Sunday 31 July 2022

The Theory of Comedy

He claimed he wasn’t a writer, but Jack Benny said he was an excellent editor.

It’s pretty clear he understood the principles of comedy because he explained them on a number of occasions. In an interview with Motion Picture Studio Insider of April 1937, he gives two visual examples. He was predominantly in radio at the time but still had some time to go on his Paramount contract which put him into some fairly lightweight films.

He also talks about his theory he put into practice—there was nothing wrong with his cast getting the laughs.

Interestingly, he mentioned that the Buck Benny sketches were “recently concluded.” Much like the Fred Allen feud that supposedly ended in March 1937, there was more gold to be mined. A Buck Benny movie came out in 1940, the same year the Allen-Benny war hit the screen in the disappointing Love Thy Neighbor.

There’s an extremely short bio, too, and a mention of Al Boasberg as part of his writing team. I don’t believe Boasberg ever got an on-air credit (Boasberg died in mid-1937). And one gimmick this publication had was including an autograph with each article.

An exclusive interview with JACK BENNY who expounds his theory of comedy for the benefit of the laugh-conscious. There are surprises in his story for those who believe that the jokes which amuse an entire continent are simple to deliver so that they are funny. Humor is a complicated art, and JACK BENNY herein explains its many facets.
THE world loves to laugh at a man in trouble, providing the trouble is embarrassing but not too serious.
This was the philosophy expressed by Jack Benny, leading radio, screen and stage star, when asked to discuss the psychology upon which his humor is based.
“To illustrate, what is funnier than a man slipping on a banana peel and his resulting gyrations as he tries to maintain his balance, or a man who accidentally rips an essential part of his clothing at a crucial moment, both painful to the victim perhaps, but extremely funny withal.
“I don’t believe that this proves that the human race is essentially cruel, but I believe that laughs are born partly from a certain primitive sense of superiority over the victim. At the same time, while we laugh at them, we feel sorry for them and are in sympathy with them. I know this is getting kind of involved, so we won’t pursue the quest into the realm of psychology much further. But I do know that all great comedians of our time have pursued that method. They have become involved in embarrassing situations, thus arousing the risibilities of the audience.
“Take for example the man I feel is the greatest comedian of our day, Charlie Chaplin. His whole career was built on getting into and out of just such situations. He illustrates perfectly what I mean. We would split our sides at his antics, but always there was something just a bit pathetic about him. He captured and portrayed the true spirit of clean comedy and his psychology was basic.
“Others who have employed the same, with their own variations and methods are Will Rogers, Harold Lloyd, Ed Wynn; I could go on and enumerate all great comedians. This proves, I believe, that you must have comic situations, not just gag lines. And that is what we strive for in our radio program. Mere cracking of jokes back and forth gives no flavor that lingers, nothing that people can talk about the next day.

“Early in my own career I discovered that in order to be successful I would have to be in trouble, and I have been in hot water ever since! In my on-stage moments, I mean. To give you a pertinent incident or two, consider my consistently getting the worst of it in my fights with Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Kenny Baker, and now lately, with Fred Allen.
“Always it must be the lead, the star, who is the goat, in order to get that favorable public reaction. I could not pick on anybody else all the time without my listeners feeling too sorry for him, and being angry with me. However, it is perfectly all right for all the rest of them to pick on me.”
Mr. Benny went further in outlining this. He pointed out that each actor on his program was chosen to depict a certain phase of humor. That a line would bring a laugh when spoken by Andy Devine but fall flat perhaps when read by Kenny Baker. Each of them of course could embarrass the star but each also had to do so in his own way.
“Situations have to have a certain continuity,” Mr. Benny continued, “in order to maintain that week to week interest, like our ‘Buck Benny Rides Again’ series which we recently concluded. Listening audiences wait for each new adventure and thus we maintain a continuity of interest that is so essential for a successful series.”
Bit by bit Mr. Benny analyzed the component parts which make for continued success in the comedy world, proving himself a keen student of mass psychology, as well as a philosopher.
Because it has taken both study and work to bring him from his early beginnings as a fiddler in Waukegan, Illinois, to where he is today, voted by more than four hundred critics the most popular purveyor of humor on the air.
Way stations along that arduous route include being an entertainer at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station during the war years, the regular vaudeville stage, a motion picture career that started with the “Hollywood Review of 1929” for M-G-M and a radio debut dating back but four short years.
He was married in 1927 to Sadye Marks, who is today known on the air as Mary Livingstone. She made her start in radio one night when one of the regular players failed to appear. Her part was only two lines. The next week she appeared on the air again and then left the program. After waiting two weeks, Benny’s radio audience became impatient and bombarded him with letters demanding that Mary return. She has never missed a program, since.
We also exemplify Benny’s basic psychology of humor in that listeners enjoy tremendously Mary’s putting him “on the spot”.
Mr. Benny is even more charming if that is possible, to meet personally than he is to listen to over the air or see on the screen. Perfectly poised, with a resonant voice, excellent diction, and an agile, keen mind. He is at home on any subject. Modest and unassuming, he gives much of the credit for his success to his co-workers, and his authors, Bill Morrow, Ed Beloin and A1 Boasberg. His conversation is constantly interlarded with praise for others who have helped him achieve the success he now enjoys. While he is admittedly “tops” in his chosen field, one has only to meet the man to feel that his efforts and personality would have won for him success in any other type of endeavor.

Saturday 30 July 2022

Cooking With Milt Franklyn

No one ever talks much about Milt Franklyn.

Perhaps it’s because Carl Stalling is considered the man who set the musical style for Warner Bros. cartoons and Franklyn simply followed the template when he gradually replaced Stalling in the early ‘50s. When this little article was posted to the GAC Forum years ago, Franklyn didn’t even rate a Wikipedia biography (that was rectified).

While Stalling was a theatre organist in Kansas City in the 1920s, Franklyn fronted his own orchestra on the West Coast. A story in the Fresno Bee of August 7, 1928 claimed he played 17 instruments, including (just like Bugs Bunny) the banjo. It would appear when Norman Spencer and his arranger son were shuffled out the door by Leon Schlesinger in 1936, Stalling was hired, and Franklyn was brought in to score parts. Musical historian Daniel Goldmark noted Stalling “would make notes to his orchestrator, Milt Franklyn, indicating instructions for specific moments, such as ‘trombones here,’ ‘mysterioso effect here,’ and so on. Franklyn would then take the score and orchestrate it, returning it to Stalling, scored for orchestra and (presumably) ready to record.”

Franklyn spent his later years in Long Beach, California, and one of the local papers had a couple of articles about him. The Long Beach Independent of June 30, 1957 gives us a short biography, as well as his recipe for Jambalaya, an unusual dish for someone who grew up in Salt Lake City.

Chef of the Week
Music Man Keeps Milk Man Hours, All for ‘Bugs’

Independent Press-Telegram Home Economics Editor
Sounds ambiguous, nevertheless but he flunked in music, yet music has proven a most successful vocation for him. He’s somewhat of an enigma, too.
Chef of the Week Milt Franklyn starts his day (of his own volition) at 3 a.m. and usually quits at 7 a.m. That's correct . . . 7 a.m. He is music arranger and director for Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Cartoon Division. His interpretive abilities give rhythmical animation to such characters as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, to mention a few.
By the way, (and this is interesting), 16 drawings are needed for every foot of film and an average cartoon short is 500 to 600 feet long. After the picture is finished, he sets the music to it. Franklyn changed his environment, at the age of three, from New York to Salt Lake City. There he finished high school and completed one year at the University of Utah. Two years followed at UC, Berkeley; and he was well into a term at Pennsylvania University when his so-called hitch in World War I was due. After just three months in officer’s naval training school, the Armistice was signed, and he returned to UC.
By this time he and his degrees were completely confused, so he decided to call a halt to his education and begin his business career. It was in the days when bands were “big time” and since he could play every instrument in a band, he joined one in San Francisco. For the next few years he played at such places as the Palace and St. Francis Hotels.
Since that time, his career has been varied and interesting. For two years he was emcee with Fanchon and Marco at Fox West Coast, San Diego; musical director and emcee with Paramount Publix Corp., taking in such cities as Seattle, Toledo, Houston and Denver. His itinerary eventually took him to New York and to Providence, R. I., with Lowe’s circuit.
About this time (the year ‘35 to be exact) stage shows, as such, “blew up,” and he came to Hollywood where he practically starved for a year. In early ‘36, however, he joined Warner Bros, as music arranger, becoming music director in 1953.
A member of ASCAP and of the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences, he also belongs to both the American Society of Music Composers and the American Society of Composers and Authors. Well known for his charitableness,
He’s also supposed to possess the well-known musical temperament. He likes to win at gin rummy—owns a boat—loves to read, garden, fish and travel . . . mostly travel. He has a piano in his study—a pipe organ in his living room—and has mastered them both.
He's a connoisseur of good food, too. . . . and will shop all over town for just the right ingredient. His production today is for Jambalaya.
Take 1 cup of: Cold cooked shrimp or chicken cut in small pieces.
Mix with 1 ½ cups of: Stewed tomatoes and ¾ cup of boiled rice.
Cook all together in a saucepan for a few minutes.
Then add: 2 small, chopped white onions, ¼ chopped green pepper, 2 chopped stalks celery.
Put into a buttered casserole, season with salt and pepper, and cover the top with breadcrumbs. Bake for about one hour.

Here's another piece from the same paper, in the Sunday magazine section, August 15, 1954.

Daffy Duck Dances to His Music
By Vera Williams

YOU KNOW Bugs Bunny, who asks, “What’s up, Doc?”
You know Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the cat, Tweety the bird, Pepe LePew the skunk that speaks with a French accent, and Elmer Fudd, who can’t pronounce his “r’s”?
You know the background music for their antics—imitative, interpretive music that now is lilting, now is mournful, and that sounds like a worm is crawling when a worm in crawling?
Milton J. Franklyn, 5310 El Prado, who with his wife Charlotte moved to Long Beach last November from Lido Isle, writes that music. He not only composes it but he orchestrates it.
Franklyn, musical director of Warner Bros., now is on his 19th year with Warner Bros. and his 599th cartoon. He’ll be doing his 600th cartoon, he thinks, by September.
CURRENTLY, Franklyn is working on “Past Perfumance,” which as you may guess is about the little skunk. Before that was a U. S. Air Force film, “A Hitch in Time.” Just before that was “Stork Naked” and “Baby Buggy Bunny” and before that was “Lighthouse Mouse.” Incidentally, he recently wrote music for the Sloan Foundation film, “By Word of Mouse,” about a foreign mouse that comes to the United States and learns about big stores and automobiles owned even by the workers and freedom to vote. The background music, he says, “sounds something like Austria . . . or Germany . . . or Sweden.”
Franklyn has a piano in his study and an organ in the living room of his home. Unlike many composers, he does not “finger out” his melodies on the piano and then write them. He “thinks” his melodies before he goes to sleep. The next morning, early — 5 a. m. — he gets up to write them down. Later he plays them to see how they sound.
In filming cartoons, he explains, 16 drawing are needed for every foot of film and the average cartoon short is 500 or 600 feet long. The drawings are then colored and the proper backgrounds made. When the picture is finished, the music is set to the picture.
FRANKLYN does all of his work at home, going to the studio only to see the finished picture, or to watch the 30-piece orchestra record his music.
Starting his musical career early, he was leader of the University of California band at Berkeley and played in a San Francisco supper club. For eight years he was master of ceremonies and musical director for Fox, Loew’s and Paramount-Publix theaters.

Here's the final entry in our Milt Franklyn trilogy (well, if Bugs, Daffy and Elmer can have one...). It's an Oakland Tribune story dated June 20, 1929 and gives a bit of insight into how he ran his orchestra, the Merrymakers. Judging by newspapers, he was moved from between San Mateo, Palo Alto, San Jose and Fresno, then settled for a bit in Oakland in January 1929.

Geo. Munson, Saxophonist, With Milt Franklyn, Does It

Another hole-in-one has come in to the fold of The TRIBUNE Hole-In-One club in the person of George Munson, saxophone player with Milt Franklyn’s band. Munson qualified for the club on the ninth hole of the Lake Chabot course using a mashie. Milt Franklyn, director of the Grand-Lake theater band known as the merrymakers, told of the interest he takes in having each of his bandsmen proficient in some line of athletics. Franklyn went on to state “I find that a musician who gets up and plays eighteen holes of golf in the morning or takes a long swim or plays baseball with the kids in the park, or tennis, comes to the theater with his mind much clearer, and his pep on the stage is much livlier, and his tones more true and clear than the musician who stays in bed until noon. I insist that my men devote so much time per day to practice, but I am much more severe with the ones who fail to make the proper outdoor exercise.”
Milt Franklyn has almost every form of sport represented in his band. George Munson and Bob Kimic, saxophone and trumpet players, shoot a 70 on the golf course. Eddie Forrest, the drummer is a former professional ball player. “Red” Gilliam, trumpet, is a boxer and has appeared several times professionally, Rene Del Mas, saxophone, is a swimmer of note, Pic Smith is the horseshoe pitching champion of Grand avenue and Franklyn himself was state junior tennis champion of Utah for six years in addition to being a member of the University of California [remainder of story was somehow not published].

The first cartoon with Franklyn’s name on it is Bugs and Thugs (released in 1954). He died of a heart attack during the scoring of The Jet Cage (released in 1962) and Bill Lava finished it. He was 64. Carl Stalling outlived him by ten years.

Friday 29 July 2022

Tube Tops Donkey

MGM’s inkers got a chance to handle the drybrush in Innertube Antics, a cartoon from the George Gordon unit released March .

The plot involves a suburban donkey trying to get a living, recalcitrant rubber inner tube out of the ground to give it to the war-time scrap drive. In this scene, he gets all wrapped up in it and it throws him out of the scene.

The credits say the animation was by Ed Barge, Arnold Gillespie and Mike Lah, but looking at that last drawing, I can’t help but think Don Williams did this scene. Williams was credited in the cartoon put into the pipeline before this (The Stork’s Holiday, Oct. 16, 1943). Director Gordon is not credited either. This short was released January 22, 1944.

I suspect Bob Gentle was responsible for the watercolour backgrounds. Considering there are scenes of Mr. Unnamed Donkey being zapped by electricity, Bob Bemiller could have worked on this one as well.

“Showmen’s Trade Review” critiqued it under the cartoon’s original title Strange Innertube (a nice parody of Strange Interlude, a 1932 MGM feature), calling it “hilarious.” Uh, okay. Evidently Gordon must have agreed as the donkey appears in his next film, The Tree Surgeon, before retiring him. Gordon joined Hugh Harman Productions before being hired at John Sutherland Productions. As for Williams, next stop was the Walter Lantz studio before drawing multiple descending eyes at Warner Bros.

Thursday 28 July 2022

Not The Song By Warrant

Pies and old comedy go together like, well, pies and old comedy. We get both in another one of Friz Freleng’s winners, A Hare Grows in Manhattan (1947).

Bugs runs into the Automat (in Times Square?) to escape from a bulldog. Automats were self-serve restaurants with food in little windowed boxes. You put in your money, the window opened and you took out your food.

Bugs asks the bulldog for a nickle. The bulldog complies. Bugs puts the money in the slot, the window opens, Bugs takes a piece a pie out of the box and . . .

Writers Mike Maltese and Tedd Pierce top the gag. Bugs apologises for whopping the dog in the face and wipes his face clean. “I made a terrible mistake,” says the rabbit. He quickly reaches back into the box and grabs another piece. “You wanted CHERRY pie!” Bugs insists and wallops the bulldog in the face yet again. You can see the satisfied looks on Bugs’ face.

I like this Bugs origin story better than Bob McKimson’s What’s Up, Doc? (1950), though the McKimson cartoon has some good gags and expressions, as well as a superior ending.

The credited animators in this are Manny Perez, Ken Champin, Gerry Chiniquy and Virgil Ross, with Phil De Guard painting backgrounds from Hawley Pratt’s layouts. Bea Benaderet plays “Lolly” the gossip columnist (who sounds more chipper than Louella Parsons ever did), with Pierce adding his voice to some of the dogs.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Tony Dow

A mom making dinner while wearing pearls and a boy saying “Gee, Wally,” may sound really hokey today, but when “Leave It To Beaver” first aired 65 years ago, critics really liked it. The show had no clumsy dad, no precocious child stars. Even hardened critics talked about the pilot show’s warmth and sincerity.

Perhaps that’s why there’s been an outpouring of sadness today over confirmation that “Gee, Wally” has died at age 77.

Tony Dow’s presence on screen came naturally as he wasn’t really an actor. He was just an ordinary young guy, albeit one who came into money quickly and was able to buy the things he was interested in. The Valley Times of North Hollywood profiled him in its issue of July 18, 1960.

Young Star Has Many Interests


Tony Dow may be one of the stars of the weekly "Leave It to Beaver" television series, but that's one thing he doesn't talk about around the house.
Things he does discuss include his new boat, water skiing, trampoling, music, drums, his go-cart and girls.
Don't get the idea, however, that "Beaver" isn't important to Tony. It's just that when you're at the studio eight hours a day, sign 1,000 fan pictures and learn a new script every week, you like to do other things when you aren't working.
At 15, Tony's a boy with varied interests, and while acting may earn him a handsome livelihood, it's only one of the activities he participates in vigorously.
He's a student, too, and studies voice and piano in addition to the regular educational requirements for the Los Angeles City School System.
Tony lives In Van Nuys with his parents in a home they have owned for more than 30 years. The rustic informality of the Dow residence matches and complements the casual, friendly atmosphere of the family. His parents are John Dow Jr., a builder and contractor, and Muriel Montrose Dow, a former actress.
Although he doesn't enjoy performing for guests, Tony did agree to a few noisy duets at the piano, and his unusual chord stylings give a modern sound to such oldies as "Has Anybody Seen My Gal" and "Up a Lazy As River." On solo numbers, he played the melody with the left hand and accompaniment with the right.
One thing evident in all that Tony does is his inherent rhythm. Whether playing piano or listening to his many albums, that natural beat is there, with toes tapping and fingers snapping.
He doesn't talk about his own achievements, but Mrs. Dow said that Tony was an excellent acrobatic dancer a few years ago, as well as being a Junior Olympics diving champ and expert trampolinist.
Presently, everything else is taking a back seat to Tony's new 16 foot blue and white boat. "It's so smooth on water," Tony said, "I can hardly wait to take it to Catalina." (Tony and Mrs. Dow are now vacationing on the Island, where they are buying a house.)
Before the boat, Tony's main mechanical interest was his sleek and beautiful go-cart, which is a mass of highly polished chrome with candied apple red paint and pin striping on the body. Girls is a popular subject with just about any teenage boy and Tony is no exception. He meets and dates many young actresses from "Leave It to Beaver," but his current heart throb is a non-professional and lives in the Valley.
How about going steady? "I went steady once for 40 minutes," Tony said. "That was about five years ago. I asked her to go steady when we were ordering dinner at a restaurant and broke up when the waitress gave me the bill!"
Not only does Tony like girls, but apparently they like him, too. Mrs. Dow confided that besides the 1,000 picture requests each week, the phone is in constant use. One group of girls called to ask if Tony uses one of the new synthetic tanning lotions. He doesn't.
Future plans for Tony include staying with the "Beaver" series and continuing with his voice and piano studies. "Tony can do anything he wants," Mrs. Dow said. "If he wants to stick with acting, that's fine. But if he becomes interested in something else, that's all right, too."
Scholastically, Tony is an A and B student and graduated with the June class at Van Nuys Junior High, although he has attended studio school for the past three years. There's only one thing wrong with Tony—he has too much of everything!

Dow had plenty of time to reminisce about the show. It went off the air while he was still a teenager. This piece from the Newspaper Enterprise Association appeared in papers on July 10, 1983.

Tony Dow was a reluctant child star
By Dick Kleiner

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) – He was a child star, but now he's 38 years old. And he can't help but look back at what was and wonder what might have been. His name is Tony Dow, but you probably think of him as Wally Cleaver, the Beaver's big brother. From the time he was 12 until he turned 18, Dow played Wally on "Leave It To Beaver," one of the biggest TV hits of its time. Now that he can put it all in perspective, he realizes that he gained something, but lost something, by becoming a star at such a young age. He gained a career, but perhaps he lost a career, too.
Dow became an actor totally by accident. At 12, he was an excellent swimmer and diver, with aspirations to compete in the ‘72 Olympics. "I used to give diving exhibitions from when I was 5," he says. "I worked out every day at a particular pool, and one of the lifeguards there was an actor. He was going to audition for the part of a father with a young son, and he had the idea that if he brought a kid alone, it would help him get the part."
So he asked Tony to accompany him to the audition. The two looked like they could be father and son, and Tony got the part but the lifeguard didn't. It was for a pilot, which never sold, but then along came "Beaver" and they wanted him.
When he was offered the role of Wally Cleaver, Dow says his mother sat him down at a restaurant and explained just what was involved in accepting the role. "She told me how much work it would be," he says, "and how it would mean I couldn't go to my regular school any more. She told me all the pros and cons. I remember I said, 'It sounds like fun — I'll do it. It's strange that what was probably the most important decision of my life was made so lightly.
"It's a psychological thing" he says. "You see, most people become actors for two reasons—they want to be famous and they want to make a lot of money. With me, and with other child stars, those reasons are no longer valid. I had the fame and I had the money when I was a kid. So I no longer had the incentives that push most people. That's both good and bad."
At the time he started acting, he had no other career goal. But, over the years, he has been interested in art (he paints and sculpts), graphics, architecture and the construction industry. He's done work in all those fields, and likes them, and, conceivably, if he hadn't acted he would have been more active in all or some of those areas. Yet, through the years since "Beaver," he has always acted and he still acts. He guest stars on episodic TV shows and the reunion of the Cleavers, the TV movie "Still the Beaver," was a hit and has sparked talk of another series for the surviving Cleavers.
"I still love acting," Dow says. "I want to continue as an actor, I'd prefer to do something besides the Cleavers-grown-up series. Wally Cleaver is OK, but he is a little bland."
Dow has a 10-year-old son who has done a couple of commercials (his father does a lot of those, too) and one part on an episodic TV show. Just recently, he told his father he thought he should have some pictures taken to be shown around to TV casting people.
"We didn't take any pictures," says the father. "I'm not going to do anything to encourage him in this area, not at the moment." He says when he was part of "Leave It To Beaver," he and Jerry Mathers, who played his younger brother, the Beaver, were never close. They were opposites as far as personality and interests.
"Later," he says, "we got closer and went out and did some shows together. But we were never tight when the show was made."

There is a stereotype that child stars have problems later in life. Dow did. He suffered from clinical depression. But he told the Indianapolis Star in 1996 he thought it was hereditary, and his memories of his time as TV’s most famous older brother were pleasant.

Fans are reliving pleasant memories of “Leave It To Beaver” today, too.

David Brinkley: Not a Celebrity

Whether Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley or David Brinkley liked it or not, or didn’t want to admit it, they became TV stars. It’s pretty much impossible not to when you are being seen by people in their living rooms every weeknight.

They, I suspect, wanted to be left alone to tell people what was going on around them that was important or that they should know.

Huntley was distant and stolid. Cronkite was a like a family member you respected. Brinkley was an acquaintance who saw through idiocy and hypocrisy. He was a newsy Fred Allen.

David Brinkley had an outstanding career in electronic journalism, first as a reporter and anchor, then as the moderator of an insightful roundtable discussion in the days before partisan screeching and outrageous spin. Brinkley and Huntley were picked by NBC to replace John Cameron Swayze (whom network president Pat Weaver never liked) on the evening news report after their ratings-winning outings presiding over political convention coverage.

NBC expected Huntley and Brinkley to mow down CBS’ Cronkite during the 1964 conventions. They did. Cronkite was left under the mower after the Republican convention and replaced for the Democratic confab with Roger Mudd and Bob Trout, whose news career at CBS began before anyone else’s.

Here’s a syndicated newspaper story from around May 17, 1964. Brinkley talks about TV network convention coverage in a far more innocent time, and the idea there can be a “news celebrity.”

Brinkley: no gimmicks just wants the facts
Newspaper Enterprise Assn
WASHINGTON — (NEA) — Television has been blamed for turning political conventions into shows. But David Brinkley says it isn’t so.
“If a convention is a show, it is theirs, not ours. It was a show before we got there with our cameras. However, since television began covering conventions they have become better shows. They have speeded them up. Speeches run shorter — and that’s a blessing. If a politician can’t say what he has in mind in 20 minutes, it’s not worth saying at all.”
Brinkley with Chet Huntley, Frank McGee and most of NBC’s domestic news staff will be covering both the Republican convention from San Francisco in July and the Democratic convention from Atlantic City in August. It is expected the network will rely on the strong pull of Huntley and Brinkley and present their coverage in the same manner as past conventions. And this pleases David.
“There is a tendency towards gimmickness in the television news business,” he says, in a tone that lets you know unmistakably that he disapproves.
“For instance, the hiring of big-name non-journalists purely for the publicity value. I can’t imagine any newspaper doing it.
“Everybody’s always trying to think of some gimmick or trick that will surprise the opposition. But covering the conventions is a journalism job and the only way to do it is the standard way.”
Brinkley paused and smiled.
“So far as I know we are not doing anything gimmicky. I hope NBC doesn’t have any tricks they haven’t told me about. There’s always a lot of elaborate planning in New York but I’m not in on it. I just show up at the conventions and on election night.”
Brinkley doesn’t feel that the public will reach the saturation point through the three networks’ obsession with bringing every phase of preconvention and pre-election happenings to the television audience.
“The public tolerates an awful lot mainly by not paying attention. They either care or they don’t care. They tune in one network over another mostly through habit.
“The rest of that business about whose computer put out the correct result first is something they don’t really care about.
“In 1960 CBS called the result wrong. But they forget about that now. If we had done it we would have forgotten about it too — or tried to make others forget it.”
June Release
The last David Brinkley’s Journal special of the season is scheduled for June. It’s called “Election Year in an Average Town.”
“I think it might be good. What I hope it will be is the anatomy of the average American small town. We got the town — Salem N. J.— through the Gallup Poll. It’s got a population of 9000. It’s below the Mason Dixon Line so there’s a Southern feeling to it. The people always vote for the winners and they are completely average in racial percentages religion income and jobs.”
David and a crew spent time in Salem until he was spotted and had to get out of sight. Being recognized, he says, is a serious handicap.
“When I get to the place where I want to do interviews and get a lot of genuine natural reactions, I find I have to let someone else ask the questions. It’s frustrating. We were trying to film in an old club where men shoot pool or sit around and talk in an old-fashioned Early American atmosphere. But when we started everyone quit what he was doing and gathered around to watch. So I had to leave.”
Brinkley is a modest man who thinks of himself only as a reporter. He becomes irritated when thought of as a celebrity.
“I’m not a celebrity,” he says. “Someone with glamor is a celebrity. An actor like Bing Crosby — now he’s a celebrity.”

One can only wonder what Brinkley would think of news today. Not the standard-issue half-hour newscasts from the network or three-hour local afternoon/evening shows based on all-news radio. I’m referring to cable news channels that have substituted expensive teams of reporters for hours upon hours of what should be commentary by experts but has turned into harsh partisanship, with the idea that people will accept anything you say if they’re of the same political stripe.

That, more than anything, has people pining for the days of Uncle Walter and “Good night, Chet. Good night, David.”

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Inkwell Laughter

Max Fleischer’s old inkwell from the silent cartoon days returns to the big screen in the Betty Boop short Ha! Ha! Ha! (1934).

The short’s unusual in that it sometimes uses live action footage and animation over still photos. Betty turns on a canister of laughing gas. At the end, she and Ko-Ko jump back into the inkwell, and the cap jumps up to seal the bottle.

Cut to the bottle shaking with laughter then collapsing to end the cartoon.

Seymour Kneitel and Doc Crandall are the credited animators.

Monday 25 July 2022

Signs of Peace and Quiet

Tex Avery’s last theatrical cartoon is a disappointment. He once again re-visits the “don’t make noise” theme which he put as the premise of his previous cartoon, the fine and funny The Legend of Rockabye Point.

I believe Sh-h-h-h-h-h is the only cartoon which credits him with the story (Mike Maltese had left him to go back to Warner Bros.).

There are plenty of signs-in-lieu-of-speech gags. This little sequence is self-explanatory.

The problem with Avery’s story is the staff at the Swiss hotel in this cartoon have gone to obsessive lengths to keep everything quiet. So why is it they don’t do anything about the cacophony in the room next to the little guy?

Don Patterson, La Verne Harding and Ray Abrams are the credited animators.

Sunday 24 July 2022

Five Years of Benny

It’s remarkable that Jack Benny hit the five-year mark of his radio show and he didn’t even have two of the people which we all think of today when Benny comes to mind.

Rochester didn’t become part of the cast until later in the year. Dennis Day followed in 1939.

Even more, there was no “age 39,” Maxwell car, “Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga,” no Frank Nelson going “Yeeeees?”

The Benny show was popular without them and became a radio institution with them.


The answer is outlined in this brief column in the Syracuse American, May 2, 1937.

Before then, Jack had a pretty good cast on his show. In some cases, they were replaced along the way with better people, though that’s highly subjective. One could argue Dennis Day was better than Kenny Baker or Frank Parker. However, all brought something different and funny to the show. Day had the advantage of being given a chance to develop because he was on the show longer than any of them. Johnny Green was a fine musician and composer (and later an Oscar winner) but Phil Harris became a one-of-a-kind personality.

Harry Conn was an important cog for reasons explained below but his ego caused a self-implosion and Benny hired new writers who expanded upon the groundwork that had been laid. And Sam Hearn ended up coming back to Benny in the 1950s with a different character after a failed attempt to go elsewhere and be something other than a Jewish dialectician.

Other than Conn, the others left voluntarily. In some cases it was because Jack moved his show to the West Coast from New York permanently. Don Wilson joined the show in 1934 solely because Jack changed sponsors and a replacement announcer was required.

This may be the only post-1936 article about Benny I’ve seen where Fred Allen’s name is mentioned, but their feud isn’t.

By J. E. (Dinty) Boyle

The Rambles of a Newsman:
FIVE years ago today Jack Benny stepped before microphones for the first time as a regular performer after years in vaudeville, a couple of Broadway productions, and a none-too-happy fling at the movies.
Today Mr. Benny can stretch out on the front porch, take a puff or two at the cigar he always has in his kisser and give a pretty fair representation of a guy who has done all right.
He admits that everything he has he owes to good old Mother Radio. She took him out of mediocrity and made his name a family byword. She made it possible for Benny to get the folks back home for Sunday dinner. She gave him money and fame.
Five years ago he was buying an upper for Albany, perhaps, and today he's talking to travel agents about an all-embracing trip to Europe.
None will be angry at Benny's success. He's a good guy, and be had the sense to adapt himself to the new medium of expression, and to surround himself by a competent supporting cast.
He and Fred Allen boast experts as aids.
Such procedure brought security for both. Benny has in his safety deposit vault a three-year, non-cancellable contract for air programs. Allen can write his own ticket. If he doesn’t sign again with his present sponsor there are at least three who are ready to open negotiations for the ex-juggler, who also found fortune in the mikes.
George Burns interested Benny in radio, introduced him to Writer Harry Conn, who had written some material for Burns and Allen. Benny hired Conn, and they were together up to a year ago. Benny has done some pioneering in his five years of radio.
Situation Humor
He was the first to introduce the “kidding” type of commercial announcement and he did it neatly. He didn’t razz the product. He made fun of the stodgy, stilted, over-worded blurbs which are still bringing curses on numerous programs.
Benny was probably the first to develop situation humor and his success has resulted in others adapting the idea. For which Benny be praised. The day of the "gag" and the "pun" passed long ago, although some big-name comedians haven't yet learned about that.
And Benny has been smart enough through the five years to let the other fellow win the laugh. Mary Livingston has a notable personality because she had her share of the toppers. Frank Parker became a star. So did Kenny Baker. Johnny Green was lime-lighted into another commercial.
Phil Harris' sensational comeback is due to Benny, and Andy Devine's worth in pictures should be doubled as a result of the Sunday night display of his gravelled larynx. Sam Hearn, who was Schlepperman so long, was another to win plaudits, and will always be "Schlepperman" despite the efforts of producers to dim his identity on another program.
The amazing side of Benny is that in ordinary conversation he is not a sparkling wit. As a matter of fact, he is sometimes very dull indeed. He isn't to be compared to Fred Allen, for, example, as Allen is a scintillating humorist, ever ready with the smartest of smart wise cracks.
Benny is funny in the loudspeaker, however, is an artist at adapting material to the particular needs of his own program. He radiates friendliness in person. He projects it in the loud speaker. He excites affection—and loyalty.
Long may he air!

Saturday 23 July 2022

Lantz's Monkeyshines Don't Shine

Walter Lantz tried out three monkeys in four cartoons before naming them and putting them into their own series in 1936, starting with Turkey Dinner. It was followed with Knights For a Day (1936), The Golfers, House of Magic, The Big Race, The Lumber Camp, The Steel Workers, The Stevedores, The Country Store, Fireman’s Picnic, The Rest Resort, Ostrich Feathers and finally The Air Express (all 1937).

Joe Adamson’s book on Walter Lantz and his studio revealed the Meany, Miny, Moe cartoons were budgeted at $8250 each, which was $250 more than the Oswald cartoons. Some scenes featured all three monkeys and that took extra time and expense to animate than a solitary rabbit. Almost all the monkey cartoons went over budget, some by close to $1400. Lantz was known for his economy, so the 3 M’s disappeared from his roster.

(It’s no wonder Lantz had to keep down expenses. His agreement with Universal at the time was once each cartoon recovered its cost, the two would split the incoming profit, with Universal getting 75%).

House of Magic will remind some cartoon fans of the short directed by Chuck Jones at Warners where two dogs sniffed around the house of a magician (Prest-o Change-o, 1939). In this cartoon, the monkeys take refuge in a magic store during a rain storm.

Here’s one of the gags. One monkey eats a “magic banana” (magic mushrooms would have been banned by the Hays Office). It keeps growing back. You can see the (literal) punch-line coming.

Lantz joined with Victor McLeod (who went on to live action) in writing the story, with Jimmy Dietrich leaving Lantz after scoring this cartoon.

Jeff Lenburg’s book on the Lantz studio gave another reason for the demise of the Meany, Miny, Moe series. It says that Lantz “discontinued production...after three of the last four films...garnered mostly unfavorable reviews as ‘aimless and lacking in entertainment appeal’...Walter confessed, ‘There just wasn’t much else we could do with the characters.’”

Lantz kept replacement characters on the screen in the hope of sparking a winner. Baby-Face Mouse (Sniffles before Sniffles), a pair of human 1890s melodrama stereotypes (which Terrytoons was already doing) and Li’l Eightball (the less said, the better) were all given tryouts before Lantz scored a bit of success in 1939 with Andy Panda. Andy had a fairly solid ten-year-run and gave birth, in 1940, to a duck-in-a-woodpecker suit as writer Bugs Hardaway might put it. Woody Woodpecker kept the Lantz studio afloat to the very end in 1972.