WHAT ABOUT THAD?
March 6, 2013 posted by Thad Komorowski

The Clampett-Freberg-Lorre Connection

As Bob Clampett’s reign at Warner Brothers Cartoons was coming to an end in the first half of 1945, a young, very talented man was brought in to do voices. As his autobiography says, he took a bus to Hollywood, went straight to a talent agency, and was promptly hired by Warners. This man was Stanley Freberg, the first in a wave of upstarts who would begin proving that just because Mel Blanc had been the only distinctive voice actor in Hollywood for years didn’t mean he’d always remain so.

freberg_colorThe Warner directors were taken by the 18 year-old Stan Freberg’s versatility and quickly began regularly casting him. He recorded his first voice for Bob Clampett for the ill-fated For He’s a Jolly Good Fala, a cartoon that was immediately aborted after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945. It was replaced in the studio pipeline by Bacall to Arms.

While I nor anyone else have heard any of the recorded dialogue for Fala, the scrapping of the cartoon did not hinder Freberg’s productivity. Even before FDR’s demise, Clampett had cast him for one of the titular Goofy Gophers (one of the director’s last projects for the studio). Chuck Jones had also used him for Bertie in Roughly Squeaking and he voiced Grover Groundhog in One Meat Brawl for Bob McKimson.

Well before all of this, Clampett had been planning to leave Leon Schlesinger’s studio, negotiating a possible supervisory position in the Screen Gems cartoon department in early 1944. That deal fell through. The following year, after Schlesinger sold his studio to Warners, Ray Katz and Henry Binder, Clampett’s friends and Leon Schlesinger’s old partners, became the new (and final) Screen Gems producers. Clampett was able to secure a job as a creative supervisor and story head. Which was all to the good – Clampett was working without a contract his final month at Warners (meaning he could leave when he wanted, or be let go when Ed Selzer wanted).

Clampett never directed at Screen Gems, where he might have made an actual difference. He only wrote his own stories and gave input to others. He was also responsible for getting Stan Freberg over to do voices at the studio (as well as Dave Barry). Freberg is heard in numerous Screen Gems cartoons of the period, like Kongo-Roo, Boston Beanie, Wacky Quacky, and Leave Us Chase It, train-wrecks that bely any description beyond “a schizoid’s point of view.”

Freberg also did an uncanny impersonation of Peter Lorre for the 1947 Color Rhapsody, Cockatoos for Two, which Clampett wrote and was directed by Bob Wickersham. Amazingly though, this was not the first time Freberg did the Lorre voice, nor was it the first time for Clampett either.

birth_notionThe first time was for the timeless Daffy Duck classic, Birth of a Notion, a cartoon that was originated by Clampett and ultimately directed by Bob McKimson. Clampett’s departure was certainly abrupt, as the April 28th 1945 recording sessions for both Birth of a Notion and Bacall to Arms indicate. Three cartoons he started had to be largely completed by Davis (Bacall and The Goofy Gophers) and McKimson (Notion).

I can’t help but wonder if Cockatoos for Two was Clampett’s way of pining over Birth of a Notion, not just because both have striking Lorre caricatures, but that the Columbia cartoon features a homing pigeon (voiced by storyman Cal Howard) that acts like Daffy Duck. It’s not as though we as viewers were deprived of anything, as Notion as directed by McKimson is surely still one of the heights of 1940s animated cartooning.

cockatoos344You will note that Freberg is directed very differently in these two cartoons. In the Warner cartoon, Freberg is doing a more subdued, menacing Lorre, as seen and heard in a film like Mad Love (in which Lorre does play a mad doctor). In the Columbia cartoon, Freberg is directed far ‘cartoonier,’ akin to Lorre’s much less serious roles in films like Arsenic and Old Lace.

Oh, and I should take note, this particular transfer is incredibly rare, as no complete set of elements on the cartoon exist in the Columbia Pictures vaults. I discovered, and transferred, an original 35mm nitrate IB Technicolor print of Cockatoos for Two last year and shared images from it. Sadly, the opening credits and last few seconds of this print were clipped, so I’ve used footage from a B/W 16mm print. I now present that reconstruction here for the world, for free.


Thanks to Keith Scott and Mike Barrier, both of whom provided research material for this piece. Steve Stanchfield, Collin Kellogg, Jerry Beck, and Fredrik Sandstrom helped make the film reconstruction a reality.

This article was re-post from Thad Komorowski’s What About Thad blog with his permission.

21 Comments

  • One other difference is how the studios used the Lorre personality..At Warners, in “/Birth of a Notion” or the other two contemporaneous uses of Peter, in Jones :”Hair-Raising Hare”: and Freeling’s “Racketeer Rabbit”, he’s a very passive part of the story. Other than the gag where Lorre pops through the pinball machine/door and is slapped around by Daffy, there really isn’t much contact between him and the cartoon’s main character.

    When he’s on screen, the focus stays on his slow-paced persona mixed with the borderline psychotic voice. The interaction and violence against the bad guy is between Daffy and Leopold, or Bugs and the big orange monster or Bugs and Edward G. Robinson. In “Cockatoos” there is no intermediary bad guy to bang around and the story suffers for it, because Lorre’s character is funnier when he’s slightly detached from the violent gags.

    “”

  • wow…this is amazing. I thought I had read in the Peter Lorre biography that Warner Bros. had trademarked Peter Lorre’s likeness, so that other studios were not allowed to use it in their parodies. But I doubt that Bob Clampett would have minded what WB thought at that point.

    • Clampett sure didn’t adhere to copyright law (save when it came to his own copyright), as is made obvious by his use of Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat facsimiles in other Screen Gems cartoons. (Although in this case he probably got away with it because they were Columbia cartoons and nobody saw them.)

      He also went far past what anyone would normally consider ‘parody’ or ‘fair use’ with the appearances by various Disney and Warner characters in the BEANY & CECIL cartoons. I love it!

  • Why didn’t Stan Freberg (or anyone else) receive any screen credit?
    I think Mel Blanc was great, but he getting sole screen credit gave me the impression when I was a kid watching all these great cartoons, that he did all the voice work. One thing I discovered that one of classic voices he did not preform was Elmer Fudd. Now I see that Stan Freberg was another noncredit voice actor. Was it in Mel Blanc’s contract..???

    • Yes, it was in Mel’s contract that he was to receive sole credit.

    • If it helps any, here’s a video of Peter Lorre killing Mel Blanc after a live action version of a Tex Avery gag from “Northwest Hounded Police”

      (He also kills Jack Benny, Don Wilson a cameraman and a boom mike stagehand, and the idea of Peter Lorre as a homicidal Rupert Pupkin is pretty funny, but it also highlights the fine line comedy writers in real life or cartoons had to walk in using Lorre’s on-screen persona. You had to take advantage of the comedy possibilities of a psychotic murderer while lowering the creepiness factor as much as possible. That’s why it was funnier at Warners to put a bit of a buffer between the main character and Lorre because it keeps the audience from thinking about what that creepiness was supposed to represent in Lorre’s serious movie roles.)

    • If I remember correctly he WAS given credit on Three Little Bops.

    • Stan Freberg once spoke about the “Three Little Bops” and he said that Friz Freleng considered it a special cartoon and said, “To Hell with Mel, you’re getting credit on this one!”

  • Clampett actually gave Freberg screen credit in his 1947 Republic one-shot cartoon IT’S A GRAND OLD NAG. But it was incredibly rare in that decade for anyone to get voice credit other than Blanc. Hans Conried got billed in Lantz’s SLIPHORN KING OF POLAROO, and Ed Begley in a Famous; a couple of well known announcers demanded billing, but that was it until screen credit for voices began appearing in the 50s (Lantz began giving coccasional names from 1953). Incidentally, Thad, I don’t think Freberg is in KONGO-ROO or LEAVE US CHASE IT. Columbia used a handful of actors in those last three years, and there are still I couple I haven’t identified. But in COCKATOOS FOR TWO, it is Freberg as Lorre and Clampett revealed that gag man Cal Howard did the bird’s voice. I suspect Howard did a few “in-house” voices in this period.

    • Ah, geez, really, Keith? Dang. Even that TOTALLY TOONED IN episode credits Freberg in LEAVE US CHASE IT, and that was well before the made-up “Internet credits” of today. Thanks for the correction.

  • That was interesting. It wasn’t at all funny, but it was interesting. Poor Columbia just never got it together.

    When I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Freberg several years ago, he quite pointedly chose not to discuss Bob Clampett or Beany and Cecil. For what reason, I do not know. Granted the interview was primarily concerned with his radio series, and his later work in advertising. He did talk some about Mel Blanc and his work for Warner Bros.–mainly his surprise at how well-remembered the character of Pete Puma was, and that maybe the reason the character wasn’t reused was because the voice was an out-and-out imitation of comedian Frank Fontaine’s “Crazy Guggenheim.”

  • Man, I just want to spend a dinner with Keith and Jerry just shooting the cartoon….uh, stuff!!!!! Fun stuff!!!!

  • Holy crap, Thad actually uploaded his print of Cockatoo for Two! What a treat. That’s the best we’ll ever see this cartoon, folks.

  • Wow, WB must have been really low on the Hollywood totem pole if Bob Clampett would leave a director’s position to go to friggin Screen Gems.

    Clampett would also cast Freberg as Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent.

  • Well, I may be mistaken, here, but there was a cartoon before “THREE LITTLE BOPS” in which Mel did absolutely *NO* voices, and that cartoon was “MEATLESS FLY-DAY”, a favorite of mine because of its score, almost completely based around the music of Raymond Scott…and it is a great one shot cartoon as well. Also, the DAFFY DUCK bird in the Columbia cartoon kinda reminded me more of Woody Woodpecker without the laugh. Thanks for letting me check out that film, Thad. One can only imagine what Bob Clampett would have done if allowed to direct.

    • For the record, Mel Blanc has one line as an Air Raid Warden in MEATLESS FLYDAY (“Put out that light!”).

  • Sorry, but I can’t watch a cartoon with a huge “Uploaded by Thad K.” taped on it.

    • That watermark is there for a reason…

  • Is there a version without the gigantic watermark on it?

  • Hey, when you guys spend several hundred dollars locating and transferring a single lost film, you can put it up online without a watermark. Keep the peace.

    • Well said, Thad. Complainers…show us historians/researchers/collectors/archivists the time and money!

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