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Friday, July 11, 2008

We're Moving--Lock, Stock, and Bosko

When I wrote about making changes to The Home For Orphan Toons in this post, I hadn't yet planned to go quite this far.

My struggles with Blogger have been numerous over the past two years, but I patiently stuck with it, with the justification "better the devil you know..."

Well, the devil can go where he belongs, to "you-know-where." Kevin and I are moving on, to Wordpress and http://orphantoons.wordpress.com. (Note the lack of a hyphen in the new URL). This site will remain, both as a record of what we've done, and to help our few loyal readers find us.

A constant irritation for both Kevin and me for as long as we've been using Blogger is his inability to directly post and comment on the blog, which put a crimp in our ability to keep a steady discussion going of the rare cartoons we love. Well, no more. Wordpress allows Kevin full co-administrator privileges, meaning he now can post when the mood strikes, as I do. And from what I've seen of Wordpress so far, it looks a good deal easier to use. That'll certainly enable us to post more often, which I'm sure you readers will appreciate.

For those of you who subscribe via RSS feed, I'll have a brand-new feed up and running in the new location shortly. I apologize for the inconvenience, but this is better for everybody concerned.

Bye, bye, Blogger. I wish I could say it's been fun.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Orphan Toon Musings 6: "Beware Of Animated People"


By Kevin Wollenweber

Upon reading and re-reading Rachel’s addendum(?) to my review from mere memory of Hugh Harmon’s “THE ALLEY CAT” (nice, job, Rachel, and thanks for going through the trouble of pointing out all those quick bits of visual that I had missed!), I was thinking of how else that both the HAPPY HARMONIES series and the cartoons that Hugh and Rudy had done for MGM upon their return had, at times, focused upon gags and visual instead of just making a “video” of a then popular song. While the best of anything done by Harmon and Ising had come from the first Warner Brothers animated series, LOONEY TUNES or MERRIE MELODIES, specifically because the cartoons were great musical fun, there were HAPPY HARMONIES efforts, aside from Hugh Harmon’s BOSKO, that had almost nonstop action sequences that went far beyond the musical element that the series title would suggest. Okay, we’re not talking action of Tex Avery or Robert Clampett proportions, but it is action, nonetheless, and, to my mind, these bits and pieces made their respective cartoons watchable and enjoyable and, yes, even exciting.

How often have I ruminated on how a cartoon like “CIRCUS DAZE” would be still shown today if Ising’s Two Pups (who were never given names) were the stars instead of Bosko? Oh, I’m still as big a fan of the MGM Bosko cartoons--as we’ve both said we are--but there are times when one cannot help but wonder why Hugh took an agreeable character like Bosko and turned him into a black stereotype. He did give li’l ol’ Bosko an appealing kid’s voice for the grand finale, the much beloved Bosko “trilogy” (and we’ll both talk further about the remaining entries in that series within a series soon enough) but it was a perfect addition given to the characterization of Bosko, done too late. It was unfortunately part of Bosko’s swan song!

In each of their cartoons, “TWO LITTLE PUPS”, “PUPS’ PICNIC”, “PUPS’ CHRISTMAS” and “WAYWARD PUPS”, we follow these pups as they are lured away, by their own mischievous curiosities, from their human owner, usually a long-legged woman who also remained nameless and characterless (except that she was a stunning bit of animation to watch) and into some sort of pseudo-adventure. In one of my favorites, the pups, on an outing with the human family, oddly dressed to the nines instead of dressed down to go on a picnic as we’d do today, wander away from the picnic grounds after the female human admonishes one of the pups for sniffing around the food before lunchtime. As she pats the one considered such an angel, the cute little innocent sneaks a whole sandwich in one loud gulp before they both scamper away, only to hear the distant barking of hounds and rushing horses, carrying a band of fox hunters who come crashing through the scene. Forgive my naiveté, but I’m not aware of any picnic area so close to spots were hunting is freely allowed. This family must love to live dangerously!!

The remainder of the cartoon is taken up with the pups getting embroiled in the chase. The hounds chase after the fox, the fox enjoys terrorizing the two pups and the battle of wits is on as some of the dogs clearly don’t like the two pups spoiling their fun. There are nice uses of music throughout this toon here, although I’d need a good music historian to identify some of the more familiar bits of music that appear on occasion throughout this cartoon. While I like the debut cartoon in the TWO PUPS series, the self-titled one created in 1935--in which the thin premise of the cartoon is just following the pups as they decide to stop their tug of war with a sock that they stole from a clothesline long enough to go chasing and scaring the feathers off a hen--I like “PUPS’ PICNIC” because there is more of a nicely padded lead-in to the action, and a nice end gag. One that actually ended up in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, a very early YOGI BEAR in which a picnicking family end up with Yogi riding in the trunk--unbeknownst to the family, whose kid has become attached to the bear playing cowboy and continuously shouting nothing more than “bang bang bang bang bang!”

In “PUPS’ PICNIC”, though, the pups, angrily called to get in the car as the cartoon closes, sit barking at something hanging off the back of the vehicle and, as the camera lets us know, the fox had escaped the bullets and left the hunting and camping grounds for more “civilized” surroundings, lounging on the rear of the car as the family drives off back home.

Another favorite from this series is “WAYWARD PUPS”, perhaps the first cartoon that introduces us to a cat with a scratchy voice similar to that of the protagonist in the cartoon we both reviewed previously. It opens with the pups, playing with a balloon they had found, until they annoy the cat who begins berating the pups: “Hey, what’s goin’ on here?...Little hoodlums!” (NOTE: the rest of this dialogue, where I left the ellipsis, is unfortunately sooo garbled by this squawking voice that I can’t make it out, but the cat is mad!) As the cat says his last bit of dialogue, he backs up too far and into the balloon which bursts, scaring him into leaping into the air and rushing through the rooms of the house, breaking dishes and other valuables and finally crashing in a heap in the middle of the mess. He then hears the voice of his mistress “Hey, what’s going on in here? If there’s anything broken in here, I’ll…” The cat hears this and runs off, but the curious pups start sniffing around the kitchen and, sure enough, the door to the kitchen opens up and guess who Madam finds amid the broken relics?

The pups are put out angrily by the woman for the night for doing what she thinks they did, as the cat gleams out the window at them, snickering “Well, tough guys, eh? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!” As if the cat’s smug laughter prompts all things evil in the night, the wind starts blowing and the pups are suddenly aware that they are out in the cold and, while still remaining curious, they also realize how alone they suddenly are, sniffing around the neighborhood to see where they can crawl in for the night. This search brings them to the junkyard and a truly ugly bulldog, mud caked to his jowls and chewing on a bone. Not letting anything stop the curious pups, though, one of them starts a tug of war with the dog and his bone until the bulldog pulls himself up on his four legs, revealing that he’s chained to his house. He suddenly begins roaring with a growl that is actually the roar of the then current MGM lion, and the battle of wits and chase that lasts throughout the rest of the cartoon is underway!! I must say that, in this cartoon, there are some nice moments that show how ominous the night and urban setting must seem to these little creatures.

As the bulldog starts chasing the pups through the streets, doghouse bouncing and bumping along beside them, all go rushing out into oncoming traffic and it really looks as out of control as one might have seen in an older Max Fleischer BETTY BOOP cartoon called “MORE PEP”. Pudgy gets this adrenalin-inducing formula that sends him rushing about and performing more acrobatic tricks per second than any of us could do in a day! The Substance somehow gets away from the safety of its laboratory and wafts out over all of Manhattan, where every living creature throughout the city landscape starts rushing around at top speed!! What Harman and Ising had tried to do at times was lend a sense of realism to their cartoons, occasionally letting their animators run wild despite some or many inconsistencies. But there were always some nice hints of regular cartoon fun amid the impressions of life that seemed alarmingly real, sometimes, as Rachel and I have pointed out in the past, at the expense of what could have been some wilder comedy. Yes, this is one of those Harman/Ising efforts in which the accurate realism is jarringly put in with the more rubbery and strictly toon-oriented; note the running gag in which a clown-like dog-catcher tries to scoop the little pups up with a very small net. The only thing that truly makes him as ominous as the night into which the pups are thrown is his somewhat evil laughter, kind of like these imagined specters that would be scaring the OUR GANG kids just for the fun of it in some of the more outlandish Hal Roach shorts of the early-to-mid 1930’s.

Imagine, for example, if Harman & Ising did use some live action footage to augment the escalating comedy in any of the cartoons that seemed to squeeze as much out of one gag as it could, like “CIRCUS DAZE” in which real stunt folks and comedians could have been featured to show that the fleas perhaps invaded the surrounding community?

This brings me to animated people. Yes, these beings did permeate some live action films between the mid-1930’s through the 1960’s (think of some of the OUR GANG comedies to which I’m always giving honorable mention, or the live action comedies of Frank Tashlin who was said to direct his cartoons like live action and his live action like cartoons). Yet, as I was suddenly made aware of a new or forthcoming series of DVD compilations of old classic TV commercials, I was reminded of how many “animated people” lept about, jumped and rushed through these.

“What”, you may ask, “are animated people?” Well, they are those who are either filmed in stop motion or whose images are air-brushed so that they seem so unreal and cartoon-like. The term was coined from an old GUMBY short by Art Clokey in which Mr. Clokey and, perhaps, a female companion were seen out on a picnic with odd things happening to them as they tried to enjoy their meal, like a lawn mower run amuck and nearly flattening Mr. Clokey…or at least that is how I remember it, with Pokey looking at the audience at the close of the film and warning “beware of animated people.”

But these silly little beings were numerous and, at times, intentionally or unintentionally very, very funny! They were their funniest when in commercials of the early-to-mid 1960’s and even beyond.

Some of my favorites of these “lost” bits of either stop motion animation or “altered photography”, the earliest special effect brought to my attention, utilizing the “talents” of live action people almost coming frighteningly close to imitating the antics of cartoon characters, included an ad for Mazola Corn Oil in which the “point” (ouch) to be made was “what if you, yourself, had to gather up all the good ingredients in this product? You’d be really tired!” We follow one woman as she walks briskly, with the “help” of what was once known as “undercranked” photography down street after street after street, seen mostly from the waist down, as the announcer asks the all-important question posed above. Even the props in this thing are wackily large, like ears of corn neatly standing in rows as if the woman were instead edging her shopping cart down supermarket aisles.

In perfect cartoonish timing, she scoops up the very large stalks and tosses them into her basket and continues, after a gesture that lets us know this was quite an effort, on and on gathering whatever else from the trees and surrounding areas, with the speed and accuracy of a lawn mower buzzing off row after row of overgrown grass. She gets back home, kicks off her high heels and falls in a heep on the living room recliner as if that is all the energy she’ll expend today. So when do we see the product? Well, I think it appeared in the corner of the screen as our shopper is seen finally whiping her brow with that perfectly comical look of exaggerated relief that only a great cartoon character can give to display exhaustion. That was the ad, nonstop rushing here and there at top speed and very little time at all focusing upon the actual product and just what it has that would save this poor woman so much time.

Another favorite was the Scope ad of the early 1970’s, or so it seemed, in which a very tired-looking woman is slowly going to her bathroom cabinet to freshen her breath. She opens the bottle of this product, takes a sip to gargle and, WOW!! Her eyes begin to flash, her hair stands up on her head and she’s suddenly transformed for the day…into what? Who cares? The ad made Scope seem like this sudden wonder drug that picks you up as it freshens your breath!! I always thought this was the funniest ad I’ve ever seen, and I’m so sorry that no one in the history of Saturday morning or classic filmmaking would create a series that did a lot of this kind of wild visual stuff.

Oh, there have been films, as I pointed out, from Frank Tashlin, and some of the screwball comedies, that had cartoonish humor. I seem to remember films like “WHO’S MINDING THE STORE” with Jerry Lewis and bits and pieces of “WHAT A WAY TO GO”. I’m sure there were other such titles, but maybe a full-length motion picture is a bit much to use this sort of cartoonishness invading the live action world without the intrusion of that live action world; yes, I’m talking an actual physical live action cartoon! One could attempt to do this more as a series of short subjects. I’m dimly recalling one such short film that was part of a larger program in which two neighbors start a fight, with one trying to stomp the other into the ground—yes, one of the actors really looks as if he is being stomped into the ground until nothing of him is left visible but his head with an astonished look on its middle American face!!

Oh, I know about CGI films like the “UNDERDOG” movie and all that, but I’m looking for surrealism, not necessarily just kid-friendly stuff, and the only place I’d really seen this kind of strange stuff is on commercials. And, yes, I do recall Hanna-Barbera’s “BANANA SPLITS” live segments, but these don’t really count since the “animated people” were just disguised as cartoon characters, not really literally timing their comedy as if they WERE cartoon characters.

Well, the point of this “rant” is that I might pick up those disks with classic commercials. I’d already bought the Thunderbean disk that featured some of the great classic animated commercials, some of these being the Jay Ward variety. I just wanted to point out that there are ads, perhaps done around the same time and even inspired by those animated cartoons or comedies of old that are like live action “comic strips” featuring some of the wildest animated people on earth. I don’t think any of them went on to become celebrities in their own movies or TV series, but the ads will always make their faces and/or legs or any other part of their anatomy memorable to us all.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rachel's Turn On The Fence: Another Look At THE ALLEY CAT (1941)

Review-Synopsis by Rachel Newstead

The Alley Cat

Release Date: July 5, 1941
Director: Hugh Harman
In short: An unlikely romance ensures between a scraggly alley cat and a Park Avenue Persian--much to the regret of a certain bulldog and a butler...

(Edited 7/08/08 to correct minor errors and to add further comments).

Foreword: Getting sick is probably the worst thing that can happen to a blogger on a hot streak, but that's precisely what happened to me.

For most of June, I not only had to struggle with a cold, but a cold in the middle of allergy season, making it doubly potent--and twice as hard to get rid of. By the time I was ready to work on the promised Landing Stripling review, I was too busy sneezing to do much writing--when I wasn't flat on my back in bed.

While I recuperated, Kevin provided some wonderful content, the most intriguing of which was his review of a Hugh Harman cartoon, The Alley Cat--a cartoon I admit to having given only scant notice before. As usual I was astounded by his memory for detail, and drawn in by his enthusiasm. His instincts are rarely wrong--after seeing this cartoon again, I knew I had to add my own observations.

The Landing Stripling review will come, of course. For now, I beg your indulgence as I give you my own take on the wonderful The Alley Cat.

Just looking at the names "Harman" and "Ising", one can be forgiven for thinking they were meant to be together--a coupling of names ordained by the animation gods.

That unlikely, unintentionally punning combination--belonging to two men noted for their skill in combining music with animated images--is a most incredible accident of fate, to be sure. We've become so accustomed to seeing those names together, it's easy to think of the two of them as a single unit, joined from birth by their drawing hands.

It's a mistake even I have been known to make, speaking of the two as if they were interchangeable. Yet Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, ironically, were linked only in name. They never once co-directed a cartoon--and probably couldn't have, had they bothered to try. Each had his own respective crew, and their demeanors--and attitude toward filmmaking--couldn't have been more different.

Harman was the fiery one, the one who went head-to-head with producers, distributors, and just about everyone else in an effort to improve his product. The words "good enough" were not in his vocabulary--it had to be better, and to Hugh Harman, "better" usually meant a bigger budget. Ising was the phlegmatic one, a man who very quickly earned the nickname "The Sleepy Bear"; the lethargic Barney Bear was Rudy Ising in fur.

Harman created characters--Bosko The Talk-Ink Kid might have showed Ising at the drawing board, but Bosko sprang from Harman's pen. Action meant as much to Harman as personality, perhaps more--Bosko rarely stood still, always ready to entertain, bouncing along to a steady rhythm. Ising created stories, in which the characters were often secondary to the lush backgrounds or the music. Harman aspired to be Disney, yet Ising was the most Disney-like, being most at home in the realm of the fairy tale, Walt's stock in trade. It was Ising, not Harman, who broke Disney's Academy Award winning streak with the uncannily Disney-like The Milky Way.

(Note: Kevin, of course, just couldn't resist reminding me about Ising's Two Pups. I'll concede certain points: yes, the settings were contemporary, and the timing fast--one cartoon in particular has scenes similar to
The Alley Cat--but even these come across as more cute and storybookish than what Harman was doing at the same time, on the order of the early Chuck Jones. The pup's owner even had what sounds to me like a nursery-school teacher way of speaking, in the manner of one reciting a story to children--R.)

In my review of Romeo In Rhythm, I put forward the theory that Harman's style was energized by the influx of New York talent. Now, looking at Harman and Ising's contributions separately, I realize this is only partly true. Harman's cartoons, thanks largely to Bill Hanna's often-discussed timing, were always energetic--one need only look at Circus Daze, The Old House, and even the early Schlesinger Bosko musicals to see that. What the New York animators did do, however, is take Harman's cartoons out of the farmyard.

Romeo In Rhythm, as we've already seen, opens in a cornfield, but that's the only glimpse of a rural setting we'll see in that cartoon. The play-within-the-cartoon is aggressively urban, its Romeo a contemporary hipster serenading his Juliet in a mock-up back alley to the sound of swing.

Today's highlighted cartoon also takes place in an urban alley (a "real" one this time) its contemporary music sung by an audacious alley cat. While the mangy "star" of the story may lack the musical finesse of the crows in Romeo In Rhythm, he more than makes up for it in enthusiasm and pure chutzpah--an attitude that's pure New York.

The cartoon opens with a view of an "uptown" skyscraper from the perspective of a back alley, the cartoon's title superimposed over the scene. The copy I'm working from for this review has the "letterboxed" opening titles Turner was infamous for, and it does this cartoon a disservice, as it's difficult to see the painstaking detail in the backgrounds. The opening shot is still impressive, however: the camera tracks upward as it travels up the exterior of a posh Park Avenue apartment building toward the penthouse.

The scene dissolves to the interior of a luxury apartment; a butler, shown only from the neck down for the moment, knocks on a bedroom door carrying a tray of food. He walks though the lushly-appointed room and places the tray on a table, in close-up. He removes the tureen to reveal a plate of fish, and clears his throat as he says, "Dinner is served," m'lady!"

"M'lady", whom we expect to a be a wealthy socialite, is actually a white persian cat. She appears to sniff the fish and give it a slightly disdainful look as the butler clears his throat again and says, "Will there be anything else, m'lady?" The cat purrs "Nooo...." in a Mae West-like voice. As the butler leaves, she gives her meal another slightly disdainful glance, jumps off the sofa and walks away. The butler, meanwhile, can be seen slowly closing the door behind him--but before he does, he can't resist giving the audience a contemptuous sniff. He's clearly not happy with having to wait on a cat.

The socialite persian, meanwhile, walks over to the window and jumps on the sill--a full moon shines through. She lets out a soft purr--she's clearly bored, and is looking for a little fun.

Cut to a view of the alley, where we get the first view of our alleged hero, who dances into the scene much in the same manner as Bob Clampett's "Gorgeous Hunk Of Man" in his The Hep Cat (and even looks as if he could be a close relative to Clampett's cat). He jumps onto a crate, then onto a fence as he rummages through a nearby trash can. He prepares to eat the remains of a fish when he spies the uptown persian walking back and forth on the balcony of her luxury apartment. She idly sniffs the flowers planted along the edge.

Cut to the alley cat, who's clearly impressed. "Oh, boy! Hi, baby!!" he yells at her in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Clarence "Ducky" Nash (though it's not, despite what the IMDB says--more on that later.)

The persian turns her back to the alley cat--for the briefest instant, we're led to believe she's going to snub him, as befits a cat of her position, but as we cut to a close-up, she looks over her shoulder and enticingly says "Hello...."

Scott Bradley's music swells and the alley cat starts to "sing" (if you want to call it that) the 1937 musical number "That Old Feeling":

I saw you last night and got that old feeling....

Cut to an aerial shot of the high-class feline on her balcony, who's suddenly more humanized--she meows her response to the alley cat's song as she paces back and forth along the balcony on two legs. As she half-meows, half-sings, she clutches her paws to her chest in a slightly exaggerated "romantic" gesture. Cut to the alley cat who sings the next line while his lady love continues to meow along from off-camera--he's clearly singing words, but at least on this copy of the cartoon, they're no more understandable than the female cat's meowing.

The alley cat's joined on the fence by three of his buddies, who meow and purr along in close harmony. They clearly have the talent our hero lacks, since this is perhaps the most entertaining scene in the picture.

The butler, however, doesn't seem to think so, since he comes out on the balcony and shouts at the cats to "Stop that bloomin' noise!", clamping his hands over his ears. Naturally, he's ignored--the butler yanks the curtain shut, making us think for a moment he's resigned to the racket.

Not quite--as we cut to the interior, we see the butler turn and shout as he stalks down the corridor, "Rover! Rover! Wake up, Rover! Cats!" It's actually quite a nice shot, as the figure of the butler moves closer to the camera as he walks down the corridor, to the point that only his legs are revealed. It's almost like a SteadiCam shot.

"Rover", whom we see for the first time in the next scene, is awakened from his nap by the butler's off-camera shouting. He groggily rises, the jumps up as if hit by an ember from the nearby fireplace. He runs toward the door at full speed, but neglects to notice it's still closed, and rams straight into it. The butler comes into view, if only from the waist down, and opens the door yelling "Rover! Get him!!" What follows is a rather impressive "speed" shot of the dog barreling down the stairs so quickly, the momentum causes him to run down the side of the bannister. This scene looks vaguely familiar, and given Harman's penchant for re-using animation, it's quite possible this scene was cribbed from a Bosko cartoon. (If memory serves, there's a similar scene involving Bruno in The Old House).

Cut to exterior view--we next see the bulldog as he bursts through the front door and toward the camera. The alley cat's three backup singers scatter as the dog approaches, but our hero isn't afraid of him. In fact, the dog's more afraid than anyone, as he skids to a halt and freezes with his hindquarters in an arched position when the alley cat slashes his claws at him.

Suddenly remembering what he's there to do, the bulldog tries to assume a more threatening pose and scare the cat away. Ah, but pampered pooch that he is, he's a bit out of practice: the sound that comes from his mouth is more like that of a toy poodle than a big, bad bulldog. (The more observant may remember that barking sound as the sound the trout make in the Barney Bear cartoon THE FISHING BEAR. Barking fish? Well...you'd have to see it to understand...)

The embarrassed bulldog tries to clear his throat as the alley cat, now standing on two legs, laughs at him from offscreen. "Tough guy, eh?" the cat remarks.

The bulldog makes a leap at the alley cat from the bottom of the frame. Having recovered his voice, he makes a rather menacing growl as he snaps at the cat and misses. There's something familiar about that sound, too, but I'd rather not get too far ahead of myself at this point. The cat merely hisses at him and jumps down on the other side of the fence.

The bulldog sniffs around until he comes to a knothole in the fence. Peering through it, he fails to see another knothole right by his rear end--you can pretty much guess what's going to happen here, since our friend the alley cat's on the other side. Sure enough, we see the cat standing on the other side of the fence, preparing to menace the poor unsuspecting bulldog. He grabs an old eggbeater from the trash and proceeds to aim it through the knothole right at the dog's behind. He gooses the dog with it--as the dog flips around, he shoves the eggbeater through the other knothole and gooses the dog again--this action gets repeated several times until the dog gets dizzy--a closeup shows his eyes rattling around in his head.

Once the bulldog regains his senses, he thinks he's figured out the situation and puts one paw over the knothole on the right, then another paw on the left one. But the camera pans back to reveal the alley cat merely lounging on top of the fence, eyeing the bulldog with an amused expression. He grabs an old light bulb from the trash can in front of him and drops it on the dog's head. The dog is startled as the bulb shatters, sending him running to the safety of his doghouse. Returning his attention to the classy girl cat, the alley cat remarks, "You ain't seen nothin' yet, baby!!"

Grabbing a bottle of ammonia from the trash, he pours the bottle into a spray gun (called a "Flit" gun, since spray guns of that type were once used to dispense an insecticide called "Flit."). We see a long shot of the cat from one corner of t he doghouse as he marches toward it, Flit gun in hand. He knocks on the doghoouse and says to the still-covering dog, "Well, well, does little Rover want to come out and play??" The cat then pulls on the dog's nose and jabs him in the eyes Three Stooges-style--but it looks a good deal more painful here than it does when Moe does it to Curly.

The cat marches out into the middle of the yard shouldering his Flit gun like a rifle, and tests it while he waits for the dog's inevitable attack. He doesn't have to wait long--the dog lunges at him, but in mid-air, he gets a snootful of atomized ammonia, sending him dropping to the ground like a rock.

This only momentarily dazes him, though; he lunges again and gets a much stronger dose. Now it takes a little bit longer to come to his senses--his ears flutter like wings in a very cartoony fashion as he exhibits a stupefied grin. He doesn't get a chance to make a third lunge, as the cat hits him with another facefull before he can jump. The third time proves to be the charm, freezing the poor dog like a statue--all the cat needs to do is tap him to send him toppling over.

The cat does a little self-congratulatory victory dance as we cut to the object of his affection admiring him from above. This is clearly her kind of guy--she meows "Come up and see me sometime..."

Strangely, while she cops Mae West's tagline, she's lost the Mae West-like voice she had in the first two minutes of so of the cartoon. She now sounds, for no apparent reason, like an exact duplicate of the alley cat,
which to me seemed a bit strange. Is this her way of expressing admiration (or as Kevin half-jokingly put it in his review, an indication that she's in heat?) It prompted quite a bit of discussion between Kevin and me; I'm forced to conclude that while Harmon may have indeed wanted to indicate a change in the cat's mood, but it seems more likely he was rushed, and couldn't get the original voice artist when he needed her--so he relied on the fellow with the Donald Duck-imitation voice for that one brief scene, thinking it might come across as funny. As Harman is no longer alive to ask, I suspect that'll remain a mystery.

Meanwhile, our alley-cat protagonist goes wild over the classy female's invitation--he too undergoes a temporary voice change, yelling "Yahoo!" in a voice similar to Tom's whenever Tom was excited or in pain. As I recall from the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection sets, that voice was provided by Bill Hanna--an effect which makes this seem at times more Hanna-Barbera and less Harman-Ising. But the Harman touches are still there, as in the sudden, out-of nowhere burst of speed the alley cat exhibits in his excitement. He hops on a fence, zips up a telephone pole, and speeds along a telephone wire toward the luxury townhouse where his love awaits, all to the sound of sirens--not all that different from Harman's Swing Wedding (the Stepin Fetchit frog exhibits a similar and all too temporary burst of speed, also to the sound of sirens).

Cut to a shot of the female cat as a black blur zooms by her, leaving her to stare at the audience with a stunned expression. In the following scene we see the alley cat, in the same cozy living room the bulldog had been, lounging on the floor brazenly smoking a cigar. Exhibiting even further gall, he calls to the female cat as she passes by him, "Say, what's cookin', sister?" Since love is apparently not only blind but deaf, the female cat ignores this rather crude come-on and walks over to the radio. As Latin music comes over the airwaves, the alley cat decides to get in the spirit of things by taking the lampshade from a nearby lamp and converting it to a nifty blue sombrero. He dances toward the camera, then the scene changes to reveal both him and the female cat in medium shot as they dance together.

The alley cat dances toward the fireplace, but gets a bit too close--his tail catches on fire, in a couple of quick cuts, he zips out of frame, past the female cat, and toward a fishbowl, in which he extinguishes the flaming appendage. The bowl's stuck to his rear, though--a fish swims by and gives him a confused look. The cat yowls and jumps out of frame, landing next to the female cat and going through all manner of samba-like gyrations as he tries to remove the bowl--without missing a beat of the music.

In the meantime, the bulldog, only now aroused from his ammonia-induced stupor, hears the commotion going on from inside. With a rumbling growl he scrambles out of the frame toward the entrance.

Cut back to inside: the alley cat's still trying to get the bowl off himself, pounding on the floor in frustration, then leaping into the air. The bulldog appears just as the alley cat is about to land, and the dog ends up having the fish bowl broken over his head as the cat drops right on top of him. The alley cat stands there for a moment as the dog, sprawled on the floor, starts to growl--the cat pokes his head in like a lion tamer sticking his head into a lion's mouth. When he stares at the razor-sharp teeth and realizes his nemesis is back, the cat says "Uh-oh!" and speeds off to the left of the screen. We briefly cut to a view of him zipping around the corner with the bulldog in close pursuit. The momentum causes books from the bookshelves to whirl around in their wake.

They come to a corner, but instead of going around it, they go through it, knocking out a good portion of the wall. We cut to a long shot of them in the library--the cat jumps up onto a conveniently-placed lamp, while the dog runs so fast the momentum sends him up the wall and onto the ceiling (and that, students, is an example of centrifugal force).

The confused dog, of course, stops while upside-down on the ceiling and after remaining suspended there for a second or so, drops to the floor--the chase continues. The dog, who has for the moment lost track of the alley cat, stops in front of a suit of armor, which the alley cat just happens to be hiding in. He sends the right arm, which is holding a mace, down on the dog's head, followed closely by another hit and a poke in the rear with a sword. The dog of course attacks the suit, sending a shower of metal parts toward the camera. As anyone who's seen The Old House knows, this is a classic Harman "money shot"--a bolt flies so close to the viewer that it takes up the entire frame (much as the skull in The Old House had done).

The smoke clears to reveal the dog wearing the remnants of the armor. The cat merely goes to the fireplace in the living room and...you guessed it. He opens the helmet, which is stuck on the dog's rear, and dumps in a shovel of hot coals. The pain from the dog's glowing red posterior sends him leaping through the ceiling. The butler, meanwhile, yells "Rover! Rover!" looking around frantically. He soon learns where the dog is, as the dog lands right on his head. The bulldog merely proceeds to run--still on top of the poor butler--and gets caught in the butler's clothing, in the process revealing the servant's very un-butler-like red flannel underwear.

The chase goes on, up over walls and around corners--hunks of plaster get gouged out of the walls as the speed past. The dog, running up to a mirror, crashes through both it and the wall behind it. In the meantime, the alley cat has found the laundry chute--he opens it, sending the bulldog sliding down into the laundry room below. The cat then rushes down the stairs toward the basement (in a repeat of the "running down the stairs" footage from earlier in the cartoon) to meet the dog as he hits the bottom.

The alley cat pushes the washing machine in front of the laundry chute as the dog comes through. While the poor dog is being pummeled by the plungers inside the washer (it's a slightly more advanced version of the one Cap used in Blue Monday) the butler runs past the camera and chases the cat with a broom, yelling "Why you...just let me get me 'ands on you..."

Speaking of Blue Monday, the scene following looks as if it were taken directly from that cartoon, if a little faster than that version. The butler chases the alley cat in one doorway and out another in an endless circle, fast enough to create what looks like a swirling vortex. The butler finally wises up and stops between the two doors, waiting with broom in hand for the cat to emerge. The cat does, but the butler is a little too slow, missing every attempt to bash the cat with his broom.

The cat runs into what looks like a music room, skids and doubles back toward the butler. The dog, who by now has been released from the dreaded washing machine, now chases the cat around and around between the two doorways, rendering the poor butler dizzy as he tries vainly to swat the cat. (The scene is a repeat of the earlier one with the bulldog--we see the butler in closeup as his eyes spin around and around in his head). The butler, trying to make sense of the swirling mass around his feet, brings his broom down on the first thing he can--and it turns out to be the wrong thing. He hits the poor bulldog square on the head.

The dazed dog shakes his head as he comes to, and gives the off-camera butler a menacing look--he's had about all he can stand. We cut to a head-and-shoulders shot of the butler as he appears increasingly nervous, stammering "Oh, dear...sorry Rover..." and other inanities. We cut again to the growling bulldog's point of view as he chomps the butler's rear end, ripping a sizable chunk out of the seat of the butler's pants. He chases the butler with a crash through a large window and out into the night. We can assume the butler will be submitting his resignation from somewhere in the next state, if his employers don't fire him first.

Dissolve to the persian's now-devastated boudoir--all the furniture is destroyed, while huge hunks of plaster are missing from the walls. The once-beautiful apartment is a ruin, looking worse now than the grimiest rat-infested tenement. The alley cat sits on the windowsill, saying "Well, so long, baby!" Lapsing into song, he sings "Thank you/For a lovely evening...." to which the persian, seated on her destroyed sofa, musically meows in response. We dissolve from there to the alley cat's three companions as they meow the final notes of the song to the iris out.


This review proved highly difficult to write--I'd been working on it intermittently since the second of this month-- the amount of detail in the cartoon is so overwhelming, my eyes were spinning faster than the poor butler's. Every observation from me prompted a counter-observation from Kevin, which prompted a counter-counter observation from me. In the interest of time I won't go into all of them, but I would like to address Kevin's speculation that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were involved in this cartoon, and were in fact the uncredited directors.

It is certainly possible. Like so many MGM cartoons of this period, this is a transitional work, anticipating the later Tom and Jerrys in its wanton destruction, high-speed chases and slapstick takes. The alley cat, in appearance and manner, looks much like a forerunner of Butch, the black alley cat nemesis/sometime friend of Tom in later years. The scene of the alley cat nonchalantly and boorishly smoking a cigar reminded of one of several cartoons in which Tom and Butch were romantic rivals: Puss and Toots comes to mind.

Unlike the Tom and Jerrys, however, this cartoon makes me cringe, as it did when I first saw it some thirty years ago. Not that it's badly done--far from it. It's certainly one of the fastest and most slapstick cartoons Harman ever attempted, with its quick cuts and generous use of "smear" animation. But it suffers from a common fault of Harman's cartoons, the jarring juxtaposition of Disney-like realism with out-of-nowhere cartooniness.

In the beginning of The Alley Cat, the two principal characters move and behave very much like "real" cats, albeit slightly humanized, much in the same manner as Disney's The Aristocats. No sooner do the two cats meet, however, than they become more and more anthropomorphic, to the point of standing on two legs. The scene in which the pretty society cat pines for the alley cat on the balcony is comically out of place, as she shifts from very cat-like movements to very human gestures in a split-second. It prompted the same sort of nails-on-the-chalkboard feeling I had when I first saw Harman's Circus Daze; the realistically-rendered elephant, under attack by the fleas, suddenly looks as if it should be in a different cartoon, becoming very human-like as it stands on its hind legs and scratches with its front paws. Harman would set down certain "rules" for the behavior of his characters at the beginning of every cartoon, then gleefully (or carelessly) ignore them to suit the scene or the gag. Done right, the contrast between realism and cartooniness in Harman's work led to brilliance, as with Peace On Earth; more often, however, it led to laughable contradictions, as with the realistically rendered deer and the "rubber hose" fawn of Tales Of The Vienna Woods.

It seems as though Harman were in crisis at this point in his career, uncertain of which direction he wanted his cartoons to go. Wanting to be artistic, but feeling compelled to do slapstick, he opts for a little of both, and the results were both confusing and fascinating.

In The Alley Cat, this "one foot in reality" approach undercuts the cartoon a bit. Even though the characters are humanized and somewhat exaggerated, the cartoon nonetheless takes place in a world which seems to operate according to the normal rules of physics, as in the scene with the bulldog on the ceiling I wrote of earlier. The momentum could conceivably propel someone that high were they to move fast enough. Take a look at Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence in Singin' In The Rain if you have any doubt--at one point the momentum of his leap enables him to walk halfway up the wall before he backflips down to earth again.

It unfortunately makes the alley cat's boorishness and destruction more intolerable (and difficult to watch) than they would have been in a less realistic cartoon--we know in a Tom and Jerry cartoon that no matter what damage they do to themselves and everything around them, things will be all right again in the next scene. Not here--one can't look at the destruction without imagining the thousands of dollars worth of repairs the place would need. (Hundreds of thousands in 2007 dollars). It's enough to give Donald Trump nightmares.

Interviews later in his life provide some insight into why Harman worked this way. Talking to Michael Barrier in the '70s, Harman lamented having to work solely on funny-animal cartoons, wishing he could have taken the medium further. His dream, he tells Barrier, would have been to get Orson Welles involved in the animation industry, which in his view would have elevated the animated film to a level of artistry that would have surpassed even the great Disney. (He could well have been right). Long after Harman's career was over, and Walt Disney had passed on, Harman dreamed of ways to upstage his old rival.

Certainly the best thing about this cartoon is the music, and Scott Bradley doesn't disappoint. The signature song here, That Old Feeling, is taken from an obscure musical, Vogues of 1938; for those who might be curious about the lyrics (since they're barely comprehensible when "sung" by the alley cat) Kevin has graciously provided them:

I saw you last night and got that old feeling

When you came in sight I got that old feeling

The moment you came by I felt a thrill

And when you caught my eye

My heart stood still

Once again I seemed to have that old yearning

And I knew the spark of love was still burning

There'll be no new romance for me

It's foolish to start

For that old feeling is still in my heart


One of its composers seems to have had a penchant for obscure musicals. He'd already co-written Hold Everything, which by a coincidence possible only in Hollywood, provided the inspiration for one of Hugh Harman's earlier cartoons, Hold Anything: yes, none other than Lew Brown of DeSilva/Brown/Henderson fame. (Though he partnered with Sammy Fain for this particular number).

It's in the music, in fact, that this cartoon distinguishes itself from the majority of Harman's efforts; like Romeo In Rhythm the year before, this is an aggressively MGM cartoon, a companion piece of sorts to Romeo. The number is so good, and suits the cartoon so well, one can forgive its highly burlesqued rendition.

And the voice that warbled the number? As I said, it's not Clarence Nash, and if my memory and my ears had been functioning properly when I first heard it, it would have been apparent to me immediately. It's closer to the sound of the cat in Tex Avery's Ventriloquist Cat than anything even vaguely resembling Donald Duck. Jerry Beck settled the question once and for all, saying in a letter to Kevin:

It is not Clarence Nash in the MGM cartoon. That is for sure. Nash never did cartoons for anyone else except Disney. The voice in THE ALLEY CAT is radio actor Harry E. Lang who did Donald Duck like voices in several cartoons for MGM and Columbia.

It's probably just as well. Actually hiring Nash would only have reinforced the erroneous belief that Harman was a mere Disney imitator--and as I said in the beginning, he was very much his own man.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Sufferin' Cats! Kevin's Review of Hugh Harman's THE ALLEY CAT

Getting "That Ol' Feelin'"?: THE ALLEY CAT (1941)

Review by Kevin Wollenweber

I have always been a cat-lover. Even though I do not presently own one, cats I’ve “met” at others’ homes have neatly gravitated to me and we seem to have an immediate “communication” or rapport. So it is certainly understandable that I’d like the 1941 classic cartoon from MGM directed by Hugh Harman called “THE ALLEY CAT”.

At the time of this cartoon’s regularly being shown in heavy rotation on early morning kids’ TV, a la “THE EARLY BIRD CARTOON SHOW”, a local staple of our ABC-TV affiliate here in New York, just before the all-important morning newscast at approximately 9:00 a.m., our family had a cat, and we were kept awake at times throughout the nights with many a musical offering by amorous alley cats, so I took to this cartoon immediately, even though there is really nothing to like about the cartoon’s title character. You really can’t figure out just why the beautiful and pampered female cat likes him so much. He can’t even seem to carry a tune all that well and he spends most of the cartoon nastily taunting the snarling bulldog or tearing apart the house by accidentally lighting his tail ablaze when getting too close to the fireplace and then getting the fishbowl caught on his rump and leaping to the ceiling trying to shake it off…

…But I’m getting ahead of the story, as Jay Ward would probably tell me if I were narrating this thing.

The cartoon opens inside a spacious townhouse where the only human that we meet is a bored and ver-ry British butler (or should I say, “but-lah”?), carrying in a bowl of food for someone, namely the equally bored and sleek and white kitty cat who, when asked “will there be anything else, M’lady?”, slowly picks herself up to only purr “nooo!” The butler moves to leave the room, but not without showing his hint of anger over having to wait, hand and foot, on a cat by giving out with a disdainful snort before slamming the door behind him. Miss Kitty turns away from that scene as well and goes to check something outside. Can we guess what that is?

It is so obvious as Scott Bradley’s score gets brassier and jazzier and we see our “hero” (dubbed Butch by the animators, although not called at all by that name anywhere in the cartoon) emerge from the alleyway, checking garbage cans for food that the neighbors have tossed out, even bopping around to the music if I remember correctly. He is the most unlikely of heroes, though, because, when he notices the Persian cat glaring out at him from the balcony, he tosses away the fish he was about to devour and yowls, in what has to be the coarsest catcall I’ve ever heard, “Boy oh boy! Hi, baby!” She purrs back her “helloooo” which launches old Butch into his signature song…if you want to call this singing:

“I saw you last night and got that oooool’ feelin’…”

With his female companion singing along on key with “meow meow meow meow”, he continues to garble the words so bad that one needs an original version of this song to actually find the correct lyrics. I would go on record as saying that, perhaps, DONALD DUCK or YACKIE DOODLE could have vocalized this better!! This rouses the butler angrily to the window, just as a covey of the alley cat’s feline buddies begin to harmonize quite nicely, too, and he shoes the lot of them away with yells like “Fssst, I say, you cats, stop making all this noise!” When this fails to startle them, he sends out his secret weapon, the very large bulldog. “Rover…Rover…I say…cats!!” The dog hears these excited monosyllables and it takes time to register, but he tears off after the cats who, en masse, go flying away from the fence and the chase and battle of wits begins. The dogs stops in front of the alley cat and attempts a roaring bark which comes out as mere yelps of a dog you would think is much smaller than this, sending Butch into gails of gravelly laughter “tough guy, eh?” he taunts and swipes his claws at the dog’s head as the dog leaps up trying to snap at the cat.

Butch doesn’t just let it go at that. Surely, he has to play a couple of really painful tricks on the dog, at one point taking a hot light fixture from one of the poles in front of the house and dropping it on the dog’s head. The explosion sends the dog running for cover back into his house, sending the cat into further hysterics, calling up to his girl on the balcony, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, baby!!” He goes to a nearby pail and grabs a perfume bottle, filling it with a heavy and pungent dose of ammonia or some such smelly vapor and proceeds to leap onto the doghouse roof, knocking on the roof and calling “Well, does little Rover wanna come out and play?” He pulls the bulldog up by his snout, claws bared…ooh, does that hurt! The dog is now angry again and ready for some sort of attack, but not for long. As the dog rushes up to mere inches in front of the cat, he gets a face full of something so powerful that it nearly knocks him out or makes him reel dizzily, almost dangling in midair before Butch sprays him again and, with his paw, pushes him lightly down on the ground over on his back, fast asleep! “Awww” the alley cat mocks, seeing the dog totally comatose on the lawn.

His attentions are turned back to his kitty love above, who now throatily yowls, in a barely recognizable Mae West impression, “come up and see me sometime”, sounding, instead, more like her aroused boyfriend. She’s definitely in heat!! Butch howls, leaps into the air and, in the space of a few frames and seconds, blasts off through the front door of the house and straight up to the upstairs area where Kitty is waiting with the door opened. Butch sails past and, as the camera moves toward the couch, he is sitting there comfortably smoking an expensive cigar. Wow, this guy wastes *NO* time! “Well”, he says, “what’s cookin’ sister?”

Geez, I wonder which animator’s alter-ego *THIS* is!

He then decides to clumsily entertain his ladylove by dancing to a great Latin rhythm of the usual song, “La Cucaracha”, but he dances too close to the fireplace, setting his tail on fire. This is good for the audio of the cartoon because the action starts up now, even with Bradley’s score percolatin’ as well underneath. Butch yowls and leaps into the air looking for something to put out his flaming behind. He wedges himself into the fishbowl, but is again driven mad trying to release himself from it. He again leaps into the air, this time hanging from the ceiling and ripping it to shreds as he hangs on and tries to shake the bowl loose. While all this is happening, out in the darkness, the bulldog is coming to and hearing the commotion. He groggily makes his way into the house just as Butch rips his way across the ceiling to where the bulldog is unfortunately right under him…and this is where the claws lose their grip on the ceiling and the cat and fishbowl come tumbling down on top of the dog with the fishbowl breaking over the dog’s hard head! I dimly recall the intercutting of inside and outside scenes here as being quite good, climaxing in the afore-mentioned crash as the cat falls from the ceiling.

The chase is on…and forgive me if some of the finer details are forgotten here, but the cat seems to evade the dog’s attacks, sending the dog crashing into a wall or tumbling into a suit of armor that Butch fills with hot coals that send the dog flying up into the air. As this occurs, the butler (geez, I wondered where he was all this time) is now aware of the commotion and is calling for his dog, who crashes down in a heap on top of him. The dog is not done chasing the cat, though, and the beast tries to leap forward, not realizing that he is caught in the butler’s suspenders. Once ripping free, the dog continues the chase, knocking over pictures and vases or whatever is in his way up and down the stairs!

The butler, meanwhile decides to grab his pick ax and get rid of this intruder himself. The chase had gone through the wash cycle in the nearby tub and now escalates through the rooms as the butler enters swinging the ax and trying to hit the cat as the cat and dog go running in circles around where the butler is nervously standing, but can you kids guess what happens next?

Yup, the ol' faithful bulldog gets it in the head, but as is the case with cartoon characters, he is merely stunned for a few seconds and ends up turning on the evil butler with the ax in his hand, snapping angrily at his pants and ripping them to shreds and sending the two crashing through the plate glass window and off down the street as the alley cat continues singing to his ladylove, inviting his pals in for a last chorus as the iris closes. Aw gee!

There are so many elements of this cartoon that smack of Hanna-Barbera intrusion. Didn’t we see an envious butler and his dog in a much later “TOP CAT” episode in which Benny the Ball is mistaken for some rich cat and those alley cats invade the good life for a while? Also, that hormonal howl of the alley cat taking up his lover’s invite sounds mysteriously like those yowls that Joe Barbera is said to have produced as vocalizing for Tom getting pinned on any part of his body by Jerry in their usual battles of wits. Just listen to a cartoon called “THE MILKY WAIF” and you’ll see what I mean. As far as I know, this is the first time we hear this howl in an MGM cartoon, so it is possible that Joe Barbera (or was it Bill Hanna) premiered it here? It has also been a running gag in some Hanna-Barbera cartoons that the lead character is not always what he or she seems. So it might be an H/B-ism for the alley cat to be such a loud-mouthed, gravelly-voiced and almost unappealing boorish young male instead of the usual golden-throated romeo that we’ve come to expect in animated vehicles like this.

My only other comment is that the four-part barber shop quartetting covey of alley cats reminds me of a similar scene in Disney’s much later “LADY AND THE TRAMP” in which a covey of dogs serenades the two lovers (or friends). Maybe, if we get another fantastic Scott Bradley double-CD set of scores similar to the fantastic TOM & JERRY AND TEX AVERY, TOO set, the consultants can find that bit of singing and include it in its entirety. It is fantastic and I’m sorry that the action is taking place while the cats are in good harmonics, here.

What can I say, I love cat cartoons! “Meow meow meow meeeooooow!” Check it out yourselves on YouTube. It is posted there, and let’s hope that a complete HAPPY HARMONIES set comes out real soon.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Orphan Toon Musings 5: Those Wonderful Local Cartoon Shows

"Skipper" Tom Hatten of KTLA-Los Angeles and
friend, who inspired many a young viewer to
become interested in animation (like
this blog's Humble Toonkeeper, Rachel)
--image from LATVLegends.com
The very best of the very worst: Sam Singer's
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse
(Image from ToonTracker.com )

(Note to readers: The review of "Landing Stripling" I'd originally intended to post is temporarily grounded, while I recover from an allergy attack brought on by the miserable Wisconsin weather. Kevin, meanwhile, has stepped in with this wonderful look at local cartoon shows of the past--Rachel)


By Kevin Wollenweber

Well, apparently, last weekend, there was this lengthy celebration of WPIX-TV, once our local Channel 11 and now a CW super station. I missed most of the hoopla, but I do have my memories of it and a lot of kids’ television back in what I still consider the heyday. If it wasn’t for the short-sightedness of TV executives, thinking that anything cartoon is automatically for the little ones, most of us would probably never have seen most of the cartoons we talk about on our blogs.

What I wouldn’t give, now, to see a program that devotes itself solely to the earliest LOONEY TUNES and Paul Terry cartoons, along with guilty pleasures like “COURAGEOUS CAT & MINUTE MOUSE”, “Q. T. HUSH” and even “SPUNKY & TADPOLE”, perhaps the strangest of these cheaply knocked-off chapter-type adventure cartoons, this time about a boy and his clueless teddy bear who, for some reason, is given the name Tadpole. Of course, that is not the only question mark that one has when watching the series, but hey, one has to have grown up watching local kids’ TV to know how much fun seeing even these strange little cartoons is again.

Checking out the last half hour of the special retrospective on the programming over the years of the former WPIX-TV, I was reminded, even if I didn’t see the representations throughout that finale, that it was on Channel 11 here in New York/Long Island, that I’d seen “THE WOODY WOODPECKER SHOW”, hosted by his creator in the theatrical age, Walter Lantz. The animator must have wanted to have a kind of rapport with kids that the other Uncle Walt had and, so, guided his viewers through the inner workings of an animation studio with dialogue that seemed so over-rehearsed and contrived, but hey, for those of us who had never visited such a place, this was a good way of learning how cartoons were made. I’m sure that this kind of background might have caused the mor artistic among us to start attempting our own drawing style and even creating flip books. I know that I had tried, with limited vision, to create a moving character in the flip book style, but this never worked out. I guess it was easier on see-through cells, but it sure was fun trying.

I was also reminded that WPIX-TV was possibly the home for the direct-to-syndication cartoons like WALLY GATOR, TOUCHE TURTLE and LIPPY THE LION. Gee, whatever happened to the proposed DVD volume that was due to come out earlier this year on those three characters? While I wouldn’t count these three as large a priority as “QUICK DRAW MCGRAW”, I still would have welcomed that set.

Television was wonderful when it was local. I was a choosey TV watcher, although I did spend way too many hours in front of that old black and white box. My day began, as those of you have heard from me too many times now, with “THE EARLY BIRD CARTOON SHOW”, on our local WABC-TV affiliate, the stellar cartoon lineup that featured a hodgepodge of MGM and Van Buren cartoons wedged in between episodes of “COURAGEOUS CAT & MINUTE MOUSE” or “Q. T. HUSH”, TV cartoons created by Sam Singer, one now dubbed the Ed Wood of the cartoon industry for very good reasons. These toons were created with the credo that “kids will believe anything”. Courageous Cat, a kind of “BATMAN” parody, could do anything with his trick gun *EXCEPT* shoot bullets. It’s a hip idea, but it really was an over-the-top use of cartoon license, perhaps to avoid outcries of too much senseless violence in animation due to gunfire and other implements of destruction, but throughout the series, there were many, many incidents of senseless violence without gunfire, as well as all sorts of strange impressions of the world in turmoil, very few of them now deemed politically correct!!

Dal McKennon, the one time voice of young Gumby for Art Clokey Productions, did almost all the voices. I wish I knew who the other voices were as I always enjoyed the voices of the gangster called the Frog and his extremely dopey assistant, Harry (“Duh, I like ba-nan-as”) Ape. I’ve been told that WPIX-TV did pick up “COURAGEOUS CAT” for afternoon broadcasting, but I somehow missed this, thinking that they left WABC-TV for that big cartoon data base in the sky that we’re all waiting to see come back down to earth, someday, in the form of DVD releases. Actually, the entire “COURAGEOUS CAT” series is put on DVD, in four volumes, from A&E Home Entertainment, if anybody cares, but for a rather hefty price…and not even restored. One wonders, though, whether these prints featured on this set make up the only existing source material that remains. Some opening credits look as if they were horribly spliced together from previous stories. Everything about these productions smacks of shortcutting, although I’d sure like to know where they got all the stock music used for this series. Surely, the opening theme should have been found for a CD released years ago called TOON TUNES—50 GREATEST CARTOON THEMES. Play the theme for anyone, and you’ll perk up even the biggest negative critic of the Sam Singer cartoons. It is considered his Citizen Kane.

But the big deal about that “EARLY BIRD CARTOON SHOW” was the inclusion of just about every MGM cartoon ever made, including the MGM version of BOSKO. Yes, they even regularly aired “HALF-PINT PYGMY”, a Tex Avery cartoon in which his GEORGE & JUNIOR characters, inspired by Steinbeck’s George and Lenny from the novel, OF MICE AND MEN, go on a “hunt” for pygmies, seeking out the littlest one. This was back when TV used to air old film, not even videotape or kinnies. I remember the afore-mentioned cartoon breaking right in the middle, and I recall another time when someone accidentally ran a cartoon in reverse. I don’t recall its title, but it was a ROBIN HOOD sendup; might have been a Van Buren?

In the afternoon, for me, I began at the stroke of 12:00, with “POW-WOW THE INDIAN BOY” which I believe was on WPIX, also featuring some post-Code Max Fleischer cartoons featuring BETTY BOOP. I recall having to wait until 3:00 for anything further that I liked. Among these were some shows on our local WNEW-TV, Metromedia channel 5, with creative hosts like Soupy Sales and Sandy Becker, who would go on to voice Mr. Wizard the Lizard for Total Television’s TUTOR (or TOOTER) TURTLE, which was part of the “KING LEONARDO’S SHORT SUBJECTS” cartoon series. Later, we’d gotten some interesting new imports in the form of anime like “ASTRO BOY”, “KIMBA THE WHITE LION”, “GIGANTOR” and “SPEED RACER”. The first appeared on WNEW-TV and the last three all were part of WPIX as far as I can recall!

So, as we celebrate, in our own way, the memories of the existence of WPIX-TV and local TV in general, we should recall the joys we got out of twisting that dial and know that television was such a great place to find old films of all kinds.