Tuesday 23 January 2024

Raffy Daffy Riffs

Cartoons from the Art Davis unit had some pretty solid animation. Here’s a fun scene from Riff Raffy Daffy (1948). Policeman Porky has conked vagrant Daffy on the head. He’s upset that he’s hit the duck too hard.

Porky is very expressive here, animated on twos and threes. He closes his eyes and scrunches his face before he goes into his next expression. He curls his lower lip. But Daffy’s okay. There’s some dry brush work by the ink and paint department as Daffy “wakes up.”

There’s a lot of enjoyable animation in this one, with Don Williams, Emery Hawkins, Basil Davidovich and Bill Melendez getting the screen credit; there's a Hawkins scene where Daffy develops rings around his pupils. Bill Scott and Lloyd Turner give Daffy some wit (the cuckoo clock gag feels like something Scott would come up with) and an ending out of nowhere. I love Davis' timing in the tent gag.

During the above scene, Daffy shouts “I love you Hortense!” Before someone rushes to Wikipedia and writes that Porky’s real name is Hortense, let me point out this is more than likely a radio reference. The Henry Morgan Show on ABC had a recurring sketch involving Gerard (Arnold Stang) and his girl-friend Hortense (Betty Garde and others) and that likely inspired this line of dialogue.

Layouts are by Don Smith and backgrounds by Phil De Guard.

Monday 22 January 2024

More Tex and More Obscure Stuff

Yes, this blog is retired but, like the Yowp blog, it seems I end up posting periodically (Yowp will have posts once a month for the next few months).

Some things in animation caught my interest today so I’ll pass them along.

I’m pleased the Warner Archive people are coming out with Blu-rays featuring some of the old Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons. Volume 3 of the “Collector’s Choice” (which “collector” chose these, anyway?) will be out March 12. There are 25 cartoons, and Warners fans should enjoy, well, most of them. Provided, of course, on how they look and sound.

Four of them are by Tex Avery. A Feud There Was with Egghead as Elmer Fudd, has only been released on laser disc. Cinderella Meets Fella stars Egghead (Danny Webb) and Cinderella (Berneice Hansell) as Tex and his writers made fun of the old fairy tale, ending with the pair in a theatre about to watch a newsreel. Egghead Rides Again features Mel Blanc instead of Danny Webb doing his best Joe Penner impression. And there’s I Only Have Eyes For You, with an iceman (Joe Twerp) in love with crooner crazy Katie Canary (Elvia Allman) but who gets stuck with an old crone (also Elvia Allman). “At least she can cook.” It would be great if the original titles had been found for this.

There’s an upgrade to the historic Honeymoon Hotel (1934), the first colour cartoon (Cinecolor) released by Warners. Hey! It shows a man and a woman in bed together. Okay, they’re bugs. But still...

Happily, Art Davis is represented in this release with two cartoons he directed. Davis did a good job with Daffy Duck (my favourite Davis cartoon is What Makes Daffy Duck?) and two Daffys are here: Mexican Joyride and Riff Raffy Daffy. Does anyone except Eddie Selzer and some Warner Bros. bean-counters think the Davis unit should have been disbanded?

For fans of Bugs Bunny with a weird voice, there’s Chuck Jones’ Elmer's Pet Rabbit from 1941.

There are some “eh” cartoons in this volume, and we can be thankful we’re spared the adventures of Daffy and Speedy or Cool Cat. But there’s one real stinker in this collection, and that’s Pre-Hysterical Hare (1958). I don’t know what’s worse, Tedd Pierce’s story, Dave Barry as Elmer Fudd or the Yogi Bear music (the Warners cartoons are about the only place I don’t like the Capitol Hi-Q library).

The other interesting news item comes from Devon Baxter, maybe the best and most dogged of the young animation researchers out there. Devon is working on finding out about the Daffy Dittys series of stop-motion animated shorts produced by Morey and Sutherland. Frank Tashlin left Warners after his final go-around there to work for the company. Six shorts were released by United Artists. We wrote about them a good 12 years ago.

Devon has far more patience and time than I do in hunting down information, and is willing to talk to people to find out what he needs to know. In this case, he’s been in contact with the son of Rev Cheney, an uncredited Warners animator who went to work for Morey and Sutherland in 1945. These frames are from The Cross-Eyed Bull, released before Cheney arrived. The film apparently doesn’t exist.

Cheney continued working for the company when Morey left and it became John Sutherland Productions. Rev was involved with the Harding College propaganda cartoons like Make Mine Freedom and Meet King Joe. I hope Devon will delve into that in a future post on the Cartoon Research blog. The Sutherland cartoons are probably my favourite of the industrial animated shorts.

Devon’s also acquired some other odds and sods, including artwork from Ray Patin’s commercial studio. I am anxious to read about that. He also has some cards from Five Star Productions. One of them is below.

Five Star is the answer to the question “What happened to Norm McCabe after Warner Bros?” He replaced Howard Swift in August 1952 when Swift opened Swift-Chaplin Productions.

I’m always pleased to read new information about old cartoons, even commercial and industrial ones, and I look forward to seeing what Devon has discovered.

Sunday 14 January 2024

The Last Honeymooner

Joyce Randolph was the fourth wheel on The Honeymooners. Unfortunately, that made her the fifth wheel.

Jackie Gleason was the star. Art Carney played his buddy so they did routines together. Audrey Meadows played his wife so they did scenes together. Randolph played Carney’s wife so there was no real need for them to interact a lot.

The Honeymooners began as one of a number of sketches on Gleason’s Cavalcade of Stars show on the Du Mont Network. Randolph was cast after Gleason decreed: “Get me that serious actress.” But when Gleason revived the characters during the 1960s and ‘70s, Randolph was not asked to return. Gleason never explained why (Gleason, I suspect, felt he owed explanations to no one) and if Randolph knew, I don’t believe she ever told anyone. She once remarked she wouldn’t have commuted from New York to Florida to do the ‘60s version, though announcer Johnny Olson did just that.

Still, Randolph became burned into the minds of the American television audience when the same 39 episodes of The Honeymooners went into constant reruns beginning in the late ‘50s. The show became a magnet for nostalgia and Randolph started doing interviews again in the 1980s.

Here are a couple of interviews, the first before the Honeymooners became a series and the second after when Gleason went back to a variety format for one year. First, a feature story from the Albany Times-Union of June 12, 1955.
TV’s Loveliest ‘Straight Man’
Joyce Randolph Finds Fun and Profit as No. 4 On the Gleason Show

By Reg Ovington
FOR years now, Mama, who lives in Detroit, has been sending scolding letters to her daughter, Joyce Randolph, a lovely young thing with green eyes, blonde hair and a lusicious shape that the millions who see her on television don't even suspect, on account of the thing's she's been doing since she came to New York. The letters have changed in the past few years, however.
“They're still complaining letters,” says Joyce, “but nowadays Mama is complaining about something else. Her chief gripe these days is because I play the wife of a sewer worker. 'Can't your husband be somebody with a fancier job?' Mama keeps writing, because the neighbors and her friends make jokes about a girl who had to leave home to go to New York just to get married to a man who works in the sewers.”
Miss Randolph slugged her pretty shoulders. “Can’t you just see me saying to Jackie Gleason, 'Instead of having Art Carney play the part of a sewer specialist, make him a bank president, or something, because Mama doesn't like me to be married to a sewer worker.'
“Also, Mama says that if I wasn't married to a sewer worker, I would get a chance to wear nicer clothes on television, and she complains that whenever my name is mentioned in a newspaper or a magazine, I'm always called 'The Fourth Banana.' Mama says that being called a banana is just as bad for a girl as being called a 'tomato.'”
Mama may complain about having her daughter called a banana, and a fourth one, at that. But not Joyce Randolph. For she finds fun and profit in being fourth on the stalk in The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS-TV. First banana, a term born on the burlesque circuit, means top comic in a show, and that position, of course, is held by proprietor Gleason. Second banana is Art Carney, and third, Audrey Meadows who plays Jackie’s wife in The Honeymooners.
“Playing straight man on a comedy show,” says Joyce, “with stars like Gleason and Art Carney means that your part isn't a top one, but there are compensations. They are all great people to work with. And the work is steady. Most actresses consider themselves lucky if they get one job a month on television, and I'm on almost every week.
Another advantage in working with Jackie Gleason is that the star of the show tries to get an air of spontaneity into his performance and into the work of everyone in his cast. “We've got to keep on our toes all the time,” she says, “because we can never be sure of what Jackie will do. We get our scripts, generally, on Wednesday and then we have a camera rehearsal on Thursday. On Saturday we start rehearsing at about noon, and we work through until show time, with just a break to eat. That's a lot less than most shows rehearse. We do it that way because Jackie believes the show will be more spontaneous if it isn't rehearsed too much. And then, sometimes, in the course of the show, Jackie will do something altogether unexpected, or say something that isn't in the script, or drop a couple lines of dialogue, to make up time lost for unexpected laughs. Art Carney, of course, is a master at ad libbing and he can keep up with Jackie without any trouble. So can Audrey. And after three and a half years on the show, so can I.”
Joyce has been playing Trixie, the sewer specialist's wife, in all but the very first sketch of The Honeymooners. “Before that,” says Joyce, “my mother had another complaint. I played in every TV crime and horror show, and I was always being killed. In one year I was killed 24 times.”
Joyce was shot, she was stabbed, choked, strangled and. hanged, and had her pretty skull bashed in with fire pokers, miscellaneous blunt and even sharp weapons.
“Always,” she says, “I was killed by my boy friend. I was killed so often by my television boy friends that I always expected my real life boy friends to take a gat, a shiv or a poker to me any time. That's what Mama used to complain about.
“ 'It's just terrible,' she used to write to me, 'what they're doing to you all the time. It's a terrible way to make a living, getting killed all the time.' “Playing a straight man is much more relaxing, and a lot steadier,” said Joyce, “than being slammed around and being killed. Even if it does mean playing Fourth Banana.”
This story was in the Detroit Free Press of April 21, 1957. I think it’s funny the paper felt it had to explain who the writer was.
‘I’m Not Drab,’ Says Detroit’s Joyce (Ed Norton’s Wife)
Now She’s Aiming At Glamorous Roles

Widely Known Broadway Columnist
NEW YORK—"I am not dowdy!" says Detroit's Joyce Randolph, who plays the wife of sewer-worker Art Carney on the Jackie Gleason show and she gets almost belligerent about it.
"Next year," she announces, "I'll prove it!"
Joyce, the daughter of the Carl Sirolas of 16853 Stansbury, has been playing Carney's TV wife, "Mrs. Ed—or Trixie—Norton," for six years.
And she's darned determined to get a divorce next season from the drabness and plainness that Gleason’s writers have forced upon her.
With Gleason abandoning "The Honeymooners," Joyce hopes to find herself something slightly more glamorous—and truthfully, she's got the equipment.
SHE WAS SEDUCTIVELY stretched out on a black divan, blond, slim and sophisticated in tight turquoise velvet toreador pants and matching satin top cut Chinese style.
She looked more like Eve Arden than Trixie, and conversed more in refined Detroit than the idiom of a sewer man's wife.
"It wouldn't be so bad," she said passionately, "if people didn't recognize one. But I'm always being stopped in the supermarket or on the street, 'Why, you're so-o-o much younger and prettier than on TV.' I don't know whether to be flattered or hurt."
IT ISN'T THAT Joyce is trying to bite the hand that feeds her. Being almost a folk heroine to millions of TV viewers throughout the county, she admits, is very flattering, indeed.
"But no actress likes being typed," she explained.
"It's gotten so that when my agent submits my name for a dramatic show, the producer sneers, 'Oh, you mean Trixie? Nah, she ain't the type!"
JOYCE'S DECISION to plug sophistication next season has been precipitated by Jackie Gleason himself. There won't be any "Honeymooners" and there won't be any Jackie Gleason Show next Fall.
Even this year when he returned to comedy-variety "live," he was planning to abandon the “Honeymooners” altogether, and Joyce was promised more versatile roles.
It didn't work out that way. The Kramdens and the Nortons were firmly established in the affection of the television audience, and Gleason had to bring them back.
JOYCE ADMITS that since the television script has taken the families on a junket to Europe, she's had better clothes to wear and an occasional song to sing. "But frankly," she confided, "as long as I'm on this show, I'll always be second fiddle to Audrey Meadows, and I dearly love playing leads."
JOYCE IS THE gal who even in Cooley High School was known to her teachers as a potential prima donna who could get temperamental if offered supporting roles. She never was.
"Things did go rather well for me," she acknowledged.
From leads at Cooley High, Joyce went right into the Wayne University Civic Workshop after graduation in 1944.
SHE HAD HER Actors Equity card at 13, and over her parents' objection, joined a touring company of "Stage Door." She was one of six local gals taken on by the company while it played in Detroit.
She later toured with "Abie's Irish Rose" and "Good Night, Ladies," did a Broadway play that closed almost overnight, did stock in Hollywood, started doing "early" television in New York, and settled down as Trixie in 1951.
Joyce is grateful to Trivia for giving her security.
"Much as I wanted a career," she said, "I was always afraid of the uncertainty in the theater."
BUT HER DESIRE for security has been competing for some time with her ambition. Alice Kramden and Trixie Norton are friends on the screen. In reality, Audrey Meadows and Joyce are friendly rivals.
Undercover battles are fought every week, as the two ladies jockey for position.
REHEARSALS GO something like this:
The director calls for song. Joyce and Audrey oblige. Joyce's voice is Mermanesque, Audrey's rather soft and sweet. Audrey is drowned out.
"Softer," she cautions Joyce, and the latter obediently puts the damper on.
“Comes the night of the performance," Joyce finished the tale, "and suddenly I notice Audrey's soft voice has become remarkably strong. In fact, she now is louder than I am.
"Naturally, I pull out the stops, and so we both end up shouting. It's kind of funny, really, because in a way it goes with the characters we portray, and I suppose the audience never knows."
JOYCE THINKS her ambition was beginning to flag a couple of years ago.
“I'd be wifely on the screen, and then I'd trot home to an empty apartment. A career can be lonely."
A year and a half Joyce decided a career was fine, but marriage was better. She married a handsome actor turned stock-broker, Richard Charles.
"MARRIAGE, strangely enough, has been good for my career," said Joyce.
She explained that since her husband is an ex-actor he en joys living the theatrical life vicariously.
"He keeps prodding me when sometimes I'd just as soon take it easy," she smiled.
Dick also pastes up her clippings and answers her fan mail.
SHE GETS FAN letters from all over, including—and this has Joyce shaking her head in amazement—Brazil.
"We've all been wondering whether they get the Gleason Show in South America, whether they can understand it if they do, and why they took a particular delight in Trixie.
"As far as I know," says Joyce, "I'm the only one on the show who got requests for autographed pictures."
JOYCE ALSO HAS fan club now. "About 73 members," she boasted.
Originally, she confessed she was rather bewildered having a fan club.
"What in the world does one do with a fan club?" she had asked her husband. "Relax, and enjoy it," he had counseled. "After all, Audrey has one, too."
THE MOST CONCRETE thing her fan club has done so far has been to write letters to all the womens magazines, clamoring for stories about Joyce and Trixie.
In return for their efforts, Joyce invites members to her home whenever they are in New York.
“The nicest thing about fans," she declared, "is that they like me better than dowdy Trixie."
The fans liked her even until her death, which happened yesterday at the age of 99.

Friday 12 January 2024

Radio's Dix Davis

Someone in Hollywood once warned about the perils for actors of working with children or animals, as they will steal any scene.

Jack Benny ignored that. He knew that it didn’t matter who got the laughs on his radio show, it was still HIS radio show, and he’d get the credit for the hilarity.

He employed a number of boys and girls on his show—toward the 1950s, he and his writers came up with a Scouts-like boys club—and Jack trusted their talents enough to give them whole scenes on their own. They were a success.

Jack tried another boy character before that in 1941. For me, it didn’t work. “Belly Laugh Barton” was supposed to be a child prodigy comedy writer. Precocious boys were a staple of radio comedy, but Barton behaved like a complete jerk to Benny for absolutely no reason. The character was soon dropped.

It was no fault of the actor, a young man who turned in fine performances on radio as Randolph on A Date With Judy starting in June 1942, the bellhop on The Ransom Sherman Show and Pinky on One Man’s Family, and appeared in the 1940 movie version of Our Town. His name was Dix Davis.

Word has come from people specialising in the old-time radio field that Dix passed away earlier this month at the age of 97 in Dorset, Vermont.

Davis had begun his acting career a few years before being tapped by Benny. A blurb in the May 26, 1938 Hollywood Reporter mentions his casting in “Breaking the Ice” for a company called Principal, followed a year later with “Singing Cowgirl” for Grand National. But he found a home in radio, starting on a broadcast with Rudy Vallee in 1939, not only in comedy, but performing on Lux Radio Theatre and in the 1942 version of Lionel Barrymore’s acclaimed “A Christmas Carol” on NBC.

Like seemingly every kid actor, Dix’s age was fudged to make him younger and, therefore, more employable. He was born September 12, 1926. His profile in the July 1940 edition of Radio and Television Mirror declares he was “not quite ten.” The arithmetic doesn’t add up in this story from the Sacramento Bee of June 27, 1942.

DIX DAVIS, boy actor on the Ransom Sherman show, is doing his own homework from now on. And there’s a lively story behind that action.
It was only a few weeks ago that the 13 year old actor brought his grammar and mathematics assignments to work on between his radio rehearsals. Immediately, Ransom Sherman, Actress Shirley Mitchell and Songstress Martha Tilton volunteered to assist Dix. The next time Dix came to rehearsal with another batch of homework, the three again offered to assist him.
Dix thanked them politely this time, and firmly refused their offer. Pressed for his reasons for refusing, Dix finally admitted that when they helped him the first time, his assignments were returned to him mostly graded less than fifty. It turned out the adult touches were too apparent to the teacher.

The March 1, 1942 edition of Radio Life reported on an unusual occupational hazard:

Dix Davis, who played little Alvin Fuddle on the "Blondie" show, created a problem when he showed up wearing a pair of squeaking huaraches which amplified to proportions of a forest fire over the mike. He had to act in stocking feet and hope the cold bugs wouldn't see him.

He had attended the Mar-Ken farm in Van Nuys, which also included Jimmy Lydon and Gloria De Haven among its student body. Virginia Vale’s syndicated column on June 2, 1944 stated that Davis was a freshman at USC—and had “just turned 16”!

Dix’s acting career went into hiatus. The Valley Times of March 28, 1946 reported he had been inducted into the army that day at Fort MacArthur. He returned to radio acting when he was discharged but, like many child actors, he was at an age where he moved on to other things. The time to play an obnoxious pre-teen comedy writer was over. The July 1948 Radio and Television Mirror informed readers:

Dix Davis, who plays Randolph Foster on the Date With Judy show, has sadly turned down a summer stock bid. He'll be graduated from the University of Southern California this June and is going to get to work on winning his master's degree with some courses during the summer session. He's majoring in foreign trade, which sounds like a forward looking idea.

Regular acting jobs more-or-less ended for him the following year, as the Reporter mentioned Dix had taken a year’s leave of absence from One Man’s Family to tour Europe.

In November 1942, Davis began a role as the son on CBS’s replacement series Today at the Duncans, which starred long-time supporting actor, “Mr. Yeeeeeeees,” Frank Nelson. The show was written by Fred Runyon, who later became a columnist for the Pasadena Independent. He has a sad tale in the paper’s edition of August 4, 1954:

SOME years ago the writer did a radio show for the Columbia Broadcasting system which featured the travails of a young married couple with a precocious 10-year-old son. The kid’s name was Dix Davis. He was a teriffic [sic] little actor and during rehearsal breaks or before going on the air he would regale me with tales of all the things he wanted to do and be when he grew up. “I wanna be in the foreign service and travel all around the world,” he would say, following it up with a prodigious recitation of geographical knowledge highly uncommon for a small squirt.
Yesterday he dropped in the office. Didn’t recognize him. The moppet had turned into a grown man.
“Where’ve you been?” I asked. “Around the world.”
“You mean you . . . ”
“Sure. Remember I used to tell you some day I wanted to enter the foreign service? Well, I did. And I’ve sure been around.”
WHEN I was 10 years old I knew what I wanted to be but a kindly fate intervened. I wanted to be the fellow who fearlessly swept out the lion cage in the Golden Gate Park zoo. While still handling a more or less related product the contact is figurative rather than literal.
Recalling the poet who mused: “A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,” I marveled that this former youngster had been able to fulfill a childhood dream.
“Very few are fortunate enough to pilot such ambitious determinations through puberty,” I reminded my visitor.
I looked for a confirming smile to light his face but a frown appeared instead. He waited some time before he spoke.
“I quit,” he blurted.
“You what?” I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
“I quit, the foreign service. Resigned. Couldn’t take it.”
“Too strenuous?”
“No. Too disappointing.”
LITTLE by little it came out. This young man’s disillusion. He has just returned from his last tour of duty with the United States Information Office in Pakistan.
For me his revelations were particularly significant because they bore out what I have been trying to say in this column for some time—that we are NOT telling the story of the real America to the people of foreign lands. We, the people, are not getting through to the human beings we would like to help. Only we, the politicians, are getting through. Only we, the careerists, are speaking. In other words, the real story, the convincing story, the true story upon which peace could securely stand, is being muffed not told.
SO a young man, who dreamed from the age of 10 of a chance to do a job, has picked up his homburg and walked out of government service.
“I think the real job for me is not there,” he confessed, “but here. Here, telling Americans the size of the opportunities we are missing. The big job to be done right now is not in foreign countries but on our own soil.” THE child I once knew, while not an embittered man, is far from a happy one. I, too, probably would have gotten tired sweeping up after lions.

There’s a little happier post-script, provided by Oakland Tribune columnist Robin Orr in the Dec. 30, 1970 issue, who did a “Where are they now” piece on the cast of One Man’s Family.

Dix Davis, who played Pinky, one of Hazel’s twin sons on the show, speaks Russian, French, Pakastani [sic] “and maybe Chinese by the this time,” travels the world over for the State Department and has just returned from two years in Paris with the Vietnam peace talks.

Child actors from the Golden Days of Radio are still out there—Harry Shearer of Jack Benny’s show comes to mind—but when it comes to those who were on the air in the 1930s, Dix Davis must have been one of the last.

Here is his debut with Jack Benny, October 19, 1941.