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.
The 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.
The 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.
You 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.