Thursday 18 July 2024

Bob Newhart, Ladies Man

Bob Newhart had one of the most successful comedy LPs of all time. So what did NBC do? Turn him into a variety show host.

This was in 1961, long before the CBS series produced by Mary Tyler Moore that became a monster hit. Or the one where he ran an inn in New England that turned out to be a dream of the Newhart character in the first show.

There were sketches, monologues, an announcer, a band, guest singers and a revolving supporting cast that included Joe Flynn, Ken Berry, Jackie Joseph, and comedian Mickey Manners, all in colour. Fans of cartoon voice people will be pleased to see that making on camera appearances were Mae Questel (Olive Oyl), Henry Corden (the second Fred Flintstone), Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo), Jerry Hausner (Mr. Magoo’s nephew) and Cal Howard (yes, that Cal Howard).

Newhart and his show were profiled by the Boston Traveler of November 20, 1961. It won an Emmy for best humour show, but lasted one turbulent season, not coping well in the ratings opposite The Naked City.


By ELEANOR ROBERTS
Know what happens to a comedian when he’s 32, charming, rich and has a weekly Wednesday night show on TV?
He gets proposals—hundreds of them—in the mail.
NICE SENSE OF HUMOR
And since the comedian is Bob Newhart, all these dear ladies in search of the right husband want to marry him because he has such a nice sense of humor. “We’re on the same wave length,” they write. “That’s why I know we’d get along so well.”
Bachelor Bob is getting along beautifully in his single state, than you, and between scraping up enough material for a show a week and playing golf at Bel Air, he’s busy, but busy.
He dates, of course.
“But no starlets,” he told us in an interview from Hollywood.
WRITING AT NIGHT
“When you talk to them, it’s like putting your ear up to a sea shell and listening to the ocean rush in.”
Trying to be consistently funny before a TV audience of 35 million people is quite a grind, but Bob prefers it to a life of night club acts and one-night concert stands.
“I do most of my writing at night,” he explained, “which leaves the days free for golf.
“It’s a great game for relaxation. I suppose it’s a little like drinking—you forget all your problems while you’re doing it, but find out they’re still around afterwards.”
CONSTANT HEADACHE
Newhart’s chief worries are whether or not his sketches go over.
“It’s a constant headache,” he admitted. “You never know. Sometimes you think you have a great show, and it turns out to be a bomb. You can’t second-guess an audience.
“We’ve made some mistakes this year. The greeting-card sketch on our opening show sure laid an egg. But then we discovered, from this, that I couldn’t play the meek little man. And we learned to stay away from it.
“You have to open a new can of peas in this business occasionally,” he pointed out. “But it’s one thing trying out a sketch in front of a night club audience, and quite another making your mistakes in front of a big TV audience.”
HAS STAFF OF WRITERS
Like most comedians of the “new school,” Bob has always written his own material.
But now, with 39 shows to do, he has a staff of writers, and it’s a little like trying to feel comfortable when you’re wearing someone else’s clothes.
“We have our arguments,” Bob said cheerfully. “But then, most writers are creative, opinionated people. The man who has the final say is our producer, Roland Kibbee.
“If I really feel uncomfortable saying certain lines, Roland agrees it’s better not to try them. But he’s had more experience in this business than I have, so I usually listen to him.”
SATURDAY SHOW TAPED
Saturday nights the Newhart show (Ch. 4, Wednesdays 10-10:30 p.m.) is taped. When it’s over Bob, Roland Kibbee and some of the other boys walk across the street to Sailee’s to eat.
“We sit around over a couple of scotches and water, eat hamburgers and whine,” he laughed. “But it gives us a chance to let our hair down. If I went straight home I’d like awake until 4 a.m. I’m so tense.”
We asked Bob what happened to the Fred Allen library he had spoken about using at the start of the season.
“Portland was wonderful to offer it to us,” he said. “But actually I felt Fred’s dry, salty humor was different from mine, and that it wouldn’t be wise to attempt it.”
LISTENERS LOVED IT
One of the first things Bob did when he went “network” was to hire Dan Sorkin as the announcer of the show.
“Dan gave me my first break,” Bob said. “But I gave him the job not only out of gratitude, but because we needed a strong, forceful personality and a new face.”
Sorkin, a disk jockey on Chicago’s WCSL [sic], heard Newhart’s monologue on the airlines, and played the tape on his show two years ago. The listeners loved it.
The station manager thought it was for the birds.
But Sorkin took the tapes to Warner Brothers’ Records Inc., where James B. Conkling, the president, listened to them. After that, Bob was made.
Dan still plays up-tempoed, mass-appeal jazz for his morning listeners at WCSL, commuting to Hollywood each week to appear on the Newhart show.
There’s another bright, bouncy fan of Bob’s who wouldn’t miss his show.
She’s Sister Mary Joan of the Immaculate High School in Chicago, who is Bob’s sister.
And every Wednesday night at the convent all the nuns, with special permission, tune in the Newhart show, and have a ball.


Newhart wasn’t popular with everyone when his first show didn’t take off, and we don’t just mean what NBC-TV sources described in Variety as the “extreme right wing” writing preposterous letters claiming Newhart’s satire was “un-American,” and “must be Communist-tinged.” He fired some writers and his director, and that prompted his producer to quit in protest. Still, the producer rather awkwardly tried to walk the line between praise and criticism. Here’s a syndicated column from Feb. 17, 1962.

Tells Why Newhart Unique
Department Producer Comments

By HAROLD STERN
The Bob Newhart Show of Feb. 28th (already taped) marks the termination of producer-writer Roland Kibbee's affiliation with the comedian. Various reports have indicated that Kibbee's departure is due to illness, to a conflict with Newhart or to almost any other reason you might think of.
Kibbee himself isn't too much help.
"Why am I leaving the show," he answered. "Let’s just say that I'm tired. If you want to know the circumstances that wore me out, that's a long and complicated story I'd rather not go into. Our director Coby Ruskin gave an interview to a Hollywood trade paper in which he blasted Newhart. He was fired and I asked for my release because firing Ruskin over the producer's head constituted a breach of contract. I had asked for my release before, but this time I was justified and I got it.
“Yes,” he continued, "Bob and I have had disagreements, but there is no ill feeling between us. You might say we're both very disappointed at how our affiliation turned out.
“I took the Newhart Show to begin with because it was the sort of challenge I couldn't resist. Ever since Nat Hiken and I were writers for Fred Allen, I wanted to prove this sort of material could exist on TV. I think we have proved it. If another comedian like Newhart were to come along next year and I had a chance to work with him, I would. But I don't expect another Newhart.
"I think Bob Newhart is unique in today's world of comedy," Kibbee said emphatically. "He's able to hide his own personality behind characterizations. He has an ingratiating public image, yet he invariably plays the villains in his sketches. Only in rare instances like the Lincoln sketch or the one about the driving instructor does Bob play the victim.”
All things being equal, Roland Kibbee believes that Bob Newhart should have a 25-year life expectancy in television. However, he feels that Newhart's number 1 problem will always be writing. He believes a permanent three or four man writing-staff (rather than a transient one) would help maintain his level of comedy.

We don’t have Ruskin’s comments (Variety reported Ruskin was irked that Newhart wanted to use cue cards), but we do from one of the show’s writers. This is from Les Wedman’s column in the Vancouver Sun of May 26, 1962. Just before being nominated for a couple of Emmys, the show received a Peabody Award.

There were laughs the other night when Lucille Ball almost ran out of breath reading the 11 of the Bob Newhart Show writers nominated for an Emmy. They were Roland Kibbee, Dean Hargrove, Phil Sharpe, Norman Leibman, Howard Snyder, Bob Kaufman, Charles Sherman, Don Hinkley, Milt Rosen, Bernie Chambers—and Bob Newhart.
Fortunately for the dignity of the show, they didn't win. If they had, the Emmy ceremony could have turned Into Fight of the Week.
The nominations were entered by Newhart, himself included. But Bob Kaufman—also on the list but off the payroll about a month ago—says he told Newhart he'd beat him up in front of 30 million viewers if he dared accept best writing Emmy.
Roland Kibbee, producer and head writer until he left the show months ago, agreed with Kaufman that Bob Newhart hasn't written one line of his own show this season.
"He can't write. He can't even spell," claims Kaufman in a report in Variety, the show biz bible. He says be told Newhart that if he went on stage to accept an Emmy for writing “I’ll take it away from you."
He said "for 19 shows we didn't even let Newhart in the story room. We told him to play golf. He wanted to take out all the jokes."
Contrary to public opinion, Kaufman went on, Newhart didn't want satire on the show. "Now he wants to be a martyr and say he tried but America wasn't ready.” Ralph Levy, who replaced Kibbee as producer of the show, allied himself with the star and his uneasiness at satire.
"Newhart," says Kaufman, "can ad lib, and did. He's the best monologist I've ever seen, but he's no writer. He's a credit-grabber.


Sour grapes? As far as I know, Newhart wrote the routines on his early comedy albums. I have trouble believing he was spelling-challenged.

Kaufman went on to write Divorce American Style and Freebie and the Bean as well as The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington. Newhart went on to be beloved by the entertainment world, thanks partly to two successful television sitcoms, and is mourned after his death at age 94.

Sunday 14 July 2024

Benny and Benny

Jack Benny and Benny Rubin were both big vaudeville stars. They each headlined at the Palace in New York. Both appeared in short films when the talkies became popular. They co-emceed a bill at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles in 1930. Benny has even been given credit for giving Jack his stage name when it had to be changed from “Ben K. Benny.”

The two also starred in their own radio shows. But while Jack appeared regularly in living rooms from 1932 to 1965 (1950-onward on television), Rubin’s variety show lasted one season (1936-37) and then he had to be content with supporting roles, with the exception of a Los Angeles TV show that appeared for less than a month in 1949 (he quit after the producing William Morris agency told him what to do on camera). At one point, he opened a dress shop to make ends meet.

One person who put Benny to work was Jack Benny. In the mid-‘40s, Rubin was hired to play the Tout, but when a stage show cut into his time he was quickly replaced with Sheldon Leonard. Rubin had other periodic roles with Benny on radio into the 1950s; the only recurring character was the “I dunno” guy. He also appeared on the Benny TV show; in the final two seasons he was in about a third of the episodes.

Here’s Rubin talking about Jack Benny in a United Press International column that began appearing in papers on July 30, 1964, shortly before the start of Jack’s final season on television.


Benny uses Rubin often
By JOSEPH FINNIGAN
UPI Writer
HOLLYWOOD—Benny Rubin, a character actor for ciowns, has appeared on more than 500 Jack Benny shows, building a reputation as laugh insurance for comedians.
Besides Jack Benny, the veteran Rubin has worked with other top comics, including Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, Gracie Allen and Danny Thomas.
When a comedian needs a performer for a scene, they know they can depend on Rubin not to foul up the act. That's one reason he has been with Benny more than 500 times.
“I've lost count," said Rubin who is going to work this week at Revue Studio in another of Jack's programs. "There's a good reason for it all," explained Rubin. "Nobody knows his timing like I do.
He calls me his insurance. If you're going to get somebody to work with you, you want somebody who knows you. I know Jack's timing. He calls me his insurance. If you’re going to get somebody to work with, you want somebody who knows you. I know Jack’s timing. When Jack says 'hum' you know that's to keep you from stepping on the next line.
"When Jack has new actors or people he doesn't know on the show this is heck of a thing to explain to somebody. You'd be surprised how many scenes an actor ruins because he moves or says something ac the wrong time. On radio, Jack would read a line and grab your arm. You didn't talk until he released you. That was if he didn't “know you."
With his hundreds of appearances on television, Rubin should be a familiar face. He is, but the faces are different. Millions of persons have seen Rubin in hundreds of different ways.
“I do everything,” he said played. “I’ve played 40 or 50 Italians, 20 or 30 Germans—all kinds of guys, including cops and robbers.
“People see me on the street and they say, ‘I’ve seen that guy.’ But they’ve been looking through beards and moustaches.
Rubin's friendship with Benny goes back to more than 40 years. As long as Benny has a show, Rubin will have some work on it.
“This is the big point, the trust,” said Rubin. “That’s the big thing in this racket.”
The comedians who appear with Rubin had better trust him. There are times when they’re not certain what he’ll do. But they know it’ll be good.
Jerry Lewis once hired him to play a waiter. Jerry instructed other actors in the scene about their action. Rubin he left to his own design.
Rubin once showed up on a Jack Benny episode and the boss asked, “Who are you today?”
Jack might not have known who Rubin was that day but he knew what he was—laugh insurance.


There was a time Jack Benny worked for Rubin, in a round-about way. This is from George Pratt’s column in the Hollywood Citizen-News of June 2, 1961.

Comic Rubin Has Memories Aplenty
By GEORGE PRATT
Citizen-News Staff Writer

Comic Benny Rubin scoffed when we asked him if he was adverse to admitting he’d been a movie featured performer in the mid-30’s, in the likes of “George White’s Scandals,” with Alice Faye and Jimmy Dunn, and “Go Into Your Dance” with Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler.
“What do you think I am, a juvenile lead?” he tossed back on the Jack Benny set at the Cahuenga lot of Desilu’s where he was awaiting the day’s shooting on Jack’s show.
“I earned these grey hairs in show business, and it’s all there in the billings down through the years. Why should I try to avoid dating myself, when it’s all down in the ads?”
And on Benny the grey hair looks remarkably good.
REMARKABLE MEMORY
His remarkable memory and flair for facts from the past were graphically exhibited as he ran through the list of “Leading Men” and “Comedians” who played in the mid-30’s in the first Rubin-promoted ball game for the benefit of Duarte Hospital, which grew to become The City of Hope.
The leading men had Charles Winninger, John Boles and Vince Flaherty’s brother as pitchers, Jimmy Cagney caught, Lee Tracy was first base, Dick Powell second, Bing Crosby was short, Dick Arlen third and George Raft, Clark Gable and Dennis Morgan were the outfield.
The comics, Benny recalls, had “me and Maxie Rosenbloom as pitchers, Buster Keaton caught, Harry Ruby played first, Joe E. Brown second, Vince Barnett was short, and Jackie Coogan third. The outfield had Andy Devine, Jack Benny and George Jessel.”
Umpires were Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Jimmy Gleason. And Arthur Treacher served tea to the hurlers!
Wonderful names of some wonderful performers of the mid-thirties.
Hear Benny tell a couple of gems from his memory vista:
“I needed some music for an idea I had and this young fellow said he’d tackle it for me. I had only a few bucks over $600 in the bank and he offered to do it for $200. Well, when he brought it along, he’d done such a fine job with the assignment that I dumped the $600 in his hands and told him he’d earned it. The 19-year-old was a lad named Bob Mitchum.”
And when Benny was doing the act for which Mitchum wrote the music, breaking it in at the Golden Gate in San Francisco, he went to luncheon with Lucille Ball and they dropped to the Bal Tabarin for a bit of entertainment. A little performer, all of 15, on the show caught Benny’s eye and he induced Lucille to send for the girl and her mother.
THRILLED GIRL
That’s when Benny and Lucille thrilled a girl named Ann Miller, who continued with her dancing to gain world fame through Hollywood’s cinema musicals where her tappings were viewed by audiences all over our planet.
Benny has a jillion yarns like these. He can tell you about the four-a-day, the pit band leader at Seattle’s Orpheum—Tiny Burnett—or the dressing facilities at Keokuk.
Rubin has made his excursions into bond selling and other attempts at commerce, but his heart beat is the variable tattoo of show biz, the game where he started as a hoofer and varied his routines to include tooting a trombone, doing comic roles—countless in number—to now as a foil for Jack Benny.


Rubin wrote a reminiscence in 1972 called Come Backstage with Me. He admitted he wasn’t too concerned about whether his tales were accurate.

Dialects were a specialty for Rubin, Jewish and many others. He griped in public that his career was hurt badly in 1938 by movie industry moguls getting together (so he says) to eliminate all dialect comedy; he blamed Walter Winchell, too. Jack Benny didn’t hire Rubin on radio to do a Jewish character. After Sam "Schlepperman" Hearn left, Jack brought in Artie Auerbach to play the pleasant hot dog vendor Mr. Kitzel. In a 1963 interview, Rubin said he never liked Kitzel. “I thought it was phony,” he told columnist Hal Humphrey. Auerbach was dead by this time and couldn’t defend his character, who popped in on Benny for 11 years (including a TV episode after Auerbach’s death in 1957). If Mr. Kitzel hadn’t made a connection with the audience, Jack never would have kept bringing him back.

And Rubin rained on Benny’s season-ending party after the 1964-65 season [ad for one show to the right], as he wrote in a feature story for TV Guide at the time. He didn’t stay for it because he couldn’t handle NBC’s cancellation of Jack’s show, feeling his Benny buddy had nothing to celebrate. The idea that Jack wanted to throw the party to thank his cast and crew didn’t seem to dawn on Rubin.

Whether Rubin was bitter is hard to tell. Jack Benny was able to adjust to changes in the entertainment business and maintain his stardom. Benny Rubin was not.

Saturday 13 July 2024

Richard Simmons and the Dancing Powder Puffs

50 years ago, Richard Simmons tried for television stardom.

It took a few more years. He appeared on the daytime talk shows—Merv, Mike Douglas, Dinah—in the late ‘70s (as well as the soap General Hospital) before becoming a star in the Golden Age of Infomercials, slickly pushing his “Deal-A-Meal” and those “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” videos. He won Emmys for his own daytime show. He visited Late Night With David Letterman, with a host who seemed to love demeaning him, as the audience awwwed in sympathy. It was all a ruse, of course. One thing Richard Simmons knew how to do was promote himself.

Despite being ultra-hyper, even in conversation, he came across as sincere, certainly with women with whom he empathised on camera. He made them feel he wanted to be their friend and if no one else supported them, he did.

However, long before this, he received periodic mentions in the Fashion section of the Los Angeles Times. Here’s an unbylined clipping from Aug. 26, 1974.


SOUND LIKE A MILLION?—The audience, sitting at cafe-style tables in a KTLA studio, slowly enunciated in unison, "I looooovvvvve Gucci." And then, again to its own wonderment, "I looooovvvvve Sears."
The home audience was asked to compare body skin with facial skin (“skin is the largest organ of the body”) in order to see what exposure to the elements can do, and a member of the studio audience was picked to come up on stage, clean her face and then was largely ignored.
The occasion was the taping of "Look Like a Million," a daytime beauty show pilot developed and hosted by Richard Simmons. If it sells, look for it to have the greatest camp following since Queen for a Day and You Bet Your Life.
Simmons, 25, wanted to open the show with a group of dancers costumed as powder puffs. A huge lipstick case would wheel forward, he said between taping segments, then it would twirl up and he'd be the lipstick. The idea cost too much—for now at least.
Simmons was able to get Sally Struthers, however, to join him for most of the show, and Vidal Sassoon and his wife Beverly turned out in the studio audience. Larry Van Nuys, the star of KTLA's Help Thy Neighbor, which tapes in a nearby studio, also watched the proceedings and predicted the show would do well in Los Angeles and New York.


His next venture found itself the subject of the same column in the Nov. 14, 1975 edition of the Times:

STRETCH AND SALAD—Despite the shower rooms, wall-to-wall exercise mirrors and plush carpeting—it's hardly your everyday inner city health spa.
In the first place, Barbra Streisand and Cher are among the body buddies stretching their muscles there. Secondly, the whole center is located in an old warehouse next to Woniier Bread in an industrial section of Beverly Hills. And thirdly, it won't do you any good to take an exercise class and then sneak off to La Scala and gorge those pounds back. They've put the health food restaurant next door to the gym just to make sure you stay in shape.
Even the name has been given a different flavor. They call the exercise-gym the Anatomy Asylum, the health food section Ruffage.
"Because we're in Beverly Hills, people automatically think we're just another phony hangout for the beautiful people," says co-owner Richard Simmons, a kind of freaked-out Jack LaLanne who credits exercise with having helped him reduce from 270 to his present 140 pounds. "I don't want to look in the paper and see a caption that says Liza Minnelli at Ruffage. She's here. But that's not the point. The point is, if you don't stay in shape—you're not beautiful."
Simmons (“Just like the mattress, honey”) teaches the beginners. But the contours of Raquel Welch and other long-time exercisers fall into the hands of Kim Lee. If his work on Cher's torso isn't recommendation enough, Lee is also a look-alike for his cousin, the late kung cult figure Bruce Lee.
Prices are steep. The introductory 10-time exercise class rate runs $100. (The salads are extra). After that a one-hour exercise class levels to $4. What do you get there that you can't get for $100 a year at your local “Y”?
"It's a matter of life-style," says Simmons. "Some people like to buy a dress at Lerner's. Some people prefer Bonwit's. In our field, we're the Bonwit's."


What was Simmons doing before this? The Oakland Tribune devoted almost a half page to him on May 11, 1972 (photo to the right) in a story headlined “Metamophosis of a Formerly Fat Singing Waiter” where he spoke of his mother being in the Follies and his father singing on either stage or film, how he had a scholarship to study at the University of Florence, and gained weight (268 pounds) because he could make more money modelling that way. When he returned from Italy and worked as a singing waiter in New York “I got the message that fat boys aren’t so hot in the U.S.” He slimmed down and found work as a training director for Coty and Dina Merrill companies.

In Lois Kwan’s column in the March 4, 1973 Times, she reviews a restaurant in the Beverly Comstock Hotel and mentions “a maĆ®tre d’hotel and an effervescent catalyst named Richard Simmons.”

While it’s not safe to assume two people with the same name are the same person, could there have possibly have been two effervescent Richard Simmons in the same city? If nothing else, Richard Simmons was one of a kind.

He has died a day after his birthday. Age 76.

A Tour With Walter Lantz

There may be more information available from the past about animators and animation studios than ever before, thanks to the internet. Some of it is even free.

Unfortunately, some of it isn’t in the best of quality. One example is old newspapers. Their source may be scans of microfilm, which are photos of newspaper pages. Resolution was pretty poor way-back-when (I started researching through old papers in the late 1970s and the microfilm was pretty beat up back then).

That brings us to this post, which is a transcription of a full page article in the Nov. 16, 1946 edition of the Valley News, embracing the San Fernando Valley. The paper loved profiling its celebrity residents and one was Walter Lantz. The News had several stories about him that year, but this one looked at his studio and how it made cartoons. Unfortunately, the photos—which I suspect were supplied by Walter Lantz Productions—reproduced below are not too viewable. But you can get a bit of an idea of how things were done.

You can chuckle at the insistence that cartoon characters don’t go strike, and so on. It’s a cute statement, but doesn’t take into account the people who made the cartoons could strike. Ask the other Walter. And the idea Lantz “created” Krazy Kat or the Katzenjammer Kids is an engagement in semantics.

Picture one shows Bugs Hardaway at the right; whether that’s Milt Schaffer at the left, I don’t know. Picture 2 shows Dick Lundy. Picture 7, I guess, is Fred Brunish. It certainly isn’t Terry Lind.

Woodpecker And Panda Amuse All
There are some movie stars who are never tempermental [sic], indisposed, or suffering from contract trouble. They are not concerned about strikes or picket lines. They even work through fire and water, and they provide diversified and invigorating entertainment for millions of movie fans.
Some of these popular and indestructable movie stars perform for Walter Lantz at his studio in Universal City. Walter located there eighteen years ago and in the interim he has created, among others, such intrepid performers as “The Katzenjammer Kids,” “Maude the Mule,” “Krazy Kat.” His latest creation shows “Andy Panda” and “Woody Woodpecker” in Chopin’s Musical Moments, combining some of the world’s best music, cinema art and animation. The negative cost alone of this production was $50,000 and 25,000 drawings were used. In silent days about 2500 drawings were used and the negative cost was about $3000.
Walter and 22 of his employees live in the Valley and some of them have been in this area long enough to witness sensational developments in their business and the communities in which they live. These Valleyites include such luminaries as Darrel Calker of North Hollywood, Ben “Bugs” Hardaway of North Hollywood, and Fred Brunisch [sic]. Calker is the musical director and a well-known composer-arranger. His “Penguin Island” was performed at the Hollywood Bowl, and he was one of Andre Kostelanitz’ arrangers when the conductor’s style was first set. Hardaway is recognized as one of the best sketche[r]s of a cartoon story in the business. He created the present day character, “Bugs Bunny,” and many others. During World War I he served with President Truman in the Field Artillery. Brunisch, background artist, is a prominent California portrait painter and scenic artist.
Thirty years ago Walter, at the age of 18, quit his job as an assistant artist for the New York American to become Gregory La Cava’s assistant in a new enterprise, motion picture cartoon business. Greg at that time was a well known newspaper cartoonist; today he is one of Hollywood’s top directors. Their productions have proved an important, artistic and entertaining part of the entire motion picture industry, and their characters have helped to alleviate the worries of millions of people in all parts of the world.
Of the original group of men who entered the intricate cartoon industry, Lantz is tbe only one who stayed long enough to become a producer and continue in the animated business. He still sketches and takes an active part in every phase of Walter Lantz productions. Every afternoon he spends at least an hour or two “in the back” of the studio, sitting in story conferences, chatting with background artists, watching animators, or helping in the cutting room.
Today, as president of the animated cartoon producers associaition, Lantz has the admiration and respect of everyone in the business. He knows all there is to know about the business at present, but that does not stop his continual research and experimentation.
1. The story department at Lantz Productions. Writers dicussing a scene from a musical picture, where action must be made to fit the music.
2. When the script is completed the director analyzes each picture to see if additions or deletions are necessary. The long sheet he is using gives full details on the particular sequences of the film it explains.
3. The layout man gets the sequence next, and he works out such important details as close-ups, medium, and long-shots.
4. All drawings are pencilled on celluloid; key drawings are made by the animator while assistants do fill-ins.
5. The inkers go over the animator's work.
6. She colors the inked drawings. Large number of jars contain carefully blended paints.
7. The animator creates action for the film while another artist paints backgrounds.
8. The checker examines each drawing for mistakes. Too few drawings will result in jerky movements of the characters.
9. For the finished motion picture animated cartoon a special type of camera is used. Frame by frame the picture is photographed.
10. "Dubbing in voices and recording the music. Musical Director Darrell Calker conducts the orchestra. Recording for cartoons is tricky business.
11. Job of the film cutter is to assemble sound, music, and picture tracks, make them one.
12. Producer Walter Lantz gives the picture a final once-over.


Dr Ruth

People don’t like talking about sex. That’s part of our culture, a Puritanical hang-up that hasn’t altogether been shaken.

One person tried to shake it, very publicly.

That was Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who has passed away at age 96.

Her frankness and humour took her from a late-night programme on a community radio station to fame through a national television talk-show audience. A wonderful feature story was written about her in June 2012 by Adam Geller of the Associated Press; you can read it for free at this site. Below are two stories written about her in 1984. The first comes from the White Plains Journal-News of January 15, the second from the Nyack Journal-News of Feb. 16.


No taboo topic for Dr. Ruth, just good advice
By JAYNE STOGEL
Radio Columnist
The key to the success of Dr. Ruth Westheimer may be a little like my Bubbi's (grandmother's) recipe for chicken soup: A little bit of 'dis, a little bit of 'dat, and it couldn't hurt.
Dr. Ruth (as she is commonly referred to by her devotees) bubbles with the right combination of stock that makes people rave. She and her show are a mixture of candid, entertaining and intelligent conversations about two previously taboo topics sex and relationships (sexual or otherwise).
"I think it's really a combination of things that has led to the program's success," said Dr. Ruth. "I'm well trained and willing to talk straight and directly. I'm an older woman with an accent (her parents sent her to Switzerland where she was able to escape the Nazi massacre of Jews and where she was orphaned as a result of Hitler's concentration camps) and I made sure that the radio program would be a combination of fifty percent talk about relationships and fifty percent talk about sex.
"The questions really run the gamut," she continued. "I don't think there's a question that hasn't been asked."
And don't let her size (four feet seven inches) fool you. She is a powerhouse of energy, activity and ambition that has led to the success of "Sexually Speaking," her WYNY live call-in program. "Sexually Speaking" began as a taped, public affairs program 2 ½ years ago for WYNY Radio in New York and has snowballed into an hour-long show in New York and Los Angeles Sunday nights at 10 p.m. She is also heard in Europe and is currently testing the Chicago radio market.
She has written a number of books, her most recent "Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex," and hosted her own television program for WNEW-TV.
Her listeners and readers may be looking for advice, but Dr. Ruth really sees herself as an educator, perhaps as a result of beginning her professional career as a kindergarten teacher.
"This is not therapy on the air," she stresses. The radio program answers 20 to 25 calls on Sunday nights, but attracts between three to four thousand callers. "I try to give an educational answer that an aunt might give. The program is really an attempt to increase sexual literacy."
And hows [sic] does Dr. Ruth feel about the notoriety that has led to interviews with Johnny Carson, David Letterman and recognition wherever she travels?
"I like it. People are really nice," she said.
Dr. Ruth's life is filled with lots more people than those on the WYNY telephone lines. She loves to travel, hikes in the summer and skiis in the winter.
As part of her New Year's list of resolutions, Dr. Ruth will be taking some of her own advice.
"In order to keep relationships and friendships going, you have to cultivate them," she said. "I talk a lot on the telephone and make sure to visit people whenever I travel. I work a great deal, and for 1984 I'd like to take a little more time for fun. Sometimes I talk much, but I am a good listener."
While her two children were growing up (her daughter now lives and works in Israel and her son is a student at Princeton University) she made a rule not to ask personal questions, but to be open with them when they asked questions.
With her program "Strictly Speaking" Dr. Ruth does not hesitate to ask personal questions, but it is her ability to listen that provides the right combination of talking and listening that has aided her program's success.


'Dr. Ruth' pulls no punches in sex talk at Ramapo
By T.M. PURVIS
Standing only 4 foot 7 inches tall with neatly coiffed, blondish hair, Dr. Ruth Westheimer looks more like your best friend's mother or a very young grandmother than a radio talk show host.
Her popular program, "Sexually Speaking", which airs on WYNY-FM (97.1) every Sunday evening at 10-11 PM, is the number one program in its time slot in the tri-state area. In September, the successful talk show will celebrate its third year.
"Dr. Ruth," as her radio callers address her, candidly told a full auditorium at Ramapo College in Mahwah this week that "There is a need for such a program. Or there wouldn't be other programs (similar to it) and it would have lost its ratings."
Dr. Ruth is able to answer only 20 or so of the between 3,00 and 4,00 [sic] calls she receives per hour during the show. A one-woman crusade for "sexual literacy," she firmly believes that "The more we educate, the less we will need sex therapists...Sex education must be a combination of parents, church, synagogue and schools working together."
The practicing sex therapist and professor of human sexuality at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center became interested in her present field while working for Planned Parenthood in 1967. Her academic credentials include a master's degree in sociology from the New School and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.
"We are a very strange society; we have the technology to send a man to the moon, but we don't have an effective contraceptive," announced Dr. Ruth in her high-pitched, thick German accent, quite unlike any DJ's voice currently calling the Top 40.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she was sent to a Swiss orphanage in 1939 by her parents, who feared the impending holocaust. That was the last time she saw them and she believes they died in an Eastern European concentration camp. After emigrating to Israel at the age of 16 and returning to Europe some years later, she came to the U.S in 1956.
Referring to advertisements commonly found in college newspapers, Dr. Ruth said that it upsets her to see abortions advertised and then underneath in smaller print mention of counseling and contraceptives, which should, in her mind, take priority, and which would help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Unwanted pregnancies are the result of ignorance, she told her audience, saying that she remembers coathanger abortions and fears that, if illegal, abortion would then become, as it once was, available only to the wealthy. "Abortion must remain legal."
What is Dr. Ruth's appeal? She is honest. "When I don't know, I will tell you I don't know." She is quick to refer sexual problems warranting a closer examination to a physician's or a therapist's care and has a refreshing sense of humor in dealing with extremely delicate sexual problems that seems to put the nervous questioner at ease.
It is possible, she says, to "teach human sexuality with all the data and facts, and with humor."
Dr. Ruth's candor and attentive manner on the air and in person are proof of this. Answering questions posed by her radio audience or written on cards and read anonymously at a speaking engagement, she remains serious, clinical, even when a not-so-serious question is accompanied by snickers and giggles, as were some at Ramapo. Still she believes that someone out there might need the answer because everyone needs to know that he or she is not alone or abnormal.
Dr. Ruth doesn't mince words. Before the lecture, she sounded off a list of words, the jargon of a sex therapist, as if she were reading a grocery list. As some in the audience squirmed and blushed, Dr. Ruth, in her mid-50s, stood coolly at the podium, clearly aware of the adolescent reactions she prompted.
Newly elected as a fellow to the New York Academy of Medicine, Dr. Ruth has an opinion on most everything and has indeed heard most everything from her patients and audiences.
To the Ramapo College audience Dr. Ruth expressed her thoughts on:
● The Squeal Law (proposed legislation that would require federally funded clinics to report to the parents of minors seeking health care) — "I'm against it."
● Pre-marital sex — "For some people it is right to wait until the wedding night."
● Masturbation — "There is nothing wrong with it and there are no ill effects."
● Sigmund Freud — "Sexually illiterate about female sexuality."
● G-spot — "I'm not saying there is no such thing....(just that) we don't have enough data."
● Homosexuality — "One homosexual thought doesn't make a homosexual."
● The Pill - "I have been against the pill... We don't know enough about it. I recommend the condom and the diaphragm."
● To those who feel they must tell all to a lover or mate — "Keep your mouth shut; not everything has to be shared."
Is sex all there is? "Not for a moment do I think sex is everything in a relationship."
Do drugs improve the quality of sex? No. All one needs is "a good partner and imagination in making sexual activity enjoyable."
Dr. Ruth, who ends most radio dialogues with "Have good sex!" is a mother of two and married to Fred Westheimer. And does her husband ever attend the lectures?
The petite, motherly sex therapist quipped, "I never let my husband come to my lectures because he would raise his hand and I'd have to recognize him. And he'd say, ‘Don’t listen to her. It's all talk.’”


Dr. Ruth’s legacy goes beyond sex, or even being honest about sex. Far beyond. Last November, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Dr. Ruth would become the state's honorary ambassador to loneliness. This may seem trite or ridiculous, but, to repeat her message in the newspaper story above: “Everyone needs to know that he or she is not alone or abnormal.”

That message from Dr. Ruth is a message that people very much need today.

Friday 12 July 2024

Today's Drink Special

There was something at one time called an “egg phosphate.” It was made at drug store soda counters and consisted of a raw egg, lemon syrup, soda water and phosphate. It sounds crazy. Or in the case of the Mintz cartoon Soda Poppa, “krazy.”

I presume that’s what soda jerk Krazy Kat is making in this 1931 cartoon. He is stopped after cracking the egg by something inside it—an old, mini-chicken (how old is that egg, anyways?)



The bird gives him the bird.



The bird un-cracks the egg, and then it's on to the next scene.



Perhaps the notable part of this cartoon is we hear the lyrics to the Krazy Kat theme, as Krazy and his girl-friend sing them to each other. I can’t make them out but they start “You are the cat’s meow” and end with “Poo-Poo-Pa-Doo.”

Ben Harrison gets the story credit, with Manny Gould as the animator. Joe De Nat does a nice job of synchronising the sound and I really like the backgrounds in the wolf’s penthouse. They're more attractive than a lemon soda with a raw egg.

Thursday 11 July 2024

Granting a Wish

“I, I wish I was in the sultan’s palace,” says Aladdin to the genie of the lamp. And it happens, thanks to the effects animation department of the Ub Iwerks studio. In Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (released August 10, 1934), the hero turns in the centre of the scene and a whirlwind envelopes him. Animated swirls appear and, subtly, the background changes from the lamp-sellers dungeon to the palace.



Aladdin appears to be a little too small in the shot above.

The cartoon boasts excellent colour, which I imagine looked better in its original release. The Film Daily proclaimed the cartoon “very good” and called the colour “vivid and appealing.”

There’s not a lot of drama in the story, but we’re treated to silhouette animation of the lamp bouncing around inside the sultan.

Grim Natwick and Berny Wolf receive screen credit for animation and Art Turkisher supplied the score.

The cartoon has some history. Motion Picture Daily, on its front page of August 16, 1934, reported:
First certificate of compliance with Production Code Administration standards issued to a producer not a member of the Hays association goes to P. A. Powers, as producer, and “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” an animated cartoon, as the picture.
The Hays office, at the same time, stressed the point that the approval, Certificate No. 154, was in conformity with the “association’s purpose to to afford all producers, whether or not members, the opportunity to use the facilities which the association has developed to help assure the highest standards of picture production.”
Evidently the Hays people felt the scene where Aladdin lands in a tub with the bathing princess was chaste enough to be okayed.

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Being Served, the English Way

Television comedy from England has run the gamut from broad (the bust-chasing Benny Hill) to surreal (the brilliant Monty Python) to the somewhat satiric (the clever The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). We Canadians, being part of the Commonwealth, may have been exposed to more of it than Americans, who had to rely mainly on PBS importing the shows.

I could name quite a number of them I have enjoyed viewing over the years, but I will pick only one at random to bring up today—the multi-seasoned Are You Being Served?

The characters are archetypes of the English, whose class system and formality at work are foreign to us in North America. The actors couldn’t have been better cast. David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd (the latter spending a season as a writer/performer on Laugh-In) filled scripts with cleverness, silliness and, as you would expect on an English programme, “naughty” double-entendres. It debuted in 1972 and enjoyed life as a feature film and continued life as an inferior sequel.

The cast members were interviewed over the years, especially John Inman. You’ll have to indulge the length of the post as I transcribe three of them. First is from the Liverpool Echo of Oct. 20, 1979.


THE VERSATILE CAPTAIN
By SYD GILLINGHAM
IF there’s a more fascinating exercise for box-watchers than to accompany Frank Thornton when he pops into a department store to do some shopping, then I'd like to hear about it. Fascinating? That's probably putting it mildly. For “Are You Being Served?”, the continuing saga of the Grace Brothers emporium, returned to our screens last night and once again Captain Peacock—Frank Thornton, of course—was laying down the law from his lofty position as floorwalker. Not that Londoner Frank—he was born in Dulwich 58 years ago—makes a habit of popping into department stores. “It's a chore,” he says, he could well do without.
But just what does happen when he goes to buy, say, a pair of socks? “Well, assistants might come up and ask: ‘Are you being served?’ Then they say: ‘Oh dear, dear, dear,’ as they catch themselves coming out with the phrase for real.
"Because the odd thing is that, because of the series, hardly any shop assistant uses that phrase now.
“And they always recognise one of the characters from the series. They tell me, for example: ‘We've got a Mr. Humphries downstairs you know!’
Captain Peacock, Mr. Humphries, Mrs. Slocombe and the rest of the Grace Brothers stalwarts are the result of inspired casting by production (and co-writer) David Croft. He laid precisely the same magic on "Dad's Army," of which he was also producer comedy and co-writer.
"You can't imagine any other bunch of actors doing ‘Dad's Army’ as well as the bunch he got together," says Frank.
"I worked for him first about 1962—I did a couple of things in ‘Hugh and I’—and then again in 1965. And it was seven years before worked for him again in ‘Are You Being Served?’
"I’m not complaining. What I'm saying is that he had nothing which suited me. But when he had the idea of ‘Are You Being Served?’ and wanted to cast the toffee-nosed floorwalker, he thought of me.
"Obviously, from then on there's development of the characters as a result of mutual inspiration between the writers and the actors.
"He casts you because he knows the role will fit you—although I hope I'm not such a pompous twit production (and co-writer), as Captain Peacock!"
Does Frank Thornton, who has an impressive touch of theatrical track record behind him (notably Michael Bentine’s “It’s a Quare World" as far at TV comedy series are concerned), want to escape from the shadow of Captain Peacock and similar roles to take on more serious, dramatic parts?
"Well I love the old boy," he says, "but every actor likes to move around. And, in fact, we moved around more than some people notice, perhaps.
"We normally do six or seven or eight weeks work at BBC-TV for ‘Are You Being Served?’ and that doesn't keep you going, so you have to go off and do something else, whether it's in the theatre, or making television commercials, or whatever.
"We exercise our versatility in moving from job to job. Look at Donald Sinden. From ‘Two’s Company’ to ‘King Lear’ and now ‘Othello’ at Stratford.
About five years ago, for instance, I was at Stratford for a season and played Duncan in ‘Macbeth’—which is a very different cup of tea to Captain Peacock, isn't it?
"Now I am about to appear In Tom Stoppard's play, ‘Jumpers’—a serious play with a lot of comedy in it. And it's quite a challenge for me because it's a very long part.
"The thing is, people can see that most actors are a little more versatile than often they are given credit for."
Frank Thornton was all of five-years-old when he decided he wanted to be an actor. “I suppose I knew I was incompetent at anything else," he laughs. But the need to earn a living saw him working first of all as an insurance clerk.
"At the same time I took evening classes in drama at the London School of Dramatic Art," he says, "and got my first jab on the stage on April Fool's Day, 1940.
"I joined the R.A.F. in 1943, came out in 1947—and started my career in the theatre all over again.”
Home for Frank and his wife, Beryl—they have a married daughter, Jane, and two grandsons—is a house in south-west London.
Working harder
"My wife and I seem to be working harder now than ever before," he says. "We have absolutely no help at all, and there's the house and the garden to look after.
"My wife is a keen gardener, and I've decorated the whole house. I'm a very good paperhanger, you know, if anybody needs me! I've got all the tools, and I restore the odd bit of furniture too."
It seems that in the new series of "Are You Being Served?" Captain Peacock has more than his share of problems.
There's a vacancy in the menswear department and so the management advertise for a junior but the only suitable applicant is Mr. Goldberg (played by Alfie Bass), who until recently owned a small tailoring business.
The fly in Captain Peacock's particular ointment is that Mr. Goldberg happened to be in the Army with him—and his memory of events is a little different to that of the gallant captain!


The series didn’t get off to an auspicious start, as we learn in this interview with the Liverpool Daily Post, Dec. 28, 1976. There are references to the British custom of Panto, a comedy stage production that may consist of some kind of fairy tale, fable or legend, aimed at both children and adults.

SO NOW IT'S ARE YOU BEING RECOGNISED?
says PHILIP KEY
SHE RETURNS breathless from a shopping expedition around Liverpool, a stylish turban atop her head. Then comes a look of alarm as she notices you have beaten her to the stage door appointment.
“Oooh . . . . I am sorry I’ve kept you waiting,” she says (she’s just one minute late). “Come up into my sitting room.”
The sitting room is a 1950’s-style effort just off her dressing room in the city’s Empire Theatre, and home for the next five weeks or so for actress Mollie Sugden.
Mollie—whose Mrs. Slocombe in the telly series Are You Being Served is one of the great comic creations—is playing her first panto season for 30 years.
And that first episode, she points out, wasn’t exactly a classic. It was at Oldham Rep, and took a week to rehearse and a week to play, she remembers.
On that occasion, she was the principal boy. This time around she’s the dame.
Mollie admits frankly that she done big-time pantomime before the simple reason being that no one bothered to ask her. Mrs Slocombe put paid to that.
This year, Liverpool wasn’t the only place that wanted her.
It all began, she says, when she appeared some years ago in the television comedy series Hugh and I as the snooty next door neighbour.
Actress and mum
Then came the Liver Birds written by Carla Lane in which writer John Chapman was called in to help work on the scripts. Carla has just created this role of Sandra’s snooty but basically working class mum.
Chapman said he knew just the person . . . and Mollie got the role.
Then when David Croft came to write department store series Are You Being Served, he too remembered Mollie.
“It’s been a tremendous,” she smiles, “but not right from the start. At one time, the cast thought the show was finished.”
Its pilot in the Comedy Playhouse series was suddenly put on the screen without publicity or warning. It was an amazing five years ago during the Olympic coverage in Munich and the tragic massacre there left a blank evening on the screens. The show was put in at the last minute.
“We really thought that was it, then it was put out again, and that time against another popular comedy series on the other side.
“But when it went on a third time it was up against something like This Week, so people thought: ‘What’s on the other side? The viewing figures shot up and they’ve been there ever since.”
It’s been quite a heady success for Mollie after years in what many would call the theatrical wilderness. She was playing what she called “small but lucrative roles”—mainly North Country women.
Now she admits gleefully to enjoying the fruits of success which includes instant recognition in the street. “Perhaps in Liverpool more than elsewhere people aren’t reticent about talking to you.
“I love it. You know, people in stores will tell me ‘ooh—we’ve got a Mrs Slocombe here, or a Mr Humphries. The only trouble is when I get home. I find I got half the things I went out for!”
Mollie is married to Coronation Street actor William Moore and has 13-year-old twin sons, all of them up in the city for Christmas.
Another funny face
She reckons she manages to combine the role of actress and mum okay, especially when she’s doing television work. “I can see the twins off to school, go and rehearse, and then they see me ironing in the evening, so I must look like a mother to them,” she laughs.
But what about those naughty lines in Are You Being Served, I wonder?
Mollie laughs again and says the great thing about Mrs Slocombe is that she realise doesn’t saying she’s naughty things with double-meanings, and that’s the way she plays it.
“The writers know just how far to go, and I’ve had people coming up to me saying: ‘Oooh, I love your show—it’s so CLEAN’.”
Mollie born in Keighley, Yorkshire, but now settled in Surrey, has had a hectic work schedule since television success.
There’s been a long summer season of the stage version in Blackpool, more filming for the Liver Birds, now the panto, and then on to making more Are You Being Served shows in February.
And although she admits to some luck in her career (“something leads to something else, and that leads on to another thing”), she’s willing to come out behind a bushel and it’s says not ALL luck.
“After all, people aren't going to be laughing at you today because you had a bit of luck 20 years ago.”
Mollie pulls another funny face—she peppers her conversation with highly amusing mugging that has you giggling most of the time—and heads off for some more rehearsal.


Perhaps the most-liked character on the show was Mr. Humphries, played by John Inman. Humphries was a “Whoops, my dears!” stereotype that didn’t go down with some gay people in the 1970s, who thought they were being ridiculed. Inman, like almost anyone in that era, was coy about his own sexuality because of homophobia but, many years later, let it be known he had been in a relationship with a man since before Are You Being Served? appeared on British television.

The difference in attitude back then can be seen by the word gay being in quotation marks (even during the mass AIDS deaths in the 1980s, a Canadian wire service insisted on using the word “homosexual” in its copy, except in direct quotes).

This story comes from the Evening Star, published in Burnley on Jan. 12, 1979.


Talking to Mr Humphries of TV fame . . .
A gentle hint from John . . .
By ALBERT WATSON
“WHETHER I’m gay or whether I’m what they call straight is nobody’s business but mine,” said John Inman. “I just get on my work, and I expect other people to do the same.”
It was a gentler rebuke than it looks in print, gentler than the dishonesty of my question—“Does it bother you that many people assume you are gay”—deserved.
But John Inman is a gentleman, and a very gentle man. Years of having the “mickey” taken have left him cautious, jealous of his privacy, but not bitter.
In voice and mannerism he is very like Mr Humphries, the dapper department store assistant he plays in the successful BBC TV comedy series “Are You Being Served?” which has been described by bisexual Elton John as “an insult to homosexuals.”
“That kind of comment really upsets me,” John Inman told me during a break in rehearsals of the show. “I don’t think I’ve done a bad turn to ‘gays’; in fact, I think I have helped to make them more acceptable.
“There is now a gay character, Mr Humphries, on a mass-appeal television show and people don’t seem to be offended by him.”
Indeed, such is the skill with which John Inman has made the character sympathetic that he frequently gets away with “gay” lines which from the mouth of many other actors would cause outrage.
“Yes,” he agrees. “but we always leave a ‘way out,’ an alternative of understanding the line. If it is too much for you, you can tell yourself that it really meant something else.”
Like Larry Grayson, with whom he can in some ways be compared, John Inman claims a high percentage of female fans. “In fact, I think I’m the only performer to have brought largely female audiences to the Windmill Theatre in London,” he says.
Inman starred for 14 months at the theatre, famous for its nude revues and sex plays, in “Let’s Get Laid” during which time “Are You Being Served?” became popular.
“When we opened, the audience was 99 per cent men; by the time I left, the men were outnumbered,” he told me.
John Inman was born in Blackpool, where he visits his mother as often as he can, and made his stage debut at the South Pier Pavilion at the age of 13.
Later in repertory theatres he tried singing and straight acting, but soon discovered that comedy was his forte.
He moved to London to appear in the stage musical “Ann Veronica,” but the inevitable “resting” periods came and, during one of them, John worked as a window dresser in a men’s store.
He says that Mr Humphries is based on people he met there, but immediately adds: “You know, people who work in stores always say how real the characters in the show are—but its never actually them.
“I have met middle-aged, well-corsetted ladies with purple hair who reckon they know a Mrs Slocombe on the next counter.”
“Are You Being Served?”—along with the spin-off movie, stage shows, and the offers John has had as a result of his success in the series—has served John Inman well.
One of the things he would like to do with his new financial security is to move from his London home into the country—but that plan is hampered by the fact that he can’t drive.
“I’ve tried,” he told me. “but I’m so nervous. I’m wet through before I get in the car—so I've given up and decided to keep death off the road. I’m a good passenger, though—I’m so ignorant of how it all works that I put complete trust in anybody clever enough to make the car go and get it around corners.”
Theatre
Occasionally this lack of mobility can be a real disadvantage, as John discovered when he turned up at an hotel in Norwich late one night and realised next morning that he didn’t know the way to the theatre in which he was to appear.
“I asked for directions and started walking,” he said, “then this Corporation dustcart stopped next to me and the driver asked for my autograph. I said ‘Swop you—my autograph for a lift to the Theatre Royal’ and that’s why I turned up at the theatre in a Corporation dustcart.
“The manager was disappointed; he said if had known he would have got the Press in.”
For the third year in succession, John Inman will be playing Mother Goose in pantomime this winter. “I don’t play her anything like Mr Humphries,” he insists, “though I do get the kids shout ‘I’m free. .’.” Next year he hopes fulfil an old ambition playing “Charley’s Aunt” on tour, and possibly in London. The part, of course, could have been written for him.
And if the BBC asks him to do yet another series of “Are You Being Served,” he will be willing, and none of this nonsense about being restricted by playing the same part for years.
Besides, he seems genuinely to like, and be liked, by the rest of the cast of the show. As our interview came to an end, Trevor Bannister, alias Mr Lucas, came into the room pointing out that the gang was going down to the pub and would John like a lift?
Assured that I had all I wanted, he replied: “I’ll be right down, Trev. Thanks a lot, love.”
And with one bound he was, dare I say it, free.


Most comedies suffer as the years go on. The dynamic wasn’t the same, nor as good in my opinion, when cast members began leaving. It may not be the best British sitcom of all time, but it still entertains audiences, and that’s the goal of any TV show.

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Owl of Tomorrow

Tex Avery fills T.V. of Tomorrow (1953) with quick gags, some of them one-liners.

This example lasts five seconds. Avery supplies a darkened room. The only animation is some eye blinks and a flickering television. Narrator Paul Frees sets it up with the line: “Of course, TV does keep you up late for those night-owl shows.”



The lights quickly come up to reveal a pun.



The only animation is the flickering light from the TV. The human and owls are immobile on a background painting or cel.

Avery used five animators: Mike Lah, Ray Patterson, Bob Bentley, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons. Ed Benedict designed the characters.

Incidentally, there is no mother-in-law joke in this cartoon.

Monday 8 July 2024

A Safe Gag

The last new Bugs Bunny cartoon shown in theatres is full of familiarity. False Hare (1964) features a wolf resembling Ralph Wolf/Wile E. Coyote (except with bloated cheeks), Mel Blanc doing his standard “nephew” voice and a bunch of gags that were variations of ones used time and time again in Warners cartoons.

Here’s one that’s a switch on the “Endearing Young Charms” gag that Friz Freleng was endeared with. Character sets up a musical trap. Bugs doesn’t do the right thing to activate the trap. Character gets frustrated with Bugs’ inability, demonstrates how to do it correctly and BAM!

In this case, Uncle Big Bad has rigged a knife to a desk clerk’s bell. When the bell is rung, it cuts a rope keeping a huge safe aloft. The safe falls on top of the ringer.

In olden days, Bugs didn’t need to have advance knowledge. He was the good guy so, naturally, the bad guy (eg. Yosemite Sam) lost. In this case, writer John Dunn has Bugs clue in by looking up and seeing the safe.



We all know where the gag is going. Bugs deliberately avoids using the little button to sound the bell.



Big Bad doesn’t hit the bell, either. His hand goes past it. That’s because the bell is on Bob Gribbroeck’s background painting. At one time, the button would be animated, but that would cost more money.



The safe doesn’t squash Big Bad, either. The cel with the safe on is slid down in front of a stationary cel of the wolf, just like in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. That saves money, too.



The cartoon was made by the Bob McKimson unit. There’s a cameo at the end by McKimson’s Foghorn Leghorn but even the dialogue, I SAY EVEN THE DIALOGUE, sets it up that you can see that coming, too. TOO, THAT IS.