Thursday, December 23, 2010


From the December 1935 issue of the Fleischer Animated News (click to enlarge). Happy Holidays & thanks for visiting my brain in 2010!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

John Kirby in 'Shakespearian Spinach'?

Well, the video is still out so this week so I thought I might offer up what is still available to me: audio - and a mystery musical passage from the 1940 Max Fleischer Cartoon: "Shakespearean Spinach".

The cartoon, 'Shakespearean Spinach', was released in January 1940: well into Fleischer Studios' Miami stay. From what I have read the move was advantageous in some ways more than others. While the lush climate must have been overwhelming for bunch of urbanites outside of New York for the first time there still was the matter of how the heck to conduct business when so far away from it. It must have been a crazy amount of telegrams securing long distance all the various services required for a cartoon film studio to operate - especially in the wild and wooly 30's! As I understand it, one of these problems was music. You weren't likely to find the top musical talent as simply in Miami as you would have in New York in the 30's. This is why, as I understand it, the music (or parts of it) were farmed out to New York and Los Angeles. This long distance approach could have meant the increased likelihood of being short on music when production of a cartoon was finishing. Was this going to stop production? Heck no!

Four years prior to the Fleischer move there began a new strip of nightclubs located on NY's 52nd street. Among them were: Leon & Eddie's, The Famous Door, Kelly's Stables & others. The idea was to have a street of clubs which offered different varieties of jazz music: from dixieland to swing and, ultimately, bebop. It was an area where musicians as different in style as Art Tatum and Eddie Condon could be heard directly across the street from each other. It was at 52nd Street's Onyx Club that John Kirby and his 'Orchestra' (actually a sextet) made it's home. The Kirby band (at the time known under the monicker "Biggest Little Band In The World") forged it's way in the jazz world with light, but incredibly tight, ensemble swing arrangements of popular classical melodies. The practice of 'swingin' the classics' was generally despised by serious music critics but the public ate it up. Besides there was no royalty to pay to record such tunes! Soon everything was getting the swing treatment: from Bizet's Carmen to Dvorak's Humoresque to Flotow's Martha.

Which brings us back to the mysterious music heard in the 'third act' of Shakesperean Spinach. Oddly enough it was around 1941 that ASCAP pulled all the songs it owned from the radio necessitating the use of such royalty free songs. Whether this impacted Fleischer Studios (or if the exact chronology lines up) I don't know. What I do know is that at every time I watch 'Shakespearean Spinach' I am quite certain I am hearing Martha as performed by The John Kirby Orchestra. Or rather a 78 of the John Kirby Orchestra as a distinct change in the compression of the soundtrack is clearly audible. The practice of using 78 rpm records to 'sweeten' or otherwise fill out soundtracks certainly wasn't new to animation. At least one of Iwerks' Willie Whopper cartoons made use of 78 records by Jelly Roll Morton but it was unusual by 1940 standards. Back in New York the Fleischers could have hired John Kirby for a soundtrack (as they had with Cab Calloway & Louis Armstrong years earlier) but once in Miami, virtually Siberia as far as the Music Industry was concerned, were they backed into using a record? I can find no recording of Martha by John Kirby in my collection so I can't be sure. I think I have all the commercial records through 1941 ... but they also recorded for Radio. For those interested here is the link to 'Shakespearean Spinach".

The passage I'm referring to occurs roughly between the following points (below). You will have to let it completely load before you can scroll to the correct point.



Is it John Kirby?

Charlie Shavers & John Kirby pose before the Onyx 'O'.

I can't give definitive proof but here is John Kirby performing 'Bounce of the Sugar Plum Fairy' and, again, at the end of this link performing a movement from Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Take a listen and maybe you can solve a mystery.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mr. Elephant Goes O' Town

Well it's almost that magical time of year: the time when people think red, green & gold is a good color combination (it isn't) and fireside hard liquor ads warm us with their televisiony glow. And what better way to kick off the liquor season then with this Color Rhapsody released October 4, 1941! Occasionally funny, occasionally disturbing but mostly alcohol verite, 'Mr. Elephant Goes to Town' is no work of genius. That honor most certainly goes to 'Man of Tin'.

These are fairly new to me as well - I was missing a couple years of the Columbia discs. Amazed to discover some of them have original title cards intact!

Mr. Elephant is a moron.

Mr. Elephant is a stereotype.

Case closed.

Case Open: Liquor lovingly rendered.

Preferred drink? The malted variety. Hey, this is a class establishment!

There's some nice drawings in Mr. Elephant goes to town, occasional bits of nice animation (like Mr. Elephant fleeing the owl above) and the requisite wormy floaty of the late 30's Columbia studio. In a way it isn't as intrusive in a cartoon almost singularly dedicated to the joys of alcohol. The film was released two months to the day before Fleischer Studios' 'Mr. Bug Goes To Town' (December 4) so one wonders if this film was perhaps Columbia exercising some control over over it's similarly named Capra films: 'Mr. Deeds Goes To Town' (1936) & 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington' (1939)?

Mr. Elephant has a wormily animated conscience that stares back at him from his drunken stupor. I hate it when that happens.

Oh yeah, that night-I thought I deleted those photos!

I did WHAT?!

Is this funny or pitiful? Columbia wasn't afraid to go to those bizarre areas - who knows what they were thinking? Those nubby hands are kinda cool though...

Running into the reflection: a moment of horror any drunk can relate to. 'Man, that guy looks terrible!'

Even a wormy animated conscience needs a belt every now and then.

'Tis the season...

Sorry folks, DVD drive troubles this week so you will just have to imagine as best you can the full 24 bit blogsensory experience that is 'Mr. Elephant'. When I get the problem worked out I'll post the cartoon. In the mean time clamor here for the Mintz cartoons on DVD.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Time is tight again so I must delay yet another week "Mr. Elephant Goes To Town" about a character who Mr. Bug, Mr. Smith and Mr. Deeds all scrupulously (and wisely) avoided. Here is sample of the kind of wormy floaty goodness to come. You will be amazed and then go to town.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Now with hippos

Messing with template fever. Just like the old blog but now with demented Terry Hippos. This will probably change a few times before I settle on what's back there. And speaking of Hippophants...

Coming Soon: Genius.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


After rushing up a bunch of posts for Halloween I think I'm taking a break this week. Just adding a few bugs (like my two favorite B's: Betty & Bowsky). In the meanwhile I'll see if I can't come up with something interesting to write about ... and don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the page for an extra-special bonus (courtesy of a bouncing ball) ...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: The Witch's Cat

Whew, it's a rush to get this year's Halloween post up. This year's pick is the 1948 Mighty Mouse cartoon: The Witch's Cat. As far as Mighty Mouse cartoons go this one is fairly routine: mice are having fun, cat shows up & acts like asshole & MM beats on him. Even Jim Tyer, an animator on this film, seems a little more hemmed in than usual. The real star of Terrytoons of this vintage, for me, is the color styling which was amazingly sumptuous. The Mighty Mouse cartoons may be a pattern-made thing but it's hard to take your eyes off of them!

Ooo La La!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Go here now!

Go here now! Bring them on we cry! Dee-eye dee-eye dee-eye!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Halloween: The Ghost Town Frolics

A bit rushed this week for posting but thought I should get up this little gem from the Lantz Studios: The Ghost Town Frolics (Released Sept.5, 1938). The period of Lantz during what freaks (like me) call the 'crappy Oswald' period has, to a certain degree, been over vilified by cartoon fans over the years. Sure, they're kinda floaty and a bit boring but this is the era when Lantz animation technically began to gell. They had a long way to go to get from the funky early 30's Lantz (my favorite period) to meet the polished animation demands of the 40's. I suspect Terry saw the writing on the wall too as the late 30's Terrytoons begin to predict their later style. This particular cartoon may suffer from somewhat weightless animation but is superbly handled in volume rotation and has many other aspects of interest. This not unlike the problem which occurred at Mintz years earlier although, by 1938, with the exception of a few of the Rhapsodies, that studio had pretty much flown off the guard rail.

a quickly cobbled together pan from the beginning (Click to enlarge). The ghosts are haunting a ghost town. If you are a ghost - follow the sign.

The ghosts are unemployed. Bummer.

They're bitter.

UPDATE: Gasmask Ted kean eyes have uncovered that the image of the ghost reading the 'How To Lose Friends and Scare People' is actually a parody of a November 1937 issue of Judge. Thanks Ted!

A few have dead end jobs.
These are the lucky ones...

The writer is asleep-naturally.

At least in this world of despair there is still booze.

Neat Efx animation, a cool dog design and a bunch of rubbery condom ghosts plus, as an added bonus, monkeys - what more could you ask for! We're three sheets in ... what?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween Rustlers

Here's a well remembered Halloween image from my childhood. As I recall the candy inside was terrible but I loved the graphics on the bag.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Halloween: The Herring Murder Case

Here's the story of the murder.
You better hold your breath.
It's all about the herring
who met a sudden death.
Keep your eyes on this detective.
He knows just to do.
Now watch BIM-BO find a clue.

Gus Gorilla, star of radio, may have worn patches on his sweater but they were not put there to make him appear intellectual. They were to cover the holes in his elbows.

Last week's post, 'The Nut Factory', got me to thinking about other cartoons of the Mystery genre. Remember that at this time the term 'horror' was seen as having a negative connotation and US studios were still feeling cautious about the reaction . Thus supernatural elements were often cross-bred with safer, more traditional fair in the Murder Mystery vein: the most successful being likely Universal's 'The Cat & The Canary'. When 'Skeleton Dance' was released in 1929 it must have been an overwhelming sensation. Throughout the 30's studios vied to get their own piece of the ghoulish goulash.

April-June, 1932: Ape vs. Reaper. 'The Cuckoo Murder Case' (left) 'The Herring Murder Case (right)

Things must have become pretty competitive. Broadly speaking, within three months of each other in 1932 two competing studios, Ub Iwerks & Max Fleischer, would release a version of the same film: The Cuckoo Murder Case (Flip the Frog, released April 27, 1932) & The Herring Murder Case (Bimbo, released June 26, 1932). I know the beginning of both of these must be based on a film of that time. Can anybody out there let me know what it is? Well, anyway, both films begin with murder and pit a detective against quasi-supernatural circumstances. However, beyond the penetration of the basic arc, they are quite different with Fleischers possibly out-doing Iwerks in the surrrealism department and Iwerks outdoing Fleischers in bizarre acting. For me, if there were a contest (& I wouldn't say there was), it's seriously my kinda contest!! They are both amazing but this post is about "The Herring Murder Case". . .

There are no credits for THMC and, aside from Culhane and Eugster I have no idea the animation crew.

A herring is shot and the entire world goes apeshit. No headlines, no reporters, they just know. The Fleischers aren't going to wait to hurl the audience into a weird situation.

Koko is upset and flying on mushrooms. This looks like it could be Culhane.
Culhane claimed that this was the model for Koko in THMC. That book did contain some forgeries (redraws) and this could be one of them. A few scenes of Koko do deviate stylistically in this direction but most, like below, base themselves on the standard model for Koko.

Sucks to have to squint through a print this rough isn't it? This same print has been circulating for years - most recently on the Garage Sale discs. I'm glad to see it in any form (& if you're here you feel the same way) but can you imagine being able to see this office well? Even a blown 16mm (but with a solid soundtrack as not all of them have) still hints at the density of detail in those Schenk backgrounds. There's some great business with Koko too in this office scene - wonder who animated it?

Was it Culhane who complained that one of the weaknesses of Fleischers was that a house would be depicted suddenly growing eyes and springing to life straining an audience's conception of a house? If this scene is an example, the comment shows how 'of-their time' an artist is always in danger of. Of course, Disney Studios very strictly curtailed anthropomorphism or action without explanation as part of their modus operandi and the rest is history. No fun animation had already started...

But in spite of the Disney inch toward a more conservative but commercial approach to animated characters, in 1932, Fleischer Studios was possibly at it's creative peak. The style which, like the later Cubby Bear cartoon below, mixed both cuteness and hideousness is not only fun to watch but had real heart too. Hey Gus, can you lend me your hanky? What the HELL ....?

Salvador Dali gets a nod in this sequence. There are plenty of amazing things to discover with every viewing of "The Herring Murder Case". Bits of Dave Fleischer business, background painter Schenk's illusionary touches or the animators exuberance and facile workmanship ... not to mention a fantastic soundtrack: this is prime Fleischers and I'm sure you think so too.

Coolest spider ever! It's a little octopus!

And as an extra Halloween bonus this weird afro-cuban jazz influenced jam 'The Limp' by The Nat King Cole Trio recorded for Standard Transcriptions ( an LA based supplier of radio discs) in February 1939. If you see a zombie staggering down the road this Halloween don't worry it's just a person killing themselves with alcohol. Until I limp into my next post...

un-hunh. un hunh. un-hunh