Tuesday 31 October 2023

Moving a Witch

Thanks to Phil De Guard, you can see what day it is to the right. This is one of his background drawings for Broom-Stick Bunny, a cartoon from the Chuck Jones unit that went into production about six months after the Warners shutdown ended at the start of 1954.

This cartoon marked the second appearance of Witch Hazel, now voiced by June Foray. De Guard fills the backgrounds with transparent furniture. And there’s at least one scene with smear animation.

These are four consecutive drawings. The action is so quick you don’t notice the multiples.

Tedd Pierce wrote the story; Mike Maltese was still working for Walter Lantz at the time. Ken Harris, Abe Levitow, Ben Washam and Dick Thompson animated the short with layouts by Ernie Nordli (Maurice Noble, I believe, was still at John Sutherland Productions).

Monday 30 October 2023

Holiday Advertising

The music over the opening credits in Tex Avery’s Holiday Highlights is “Ain’t We Got Fun.” Sorry, Tex, there could be a lot more fun in this spot-gag cartoon, though I suspect the unemployment and two Thanksgivings gags went down better in 1940 than they do today.

Tex and his writing crew came up with a Hallowe’en gag. The calendar page flips over on its own to reveal a spooky background painting by Johnny Johnsen. The moonlit-highlights on the clouds are a nice touch.

“Symbolic of Hallowe’en,” we’re informed by KFWB announcer Gil Warren, “the old witch riding her broom across the sky.” Cut to a closer shot of the full moon. “Here she comes now!” he exclaims, as Carl Stalling changes the music from “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” to “We’re in the Money” with an auto horn over top.

Perhaps there had been a spate of airplane advertising banners in the sky around the time Avery made this.

There’s another character-flying-in-moonlit-sky gag later on and two gags referring to Fibber McGee. Avery ends the cartoon with a dog-tree gag, which doesn’t strike me as a topper. It shows you how weak the writing is. Mind you, the April 1st joke is just so silly, you can’t dislike it.

Dave Monahan gets the rotating writer credit, Chuck McKimson is the credited animator, and Stalling uses snippets of all kinds of music, including “Hail to the Chief,” Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song,” and the Warners favourite “Moonlight Bay.”

Today’s trivia is courtesy of the Hollywood Citizen-News of Nov. 17, 1954:
Gil Warren of Whitsett St., North Hollywood, has taken the name “Gilman Rankin” for professional purposes. He is a free lance actor.
Among the films Gilman Rankin appeared in was Midnight Cowboy. It’s a far cry from introducing a cartoon witch pulling a banner ad behind her.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Gisele's Benny Boost

Is it possible to count the number of people Jack Benny helped over his lifetime?

His violin concerts raised money for pension funds for musicians and saved theatres for people to continue enjoying.

Others thanked Jack for their careers. Dennis Day was one. Wayne Newton was another. And so was Gisele MacKenzie.

Gisele and her family were singers/musicians in Winnipeg and appeared on the CBC; her brother Georges was later in charge of the network’s French-language operations in Vancouver. Like quite a number of Canadian performers, she moved to the U.S. to further her career and landed a spot on Bob Crosby’s “Club Fifteen.” It was through Crosby, who later fronted the band on the Benny radio show, that she met Jack Benny.

Here’s a brief column from June 1, 1957/

Gisele Gets Own Show Thanks to Jack Benny
HOLLYWOOD (UP) – After four years of singing 300-plus songs on "Your Hit Parade," Gisele MacKenzie finally gets her own show, thanks to a fellow violin player named Jack Benny.
When the pretty French-Canadian brunette adds up her life she gives credit for her success to the veteran comedian. Performers seldom take the time or trouble to sponsor another entertainer, but Jack has been largely responsible for Gisele's expanding career.
Next fall he unveils his protegee in her own live half-hour TV program on NBC, "The Gisele MacKenzie Show," produced here by the 39-year-old violinist himself.
"I met Jack five years ago when he saw me sing with Bob Crosby in Las Vegas," Gisele explained between rehearsals here for her last guest appearance of the season, on Sunday's "Chevy Show" on NBC.
Went On Tour
"He asked me to go on tour with him. Then I guested several times on his TV show. He's been such a great help."
Gisele's appearances with Benny showed she had other talents than singing upside down, sideways, in those zippy production numbers on "Your Hit Parade." With Benny she displayed a flair for comedy and a talent for the violin.
As a result she wound up guesting on other shows and playing dramatic roles. This spring she quit "Your Hit Parade" and was signed by Benny for the new fall series.
Many fans wonder why Gisele didn't have her own show long ago, but she insists, "I'm glad this didn't happen before. I wasn't ready for it."
"But this spring I decided I'd been on the 'Hit Parade' long enough," she continued. "I felt it was time to do something else. I didn't want to wait until the audience tired of me.
Lot Of Fun
"The show was a lot of fun and an easy schedule. But there just comes a time when you want to do something else. It was invaluable experience as the show is like a stock company—you learn to do everything. Of course, I still think the real stars of the show are the producer, director, cameramen and writers who dream up the ideas."
Whether her move sparked a general cast change she doesn't know, but Dorothy Collins and the other singers on the popular program will not appear on it next fall, either.
Gisele is "very excited and scared about her series" "because the responsibility is all mine." Benny set the format for her Saturday night show—"a loose one. One week I'll sing, another week I'll do skits with regular characters or have guest stars."
"Jack phones once a week with plans," she smiled. "He says he thinks he knows what to advise for a few people and I'm one of them. He knows what's right for me."

Jack seemed to find his way into stories about MacKenzie’s career. Here’s another one from the McClure Newspaper Syndicate (which distributed the “TV Key” column) that appeared in papers around Dec. 15, 1957. Lucky Strike had been Jack’s sponsor on radio and then television, so it’s no coincidence that American Tobacco would listen to his recommendations.

Gisele’s Show is Work; Fun
“I’m having my ninth baby,” said Gisele MacKenzie in Hollywood, referring to her ninth Saturday night soiree. This is Gisele’s way of explaining the ordeal she goes through starring in her own show. She isn't as relaxed and easy-going as she appears to be on TV. She's been on since September and that seems years ago to her.
On the Hit Parade, Gisele looked carefree and relaxed, too, but it was a lot different. The pressure was off, she wasn't the star, just part of the company. "I learned a lot," said Gisele, "but the Hit Parade was a breeze compared to carrying your own show."
Gisele looks fit. She's even gained a few pounds, but on Mondays a rash breaks out on her white Canadian skin from nerves, not smog, and she has to cover it up with make-up.
"Listen, you have to be nervous to be any good. I'm nervous singing before two people and I always will be," she explained. "It's part of the business. I know I wouldn't be in any other. I couldn't go into advertising, for instance."
Having her own weekly show, something she's looked forward to for a long time, is half fun and half chore and that's all Gisele wants. She's had good times on some programs, but the most fun was a recent one with Jack Benny when the two dropped the script and began ad-libbing.
"I stepped on one of Jack's lines," Gisele said, "by accident. And he fired back, "Now that you have your own show you can't stop talkin.’ We carried on from there. The critics thought it was part of the show."
Jack Benny has been a big factor in Gisele's success. He originally saw Gisele working with Bob Crosby in Las Vegas. Jack needed a girl vocalist for his touring vaudeville show and could get Gisele cheaply. After the show ran for while, Jack heard that the Hit Parade was searching for a new female vocalist. So Jack had Gisele guest on his TV show and made sure the Hit Parade sponsors were watching.
Gisele got the job and spent the next four years polishing her talents, singing the "big seven" hits and those extras Jack has a big interest in Gisele's Saturday nighter and was instrumental in setting up the format of light, casual humor.
With the format set, the big problem is guests—those available and in the right price range, and who would fit working with Gisele. "I would like to sing to Gregory Peck," said Gisele, pretending to look wistful, "Ty Power, Clark Gable, Aly Khan—but they're not available. So I'll settle for the Curfew Kids—Greg, Ty, Mike and Butch. They're a little young but awful cute."

The patronage of Jack Benny couldn’t bring one thing—viewers. Gisele’s show on NBC began on Sept. 28, 1957 and was replaced with reruns from Schlitz Playhouse and General Electric Theater on March 29, 1958. It didn’t stop her career. She was a regular with Sid Caesar on ABC-TV in 1963. My first exposure to her was on the original version of The Match Game in June 1966 (the other celebrity panellist was fellow Canadian Paul Anka). And, of course, she continued to appear with Jack Benny.

Saturday 28 October 2023

Commercials at Animation, Inc.

A few weeks ago, we posted frames of animated commercials reprinted in Television Age magazine. We’re going to post a few more below, this time from 1958.

The frame to the right is, of course, not a cartoon. But Arnold Stang has a connection to animation so I thought I’d include this one. Plus, I love Arnold Stang. No, I don’t know where to find the commercials on-line.

This frame was also used in trade ads for Sarra, with the caption: “It's quite a stunt to slice off the top of a man's head and make it funny! SARRA does it with trick photography and Arnold Stang's head and histrionics. In a series of 60-second and 20-second live action commercials for Scripto Pens, Stang ‘talks off the top of his head’ while the announcer's hands demonstrate ‘coloressence’ and other features of the product. A technical feat produced by SARRA for SCRIPTO, INC., through DONAHUE & COE, INC.”

The one problem with the on-line copies of Television Age is the resolution is not very good. The reproduced frames are not very sharp and some are too dark. For example, you can barely tell that Happy Joe Lucky is riding a horse and the pack of Lucky Strikes in his hand is very fuzzy. But the frames do give you an idea of the animation styles employed in the different commercials.

Pelican was run by Jack Zander, Academy by Ed Gerschman, ex-UPA business agent, Playhouse by Ade Woolery and Animation, Inc. by Earl Klein, whose name appeared in a few cartoons when he was in the Chuck Jones’ unit at Warners.

The company and Klein were profiled in the April 7, 1958 edition of Television Age. By this time, among the animators were Irv Spence and Ed Barge. Bob Kurtz was later a creative director with the company. Someone had a brown nose after writing this. Oh, Earl, tell potential clients again how much money of theirs you won't spend.

Originality builds Animation
Earl Klein’s youthful firm finds excitement in creating commercials

May 1 of this year marks the third anniversary of Animation, Inc., of Los Angeles—three years that have seen the youthful film production company grow from a trio of employes to a staff of 20, and from a handful of clients to a list boasting such important tv-advertising names as Heinz, Johnson’s Wax, Campbell’s, Kroger and Betty Crocker, among others.
Animation, Inc., has a staff of talented people who produce film commercials that not only entertain and sell products, but consistently win top art and advertising awards, as well. Naturally, also, the company uses up-to-the-minute techniques such as xerography or a new color transmission off black-and-white film. But, in the case of the success enjoyed by the fledgling concern, the catalyst seems to have been the dominant personality of president Earl Klein.
No doubt about it, when Earl Klein left Storyboard, Inc., after producing a number of award-winning commercials, and formed his own animation studio, his individualistic approach met resistance from the advertising agencies. “I enjoy the thrill and excitement of creating,” he has said. “An imaginative producer must find it frustrating when the agency assumes all responsibility.”
Constantly voicing his opinion that a film made with imagination and originality would get attention favorable comment from the public— resulting in name and product recognition—Earl Klein finally succeeded in convincing several agencies. Among these was W. B. Doner & Co., Detroit, for which Animation, Inc., produced several award-winning films for Speedway Petroleum. Other early clients were Standard Oil of Ohio and Bank of America. Films are still made at the studio for both Speedway and Standard Oil, and the spots made originally for the Bank of America had an inventiveness and ingenuity that foretold the “offbeat” spots used by many such firms today.
In the past few years, the number of animated films used on tv has increased considerably—and the number of producers has almost doubled. With a high mortality rate in the field, Earl Klein’s background has enabled him to build his company surely and steadily.
Now just 41, Mr. Klein was born in Cleveland and studied at the Cleveland School of Art, the Chicago Art Institute and the Meinzinger Academy of Detroit. He began his animation career as an assistant at the Jam Handy studios in Detroit.
In 1936 he joined Max Fleisher’s unit in Miami as a designer, working on Gulliver's Travels and Popeye shorts. In 1941 he worked at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, as a supervisor on Air Corps training films. He continued this phase of his career after moving to California the following year, when he also did design work on Bugs Bunny cartoons at Warner Bros.
From 1949 to 1953 he served as art director for the Raphael G. Wolff Studios. Eventually he became a freelance designer and worked for UPA Pictures, Academy Productions and John Sutherland Productions, among others.
In February 1954 Mr. Klein formed a partnership with John Hubley and organized Storyboard, Inc. Within a year, commercials produced by the company had won three of 10 awards, including a gold medal, from the New York Art Directors Club and six awards from the Detroit Art Directors Club.
Finally, in 1955, in an effort to gain even more creative freedom, Earl Klein set up the fast-growing Animation, Inc. Always on the watch for ways to hold down costs and increase service to his clients, Mr. Klein’s studio became the third—others are Walt Disney Studios and UPA—to use the xerography duplicating process. This electronic transfer technique permits the use of soft lines in animated drawings, rather than the customary solid blacks and hard lines. The process has been used in the prizewinning Betty Crocker and Kroger commercials.
“Xerography is a time- and money-saving step forward,” says Mr. Klein. “It’s a touch of automation to what is still essentially a hand-crafted industry.” He admits such techniques have only limited applications. “The personal touch,” he states, “is still a much-wanted quantity in the animated film. Animation cannot go into mass production techniques without losing this necessary factor.”
Virtually all of the commercials produced by Animation, Inc., have borne Earl Klein’s stamp of originality —a simplified graphic visual treatment with an unusual soundtrack using either clever rhythmic musical effects or novel voice delivery. Cases in point: Johnson’s “buzz-z-z” bee or the bass-voiced Kroger cow mooing “No-o-obody” in answer to the question, “Who but Kroger?”
In addition to a number of tv commercials now shooting at Animation, Inc., two “first-time” projects are being developed. In association with Transfilm, Inc., Mr. Klein is preparing a 16mm film requested by the Museum of Modern Art for Fortune Films. Entitled The Decisive Decade, the film deals with American economy over the next 10 years and is the company’s initial such sales-promotion venture. Decade will be produced in color, an operation which adds about 20 per cent to the over-all cost, according to Mr. Klein.
With the Universal Broadcasting System, Animation, Inc., is preparing a first commercial in a new technique that will utilize specially prepared art on black-and-white film to transmit a color picture. Present plans call for the licensing of the system to interested parties.
With these and other ideas for future expansion, Earl Klein’s Animation, Inc., seems sure to achieve a still greater measure of success.

Animation, Inc. lasted until about September 1964. In that month’s issue of Film World and A-V News, Klein announced he was shutting down, and had recently sold his studio and sound stage to Westheimer Company, an optical production house. Klein decided to devote his time to fine arts at his studio in San Juan Capistrano. Animation, Inc. won 50 advertising and art awards during its 9 1/2 years of existence.

Here are a few more frames from commercials of 1958. You’ll notice one from Grantray-Lawrence, the Grant Simmons/Ray Patterson company. Gene Hazelton was the company’s art director and I suspect he designed that commercial. Whether the Transfilm commercial is mixed animaton/live action, I don’t know, but that sure looks like Don Knotts and, you know, he has a cartoon connection, too.

Friday 27 October 2023

Tex's Other Red

There’s a knock at the closet door. “Who’s there?” yells the detective.

The door opens. A skeleton steps out. “A skeleton,” it answers.

Another skeleton steps out.

The pun is so obvious here (except for people who have never heard of comedian Red Skelton), I don't need to mention it.

In the MGM cartoon Who Killed Who? (1942), Tex Avery and uncredited writer Rich Hogan have come up with a fine send-up of murder mysteries, making fun of a pile of movie clich├ęs, with Scott Bradley adding a solo organ score like you might hear on a radio detective story.

There are no credited animators.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Setting the Mood For Chills

Light and shadow and effects open The Case of the Stuttering Pig, a 1937 Warners cartoon directed by Frank Tashlin.

Tashlin indulges himself with various camera angles looking up at the settings to create a mood of suspense.

Tashlin and writer Tubby Millar apparently did their jobs too well. A theatre manager in Ligonier, Indiana complained to the Motion Picture Herald that “this story is all too scary for the subject of a cartoon which is primarily made for children.” Leon Schlesinger admitted in a newspaper interview that one of his cartoons had a villain that was too frightening and that would be toned down in future cartoons.

Sorry, theatre manager, but Billy Bletcher is wonderfully menacing as the lawyer-turned-monster and the artwork fits the horror scenario (with a comic ending). Ya big softie!

Volney White is the credited animator.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

20-Inch Snip Snip Snip

Censorship will be around as long people don’t want other people to see or hear something. In other words, it won’t be going away.

Back in the radio days, Fred Allen and Henry Morgan ridiculed censors. Allen pointed out in his book, “Treadmill to Oblivion,” some of the ridiculous bans he dealt with.

When network television and its 20-inch screens came along, the radio censors simply switched mediums and continued with the same old policies.

TV Guide examined the whole issue in its edition of February 26, 1954.

TABOO! What You Can’t See On TV
EVERY TV network has a Continuity Acceptance Department, which, in word of two syllables, means “Censor.” The reasons for a censor are rather obvious—among other things, no network wants to get involved in undue hasseling [sic] with viewers or the Federal Communications Commission. But when you add the items snipped out of shows by the censors to the stuff hacked by fussy advertising men, you get an impressive list of things that might, but never do, appear on television.
Ad men, always fearful that the name of a competitive product might sneak into the script, are apt to do some quick changing. The most famous recent example took place on the Danny Thomas show, sponsored by Lucky Strike, where Winston Churchill almost was mentioned as a Member of Parliament. (Parliament cigarets, get it?) This was changed to a Member of the House of Commons.
The network censors, on the other hand, work more quietly. Without setting themselves up as arbiters of what the public should and should not see, that’s exactly what they do. Their job is to prevent anything of obviously bad taste from reaching the air. They are firm about deleting passages in scripts that contain suggestive wording. They squelch lines or characterizations that might in any way reflect on a race, religion or nationality. They watch old movie film that’s to be shown on TV and snip material that easily slipped by the last two generations of movie censors.
Here, as an example, is a verbatim quote from NBC’s Continuity Acceptance Department’s seven-page report for January, 1954:
“There were numerous deletions in comedy films of men losing their pants and such items as dogs spitting, a fat woman doing a shake dance, kids sticking their tongues out at each other incessantly, an animated tuba spitting, a cruel portraiture of an Old Ladies Home and the inmates of an insane asylum, some scantily clad harem girls and two films replete with such remarks as ‘Who in the flaming hell do you think you are?’ and endless use of ‘For God’s sake.’ ”
Advertisers running amok is another problem for Continuity Acceptance. A cake flour company was vetoed when it wanted a commercial to show an inauguration cake topped by an American Flag.
A skin ointment company got the veto when it tried to submit a filmed commercial which showed cannibals refusing to eat an American girl because she had so many pimples.

What’s good for kids is another problem. Nine o’clock at night is figured as a reasonable hour for kids to be in bed and any complaints about shows after that, as regarding children, are usually ignored. There are numerous taboos that hold for all shows. Suicide is never allowed as a justifiable out for a tread-upon individual. You can never see anyone struck with a blunt weapon or see a pistol fired and the bullet hit someone in the same picture. Such things as narcotics addiction, excessive drinking, etc., are carefully avoided. In most cases these restrictions are passed on to producers before they ever start, easing the censor’s work.
Which brings us to the matter of dress. The plunging neckline has pretty much gone out of style, except for guest hostesses on such programs as Your Show of Shows. The most famous incident on that show took place when Madge Evans had some difficulties with her gown which on TV made her look pretty much undressed. As the program progressed this was remedied in a sort of reverse strip-tease until she finally passed the censors. Such things as this and the ad lib which follows a flubbed line are not anticipated by censors and there’s no defense against them.
Then there are the pressure groups to contend with. The meat interests are frankly depressed with the way comics and others continually refer to the rising cost of living by talking about the cost of meat.
And now we get to the ad men. Madison Avenue, New York’s advertising row, is full of nervous men who can’t bear the thought of the names of competitors’ products appearing in any way on their shows. Thus, on Kraft TV Theater, a character’s name was changed at the last minute because it was Borden. On I Love Lucy, sponsored by Philip Morris, or on the Camel Caravan, no one is ever lucky.
No Kingdom For A Horse
Some years back, Richard Himber was signed by Studebaker and immediately had to purge his singer who had the misfortune to be named Joey Nash. Oscar Mayer’s meat packing firm in Chicago wouldn’t agree to sponsor a local Chicago show until the title was changed to Elmer the Elephant from Homer the Horse. And an adman rewrote one line in Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Room” so that Chesterfield’s Perry Como could sing it. The offending line: “I can smoke my pipe away.”
Studio One, sponsored by Westinghouse, thought it appropriate to change the name of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Light That Failed” to “The Gathering Night.” Another Studio One script was turned down when an \adman found that the plot revolved around a leaky refrigerator.
The Plight That Flailed
As a closer, we offer you the plight of the announcer for the General Motors-sponsored college football telecasts, who while broadcasting a Pittsburgh University game, had to conceal his discomfort each time he mentioned the Pitt quarterback. It was a free commercial for a competitor whenever he handled the ball. His name was Henry Ford.

The “cake” censorship may seem odd today, but there was a time that the flag had to be treated with the utmost reverence and dignity, and a cake didn’t qualify. There was a flap on The Smothers Brothers Show in the late ‘60s when censors objected to a guest wearing an American flag shirt; today, doing that would be deemed super patriotic, not tacky. That’s because times change. In 1959, it was okay for Quick Draw McGraw to have a gun or Popeye’s mouth to be adorned with a pipe (which he never smoked) or an impolite cartoon tuba from the 1930s expectorating. Taking them away in later years seems, to me, as much as an overreaction as Oscar Meyer thinking someone will connect a horse with horse meat.

But then, I’m a product of my time. I will bet something we find innocuous and perfectly acceptable today will be deemed horrific and offensive 50, 60 years from now.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

A Tale of Horror, Van Beuren-Style

Van Beuren goes in for some effects in its horror cartoon The Magic Mummy (1933).

There is silhouette animation in a couple of scenes.

A fight scene in a cave reveals moving sets of eyes and a few lines and stars.

Here are a couple of backgrounds, with varying shades of grey. The first one has some light shadows, the second goes for a light-into-the-crypt effect.

As you might expect in almost any Van Beuren cartoon, there are oodles of skeletons and piano playing. John Foster and George Stallings get a “by” credit.

Monday 23 October 2023

The Nine Lives of Tom the Cat

Tom’s owner has the world’s most powerful vacuum in Fraidy Cat (MGM, 1942). As he grabs onto a bannister, his nine lives are sucked right out of him.

Life Number Nine, fearing the end, does something about it.

Tom races out of the room, pulling his lives out of the vacuum, including the hammy Life Number One, who's the only one not pertified by the whole thing.

Tom slams into a door. His lives go back into his body, but not before Mr. One congratulates himself for surviving.

Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and Fred "I think I'll have a nap in my office" Quimby are the only people to get screen credit. The Hanna-Barbera unit was in the early days, so people like Jack Zander and Pete Burness likely animated on this cartoon.