Wednesday 30 November 2022

The Gambling Freelancer From Tacoma

It would appear the only time Art Gilmore’s radio broadcasting was silenced was because of clumsiness.

This is before the days of announcing for Red Skelton, Amos ‘n’ Andy and Doctor Christian, before narrating the opening on Highway Patrol, before recording children’s 45s and 78s that were turned into Mel-O-Toons, before turning into a villain intent on bumping off Joe McDoakes in the Warners short So You Want Be a Detective, before Dudley Pictures hired him to be the voice of industrial films, before hyping the thrills and chills of countless movies in theatre trailers.

This is when he was a ham radio announcer with the call letters W7MR, and was about to get into the insurance business in Tacoma. He bought an 80-metre crystal to control his transmitter. Before he was able to install it, he dropped it on the floor, where it turned in ten pieces. No matter. His love of radio became a career, first at KVI in Tacoma in 1934 (where he also sang), then eventually at KNX in Hollywood in October 1936. He was one of the original announcers at Columbia Square when CBS opened it in 1938.

Gilmore decided to freelance in 1941, served a hitch in the navy as a lieutenant, then returned to civilian life after the war to continue a broadcasting career we’ve barely touched on above. He emceed public events. He served as president of AFTRA (members struck against KFWB during his tenure). He was the founding president of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters. Daily, he introduced the Ambassador College religious show The World Tomorrow.

How did he have time for all this?

Gilmore died in 2010 and his Los Angeles Times obituary was published in newspapers across the U.S. Here’s a much earlier profile, from the Hollywood Citizen-News of January 20, 1958.

Busy Schedule For Art Gilmore

Being the announcer for “Climax," “Shower of Stars,” “Highway Patrol,” “Men of Annapolis," the Red Skelton Show, plus narrating numerous motion picture features, short-subjects, children's albums for Capitol Records, narrator for the “Laymen's Hour” on KABC-Radio, acting in dramatic productions and singing at civic affairs might be more than some announcers could handle. But Art Gilmore who does all that, is taking on another task Feb. 24 when he becomes the commercial host for General Petroleum on CBS-TV’s “Track-down" series.
All this is possible, because according to Gilmore, he gave up being a staff announcer at CBS-KNX radio after the war to become a free lance man at the microphone.
He explained it like this, “Free lancing is a gamble, but it is far more stimulating than being a staff announcer. And most important, there is less chance that you will get into a rut taking the jobs as they come.”
Twenty-five years ago he was a singer. After working as a singing announcer he decided to give up being a vocalist as profession. He said, “I had sung for money but the money wasn't good. I got tired of sitting around for eight hours at a studio, just so I could go on to sing four bars of music.”
He admits to having luck in getting many of his first free lance jobs.
“You come to that Y in the road,” he told us, “when you have to make a decision. I took announcing, but when I was 40 years old I started looking around for a good vocal teacher, just to keep in practice. And the strange thing is that all these jobs that have come to me came after I started taking singing lessons.”
Now he does moot of his singing in the bathtub, on tape where he can erase it, and at a few civic or religious affairs.
Among the great radio voices admires are those of Art Baker and Ted Husing, for sports. Of Baker he commented, “He is an excellent performer in anything he does.”
It was because this same Art Baker had laryngitis years ago on a radio show, “All Aboard,” that Gilmore got his first chance to “warm up” a studio audience before the show went on the air and had to be he impromptu host for the program.
Two of Gilmore’s first lucky breaks were being selected announcer for the radio shows, "Red Ryder” which was on the air nine years and for “Dr. Christian,” which continued for 16 years.
When asked who his favorite disc jockey was, Gilmore said, "Someone like Dick Whittinghill. He just seems to bubble over with enthusiasm and has interesting things to say. It's enthusiasm that is the basic quality of all selling.”
When he finds free time, and he claims that he does very often, he likes to get busy in his workshop or take his family, wife and two daughters, sailing on their 30-foot cruiser.

Here’s an example of Gilmore on camera. I’d have to do research on why a Valiant is parked on the warning path of a ball park. Someone should take a shillelagh to the actor with the lame Irish accent. It’s bad enough some whiz-bangs at a copy department someone came up with the idea to name him “Pat.”

Tuesday 29 November 2022

The Starring Lamp

The cartoon’s called Aladdin’s Lamp, but the lamp really doesn’t have much to do with John Foster’s plot. It’s like the Terrytoons studio had to put another Mighty Mouse cartoon on the schedule and everyone went through it half-heartedly. There isn’t even a TerrySplash™ in this one. A tall female mouse gets kidnapped by a cat, is rescued by M.M. and, well, that’s it.

The cartoon takes about a minute to get into the plot. Aladdin has a daughter who cries like a baby and wants Mighty Mouse (as displayed in a huge picture in Aladdin’s palace). Foster doesn’t even bother having the cat in some kind of Mighty Mouse disguise. The cat (designed like Sour Puss with a huge red nose) simply shows up and grabs the girl about half-way through the cartoon.

The lamp? Oh, he grabs that, too. No struggle or anything.

Finally, our hero arrives, unnecessarily riding a magic carpet as he can fly on his own (I guess riding a carpet is what one is expected to do in Aladdin Land). Now, the evil cat summons the power of the lamp. Oh, no! It’s a flying black boar!!

Mighty Mouse punches it. And the gag is? Does it turn into a stack of pork chops with a “kosher” sign? Nah. (The Fleischers would do it). It looks like Foster and the rest of the crew couldn’t come up with anything amusing so the pig flies out of the scene and the cartoon for good. I do like effects in the frame below.

Next, the cat summons a vicious flying tiger–with a large moustache. Perhaps the story department was passing around some cheap hootch when they thought that up.

“Shhay, howbout he grabsh him by the tail?” “Yeah, a tiger by the tail! That’sh funny.” So that’s what Mighty Mouse does. Foster and his guys thought of a gag this time, borrowed from an old Popeye cartoon, I think. When the tiger crash-lands, his stripes come off him. The tiger sees the stripes and runs into the distance, like in a 1920s silent Fables cartoon, the stripes following.

Now the mouse is met with a fire breathing dragon from the lamp. As Phil Scheib fills the background with dramatic music, Mighty Mouse turns the fire back on the dragon, which falls into the ground. No Popeye punch-line here. That’s it.

Finally, bad guy cat gives up on the lamp. In the cartoon’s climax, the cat tries slicing Mighty Mouse with a scimitar. Failing, he is punched out of the scene and...

Well, Foster has no gag here, so that’s it. A punch. That’s all they came up with.

Cut to the daughter (and lamp) being reunited with her father in song as she kisses her hero. The lamp gets into the last word, growing a face and editoralising about the situation with a wolf whistle.

At least we’re spared hordes of cheering mice at the end like in so many other Mighty Mouse epics.

Fortunately, there’s no “bible” or “canon” or “alternate Mighty Mouse universe” or some other such nonsense. Otherwise, Mr. Mouse would be stuck with this obsessive pantalooned girl in future cartoons.

This is a 1947 release with Eddie Donnelly directing. The default identification is Carlo Vinci animating the dancing mouse girl in his usual fine fashion.

Monday 28 November 2022

Knight-Mare Hare Backgrounds

Knight-Mare Hare (1955) was put into production not long after the Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng units returned to work at the Warner Bros. studio following a six-month shutdown.

Jones’ writer Mike Maltese was still at the Walter Lantz studio while layout man Maurice Noble had gone to work for John Sutherland Productions. Tedd Pierce worked on five stories for Jones until Maltese returned, and Ernie Nordli was hired to draw layouts, with Phil De Guard resuming his job painting backgrounds.

Pierce’s story for this short is in three acts and each has a different colour style from Nordli and De Guard. The first part starts off with blue skies and tan clouds. The second part features pink skies and purple clouds. The third part has Bugs Bunny outside Merlin’s castle. The outdoors is greyish.

Nordli went in for cockeyed interiors. You can see what he did in Broom-Stick Bunny (1956) in this post; some people attribute his designs to Noble, but they aren’t.

I really like the castle interiors that Nordli designed and De Guard painted. The long one is not a continuation of the first painting. You can see the difference in the angles of the table legs.

De Guard’s name appears on most of the Jones cartoons (he laid out a few shorts) until the studio shut down for good. When Jones was hired to make Tom and Jerrys at MGM in 1963, De Guard was one of the people he signed for his team. For the most part, the rest of his career was connected with Jones. He died in 1982 at age 72.

Sunday 27 November 2022

The Movie Life For Me

Maybe he was frustrated and just spouting off.

Jack Benny talked about quitting radio. Not in 1955 when his radio show ended; he wanted to continue but sponsor money simply wasn’t there. He talked about it in 1937.

Jack bent the ear of a newspaper syndicate columnist, musing of the easy life film stars had by comparison. How serious was he? It’s hard to say. Up until that time, Jack did okay in pictures because people loved him in radio. But the pictures really weren’t okay. They were full of radio stars in implausible situations with the bare bones of a plot. Acting wasn’t really much of a requirement. Other than To Be or Not To Be (1942), his future films are really “For Benny Fans Only.”

Let’s see what he had to tell the North American Newspaper Alliance. This version, thanks to the Barbara Thunell scrapbooks, comes from The Detroit News and contains additional copy about a vaudeville appearance he and Mary made in the motor city. I can find no reference to it in any paper or in the Benny vaudeville database. I can’t picture him making it up. You’ll notice this version of the Jack/Mary first meeting doesn’t mention the imaginary seder that showed up in later explanations.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell To Desert Air Waves Soon
Motion Picture Editor, North American Newspaper Alliance
Two of the most important names on the air waves are expected to fade out before the New Year gets much more of a start, leaving yawning vacancies to be filled by the radio programers. In both cases the movies may be blamed.
Dick Powell drops his connection with the soup business after the Hollywood Hotel air show Friday night so that he may give all his time to pictures. To be more specific, Warner Brothers Pictures. The studio also is reported planning an air show of its own, and wants Powell and Joan Blondell to be the dominant personalities in its weekly broadcasts over a national hook-up.
Surprising as it may seem, Jack Benny is the other radio deserter. Jack will finish his present contract, which runs about six or eight weeks, and then will give his all to the Paramount studio, where his two most recent appearances, in "The Big Broadcast of 1937" and "College Holiday," have been marked up as definite personal hits.
Benny, during the last few days, has made no secret of his desire to quit radio and devote all his time to pictures.
"The hardest job in the world is to be consistently funny, and when you set a certain standard you must duplicate or excel it week after week," he told this writer in announcing his determination to go off the air.
"From Monday to Sunday it is gag-thinking, gag-writing, rehearsals every day. There's no rest. One program is over and you start right in racking your brains about the next one. And you're wondering, forever wondering, whether one of your prized bits of so-called humor is going to score or flop with a dull thud. You can never tell about radio. The best gag in rehearsal may be the one that doesn't strike the real audience at all."
Benny thinks the average picture star with no radio tie-ups leads a grand life, and he is eager to throw himself and Mary Livingstone (she's the wife and the other half of the skit, of course) into the midst of it.
"Picture making is on such a systematic basis nowadays that you know right where you stand. You get up at seven in the morning, report to the studio at nine, and you're through for the day at 5:30 or 6. That's more like a normal life. In radio and in the theater you're at it day and night. You never can let down for a moment.
“Yes, I believe I would like to live the life of a movie actor. And if they’re willing to have me, it’s okay by me. It’s silly to make so much money, anyway. The more a professional actor draws the more slips out in taxes. It’s taken me a long time to figure the thing out, but if I cut down my work I think I’ll end up with more money, or at least a greater sense of personal security.
"Of course, we've had a lot of fun out of the radio; almost as much as the listener thinks we do while we're going through those silly skits. It's the constant build-up between those Sunday night shows that saps the strength and takes its toll on the nervous system."
For a couple of years before radio or pictures knew them, Jack and Mary Livingstone toured the vaudeville circuits as a "comedy double." They were accepted as one of the smartest repartee trading acts on the big time and always drew good money. But they had their troubles in getting over with all types of audiences.
Shortly after the Hollywood Theater opened in Detroit, Jack and Mary were booked in for the second spot on a six-act bill.
In theatrical parlance, they opened cold. Jack’s subtle little cracks, his chief stock in trade, left the first show spectators wondering what the act was about. There was no applause. Actors thrive on handclaps. Money is essential but not all of them are temperamentally fitted to face cold undemonstrative audiences a whole week through.
Less than an hour after the first show, Benny called Ben Cohen, manager of the theater, on the phone.
“I can’t play your house any longer,” said Jack. “I’m sorry to leave you in such a fix, but I’m sick. I have a very bad earache. If you insist on my fulfilling the contract, I’ll produce a doctor to show my earache is very, very bad.”
Cohen obliged by substituting another act, one that cost the theater much less and one that won many more laughs. It was just a case of Benny playing before the wrong audience.
Benny and Cohen met again on the Paramount lot a few days ago during the Detroit exhibitor’s vacation stay in Hollywood. They laughed as the incident was recalled.
“Yes, that was a very painful earache,” said Benny, “but funny thing, it cleared up over in Cleveland the following week. At least I was able to hear some applause over there.”
Mary Livingstone is a mighty important part of the Benny act. Each is dependent on the other for little tips and real soul-to-soul encouragement. Each is always a “lift” to the other.
Jack fell in love with Mary because she didn't talk, he admitted. She was a salesgirl in a Los Angeles department store when they first met. Benny and another actor had planned to step out after their last performance in a local theater, but at the last minute Jack's girl telephoned she couldn't make it.
His actor friend came to the rescue with the suggestion he bring the girl's sister to pinch hit.
"You won't care much for her, because she's so quiet," he told Jack. "Just sits and listens."
So it was arranged and Jack met Mary. Contrary to prediction, he liked her, and liked her more every time he saw her. Finally Jack went east to fill some stage engagements.
"It was the strangest courtship you ever heard of," Jack recalled. "Mary didn't write to me, and I failed to send her a message of any kind. Weeks passed and next thing I heard Mary was engaged to some chap in Vancouver.
“I got the news from Mary’s sister, who was on a visit to Chicago, where I was playing. My pride got a terrific jolt. Deep down in my heart, I loved Mary, but I didn’t realize how much she meant to me until I was told somebody was about to take her from me.
"I suggested to Mary's sister that Mary be asked to come to Chicago on a little trip before the wedding. She came and while there we fell in love. There was no mistake about it this time. "When I asked Mary what she was going to do about the Vancouver chap, she replied, 'Oh, I’ll cancel that.'”
Our wedding was set for the following Sunday, but I felt if we waited that long it might never transpire so we were married the next night on Friday.
"After the ceremony, when I knew Mary couldn't get away from me, I asked her how she came to walk out on me and become engaged to somebody else. She had a good answer.
" 'You walked out on me once,' she said."
“Then she told me the story of how she met me when she was 12 years old. It happened in Vancouver, B. C. With Zeppo Marx, a friend then playing in vaudeville on the bill with me, I attended a family party. Everybody sat around and talked—all except Mary, who was too shy to participate in the conversation. I was bored so, after awhile I excused myself and went home. But it seemed ordained that I should meet Mary again, and that I should marry her.”
And Jack’s pet name for Mary is “Doll,” probably because dolls don’t talk.

Saturday 26 November 2022

How to Make Oswald

One of the best things on The Woody Woodpecker Show—even better than some of the cartoons—was the little segments where Walter Lantz would show how cartoons were made.

It would appear this kind of thing was in Lantz’s blood. He and his staff appeared on a newsreel in 1936 demonstrating how an Oswald the Rabbit short was put together. Either that was extracted for home movie release, or he made a separate 16 mm. film, though I suspect it is the former judging by the sketch of Oswald and the turtle in a baseball game.

That film was the subject of the article below in the July 1939 edition of Home Movie magazine.

Lantz Movie Explains How To Animate
Authored by Curtis Randall
J.C. Milligan photos
Substantiating many of the things Walter Lantz described in his recent articles in HOME MOVIES on Animated Cartoons, is a 400 foot 16mm sound film recently made by him.
While this reel does not go into the subject as completely as did the articles, nevertheless it clarifies all of the important phases of animated cartooning Lantz dwelt upon in his interesting articles. In this film, he not only appears several times personally explaining a certain situation or technique, but the various important steps in the making of an animated cartoon are worked out before your very eyes. Here, in 400 feet of motion picture film, you see and hear what goes on behind the gates of the Walter Lantz studios. You are taken right inside the studio, as a personal guest of Mr. Lantz.
The opening scenes show Lantz pondering an idea for a new’ cartoon subject. As the idea develops, Lantz makes rough sketches and writes a brief outline of the action. Next, we see him take his idea — sketches and all — to one of his chief animators. He explains the idea and tells the animator just the kind of action he wants, emphasizing in terms of fractions of an inch, just how far one of the cartoon subjects should move within a given time to produce the desired effect.
The animator takes the idea and works up the cast of characters. It is he who conceives their costumes, mannerisms, and style of speech. He makes the initial sketches of each sequence on a shooting script, which differs greatly from the scripts used in regular motion picture productions. Adjacent to the sketch is a brief synopsis of the action for that particular scene or sequence. The animator calculates the number of separate frames of film that will have to be photographed for the given action, and this number is noted immediately beneath the sketch on the script page.
To the layman, the process of determining the exact number of separate shots that will have to be made to secure a given action would seem difficult. But the animators have this worked down to a fine science and know just how many eighths or quarters of an inch the subject should move per second to gain the required results, which Lantz clearly show’s in his film.
After the chief animator has completed all initial sketches and his shooting script, the script is broken up into sections and divided among the staff of artists, who immediately set to work drawing the necessary backgrounds and the thousands of characters necessary to making the full length film.
You will see the artists drawing the cartoon characters on clear sheets of celluloid which they term “cells.” A separate cell has to be made for each of the predetermined steps in the action as estimated by the chief animator and explained above. After these cells are completed with sketches of the characters outlined in ink, they are sent to another staff of artists who apply the colors. Still another staff of artists make the backgrounds and these are drawn on long sheets of paper, so that they may be moved horizontally in back of the cells as they are photographed, to add to the illusion of motion in the characters.
After all of the cells and backgrounds are completed, they are sent to the camera department, and here you see huge stacks of cells with their corresponding shooting scripts being studied and executed by the cameraman. The camera is of special construction with a “single frame” or “stop motion” mechanism tripped by a foot pedal, the pressing of which operates the mechanism and assures smooth action and even exposure.
After all of the cells have been photographed and a print of the film has been obtained and subjected to the initial cutting, another staff prepares to score in the dialogue and sound effects. You will see the film being projected a number of times, as the sound department rehearses and revamps the dialogue. Members of the sound staff are shown testing various sound and noise makers for just the desired effect called for in the picture. You see, in making an animated cartoon, the picture is made first and the dialogue and sound is dubbed in afterward.
When the sound director o.k’s the dialogue and sound effects and these have been so timed that they fit the action perfectly, the sound score is made. In this film you are taken right into the sound department projection room. The film is projected on a screen. Musicians, dialogue artists, and sound effect men stand before microphones — much the same as in a radio broadcast — and, at the right moment, they “do their stuff” so to speak, producing the sounds and speech required.
There is much to be gained regarding the modern technique of animated cartoon production in viewing this film, and amateurs who are interested in this phase of cinephotography should make it a point to see it. This film is available from the film rental libraries of the Bell & Howell Company, and is a worthy subject for screening at any club meeting.

The April 1939 edition of the magazine has an illustrated article by Lantz on filming cartoons. Here it is.

Equipment used in Animation Work
The first step in “shooting” animated cartoons is the taking of a few frames of the “slate.” This is, as the name implies, an old fashioned school slate upon which is chalked the information needed later for the cutting and editing of the finished cartoon. It is placed under the camera at the start of each scene. If the scene is taken more than once, it is given a “take” number. A properly filled out “slate” is shown in Fig. 1, the data on which is constantly being changed for each take, scene, etc.

Next, the cameraman places his “continuity guide” next to him, as shown in upper right hand corner of Fig. 2. This guide shows the cameraman the number of exposures in the next scene and the number of times each exposure is taken. For example, he is starting a scene and is getting ready to shoot cell No. 1, of scene No. 1, which requires three shots or “takes” for this particular cell. All of this data is contained on the “slate.” When this has been done, he moves to Cell No. 2 and so on, placing a pin marker on the next line below.

The cameraman is starting a scene, in Fig. 3, and has all the cells neatly stacked before him, in numerical order. As he shoots one he lays aside the previous cell and moves up a number on his sheet, using a pin-marker, to prevent error, as shown in Fig. 4.
Next, we come to Fig. 5 which shows the left hand of the cameraman holding a “cell” which is ruled off in various sizes of rectangles, each rectangle having a number. This cell is called “field guide” and as it is placed over the picture, shows the area capable of being taken at a given distance, from the camera. From the past experience you know that the farther away the subject, the smaller it becomes (unless you change lenses). In cartoon work, to get close-ups, the camera is moved down, closer to the drawing. This is called “trucking”; the lens being re-focussed, for distance, as the “trucking” continues. The theory involved is much the same as “zooming,” with which you are all familiar.

Upon closely examining Figs. 5 and 6 you will notice that the camera structure has accurately calibrated scales, as fine as l/32nd of an inch in controlled movement. Further, the calibrated, controlled movement is not limited to an up or down position but in various other planes as well ; such as forward, backward, right or left, across the picture area. This provides a fully universal control of movement, in any plane.
In Fig. 5 and also in Fig. 6 there is a scale in the upper part of the picture close to the left. This is a flat scale and is used for moving camera forward or backward. Underneath this and slightly to the front is a cylindrical movement of camera when “trucking.” Note also, in Fig. 6 a “counter” mechanism, registering the number of frames taken. The “lattice effect” boxes (prominent in Fig. 3) and on each side of the structure, are specially-designed mercury lights.

The ‘single-frame” or “stop-motion” mechanism is tripped by a foot pedal, as in Fig. 7, the pressing of which operates a solenoid (or magnet) which takes one picture for each time the foot pedal is pressed. Fig. 8 shows the camera motor unit, solenoid (or magnet) and other of the rather complex mechanisms required in this work.
Figs. 9 and 10 show the glass-press arrangement which holds the cells flat, while shooting. This is heavy plate glass, in a frame and is operated by foot pressure.
Notice particularly, in Figs. 9 and 10, the “background” being quite a bit longer than the cell. This background can be moved sideways in the slots, while the cell is held stationary ; causing the illusion of the characters moving and saves innumerable drawings. This arrangement is also accurately calibrated for movement, which must be synchronized with the action movement of the characters. Note also that the table on which this mechanism is built is round and capable of being rotated.

“Animated cartoons” are a highly specialized branch of studio technique, requiring, as you can now understand, complex mechanisms, a high degree of systematized skill and lots of patience, assuming that a two-reel cartoon has 2,000 feet of film, each foot of which has 16 frames or pictures, it would require 32,000 drawings (many of which have several characters on them) and each successive drawing must show a slight advance in animation to produce the illusion of motion.
The sound effects, dialog, etc., are “dubbed in” later; after the cartoon is finished, it is run in the projection room and a sound-track made of all noises while the picture is being shown on the screen. This separate soundtrack (on separate film) is superimposed on the cartoon.

It’d be kind of cool to see Woody Woodpecker (or even Oswald) come in with some comments, just like the ‘50s/’60s TV half-hour. I don’t know if the camera story was of any help to an amateur wanting to make a cartoon, but it at least gave the Lantz studio a bit of publicity.

Friday 25 November 2022

Rhapsody in Bird

Is there some kind of cartoon law that studios must use Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2? Warner Bros. did. MGM did. Walter Lantz did. UPA did. Even Charlie Mintz did.

And so did the Fleischers.

In A Car-Tune Portrait (1937), a portentous lion conductor poo-poohs the idea of “foolery and clowning,” and suggests this short will be full of “dignity and art.” Well, it starts out that way, as we see members of the orchestra in silhouette, and the conductor in shadow, seriously following King Ross’ arrangement of the classical standard (although a dachshund is supposed to be playing a xylophone but the soundtrack has a string instrument).

Of course, it’s a Fleischer cartoon so things fall apart with the entire orchestra attacking each other and the conductor tearing his hair (fur?) out at the finish.

About half-way into the cartoon, an annoying, odd-looking bird shows up. A tuba player tries to cover him, but he keeps popping out of little doors that open from nowhere.

He gets kicked into the air. Musicians throw instruments at him. Finally, he gets violently batted around with a violin and his head becomes stuck inside a bass.

Now an old cartoon rule is brought into play: any character filled with air starts floating up. In this case, the bird turns into bagpipes before being punctured by a bee and dropping onto the head of a bass player. He does a crazy-legged dance, turning in circles on the gorilla’s head.

Another musician bashes the goofy bird with his instrument, then all the orchestra members jump on top of each other for a destructive finish to the cartoon.

Nick Tafuri is the credited animator for the actual director, Dave Tendlar. The uncredited lion conductor is, to my ear, Alois Havrilla, who voiced travelogues for Van Beuren during the mid-‘30s in addition to various radio announcing jobs. Unlike Liszt’s rhapsody, Havrilla only appeared in this one cartoon to my knowledge.

Thursday 24 November 2022

The Sheepish Wolf Backgrounds

A new background artist for the Friz Freleng unit was announced in the February 1940 edition of The Exposure Sheet, the Leon Schlesinger studio’s internal newsletter. But his name never appeared in the credits of any cartoons.

Lenard Kester was born in a horse-drawn streetcar in New York on May 10, 1917. He was hired as an opaquer at the Fleischer cartoon studio when he was 17 and eventually worked up to becoming a background artist, but with no raise in salary.

Graham Webb’s “The Animated Film Encyclopedia” has a list of cartoons directed by Freleng for which he supplied the backgrounds. What Graham’s sources are, I don’t know, but one of the cartoons he mentions is The Sheepish Wolf, released on Oct. 17, 1942.

This cartoon has never been released on DVD (see note in comment section). It came out some years ago on laser disc, meaning it’s a little murky. It’s tough to appreciate Kester’s use of light and shade in the frames below. The action is supposed to set in a sheep-filled meadow, but much of Kester’s work shows twisted, bare tree branches and caves.

Kester’s successor, Paul Julian, also juxtaposed light and shade. One thing he did that Kester doesn’t do here is toss an inside joke into the mix. Julian would have some reference to Freleng, layout artist Hawley Pratt or one of the animators somewhere in the background. Here, Kester just has stage posters, as the wolf is a ham stage actor (a character type brought back by other units later in the decade).

How long Kester stayed at the Schlesinger studio is unclear. The June 1944 edition of Town and Country magazine based in New York calls him “a former draftsman from the Walt Disney studios whose impressionist painting has real distinction.” Indeed, all references I can find about him after this date are in connection with art shows. One showing in New York in 1952 was not his doing. His ex-wife sold off a bunch of his paintings.

One of his pieces, “Beach Picnic,” was displayed in all its glory in Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s home in the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, much to his surprise. He wasn’t credited there, either.

Kester (born Leonard Kestecher) died in Los Angeles on January 13, 1997.

Wednesday 23 November 2022

The Peacock Man

You heard his voice about as often as you saw the NBC peacock unfold its feathers. That’s because his voice was the one in the background through the 1960s that said “The following program is brought to you in Living Color on NBC.”

Mel Brandt was one of many staff announcers on television in the 1960s introing shows or reading promos. You knew his voice, and Vic Roby’s and Bill Hanrahan’s and Fred Collins’ but they never said their names. They might have identified themselves in the network radio days a decade earlier (Collins hosted some music shows, Brandt and Don Pardo read the news).

Despite his on-air anonymity, Brandt got ink in his local paper in Montclair, New Jersey on a number of occasions. We’ll just pass along two of them. The first is in the February 27, 1958 issue of the Montclair Times. It gives you a bit of background behind “the Living Color” man. Working six days a week was normal in radio then.

You’ve Undoubtedly Seen or Heard Him Often
Mel Brandt, TV, Radio Announcer, on NBC 6 Days a Week.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," remarked Mel Brandt of 42 Windermere Rd., Upper Montclair, NBC radio and television announcer, master of ceremonies, commentator and actor, in discussing his personal reaction to such a career.
Presently host for the television show, "Modern Romances," presented Monday to Friday at 4:45 on Channel 4, and narrator on the radio show, "True Confessions," from 2:05 to 2:30 on WRCA, plus other radio and TV appearances, Mr. Brandt keeps a busy, time-bound schedule six days a week. His Sunday timetable starts with "Comic Weekly Man" at 11:35 A.M., includes news casts, and finishes at midnight after a two-hour stint as communicator on "Monitor." He is under exclusive contract to NBC and besides staff duties does shows for commercial clients. Ha has been with NBC a little over ten years.
Originally an actor, the tall, dark-haired and serious young man now prefers the networks to the stage, and an announcer's career to tin actor's because of the security regular employment provides. "Announcing is steadier than acting," he commented. "As narrator on "True Confessions' I've seen six casts come and go."
Interesting People
The opportunity to meet interesting people is high on the list of advantages for a radio and television career, Mr. Brandt feels. "You meet prominent people in all fields, who are interesting, of course, not because of their prominence but in their own right. Panel shows bring in noted figures in public life, so that in addition to all the well known theatrical people, you have a chance to meet a great many outstanding and famous people."
Mr. Brandt welcomes constructive fan mail. "If anybody watching has any idea how a show might be improved, or if there's any particular objection or something he likes especially well, I'd be very glad to hear it. Fan mail is the only way I have of gauging what I'm presenting. It governs my behavior on the air."
As for the difference in radio and television broadcasting, Mr. Brandt stated, "When you're a television announcer and get out there alone in front of the cameras and the red lights go on, there's an odd sensation the like of which there is no other! You may have memorized the script just a few minutes before, but you often find yourself suddenly having to ad lib."
Mr. Brandt was the announcer for "Producer's Showcase" from its inception; he announced the show, "When A Girl Marries;" he played the lead in "Light of the World" and Kraft Theatre and Philco Theatre productions; he has had feature roles in soap operas and morning strips; he took over the newscast on radio five or six years ago that had previously been given by John Cameron Swayze and John McVane. These are among the many programs on which he has appeared.
The National Association of Christians and Jews named "The Storytellers Playhouse," in which Mr. Brandt played "six or seven" characters as the best show of its type for the year.
Here Six Years
Mr. Brandt and his attractive family have lived in Montclair six years, the last few in the home they built on Windermere Rd. They close Montclair, which they like very much, when they drove through on their way to visit friends in Verona. Mr. Brandt had worked on television with other Montclair residents, the late James Van Dyk, Rosemary Rice and Edgar Stehli, but didn't know until he came here that they lived here.
Mrs. Brandt met his wife when they were both acting in Summer stock in New Hampshire. They have three children, Pamela, 11; Robert, 9, and Richard 1. Mr. and Mrs. Brandt belong to Union Congregational Church and the Northeast Parent-Teacher Association. He appeared in "For Love or Money" and "The Moon Is Blue" given by the Montclair Dramatic Club and "Brigadoon" presented by the Montclair Operetta Club.
For his brief leisure moments, Mr. Brandt has three hobbies, photography, gardening and hi-fi. The latter interest resulted from his experience as disc jockey for the radio program, "Ten Top Tunes."
Mr. Brandt was born in Brooklyn, attended Brooklyn College where he was a speech major, and Columbia University where he studied business and administration. When he was in college he was associated with WNYC and his first job after he finished college was with WOR.
During World War II Mr. Brandt served with the Office of War Information, on detached service, giving Voice of America newscasts from Reykjavik, Iceland, where he remained for two and one-half years. He then went to Europe with the Third Infantry Division. Returning to the United States, after the war was over, he went back to freelance announcing, and worked for all the major networks before joining NBC.
Three months ago Mr. Brandt replaced Martha Scott on "Modern Romances." "I'm very lucky that my two daily programs dovetail," he explained. "Just as I finish one, I'm due at the rehearsal for the next one. 'Modern Romances' is given now at the Century Theatre, so I have a waiting elevator and a waiting taxi cab and I get there, well, generally, just five minutes late. I have a stand-in for that time."

We’ll jump ahead to 1970. Brandt’s connection with one TV soap prompted an interviewer to ask him about the shows. Brandt knew something about television soaps. He acted in one in 1946 on the Du Mont station in New York. There was no Du Mont network and there weren’t even a dozen TV stations in the U.S. at that point. There was plenty of strike talk at NBC in 1970. AFTRA and the three networks reached a deal in May and a NABET walkout was averted in June. This story explains why, in 1970, there were still staff announcers sitting in booths at 50 Rock.

Mel Brandt Divides Between Time Between Soaps and Union
Herald-News Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Mel Brandt’s watch is three seconds fast. That gives me a little leeway," he says, "because if I'm one second late, I might as well not come."
Why such exceptional concern with punctuality? Because Mel Brandt is a radio and TV announcer. His is the voice which assures you your program is "coming to you in living color," while the peacock on NBC spreads his tail.
The Montclair resident spends most of his day in the RCA building in New York, moving from one studio to another, announcing programs such as "Youth Forum" and "The Doctors" and standing by for the hourly station identification.
A Federal Communications Commission regulation requires that the station identify itself each hour, and a union job-security regulation demands that this announcement be made by an announcer rather than a disc jockey. This means that although the announcement is on tape, an announcer must stand by in case the tape fails, and this lot falls to Mel Brandt two or three times a day.
Besides being the voice, in numerous commercials (Eastman Kodak, G.E., Ford, St. Joseph's Aspirin), Brandt is the announcer for "College Bowl" and president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
The AFTRA position is the catch. His non-paying, elected post as national president of the group extends his long working day well into the night. The union is presently negotiating a contract which ran out last Nov. 15, and Brandt often spends his evenings with the negotiating team at the CBS studio.
During the day, the announcer uses the time between his assignments at NBC to stop at a studio telephone and call other officers of the union or to talk with members about the negotiations or an important meeting. He also calls his agent, who sometimes has a job or an audition, which he squeezes in between assignments.
A sizeable part of Brandt's day is spent reassuring millions of housewives that "The Doctors will return after this message." He must spend half an hour on the set to be ready to join Ross Martindale, the sound-effects man, who is also from Montclair, in a small sound-proof room in time to make his three announcements during the show.
Each episode of "The Doctors" is taped about two weeks before it appears on TV, and it is written only a few weeks before that. The cast rehearses for hours before Brandt arrives at the studio and the dress rehearsal begins. While Dr. Bellini argues with Phyllis Carrigan about whether to take Gary to Pierre, S.D., for surgery for a subdural hematoma, Mel Brandt wanders around the studio, munching a hasty ham and cheese sandwich.
Brandt defends the maligned "soaps" or dramatic strips as they are now called, as psychodrama. "There is no right and wrong, no good and bad. Everyone can identify with one side or another and obtain some insight into the other side of the question," Brandt says.
The actors in these tear-stained dramas must be able to learn their lines very quickly, and work week after week for years portraying the same characters. These are some of the people for whom Brandt works so diligently at AFTRA.
A performer for more than 25 years, Brandt began his career as an actor in the days of "Ma Perkins" and "Gangbusters." He became an announcer by chance. He was visiting agencies looking for work and he stopped in at an ad agency where the receptionist asked, "Are you here for the audition?”
“I said yes," Brandt says, "because you always said yes in those days." And he got the job. He worked free-lance until joining NBC 23 years ago, giving up more money for security.
When his third term of office as president of AFTRA runs out this July, Brandt is thinking of trying his hand at another profession: politics. A liberal Republican, he supported New Jersey Gov. William T. Cahill and New York Mayor John V. Lindsay, and has been approached as a possible candidate, but admits "I'm not sure I'm emotionally ready to take the ugliness of politics." Brandt lives in Montclair with his wife, Doris, and their three children.

Brandt’s career at NBC outlasted his peacock-assisted announcement; it was retired after 1975. He got caught in network politics in 1981 when he replaced Don Pardo as the announcer on Saturday Night Live (Pardo returned a season later when the politics changed). He continued his involvement with the AFTRA pension fund into 1998.

The award winner of the Brooklyn College Radio Guild and the Brooklyn College “Masquers” drama club (as Melvin Sidney Goldberg), and Technician fourth grade in the U.S. Army during World War II, bought a place in Florida, where he passed away in 2008 apparently without much notice at the time. He was 88.

NBC brought back the peacock moniker for its streaming service. It’d be a nice touch if they brought back Mel Brandt’s voice, too.