Hungry Sword

A sword in the wall develops a mouth and teeth to try to bite Bimbo as he runs away in “Bimbo’s Initiation” (1931).

This has to be one of the best Fleischer cartoons of all time. Clever layouts, imaginative story and neat gags.

Hans, the Personality

It’s an amazing concept, if you think about it. A late night network talk show with people who can actually talk. Not audience noise. Not cameras flying around. Not vapid, non-spontaneous chats to push coming movie or TV projects. But raconteurs, literate people with a command of the language and something interesting, relevant or amusing to say.

Such people were found on television at one time, and one place to find them was the Jack Paar Show (aka “Tonight”). And one was Hans Conried.

I suppose Conried is known today as the voice of Snidely Whiplash on the Dudley Do-Right cartoons. In the ‘40s, he made a good living with other over-the-top characterisations on radio sitcoms and variety shows. When radio started dying in the ‘50s, he put his dialect humour to use as Uncle Tonoose on “Make Room For Daddy” and his quickness to the test on the game show “Pantomime Quiz.”

Yet Conried made a bit of a name for himself with somewhat regular appearances on the Paar show. Paar assembled kind of a stock company of folks who would come on and tell stories, including Alexander King, Oscar Levant and dotty Dody Goodman. And as this Associated Press story indicates, Conried had mixed feelings about it, though he surely couldn’t have disliked the exposure. It ran August 18, 1959.

Hans Conried Is Paar Personality

NEW YORK (AP)—Hans Conried was brooding the other day over the new phenomenon of “personality” as introduced to modern life by American television.
After years of steady employment as a perfectly respectable actor everything from Shakesperean roles to mad scientists, Conried went on the Jack Paar Show and quite soon found himself a “personality.”
“At first I felt naked,” he recalled. “There I was, Conried playing Conried, with no role to hide behind. I had to talk, and that wasn’t too hard, of course. I’ve been talking since I was a year old. Then, I guess. I began creating the personality of Hans Conried, a role to hide behind.”
But who, asked a fellow, really is Conried? What is he?
Conried fixed his dark eyes on the fellow somberly, and offered an item, a clue: The true Conried lives happily with his wife and two sons in a large California house that contains 7,000 books, most of which he’s read.
But he refused to divulge anything further about the secret life of Hans Conried except that he wants another bookcase in his house and there doesn’t seem to be room for it.
Conried has become a “personality” thanks to his appearances on the Paar show and other TV panel programs. But it hasn’t hurt his professional career as an actor. In fact, his career has been enhanced, with more offers for better roles.
Next Sunday, for example, he will co-star with William Bendix in “The Ransom of Red Chief,” an which also NBC-TV features special Mickey Rooney’s 9-year-old son, Teddy.
Conried admits that he enjoys playing the role of Conried, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, on TV panel programs. But he won’t confide how he became a “wit”—or even that he is one. He is, he insists, just an actor.

Step Down

Two makes of cars used to get kidded a lot on network radio shows in the late ‘40s. One was the Studebaker. Its wrap-around windows confused some people about which end was the front and which was the back.

The other was the Hudson, which invented a wonderful marketing gimmick starting in the 1948 model year with its “step-down” design. The floor of the car was six inches lower than the door sill. That made the car look sleeker than others in the hugely-competitive post-war years.

So it was that both cars got joked about in Tex Avery’s automotive opus “The Car of Tomorrow.” The Studebaker stand-in drove sideways. And the scene featuring the ersatz Hudson shows a man stepping down and, naturally, disappearing as he falls for three seconds before a crash and a camera shake (his hat remains twirling in mid-air briefly before dropping).

Eventually the step-down design didn’t help Hudson. The company merged with Nash in 1954—the same year Avery left theatrical cartoons for good.

Rich Hogan and Disney’s Roy Williams helped Avery with the car gags. The narrator in this one sounds a bit like Verne Smith, Ozzie and Harriet’s announcer, but I don’t know who it is.

Porky Pig on Sunset Boulevard

One of the uncountable great moments in “You Ought To Be in Pictures” is when Porky Pig drives like a maniac to get back to the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. It’s point-of-view footage with Porky and his little car weaving in and out of traffic. I don’t know how someone shot it without being killed. The camera must have been on a motor scooter or something.

Curious about where Porky is? He’s rushing east along Sunset Boulevard, not too far from the Warners lot. Here’s Porky passing ‘Covered Wagon Trailers.’

Mark C. Bloome was near Sunset and Wilcox. Bloome ran a chain of tire stories. The Los Angeles Times published this obituary.

Bloome has gas for 13 9/10 cents a gallon. You may cry now.

Next, Porky whizzes by Fiedler Field. There were two ball parks by that name. The first was at Sunset and Ivar, seating 1,500 in splinty seats (the second park at 420 Fairfax was considerably larger). Both were named for Colonel Marty Fiedler, a huge promoter of women’s baseball. Note the Coca-Cola sign.

To your right is Chappell’s Cafe.

There are cars galore in this scene, but only one I can identify. The second car to your right is a 1936 Studebaker Dictator Coupe. You can tell by the bat-wing rear window. Evidently the people at Studebaker didn’t think that “Dictator” was a really poor choice for a name in the ‘30s.

The signal says “GO,” Porky. No amber lights back then.

And this frame is about the clearest one of a sign post in the whole scene. If you blow up the picture enough, you can make out a “Gower St.” above the traffic light. Porky is now in the famous Gower Gulch, where the cowboys from the San Fernando Valley would hang out hoping to get work as extras in movie westerns.

At the corner of Gower and Sunset is Columbia Drugs (you can kind of make out the Columbia sign on the building. I suspect it’s called that because the studios of the Columbia Broadcasting System (KNX) in Columbia Square were almost kitty-corner. It’s also mere steps (or stumbles, as the case may be) from Brittingham’s, the bar of choice of Tedd Pierce.

Here’s a shot of the same corner taken from atop CBS in 1940, Brittingham’s roof in the foreground. The water tower may give an idea how far this is from the Warners lot. The Jerry Fairbanks studio is a block north of the drug store at Sunset and Beechwood, with the Hollywood Film Labs next to it. Both were buildings that date back to the silent film days.

And the same area today. No Columbia Drugs, no Porky, but the old Fairbanks studio and Film Labs building survive (though not visible in this picture). The bench and the traffic light are gone, too, but the palm tree that was next to them has grown a bit.

Perhaps this is a better indication about how far Gower Gulch was from the Schlesinger studio on the Warner lot. The building at Fernwood and Van Ness is still used by KTLA. Brittingham’s and the old CBS building next door have been gutted.

Thus ends our little tour down Sunset Boulevard of 1940, just one of the delightful things in this great Friz Freleng cartoon. The combination of live action and animation, the staff cameos, Daffy’s singing and dancing, even Leon Schlesinger’s acting make this a terrific cartoon by any standard.

Singing Star Teddy Powers

One of the great, long-time cast members of the Jack Benny radio and TV shows was Teddy Powers.

You don’t remember Teddy Powers? You should.

Of course, he wasn’t using the name Teddy Powers then. He tossed out that stage name and picked another. He called himself Dennis Day.

It’s an oft-told story in old-time radio circles about how Dennis got his job on the Benny show. But here’s probably the most contemporary version. His first appearance on the show was October 8, 1939. This story appeared in the radio section of the New York Sun on October 21st, accompanied by an artist’s portrait of Dennis that we can’t reproduce. The part about Verna Felton’s hiring is new on me.

The New Day in Radio
Jack Benny’s Young Tenor Won Place Over Horde of Applicants.

Take one natural tenor voice, add an eagerness to achieve prominence, mix well with an ingredient known as ambition to justify parental faith, sprinkle generously with good old Irish luck, stir briskly in a New York cauldron and you have Dennis Day’s recipe for success.
The local boy who’s making good in a great big way as Jack Benny’s tenor discovery on the Sunday night NBC series out In Hollywood had sung a note professionally four months ago. And as recently as last November he hadn’t even considered earning a living as a singer.
More than a few New Yorkers will remember Day as one Eugene Dennis McNulty, son of a city engineer, choir boy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, second ranking honor student at Manhattan College, president and soloist of that school’s glee club, and winner of Mayor LaGuardia’s vocational scholarship upon his graduation in 1938.
“Mac,” as he was better known in those days, chose to exercise the scholarship by accepting a job at Radio Station WNYC. His four amateur appearances with Larry Clinton’s NBC Campus Club the previous spring had whetted his appetite for radio. But far from becoming an immediate tenor sensation, Mac put in his time at WNYC as a glorified office boy, saving every penny he could toward the day when he could afford to enter law school. At times he showed up at WHN where as Teddy Powers he sang as soloist with the Ballou and Albert orchestras.
In October an appendectomy upset his well-laid plans When he was released from the hospital his savings were gone and he was faced with the necessity of making money quickly to regain lost ground.
Friml Recognized Talent.

Spurred on by Rudolph Friml Jr., who recognized his vocal talent after hearing him at a party, McNulty took the more appealing professional name Dennis Day (his own middle name plus his grandmother’s maiden name) and began the heart-breaking routine of auditions. He was rewarded finally in June, when Del Peters of CBS signed him for the tenor spot on Ray Block’s Musical Varieties. He started at the stupendous salary of $21 per week, of which an agent got 10 per cent.
A faux pas made during the second and last broadcast with Block made Dennis believe that he had snuffed out a promising career. After singing one song Dennis stepped out of the studio momentarily for a drink of water. Maestro Block, crossing him up, went immediately into the introduction of Day’s next song instead of a band number. Dennis reached the mike on cue, but his first note should have been put through a wringer.
The error wasn’t as tragic as Dennis had assumed, however, for he next was given the vocal berth on Leith Stevens’s “Accent on Music,” and was making his debut on this CBS series when Mary Livingstone heard him. She located his manager, obtained a record of the broadcast and flew with it to Jack, who was then in Chicago. After playing the record Jack returned to New York to audition Day.
Over 200 Vocalists In Try-outs.
All in all, Jack listened to more than 100 of the nation’s best tenors during the summer, and his radio producer, Murray Bolen, heard that many more. But Dennis, a shy youngster who came along about number fifty, had the inside track from the moment Jack heard him.
Funny thing, too. Last June, when Day heard that Kenny Baker wouldn’t be with Jack this fall he stroked that piece of Blarney Stone without which he wouldn’t feel completely dressed, and immediately was seized with the feeling that he was destined to be the next Jack Benny tenor. Common sense told him that it was a crazy idea, since he had only one professional broadcast behind him at the time, and a few weeks later, when Jack Benny asked him to audition, Dennis felt as if he’d known about it and had [two words missing] it all along.
[Dennis left New York for Hollywood and] arrived early in September and made an immediate hit with the rest of the gang. But still no contracts were signed. On the spur of the moment Jack embarked for Treasure Island, pushed on to New York, Detroit and Chicago, and headed home with his mind made up to send for Dennis and give him a trial. But when Jack reached Hollywood he found that Dennis was still in town. No one had told him to go home. Dennis, figuring that he ought to stay under cover lest the cat get out of the bag and spoil his chances, had been practically hiding out for four weeks—and was he homesick!
Selected Own Stage Mother.
Homesick . . . mother . . . stage mother!! Jack had an idea. Why not introduce Dennis by means of a hard-boiled, domineering stage mother, who’d see to it not only that Dennis was protected from Hollywood, but also that Jack’s life was made characteristically miserable?
Benny, his secretary, Harry Baldwin; his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin; Mary Livingstone and Producer Murray Bolen began auditioning “stage mothers,” with Dennis sitting in. They finally eliminated all but two, voted, and wound up in a three-three deadlock. “Dennis, it’ll be your mother,” said Jack. “You cast the deciding vote.”
Thus Dennis Day, probably the only lad on record who’s had the privilege of choosing his own mother, said: “I like Miss Felton, Mr. Benny. She sounds like she’d be a world of protection to me. And so Verna Felton, who has been mother to Phil Harris, Don Wilson and “Tom Sawyer Benny,” became the bass-voiced maternal protector of Dennis Day.
Now that he’s been made a regular member of the Jack Benny gang and is succeeding in one of the toughest spots so young a singer ever had to fill, there to just one question that’s uppermost in Dennis Day’s mind: “Mr. Benny, will we do a show or two from New York this year?”

Day turned out to be a brilliant find. Somewhere along the way, Benny and his writers discovered he could do broad dialects and comic impressions, and enhanced the show by adding them to the scripts. And his timing was tops too, something you can probably say about all the main cast members on the Benny show. Day died June 22, 1988. He had a 40-year marriage and a longer career in entertainment. You might say a break and talent were his special Powers.

Boing Boing, You’re Dead

Note: Since I bashed UPA earlier in the week, here’s a post for those of you who are fans of the studio.

There’s a pretty good chance you haven’t seen the 1950s cartoons “Prehistoric Eohippus,” “Jittery Deer-Foot Dan” and “The Unenchanted Princess.” The last one sounds like a Fractured Fairy Tale from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, and kind of looks like one (observe to your right) but these cartoons were all contained within a long-vanished TV programme called “The Boing-Boing Show.”

It starred Gerald McBoing-Boing (why it wasn’t called “The McBoing-Boing Show” isn’t clear) and was produced by UPA, the cartoon studio that bought the story rights to the character from Dr. Seuss, completely redesigned him in the flat UPA style, then won an Oscar. Like anything UPA, critics loved the show. Daily Variety’s review came in its December 17, 1956 edition.

A new television cult undoubtedly will spring up as a result of the arrival of Gerald McBoing-Boing on the video scene. And, as is the case with all cults, the vociferous supporters will meet with equally vociferous opposition. In the long run, however, “The Boing Boing Show” should settle down to enough of a following to more than justify its place on the television screens; it’s a light-hearted, humorous and frequently charming entry.
Initialler sets forth a format encompassing animated cartoon treatment of a pair of novel-tunes, “A Horse of Course” and “Miserable Pack of Wolves,” plus a pair of cartoon shorts. For the opener, one is the classic fable of the origination of Gerald and the other is fable based on the life of the French painter, Raoul Dufy. Latter packs some interesting art world information into its colorful and whimsical footage to provide an intriguing segment. The “McBoing-Boing” original, of course, still stands as solid fare.
Animation hews to the high UPA quality throughout, but there appeared to be some difficulty with the color on the original and some segments showed to better advantage on black-and-white screens. Show features an excellent original musical theme by Chico Hamilton. Bill Goodwin does an easy job as narrator. It is, for the time being, a CBS-house show.

The show ran for a half hour starting at 5:30 p.m. every other Sunday (2:30 on the West Coast). It was off the air by mid-March. Realistically, it didn’t have a chance. The reasons for the demise can be found in the syndicated TV Keynotes column of January 15, 1957:

Boing! Gerald’s Comic But Expensive! $70,000 For 30 Minutes Viewing

Probably the brightest and most ingenious TV show to come out this winter is the Sunday afternoon half-hour cartoon series, the Boing-Boing Show. The title is taken from UPA’s first big cartoon hit, Gerald McBoing-Boing, the little boy who only speaks in sound effects.
Gerald plays host, introducing four cartoon segments, running from three to six minutes, with musical backgrounds about such people as painter Raoul Dufy, The Average Giraffe, a Sad Lion, the Twirliger Twins, and a little girl who hits wolves on the nose.
The appeal of the cartoons comes from the UPA approach known on TV first in commercials—the Harry and Bert ones, the Mr. Magoo beer ads, etc. The UPA approach is simplicity, a light touch, stylized drawings, and a fresh use of color influenced by painters like Picasso, Matisse, Braque. The approach also differs in that artists create the show.
$70,000 Show
The big problem for UPA on the TV series is the high cost, said to be around $70,000 for 30 minutes of animation, which CBS is putting up while looking for a sponsor. So in conceiving a segment, producer Bob Cannon, and color expert and choreographer Jules Engel have to eliminate as much production value as possible.
“It’s a good discipline,” said Mr. Engel the other day at the small UPA studio in Burbank near the huge Warner Brothers lot. “We have to get to the point quicker.”
Getting artists who can work in the UPA style is another problem. Training them takes time. “We had one talented young man who was here six or eight months before he suddenly saw what we were trying to do,” said Engel. “We spend our time trying to take things out of pictures.”
So Simple It’s Difficult
It’s been a long pull for UPA trying to put their style over. War training films and their early cartoons helped a bit, but not many backers jumped on their side. Producer Cannon remembers vividly telling his wife when he began the first Gerald McBoing-Boing show. “We’re going to do it this way or it’s the end.” Most of the Hollywood criticism after the show was, “but it’s too simple — looks like anybody can do it.”
Mr. Cannon says his job now is “in getting out of the way of the guys who do the work.” The trouble, for a while, was trying to pick the artists who could do the best job. He gives credit to the artists, the story men and the musicians for the conception of the segments. “That’s what attracted the musicians like Shorty Rogers,” said Mr. Cannon, “the fact everyone could speak up out here.”
A story idea is tossed about between all groups and someone might take off with it. “In the beginning several were too costly and we’ve learned now we never should have considered them. There are others,” Mr. Cannon continued, “like a series we had pegged on painters, but we never finished. We either couldn’t get the right artist, or the story dwindled, or the cost became prohibitive.”

Stories, cost and lack of sponsorship all contributed to the show’s demise, though it was brought back for a short rerun. Let’s face it. Who wants to watch a half hour of charm and whimsey, other than maybe Bobe Cannon? (Bill Scott, the future Rocky and Bullwinkle producer fired by the studio during the Communist scare, returned to try to make the stories funnier. I can only imagine Cannon’s reaction).

Life magazine evidently profiled the show and assigned photographer Ralph Crane to the story. He took pictures of cels or layout drawings that had been tacked up on a cork board. As the cartoons themselves have never been released on home video that I know, this will give you a bit of an idea of the graphic style.

This is from one of the cartoons starring the Twirliger Twins. They appeared in “Follow Me,” “Alphabet Song,” “Average Giraffe,” “The Violin Recital” and “The Ballet Lesson.”

“The Unenchanted Princess.” Besides Bill Scott’s presence as a writer on the series, there’s another Jay Ward connection as this short was narrated by Edward Everett Horton, the man who performed the same delectable task on Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales.

These are likely from “Martians Come Back.”

“The Historic Eohippus.”

Don’t know about the top frame but the second is from “Outlaw” (aka “Jittery Deer-Foot Dan”). Stan Freberg provides a voice.

I suspect the top drawing is from “The Painter.” The bottom may be from “The Merry-Go-Round in the Jungle.” I’m pretty certain I’ve seen that cartoon somewhere, perhaps it was one of those Jerry Beck rarities that was on line for awhile.

There are other photos from this shoot that you can see on line. Even if you’re not a UPA fan—and I’m not crazy about much of their stuff—the artwork is interesting and worth a look. Click HERE.

By the way, a number of cartoons on the Boing-Boing show featured inventors and other characters from history. I can’t help but think of the Mr. Peabody segment on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Many of the same artists and writers that toiled at UPA in its pretentious days toiled on Rocky, one of the least pretentious TV cartoon shows ever. From what I can gather about the “Boing Boing Show,” they tried to leave pretentiousness behind there, too.

Dance of the Van Beuren Maidens

Indian braves dancing in a circle reveal themselves to be maidens when hot jazz erupts in “Redskin Blues” (1931).

Being a pre-1934 cartoon, the maidens engage in pelvic thrusts in cycle animation.

Yes, a Jewish Indian appears and the cartoon ends bizarrely with a mouse scaring everyone. A bizarre ending? Sure! It’s a Van Beuren cartoon.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Cartoon

What was with UPA and petulant children anyway?

First, they made a cartoon called “Family Circus” starring a little girl who’s jealous of the new baby in the family. Then there was “Bringing Up Mother” starring a little boy who’s jealous of the new baby in the family. Then there’s “Christopher Crumpet” about a screaming child who magically turns himself into a chicken because he doesn’t get his own way. Then we have “Spare the Child” (1955) about a little jerk who magically turns himself adult-sized, while shrinking, and then verbally abusing, his father (who didn’t do the same to him) because he doesn’t like being punished for not picking up after himself.

The cartoon features an uncredited Hal Peary who, in 1950, walked away from a starring role on “The Great Gildersleeve” radio show and into the waiting arms of Bill Paley, waving a seven-year, pay for play-or-no-play contract to jump from NBC to CBS. It was a bad move for both of them. Peary’s show, which critics noted was too much like Gildersleeve to be a mere coincidence, lasted a season. CBS couldn’t sell it and was forced to cut the rate card to try to swing a sponsorship. There was talk of Peary taking it to television, but that evaporated with his listening audience. NBC carried on with Peary sound-alike Willard Waterman as Gildersleeve and kept him in the role when the show went to TV, rejecting Peary in the process.

Peary went back to what he had been doing in San Francisco in 1927—spinning records, first at WMGM in New York, then on KABC in Los Angeles by May of 1954. He was handed the morning show (and read his own news) in early July and that’s what he was doing when UPA signed him to narrate this cartoon (Variety, Nov. 26, 1954). Peary couldn’t have been hurting for cash; Variety reported in August 8, 1957 he was living comfortably off his residuals in Manhattan Beach.

Anyway, back to the cartoon.

The designs were by Bob Dranko and they hewed to what was becoming a cliché at UPA—flat scenery and transparent furniture though, admittedly, not all the backgrounds are flat. Still, they’re attractive and Dranko’s colour selections are good, too. I can’t snip together all the pans of the drawings but here are a few examples.

And what’s he doing to his dad’s car?

Critics just doted over these cartoons. Fine, I suppose. But, at the same time, they sneered at some of the greatest cartoons in history. Witness this letter to the editor in the November 10, 1954 edition of Variety:

Editor, Variety:
I notice in a recent Variety that Hollywood’s cartoon makers are meeting to honor Walter Lantz. I should like to suggest to them (excluding Disney and Bosustow) that they discuss ways and means of making cartoons attractive and entertaining once again instead of vulgar displays of violence and viciousness. Their creations these days are made up of crude and unrelated incidents in which ugly animals inflict the most painful and cruel acts upon each other.
In a recent Tom and Jerry the cat’s whiskers were torn out and its claws cut off; it was frozen, battered into different shapes, squashed and stripped of its fur. “Bugs Bunny” [shorts] are the same. This happens in cartoon-after-cartoon without relief; eyes are bloodshot, teeth fall out, ugly lumps rise on heads and dynamite is the climax to every scene. It’s enough to make sensitive people ill, and those who go to see intelligent pictures must sit through this so-called entertainment. And they are shown to children by the score on Saturday afternoons!
Do the makers of these cartoons not realize what harmful effects these horrors have on children and adults in their appreciation of films and attitude toward, and treatment of, animals? If it is not possible for them to use intelligent stories and artistic interpretation, as do the UPA and Disney studios, then the other producers should stop making cartoons, for they are debasing one of the most skillful and expressive forms of film making.
This much is certain: if producers do not cut out this violence there will soon be such as outcry from parent-teacher associations that they will bring stricter censorship upon themselves. All that is necessary is a little beauty, art and imagination. They cost no more than the ugliness we see at present.
(CBC Film Commentator)

Evidently Mr. or Ms. Canadian Taxpayer-Funded Movie Watcher and other critics hadn’t really been watching UPA cartoons all that carefully. Perhaps they had been mesmerised by the artwork style or the lack of talking human-like animals. What would PTA groups have thought if they stopped to realise this cartoon is about an abusive, self-centred child who didn’t learn his lesson (The kid walks out at the end of this cartoon with his fists clenched. He’s a candidate for anger management when he really becomes an adult). Or what about UPA’s bread-winning series that laughed at an old half-blind man. Why not a “cruel” label there?

On the other hand, at the end of 1953, the Motion Picture Herald’s annual poll of “Money-Making Stars” declared Bugs Bunny the winner in the shorts category for the ninth year in a row. He received more votes than Gary Cooper, winner in the feature category. Tom and Jerry (and the Tex Avery/Dick Lundy MGM cartoons) were number two. The Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes, separate from Bugs, came in eighth. What about Mr./Ms. CBC’s choices? Disney was third and Magoo was seventh. I’ll side with the exhibitors, thanks.

Note: some rare UPA art on the blog coming this weekend.

Not Quite a Cartoon Decapitation

The MGM short “The Counterfeit Cat” should probably be named “The Counterfeit Dog.” After all, the cat is pretending to be a dog.

Nevertheless, the cat rips the top off a dog’s head to use as a disguise. Here’s some nice squash and stretch by the dog when it realises something has happened.

I’ve always wondered how the dog hears without any ears.

Mike Lah, Grant Simmons and Walt Clinton are the animators in this fine Tex Avery cartoon.