With such a stellar cast and songwriting team, powerhouse studio marketing and a who’s-who of artists behind it, UPA’s second feature couldn’t miss, right?
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents
The Voice of Judy Garland in a UPA Production
Original Motion Picture Sound Track
Warner Bros. Records BS-1479 Stereo / W-1479 Mono (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP)
Released in August, 1962. Arranger/Orchestrator/Conductor: Mort Lindsey. Vocal Arranger: Joseph E. Lilley. Music Editors: Wayne Hughes, George Probert. Recorded at Capitol Records Studios, Hollywood. Running Time: 35 minutes.
Voices: Judy Garland (Mewsette); Robert Goulet (Jaune Tom); Red Buttons (Robespierre); Paul Frees (Meowrice); The Mellomen (Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Cole, Max Smith).
Songs: “Mewsette,” “Little Drops of Rain,” “The Money Cat,” “Take My Hand, Paree,” “Paris is a Lonely Town,” “Bubbles,” “Roses Red, Violets Blue,” “Little Drops of Rain (Reprise)”, “The Horse Won’t Talk,” “The Mewsette Finale” by Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg.
Instrumentals: “Overture” (with Judy Garland and Chorus), “Variation: Paris is a Lonely Town” by Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg; “Portraits of Mewsette” by Mort Lindsey.
Rhino Handmade Records RHM2-7600 (Stereo / 2003)
Reissue Producer/Liner Notes: George Feltenstein. Project Supervisor: Patrick Milligan. Mastering/Engineering: Doug Schwartz. Art Direction: Rachel Gutek. Creative Services Director: Lori Carfora. Project Assistance: Steve Woolard. Special Thanks: Ken Bloom, Michael Feinstein, John Fricke, Bill Inglot, Ed Jablonski.
Bonus Tracks: “Little Drops of Rain,” Roses Red, Violets Blue,” “The Horse Won’t Talk,” “The Money Cat,” “Paris is a Lonely Town,” (1961 demos sung by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg).
If UPA’s Gay Purr-ee feature had been released as a small independent feature with a less high-profile cast, or better yet, had been a one-hour TV spectacular, it might have been hailed as a breakthrough of visual art and music—just the thing UPA’s Henry Saperstein was hoping for. As a TV special, the thin story and limited character development wouldn’t matter as much, and the musical numbers would be true highlights rather than a gradual succession of intrusions.
But that’s true of Walt Disney’s 1961 Babes in Toyland, too–more of a big, splashy holiday TV special than a theatrical feature (which time has transformed into exactly that both on home video and in theme parks).
Warner Bros. touted Gay Purr-ee as “The grandest new idea in screen entertainment ever.” They were rather shrewd to advertise it a “very, very new idea,” almost as a heads-up to audiences—especially parents—that this was not like a Disney feature. This was a highly sophisticated confection in which a naïve young cat hitches a ride to Paris, falls immediately into the hands of a… (wait, you know what he is?) who hands her off to a… (isn’t it pretty clear what she is?) in order to make her into a… really?
In a 1962 mainstream feature cartoon? (Wait, let me check the Little Golden Book to be sure…).
Maybe something was edited from the script by Chuck Jones and his wife Dorothy, but the viewer is offered little about Garland’s character, Mewsette, to elicit much empathy for her. The male lead cat, voiced by then-Camelot star Robert Goulet, proceeds to rescue her, accompanied by his comic relief Robespierre, played by Red Buttons.
Warner Bros. and UPA wanted to have their soufflé and eat it, too. The film’s cute characters like Robespierre, plus comical and action scenes appealing to kids, only added to confusion about its intended target. Gay Purr-ee was merchandised like any other animated property with toys and books. Judy Garland had been associated with annual CBS broadcasts of The Wizard of Oz for seven years already. The film had the same songwriters. Families might have been startled at the leisurely pace and adult content of the movie they went to see.
All that aside, Gay Purr-ee is quite extraordinary when taken on its own as an animated work. The art direction, backgrounds and especially the color styling are often downright dazzling. UPA was sincerely trying to go for something different with the feature form—a challenge that continues in animation today. Taken in that context, it’s a pretty bold attempt.
Jones reportedly was more involved with the production than the credits allow (George Feltenstein’s CD liner notes mention an “acrimonious” situation with Warner Bros., which was in the process of shutting down its animation studio). Much of the feature looks as much like a Jones film as a UPA cartoon. One could almost make a two-column list of the characters with UPA looks (Mewsette, Robespierre), and Jones styles (Jaune Tom, Meowrice, Madame). It’s only a few steps away from becoming “Pepe LePew The Motion Picture.” (Feltenstein’s Warner Archive division, incidentally, now offers the DVD of Gay Purr-ee, as it is more of a collectors’ title than a kids’ video to be sold at Target and other big box stores (though it was for a while).
The songs may not have become standards, but several are worthy of rediscovery. “Paris is a Lonely Town” (which sounds a little like “The Summer Knows” from 1972’s Summer of ’42) seemed to be the intended Garland breakout standard, along the lines of “The Man That Got Away”. TV host Jack Parr struck talk show gold when Garland made her first appearance on his unpredictable series to promote Gay Purr-ee. She proved to be a funny and outspoken guest. In the video below, the interview begins at 16:15, “Little Drops of Rain” comes at 28:55, “Paris is a Lonely Town” at 33:55, then Goulet joins her for “Mewsette” at 46:15.
For fans of the great Paul Frees, Gay Purr-ee is the greatest thing since French bread. No feature afforded him such a large role—with two songs. Accompanied by the Mellomen (the quartet who sang in so many Disney films as well as the themes for Davy Crockett, and Zorro), his “The Money Cat” is a delightful highlight. The soundtrack is also a showcase for the highly underrated Mort Lindsey, who worked on Garland’s TV show, her landmark Carnegie Hall album, and for years on The Merv Griffin Show. “Ooooooooooooo…”