Thursday 31 August 2023

Fun With Multiplanes

Walt Disney gets credit for all kinds of things. One is the development of the multiplane camera, put to the test in The Old Mill, released in 1937.

But Leonard Maltin’s “Of Mice and Magic” quotes Shamus Culhane as saying Ub Iwerks had one for his studio first, made from the rear of a Chevrolet for $300.

Maltin mentions it was used in the Willie Whopper cartoon The Cave Man and ComiColor shorts such as The Valiant Tailor (to give its correct title) and The Headless Horseman, all released in mid-to-late 1934.

The murky, worn prints of the Iwerks cartoons on public domain DVDs don’t do any justice to the backgrounds or the process. Here’s a likely example from The Valiant Tailor.

The foreground, lake and brown formations are on one layer, the green behind it is on another layer and the castle and blue mountains, out of focus to help create perspective, is on another layer. All move at different rates as the scene is panned left to right.

The “different speed” overlay was a trick used at Warner Bros. to try to get some depth into its cartoons. Tex Avery seems to have loved it in long background pans, with characters moving between layers.

Here’s another one. The animation is in the foreground; the house and greenery are on one background layer and everything blurred in the distance is on another, with the two backgrounds moving at different speeds.

Thunderbean Animation has been working on restoring the ComiColor shorts since at least September 2016. It doesn’t sound as if they'll be completed for you to see any time soon.

Art Turkisher provided the score to this cartoon and animation screen credits were given to Grim Natwick and Berny Wolf. All had worked for the Fleischers.

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Jotting For Judy, Stories For Spade

The 1980s had Valley Girl talk. 40 years earlier, there was Judy Foster speak.

Judy Foster (played by Louise Erickson, right) was one of those gushy teenaged girl characters you’d find on network radio back then, the one with a long-suffering, slow-burning dad, a patient mother and a precocious younger brother.

Syndicated critic John Crosby didn’t make fun of the show—he seemed okay with it, despite the clichés—but took aim at the Judy speak. This column ran December 6, 1946. The cartoons below, by the way, come from the Los Angeles Daily News version of the columns.

Simply Utterly Ghastly
The people who write about teen-age girls have standardized their language to the point where they are limited to a very few phrases and a sharply circumscribed manner of expressing them. According to thorough research on a "Date With Judy" (N.B.C. 8:30 p. m. E. S. T. Tuesdays), a teen-age girl must confine herself almost entirely to two adverbs, "ghastly" and “utterly,” her simple adjectives and comparatives have been replaced entirely by superlatives; and her sentences must be either abbreviated or redundant.
Everything she says is a little sweeping and more than a little vague. The careful and specific writers, those timid fellows, had best avoid the teen-ager entirely. They wouldn't be happy with her. However, the more open-minded writers who are searching for subject matter ought to look Into the teen-ager. Writing about her has become a large and profitable industry, flourishing in radio, movies and to some extent, the theatre and literature. More than once I have thought of trying to break into this lucrative racket and with that in mind I propose to take a little flier into the teen-age jargon. The subject is Judy Foster, who is billed as "the lovable, teen-age girl who is close to all our hearts" and who is also the heroine of "A Date With Judy.” All set?
* * *
Judy Foster is this simply utterly enchanting girl who gets herself into these simply ghastly scrapes because her family positively doesn't understand her. Her father is absolutely the most absolutely father a girl could have for a father but; well, you know fathers. He simply, positively, absolutely won't understand the new, sophisticated mysterious Judy. I mean be honestly doesn't. I mean he's simply not world-wise, actually.
Can you imagine Tootsie, who is practically Judy's bosom enemy, I mean she's practically the most unspeakable girl Judy isn't speaking to, has invited her to her pajama party which is absolutely the most utterly social affair of the winter season and can you imagine Tootsie doing such a thing unless she had some utterly nefarious plan of her own behind It? Well, naturally, Judy finds out that the unspeakable Tootsie had only invited her to show off her new black negligee with applique on the shoulders and here and here, and if Judy showed up in ordinary, unsophisticated pajamas her personality would be warped, I mean positively warped.
* * *
Well, that's enough to demonstrate Judy's prose style and also the kind of situations she gets into and out of every week: She is a sort of chocolate-covered cinnamon ball, just warm-hearted enough to want to buy her father some duck decoys and just calculating enough to get her boy friend to wash windows for a month in order to earn the money the buy them. This is what is known as the unpredictability of the teen-age girl, who is about as unpredictable as the days oil the week.
Her unpredictability is augmented and abetted by her mother, who is patient and harassed, and her father, a sort of good-natured dimwit, who overruns a line and then comes back and looks at it just like Frank Morgan (“But he . . . but she . . . but I” . . . ) She also has a precocious little horror of a brother who sticks in his two-cents worth when things get complicated, which is most of the time, and a boy friend, Ugie Pringle, who talks through his nose. The plots are usually mild, involved, repetitious, and about as unpredictable as Judy. When father, for instance, decides to do his Christmas shopping early, the only question in anyone's mind is how often he’ll have to exchange the gifts. Within its rather severe limitations, "A Date With Judy" is a pretty good comedy program. The authors keep the thing moving by employing a sort of one-two punch, that is, about two lines of dialogue and then a brand new scene. The actors don't know any new comedy tricks but they have mastered the old ones thoroughly, which is all you can expect in radio.
As for Judy's rather specialized conversation, you don't get too much of it at a time, and in small quantities it won't bother you.

Crosby talks about another kind of writing in his December 3, 1946 column. It involves The Adventures of Sam Spade, originally a summer replacement for Woody Herman on ABC, sponsored by Wildroot. It benefited from fine acting by Howard Duff in the title role, with radio veterans Lurene Tuttle as Effie and Jerry Hausner at Sid Weiss. Hammett himself picked Bill Spier, of Suspense, to produce the show. It lasted 13 episodes at ABC before moving to CBS for three seasons.

The Kandy Tooth
The curtain had just risen on the Sam Spade program (CBS 8 p. m. Sundays), when Mr. Spade’s secretary got a phone call from the boss, who, it appears, was in jail charged with murder.
"Bring a pencil and $20,000 down to the jail at once," he commanded.
"Sam,” she protested, "where will I find pencil at this hour? What are you doing in jail, anyway?"
“My apartment’s being redecorated, toots.”
That is not the sort of badinage you and I would employ in a fairly serious situation but it's hardly surprising to find Mr. Spade behaving that way. Dashiell Hammett, who still writes the Spade series, started this offhand sort of talk back in 1934 when he hit the big time with "The Thin Men.” He is now the most widely imitated detective-story writer on earth and the casual attitude toward homicide has become established as good manners among all plain-clothed cope.
Mr. Hammett has always taken a detached and rather cold view of human life. His great detective stories, "The Thin Man," "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Glass Key," rang with authenticity because of it Now, however, the imitators have so crowded the field that Mr.Hammett is beginning to sound like one of them. The great virtue of the Sam Spade series is that, it is still written by the old master, and once in awhile, even sounds like it.
* * *
The effectiveness of his dialogue (and the above iIs a rather bad sample) is heightened by his trick of playing against one another a widely divergent crew of characters. Besides Mr. Spade, who can still break a man's thumb without effort or remorse, Mr. Hammett recently resuscitated Casper Gutman. Mr. Gutman, you will recall, was the elegant and unscrupulous hunk of blubber who chased the Maltese Falcon halfway around the world in 1931. At the end of that book he was dumped into San Francisco Bay and we were all under the impression that he didn’t survive the experience. Well, he did and he’s back, still talking his curious 19th century prose. (“And now, sir, if you are so disposed, shall we talk?”)
Wilmer, the baby-faced murderer, was not revived for the occasion, but Gutman has brought along his brother, an equally furious youngster. There is also a strange young man who says one point to Mr. Spade: "At my hotel, there is a mildewed character who accuses me of acting without charm."
Says Mr. Spade in return: "You better get out of California before Walt Disney sees you,” a decidedly arresting remark to hear on the air.
These odd people were all taken from life, surprising as that may seem. Mr. Hammett in his days as private detective with the Pinkerton agency mixed with lot of people whom you and I are not likely to encounter in a lifetime. In his books they had great individual flavor. You never quite knew what they were going to do next. By now, however, they've been re-used as often as a paper clip and are getting little bent and rusty.
* * *
Just the same, if you like detective stories of the hard-boiled school, Sam Spade is your best bet. Mr. Hammett, incidentally, is still interested in ancient art. The Maltese Falcon has disappeared forever, I guess, but this time Gutman and crew are after the Kandy Tooth, which is right out of Buddha’s mouth and is presumably even more valuable than the Falcon. When I last listened, they were still looking.

The other Crosby columns for the week:
December 2, 1946: a look at episodes of the Screen Guild Players and The Hollywood Players.
December 4, 1946: Ted Husing goes from the highest-paid sports announcer to the even better-paying job of spinning records (how things had changed when I was jocking in the ‘70s).
December 5, 1946: Odds and ends about audience participation shows. Forget refrigerators. One gave away a streetcar. Click on any of the photos below to read them.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Just Your Average Orchestra

An old friend, Linda Glover, has alerted me to what is the most bizarre cartoon I have ever seen.

This is a frame from a five-minute commercial for Telefunken radios made in Germany in 1930 by UFA. A Minnie Mouse knock-off hires an orchestra for her society party. A harp is made from some cow horns. The cat-musician’s tail detaches and becomes frizzy.

Another cat takes a turtle, twirls an opening on its belly button and creates a banjo. The cat develops blackface, while the turtle sings along with him.

The singing is so bad, the cat’s music stand grabs the sheet music and walks away.

A fish is a saxophone.

Minnie throws them out. My wild guess is a different animator handled this scene.

Rather than post more frames, you can watch the cartoon below.

Monday 28 August 2023

Blowing (Up) A Nose

George clamps a washtub over a little flame, then tells Junior to grab the flame when he lifts up the tub (the thought Junior might get burned doesn’t seem to occur to him).

But the flame is four or five steps ahead of the Red Hot Rangers (from the cartoon of the same name). Sticks of dynamite are found in the most convenient places in the Tex Avery world, and the flame just happens to have one.

Naturally, you can guess what happens. Junior grabs the dynamite, not the flame, and shows off his captured item to George.

Thanks to a convenient ashtray in the woods, Junior helpfully puts out the smouldering nose.

Avery and writer Heck Allen have a couple of running gags. One is Junior bending over and being kicked in the butt by George. Avery finds different ways for Junior’s butt to react.

The running gag has a post-script. The flame crosses the screen from right to left every time he puts one over on the two, with Avery and Allen finding different ways for him to move.

There’s a turnabout to the running gag at the end of the cartoon.

The characters were designed by Irv Spence, with animation by Preston Blair, Ed Love, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton. Johnny Johnsen painted the fine backgrounds on this 1947 MGM release.

Sunday 27 August 2023

Why We Need Jack Benny

Quite a number of young people in the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll era, I suspect, thought of Jack Benny as old and outdated. Tastes, however, change over time, and the people who were teenagers and young adults some 50 years ago are Benny fans today.

Back then, one newspaperman wrote an editorial about why America needed someone like Jack Benny. I’ll get to it in a moment, but I want to post another article from the same period about the Benny Appeal.

The entertainment writer for the Copley News Service indulged in that necessity amongst columnists—reusing old material when the well is dry. You can read the original column from 1963 in this post. Seven years later, it was dredged out of the water, given a new coat of paint (how’s THAT for mixing metaphors?) and put on display in print once again.

This appeared in paper starting around December 5, 1970.

Benny in separate class
Copley News Service
HOLLYWOOD — Twenty years of television, two decades rich in comedy, and how many years was it on radio before that? And before that in vaudeville?
For Jack Benny, still 39 at heart, it's been a remarkable career.
Aside from his incredible longevity, Jack Benny is a rarity among the funnymen, a comic who has never to my knowledge cracked a joke in public.
WHAT JACK BENNY has created, along with his characterization of the lovable but petulant skinflint, is an enduring, irrepressibly fresh comic spirit. Jack Benny—the sight of him, his walk, stare, his manner and attitude, the way he has of mirroring our own petty failings—makes you feel good. Jokes don't necessarily do this.
Once, in an interview, I asked Benny about the wellspring of his public character, with his stinginess and vanity, this endearing composite of all the human frailties.
Benny nodded thoughtfully. "You know," said Jack Benny, "there's a lot of everybody in Jack Benny."
But such a comic character, an archetype that is also inimitably original, can never be manufactured.
As Benny said, "You can't say, ‘Look, fellas, let's invent this cheap, vain guy who drives a Maxwell, keeps his money buried in a vault and has a butler named Rochester and wears a toupee’—actually, it would be funnier if I really wore a toupee, which I don't. But all of this adds up to ‘Jack Benny.’
IT ALSO ADDS UP TO more than 50 years of laughter and, as I say, a special kind of humor that creates affection and warmth along with the laughs.
The laughter always stems from character. One of the longest laughs in Benny’s career, for instance, flowed from the situation but even more than the many years of our acceptance of Benny’s character.
In this one, an example of pure radio humor, Benny is confronted by a holdup man [played by Eddie Marr] poking a gun in his ribs.
Holdup Man: "Your or your life."
Benny: (Long pause).
Holdup Man: "Quit stalling. I said your money or your life."
ONLY JACK Benny could have won 20 seconds of studio audience laughter—and that’s a sizeable amount—with the following bit, from an old TV show, with Mary Livingstone:
Mary: “Jack, why don’t you stop being so stingy?”
Jack: “Mary, I’m not stingy and you know it.”
Mary: “You’re not, eh? Last year when you were going to have your appendix removed, you wanted Rochester to do it.
Jack: “I DID NOT. I merely asked him if he knew how.”

Jack explained the logic behind his humour, and an editorial writer explained why it was needed. Granted, the writer in The State of Columbia, South Carolina, of March 10, 1971, seems to echo what some people say today—that comedy was so much better in the “good old days” when you could make the same old jokes about minorities, instead of soulless corporations or anything to do with that sinful s-e-x.

However, Jack’s humour in the “good old days” was the same until the day he died—directed at human foibles wrapped up in a fictional version of himself. Fred Allen’s humour was different. He loved puns, some extremely clever, others wincingly bad, and took shots at needless ridiculousness and hypocrisy, mainly involving the industry that made him a fortune. It’s still the kind of humour (setting aside the contemporary times aspect of Allen’s targets) that can work today.

‘Tain’t Funny, McGee
JACK BENNY, whose violin solos began as part of his comedy routine, now plays for concert audiences, raising money for good music. No matter how much money he raises for musical charity, it can never match his priceless contribution to humor. When there was little to laugh about in America, Benny and Fred Allen and other truly funny radio comics made us keep our sense of humor.
The kind of hilarity Jack Benny represented is one of the greatest contemporary needs. We have, as a nation, almost forgotten how to laugh, except in a sick, almost pathological way. Ethnic humor, for example, an important constituent in the comedy of melting pot, has become a grievance to be redressed by civil rights groups; we only laugh nowadays at double-entendres or when Don Rickles kicks us in the gut.
To laugh in this way is to laugh without purging the spirit. We laugh, not despite our anxieties, but because of them. Air pollution makes us sick, and we worry about the environment; we thus are gratified when Johnny Carson takes a swipe at Con-Edison. But are we amused? Not really. We laugh because it pleases us to imagine the loathsome enemy writhing in pain.
Man needs to laugh. He needs to laugh most when it is hardest to do. That is why great comedians like Jack Benny are such an asset, and why the nation owes Benny and his Depression-era colleagues a debt it can never pay, and why it almost makes you cry to hear imitation today’s funny-men work over an audience

Rickles, today, does not get a free pass for his insult humour from some younger people. It is a tribute to Jack Benny that he can still attract fans, and inspire other comedians, almost 50 years after his death. Many aspects of his humour are timeless. How many former vaudevillians could say the same thing?

Saturday 26 August 2023

Not Plane, Nor Bird, Nor Even Frog

This was going to be a post about Wally Cox’s cartoon career. But it won’t be. You can blame Wally Cox.

Somewhere, I thought, Cox might have been interviewed about his role as Underdog, Total TeleVision’s big entry into Saturday morning cartoons beginning October 3, 1964. Maybe TTV, I hoped, issued a news release quoting Cox in an attempt to get publicity for the show. If any of this happened, I haven’t found it. Perhaps it’s no surprise. Saturday morning cartoons were generally ignored by the press because they were aimed at kids, and what kid reads a newspaper?

United Press International put out a story about Cox in November 1964, but there’s no mention of Underdog in it at all. Such is the respect Saturday morning cartoons got in the mid-‘60s until the kids who watched them became adults who wrote books and newspaper columns about them. Unless there was an angle (studio profits, “educating” children, etc.) for mom and dad, the news columns were silent. TTV did get some ink around this time, and we’ll get to that in a moment because I do want to write something about Cox.

The earliest mention of him I’ve found is in Bert McCord’s column on New York’s café life in the January 5, 1949 edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Cox made his professional debut that night on the stage of the Village Vanguard. Several days later, Danton Walker of the New York Daily News explained: “Max Gordon has gone into the talent-discovering business again at his Village Vanguard. His latest is an ex-dogface with a professorial appearance who is a silversmith by day and, by the grace of Gordon, an impressionist by night. Wally Cox, 24-year-old who designs costume jewelry, has been painting word portraits of typical neighborhood characters (the candy store owner, the ex-pug, et al) at parties for several years. Max attended one of his performances at a village soiree recently, and en[j]oyed it well enough to insist the young man try his humor out on his sophisticated customers at the Vanguard. Net result: A new discovery and a new career.”

Before the end of the month, Cox was cast on the DuMont network’s School House, along with Arnold Stang and “schoolmaster” Kenny Delmar (a last-minute replacement for Peter Donald, who decided to pass on the show). It was a disaster. Cox emerged to star in a non-disaster at NBC, Mr. Peepers, followed by The Adventures of Hiram Holiday (featuring the Capitol Hi-Q production library).

Let’s skip ahead to Underdog. There is no better source on Total TeleVision Productions than Mark Arnold’s book. It quotes TTV’s Tread Covington as saying “We were delighted to get Wally Cox. We wanted a shy, timid character and he had been on a successful series for a while, and wanted that kind of personality for Underdog. By that time, we were established. I called Wally Cox’s agent, and we got together....

“We enjoyed having him work for us very much. He was very friendly and nice and easy to work with. I think he was sort of typecast in his personality. We told him at the outset, we wanted Underdog to be a nerd-like character. I don’t know if nerd was a word then—a nerd-type character that would come to the rescue at the last minute and do heroic things. If he was aiming for a perfect landing, he’d hit the wall instead. Anyway, everything always worked out. Then he was sort of authoritative in spite of all the screw-ups along the way. So a lot of it really was the way Wally was and his interpretation was one that we liked.”

Cox extremely disliked Mr. Peepers and, in interview after interview, wanted people to forget the Peabody Award-winning show. Evidently, Cox had a higher opinion of Underdog than Peepers. An unbylined story, apparently from the Copley News Service, in 1970 noted that whenever Cox was introduced in the warm-up for Hollywood Squares, he would quote Underdog’s famous motto: “There’s no need to fear. Underdog is here!” Children in the audience would cheer. Adults, it ruefully noted, thought of Mr. Peepers.

The only other quote I’ve found from Cox about the cartoon is in a 1972 syndicated “TV Answer” column. He purportedly said he “had been an underdog” all his life and that was it. No source was given.

One person who did talk about Cox was Peter Piech, who was part of Producers Associates for Television, the company behind the financing of Rocky and His Friends and later the executive producer of Underdog through his part-ownership in Total TeleVision. This unbylined story appeared in several newspapers in March and April 1965.

There's No Set Pattern For Writing Children's Humor
“There is no set pattern or guideline for writing humor for children, particularly in cartoons. The only thing we are concerned about is producing a good cartoon sequence.”
So says Peter Piech, executive producer of NBC-TV’s color cartoon series, Underdog.
One of the most experienced men in cartoon production, Piech has produced approximately 3,000 minutes of cartoons since 1959, more, he claims, than any other animation studio in the world. Among his creations are Rocky, Tennessee Tuxedo, Leonardo the Lion [sic], The Hunter, and Go, Go Gophers.
Piech believes that both children and adults are fascinated by the supernatural and super powers. Underdog fits into both of these categories because of his super abilities and the supernatural powers of his enemies.
While he feels that there are no guidelines for writing humor for children, Piech is quick to add that there are definite elements that a cartoon should have to capture their interest and imagination.
“Children are paradoxical in that they are captivated by both the familiar and the unknown,” says the cartoon producer. “They know, for instance, that Underdog is always going to catch the bad guy and bring him to justice in the end. They also know that he is going to rescue the heroine, Polly, from the teeth of a whirling circular saw or from the beam of villain Simon Barsinister’s snow gun. That they know this doesn’t make the final rescue any less exciting.”
Kids love repetition, according to Piech, “but a producer can’t just come up with one formula and then keep using it indefinitely. However, repetition is important, because it takes awhile for a child to identify with a personality, whether he is live or animated.”
The producer also maintains that children appreciate the same elements of humor that makes adults laugh. They love Wally Cox as the voice of Underdog because it is very comical to hear such a meek voice coming from such a super-powered hero.
They also like the unexpected situation that pops up, and this too is an element in all forms of humor.
Says Piech, “Children today are much more sophisticated than they used to be, and demand more from cartoons than they used to, because they want to use their knowledge more. It’s no longer enough, to give them a Felix the Cat or a Farmer Brown musical cartoon with singing flowers and cows that kick over milk buckets. Today’s kids are science-oriented and they want to use this knowledge. They can do this while watching Underdog fight the underwater Bubble-Heads and their tidal wave machine, but they can’t if all they see is Felix trying to catch a mouse.
Piech is adamant is his feelings that there are many topics that cannot be animated, and anything that can be done using live actors and live situations should not be done in cartoon form. “In cartoons, everything is much bigger than life, very exaggerated,” he says.
“Can you imagine Underdog being played by a real dog, like Lassie?” asks Pete. It would be impossible! And it would be just as ridiculous if Mr. Novak were a cartoon instead of a live person.”

We’re going to make a detour from Cox and Underdog. Besides Piech, the connection between Total TeleVision and the Jay Ward Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons is Gamma Productions in Mexico. It animated some of the Ward cartoons, especially the earliest ones, and just about all of TTV’s output. One of the syndicated newspaper services came out with a story about Gamma about how it made its cartoons. This appeared in a paper, pre-Underdog, on June 8, 1964. You can chuckle over the spin about why the cartoons were made in Mexico.

Zebra Stripes - - - A Mexican Import
Copley News Service
MEXICO CITY—How many stripes has a zebra?
What shape is a walrus tail?
Does a porcupine have lashes?
Sounds like shop talk at the zoo, but it's all in a day's work at Gamma Productions, an animation studio here.
Behind the austere facade of an office building, three Americans and 77 Mexicans are busy plotting laughs for millions of children (and adults) in the United States.
Gamma Productions turns out 11 serialized cartoon shows for coast-to-coast U.S. television now and is preparing two more.
One of these efforts, a series about Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin with a bow tie, has a nationwide standing of No. 2 on the Neilsen kiddie ratings.
Bullwinkle, a moronic moose with an erudite story line, has—much to Gamma's amazement—college fan clubs in the United States.
Surprisingly, only five of the people at Gamma speak English.
Co-owners of the 24-hour-a-day operation are Harvey Siegel, a former New York conmercial artist, and Jaime Torres Vasquez, a Mexican.
Siegel, who still maintains he's "just an artist," runs the production end of the business while Torres acts as the firm's traveling troubleshooter.
Siegel says his principal reason for locating Gamma here is the known dexterity of Mexican workers who do the intricate drawing and inking.
"People probably thought we came here for cheap labor," he says.
“But the fact is our drawers and inkers, paid on a piecework basis, earn up to 100 pesos ($8) a day, far more than other youngsters of their age usually earn in Mexico.”
Other aspects of production costs are somewhat lower than in the United States. Customs duties and time-consuming red tape involved in doing business south of the border virtually wipe out these advantages or any tax gain that might actually accrue from a venture in a foreign country.
Gamma has stepped up its viewing time to 12 minutes a week and is heading toward a goal of 18 minutes.
It takes about 2,500 drawings, approximately 150 scenes, to make a nine-minute cartoon. At the current rale of speed, the studio turns out a daily average of 1,000 "cells" or drawings in color on celluloid squares.
Gamma can't take all the credit for its stable of stars. They are "discovered" by writers in Hollywood and New York, where the shows are written.
Gamma gets a phonograph of the sound track— the animals may have such distinguished voices as those of Hans Conreid, Edward Everett Horton or Wally Cox—plus a long work sheet giving the scene-by-scene direction and rough drawings of the characters.
The studio takes it from there, deciding on the visual personality of its menagerie of actors, dubbing in special sound effects and background music, and shipping off the completed movie to the TV networks in New York.
After getting some sketch ideas from the boss himself, the disc, direction sheet and a Spanish translation of the story line go to Joe Montell, layout and design chief, who formerly worked with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in a similar job. He composes the frame of the film, insuring for example, that characters are drawn in scale for close-ups and long shots.
Then the package moves to the drawing board of Sam Kai, a native of San Francisco, Calif. Kai, with 20 years in the business, has worked at Paramount Studios on such personalities as Popeye.
“You have to go overboard on movements and gestures for cartoons," Kai says. "Far more so than in a live-action comedy."
Once these details are set, the film is ready to be drawn, inked and colored. The deft young Mexicans who turn out the sketches wear gloves on their drawing hands so they won't fingerprint the "cells."
The figure then goes to the background department, and finally to the camera.
Problems like the number of the zebra's stripes are settled easily without reference to zoology books.
The animated cartoonist, naturally, would put polka dots on the zebra, a tail-concealing Brooks Bros, suit on the walrus, and, yes, the porcupine will wear dark glasses.

Total TeleVision produced The Beagles for the 1966-67 and (in repeats) 1967-68 seasons, then could sell nothing else to the networks and closed. As for Cox, he died at age 48 on Feb. 15, 1973 of a heart malfunction. At the time, Underdog was still in reruns, and carried on living through home video.

Friday 25 August 2023

The Mad Hatter Backgrounds

The Mad Hatter (1948) was the second cartoon by the Walter Lantz studio released by United Artists.

Ken O’Brien and Freddie Moore from Disney got their first animation credits for Lantz in this short, but the backgrounds were by veteran workhorse Fred Brunish. His paintings always suit the story for the Lantz cartoons.

A couple of interiors of Woody’s house. The closet door is on an overlay.

Wally’s hat store. The window at the right and the wood exterior below it are on an overlay.

City exteriors. Whoever was doing Dick Lundy's layouts gives us some angles on the scenes. The theatre downtown is playing Andy Panda cartoons.

Exteriors of a field. The first frame is part of a longer background.

Shots of the “B” Pictures studio lot.

Here’s part of a longer background. I can’t add anything else to the right because the colours don’t match when I put the frames together. The fan blades are on a cycle of three drawings, on ones. The garbage can is on an overlay.

Brunish returned to the Lantz studio after it shut down for over a year when the U-A contract expired. He died on June 25, 1952 of cirrhosis of the liver. He was 49.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Leaping Mouse Ears

How often did Walt Disney have an “ear take” in one of his cartoons?

It isn’t something that would be funny very often, but it’s pulled off to nice effect in the early Mickey Mouse short Plane Crazy (1928).

First, the frightened Minnie Mouse pulls back on Mickey’s ears.

She pulls back on Mickey, the steering wheel of the plane is pulled off.

Mickey seems something up ahead, off screen. While his body is held on a separate cel, His ears leap up, exchange places in mid-air and fall back onto his head.

If only the mouse ears they sold at Disneyland catapulted like this.

The next scene is pretty good, too, as we see things from Mickey’s perspective, driving toward cars and posts on a road before the plane lifts into mid-air. I’d rather watch this than the Corporate Symbol splashing around with a seal in a bathtub.

Animator Ub Iwerks gets a screen credit. The music, as you likely know, is by Carl Stalling.