EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week on Stu’s Show, I was asked by Stu Shostack and Jeanine Kasun about the song “I Haven’t Got A Hat” – the song used in the 1935 Merrie Melodies cartoon that introduced Porky Pig to the world. Don Yowp immediately responded via Facebook with some good information about the tune he found in the old trade magazines. I went to my old colleague Will Friedwald – now an renown writer/historian of jazz music – for a little more background. The result: Here is what I hope will be the first of many posts about the songs and music in classic Hollywood cartoons. – Jerry Beck
I HAVEN’T GOT A HAT. (alternate title: “I’ll Tip My Hat”)
authors: Buddy Bernier & Bob (Robert D.) Emmerich
introduced in a musical short titled Georgie Price in “Tickets, Please” (released in March, 1935)
Most of the songs that were used as the titles of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were hand-me-downs from Warner Bros. Features (“I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song,” “Along Flirtation Walk” etc.) but there were a few that originated with the studio’s live action musical short subjects division: both “Bingo Crosbyana” (by Sanford Green) and “I Haven’t Got A Hat” began life this way, the latter being performed by singing trio The Three Sizzlers in a Vitaphone “Broadway Brevity” musical short titled Tickets, Please (released in March, 1935). Here is a rare excerpt from the film, courtesy of Vitaphone historian Ron Hutchinson:
You might say that this is what is known as a “lateral move,” but at the time, the cartoon department was at the absolute bottom of the studio’s food chain. For Warners in 1935, cartoons were still mere filler on theater programs. It wasn’t until a few years later that Warner Bros. would boast a regular cast of the best-loved animated characters in the world: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig. And, not coincidentally, the latter cartoon star first saw the light of day – albeit in barely recognizable, embryonic form (both hatless and pants-less) – in this 1935 Merrie Melodies cartoon, I Haven’t Got A Hat.
The song itself had no life beyond these two short subjects appearances: it was published in 1934 by Remick Music Corp., NY, one of the publishing houses owned by Warner Bros. The sheet music cover (at right, click to enlarge) makes no mention of Tickets, Please, but it seems to have been used in that short at least a few months after the song came out. “I Haven’t Got A Hat” was never recorded commercially, although it’s gained a kind of after-the-fact immortality as being the title of the cartoon to introduce Porky Pig. Co-composer Buddy Bernier would have long careers in the music business, being responsible for two all-time jazz standards: “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (widely recorded by all the major modernists, including John Coltrane, Stan Getz, and Sonny Rollins), and “Poinciana” – Bernier would contribute the highly-successful English lyric to one of the most famous Brazilian songs ever.
The song takes up exactly 40 seconds in the cartoon: it’s sung by two little dogs in a school room talent show setting. They share the voice of Berneice Hansell (aka Bernice Hanson), who supplied all the voice tracks for the studio’s little cutie characters of the 1930s, although here she’s joined by a basso who, actually, gives the performance its humor – the contrast of his deep, profundo wordless notes against her trilly soprano, and the incongruous of that deep voice coming out of a tiny little dog. Likely, director Friz Freleng was compelled to build a cartoon around the song by the studio; the classroom concept probably derives from the song’s lyrics, which revolve around the rather arcane college tradition of prohibiting underclassmen from wearing hats. The sheet music cover, supplied to us by Vince Giordano, shows a hatless college boy (as indicated by his bushy raccoon coat) offering his hand to a well-dressed girl, hands in muff. Overall, you might think that it’s more of a song for 1924 than 1934 – who could afford to send their kid to university in the economic depths of 1934? Yet college songs and movies proliferated in the mid and late 1930s. (I guess no one could afford to go “Over the Rainbow” either.)
Click thumbnails below to read the sheet music for I Haven’t Got A Hat: