According to the Merritt and Kaufman book, Silly Symphonies, Three Little Pigs premiered on May 25th, 1933 at Radio City Music Hall. It opened in LA on July 13th and the rest of the country soon followed. But, as was noted in our last episode, at least one of the trades–Motion Picture Herald–didn’t review it for showmen until the October 7th issue, with the first reaction from an actual theater owner two weeks later.
By that time, it’s likely that the first records of “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf” were already in the shops.
By the time the film–and the song–came out, there were only four firms left making phonograph records–and one of them was hanging on by the hair of its chiny-chin-chin!
The other three marketed records at various price points. Victor, Columbia and Brunswick were pegged at seventy-five cents–a good hourly wage for a middle-class job, if one could find such employment. Other labels were marketed at thirty-five cents, or three for a dollar–if you had the dollar. And there were some that sold in department – and dime-stores for twenty-five cents… or even less!
The first recording we’ve found was cut on September 13th, when Victor Young took a group of about a dozen top studio men into the hall at 1776 Broadway. A quartet billed as “The Songsmiths” took the singing, which took up much of the allotted three minutes. “The Songsmiths” was built around Frank Luther–a name very familiar to collectors of children’s records. (We will meet up with him again in future columns of this series). They only got in one verse and repeated chorus, and a violinist was allowed to play some fancy capers. That violinist could be Joe Venuti–then again, maybe it’s Harry Hoffman.
Two days later, the Victor studio resounded to this ditty, as a record was made for Victor’s cheap (thirty-five cents) Bluebird label. Society band leader Bill Scotti led an eleven-piece band in a performance of the Churchill-Ronell song. This was the last of seven sides recorded by Scotti on that date.
After a quiet weekend, the studio at 1776 Broadway was busy again, and a version was made for the newly-re-energized Vocalion label on the 18th. The record was issued under the billing of Richard Himber and his Essex House Orchestra. However, for some reason or other, the recording is actually by Freddie Martin and his Orchestra. This one gets both the verses in–the first one sung by Terry Shand (a pianist who got the lighter material), and the second by saxophonist Elmer Fedkamp (who got the romantic stuff.) At that, it’s more sprightly than the usual run of Martin’s sides of the time.
A week later, Don Bestor’s orchestra was in the Victor studio, cutting five selections–including “Big Bad Wolf”. Something must have gone amiss,though–they were back in the studio on October 4, to cut the lupine melody again, along with four other sides.
Bestor’s orchestra has a tangential relation to the ‘toons. During 1935-36, his orchestra supplied the music for Jack Benny’s radio show. When Jack wanted some music at the end of a sketch, he’d announce “Play, Don!” Alert fans will remember the line used at the end of “Miss Glory”, that exercise in art moderne that Warner Bros. relesed in 1936.
The next day, the studio at 1776 Broadway rang yet again, as another version of “Who’s Afraid. . .?” was cut. This was intended for the “dime-store” labels – Melotone, Perfect, Banner, Oriole and Romeo – and was cut by an orchestra billed as “Harry Reser and his Eskimos’. If that billing seems a mite fanciful, remember that Reser–a master of the banjo and guitar–had led the Clicquot Club Eskimos over the radio for several years in the middle-to-late 1920’s. Publicity shots show the band dolled up in parkas and amid sleds–guess they couldn’t find any huskies!
Loretta Clemens (sic) sings a rather cuesy-poo vocal. She’s the Loretta Clemons who worked with her brother Jack on a morning radio show over WEAF (and the NBC network) and made a couple of sides for Victor in 1937: two songs from Babes In Arms. Under her married name Loretta Tupper she found late in life success as an actor, an “old lady” in dozens of commercials and movies shot in New York (Annie Hall, King of Comedy, Purple Rose of Cario, etc.).
The same day, in Columbia’s Chicago studios, Ben Bernie and All The Lads cut two versions of this tender refrain. One was a standard ten-inch record. The other was a twelve-inch version, with longer running time, which allowed them to get all the song in. For the most part, it was intoned by Ben Bernie hmself–whom we’ll meet in a future column. It’s likely that one or ore of his musicians gets in on the act, as well.
Finally, there’s Champion Records–which was only hanging on in the industry from its eyrie in Richmond, Indiana. Two versions were recorded and issued. One was by Stan Stanley’s orchestra–probably a “territory” band out of Ohio. The other was a vocal disc by the Shanks Brothers Trio.
If either record sold a hundred copies, it was doing well for Champion, which would manage to hold on for just over another year.
Next week: Who’s Afraid Of An International Earache?