Monday 31 July 2023

Who Directed This Cartoon?

Flora is, indeed, a “Columbia Favorite” for me. Gerry Mohr provides some fine narration for a Cal Howard/Dave Monahan story that’s pretty much one, long (and clean) double-entendre.

The two writers had been employed at one time on Warner Bros. cartoons, noted for inside references hidden in the background art. We find the same thing in this short.

The broken-window rooming house behind Ronny the dog is the Lovy Arms, named for Alex Lovy, who directed this cartoon. As Lovy had no hair, maybe he was the inspiration for Baldy’s Beanery.

The sign behind the stairwell is for a bindery, “H. Binder Prop.” Henry Binder co-produced this cartoon with Ray Katz, Leon Schlesinger’s brother-in-law. The two had been in Schlesinger’s employ until he sold his cartoon studio to Warner Bros. in 1944.

Al Boggs painted the backgrounds from Jim Carmichael’s layouts. Grant Simmons, Paul Sommer, Chic Otterstrom and Jay Sarbry were the credited animators.

Sunday 30 July 2023

I Should Have Remained Dumb

Celebrities over the years were asked to write guest columns in newspapers or magazine, and Jack Benny was among them.

Jack launched his radio career on May 2, 1932. His show quickly found a growing audience and on August 8, 1932, what may be his first column appeared in the Pittsburgh Press.

Benny didn’t necessarily write the columns. Some were from the typewriter of Harry Conn, his writer. There are a number that feature the same gag-lines and seem to be trying awfully hard to be a panic. I suspect those were Conn’s handiwork.

The Press is much more toned down and, at times, contemplative. With the exception of the appearance of Mary Livingstone, the Jack Benny programme of 1932 bore very little resemblance to the show known by fans today and took years to develop. For those unfamiliar with the earliest Benny, the musical director was bandleader George Olsen, with solos by Olsen’s wife Ethel Shutta (photo to right). Benny went through a series of staff announcers. His show, for some reason, was originally heard on the NBC Blue network twice a week, on Monday and Wednesdays.

Then there are Jack’s comments about the lack of a studio audience. His debut broadcast can be found on various sites on-line and the lack of an audience is noticeable. Other studios that month in the Press indicate that the show prior to Jack’s, featuring Weiner’s Minstrels, had a studio audience. Ed Wynn and Eddie Cantor insisted on one for their shows. The situation evidently was short-lived. The paper’s radio columnist on May 29, 1932 refers to Jack getting audience laughs with an ad-lib on a programme two days earlier; in reality, he had been on the air four days before.

Jack Benny Tries Hand At Writing
“WRITE me a column," said Si Steinhauser. So, gentle reader, to help a guy enjoy his vacation, I now take I stenographer in my lap and prepare to wear out the letter ‘I,’ in an endeavor to outwinchell Walter, eclipse a Cal Coolidge and best Heywood Broun.
To begin with, I used to be dumb. That is. I used to be I began my short but intensely interesting career by playing a fiddle while a nice looking blond girl thumped the piano. That was before radio became popular, or unpopular, according to the way you look at it.
I realize now that had I any sense I would have remained dumb. Wasn't it Emerson who said "Ambition makes fools of us all?" I got ambitious and wanted to talk. My ruination came when Mr. Marconi invented the radio. Oh, if I'd only kept my trap shut, how many sleepless nights I would have avoided. Trying to funny twice a week over the radio is at times an infernally trying ordeal.
The main trouble with radio is that it's so public. It is the toughest task I ever tackled. The road to radio has been a Iong one and at times, as all roads are, somewhat rocky.
The evolution from fiddling to wise-cracking covered many stages. There were those nights with Earl Carroll's Vanities, where it fell upon the shoulders of your humble scribe, the job of hanging the many and varied scenes of the big review together and at the same time playing parts in most of the acts. But that was easy compared to broadcasting.
In a show you learn one part that's good for 40 weeks. You can tinker with it and change what doesn't go at the matinee for the night show. But with radio it must be a new show every time you face the "mike." Once it's played it's gone to glory and those side-splitting gags can never be used again.
George Olsen can play the same old songs "by special request," but the wisecracker must dig deep down into his inner consciousness for something that will make them laugh. At times the digging process strikes rock and the going is hard. It takes two professional gag men to keep each program running. One works while the other recuperates. And there are times when all three of us border insanity.
I'll never forget my radio debut even if I live to be a million . . . Coming from vaudeville, where you can gauge your comedy by the laughs, where a gesture gets a snicker, and a gag a roar. Always an audience . . . Coming from that into the deadly seriousness of the studio, with its depressing silence, its split-second time clocks and its solemn-faced announcers. It was different and terrifying.
I missed the laughs, the comedian's stock and trade. Reading scripts was new. I had always memorized the lines before. I knew that without laughs I was lost. So we worked out a system whereby I could rehearse in private and let George's band boys be the audience. Since then things have gone fine.
Comedian or no comedian, I am just an advertisement . . . or a vocal sandwich man. The difference between the fellow who carries a sign and myself is that he can remain comfortably quiet. Being quiet, few of his audience ever take time to write to his sponsors to ask what's the idea of putting a fellow like that on the street to advertise for them. Mine, I am sorry to say, sometimes do this very thing.

It’s odd that Jack would call Cora Salisbury “a nice looking blond girl.” She was more matronly than anything else and the act broke up because she had to stay at home and care for a sick parent.

Jack also refers to two writers in addition to himself, but doesn’t name names. I don’t know when he hired Harry Conn to write for him, but the Press column from May 29 mentions a man named Jack Bunn who was recommended to Jack by Burns and Allen. It could be the paper botched Conn’s name (Conn had been recommended by Burns and Allen) but we don’t know at this late date.

Regardless, Benny overcame the endless pit wherein radio material was constantly dumped, along the way coming with things he could re-use on the air. Jack’s show included running gags, and switches on time-tested situations and characters that appealed to audiences, even past the first two decades of network television.

Saturday 29 July 2023

Ferdinand Blanc

In the 1940s, if you were interested about whose voices you heard in a cartoon you just watched, you were almost out of luck. Mel Blanc started getting screen credit on some Warner Bros. cartoons at the start of 1944; voice historian Keith Scott goes into this in depth in this post.

Other screen credits involving voice work in that decade were rare exceptions.

However, going back to the 1930s, newspapers occasionally wrote about cartoon actors, revealing names never seen on a theatre screen. Leon Schlesinger was no dummy when it came to public relations. He had Rose Horsley on staff to get publicity, in the trades, in the popular press and magazines. It would appear blurbs about the voice of Bugs Bunny made good newspaper copy, as there were a number of stories about Blanc.

He is quoted in this feature article in This Week magazine, one of a host of weekend newspaper supplements. It was published Oct. 13, 1946. Though it’s not mentioned, by this point Blanc had parlayed cartoon publicity and a lot of supporting work on the air into his own network radio sitcom.

Look Who's Talking!
You don't know them but their voices are famous. They give life to cartoon characters.
The success of every animated cartoon depends on the talents of a highly specialized group of people—the men and women who speak for them.
Moviegoers everywhere know the Hollywood artists and the product of their magic inkwells. But it’s to the unknown “voices,” on these pages, that cartoon studios turn when a new character pops up. These people get no special training, have to depend on their imagination and a talent for mimicry. The artists or directors can’t be of much help, beyond a vague request to “talk like a rabbit,” or “say this like a timid ghost.”
In 1928 Walt Disney had a brain storm and brought forth a “Mouse.” A year later Mickey made his first noise and Disney hasn't stopped talking for him since.
Then there is Popeye, whose years of popularity make Bob Hope look like a Johnny-Come-Lately.
But in recent years many favorites have come along to where they get top billing, have their own following of fans:
Warner Brothers have Humphrey Bogart and buck-toothed Bugs Bunny, whose box-office rating adds up to a mint of carrots. Famous Studios have under contract, besides Popeye and his troop, Little Lulu and a small newcomer called Casper, the Friendly Ghost. Tom and Jerry, the cat and mouse, are friendly enemies at M-G-M. Terry Toons made stars of two magpies.
For each of these, and others, a man or woman plays a major role. All are talented mimics and work into the animated-cartoon world quite casually.
Bugs Bunny’s Mel Blanc, for instance, was writing radio shows when he got a call from the office of Treg Brown of Warner Brothers’ cartoon department. “Can you play a drunken bull?” asked Brown.
“My best friends call me Ferdinand,” replied the surprised Mel.
The drunken bull is now a forgotten character, but Mel has become one of the animated cartoon world’s greatest talkers.
Walt Disney gave life, stardom and a voice to a mouse. Mickey made his first appearance on a pad of paper while Disney was traveling in an upper berth. He was so impressed with his wide-eyed sketch that he gave it a name, and put it in pictures. A year later Disney spoke Mickey’s first words. He’s been doing it for 18 years, and is heard from Singapore to Schenectady.
Audience in a frenzy, watching Little Lulu’s movie?” Lulu gets her voice from tall, heavy-set Cecile Roy, whose versatile talents have earned her the title, “Girl of a Thousand Voices.” Recently Mrs. Roy topped her own record of “voices from cradle to grave” by playing an embryo. Time-off, she keeps house for her 15-year-old son, who wants to be her press agent.
Slight resemblance between Casper, the Ghost, and Arnold Stang, the Voice, is probably accidental. Casper is a newcomer to the entertainment world. Twenty-two-year-old Arnold is an old-timer with 15 years of radio, movies and Broadway shows. Usually in Casper Milquetoast roles, he fooled the casting directors by getting the part of "Spit" in "Dead End."

You don’t need me to tell you more about Mel Blanc or Arnold Stang (I didn’t realise he voiced Casper) but perhaps some information about Cecile Roy is in order.

My guess is she added the ‘e’ on the end of her first name for professional reasons to prevent casting directors from thinking she was a man. She was born Cecil Hildegarde Edwards on October 2, 1900 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The family soon moved to Oklahoma, and by 1910, had settled in Colorado. She married Eugene Alfred Roy, a Canadian employed as a steamfitter, in 1926. Four years later, the two and their son were living in Chicago where she was selling encyclopaedias.

Roy turned to acting, first with a stock company in Chicago, then on radio by 1935. She appeared on Kaltenmeyer’s Kindergarten on WMAQ in the late ‘30s. During the war, Roy went on to New York City and piled up a list of radio credits including Perry Mason, Ma Perkins, The Aldrich Family, Rise of the Goldbergs, When a Girl Marries, Pepper Young’s Family and so on. She died at the Actors' Extended Care Facility in Englewood, New Jersey at the age of 94 on January 26, 1995.

Friday 28 July 2023

Hot Dog! It's Bosko!

Oswald the rabbit sold living hot dogs at the beach in All Wet (1927). Mickey Mouse did it in The Karnival Kid (1929). And Bosko does the same in Bosko at the Beach (1932).

With Frank Marsales providing a jaunty number in the background, the wieners jump up and down, dance, and then two of them grab either end of a third hot dog while a fourth jumps over it like it’s skipping rope.

The hot dogs don’t play a role after this scene. The big gag in the whole picture seems to be Bruno bringing back a bigger piece of wood than Bosko throws away for him to fetch. This happens several times as the dog keeps interrupting Bosko and Honey singing “Ain’t We Got Fun” (with Honey strumming a ukulele).

There’s a fourth wall gag, too. Wilbur the cat (can someone explain to me its relationship to Honey?) tests out the water several times (the animation is reused) before getting caught in the ocean waves. “Is there a lifeguard in the audience?” squeaks Wilbur in a falsetto. (There isn’t).

The sequence is accompanied by Marsales’ orchestra which, as usual, doubles the tempo of the music during the big dramatic climax. The tune is “I’m Making Hay in the Moonlight.” You can hear a version by Phil Harris’ band below. My guess is Leah Ray is the vocalist.

The credited animators in this tame cartoon are Friz Freleng and Ham Hamilton.

Thursday 27 July 2023


Tex Avery had a reputation for wild takes, but there are other, more subtle, things going on in A Wild Hare, the first cartoon with the overhauled Bugs Bunny.

In this scene, Elmer Fudd runs behind a tree. But it isn’t just a zip and a stop. Tex goes for some cinematic stuff by having Elmer run into the shadows, then do a 360-degree turn to make it more visually interesting. There’s some perspective, too. Some frames.

There’s some good acting a few scenes later. Elmer thinks he’s caught the wabbit. Instead of just yap-yap-yap, static dialogue, Fudd pulls his hunter’s hat up from over his eyes, gives Bugs an eye when talking to him. Bugs nods in facetious affirmation as Elmer brags about the capture.

Then the take. Not a crazy one like Avery would put on the screen a few years later at MGM, but certainly outrageous for its time at Warners.

Bugs reacts with another “thanks for being a patsy” kiss.

Cut to a close-up with the skunk (Mel Blanc) spouting a variation of Mischa Auer’s “confidentially, it stinks” line in the 1938 Frank Capra Columbia feature You Can’t Take It with You. I guess the line was parodied so much on radio and in cartoons by then, all the skunk needs to say is “Confidentally, uh, you know.”

Cut to the next scene with an interesting directorial choice by Avery. Fudd puts down the skunk with his right hand, but then uses his left hand, crossing over his body, to lower the skunk’s tail.

Treg Brown contributes by employing a rusty hinge sound effect as the tail is lowered. Earlier, Carl Stalling adds something extra by arranging a blinking effect with strings and woodwinds to match the flashing light of the “Carrots” sign.

All these little things add up.

I’m not going to get into the argument about Bugs’ birthday. I will mention that A Wild Hare appeared in more than one theatre before July 27, 1940. Patrons of the Strand in Berwick, Pa., could view it on July 23 (along with the Western musical short Corraling a School Marm; see ad to the right). Feel free to celebrate Bugs’ birthday when you want.

Wednesday 26 July 2023

The Actor With Good Taste Who Didn't Taste Good

As a child member of the Yiddish Art Troupe performing in “Jacques Bergson” at Broadway’s 49th Street Theatre, his performance was called “sympathetic and appealing.” That was in October 1936. The same description might have been applied to a series of TV commercials he starred in 25 years later.

The young actor was Herschel Bernardi.

I first remember seeing him on the CBS sitcom Arnie in 1970. I could take it or leave it. I left it by the second season, despite Charles Nelson Reilley added to the cast and a theme change.

However, I unknowingly had heard Bernardi’s voice before then. In 1961, he was cast by the Leo Burnett ad agency to play a new cartoon character in commercials—Charlie the Tuna.

Contrast that not only with Arnie but his dramatic roles on stage in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Zorba,” both of which resulted in Tony nominations. He had a multi-faceted career.

This wire story appeared in newspapers starting July 30, 1965.

Really a ‘Good Guy’
Who Speaks for Charley Tuna? Why, Herschel Bernardi, of Course


NEW YORK (UPI) — One who doesn't scorn television and radio commercials is Herschel Bernardi, you can't blame him. He makes them.
And in case the name Herschel Bernardi doesn't mean anything to you, you all know the voice of Charley the Tuna and that ho-ho-ho, Jolly Green Giant bit. That's Bernardi.
"I get Charley the Tuna fan mail," Bernardi said, "although most of those who write don't know that I am the voice of Charley. They just get a kick out of the character and the way he talks. I imagine Charley must be one of the most popular of all television's characters in commercials.
Patterned After Friend
"I patterned Charley's voice after a friend of mine in Brooklyn. He is something of a beatnik in appearance but an educated man who can use the big words. But he uses them with a marked Brooklyn accent. Charley is a born loser with delusions of grandeur who never quite makes the grade to become one of this company's canned products."
The commercials—and Bernardi does many more, especially in the radio field for various products that are used only regionally—have done much to keep this actor, who has a wife and three children, solvent in the past years.
"Not that I haven't been able to make a living as an actor on the stage and in and the movies," Bernardi explained, "but I wouldn't have had the financial cushion to enable me to take a chance on a Broadway show this past season without the income from the commercials that I've built up over the past eight years."
Bernardi referred to his venture with the Broadway musical "Bajour," which closed late in the spring after a moderate run. It was one of those entertaining shows that didn't quite make it financially.
Was Good Exposure
"I'm glad I did it," Bernardi said. "It was good exposure for me, and it wasn't a show to be ashamed of. I'll benefit from it in the long run.
"But for a Hollywood-based actor, especially if he has a family, to take several months out of his career to do a Broadway show that may close the same week it opens is a tremendous gamble. You really have to want to do it very badly, and you have to be able to afford to do it. The commercials made it possible for me."
Bernardi's commercial work is only with the voice.
"I don't think an actor—well, at least, it isn't right for me—should have his face identified without a product," Bernardi said. "If nothing else, this, to be quite crass about it, restricts your work in this field. If you supply only voices for various animated characters, the field is unlimited."
Bernardi is best known to the television public in his own right as the understanding, efficient police lieutenant, Jacoby, in the highly popular "Peter Gunn" series of a few seasons back.
Was Typecast
"I'm still getting an income from the series, which continues to play in various parts of the world," Bernardi said. "Funny thing is that my success as that character darned near ruined me for a while in getting movie and other television work.
"You see, when I first went to Hollywood, with this rough-hewn face of mine, I was cast in a number of films as a gangster or some other sort of ‘heavy.’ Then the 'Peter Gunn' series got me out of that rut, and I became indelibly stamped as an understanding, bright and honest cop. The result was that, when the series was over and I needed some movie roles and good dirty ones were being cast, no one would think of me. I had acquired the 'good guy' image.
"I finally broke that spell by persuading the producer for the 'Bonanza' television series to cast me in an episode as a completely repulsive heavy, and things have been back in balance ever since." Uprooted from their West Coast home by "Bajour," the Bernardis are going to stay in the East for a while. There are a couple of plays being offered Bernardi, and he can turn out his budget-balancing commercials here as well as in Hollywood.

Bernardi’s Charlie was given a small sidekick fish, voiced by Henry Corden (I don’t know who the original announcer was, but Danny Dark is heard on some commercials in the ’70s). A number of black and white Starkist spots can be found on-line and there’s one where Charlie sounds more like Lennie Weinrib than Bernardi. There could be a reason, as explained in this Newspaper Enterprise Association column of Sept. 15, 1970.

Bernardi Learns Job Isn’t Matter Of Life And Death

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — "I have learned, through life and death," says Herschel Bernardi, "that my job isn't a matter of life and death."
For many actors and actresses, the career is everything. There is no life, for this type, outside their career. Herschel Bernardi, today, represents the other extreme. He'll do his job, of course, and do it well, but it is not all important.
What happened was this:
"After five solid years on Broadway—I had done 'Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Zorba'—I developed a tumor in my throat last year. That's why Zorba' closed.
Lab Closed
“Well, I had the tumor removed. The operation was on a Friday morning and the lab doing the biopsy was closed Friday afternoon, so I didn’t find out until Monday morning that the tumor was benign.
"Even so, I had to go away. I couldn't talk for months. I went to Rancho LaPuerta, in Tecate, Mexico. And I sat and I meditated. You've been there? Then you know that mountain in back of the place?
"Well, I'd go up that mountain and sit and think for hours on end. And I came to the conclusion that life wasn't all show business. I came to the conclusion that you have to look at life with the third eye, an outward eye that takes in everything."
Expensive Sitting
For a man with a family to support, it gets expensive just sitting and meditating on a Mexican mountain for months and months.
When he came down from the mountain, Herschel Bernardi says, he was broke.
"So I was amenable to doing a TV series. In fact, amenable is hardly the word. My agent said I HAD to do a TV series. Fortunately, one came along that I liked very much."
That one was Arnie, premiering Saturday night on CBS. He says he still likes it and has high hopes for its success.
Voice Changed
Bernardi used to make a good living, besides acting, in doing voice overs, commercial spots for TV. But, since his operation, his voice has changed.
"Maybe changed isn't exactly right," he says. "Let's say my control of my voice is less than it was. I did an album recently and I had to do several takes because I couldn't control my voice too well. I can't smoke, of course, but otherwise I'm fine."
He looks contented as well as physically healthy. There's that calmness in his eyes, the calmness that bespeaks a man who knows what constitutes life and death—and what doesn't.

Bernardi’s Charlie continued to get rejected by Starkist. Bernardi himself continued to get acclaimed by audiences and critics as he resumed his dramatic stage work. He died of a heart attack on May 9, 1986 at the age of 62.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Dry Brush Duck

Art Davis’ cartoon What Makes Daffy Duck is a feast for animation fans who love to check out the animation frame-by-frame. The animators look like they’ve having fun with Daffy. The “little black duck” has some crazy expressions and plenty of dry-brush/multiple/smear animation.

Some frames from one scene.

This is probably my favourite of Davis’ shorts at Warners. Besides the fun artwork, the story and dialogue (credited to Lloyd Turner and Bill Scott) are strong.

Bill Melendez, Emery Hawkins, Don Williams and Basil Davidovich are the credited animators in this early 1948 release.

Monday 24 July 2023

Earth Calling Bugs Bunny

Bugs Bunny goes into fits after landing on the moon in Haredevil Hare.

Chuck Jones cuts from pose to pose, holding the drawings on screen for different lengths of time. Here are a dozen of them.

Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan, Ken Harris and Phil Monroe are the credited animators. There’s some really great colour work on some of the opening backgrounds by Pete Alvarado.

This cartoon is the first to feature the tiny Martian and his dog.

Mike Maltese pulls out the Bugs-switches-dialogue routine in this one (best remembered as “Rabbit Season/Duck Season”) when the rabbit manages to switch “Oh, no, I won’t/Oh, yes, you will.”

Trade magazines of the period will tell you this cartoon was released on this date in 1948. As we’ve mentioned before, if a Warners exchange got a cartoon before the official release date, a theatre could book it and screen it. That’s what happened to this short. A theatre in Atlanta advertised it was showing the cartoon on July 22, 1948.