spence and Ed Barge also animated on this short, with Bob Gentle painting the backgrounds. Daws Butler and June Foray provide suburban husband-wife voices.

Monday 30 May 2022

Mixed Penguin Drink

“Give me a scotch and soda and a pinch of lemon,” orders the penguin. So the bartender does. But he doesn’t waste time with glasses, he mixes it right in the penguin.

Mel Blanc does his famous hiccoughing routine at the end of the scene.

This is from Tex Avery’s Penguin Parade (1938). The animation credit went to Paul J. Smith.

Sunday 29 May 2022

Building Comedy and Demanding Truth

It wasn’t third time lucky for Jack Benny.

Benny began his network radio career in May 1932 sponsored by Canada Dry. He made fun of the soft drink during commercials. The company wasn't bubbling with happiness. After it tried a change of networks and forced a new writer on him, the soft drink maker cut him loose and Jack found himself out of work in less than a year.

Then Chevrolet signed him. Chevy dealers loved the show. The radio audience did, too. But one of the top people at the car maker thought a comedian wasn’t dignified enough for General Motors’ low-price division so Jack was dumped again on April Fool’s Day 1934.

Before his last broadcast, the Hays MacFarland agency of Chicago (Chevrolet was represented by Campbell Ewald) hooked up the Benny broadcast with General Tire at the insistence of the tire maker’s owner, Bill O’Neil. The revised Benny show hit the air on 41 NBC Red network stations Friday. April 6th. The publicity machine at the agency or NBC churned away. An article about the show appeared in the May 20, 1934 edition of Screen and Radio Weekly, a magazine supplement that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal, Detroit Free Press, Atlanta Constitution and other papers (internet sources saying it began in 1935 are incorrect).

This was supposedly written by Jack himself. Interestingly, some of the quotes are found verbatim in other newspaper columns, including the one about how his name is spelled, along with some (not all are the same) answers to the “Where were you born?” question. They go back to 1932.

At first thought, I suspected this was written by Harry Conn, who wrote a good portion of Benny’s radio show at the time. But in the portion describing the writing, there is no mention of Conn. Frankly, Conn’s ego would never have stopped him from inserting himself into the story, so it must have been written by someone else.

The switch to General Tire meant a change in some personel. Announcer Alois Havrilla could not continue and was replaced by Don Wilson. Orchestra leader Frank Black was also otherwise committed so Don Bestor and his musicians were brought in. This resulted in confusing dialogue referenced in the story (with asterisks added for some reason). Also the first episode’s sketch involved a music store supposedly owned by vocalist Frank Parker. There’s a reference to that in the story as well.

In reading the description of the show, remember there was no Rochester, no Dennis Day, no Phil Harris, no Maxwell, no age 39, no underground vault. All of that came much later. Still, this version of the Benny show was very popular, thanks to the movie parodies and jabs at the sponsor.

The story comes from the Detroit paper; I don’t know what substitutions were made for place names in other papers.

The Name Is 'Benny' – With a ‘B’ Please
By Jack Benny
Written for Screen & Radio Weekly

HELLO there! Remember me? I'm Jack Benny.
How's that, you haven't forgotten me?
That's fine. Nice people, you Detroiters. Speaking of Detroit, I used to know a fellow out there. I think his name was Murphy, or was it Ford? Oh, well, names never were my forte. So, we'll let it pass.
Oh yes. I've been asked to write a piece * * * a piece about * * * Say, what do I do * * * Radio! Radio comedy, that's it. I'm always getting my jobs confused.
First I was a violinist, then a vaudeville actor, then the movies and now radio. Maybe you won't blame me.
Anyway I am now supposed to be a journalist. You don't get it? Well, I can't help what you're thinking. Maybe the Screen and Radio Weekly has made a mistake. Maybe they were looking for Mencken or Lowell Thomas and they got me by mistake. I'm always being confused with those literary fellows.
Well, since radio is my subject, suppose we begin with the New Deal. There's room for thought! We might as well tackle a nice simple subject. Economics, sociology, foreign trade, tariffs, international debts, what Roosevelt is doing, what Congress is not doing! Take your pick. Oh, you don't want any? Well, suppose we avoid these rudimentary fields of thought and go on to something deeper. Radio comedy!
You like that?
O.K. Let's get started.
AS I pointed out earlier, this might as well be about radio comedy. And since the editor has asked me, it's not my fault that you're reading this. (Or are you?) So, I guess you’ll have to take it.
But, just in case some of you have been wondering about the present state of the comedy that comes pouring in upon you from the NBC microphones (after all, some of you may have heard of our Friday night show), I do have an idea or two despite what Havrilla * * * I mean Wilson! I am never going to get this thing straightened out * * * may think of me. Anyway don't take Black * * * I mean Bestor or Parker too seriously. They are three jealous meanies. Why, the way those guys steal my lines!
Now, seriously, we have lots of fun on our new program. And I'll tell you a secret. We're kidding most of the time. Uh-huh! A big bunch of good-hearted kids. Don Bestor is swell. So is Don Wilson. Gee, we've got an awful lot of Dons on this new program.
As I have suggested the boys take the ribbings like gentlemen. It's really all in fun. A lot of it is hard work, but much of it is pleasant. It's a joy to work with my gang. Hard workers! Willing! Loyal! A little dumb, maybe, but that's all right! After all I'm supposed to be the comic and leading character. At least that's what I draw my salary for.
Now, this matter of radio comedy. You may have wondered why we do all the kidding. In case you just haven't realized it, we strive for informality on our program.
I mean we work hard to make you believe we are anything but serious. Do you get it? I know it sounds screwy and a bit hazy, but I believe the best radio comedy is that that appears to be wholly spontaneous and natural.
Now, if one of the boys feels like inserting crazy idea, we just let it slip in. I'm just naturally generous, you see.
LET me illustrate what I mean. It was Frank Parker's idea that we should put him in the music business. That fitted naturally into his role as the soloist. A bright boy, Frank! Of course there may be some catch in letting Frank get away with an idea like that. He may want a raise or a night off. It doesn't always pay to let your performers take too much rope. I'll see to that.
I'm sure you'll agree with me that one of the best lines created for a long time in radio comedy was Graham McNamee's slip on gasoloon. That break was worth millions of laughs and Ed Wynn still uses it with good effect. We don't mind therefore if one of our Barrymores (I mean Mary), Clark Gables (myself) or Wallace Beerys (Don Wilson) muffs his or her lines.
Eddie Cantor is a genius at picking up such opportunities. They add spice to the scripts and the best comedy thrives on a lost or pronounced word or a twisted situation. A man like Cantor always comes out ahead of the game, whatever happens during the performance.
Our own technique isn't very baffling, although we may build our program a little differently. I sketch out the general script idea; that is, we decide we'll do a Russian drama (with vodka and sound effects) or a travelogue.
Then Mary and I think of all the ideas that could possibly go into such a script. We edit our material and then whip it into radio form. We meet with the production people on Wednesday and read the story over together. Suggestions are given and sometimes the whole idea is discarded and a new one has to be developed. On Thursday we have our first rehearsal. We read the dialogue with everybody present. We ask for more suggestions and get plenty of them. Sometimes I am even overruled and have to toss out, a perfectly classic line; a line that might have otherwise gone down (the chute) in literature.
Perhaps it may surprise you Highland Park, Grosse Pointe and Grand River people to learn that I once had poetical ambitions. Now this poetry business is always cropping up in rehearsals and I have to work like the dickens to repress it. You see it strikes Mary the same way, only she isn't able to curb her poetical bent I have to do it for her. But I feel very sorry for Mary since there isn't anything in the world so sad to me as a squelched poet.
WELL, after we have thoroughly read the script we put on a full rehearsal. Don Bestor has already worked on his Ellis Islanders, I mean his orchestra. (Darn it, if those fellows would only shave!) If we happen to need sound effects we call in Ray Kelly, the NBC sound wizard. Egad, how that fellow can think up all of those eerie whams, whacks and bongs, I don't know.
We spend a couple of hours which way and that, tightening or loosening our product to fit the half hour, polishing our choice verbs and perfecting our flawless diction.
After we have finished our practising we sign off for the day and I insist upon taking Mary to the movies so that she won't keep her mind on the program too much. You know how football coaches do? Take the boys to the movies on the eve of a big game. That's me. I always work psychology upon my gang and it works, sometimes.
Now that we have disposed of these weighty matters, suppose I answer some of the questions that your radio editor has asked me.
All right, since you feel that way about it, I wasn't born in Detroit. But I like Detroit I like the way you build automobiles out there. They're good cars, safe, dependable—Whoa! I mustn't try to slip the product in here. But if you don't keep on making cars out there, how do you expect me to sell tires? Since the editor wanted especially to know about my place of origin I might as well say it was Lake Forest, Ill. Ever hear of it? Of course you did, Chicago's just on the outskirts.
Now since modesty forbids filling the rest of this paper about myself, I will include a recent interview which Joe Scruggs, a reporter from the Bingville Bugle was kind enough to write about me. This is Joe's pen from here on. Take it Joe!
JACK BENNY, the funnyman of the air (you see I couldn't have said that about myself), was seated in the National Broadcasting Company studios in New York, rehearsing for his Friday night program when, approached by this interviewer.
"Oh that's O.K., shoot," he said. "I don't mind, but please spell my name right. I'm Jack Benny and not Jack Denny of orchestra 'ennys. Get it right Benny * * * B, as in Bean Soup; E, as in Sharkee, the fighter; N, as in Knickers; another N, as in pneumonia and Y, as in the state of Wyoming."
"O.K., Mr. Benny. Do you like broadcasting?"
"Do I like broadcasting? I like it very much. You can't hear the audience hiss.
"But where were you born?"
"I tell you son, there's nothing like fresh air and spinach to tone up your rehearsals."
"Where did you say you were born?"
"This fellow Roosevelt is certainly doing a grand job."
"Where were you born?"
"I don't think the country is going Red."
"Where were you born?"
"I think beer is here to stay."
"Do you prefer dark or light?"
"Well, if you are going to keep harping on that subject, I was born in Lake Forest. I had one father and one mother. I spent eight years at college, the University of Illinois (you know, the school that produced Red Grange. Are you listening Uncle Fielding?) and don't ask me if I was a freshman for eight years. It was only two. I didn't attend classes. I was a cook. Then I wanted to become a radio announcer, so I practiced talking to myself, but I never got the job as a few people listened in on every program and talking to yourself does a person no good."
"What's that ? You've got to go to rehearsal Mr. Benny? Well, O.K."
"Yea, so long, Scruggs, remember the name is Benny."
But folks, if any one should ask you, I've lived for years in Waukegan, Ill. and I really did learn to play the violin. But the talking got me and after I had raised a lot of money at a Seamen's benefit I dropped the violin and started talking in earnest.
I did talk my way into and through two editions of Earl Carroll's Vanities, through several Shubert revues and a half dozen motion pictures. Right now I've talked myself hoarse and Mary is trying to tell me that the Free Press didn't want the story at all. It was an Oklahoma paper.

Saturday 28 May 2022

Stop Mel Blanc!

How could anyone be upset with the Man of a Thousand Voices, Mel Blanc? The man who gave us Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker and Jack Benny’s Maxwell?

Some people, it seems.

Like all kinds of actors in cartoons and on radio, Mel did dialects. People laughed. But then some stopped laughing.

One of Mel’s voices was a Mexican. He claimed he based it on a gardener he met. It first got noticed when he was a regular on The Judy Canova Show starting in 1943. No one seems to have been bothered by Pedro’s slow mangling of the English language at first, but as the world entered the 1950s and protests got louder and louder about some of the characters on Amos ‘n’ Andy, it seems Mel came in for some criticism. This is from The Daily Worker, Jan. 21, 1952.

Assail Radio Show’s Slurs on Mexican People
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 20.—The Independent Progressive Party has joined the Mexican-American National Assn. (ANMA) is calling for a boycott of Colgate-Palmolive-Peet products until stereotype characterizations of the Mexican people on the Judy Canova radio show are ended.
In a letter to the soap company and the Canova show the IPP’s county executive board condemned the stereotype presentation on the comedienne’s show as one which “completely distorts and vilifies the true Mexican-Americans who have contributed immensely to the growth and development of our great nation, especially in the Southwest.”
Art Takei, county legislative director of the party, called on all members and friends of the IPP to join ANMA’s boycott campaign and to enter protests to the Colgate Co. and to the National Broadcasting Co.
The letter, addressed to the Colgate Co., and the Judy Canova Show, said:
“It has been called to our attention that the Judy Canova radio broadcast sponsored by the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Co. has as one of its main features Mel Blanc’s characterization of what is purported to be a Mexican.
“Mel Blanc’s characterization is an affront not only to the Mexican people, but also to all other democratic-minded Americans who believe in the fundamental dignity and the rights of all people regardless of race, color, religion or national origin.”

Canova and her producers simply ignored it. In fact, Broadcasting magazine announced on April 7th that year that a TV pilot for Canova’s show had been shot at Republic studios with Blanc in the cast (the show never sold; the radio show finally died in 1953).

The voice was brightened up by Blanc as radio gave way to television. Of course, Blanc played the heroic Speedy Gonzales for Warner Bros. in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He found a place for the voice (not sped up) as Go-Go Gomez in the Dick Tracy cartoons of 1960 and again in the wildly successful Frito’s Corn Chip TV ads as the Frito Bandito beginning in 1967.

Once again someone objected to Mel’s Bandito, though he personally wasn’t criticised. Broadcasting ran this story on August 19, 1968.

Mexican-American TV image challenged
Television’s treatment of Spanish-Americans in both programming and advertising came under fire on two occasions last week.
One involved a request for “equal opportunity to explain . . . why Mexican-Americans find such characters as Jose Jimenez . . . demeaning and degrading after a performance by Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez on NBC-TV’s Tonight Show Aug. 9.
Domingo Nick Reyes, a Mexican-American working with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, suggested to the network in a telegram Aug. 10 that time be granted to Albert Pena, Bexar county commissioner in San Antonio, Tex., to replay. Following Mr. Reyes’s suggestion, Mr. Pena, who has been working with a group called Involvement of the Mexican-American in Gainful Endeavor, also sent NBC-TV a telegram asking for time. The network said Thursday (Aug. 15) that no action had been taken on the request.
A complaint to the Frito-Lay Co., Dallas, about its “Frito Bandito” television commercials also involved Mr. Pena. He and the Mexican-American group requested the commercials be discontinued. The company has the proposal under consideration, but meanwhile has altered the commercials “because of the recent concern regarding violence” by removing gun-firing scenes.
Mr. Reyes said his action was taken in hopes of mobilizing a sufficient number of Mexican-Americans to get their television image changed.

The criticism was ignored for a time. Frito-Lay took out full-page ads at the start of 1969 including the Bandito. That year, Nadeen Peterson of Foote, Cone and Belding proclaimed “I’m the mother of the Frito Bandito” as she was in charge of the Bandito ad campaign. Among her brainstorms was one proclaimed in Broadcasting of May 19, 1969 as the agency tried to find a way to shoehorn into the hype about the coming Moon landing. The story also revealed who was animating the commercials at the time.

Bandito tries shakedown to get into the chips
Scheduled soon after this week’s Apollo 10 space mission is a shot to the moon by the Mexican bandit, Frito Bandito, in new 30-second commercials for Frito Corn Chips.
Produced for Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, by Pelican Films, that city, the commercials will be shown in Frito’s network (all three networks) and spot schedules, starting later this month or in early June.
For the “moon set,” the production studio built a reputation for a U.S. space ship and used space suits for the two “astronauts.” In the rotoscoped—combination of live action and animation—sequence, the animated character, “Bandito,” and his burro greet the astronauts as they arrive on the moon. Bandito announces he has the “parking concession” and demands payment—in Frito Corn Chips. Geoffrey Kelly produced the commercial for the agency, Jack Zander (shown in picture) was director, and David Hogoboom produced for Pelican.

Frito Lay continued to defend the character, telling the Associated Press he was “a little part of all of us.” But the National Mexican American Anti-Defamation Committee continued to talk of lawsuits and a complaint to the F.C.C. KNBC in Los Angeles decided, according to a UPI story of Dec. 10, 1969, to stop running what the group called “probably the most subtle and insidious of such racist commercials.”

Finally, the Bandito was killed off. Broadcasting reported on Feb. 16, 1970:

‘Frito Bandito’ yanked
Three TV networks were notified last Friday (Feb. 13) by Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, that “Frito Bandito” campaign for Fritos corn chips will be replaced with alternate campaign because of opposition by certain leaders of Mexican-American organizations. Groups claimed commercials were derogatory and at one time, considered seeking relief from FCC under fair doctrine (Broadcasting, Dec. 15, 1969). FC&B letter said decision to develop new campaign had been reached several months ago.

Frito-Lay’s comment to the Wall Street Journal in reaction was that the character is liked by “the vast majority” of Mexican-Americans, according to independent research organisations. And with that attitude, it continued to pump out new animated spots that ran locally. At the start of 1971, a 610-million-dollar class-action suit against Frito-Lay and its agency was threatened. In April, about 50 protesters shouted “Muerte al Frito Bandito” outside the chip-maker’s Dallas headquarters.

Still the commercials aired. In an article in Back Stage of March 22, 1974, it was revealed the Bandito had been handled at one time by—are you ready?—Tex Avery and director Hal Mason at the Cascade studio.

Eventually, the spots disappeared, though the debates about stereotypes—some of them, anyway—have lasted long past Mel Blanc’s lifetime. I suspect they won't end.

Friday 27 May 2022

Shrink Take

Jim Tyer's distinctive animation at the Terry studio has its devoted fans. He loved changing characters into either jagged or floppy takes. He also did a take where body parts shrank.

This isn't a good example; he was more outrageous in later cartoons. This is 1949's Hula Hula Land, starring Heckle and Jeckle, with frequent appearances of the Terry Splash™.

Dimwit the dog has been tossed ashore by a wave. Cut to his "boss" bulldog who is about to be thrown on top of him.

Dimwit realises what's about to happen. Some rubbery animation.

Now the shrink.

Back to full size as he exits stage left. (Sorry, wrong cartoon series).

Manny Davis directed this cartoon. The animators didn't get screen credit until Gene Deitch showed up in the later '50s.

Thursday 26 May 2022

Who is on Flip's Red Carpet?

Movie stars drop by for the opening of Flip’s drug store/cafeteria in Flip’s Soda Squirt (1933). Do I need to explain who any of these people are? Flip is covering the opening for radio, I see.

M-G-M, which released the Flip cartoons, turned Durante and Keaton into a comedy team for a few pictures. Laurel and Hardy they weren’t.

Okay, a bit of an explanation. Rasputin and the Empress was an Oscar-winning movie released by M-G-M in 1932. Lionel Barrymore played the evil hyponotist.

There’s room for a Paramount star in this premiere, too.

Joe E. Brown shows up later in the short, as does Tyrell Davis and his swish act.

Wednesday 25 May 2022

The Butt-ram of Jokes

At the start of 1960, CBS was gamely hanging onto shreds of its radio network programming. A 7 to 8 p.m. comedy block was part of it. Of course, so was former cash-cow Arthur Godfrey in the mornings and evergreen soaps “Ma Perkins,” “The Romance of Helen Trent” and “Young Doctor Malone” in the afternoons. There was another 15-minute affair in the daytime, too, fronted by someone who was a perennial non-star—Pat Buttram.

Buttram was a side-kick, and proud of it. He founded with such sub-luminaries as Andy Devine and Ben Alexander a social club called “The Exalted Order of Sidekicks.” He was a wheezy con artist on “Green Acres” on television and played opposite Gene Autry and Champion in a string of B movies. But he came from radio. He was a hillbilly announcer on WSGN Birmingham and shoved into the national spotlight in October 1934 when he was signed to the staff of WLS Chicago and onto “The National Barn Dance.”

When Autry retired in the mid-‘50s, Buttram was signed by KNX, the CBS affiliate in Hollywood, to emcee a couple of shows that were picked up by the network. His twangy observation style of humour went over well with farm and city folks alike—he wasn’t a rube storyteller but used his wit on things suburbanites knew well.

Here are a couple of syndicated stories. The first appeared in newspapers around November 20, 1965 during the first season of “Green Acres.”

Pat Buttram Makes Another Comeback

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) – As you may have noticed Pat Buttram is a very funny fellow with a fast line.
About his film career he says, "I've been in 200 pictures, many of them movies."
About Disneyland he once said, "It's the first people trap ever built by a mouse."
About his rich, one-time boss Gene Autry he has flipped, "He couldn't act and he couldn't sing—but he could ADD."
And about being seated at the dais one night at the Friars Club along with Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, George Burns and Gene Autry, he stood up and said, "I'm the only one here tonight I haven't heard of."
The latter remark, in a way, launched another comeback for Pat Buttram, a fellow who has made more comebacks than a yo-yo. The retirement of Gene Autry had left Pat jobless after 40 movies and 130 telefilms as Autry's sidekick.
By sidekick to Gene he explains:
"I was the fellow he would turn to and say, ‘Shoot low, Pat, they may be crawling.’"
Well, anyway, his appearance as master of ceremonies for a Friars dinner honoring Autry gave him another comeback as master of ceremonies on the banquet circuit. He has averaged two a week for the last five years, plus comedy spots on TV with Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey.
"And now it's funny," he chuckled in his dressing room, "here I am playing another sidekick. But actually the role is more of a bucolic Bilko."
This season the Pat Buttram wit landed him the regular role of sharp Mr. Haney with Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in the new CBS-TV comedy series "Green Acres." It also gave him another comeback.
As a country slicker there is larceny in Mr. Haney's heart and as Pat sees the role: "Whenever a country slicker out-slicks a city slicker you know it's a good part."
Pat's career goes way back to the old days of radio and the National Barn Dance. He did a regular comedy spot on the show for 13 years, and then went out of orbit until making a comeback in the Autry movies.
Even before the first TV ratings put Green Acres in the top 10 this season, Pat had what he calls "whiffs of the sweet smell of success."
After the first show, he explains, a fellow who once marketed Gene Autry songbooks telephoned Pat about making rodeo appearances and also wondered if he could get Eva to lend her name to a country style cook book.
"Those," grins Pat, "are whiffs of that sweet smell."

“Green Acres” was among the shows dumped in CBS’ rural purge in 1971; Buttram is the one credited with saying the network cancelled everything with a tree in it. That didn’t end his career. Animation fans know about his feature work for the Disney studio. There were other things, too. This article was published around July 20, 1972.

Pat Buttram spreads talent far and wide

Copley News Service
HOLLYWOOD — It was Pat Buttram, the noted rural philosopher, who once observed: "I'm proud to say that Hollywood has a heart. In Hollywood, if you need sympathy, love, affection, money or friendship, all you have to do is look in the Yellow Pages under pool halls."
Now Pat was saying that things really are tough in Hollywood, with the decline of movie-making and not enough TV jobs to go around. "There's nothing sadder," said Pat, "than an actress running out of money in the middle of a facelift."
I nodded sympathetically and Pat went on: "Why, this one actor I know in Hollywood, he's already spent the $1,000 he thought he'd get if McGovern were elected." Actually, Pat Buttram is no stranger to hard times. "Where I come from," says Pat, "the 'Beverly Hillbillies' show was considered a documentary."
Pat is from the rather small community of Addison, down in Alabama, where his father was a circuit-riding preacher and, he insists: "We were in poverty before it got fashionable."
Today, Pat visits the bank regularly and his career is still winging along — as a comedian, actor, writer, talk show guest, after-dinner speaker and master of ceremonies at show business gatherings and also, at present, emcee of shows at the Southern California Exposition.
For seven profitable years, Pat played in "Green Acres" as Mr. Haney, the country slicker, the rural con man. "Made a nice living as a second banana in a TV series," Pat said. "Should have done it a long time ago. I had a hankering to get into a series once but I took this fella's advice and turned it down. He's real smart, this fella. He's the one who told Eddie Fisher to sit tight until it all blows over...."
For all of his down home country manner, which goes well with his Alabama drawl, Pat Buttram won't sing any folk songs. "You know what a folk singer is," said Pat. "That's someone, who sings through his nose by ear. Which reminds me of a line about folk singers I just sent to Eddy Arnold. Goes like this: ‘A kid who never had to roll a car window down by hand can go out and sing about how tough the times are.’"
Pat writes for an assortment of people. Occasionally, he even sends lines to his old friend, Gov. Ronald Reagan, which might end up in a speech or two. "What I write for the governor are little observations," Pat said. "Like, for instance: ‘If a man holds you up with registered gun and you shoot him with a gun that isn't registered, you're in more trouble than he is.’"
Pat spreads his talents in all directions. Recently he turned out a baseball joke book which, he says, is selling at the rate of 300 a day in ballparks across the country. "I've got a line in the book I first said about the New York Mets when they were so bad. I said that the Mets play like a box of Kleenex — they're soft and gentle and they pop up one at a time."
"I mean, we've got some mighty strange laws. Why, you can see an X-rated movie, where they do everything on the screen, and they can't arrest you. But if you call a friend and tell her about how bad the movie is, they can arrest you for making an obscene phone call."
With his background of 17 years as a bearded sidekick Gene Autry, on movies and TV, and before that his 13 years as a comic on. radio's National Barn Dance out of Chicago, Pat finds himself at home writing for Ken (Festus) Curtis of "Gunsmoke" fame.
"Festus goes out on the real corny fair and rodeo circuit," Pat said. "I give him lines like, ‘Beauty is only skin deep but ugly goes clear to the bone.’ One thing about jokes for the rural circuit — you can go into the bathroom but you better stay outa the bedroom. They love outhouse humor but the only sex jokes they'll take are about cows and bulls."

Buttram had a chance for stardom on TV. We go back to January 1960, when he was still doing his CBS radio show. 20th-Fox signed Hal Kanter to create “Down Home” for him. It never got on the air. Regardless, he had a steady career and died in 1994.

Tuesday 24 May 2022

No Product Placement Here

It’s fun, at least for me, to watch cartoons from the 1930s with punny labels or inside gags on product packages. But they didn’t appear all the time.

A good example is in Homesteader Droopy (1954). A third of the way into the short, Tex Avery has the camera focus on a door for a bit so we can read the puns on the inscription.

Later in the cartoon, Droopy Jr. is drinking milk from a garden hose attached to a cow. The bad-guy cattle rustler shoots a hole in the hose. The baby screams out a quick cry.

Mom hears the cry and rushes off scene to solve the problem. Cut to a canister. You’ll see there are no inside gags here, just some phoney printing.

Maybe there’s no gag here because Tex and Heck Allen couldn’t think of one, or they didn’t want to stop the action for the audience to clue into a gag name.

Johnny Johnsen is the background artist and, I imagine, Ed Benedict was responsible for the layouts.

Monday 23 May 2022

More Inside Warners Gags

I get a kick out of seeing references no one in the theatre is supposed to get in Warner Bros. cartoons. There are a few in the opening of Half-Fare Hare, a rather dull outing from the Bob McKimson unit and released in 1956.

The cartoon’s layout artist is Robert C. Gribbroek. The first railway car belongs to the R.C. & G. Railway. It’s nice to know Bob serves outer space. I don’t think that’s part of his phone number. In 1956 it was HO 5-3688.

Don Foster not only lettered the title cards at Warner Bros., he was in fruit business it seems.

This rail car refers to animator Russ Dyson, who also got screen credit at the beginning, with George Grandpre, Ted Bonnicksen and Keith Darling.

The Gribbroek Pacific Lines own this rail car. That is not a zip code you see. It had not been invented yet.

Again, we get a reference to Don Foster, via initials. I don’t know if there was a FL phone exchange in Los Angeles at the time.

This is another cartoon where writer Tedd Pierce obsesses about The Honeymooners. Kramden and Norton are turned into hoboes in this short, both voiced by Daws Butler (Daws’ phone number in the 1956 directory was Crestview 6-9260). Dick Thomas is the background artist.

Sunday 22 May 2022

Benny and Connie

Jack Benny’s treatment of guest stars on his television show got a ringing endorsement, but it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

Everyone in Hollywood certainly knew Jack was no baggy-pants comic squirting seltzer at anyone on stage with him or hogging all the lines. They knew from radio that he made himself the butt of the jokes, and showcased the people who appeared with him, such as Ronald and Benita Colman or Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Marilyn Monroe and her multitudinous handlers trusted Jack more than anyone for her to make her TV debut.

Harold Heffernan’s syndicated column for the North American Newspaper Alliance revealed another name, someone who appeared on Benny’s final season. CBS’ smiling cobra Jim Aubrey may not have liked Jack (who hightailed it to NBC in 1964) but a popular singer certainly did. This short piece was part of one of Heffernan’s columns around October 22, 1964.

High-Priced Coach
Hollywood, Cal. (NANA)—Guess who's turned into the highest-priced coach in show business? Jack Benny, that's who, and he won't take a dime for his services.
He has only one pupil, too, and she's a rich and famous one at that.
The student is Connie Francis, who makes her second appearance on the "Jack Benny Program" over CBS October 30.
"And Jack's the only comic with whom I'll appear," says the brunette singer whose record sales and bank account both run into the millions. "That's because Jack coaches me so beautifully on timing and how to read and put over lines in just the right way. I can't help but look good and let’s face it, I can't afford not to look good on such a popular show as his.
“One must consider, too, that I haven't had quite the years of experience playing comedy that Jack has, because I'm not 39 yet," she grinned impishly. Connie, like all top singing stars, is in great demand from variety shows reaching out for novelty pepper-uppers, but she’s turned down all but Benny. "Nobody else offers me free coaching and pays me big for singing just a couple of songs,” she explains.

Connie evidently changed her mind very quickly. Or maybe her agent changed it for her. Jack was the “only” comedian for another ten days. On November 9th, she appeared on The Jonathan Winters Show, a special on NBC.

As for Jack’s TV show, the 1964-65 season was the last and filled with sketches reminiscent of earlier days when they were done arguably better. The one Francis appeared in had been done twice on radio, except it had the benefit of Mary Livingstone, Dennis Day, Andy Devine, a live audience, and Mel Blanc getting a huge, long laugh from the audience by playing a jackass.

Despite this, Jack and Miss Francis worked well together. And they did appear together again. They performed in a benefit at the Riviera in Vegas in November 1966 for the St. Jude Ranch for Homeless Children.