“WHEN’S IT GONNA GET HERE??” (BRING ON THE POP CULTURE PARADE!)

by Kevin Wollenweber and Rachel Newstead

Foreword from Rachel:

Acting according to the maxim that it’s better to have good content than frequent content, a very burnt-out Kevin and I have stayed away for awhile. But nothing provides quite the motivation to write as new DVD releases, and we have a video bonanza in the coming months. The latest Looney Tunes Golden Collection goes on sale today, with the third volume of Fleischer Popeye DVDs soon to follow. Kevin talks about the new releases in his latest “musings”, written a couple of days ago (and only now posted by procrastinator me–sorry, Kevin).

Jimmy Weldon, Tom Hatten and friends

Jimmy Weldon with "Webster Webfoot"--above him, Tom Hatten poses with a friend who shall remain nameless...

Not that we haven’t been busy during our hiatus. We’ve been spending far too much of our time haunting the best undiscovered treasure on the Internet, namely Stu Shostak’s Shokus Internet Radio. Every Wednesday the esteemed Mr. Shostak interviews a different legendary figure from the world of animation and pop culture. This past week he spoke with two children’s show hosts well-known to generations of former kids in Southern California (and those fortunate few in other parts of the country who had cable): Tom Hatten and Jimmy “Webster Webfoot” Weldon.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Weldon in his prime, though I have heard him, and very likely you have too (Weldon took his vocal talents to Hanna-Barbera in the early sixties, as the voice of Yakky Doodle). Weldon’s a good old southern boy (Texas, to be exact) who’s enough of a character to fit in with my crazy South Carolina family–he may have made his fortune providing voices for ducks, but he himself is something of a live-action version of a certain, I say, certain animated chicken. Rooster, that is. Interviewing Jimmy Weldon has to be the easiest job in the world for any interviewer–all one need do is sit back and let him do the talking.

Tom Hatten hardly needs an introduction here, as my admiration for the man knows no bounds–and I never miss an opportunity to say so. I’ve written about him extensively in this blog, as he was the catalyst for my own interest in animation and animation history.

If you want to catch Mr. Weldon and Mr. Hatten, you’ll have to hurry, no thanks to me. (Procastination strikes again). Shostak airs repeats of his program all week, meaning the Weldon/Hatten edition will air just one more time: tomorrow at 4 P.M. Pacific time (adjust accordingly for your particular corner of the globe). Just follow the link I’ve provided above. Mr. Hatten and Mr. Weldon will thank you.

If you stick around to the end, you might catch a phone-in comment by a certain humble toonkeeper expressing her heartfelt admiration for Hatten.

What’s that? Oh, yes–Kevin. I haven’t forgotten him. He’s interrupted his Daffy Duck-like vigil at the mailbox to express his boundless enthusiasm for the upcoming and newly-released flood of video headed our way. Pardon me while I go pace for him.

Well, folks, “ah-go-ny, ah-go-ny!!”  I feel like DAFFY DUCK at the opening scene of “DAFFY DOODLES”, as he impatiently paces in front of his mailbox wondering aloud the phrase that I’ve used as the title of this piece.  In the cartoon, a classic by Bob Clampett if there ever was one, Daffy is referring to his morning paper as he eagerly awaits the day’s comic adventures of DICK TRACY.  I use the over-anxious question as my impatient cry for October 28th or eventual due date of the arrival of LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 6!  I cannot wait for this stuff to hit the shelves and I am perhaps as anxious to find out how well it sells in hopes that, like the WALT DISNEY TREASURES collections, we see a sudden revamping of the series and news that it will indeed continue!  Oh, right now, the news is still that the series is halted after this volume, but that Warners cartoons are still on hand for future restorations and collections, delving deeper into the vaults, but this series is just too good to just flop here as the absolute overview.  I don’t say that there are no other interesting in-depth possibilities, but this volume just seems so good that to cut the series off here is like axing an entire fourth of a very good major motion picture!  I still hold out hope that the decision-makers can be convinced that, even in these hard economic times, people are throwing down their cash for this wonderful series and genuinely look forward to its arrival each year in our video collections.

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Orphan Toon Musings—Beany, Cecil and “Bats”

By Kevin Wollenweber

Okay, just a few things to keep those who care up to date-

I excitedly and prematurely wrote herein a while back about the possibility of Bob Clampett’s “BEANY & CECIL” coming, in greater volume, to DVD from Classic Media. My original alert to this was rather fuzzy, because it came from a website that was confusing “BEANY & CECIL” with anything else involving the old “MATTY MATTEL’S FUNDAY FUNNIES”. Sure enough, I more carefully reread the same alert and it had a link heading to news of two very spare “CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST” DVD’s from Classic Media, both featuring only around 12 cartoons and very embarrassingly aimed at the kiddies.

This company has absolutely *NO* clue that kids of today are just *NOT* the ones who are interested in the old Harveytoons (or Famous Studios) characters!! While it is true that the HARVEYTOONS or Harvey Comics characters were also connected with “MATTY MATTEL’S FUNDAY FUNNIES” (thus the link to “BEANY & CECIL” to further confuse those not in the know), one could not get immediately confused between theatrical cartoons from Famous Studios and TV cartoons from Bob Clampett! So what, then, *IS* the correct news on “BEANY & CECIL”?

I sure wish I knew. I did get news that the Clampetts were last heard to be negotiating with Classic Media; so does this mean that the marriage is complete? Not as far as I now know. For those who care, I’m sorry I jumped so prematurely. I really thought I had a major scoop on this one, and, in all honesty, I was jumping to tell folks that felt as close to the series as I do that there are further possibilities. While there are still possibilities, I guess we all have to moan and groan and suffer with our fast-decaying videotapes. I’ve already outlined the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy this series. While, to some just discovering this twisted gem, this might seem like a “you had to be there” type of moment, I continue to say “give it a second or third try!” It really does have the sense of humor of Bob Clampett all over it despite its very limited animation style, along with then popular hipster humor that is as quick-witted as Clampett’s own.

This is one of the few shows in which I like the time capsule caricatures and name-dropping, and that is why the adults, of course, should be the market to which this show is sold, but I do wish the Clampett family much good luck in finding an all-embracing home for this show and just about anything else deemed lost in the history of Bob Clampett.

In other musings, this morning regarding animators and where they came from and where they were going, on YouTube, I checked out a print there of an MGM cartoon credited to Rudolph Ising, called “BATS IN THE BELFRY”. It is, with animation logic and all, a one act play with Three Stooges-like bats singing of their lunacy and demonstrating it with their antics. The cartoon is almost plotless, although the big punchline is that we do find out, at the cartoon’s close, just what makes the bats “crazy” each night at the stroke of twelve!

I’m unsure of the voices in the cartoon, although I do catch Pinto Culvig voicing one of the bats. The third little guy (known as “Brick Bat”) just jiggles his empty head around so we can hear that something is indeed loose, but he remains voiceless throughout.

The cartoon plays out like an old vaudeville routine and does so within real time (something rare in cartoons of this period) which can span any number of years just so we get to the finale or punchline of the on-going joke within the seven-to-ten minute period that we are spending with the cartoon in question.

It is directed, in actuality, by a guy named Jerry Brewer, who also directed another lavish MGM toon of this period, “THE FIRST SWALLOW”. I believe that these two toons were the only ones that he directed. I’d sure be interested to know more about the guy and what else, in the golden age, he had done. I had thought, originally, that he, like George Gordon, had been a Terrytoons transplant, but then again, I’m not entirely sure if Gordon first worked at MGM and then at Terrytoons, but I’m certain that he worked at both studios. In fact, I like Gordon’s work at MGM, and his BARNEY BEAR cartoon, “BARNEY BEAR’S POLAR PEST” almost reminds me of any number of plot elements created for any number of TERRY BEARS cartoons. Perhaps you readers could clue me in on Gordon’s animation work history…or Jerry Brewer’s for that matter.

It is worth noting just what Jerry Brewer’s influences were, here, because others have said, about “BATS IN THE BELFRY”, that the bats, themselves, are oddly designed, with brightly colored decorative clothes or ornamental gear on their bodies. It is a strange little tune in which almost all the dialogue is sung. It reminds me of the earliest Three Stooges shorts in which the cast sang all the dialogue. If I remember clearly, those sing-songy Stooges shorts did not go over well, even with staunch fans, but I can see where animated cartoonists could be inspired to do something with the concept. Those at Warner Brothers had done much better with the idea, but this is an interesting effort and worth better understanding…or at least a second look.

JAMMIN’ AT THE LILY PAD: The Music Comes Full Circle With The “Bosko Trilogy”

by Kevin Wollenweber

Foreword from Rachel

After more than a year, Kevin and I are making a long-overdue return to the MGM incarnation of our favorite character, Bosko–more specifically, the final three cartoons in the series, which we’ve come to refer to as the “Bosko Trilogy.”

Made toward the end of Hugh and Rudy’s tenure as independent producers, the Trilogy stands as a bittersweet foreshadowing of what they might have done had they continued as such. In few other cartoons do a modern, jazzy sensibility and Disney-like innocence come together so well.

These deceptively similar cartoons appeal on enough levels to inspire a book in themselves; a mere review seems inadequate, but that’s what we’re going to attempt to do. Were we to indulge ourselves, we could talk about these cartoons among ourselves forever, as heretofore-unnoticed details crop up with every viewing, but we’ve kept our dear readers waiting long enough. In today’s essay, Kevin’s offers his perspective on the Trilogy in general, with emphasis on the first cartoon in the series, L’il Ol’ Bosko and the Pirates. Mine will follow in a subsequent post.

We’ve told the story so many times, here and there in our ramblings on this blog, about Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising leaving their old boss, Walt Disney, for what they hoped would be far greener and more successful pastures, forming their own animation company and getting distributed by Warner Brothers, and then MGM. Those earliest years, experimenting with their own musical series of cartoons, the Looney Tunes and then the Happy Harmonies, spawned cute little wide-eyed and talented characters like Foxy (at Warner Brothers) and their most successful creation, Bosko, that “talk-ink” kid.

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“NOW JUST A DARN MIN-NUT!!”, The True Essence of Bob Clampett’s “Beany and Cecil”

Our red-blooded "sea sur-pent" in puppet form (1949, above) and animated (1962, above right)

Our red-blooded "sea sur-pent" in puppet form (1949, above) and animated (1962, below right)

by Kevin Wollenweber

I was listening to the commentary tracks found on disk four of LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 3, especially John Kricfalusi’s enthusiastic talks
during some of his favorite Bob Clampett cartoons included in that program, like “GRUESOME TWOSOME” and “FALLING HARE”, noting the overall work of Bob
Clampett as a major influence for many facets of his own “REN & STIMPY”series and his ways of approaching characters that are not his own. It must
have, therefore, been a blast for John K. to have had a shot at directing and writing his own “BEANY & CECIL” series as his tribute to the man who was his artistic hero.

In the commentaries, John K. says that Bob Clampett was the king of mischief, of the double entendre, the gag that could mean something other than what you might have thought it meant as a kid viewing it for the first
time, and there are indeed times this is true. There was that gag that apparently was often cut from TV airings of “AN ITCH IN TIME” in which the dog gets bitten by the flea and  goes rolling from one corner of the room to the other, dragging his bitten posterior on the ground and yowling, pausing only for enough time to pant and say, as an aside to the audience, “Hey, I’d better cut this out. I might
get to like it!”

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Orphan Toon Musings–“Follow The Ball”: Max Fleischer’s Forgotten Sound Cartoons

review by Rachel Newstead

For the animated cartoon, sound arrived not with a bang, or a whimper, but a bark.

The scene: a movie palace of decades ago. The lights go down. On a grainy black-and-white screen, the audience sees a black cartoon dog in an iris shot a la the MGM lion. Several barks issue forth from the screen.

from "My Old Kentucky Home"

The bark that changed the history of animation: from "My Old Kentucky Home"

A series of mildly amusing gags follow: the dog enters his home, where he removes his coat and hat. Cartoon magic transforms a statue in the corner into a water pump, while the dog’s hat becomes a washbasin. His coat, which he has thrown over a chair, does double duty as a towel, then a tablecloth as he prepares to eat his meal. While sharpening his dentures, the dog pauses to replace a loosened tooth, knocking it back in place with a mallet to the tune of “The Anvil Chorus.”

Disdaining the meat he’s selected for his evening meal for the juicy bone inside, our canine friend doesn’t consume it, but pulls and stretches it like putty, until the soup bone resembles a trombone. (OK, you try coming up with a better pun in the wee hours of the morning.) He plays a few notes of a familiar tune–“My Old Kentucky Home”. Turning to the audience, with a voice not quite in synch with the mouth movements, he says, “Follow the ball, and join in, everybody!”

That audience didn’t know it then, but they’d just witnessed cinema history. The cartoon they saw–with sight and sound gags so typical of the “wide-eyed ’30s”–premiered not in the thirties, but 1926.

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