Sunday 30 April 2023

The Real Jack Benny

It’s a tribute to Jack Benny’s acting skill that people actually believed what they heard on his radio programme.

Granted, housewives got lured into the winding tales of daily soap operas, treating them as documentaries and writing warning letters to the characters, c/o the radio station. But others actually thought Jack was such a cheapskate, he’d drive a broken-down car, take in people’s laundry and find ways to avoid giving a raise to his household aide.

Jack griped in numerous interviews over the years that he felt he had to over-tip to erase the stigma caused by the radio show. He was amazed extremely intelligent people believed every word they heard.

Here’s one of a number of stories designed to set the record straight. It was published November 2, 1947.

Jack Benny Is Not Bald, and He Is Not Stingy, Reporter Finds
Comedian May Change Act That Has Made Him a Fortune
HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 1.—(AP)—Jack Benny is not bald.
Jack Benny is not stingy.
Jack Benny does not make Dennis Day mow his lawn.
That is, Jack is not completely bald, he is not as stingy as he pretends on his radio program, and he doesn't exactly make Dennis Day mow his lawn.
With age and dignity creeping up on him, radio's gift to Waukegan (Benny actually was born in Chicago) currently is torn between two desires. He sometimes gets a little annoyed with the fiction he has created in the minds of America's listeners, but he hate to toss aside a formula that has made him a fortune.
Benny has just signed a three-year contract, after 15 consecutive years on the radio. During: that time, Jack Benny, Mary Livingston (his wife, Sadye Marks), Dennis Day, Phil Harris and Rochester have become household words. In all those years, the program has followed a standard pattern. You knew what you would hear when you turned on Jack Benny.
Same Pattern Likely
But now, what the program will be like at the end of the contract, no one knows. Benny himself doesn't know, today what he'll say on next week's broadcast. Best guess (Benny's) is that it will go on with "the same pattern and the same cast unless we find something that's really good."
When Benny finds a gag that is good, he strings it out to the last gasp. The myth about his toupee started when he had to wear one for a movie. ''But that's nothing,” Jack says. "Practically every male star in Hollywood has to wear a hair piece of some sort—except Lassie."
Easy to Get Laughs
The fabled miserliness had no such timely peg. It was first used, says Benny, “simply because it was a trait that any listener could recognize. It was an easy way to get laughs— every family has somebody who is pretty cheap. "The trouble," Benny wails, "is that my writers have made it so convincing that I get from 300 to 500 letters a week berating me for underpaying Dennis and Rochester."
The secret of Mrs. Kubelsky's little boy's success, Jack believes, is two-fold.
First, he "gives 'em lots of variety." Unlike many other comedians, Jack likes to build up his supporting cast. "A show with five stars in it is worth more than a show with one star," he says. "And I don't have to work so hard. That way, people never get tired of any one character."
The second reason for Benny's professional longevity is that he does not regard his audience as bunch of morons.
“Give 'em a chance to play along .with you," he says. "They like it. There's something in everybody that makes them love to play theater with you. They’ll believe you while you're on the air—just for the fun they get out of it."
Tries New Twist
Jack was following this theory when he tried a new twist in a phone conversation with his "sponsor" last year. The "sponsor” supposedly was bawling him out for firing a singing-commercial quartet.
The script went something like this:
(Silence while sponsor is talking.)
Benny: But—
(15 seconds silence while sponsor is talking.)
Benny: But—
(15 seconds silence.)
Benny: But—
(15 seconds silence.)
Benny: But—
Then the band blared, ending the program, and Benny had kept an audience of supposedly several millions supposedly laughing for a full minute without saying anything.

We suspect General Foods and American Tobacco both hoped the listeners believed the commercials as much as everything else they heard on the show.

Saturday 29 April 2023


Animated commercials were extremely popular in the 1950s, and cartoon studios popped up in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere to make them.

Storyboard was one of them. It was set up by animator John Hubley and layout artist Earl Klein.

A number of spots made by the company became famous, including one animated by Art Babbitt for Heinz Worcestershire sauce. It was a commercial about a commercial, where the oh-so-smooth announcer becomes ruffled as he butchers the product’s name. It was clever premise based on the idea people in the U.S. couldn’t pronounce “Worcestershire” properly.

The announcer shoos away the camera. Cut to a photo of a dinner featuring the sauce. Believing he has things under control, the scene cuts back to the animated announcer beckoning the camera. He gets the name right, but holds up the wrong product.

Now he gets the right product, and can’t pronounce the name again.

According to a number of different sources, this spot was made in 1954 and was produced by Stan Freberg for the Maxon agency in Detroit. That is apparently Freberg's voice as the announcer.

Friday 28 April 2023

Tail Fail

Chilly Willy plots to cut off a watchdog’s tail in I'm Cold, a 1955 short for Walter Lantz.

Something’s wrong.

Chilly tries again.

Something’s wrong again. Chilly reacts.

Director Tex Avery pans over to the dog. “Smart. Brains,” says the laid-back dog, reminiscent of his Southern wolf at MGM. Note the change in the eyes. This scene prepared Don Patterson for limited animation at Hanna Barbera as only the eyes and mouth move. The left arm (which seems a bit detached from the body) is on a separate cell and held during the dialogue.

Ray Abrams and La Verne Harding animated on this short as well. Ray Jacobs is credited with “Set Design” so perhaps he did both layouts and backgrounds. Clarence Wheeler’s sparsely-arranged score, with a piccolo, musical effects and even “Pop Goes the Weasel” played by a jack-in-the-box really works well in this short; a full orchestra like Avery could employ at MGM wouldn’t have been as effective.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Mirror Images

The Mickey Mouse short The Whoopee Party (1932) has a lot of cycle animation dancing, and Uncle Walt manages to fill the screen with the left side being the mirror animation of the right side.

Some examples.

There is also some animation where characters dance in unison.

It’s cool seeing furniture come to life and dancing, but the cartoon’s pretty lame otherwise. There’s no story at all, Pinto Colvig’s constant Goofy laugh gets grating after a while, and the mirror animation strikes me as a cost-saver.

Wilfred Jackson directed this one.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Laird Cregar of the 1960s

The Batman TV show got silly when Victor Buono showed up.

Until then, the villains on the show may have been a little over-the-top, but they were still menaces. The Riddler was crazy and liable to do anything. The Penguin and Joker were a little more calculating. Catwoman slinked around to try to challenge and defeat Batman’s moral turpitude.

But King Tut was just ridiculous.

A university professor gets bumped on the head, believes he’s King Tut and surrounds himself with people who buy that? Yeah, sure.

Still, 10-year-old me liked Victor Buono. At least he seemed to be having fun on the screen, unlike someone like Rudy Vallee, who was just boring.

I knew nothing of Buono’s background. I doubt many 10-year-olds at that time had seen him try to keep up opposite Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

This feature story is from the Charlotte News of April 24, 1964; pre-Batman of course.

Is Buono Too Good?
Real Sweet Guy
News Entertainment Writer
Is 300 pound Victor Buono too good for the likes of modern-day movies? He may be. His insistence that filmmakers follow a strict moral code in scenes in which he appears may cost him his career.
"I've lost several good parts because producers couldn't see things my way," says Buono. "And frankly, I expect to lose more."
Buono is the fat fellow who played piano for Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" He won an Academy award nomination for his role and could scarcely have hit the screen with more impact had he jumped into a kettledrum.
Buono didn't win the award, but the nomination helped him sew up the title role in an upcoming tingler called "The Strangler."
NOW WE COME to the meat of the story. The script called for Buono to step into a boudoir and throttle the scantily-clad lady occupant.
"Huh-uh," said Buono. "I won't do it."
"Of course you will," soothed the picture's producer. "what do you think you're in the picture for?"
"I'll do it," said Buono, "but not until she puts on some clothes."
"She can't do that," the producer argued. "This picture is based on a case in Boston and every one of the strangler's victims were nearly nude when killed.
"Well, this one's not going to be," said Buono. "Either she puts on a robe or she doesn't get strangled."
And with that he stalked off the set and retired to his dressing room. Fifteen minutes later came a knock on the door. He could return to the set. He had won his argument. The lady, a blonde named Davey Davison, had put on her robe and was waiting for Buono's firm grip of death.
"They had to give in to me—that time," said Buono later. "I was holding up production and it was costing them money. But I don't think they've forgiven me yet."
VICTOR BUONO, a Shakespearean actor before he turned to the screen. is trying to hold the tide against the onrushing salacious films in Hollywood. In short he is a conscientious objector in the midst of the morality revolution now taking place on the screen.
Pressed by shocking and sometimes distasteful foreign films on one side and innocuous TV shows on the other, Hollywood is squeezing out a brand of entertainment that contains a few elements of both. And Victor Buono, known as Hollywood's practicing Christian, is trying to hold out.
He insists he is not a prude. "I think the proof of that is in 'The Strangler' itself," he said. "I'm still a sex maniac in the picture. But it all depends on how you do a scene like that. There were some things at which I had to draw the line in sheer conscience."
BUONO'S STRUGGLE began shortly after he started work in the picture.
"That argument about the girl in the scanties was nothing to some squabbles we had before production began," he said. "I made them eliminate some scenes from the picture."
By the time the strangling scene came around the picture had been half completed. The producer couldn't afford to argue too much with Buono about it. He put a heavy mark against the big man in a little black book and told him to get on with it.
"I don't think I would have got away with it if it hadn't been for that Academy Award nomination," said Buono. "Aside from the billing and the money it's wonderful what one of those things will do for you.
"But it's no guarantee of success. I've already lost several good parts because the producers couldn't see my way and I expect to lose more.
"With pictures going wild it's a serious situation for me and I don't mind admitting I'm worried about it."

Buono relished villainous roles. He was cast in a pile of them, including one in a 1977 TV series. He talks about it in this interview published August 25th

Buono's heft helps his menace
By Bob Thomas
Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – What is so menacing about fat men? Sidney Greenstreet, Laird Cregar and other bulky males proved to highly effective as film heavies—a term that aptly fitted their profession.
Victor Buono carries on the weighty tradition in today's Hollywood. Ever since "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" (1963), he has earned a handsome living as menace of more slender leading men and women.
"I don't mind at all," he says airily. "The heavy is usually an interesting character, he moves the story, and his misdeeds teach a lesson. What's more, he usually has the best lines."
The Buono craft will be seen on NBC Television this fall with "Man from Atlantis," a series that may ptacate the public's hunger for sci-fi fantasy, as evidenced by "Star Wars." Handsome Patrick Duffy is found dying on an ocean shore. Navy doctor Belinda J. Montgomery discovers his problem: the poor man is from a water-breathing civilization deep in the sea. She repairs his gills and from then on the series really gets fantastic.
"I'm a semi-regular on the series; you might say an 'irregular," Buono explained in his MGM dressing room. "I appeared in the pilot film as Mr. Schubert, a madman who plays the cello in Schubert quartets between schemes on how to take over the world.
"In one of the plots I try to melt the polar cap with microwaves, the same device you use to make tuna-melts in the kitchen. My main aim is to force Pat to help me in my schemes, since he is a superior critter. So the first 45 minutes of the show I am in the ascendancy; in the last 15 he takes over.
"I always have magnificent plans to take over the world. The only trouble is that I hire certifiable nitwits to carry out my directions."
Buono, 39, seems to be enjoying himself in this amiable nonsense, and why not? Wasn't he King Tut in "Batman"? And Carlos Maria Vincenzo Robespierre Manzeppi, the menace of "Wild Wild West"? Not to mention Bongo Benny in "77 Sunset Strip."
"One of the things I like about 'Man from Atlantis," said the actor, "is that there are no guns, no knives, no gratuitous violence. There is some rough stuff, of course, but not with recognizable weapons.
"I am not anti-gun, but I am anti-handgun. A rifle was invented for shooting long distances in order to acquire food. A handgun was devised to kill human beings at short range."
Victor Buono grew up fat in San Diego.
"I recently came across a photograph of myself at eight, and I was heavy even then," he remarked. "It has never bothered me, though when I got up to 355 pounds a while back, I felt fat for the first time.
"Then I went off to Honolulu for a 'Hawaii Five-O' and in Hawaii you don't feel like eating. I went down to 320 and felt rather uncomfortable. Now I stay at 330." At six feet four he doesn't look that heavy.
The heft helps his menace, he believes, and so does his beard. He wears one that circles his face like an eskimo hood. "Without the beard my face looks like a blue-eyed omelet," he explained. "It's a picture of total innocence. And that's terribly bad in my line of work."

If Buono was interviewed about his experience working on a cult TV show, I haven’t been able to find it. He didn’t have a lot of time to talk about it. Buono was found dead of a heart attack in his home on New Year’s Day 1982. He was 43.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

A Title On the Ocean Wave

Hugh Harman and his staff came up with a unique way to open one 1931 Bosko short.

Bosko Shipwrecked! opens with animated lightning and then credits fading in. There’s the sound of wind in the background.

The letters become like descended surf and the setting soon reveals Bosko’s ship being tossed in the ocean.

Bosko, his ship and his mate are tossed around for a good two minutes of barely-gagged action (there’s an all-too-typical butt-pain gag) to the sounds of J.S. Zamecnik’s “Storm Music No. 10.” When Bosko washes up on shore until the lion shows up, the mood drastically shifts and we hear “Happy Little Tune” by Max Rich and Tot Seymour. Listen to a version of it below.

Monday 24 April 2023

Drunks at MGM

Friz Freleng, by all accounts (mainly his), did not enjoy working on the Captain and the Kids series at MGM. But someone did, judging by one scene in A Day at the Beach (1938).

A barrel of hooch that has somehow found itself on the aforementioned beach rolls into the water during a tug-of-war between the aforementioned Captain and Kids. The contents gurgle into the sea.

Only a few frames after the barrel sinks, drunken fish pop out of the ocean, hiccupping courtesy of Mel Blanc. Here are a few frames.

Down they come.

One last hiccup.

There are some fun scenes of an octopus, tortoise and clams hiccupping upward as the soundtrack plays “How Dry I Am.” The cartoon opens with “By the Sea.”

No animators are credited on the short, just Supervisor Friz.