Friday 30 September 2022

It's a Yowpcast!

Keith Scott is more than an impressionist and the voice of Bullwinkle after Bill No Relation Scott died. He wrote a marvellous book on the Jay Ward cartoon studio (“The Moose That Roared”) and now he has written something that six-year-old me would have bugged my dad to buy 60 years ago.

“Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age” not only talks about the people who spoke on animated cartoons in the ‘30s through ‘60s, but gives a capsule version of the rise and fall of almost every major studio and how they dealt with sound, including music and editing.

Keith and I chat in the video below. I didn’t get a chance to ask half my questions before time ran out. Sorry fans of the Iwerks studio or Dal McKennon. But all that stuff is revealed in his two-volume set.

Swingin' Bat

Bats in the Belfry (1942) is an unusual cartoon in that the rhyming dialogue is in verse.

The large bat character comes down to the audience in perspective animation. Here are some frames.

Yes, there's a comic relief slobbering mute character (other than hiccoughs) like you might find in a Disney story.

According to the renewal entry in the 1970 copyright catalogue, Pinto Colvig wrote the dialogue. You can hear his voice (and hiccoughs) throughout the cartoon. According to a 2000 issue of the Comics Journal, Jerry Brewer directed this, though Rudy Ising’s name is the only one on the credits.

Thursday 29 September 2022

On Your Mark! Get Set! Bang!

Bugs Bunny experiences a momentary setback when he’s dressed in Olympic runner drag in 14 Carrot Rabbit, a 1952 Warners cartoon from the Friz Freleng unit.

Sam fires his gun like a starting pistol and shoots Bugs in the butt. Here are a few of the reactions.

Gerry Chiniquy has left the unit, so the animators in this cartoon are Manny Perez, Virgil Ross, Ken Champin and Art Davis, with Irv Wyner painting backgrounds from layout man Hawley Pratt. Carl Stalling’s “What's Up Doc?” is the song over the opening titles. The cue sheet is dated September 18, 1951, five months before the cartoon was released.

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Let Me Entertain You

She sat in her Hollywood square, rather benignly. I had no idea why she was famous, and I was at an age where someone would have had to explain it to me.

She was a guest on other shows, too, like “The Pruitts of Southampton.”

Little did pre-teen me know she had not only appeared in movies, she was the subject of one.

She was Gypsy Rose Lee.

Considering the censorship (outside of burlesque shows, that is) of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, it’s a wonder that Lee had any kind of mainstream career. But she was no dummy. This United Press story from 1937 provides a bit of insight.

Gypsy Rose Lee Cast in Full Fledged Movie Role

HOLLYWOOD, March 27 (U.P.).—Today we have with us Miss Gypsy Rose Lee, a full-fledged motion-picture star in a Technicolored epic of the Far North called "Belle of the Yukon." It wasn't always so. We remember and Miss Gypsy remembers when the Hays office said her name was mud. The censors said worse than that. They said any movie with the name of Gypsy Rose Lee In the title never would get their seal of purity. They said no strip dancer could flaunt her name in the movies that came from Hollywood. This was embarrassing for Miss Gypsy. She'd just finished a stint of tossing her scanties into the $6.60 seats on Broadway (the time was 1937) and 20th Century-Fox had signed her as a movie actress.
The decision of the blue-pencil boys was embarrassing to the studio, too. It had to revise its official biography of Miss Lee into a colorless document concerning a Miss Louise Hovick. This Miss Hovick (still Gypsy Rose, but in plenty of clothes) appeared in four pictures as a villainess. Then she left Hollywood.
Writes Detective Novel
There seemed to be no room in the movie business for the classiest stripper burlesque ever produced. She went to New York. Time passed. There were pictures in the magazines showing her selling the spangles off her costume to War Bond buyers. She got another job in a big-time show.
Then, to the amazement of everybody, including herself, she wrote a detective novel, "The G-string Murders." It was a little rip-snorter. It soon became a best seller. The movies bought it, of course, and turned it into a picture but they couldn't use Miss Gypsy's title. The blue-noses might kick. They called it "Lady of Burlesque," and it was no great shakes as an epic of the cinema.
Gypsy Rose, the authoress, was encouraged. She immediately wrote another detective story of low life In the Southwest, called "Mother Finds a Body." We read this book with Interest; so did thousands of others. It concerned murder in a tourist camp and strip-dancer ladies.
By now the artiste that made the Minsky brothers famous was a literary notable. So help us, the long-haired ones started giving her literary teas. And pretty soon Miss Gypsy was publishing autobiographical sketches about her life with mother and sister, in that sophisticated weekly, the New Yorker. Good sketches they were, too, something in the vein of Clarence Day's "Life With Father."
Hired for Movies
By last year the celebrated writer was star of a New York show called "Star and Garter." We paid five and a half hard-earned dollars last Summer to see this performance. It was money well spent. Miss Gypsy kept on most of her clothes most of the time and sang some songs which she, personally, wrote. Good, loud songs.
So a few weeks ago an outfit called International Pictures hired Miss Lee to star in the movies. She was out entertaining soldiers at the time but she got here as quickly as she could and at this writing she's in there with such fellow thespians as Dinah Shore, Randolph Scott, Bob Burns, Charles Winninger and Bob Armstrong. She gets top billing like this:
G-Y-P-S-Y   R-O-S-E   L-E-E. Box-car size.
The Hays office hasn't let out one single peep. We don't get it. We'll call upon Miss Gypsy and see if she has an explanation.

Lee lived into the permissive ‘60s, where nudity on screen and on stage was really no big deal to a younger generation. What did the world’s most famous ex-stripper think of it? She talked about it to the National Enterprise Association in a story published July 16, 1969.

Gypsy Was Real, Class Stripper

NEW YORK—(NEA)—Every night in a Broadway theater on 47th Street, a dozen or so young men and women lie on the stage and undress beneath what appears to be a long muslin tablecloth. Then, as the orchestra plays something appropriate for slipping out of tablecloths, the cast of "Hair" rises and stands—jaybird naked — before its audience.
The patrons stiffen momentarily, blink and then nod absently to show their sophisticated upbringing . “That's what I call tasteful nudity,” gulps a man in a tuxedo.
People never gulped like that when Gypsy Rose Lee walked offstage back in the 1930s and '40s. No sir. People whistled. In class burlesque houses like the Republic, the Irving Place and the 42nd Street Apollo, men in tuxedos stood and applauded as though they had just heard Caruso sing in "Rigoletto."
As perhaps the most famous strip-teaser produced by burlesque, Miss Lee was more tease than strip. She winked, she sang scurrilous ditties and she looked absolutely scrumptious, but all her audience ever saw was a flash of flesh as she sidled off to the wings.
There were more basic, less scrupulous characters in burlesque in those days, to be sure, but none remotely challenged the attention on-stage nudity gets today. The human body has not been so discussed since the invention of the bustle.
Now 54, Gypsy Rose Lee is amused at the uproar, sort of.
"I don't think people are seeing anything the world didn't know about," she says, smirking. "It's just that now, suddenly, people are talking about it."
As a stripper, Miss Lee—Louise Hovick to her mother—absorbed much of the lusty atmosphere that went with the bus ness. Her conversation is laced with exclamatory "What the hells" and other sundry oaths. She is not shy and, certainly, she is not dumb.
Indeed, if Gypsy was not the greatest stripper ever, she has to be the most intelligent. While girls like energetic Georgia Sothern, the tassel girls, Rose La Rose and Mimi ("I'm more Scarlett than Scarlett O'Hara") Lynne faded into the sunset, Gypsy Rose Lee stuck around, wrote a best-seller, "The G-String Murders," and then scored with her autobiography, "Gypsy," which became a Broadway hit and movie.
Today she is a respected member of the Hollywood community in Beverly Hills where she lives with two peacocks, 11 Chinese hairless dogs, numerous goldfish and several lizards.
These days, she endorses things like the National Water Institute's clean waters contest. All those poor baby seals being killed by the oil slicks and being washed up on Monterey Beach," she fumes. "Now what the hell good can there be in that?"
Animals, obviously, are important to Gypsy. Now her pet projects include a trip to England with her Chinese hairless this year to win dog shows and get the American Kennel Club to recognize the breed. "They're recognized in England," she says. "I was up all night last night with one which was having puppies. All dogs have pups at night, you know. Boy, my eyes feel like they're out on sticks."
Other waking moments are spent in more profitable activities. Gypsy has, for instance, just completed filming a comic western with Walter Brennan, Edward Buchanan and Pat O'Brien called, not altogether accurately, "The Over-The-Hill Gang."
"It's got all the clichés that ever went into a western," she explained. "It's so dear and so funny. I play a woman with a heart of gold who runs the local saloon, of course, and, no, I don't remove my clothes."
As one might suspect, Gypsy Rose Lee is fairly broadminded on the subject of undress. "I saw 'Hair' in California and liked it," she said. "I was hardly aware of the nudity. It seemed like natural development in the play."
Recently, however, Miss Lee has observed nudity not so natural.
"Topless waitresses bother me," she admits. "For myself, I'd much rather see bare bosoms on the stage than at the dinner table. For one thing, it makes it difficult to order sometimes, you know . . . 'Do you have any roast breast—I mean, duck?' or maybe you find yourself discussing 'the lovely cantaloupes on the menu' or something.
"One place here oven has topless billiards . . . now, if that isn't hazardous I don't know what is."
A now-squelched off-Broadway play gained considerable notoriety recently by displaying two actors in a rather advanced state of affection. Gypsy Rose Lee laughed at the prospect.
“All of this is just a fad,” she said, “and fads aren’t going to take the place of good theatre. I think I’d rather watch my birds than that, anyway.”

Actually, she was a touch over 54 when this interview was published, which was less than a year before her death.

I think I agree with Gypsy. Burlesque may have been tacky and tawdry at times, but at least it left a little to the imagination.

Tuesday 27 September 2022

3-D Woodpecker

Walter Lantz’s Hyponotic Hick was part of the new 3-D craze in 1953, but it used techniques seen in cartoons years earlier. There are scenes with the illusion of depth is made by the foreground moving at a faster pace than the background. Tex Avery was doing this at Warners in the ‘30s. It happens a lot in this cartoon to create a 3-D effect.

Then there were characters coming at the camera, like a Disney cartoon from the late ‘20s. Here, Woody Woodpecker jumps at the camera lens, but then director Don Patterson cuts away before the woodpecker can reach it.

Later, Woody leaps again. Unlike an old Disney character, he doesn’t blacken the lens or go past it. He quickly fades out, which would seem to make 3-D less effective.

Top Cat James notes in the comments that I said nothing about the rivet scene. Actually, this one works well. Buzz Buzzard accidentally swallows a bucket of rivets and spits them out toward the camera. The drawings are on ones; director Don Patterson times it well.

Three drawings in a scene of Buzz 3-D'ing it for the camera. To me, Buzz goes forward and in front so fast, the effect is lost a bit.

You’ll notice the characters have thicker ink lines in some scenes than others.

All of Lantz’s animators got credit on this, as well as technical director Bill Garity.

According to Variety in August 1953, the cartoon was scheduled for release with Universal’s Wings of the Hawk, and “If UI continues to make 3D product, then he expects to tag along with shorts in same technique for companion pictures.” Money-conscious Lantz told the trade paper the cartoon must gross $100,000 to break even, because it would cost him approximately $60,000 when it went into release.

It turned out to be Lantz’s only 3-D short. He was looking at other things. Variety also reported the same month that Sara Berner had been hired to voice Chilly Willy, more staff had been hired and at year’s end, Tex Avery would be joining the studio. Ol’ Tex came up with some shorts far more enjoyable than Woody Woodpecker serving a summons.

Monday 26 September 2022

Van Beuren Craziness

The early days of sound animation in New York were fun days. Stories sometimes didn’t really exist, gags were strange. The Fleischer cartoons were ahead of everyone else, but there was enough weirdness at Terry and Van Beuren that made their shorts entertaining in spots today.

They loved morphing gags in New York, even if they didn’t make sense. Here’s a fun example from The Night Club, a late 1929 Van Beuren cartoon that’s desperately in need of restoration. A cop is following a crook. The cop swirls and, first, turns into some kind of creature rotating his feet with his hands, and then a three-headed, one man orchestra. One has a round nose that grows and shrinks as he plays the sax.

There’s a switch in the next scene. The crook turns unto a spider. The cop stretches back, flips on his head and passes out. The crook laughs (with lines that would fit a silent film but were superfluous in sound) and it’s on to the next scene.

Why do the characters do this? I guess it amused the animators.

John Foster and Mannie Davis get the “by” credits, with Carl Edouarde providing the score.

Sunday 25 September 2022

Phil Harris: Not Thinking or Drinking

Phil Harris would stroll onto the stage and tell Jack Benny’s radio audience that now that he was here, things were going to liven up.

And he was right.

The other characters on the Benny show were fairly sedate. Phil wasn’t. And when Harris was let go from the show in 1952, it was never really the same. He was replaced with Bob Crosby who was, well, sedate.

Harris was dealing from a position of strength in 1950 when his contract was coming up for renewal. CBS had been grabbing big names from the NBC roster and General Sarnoff's network finally made a move to keep the ones that were left. Fred Allen stayed, though he had no show any more. So did Harris, even though his sponsor was about to dump him for a less-costly program. The New York Times caught up with him and published this story on February 5, 1950.

This is the first place I’ve seen that Jack Benny thought the Harris-Faye show would fail. Also, Phil fails to acknowledge his show came out of the dumps when Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat replaced the original writers. They made Phil less of a party animal like he was on the Benny show, and a little more of a not-always-on-the-ball guy kind of caught in the middle of off-the-wall schemes.


If there is any difference in Phil Harris on and off the air, the one on the radio is the real man. There are a few exceptions, of course, such as his insistence that “I never did drink that much, though.”
It is only natural to wonder if Harris away from the microphone is an intellectual giant, given to deep meditation. His confession paints no such picture.
“I don’t like to have nothing to do with thinking,” he says. “I don’t even like to talk business.”
The matter of business, however, is one of the major reasons why Harris and his wife, Alice Faye, now are visiting New York. If Phil can survive a little business talk for a while, he is expected to come out of it with a long term contract which would make his show an exclusive property of the National Broadcasting Company. Such a deal would present him with more money than he ever made shooting dice.
The Harris-Faye show is now in its fourth season on NBC as a Sunday feature at 7:30 p.m. When he went out on his own in 1946, both the experts on Radio Row and Jack Benny were extremely skeptical that Phil could last, although the Waukegan wit offered his blessing. “But even today,” says Phil, “one of the biggest mysteries in Jack’s life is how I’ve been able to survive. Jack said to me: ‘You were built up as a booze hound and a woman chaser, a guy in the gutter. How could a character like that get anywhere with his own show? It’s true you did a switch to being a family man with a wife and kids, but you’re still the same guy you always were. How that can last in radio I don’t know.’”
“Even a Seal”
Whatever the mystery, the show has survived in the face of many obstacles. It got off to a pretty horrible start, although Phil insists there has been little change in the original idea. Although crisis arose when Benny switched to CBS, leaving the Harris-Faye team no coat tail on which to rise. “Even a seal could pull a Hooper behind Benny,” comments Phil. “We were glad to see what we could do without the help of his show and against terrific competition like ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ on the Columbia network.”
A central character on the show is Frankie Remley, a guitar player and long time bosom buddy of Phil’s, a part played on the air by Elliott Lewis. The character is lifted straight out of Phil’s life, for there is a real Frankie Remley, a guitar player, who has been with Harris since 1922.
Soon after the show began, Phil wanted to work the real Remley into the series. At rehearsal one day he handed Frankie a page of script and told him to read it.
“It was terrible,” Harris recalls. “I told him to relax, just take it easy, and read it again. The second time was worse than the first. Later I found out the reason. About six months before, Remley had eye trouble and bought glasses. But he was embarrassed and didn’t tell anybody. . . . only wore them at home. When I gave him the script he could hardly see the page, much less read the words. He got sore about it and hasn’t forgiven me to this day.”
After that, the role was assigned to Lewis, who, incidentally, had never played comedy before. Many of the incidents involving Phil and the radio Frankie have been built from real life experiences encountered over the last twenty-five years. In private life, the actual Remley refers to Phil as “Curly,” just as the radio character does.
Corn Bread
Harris was born in Linton, Ind., forty-eight years ago, but was bought up in Nashville, Tenn., where he graduated from high school. When he talks or sings enthusiastically of black-eyed peas, turnip greens of corn bread, he is being legitimate. Such a diet turns up regularly at the Harris home, and even Alice has been won over.
Phil started out in the band business as a drummer. The first orchestra he ever led was known as the “Dixie Syncopators.” It is doubtful that any of Phil’s bands were any great shakes as musical organizations, but the personality of their leader kept them in business.
“My band was never on top,” Phil admits. “I never made any money in the band business and on some dates I only got scale or the minimum union rates. When Alice and I got married in 1941 I quit playing any more dates and she left pictures for a while. We wanted to settle down and have a family.”
The Harrises have two children—Alice, 7, and Phyllis, 4, who, according to their father, run the house and break up any fights between him and Alice. The youngsters are television enthusiasts, just as Phil is, and he had to buy a second TV set so he and the children could watch different programs at the same time. As for Western movies on video, the children’s favorite is “Hopalong Cassidy,” over all other stars, a matter that had Phil puzzled for days and caused him to go into one of his rare thinking spells.
“I couldn’t understand,” he comments, “why the kids are so crazy about Hopalong Cassidy over all the other cowboys on television. I studied and studied and finally I figured it out. Hoppy rides a white horse and they can always spot him. Bill Boyd ought to put that horse away in camphor.”

Saturday 24 September 2022

Okay, I Won't Axe You

There’s nothing like a good Tralfaz sighting. And there’s precious little else that’s good in Don’t Axe Me, released in early 1958 by Warner Bros.

Here’s a scene in the kitchen of the Fudd residence. Mrs. Fudd (June Foray) has the same voice affectation as her husband. Gwacious! But you’ll note background artist Bill Butler has “Tralfaz” on a calendar.

This is from Bob McKimson’s unit, the post-shutdown version that made cartoons with weak stories and dull animation. Tedd Pierce put down his martini at Brittingham’s long enough to come up with an odd story. Elmer Fudd has a pet dog, who has the standard McKimson dog design. But he also has a pet duck. Let me “axe” something, Tedd. A pet duck?? That Elmer feeds in a dish like a dog or cat??

The pet duck in this happens to be Daffy, who has evidently been watching cartoons where the doppelganger dog gets victimised by Foghorn Leghorn. He repeats a routine from I can’t remember which cartoon where he puts a plate cover over the dog’s head, bangs on it, and the dog’s head shakes around. If this had been the earlier McKimson unit, where everyone flails around, the animation might have been a bit more fun. Here are some drawings.

What’s even weaker than this is Daffy leaps into the air and runs off. Not only do we not get a whole pile of crazy Daffy animation but Daffy yells “Quack, quack, quack, quack.” What? “Quack”? What happened to “Hoo Hoo!”? That’s what Daffy says. He even says it later in the cartoon! Tedd, what were you thinking?

Before the Tralfaz sighting we get another poorly paced routine. The dog decides to play charades with Mrs. Fudd (who proves two people with the same speech impediment are not twice as funny as one). The sequence just drags on. Then the dog gets frustrated and starts shouting at her. Why didn’t he just talk to her to begin with instead of playing charades for almost 50 seconds of screen time? Tex Avery pulls off the same gag in Drag-a-long Droopy with the cow going “Moo, moo, moo! Baa, baa, baa!” But because Avery plays the scene shorter and faster, the cow speaking English is funny because it comes out of nowhere.

The second half is a little better than the first. Pierce borrows the old “shaving towel takes off the face” bit, and there’s a half-hearted version of the “He’s in there! He’s in there!” routine, undermined by the fact the dog has decided to go back to barking only. But the plot has Elmer pointing his rifle at Daffy, then the scene fades out. But it turns out he didn’t shoot Daffy. The next we see of the Duck, he’s still alive and in a roasting pan. After hearing the Fudds’ dinner guest is a vegetarian, the duck stalks out of the scene and the cartoon ends with a fade out.

Bob Gribbroek is the layout artist on this cartoon. Tom Ray, who had been working at various studios since the 1930s, gets his first Warner Bros. credit on this cartoon along with Ted Bonnicksen and George Grandpré, with Warren Batchelder likely assisting.

I feel bad about dumping on the McKimson unit’s cartoons. Bob McKimson seems to have gotten the short end at Warners. Friz Freleng orchestrated a switch in writers, and McKimson ended up with one who liked the sauce too much. McKimson’s unit was shut down several months before the studio closed for the last half of 1953 and when it reopened, there was no indication the unit would be brought back. When it was, even his own brother Chuck wouldn’t return to work for him. Too much time had passed, perhaps. One of his animators died on him. For a short time, his layout artist and background painter were having a hissing match. McKimson complained the front office kept assigning him castoffs, though certainly Ray and Batchelder were no lightweights (Ray ended up in the Jones unit). For several years, his layouts were by Bob Givens, who was no slouch.

It's arguable that the other directors at Warners had their best cartoons behind them by the late ‘50s, too. And by every account McKimson was a decent man, and a respected animator. But, for me, the laughs became fewer and farther between the longer he remained as a director. And the less said about things like The Great Carrot Train Robbery (1969), the better.