Wednesday 31 May 2023

Laughin' Before Laugh-In With Arte

They weren’t overnight successes, most of the original cast of Laugh-In. Judy Carne had starred in Love on a Rooftop. Ruth Buzzi showed up on That Girl. Jo Anne Worley had appeared on The Merv Griffin Show.

Arte Johnson had not one, but two TV series. Likely you don’t remember either of them.

Johnson was a nightclub comic who was signed for a role in It’s Always Jan, a sitcom which debuted in 1955 that CBS decided It’s No Longer Jan on its schedule after a year. Then in 1958, Johnson was added to the cast of Joan Caulfield’s NBC comedy Sally—after the show was cancelled. He and Gale Gordon were signed for the last seven episodes. Gordon played (this won’t surprise you) a pompous, disapproving grouch. Johnson played his bumbling son. Johnson was signed after series writer Phil Shuken saw him in “No Time for Sergeants” on Broadway.

He was considered on the rise once he hired for Janis Paige’s show. Here are a couple of articles, first from April 9, 1955.

Young Man With A Future
Arte Johnson Enters T.V As A Delivery Boy
New York—Twenty-three-year-old Arte Johnson seems to be a young man with a bright future. Despite his relative youth, Arte is a veteran of night clubs, radio and T. V. Currently he's causing quite a stir in New York with his appearance in the sell-out "Shoestring Revue". It was during his run in the show that opportunity knocked loudly.
Artie Stander, a writer who created a new T. V. series, remembered him from a C. B. S. audition of the preceding year and called to offer him a job. There was to be a new T. V. film series, starring Janis Paige, aNd Stander had written in a part specially for Johnson. When Artie asked Arte if he'd be interested, our boy took a leave of absence from "Shoestring Revue" and flew post-haste to Hollywood.
"I didn't want to appear anxious," he told me.
The show, tentatively titled "The Four Of Us", concerns the adventures of a night club performer-widow and takes place in New York. Arte plays the delivery boy from the grocery downstairs. "Believe me," he said, "it's a different type of part. I'm an intelligent delivery boy.
"I had a long talk with Artie Stander about the role, and we both agreed that the best way to approach it would be to emphasize the human values and not try to dig for laughs based on slapstick or improbable situations. I'm the delivery boy and I like the people upstairs. So when the owner of the store refuses to advance them credit, I do."
He agreed that this did not sound like the epitome of intelligence.
"After all," Arte explained, "I'm basically a performer. If the part changes, all I can do is complain. But I do honestly believe the approach is right.
"I don't care what happens now. (He really does care.) Doing the film was the greatest experience of my life. I met all kinds of people I never dreamed I'd get close to—Desi Arnaz, Lucy, Ray Bolger, Danny Thomas, who's one of the producers, Sheldon Leonard, our director, Janis Paige. . ." He didn't say much after that name, he just sighed.
"We rehearsed the show for four days and then shot it before an audience. With laughter, it ran 38 minutes, and we had to cut out laughs to get it down to 27 minutes. That hurts.
"I haven't seen the pilot film yet. I understand the show is on the verge of being sold, but I'm almost afraid to look at it. I've been invited to another screening which will be held in New York, but I don't know whether I'll be brave enough to go even then."

The Indianapolis News gave readers this profile on Nov. 1, 1955. The typesetter seems to have had problems with the show’s name.

Don't Sell a Short Man Short
Arte Johnson, the bespectacled young comedian in It's Alway Jan [sic], is in television because he couldn't see over the top of a counter.
The 5-2 Arte worked as a production assistant at a publishing house.
"I worked behind a desk," he said, "and didn't have the nerve to become a salesman. A friend dared me to go on the stage, and since I couldn't see over the top of the counter anyway, I joined the road show of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds'."
A native Chicagoan and a graduate of the University of Illinois School of Journalism, Johnson went to New York in 1952 and joined the publishing firm. He made his first appearance in the cafe circuit, at Le Ruban Bleu and later on at the Village Vanguard.
Contrary to the experience of most people in TV, Arte finds the work relaxing. His aim is direction and production on TV.
"We work four days out of the week, we rehearse three days and shoot the fourth, before a live audience," he said in a long-distance telephone interview.
"There is not the pressure of live TV on our shows," he added. "We work on film with the advantage of a live audience." Arte said that he had a minor role in "Miracle in the Rain," new movie which features Jane Wyman and Van Johnson.
"My role will probably end up on the cutting room floor," he laughed, "but I love that money. It's so pleasant."
Arte has one brother, Coslough Johnson, just returned from Japan. "He was going to change his name to Howard but he thought people might laugh," Arte said. He says there is a great, influx of young talent to Hollywood right now and that "within five years, live TV will come only from New York, The filmed material will all be done in Hollywood."
It's Aways Jan [sic] is carried here on Saturdays by WISH-TV.

One of the advantages when you’re not known on television is you aren’t typecast. You can try out for different roles. Johnson appeared in a movie in 1965 playing something no one would associate with him today. This appeared in papers in August 1965.

Arte Johnson Scores Hit
Newspaper Enterprise Association.
HOLLYWOOD—When you see "The Third Day," an old-fashioned melodrama starring George Peppard and Elizabeth Ashley, you'll probably be impressed by a little man playing the psychopathic heavy. You are not alone.
Arte Johnson's performance is creating a lot of talk here. Johnson says that Helmut Dan-tine, whom he had never met, saw the picture and called him to say that "You will be the next Peter Lorre."
This is perfectly fine with Arte (pronounced Artie), but it amuses him. You see, he started out on the musical comedy stage in New York, came to Hollywood nine years ago and has been doing comedy in television and in night clubs.
He never made much of a splash here—"I was an owl actor—mention my name and people would say ‘Who? Who?’ "—but he did well enough to get by.
But then his old pal, Peppard, insisted that he play the evil one in "The Third Day."
"George called me," Arte says, "and he said, 'I've just read you in a script—a hostile little man.'"
Arte, who is 5'3" and weighs 125 pounds, says he guesses he is hostile.
"All little men are inclined toward hostility," he says, "and all comics are inclined toward hostility. So I guess I'm doubly inclined toward hostility."
He smiled as he said it. Hostile smile, it was.

This was not too many months after comic roles as an efficiency expert (Many Happy Returns, John McGiver’s starring vehicle), a playboy son (The Cara Williams Show) and Samantha’s elf cousin (Bewitched). There was some on-location comedy during filming of The Third Day. Johnson’s dialogue couldn’t be heard over the mooing of cows in a pasture.

Perhaps that’s what dissuaded him from a career as a character actor (he got some favourable reviews). By 1967 he was guesting on sitcoms, and then stories began popping up in newspapers in August that he would be in the cast of a special featuring take-offs and put-ons that NBC would air the following month. Dan Rowan, Dick Martin and producer George Schlatter promised quick sketches and a different format. UPI’s Rick Du Brow proclaimed the humour mixed but added “the one-shot show was memorable for the brilliant comedic singing, dancing and line-handling of Arte Johnson, whose pseudo-Russian song was priceless, and, as I understand it, impromptu.

NBC picked up the “one-shot” Laugh-In as a series. Arte Johnson’s career was changed forever.

Tuesday 30 May 2023

I'll Have the Chicken Chevalier

Ub Iwerks’ ComiColor cartoons were supposed to be based on fairy tales, nursery rhymes and children’s classics but, despite that, finding good gags for a story line seemed to have been a real problem for the studio’s writers.

Let’s look at Old Mother Hubbard (1935). Once you get past enacting the famous six rhyming lines, then how do you fill the screen time? Being 1935, everyone was imitating Disney, so Carl Stalling filled the soundtrack with original songs that kind of told the story, like an operetta.

But gags?


Old Mother Hubbard’s poor dog ended up in the King’s kitchen and started chowing down on a roast chicken. The cook delivered a platter to the King, removed the cover and—why, it’s the dog with his head buried in the bird.

The King (who has no neck) thinks it’s funny. I’ll bet theatre audiences didn’t.

The dog tries to remove the chicken from his head. Stray dogs jump through a window and join in. No, we haven’t hit the funny part yet.

The strays have eaten the meat off the chicken. The dog finally shakes the bones off his head. They reform into a chicken skeleton. And—it’s alive! You’re yucking it up now, right?

The bird gives the dog the butt-bird then throws a spittoon at his head. Fuh-nee!

The spittoon crushes into something that’s supposed to resemble a straw hat. The dog then develops a thick lower lip and starts to do the worst Maurice Chevalier impression in history. It’s like the voice actor had never heard a French accent before. It truly is stupefyingly inept.

However the stiffly-animated king (where are Irv Spence and Dick Bickenbach when you need them?) thinks it’s great and all’s well for Mother Hubbard, the King and the dog at the end, who dance and reprise the song “Cheer Up.” In case you want to sing along the next time you watch the cartoon, the lyrics go:

Cheer up!
Why do you look so sad and grumpy?
Cheer up!
Why do you sigh?

Cheer up!
Your road of life is not so bumpy.
Cheer up!
Take it in high.

Why do you sit around so humble,
Mumble, jumble, groan and grumble?

Cheer up!
A king should sing
For that will bring
A smile. Be a regular guy!

Carl Stalling’s score and arrangements are actually pretty solid (he gets screen credit). He even incorporates a minor-key version of the aforementioned melody. Within a year, the ComiColors were finished and Stalling would move to Leon Schlesinger and lasting fame.

Monday 29 May 2023

Wags To Riches Backgrounds

Johnny Johnsen invents a long living room over which Tex Avery pans in Wags to Riches (1949). I’ve had to break it up because it’s really long.

I have no idea who was doing Tex’s layouts at this point.

Sunday 28 May 2023

To Be

Jack Benny synonymous with clowning horseplay? Riotous slapstick?

Was Lolly into her fifth martini when she came up with that?

Benny was the very opposite of “riotous slapstick.” He stood there and looked out at the audience. They laughed. He kept looking. They laughed harder. “Clowning horseplay” was for people like Red Skelton or (especially) Milton Berle.

But that’s what Louella Parsons told her readers in her column of March 1, 1942. It wasn’t like she and Jack were strangers. She even appeared on his radio show twice.

The subject is mostly Jack’s latest movie, To Be or Not to Be. Lolly, as usual, injects herself into her own story.

Shakespearean Comedy May Alter Jack Benny's Career
Carole Lombard Has Lead Role in "To Be or Not to Be," Proclaimed a Hit.

By Louella O. Parsons
Motion Picture Editor, I. N. S.
Hollywood, Cal. — Curious that “To Be or Not to Be,” the comedy that was born in tears, should be the one that perhaps will change Jack Benny's whole career. The same Benny is synonymous with clowning horseplay and riotous slapstick. Who would ever have thought that Jack Benny, super-comedian, clown and funny man, would turn out a romantic hero? Yet Ernst Lubitsch, by a simple twist of the wrist, converts Jack into a leading man with the appeal of a Tyrone Power.
Mary Livingstone has always kidded Jack about his thinning hair, his age and even his waistline, although he is not the least bit on the portly side. They have gotten some of their biggest laughs from the way she has ribbed him, pretending to fall for a young hero and ridiculing Benny in their hilariously funny skits.
Mary Likes Preview.
I went to call on the Bennys at their home in Beverly Hills just as Jack was getting ready to go to San Francisco to do a radio show at the Presidio. Jack and Mary had been playing gin rummy and Joan, their little daughter, done up in little pink nightie, had come in to say goodnight.
Before I had a chance to even sit down Mary said, "Wasn't he handsome? I fell in love with him all over again." She had gone to the preview because Jack had not felt up to it. Carole Lombard's tragic death a few days after they finished the picture had been such a blow he wanted to see the picture in the theatre or in the privacy of a quiet projection room.
"I feel differently now," he said, "after Mary said the picture was so good and the reviews so satisfactory. I know how happy it would have made Carole and she would have wanted everyone to see our movie. I am more glad for her sake most people like it than I am on my own account.
Afraid of Role.
"Wait until Fred Allen and Bob Hope see you," I said. "Won't they burn? You have given Errol Flynn and our other dashing heroes competition.”
“When Ernst Lubitsch asked me to play the Shakespearian actor I was afraid," Jack said. "You need a young, handsome leading Shakespearian man—a hero who will give the girls a thrill."
"Ernst said he had written ‘To Be or Not to Be' with me in mind and naturally I was flattered to do a picture with Lubitsch and Carole. If Lubitsch ever asks me to make another movie," said Jack, "I won't even read the script. I'll say yes before he can say his own name."
"I hadn't worked with Ernst two days before I knew what he told me to do was right. I had complete confidence in his judgment in the scene where I make Robert Stack walk thru the door first—we had shot it the other way first—with me in the lead. ‘Try following Stack,’ he said, "and that scene is one of the laugh sequences in the entire movie."
Laughs Must Be Natural.
"Comedy, Lubitsch believes, must never be pushed. You must never force a laugh. Why I threw away my most important laughs and did nothing to call attention to the dialog we hoped would be funny. The results showed that Lubitsch knows all the answers and the way to put over subtle humor."
" 'To Be or Not to Be’ could very easily be a serious picture," added Mary, "and a good one. It is so exciting and filled with such great suspense."
"Ah, but the comedy," said Jack, is what makes the drama all the more potent and Lubitsch knew that so well."
As I was leaving Mary and Jack walked to the door with me and waved goodbye. Just then dilapidated car with a man and women and some children drove by. They drove to the curb and the man asked, “Is that Jack Benny?" I said "Yes." He said, "Well, I'm from Boston and Benny is the one person we came all the way to California to see."
Guess that man and thousands like him over the world are glad that "To Be or Not to Be" is good for Jack is loved, not only by those who know him, but by Mr. and Mrs. Public all over the United States.

Despite her characterisation of Benny’s comedy, Parsons seems to have got one of the few interviews with Jack immediately after the film’s release. I’ve found plenty of reviews in newspapers in 1942, but nothing quoting Jack to any great extent. Maybe he didn’t give interviews because he was busy with his radio show. Or Lombard’s death still upset him.

Years later, it was different. Jack proclaimed it one of his best pictures and critics agreed. As he got laughs on radio by ridiculing his last movie for Warners, The Horn Blows at Midnight, the studio audience reacted the same way when cast members praised it. Not exactly “riotous slapstick,” is it?

Saturday 27 May 2023

Animation's Vet

He was a cartoonist/illustrator/sculptor who served in the Spanish-American War and died in 1966.

Yet Vet Anderson’s animation career petered out in the early sound era after stops at Van Beuren, Walter Lantz and Ted Eshbaugh.

This is not going to be a biography or essay on Anderson. That’s somewhat way, way over my head. Someone who REALLY knows about Anderson is Charlie Judkins, and I’d urge you to read about him in this old blog post.

However, in hunting for something else, I came across this rather forlorn article in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine of June 29, 1935. I thought I’d pass it on for what it’s worth.

The City of Forgotten Men
BETWEEN the glistening shores of the blue Pacific and the great California university in the rolling hills of Westwood there Is a strange world of forgotten men.
Many of the forgotten ones have made their marks in life. During their span of usefulness they were leaders, some of them, in their fields of endeavor, which run the gamut of human accomplishment, from music to engineering. It is in no sense a sorry world, although there is pain there and suffering; but over all this these men have laid the soft, comfortable blanket of cherished memories and, thus, the driving hopes, the searing ambitions, the fierce competition that in these modern days drive men to distraction are happily missing at the National Military Home in Sawtelle.
Live In the Past
The men shuffle from barracks to mess hall, from ward to ward; or else they lie very still. All of them have the look of men whose minds dwell in the past.
Yet not all are hopeless. Some who have achieved great successes are determined to win to the heights again. Others, though, have given up.
Take Jesse Sylvester Anderson, today perhaps the fastest man In the animated cartoon field, an artist who was a member of the "big three" in the world of newspaper art in America thirty years ago, a trio composed of himself, Homer Davenport and Richard Outcalt.
"Vet" Anderson is a veteran of two wars. One was the Spanish-American conflict. He was fifteen days too old for Plattsburg when the World War beckoned to the Americans, so he went in with the British. He entered the newspaper field at the close of the Spanish-American War, beginning as a cartoonist with the Detroit Free Press in 1899. The New York Herald called him a year later. He made his first mark by caricaturing Tom Platt and Dick Croker, New York politicians.
Famed for Drawings
With John Kendrick Bangs he put out what was perhaps the first syndicate feature in American Journalism, "Who's What and Why, in America." He followed this by sketching Congress and originating a series called, "The Posthumous Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes," The Herald, Morning Telegraph and World used him in their art departments until 1909, and during this time he studied portraiture. He entered the animated cartoon branch of the movies In 1909, turning out the first of these pictures. Until his services in the World War he continued this work.
The animated movie versions of "Mutt and Jeff and "Aesop's Fables" flowed from his prolific pen. Then, when the great war ended, he went to Paris and studied in the Academie on Mount Parnasse until 1921.
"Vet" Anderson's great painting, “Memories." created a sensation in the spring salon in Paris in that year. It became known as "the talk of the salon." He was famous. He went to London and introduced the American method of producing animated cartoons for the films, then the movies called him back to New York.
He bought a farm In New Jersey, because in the beginning he had lived on a farm. He had toiled at farming as a boy in Michigan; the soil called to him. He commuted between his New Jersey furrows and the New York studios. Then tragedy came.
While he was at the seaside over a week-end with his wife and two children, fire razed his farm home, and in the dwelling were all of "Vet" Anderson's sketches, the accumulation of his life work, his credentials in art. Their value was beyond computation, to him.
He staggered up from the blow, built another identical house above the ruins, lived in it but one month.
"It couldn’t replace the other . . . you see, there was so much that I had put into the other one . . . "
Tasted Tragedy
He turned his face toward the West, packed up and moved with his family to Hollywood. At first he did well. At one studio he became a sensation, with his speed at the animated cartoon. He turned out fifteen to twenty feet of film a week, as compared to three and five feet produced by the other artists. The others organized a union, commanded him to join. He refused. Trouble came, and he left. Then he tried his luck with a man who had ideas about colored cartoons in movies. It didn't pan out and "Vet" Anderson began to taste bitter things. He was on the down grade.
He found his way into the lines before the desk of the S.E.R.A. and was given a job. At 62 years of age the artist finger muscles alone had been developed during his life of sketching, painting and sculpting bent his back at a plow, pick and shovel. It broke him.
He had never given a thought to pension or to government hospitalization during the years he was "tops" as an artist. He staggered into the National Home last January, virtually crippled. As soon as he could stand erect he gave ear to the whisperings of his genius.
Staging "Comeback"
They gave him vari-colored wool thread and some cloth screen to work with, and with a needle he began doing the things his pen, brush and modeling tools had done before.
All the skill gained from years of caricaturing and the study of portrait painting went into the makeup of the portraits in thread, as he worked. First came President Roosevelt, then Henry Ford, then Will Rogers, each faithfully reproduced on the cloth screens.
"I had to wind up in a hospital bed to find myself. I have something now. I'll be out of here in time to exhibit at the exposition in San Diego, just as sure as you live . . . "

Anderson turns up in San Francisco in the 1938 Voter Registration as an artist. He’s in the San Jose area in the 1942 Registration in San Jose as an artist. The 1950 U.S. Census for San Jose lists him as unemployed. That’s where he died on January 14, 1966.

We mentioned a blog post by Charlie Judkins. He wrote about Anderson at the Cartoon Research site. We look forward to the day Charlie has the time to compile all his research of New York’s animation studios into a book.

Friday 26 May 2023

Anchor's Aweigh

The Silly Symphony Frolicking Fish (1930) is from a period where cartoons could get away with no, or next-to-no, story, so long as there was animation synchronisation in time to the music. Thus we get scenes of fish dancing because that’s about all that is required of this cartoon.

There’s also an octopus that is alternately menacing or goofy, depending on what’s needed for a particular scene.

In the cartoon’s climax, a fish escapes from the octopus and conks him with an anchor.

Bubbles pour out of the octopus and fill the screen. Since bubbles opened the cartoon, director Burt Gillett ends it that way.

Disney skips a chance to have “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” in the background. He’d have to pay for it.

To be honest, I like the Aesop Fable The Haunted Ship, also released in 1930, better than this. It has weirdly-designed sea creatures, and a barbershop quartet of drunken tortoises.

Thursday 25 May 2023

Please, No More Fleas

Tex Avery’s first flea-on-stage was in Hamateur Night (1939), a fine Warner Bros. short. Avery demonstrates some fine timing as a flea performer drops through a trap door after a lousy act and the emcee (and the audience) waits and waits and waits for it to land.

Years later, Avery gave us The Flea Circus (1954), where he followed his usual method of having as many variations of a gag that he could fit in. In rapid succession, we get flea performance gags, with the insects as little dots on a stage.

In this one, Tex and writer Heck Allen reuse the idea of a flea performer dropping. This one is a dancer, tapping away to “Old Folks at Home/Swanee River” until (s)he falls through a crack in the floorboards.

Unfortunately, Avery’s in way too much of a hurry. There’s a slide whistle, a glass crash sound, the curtains close with a plop and it’s on to the next act. In Hamateur Night, the drop wasn’t the gag. The gag was how long it took the flea to crash-land.

Other gags:

A flea marching band. It marches.That’s the gag.

Flea acrobats that form various shapes. The last one looks like an outline of Red.

A flea sword swallower hiccoughs to complete the act.

A flea pianist falls into a spittoon with a splash.

Then we get to the point of the cartoon—the flea clown (who sounds like Droopy and sings “Clementine” like the future Huck Hound) is brushed off by la femme flea danseuse as being a, well, a clown, after being booed by the audience.

MGM seems to have had an obsession with French-accented characters in the mid-‘50s; Tom and Jerry cartoons feature one, too, all voiced by Francoise Brun-Cottan. She is Fifi the flea in this short. Avery, for reasons known only to him, attempted sappy love stories on occasion, though he tries to end them with an outrageous gag (in this cartoon, one he used in Little Johnny Jet, released in 1953).

Maybe some people find the cartoon charming. I’ll take Hamateur Night, thanks.

Mike Lah, Walt Clinton, Bob Bentley and Grant Simmons provided the animation.

Wednesday 24 May 2023


The 1950s were filled with sitcoms but I never warmed to very many of them, even the ones that remain incredibly popular today.

And it seems some of the stars of the 1950s were left behind there. Bob Cummings never got a series in the ‘60s. Eve Arden did, but her show never reached the heights of Our Miss Brooks. Same with Stu Erwin, reduced to an occasional role on a series that was cancelled after a year.

Then there was Gale Storm.

The woman with the improbable name (it was fake) had two sitcoms in the ‘50s, the second more popular than the first. They ended up in reruns in the next decade, but Storm never attempted a new series.

At the start of 1952, Storm wasn't sitting around. The Hollywood Reporter had stories about the production company she and husband Lee Bonnell operated, and that she had signed with James Schwartz Preoductions for a series of religious films. Finally, on May 20, the Reporter announced she would be co-starring with Charlie Farrell on the summer replacement My Little Margie. The series was quickly assembled as it debuted on June 16. A number of critics complained about the writing and situations of the debut episode, but the show climbed in the ratings and sponsor Philip Morris found a permanent place for it on the schedule.

Storm had settled into the role when the Detroit Free Press printed this feature story on May 24, 1953

Gale Finds TV a Stormy Business
Free Press Staff Writer
Television can be hard on a girl.
In just over a year of playing "My Little Margie,' Gale Storm has met more hazards than a lady wrestler. She's had her nose broken, suffered a brain concussion and fainted from fright.
The fractured nose occurred when a bit player slammed a door in her face, the concussion was the result of a hit in the back of the head with a camera boom, the faint happened when a huge, balloon exploded in her face.
BUT FOR ALL the bad luck, Gale couldn't be happier than playing Margie. It was just over a year ago that Hal Roach, Jr., producer of the series, showed her the script of the proposed show in which she would play Charles Farrell's daughter. She liked the character of Margie immediately.
In June, 1952, when "Margie" replaced "I Love Lucy" for the summer, the critics landed on it and almost universally condemned it. But Gale said she "had a right feeling about the show."
It turned out she was right. By the end of the summer Margie had moved up to number three in the ratings. The public liked the show so well the sponsor moved it to a new spot on Thursday and started a radio version of the program. This year, Margie, both on radio and TV, will stay on during the summer.
BRIGHT-EYED Gale Storm is a lot like impish Margie off camera. But where Margie can't quite decide on her favorite beau, Gale is a dignified young matron. And where Margie can't quite make-up her mind about a career. Gale always had her eye on acting.
She was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle in Houston. Tex., in 1923 the youngest of three boys and two girls. Her middle name, given to her by a sister, is Indian for bluebird.
In 1939, at 16, she entered a national radio contest, "Gateway to Hollywood." The two winners were to receive movie contracts.
GALE DIDN’T care too much whether she won or not until she saw Lee Bonnell of Indianapolis In the boy's division. She says now, “I just knew he would win, he was so handsome. I wanted to win so I could meet him."
Lee did win, and so did Gale. Both were placed under contract by Universal Studios. In two years, on Gale's 18th birthday, Lee proposed and they were married.
Almost immediately, he was called into service and served four years in the Coast Guard. When he returned to civilian life, he went into the insurance business where he has been very successful.
TODAY THE Bonnells have three sons, Philip, 10, Peter, 7, and Paul, 6. They live in a white stucco ranch style house furnished in early American style. It's located in Sherman Oaks in San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. Gale was recently elected mayor of Sherman Oaks.
Gale's TV filming and radio show keep her busy, but she leads a busy home life too. She enjoys cooking. (Her favorite dinner is ham, black-eyed peas, mustard greens and cornbread, a reminder of her Texas upbringing.)
ON SUNDAY, SHE teaches Sunday School at her San Fernando Valley church. She started six years ago with a kindergarten class and now teaches juniors.
Weekdays she uses any spare time she has taking singing lessons. Some of her movies were musicals, but she has an eye on opera.
Recently, she sang the lyric soprano role of the maid in Gian-Carlo Menotti's "The Old Maid and the Thief," presented by the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.
Other times, she indulges in her hobby of oil painting. And it's not unusual to find her on a Saturday afternoon playing softball with her boys.
Gale Is five foot four inches tall, weighs 111 pounds. Her own brownette hair photographed too dark for television, so she is now a strawberry blonde. She'd rather young girls didn't know this because her fan mail shows the girls like to copy Margie's coiffure.

“Liked the character of Margie immediately”? Well, not quite. The passage of years allows one to tell a story that wouldn’t go over well at the time. Storm told the Copley News Service in 1974 that she didn’t like the script for the pilot because she “thought it smacked just a tiny bit of incest.” Producer Hal Roach, Jr. agreed to make some changes.

After her second show ended in 1960, she got out of the business because she “was tired.” Storm ended up performing on stage and raising her kids.

But there were problems, as she admitted in an interview with United Features, published Nov. 25, 1979.

Gale Storm Marks Return To TV After Long Absence
By Marilyn Beck
When Gale Storm showed up on the 20th Century-Fox lot to film the Nov. 3 segment of “Love Boat,” it marked her first TV acting appearance in 19 years. It was also going to mark, her friends assured her, the road to other work. “They said," said Ms Storm, “that I was sure to be asked to guest on ‘Fantasy Island,’ because both series are produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. Well, I'm still waiting to be asked — and am I ever available!”
Ms. Storm had been the darling of the airwaves in the '50s when she starred first in “My 'Little Margie,” and then “The Gale Storm Show” — filming a total of 269 half-hour films in a period of eight years.
On "The Gale Storm Show,” she portrayed a social director on a luxury liner, and considers it fitting that her return to TV should be aboard the “Love Boat” ship. And, she doesn't consider it at all peculiar that she's had to wait so long to make what she hopes will be her comeback trip.
“I don't blame anyone. People don’t see you working, so they assume you don’t want to work. I’ve been doing a lot of dinner theater engagements around the country, but nothing here in Hollywood. In Hollywood, they pretty much forgot about me.”
She also has spent much of the last five years trying to cure herself of alcoholism — a subject she mentions when she raises a glass of water to her lips, and a few drops fall on her lap. “When I used to drink vodka martinis, I was always telling people I spilled most of them. Of course, I didn't,” she said with a laugh.
What she was, she says, was “a very careful drinker. By that I mean I would never drive if I had been drinking, would never drink at work, because I have always respected my profession too much for that. And, oh, I was always careful never to drink in front of my three grown sons or my teen-age daughter.”
It was when she was alone or with her insurance agent-husband, Lee Bonnell, that Ms. Storm let her pretenses down and began to rely more and more on drink.
“I can't pinpoint any traumatic experience that got me started on alcohol,” she said. “I had absolutely no excuses — I had a wonderful supportive husband, a family who cared for me. And that made me feel worse. I was filled with guilt shame and disgust.”
She recalled that “until about five years ago, I had never been more than a social drinker. In the last five years, I spent time in three hospitals for alcoholic help — with absolutely no results. The feeling of shame and disgust got worse. Then, in January of this year, I went to the Raleigh Hills facility in Oxnard, Calif.”
She was discharged from that alcoholic rehabilitation center on Feb. 6, and “things have been wonderful ever since,” she said. So wonderful that — overcome with a sense of wanting to share her good fortune with others who might be suffering from alcoholism — she volunteered to cut a commercial for Raleigh Hills.
That commercial has been airing since August, and she said with a merry giggle, “It's amazing — the response. People I know said they never had any idea, even my own publicist.
Lauren Tewes plays the social director of ABC's “Love Boat,” and as Ms. Storm pointed out, “Well I was the Lauren Tewes of the '50s.”
Stepping back into the TV scene she left so long ago, Ms Storm. reveals “brought with it quite a few qualms. I didn't expect that it would. I told myself, ‘Certainly someone with your experience isn't going to get butterflies.’ But I did get them! They went away fast, though, because everyone in the cast, in the crew, was so terribly, terribly nice.”
More than anything else, the “Love Boat" guesting reminded her of how nice it was to work somewhere just a short drive from her Tarzana home.
“Out-of-town dinner theater performances have been wonderful experience,” she said. “You settle into a town for seven or eight weeks, and there’s usually a lovely condominium or apartment at your disposal.
“And my husband he's wonderful. He always manages to commute to wherever I'm appearing. But we both agree that it would be lovely.” The smiled ebbed, but her eyes still twinkled with delight as she added, “What has pleased me most, have been the strangers who've approached me to say my message has helped them.”
The 55-year-old actress still makes a weekly trip to Raleigh Hills, “for reinforcement. And because, well, sometimes new patients are so insecure, and it helps them to speak to someone who’s made it. Besides, I feel I owe the Raleigh Hills people so much. They took away my shame — taught me that alcoholism is a disease — one I could overcome.”
She considers it somewhat ironic that it is a commercial on alcoholism that has given her her greatest degree of fame in the last 19 years. After the long span of years since she last starred on TV she said, “I find it hard to believe that people remember me. That maybe someone, well, that anyone would be excited about meeting me.”
Cast Seemed Excited
She did get a kick out of the fact that the "Love Boat” team seemed excited, indeed, about meeting Gale Storm, and that “Lauren Tewes acted as if I were someone special.” If life could be settled, if I could drive to a Hollywood studio every day, if I could have another series, perhaps.”
And if not her own series, then at least some regular work on other performers’ shows.
“I'm ready! I’m willing! Let the town know that I’ve never been more available!” she said.

The Love Boat harboured guest stars who had seen better days, ones whom the elderly viewers may have been surprised were still alive. Storm ended up shooting three episodes, and continued with stage work, and a little bit of television. She went into detail about her boozing in a 1981 autobiography.

Bonnell died of a heart attack in 1986 and Storm re-married two years later in a ceremony covered exclusively by The National Enquirer. In her final two decades, she was more a “do you remember” subject in newspaper columns than anything else. She died in 2009 at the age of 87, with her son telling reporters she had been delighting in receiving mail from fans until the very end. The ‘50s were gone, but My Little Margie was not forgotten.

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Gophers, McCabe-Style

The elements were there, but Norm McCabe and his writing staff just couldn’t pull it off.

Art Davis (and, I guess, writer George Hill) invented some heckling gophers in The Goofy Gophers (1947).

Tedd Pierce and Chuck Jones came out with a couple of mice, one a Brooklyn sharpie, the other a dullard, who terrorised a cat in The Aristo Cat (1943).

McCabe tried both concepts a few years earlier in Gopher Goofy (1942).

It has familiar elements from Warner Bros. cartoons—a character happily copying Jerry Colonna saying “Something new has been added!”, a human character with a red nose (a la Elmer Fudd in A Wild Hare and other cartoons), characters talking to the camera (“Keep your shirts on, folks. Us gophers go through this all the time), and Carl Stalling loading up the soundtrack with “42nd Street.”

McCabe and writer Don Christensen also pull a variation on a Maltese gag from The Heckling Hare (1941) where a dog crushes a tomato but thinks he’s killed Bugs Bunny. Here, the farmer thinks he’s crushed one of the gophers.

Here’s the punch line.

I really want to like Norm McCabe’s cartoons. Really I do. But most of them are full of blah characters and weak jokes. None of the characters in this short do anything for me. The farmer is a zero and the gophers don’t have the wit of Hubie. The dummy says, out of nowhere, “I miss Central Park.” What? Why? Lame characters equal lame cartoons.

This was a Looney Tunes cartoon. The series still featured Porky Pig in the opening and closing titles, but Leon Schlesinger had given up any pretense that the LTs were a showcase for the pig. Porky d-dee-uh-doesn’t appear anywhere in this short. It might have been stronger if he had been the farmer and got some decent dialogue.

Izzy Ellis is the credited animator and Dick Thomas remains uncredited as the background artist.

Monday 22 May 2023

Wheely Birds

Stretch diving exits were a staple at Terrytoons, where a character would jump into the air, chug its feet around then stretch into thinness and zip off frame. Jim Tyer did it. Carlo Vinci did the same thing at Hanna-Barbera.

Here’s an example where from Magpie Madness (1948) where Heckle and Jeckle’s feet develop wheels before diving off-screen. The dog follows.

There’s really nothing all that exciting in this cartoon. Cymbal crashes, drum thumps, Phil Scheib’s up-and-down-the-scale chase music, a lot of sampling of "Listen to the Mockingbird," it’s all here. We miss the Terry Splash.