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Monday, September 15, 2014

Something Sorta New In Cartoons

It's 1929, and Rudy Ising Has a Cartoon Deal For You

When Bosko Was The Freshest Talk-Ink Kid In Town

How many Disney artists in the late 20's sat at easels scheming to develop their own characters and open their own shops? Hugh Harman was planning Bosko from 1927, and registered drawings for copyright in January 1928. All this while he still drew for, and drew a paycheck from, Walt. I wonder if quieter moments found Harman noodling on Bosko, his shoulders forward and arms wrapped round drawings done on company time. Risk, of course, was Walt coming round to inspect work, both in and out of refuse cans, as was his wont where employee output was concerned. Did he have notion of what Harman was up to? Anyway, he'd get the message when HH and partner from Kansas City roots Rudy Ising signed with Charles Mintz, till-then Disney distributor with a plot of his own to purloin Oswald The Lucky (and Lifeline for Disney) Rabbit.

Harman, Ising, and a pal back from K.C., Friz Freleng, did not last long with the new Oswald set-up (all three out by spring '29), and at loose ends for employment. This was the moment to gamble on Bosko, full enough conceived by Harman-Ising to try out a demo reel for (if any) buyers. Sustaining dream of animators was a series commitment from one of established studios. Necessary from start was for Bosko to talk, mid-to-late 1929 a barren ground for silent cartoons. Formats to present animated characters were pretty limited, all the more so with unaccustomed sound. H&I tendered onscreen Rudy as a Max Fleischer-ish artist busy at task of creating Bosko, a human or animal?, black or white? riff on other folk's cartooning. The game is tipped when Bosko gives with Amos n' Andy idiom and goes into Jolson inspired Sonny Boy (a Brunswick, and later Warners-owned, tune, lifted for this occasion).

Ising at least looks prosperous in double-breasted vest with lapels. Was this his best, if not only, suit at the time? Noise on the soundtrack seems at first to be his pencil scratching on the pad, but no, it's just a scratchy track. Money for this reel had to have been got nickels at a time, as none of participants were flush, and the Crash was just around corners. Sound as practiced by outsiders like Harman and Ising was jerry-built at best, as even richest of studios were still feeling their way through voice plus picture. To Bosko and creator's credit, he does stay in sync through converse with Ising, even if recording levels differ between them (the character's dialogue was spoke just off camera at the same times as Ising's, the animation added later). Well heah I is, and I shoa feel good were immortal first words from Bosko, followed by tap dance and some whistling, then piano accompany to Sonny Boy. Bosko is nothing if not eager, even desperate, to please. Two years of hope and effort by Harman-Ising hung on luck they'd need to put him over.

They weren't really offering anything new. Sound cartoons had past being a startling novelty, and Bosko was nothing novel to look at. The fact we'd hear him blow a raspberry was no rack to hang a year's contract on. Hugh Harman carried the reel around town like a vacuum cleaner salesman to chorus of doors slamming. "You're too early" with sound was probably polite blow-off from contacts who didn't want Bosko cartoons in any event. Luck so needed came courtesy Leon Schlesinger, who already knew there was interest in animation at Warners, him dug in deep there thanks to family connection, prior dealings, and good will with Jack L. WB were ready to tie in with any half-decent cartoon series Leon could deliver, provided price was right (as in miser-cheap), the reels to augment prolific Vitaphone Varieties the company was putting out. A January 1930 deal with Schlesinger was for one cartoon per month, a goal Harman and Ising could meet, provided they didn't sleep much. Thus emerged Looney Tunes, and eventually Merrie Melodies. As Walt often said, It all started with a mouse, so then did Warner cartoons begin with Bosko, The Talk-Ink Kid, not so noted an event, but history withal and four minutes well worth close inspect. It's included as a bonus feature on Thunderbean's Blu-Ray release, Technicolor Dreams and Black-and-White Nightmares, from which Greenbriar hopes to visit other content over coming weeks. Much that is rare and fascinating is here.

More beginner Bosko HERE.


Blogger b piper said...

The clip is available on YouTube:

Pretty clever for its day.

12:55 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls Bosko from his youth:

I'm sure I saw lots and lots of Boskos as a boy, as black and white cartoons with dog-like people seemed fodder for early television. There might be a local host, probably a clown or the weatherman for the station, demonstrating his versatility, but the cartoons were the show. They must have been the cheapest programming available. The truth is that I preferred them, with their raucous humor, to shows like "Ding Dong School" or "Captain Kangaroo," which seemed determined to demonstrate that television was not a "vast wasteland." Laffs will always win out over learning, or at least pretension.

Apparently that snippet of conversation between Bosko and his creator was what set the cartoon apart from its contemporaries, the first attempt to have dialog in an animated film. As to what Bosko was, well, it's sort of hard to say. The speech, at least in that first effort, was a black dialect, though I've read that that was discarded in later Boskos. Others say that Bosko and his girl friend Honey were the most authentic blacks in films, up to that point, so apparently the dialect speech continued a while longer. His design, however, is more like the dog-like characters that populated the silent cartoons, with their round, white faces, big eyes and mouths, and black button noses. Sometimes they had dog ears and sometimes not, as in the case of Bosko. Tails were optional and often left off, as one less thing to animate. But certainly Bosko doesn't look like even a cartoon version of a person. I suppose that he's neither human nor vegetable, or anything else, but simply a cartoon creature come out of the inkwell. When M-G-M acquired the character, they made him look like a real little black boy, complete with bib jeans and a straw hat. I've never seen one of these, though I understand that they're rather charming. Only a few were made before the series was allowed to fade away.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

All the Boskos were online back in 2009. I watched them all including that demo reel. My favorite was BOSKO`S MECHANICAL MAN.

7:33 PM  

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