ANIMATION ANECDOTES
January 2, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #193

From "The Baby Sitter" (1947)

From “The Baby Sitter” (1947)

Animated Hope. Popular comedian Bob Hope had a very distinctive face and he was always joking about his “ski slope” nose so you might think he would have been a common caricature in animated cartoons.

However, compared to some other celebrities, a cartoon Hope only appeared in a handful of animated shorts. I believe his first appearance was in Warner Brothers’ Malibu Beach Party (1940) where if you blinked you might have missed him among the many other stars at Jack Benny’s party.

Then he popped up as a picture in a star in the Little Lulu cartoon A Bout With A Trout (1947) when Lulu sings the song “Would You Like To Swing On A Star?” and in the 1947 Little Lulu cartoon The Baby Sitter as another celebrity at the famed nightclub, The Stork Club.

He is an animated penguin in the Little Audrey cartoon The Case of the Cockeyed Canary (1952) and in a role mirroring his long running hosting role for the Academy Awards ceremonies, he emcees a special award ceremony for Popeye the Sailor in Popeye’s 20th Anniversary (1954).

mother-magoo

Henny Backus Speaks. Henny Backus was the wife of Jim Backus who voiced the character of Mr. Quincy Magoo. They were married in 1943 and wrote several books together. She provided the voice of Quincy’s mother, Mother Magoo, who was in her late Eighties and raced cars but still had to endure the misguided attentions of her son who thought she was a helpless old woman.

Henny did the original voice in the cartoon Meet Mother Magoo (1956). Voice actress June Foray later took over the role.

“Magoo, according to Jim, is a raunchy, lecherous, ultra- conservative, mildly racist, skirt chasing, old bastard,” laughed Henny when she was interviewed. “We’ve always felt that an X-rated Magoo, done with a bit of taste, would be a blockbuster. Can you imagine that nearsighted old curmudgeon mistaking a house of ill repute for a car wash?

“Jim was in the 1952 film Don’t Bother to Knock with Marilyn Monroe. He came home one night during the filming and told me that Miss Monroe in her most seductive breathy voice asked him to meet her in her dressing room. His curiosity got the better of him and he went. Once there, she exclaimed like an excited child, ‘Do Mr. Magoo!’ And Jim did.”

bugsFreleng on Bugs Bunny. In 1990, animation legend Friz Freleng said, “I think (Bugs Bunny) is really more popular now than he was in the 1940s. I see some that, to us, were big flops at the time but now there are no failures at all. Some just get more laughs than others. They’re paying to see them (on a big theater screen) when they’ve seen them a hundred times on television.

“We used to go into meetings every once in a while and say, ‘Look, we’re losing Bugs. He’s not bright and mischievous as he was.’ And we’d look at some of the new pictures, then look at some of the old pictures and say, ‘He’s slowed down. He’s getting to be an old man. Let’s bring the kid back’. As we were getting older, Bugs was getting older without our realizing it. We had to remind ourselves to snap him up and get him a little peppier and brighter. We were continuously reminding ourselves we could lose the character very easily.”

Bradbury’s Fantasia Deal with God. In 1980, author Ray Bradbury who was a huge fan of Disney animation wrote the following: “Selling newspapers on a street corner, aged twenty. I told God that if He allowed me to be run over and killed by a car before (Disney’s animated feature film) Fantasia premiered (1940) I would cease being a Baptist on the spot and find some other, more considerate, Supreme Being. Needless to say, I survived to run about telling the world that one of the greatest films ever made was right there before them.”

pinocchio-vhsPrice Drop. Are any of you old enough to remember the furor at Christmas 1985 when Disney Home Video dropped the price on the “Pinocchio” videotape from $79.95 (with over 150,000 copies being sold at that price a few months earlier) to $29.95 for a holiday sale without any prior notice given to video dealers? When Benn Tenn, Vice President at Disney Home Video was asked it the lower price would spur more sales, he replied, “It better”.

The Animated Lantz Feature Film Never Made. “There were times when I would have liked to have produced a feature cartoon but I couldn’t get anyone to put up the money I required,” recalled producer Walter Lantz in 1980. “In the 1940s, Universal had the rights to the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and I thought it would make a wonderful animated feature.

“I was going to treat it like a comedy. I wanted to use caricatures of Abbott and Costello who were Universal’s top stars at the time. And I was going to have four or five thieves act like real burlesque comedians. But when we got down to figures, Universal only wanted to spend $400,000 and I needed at least a million. We could have done things Disney did but no one had his money. Disney had his own studio while I was on a weekly salary.”

LaVerne Harding. LaVerne Harding (1905-1984) was one of the first female animators and worked at the Walter Lantz Studio from around 1934-1959. In fact, she was responsible for the re-design of the popular character that most people know today. However, she also illustrated the Woody Woodpecker comic strip in the 1950s and even occasionally drew Woody in the comic books like the story in Dell’s Woody Woodpecker #20 (1953) where Wally Walrus is set to barbeque a chicken at home.

After leaving Lantz, she animated for Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as Yogi Bear. She later worked for DePatie-Freleng Enterprises on Pink Panther cartoons, and was briefly employed at Warner Brothers and Filmation.

Reportedly, she lived a quiet, conservative, religious life and never married.

When Walt Lantz learned of her death he remarked “most producers thought women could draw only birds and bees and flowers. They were wrong of course.”

These 1952 strips attributed to Bill Wright are actually done by LaVerne Harding:

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

35 Comments

  • Jim:
    It would have been rather interesting to see and possibly hear a “blue” Magoo! Also,the Ali Baba feature would have been a possible blockbuster,or God forbid,ended up spelling doom for Lantz and crew ,in a possible corporate takeover,just like Paramount did with the Fleischers! On second thought,maybe it’s just as well it didn’t happen!

    • Thinking of Backus’s commercial flub (“I’m gonna sell this piece of shit if it takes all day!”) a Blue Magoo could have been classic.

  • Not sure Universal or anybody else could have the “rights” to an ancient story like Ail Baba and the Forty Thieves, although I understand there was some industry agreement where a studio could register a title and other studios would leave it alone (for a while, at least). Universal did do a feature of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, part of a semi-series of Technicolor adventures with Jon Hall and Maria Montez in 1944; would be interesting to know if Lantz was pitching the idea before or after that film was made.

    A possibly more intriguing question: Was Lantz hoping to have Bud and Lou voice their animated selves? They might well have been interested in cultivating a kid audience;; witness their string of monster spoofs and 1952’s “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

    On the other hand, when Lantz did the “Ma and Pa” series, there was no hint of official connection with the Ma and Pa Kettle series. And the characters were not caricatures of the live actors. It’s as if Universal wouldn’t let Lantz capitalize on that profitable B series. They might have been similarly possessive with Abbott and Costello, huge moneymakers in the 40s.

    Speaking of caricatures: Note that all the Bob Hope appearances (save the crowd shot in “Malibu Beach Party”) were at Famous/Paramount. Paramount was Hope’s home studio during those years; those cartoon appearances may well have been a favor to the head office. Hope’s comic persona just didn’t lend itself to to the kind of caricature needed in the shorts: that Hope penguin would play as a Bugs Bunny knockoff if they gave him a whole short.

  • Speaking of Pinocchio, I do remember that its 1993 rerelease on home video was advertised in ads and on its packaging as its “last release for the millennium!” which was pretty exaggerated to put one thousand years in your head when it was really just seven.

    It turned out to be an outright lie: it got its next release in 1999. I want a refund, Disney!

  • The voice of Mother Magoo was supplied by Bea Benaderet for the TV cartoons.

    Never knew there was a Woody Woodpecker comic strip. Thanks for the interesting post about LaVerne Harding–fascinating! I also never knew that Lantz had contemplated making a feature film.

    Happy New Year!

  • Nice batch today, Jim, I particularly enjoyed the Jim Backus bits. Thanks for posting the Woody strips by LaVerne Harding, I hope whatever Google logarithm picks up this post to correct the misinformation. I’m also a fan of Friz Freleng’s brutal honesty, even if it isn’t self-complimentary.

    A few more for your Hope list: Bob Hope shows up with Bing Crosby in the notoriously poor Kitty Caddy (one of the last Screen Gems Cinecolor cartoons) to heckle the Sylvester-like feline on a golf course. (Both voiced by Dave Barry.) The lack of Hope is likely a coastal thing, but he was a Paramount player too, hence him showing up in passing reference in the Famous cartoons The Henpecked Rooster, Beau Ties and The Island Fling.

    • [quote]The lack of Hope is likely a coastal thing, but he was a Paramount player too, hence him showing up in passing reference in the Famous cartoons The Henpecked Rooster, Beau Ties and The Island Fling.[/quote]
      Recall the same in “Happy Birthdaze” too.

    • There’s also the “Cape of Good Hope” gag (with “Thanks for the Memories” on the soundtrack) in the Screen Song “Jingle Jangle Jungle”.

  • Latter-day WB cartoons would caricature Hope more. In particular, Animaniacs spoofed him quite a bit.

  • Bob Hope also appears (as a toy ski slope) in TOYS WILL BE TOYS (1949), a Screen Song cartoon.

  • I am always interested in how the visible minority and women animators of the Golden age broke-in. Someone like Harding probably had to be twice as good as any man I surmise. If someone like Lantz, for example, was so open minded and progressive, why weren’t there more? It’s a societal question, I know.
    Here’s a comic book cover that if she didn’t do, pays homage to her:
    http://www.comics.org/issue/10891/cover/4/

  • Re Mother Magoo: Among its new album releases in 1957, RCA Victor put out a cartoon lp called MAGOO IN HI-FI (with Jim Backus, of course, on the first side). The second side was a series of novelty instrumentals collectively called “Mother Magoo Suite.” One track was called “The Little Miss Muffed It!.” :-)! But the best track featured a dazzling trumpet solo, so that was called, “The Little Boy Blew.” That track was SO good that it was picked up by NBC and used as the opening and closing credit music for their Saturday morning kid show starring Pinky Lee, with Gumby in stop-motion animation shorts during the show!

    Thanks for this column, Jim. The older the anecdotes, the better I LIKE ’em! :-D!

    • It was interesting they would title the entire side like that, yet it didn’t have her voice on it otherwise (besides something she wrote/said on the back cover). It’s nice to see Jim’s wife was “Mother Magoo” for that one cartoon. I thought it was a better fit than what they went with for the TV series.

    • I think the “Mother Magoo Suite” title and content was a take off of Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite.”

  • Re: PINOCCHIO at a discount.

    This to my mind is why DVD and Blu-ray sales are falling off. Titles come out that we both want and value so we are happy to pay the price. Then, six months later, we find them dumped in remainder bins for a fraction of what we gladly paid or we find them re-issued in discount sets.

    This may be good marketing but it is bad business, bad for business and bad business sense.

    People learn that if we wait we can get it for less, for much less.

    It is what happens when the people who make decisions come from classrooms instead of the street.

    It is also a real shame as the drop in sales is discouraging the studios from marketing older titles.

    The recent OLIVE FILMS Betty Boops for example showed extremely poor judgement in selection and, at 12 titles per set, niggardly. There was nothing about them to get folks excited.

    Too bad for Betty and too bad for us.

    • The recent OLIVE FILMS Betty Boops for example showed extremely poor judgement in selection and, at 12 titles per set, niggardly. There was nothing about them to get folks excited.

      Too bad for Betty and too bad for us.

      Indeed. If only someone else had taken up the chance for that (unless it would be the same outcome as usual).

    • The price reduction thing happens in books, too. The idea is there are always people who will want it right away and are willing to pay the price. But you are not guaranteed that the same movie WILL show up at a lower price.
      I just feel the need for an extraneous history lesson that you probably all already know:
      And it’s not always cutouts, which in the record business meant excess inventory sold directly to merchants on a non-returnable basis (as indicated by the holes and punches in the corner of the LP or even CD case); as opposed to current hit records, which were usually supplied by independent “rackjobbers” who maintained current titles in a store’s record bins and shared the profits. What they didn’t sell became cutouts, too.

      And what truly annoyed me when Hope died is the deluge of tributes by newspaper editorial cartoonists, absolutely NONE of which could do a decent caricature of Bob’s ski nose. And to a man they used the same scenario of Bob playing golf with Bing in heaven.

  • Jim Backus did make a “Blue Magoo” novelty recording, but while his voice sounded exactly like Magoo’s, the character was identified on the record label as “The Dirty Old Man” : the gimmick was that just as he was about to say a very predicable no-no – “And then he got kicked in the ……” the expected obscenity was replaced by a comical sound effect – a buzzer, a cash register, a whistle, etc. I heard it on the old Doctor Demento radio program way back in my college days.

  • Not particularly pleased with her rendering of Woody. Like him best in the Culhane era films as he is too wacky in his first appearances (which take some getting used to).

    I doubt La Verne Harding or any other female animators had to be better than the men. Those people were a lot more liberal and loving than they are currently being given credit for.

    People draw drop explosive words like racist and sexist at the drop of an animator’s pencil or an inker’s brush. The recent trashing of Bob Clampett’s brilliant TIN PAN ALLEY CATS by some fever crazed fan(atic)s (the word “fan” IS short for “fanatic.”) is one of too many examples of the current hysteria I associate more with right wing Fundamentalist Christians (who, as the bumper sticker says, are neither Christian nor right). That goes to show that it is a mindset not of a particular belief system but rather of a particular subset of the human species that likes to run off half-cocked and uninformed and resents being informed before it gets its lynching done.

  • Bwah-hah-hah! That Pinocchio VHS was my very first video tape purchase! I considered $80 a BARGOON compared to the $600+ a bootleg 16mm print cost back in the day. (I still have that tape!)

    • I recall the same tape also having the familiar preview of “The Black Cauldron” at the start.

  • There was at least one more Hope use by Famous — as the nightclub band conductor in 1944’s “W’ere On Our Way to Rio” (which of course in itself was a takeoff on the Hope-Crosby ‘Road’ pictures Paramount was releasing at the same time).

  • Excellent edition today. I particularly liked the Jim Backus anecdotes.

  • Here you go Robert – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vKq_xTUdUw

  • I always suspected the reason why Bob Hope wasn’t caricatured in cartoons more often was that his voice, while distinctive, was not as easily “imitable” as other stars and comedians. It had a sharp, nasal edge to it, but that was about all. It didn’t provide imitators with as much to work with as, say, Fields, Groucho, Durante, or Benny. I can’t recall ever hearing any of the big-time impressionists like Rich Little or Frank Gorshin ever try to “do” Hope; though I’m sure they would have loved to.

    • Good point about it being a difficult voice. I don’t think there was a good Bob Hope imitation until Dave Thomas on SCTV. The one in Popeye’s 20th Anniversary is so horrid, it makes you wonder if Hope would’ve just did his own voice for scale if he happened to be in the area.

  • One of the last Columbia cartoons, I think, had Hope in it, too. (“Kitty Caddy?”) There’s also a brief appearance, along with a Jerry Colonna dog, in WB’s “Hollywood Canine Canteen,” doing a pretty typical “Professor Colonna” bit.

    I suspect that one reason that Hope *might* not have appeared in as many WB cartoons you might expect was that he was a major Paramount star. Doesn’t explain why Bing Crosby would show up a lot, since he was in the same situation.

    • Der Bingle was a singing star years before teaming with Hope, as a singer his voice was more easily parodied. And of course cartoon makers could hang the image of Bing as a “Swooner Crooner” who made all the young girls react the way the Wolf did with Red Hot Riding Hood. Even more so when he was cast in competition with a Sinatra caricature.

  • Here’s a link to a 1930’s non-Lantz-related comic strip by La Verne Harding…

    http://cdn.comicartfans.com/Images/Category_4398/subcat_91688/Harding.jpg

  • Hope (and Crosby) also put in a brief appearance in “Olive Oyl for President”, alongside other Paramount stars like Alan Ladd and Ray Milland.

  • I had a near death experience by running across the street against a red light while on the way to see 101 Dalmations in 1961.Woman jammed on her brakes and just tapped me,though I fell to the street.Her quick thinking and late-’50s GM car saved my life.Next a visit to the hospital and a tenus shot.Whoa,and the scolding I got at home.Saddest but still lucky outcome was that I had to wait another week to see the film(not all movies stayed at our second run local theater beyond a week).

    • Huh??

  • Thank you for the information on the LaVerene Harding “Woody Woodpecker” comic strip. The only time I ever saw miss Harding was at the 1980 Annie Awards. My only regret is forgetting to ask her if she could draw a “Woody” sketch for me.

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