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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