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Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Saturday Cartoon Carnival

We all have our Saturday mornings to look back on. Mine were mostly Our Gang, Laurel-Hardy, an occasional Flash Gordon serial, and most prolific of all, syndicated cartoons. Winston-Salem's Channel 12 ad at left represent their years black-and-white broadcasting color cartoons from the pre-48 Warners library, short after numbing short that at a peak, ran to ninety minutes with few interruptions (local sponsorship hard to come by for such ghetto AM hours). Selections were random. There'd be a good Daffy Duck, then four or five cat/mice couplings separated only by recurrence of the Warner shield flying out of its tunnel. Popeye shows on Charlotte's Channel 9 could be dire in event of King Features horning in on Fleischer classics with one of their made-for-the-tube subjects. Overall kid reaction (and socko ratings) made less distinction, cartoons on 50/60's television being horn of plenty for stations lucky enough to exclusive-get the best packages, as trade advertised herein.

Toy and Sugar-Sweet Merchants Were Eager To Climb Aboard
 AAP Buyer Station Wagons During a 1956-57 Syndication Boom 

Also-Ran U,M&M Offered Betty Boop and Little Lulu To
Stations That Couldn't Afford, or Missed Out On, Bugs and Popeye
I used to wonder why there wasn't a "Mickey Mouse Playhouse," "Fireman Jim Presents Donald Duck and Friends," or some Disney-such. Walt was known even then as miserly with regard his cartoons on TV. There was the Sunday night hour, but to my mind, these weren't authentic for titles removed and shuffle into theme format that dominated WD's Wonderful World. Pre-packaged half-hours of MGM or Lantz cartoons were alike in further snipping of theatre credits, as were "Harvey Films" that I long assumed had been made by the comic book publisher rather than Paramount. What with DVD release of animation by the tons, we can now see much, if admittedly far from all, of cartoons now gone from Saturday schedules, our own customized weekend views far surpassing what was available way-back (thus my coverage of lately seen ones that follow). There's amazing scholarship all over, on line as well as in books. I get more than ever out of watching cartoons, then consulting what experts say, most all of them having come by lifelong interest the same way I did, by rising early-morn to gorge on happy animated alternative to five days of school-going.

Replace Those Envelopes With Hundred Dollar Bills To Get An
Idea Of How Lucrative AAP Cartoons Were For Buyer Stations
AIN'T SHE SWEET (1932) --- Paramount calibrated its "Screen Songs" to grab viewership beyond appetite for mere cartoons. This series combined big star live action and tune delivery with what amounted to intro animation by the Fleischers, their stuff a warm-up to names hot off radio and song sheets inviting us to join in group recital of hits of the day, this not unlike concerts now where performers encourage the crowd to participate. Screen Songs livened many a then-show, theatres being already a community center most everyplace, and natural venue for folks to share vocalizing with neighbors. Two places then, where small towners teamed at song, church and their movie house. Today, we seem down to neither. Hard for me to imagine a thousand strong accompaniment to Lillian Roth doing Ain't She Sweet, but this thrush was persuasive, and like laughter is contagion to a crowd, so too would most give in to her invite. Such fun forged bonds among patronage that brought them back, if not for movies, then for pleasure of just being there and raising voices together.

Check Out The Billing Figure ... This Kind of Money Was Unheard Of
in Kiddie Programming Up To That Time

Here's Explanation For All Those Washed Out Prints
16mm Collectors Later Had To Cope With
Flash forward to early 60's me sitting before a televised hour of Screen Songs (never meant to be run in groups) and tiring quickly of the format and a bounce ball I was loathe to sing alone with. Recollection is of watching Max and Dave's cartooning for a first half, then switching channels or consulting comic books for dullish recital that followed, never realizing this was the highlight for first-run audiences. Ain't She Sweet is included among rarities in Flicker Alley's Saved From The Flames DVD set, and glory of glories, it has all-original Paramount titles and logo as opposed to NTA replacement footage imposed on these shorts from 50's date of syndication. How many Para shorts survive with credits all-intact? Maybe Olive Films will answer in event of Blu-Ray releasing Fleischer subjects, including (rumored) Betty Boop, and (is there hope?) more of these Screen Songs.

We're Fifty Five Years Later .... Does This Still Hold True?

Do You Suppose There's a Long Retired
Station Employee Out There Who's
Saying, I Used To Be Brakeman Bill!
COPS IS ALWAYS RIGHT (1938) --- Bluto and spinach on sabbatical as Popeye faces police brutality and a strident, even for her, Olive Oyl, who answers his dogged devotion with heaps of abuse beyond customary levels. Was this an unhealthy relationship the sailor should long ago have gotten out of? He's there to help with housework and she continually snipes him. Maybe Popeye needed spinach to put down Olive oppression. The surly cop is a partial Bluto stand-in, but Popeye won't fight him back as that might be bad example for his Saturday theatre club members in then-cross-country attendance, the sailor after all a role model to 30's moppetry. As usual miraculous animating is in play, Fleischer artists staging furniture ballet we see from overhead long shot (Popeye's room redecorations). Just moments like this make a whole cartoon worth watching. There's also dashing up/down endless flights of stairs, a reality of urban apartment dwelling before elevators were commonplace (reminded me too of Buster Keaton's similar exertions in The Cameraman --- comedy and cartoon folk obviously watched each other closely).

AAP Celebrates The Very Thing Parents Worried About ...
Kids Camped In Front of the TV Instead Of Playing Outdoors

WACKY RABBIT CARTOONS (1938-1940) --- How piggy Warners got once Porky took off and race was on to develop another critter for equal, if not greater, earnings. Did edict come from Jack L. and New York to incubate more animated stars, but quick? A late 30's pipeline was filled with screwy fur or feather bearers to vex established names like Porky or Elmer and threaten to steal their public's fancy. In fact, Daffy and later Bugs would do just that, reducing Porky/Elmer to mere support player status (a crowning humiliation when Porky became Daffy's "comic relief" sidekick in some 50's western spoofing). Rabbits on ways to becoming Bugs are chronological presented in WB's second Platinum Collection, several new to DVD, all presented here in Blu-Ray. The four relevant cartoons are Porky's Hare Hunt, Hare-Um Scare-Um, Prest-O Change-O, and Elmer's Candid Camera.

Wait A Minute, This is Seattle. You
Mean There Were Two Brakeman Bills?
For those into history of Warner ways, these together are like tour through their Termite Museum, a dig so deep not possible till now. Respective "wabbits" are doggedly wacky, by number four almost conventionally so. Sometimes wacky blurs with irritation (ours), and you want beleaguered hunter dogs, or Porky himself, to take a hare by the throat and rip him asunder. Cartoon characters walk a fine line twixt tickling funny bones and getting on nerves. I was happiest with Elmer's tormentor who at least spoke in conversational tone as opposed to others with a same shrillness. One even got there first with the Woody Woodpecker laugh that would plague us all later. Watching these will satisfy all of Bugs Bunny being no overnight creation. Trial and error we get via the quartet shows how animators/idea guys struggled to star-make characters since taken for granted, but how else to screen-test other than throwing sketches against screens to see which ones stick?

Disney's Cartoons Had Been Undisputed Kings In
Theatres, But They'd Pass On Syndicating the Library
PUSS GETS THE BOOT (1940) --- The first Tom and Jerry cartoon, though here they're Jasper and Jinx. Metro probably knew they'd get a long series out of these, but 110 and then some? It's remarkable standards stayed so high, T&J's good at least to intro of Cinemascope and weaker ones that followed (never mind 60's dross and stuff for tee-vee). Showmen hugged the cat/mouse from beginnings --- it looked finally as though MGM had a name team (and brand) that could be advertised out front. What a relief Tom and Jerry surely was for New York's sales division too. The series pumped super-violence into cartooning, more so as crowds lapped up Tom electrocuted by a tail plugged in sockets, biting off his tongue upon a suddenly shut mouth, other such frivolity. He's also shaggier in early ones and does real cat sounds to convey pain (lots of that). Jerry/Jinx gets an upper hand to close Puss Gets The Boot, Tom in receipt of just that, but tables would turn as feline and rodent took equal punishment in cartoons to come, per audience desire. A great thing about T&J was that neither was all good/bad, having equal parts rooting interest (ours). Mammy Two-Shoes was reliable for giving both a higher authority to fear and answer to. A shame she'd disappear and not be properly replaced. The first thirty-seven Tom and Jerrys are out on Blu-Ray from Warners, all complete and beautifully rendered.


Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

What a wonderful post, John! That "Game Called" a.a.p. trade ad is just marvelous. Just put video game controllers in their hands, and we can "celebrate" 50+ years of sandlot baseball forsaken. No coincidence that football supplanted the ball-and-bat as our national pastime, a game as action-filled (and violent) as any Warner or M.G.M. toon.

You failed to mention the best part of COPS IS ALWAYS RIGHT (1938), and many another Fleischer Popeye: that great mumbling of wisecracks and bad puns Jack Mercer brought to the Sailor Man. Since the Fleischers - unlike pretty much every other cartoon factory - recorded the dialogue AFTER the cartoon was completed, there's some terrific ad-libbing going on. One of my very favorite bits is in that same year's A DATE TO SKATE. Olive's foot is being measured for roller skates, and she remarks, "I wear a size four, but an eight feels so good," to which Popeye pointedly responds, "Hmm, better get twelves."

8:49 AM  
Anonymous G.D. Wilson said...

I wonder if anyone in the Central/Southeastern Ohio area recalls "Max Palooza"--an afternoon kiddie host during the early '60's who showed Woody Woodpecker cartoons on WSYX Channel 6 from Columbus. Max dressed as a low-budget circus ring master and sometimes his encircled face would appear during a toon, reacting to some gag.
But Max couldn't compete with a fellow Columbus based toon host from WBNS Channel 10 in Columbus: Bob Marvin, known as "Flippo, King of the Clowns" who showed "Our Gang" and WB toons before the format was changed to short series films like Blondie and Charlie Chan.
Those were the days, when such local hosts served as video babysitters while moms prepared suppers.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

On page 89 of Chuck Jones' book, "Chuck Amuck", he asserts that Jack Warner sold the pre-48 cartoons for $3,000 apiece, and that each cartoon averaged over $5,000 in annual rentals thereafter. Somebody must have noticed, since Warner evidently held onto the everything after that for use on network shows.

One wonders if AAP and NEA got similar ROI on the Paramount cartoons (Were the non-Popeyes bought up and rented out for less than the Warner toons?). Amused that the ads prominently feature Raggedy Ann, who appeared in just two shorts and a featurette. Also those barely recognizable drawings of Jasper and the scarecrow from the Puppetoons.

Columbia also hung onto their cartoons and leased them to TV along with the Stooge shorts. When you add Disney, MGM, Universal and the later Warner, it looks like selling cartoon libraries outright was more the exception than the rule.

We had "Captain Satellite" out of Oakland on KTVU showing Columbia toons (along with strange imports, including European animated features cut into serials). The bulk were Krazy Kat (officially based on the legendary comic strip, but executed as a Mickey Mouse clone), Scrappy and Fox & Crow, with a few of L'il Abner (I was haunted by one where Abner and his pet pig are almost fed to a sausage-making machine). The UPA toons, including the theatrical Mister Magoos, don't seem to have been around.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

DBenson: You'll find a trove of information about the sale of cartoon packages to TV here:

5:04 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

From what I could figure out, it sounds like Chuck Jones was wrong -- Warner did collect a nicer piece of the action. (Also alarmed to find I'd misquoted Jones two years ago in the comments section there and forgot all about it along with the article. I'm not just stupid, I'm forgetful).

I think I still have 8mm home movies bearing the AAP logo from the early 60s; not sure if they were new product or dusty stock in the camera store. Those were items like "A Wild Hare" and "Gruesome Twosome", plus a live-action western parody titled "Curses!"

7:33 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I had a number of the WB cartoons in 8mm. All the ones I had such as BUGS BUNNY RIDES AGAIN (printed on Kodachrome film stock)and DAFFY DUCK IN HOLLYWOOD had the AAP logo at the start.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

It was that first ad that caught my eye. Pip the Piper! Shari Lewis! King Leonardo! My favorite Saturday line-up ever. Did anyone notice that the guys who performed the Leonardo theme not only weren't very good singers but sounded half in the bag?

Even back then, I resented the syndication logos replacing the original studio logos. Being a movie purist at the age of seven is a lonely thing.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Second your hope for the Screen Songs. What is perhaps most interesting is how it occupied Fleischer's schedule as a 'B' series much as the Looney Tunes were at Warners. Animators working Popeye or Betty Boop would roll on to the Screen Songs as they became available and be pretty well left to their own devices providing they met the deadline/budget etc. As a result they have a wildness of gags that continued even as Popeye and Betty Boop became tamer & cuter. Guess they figured nobody was watching. Among the best: 'Aloha Oe' (with music by The Royal Samoans), remains my favorite of them all. I wonder if a complete print of it exists anywhere?

4:59 PM  

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