July 30, 2019 posted by James Parten

Bosko Gets Busy

In the year 1930, Warner Bros, Pictures released five animated cartoons in the Looney Tunes series, all featuring Bosko, an idealized “colored boy”, without quite as many concessions to the stereotypes of the day.

You’d have to flash forward to the late 1960’s to find a year in which Warners put out such a skimpy amount of animated product. Not that the exhibitors were complaining, mind you. Warners was putting out a goodly number of features, some of which appeared under the rubric of First National Pictures. There were also a large number of one- and two-reel musical/dance shorts and dramatic skits, no small number of them featuring acts who, when seen today, look like the kind of acts that killed Vaudeville.

We have already discussed, in the first post of this series, the first of Warner’s animated shorts, Sinkin’ In The Bathtub, concentrating on the musical snlps found in that short. This time, we’ll discuss the next four animated shorts released with the Warner shield and the Vitaphone pennant, again concentrating on their musical highlights.

Congo Jazz finds Bosko as a trepid hunter in the wilds, stalking–and being stalked by–big game. His weapons are as ineffectual as he appears to be–but with the help of chewing gum (presumably an all-natural chicle, rather than the plastic stuff that is available nowadays), and his mastery of hot rhythm, manages to cope with the animals, large and small.

Two songs are highlighted in this cartoon. One number, “When The Little Red Roses Get The Blues For You”, was heard over the titles of ‘Hold Everything”, one of those films for which the Vitaphone discs exist, but the film itself has not yet been located. The film starred Joe E. Brown (who became one of the big money-winners for Warner Bros.), Sally O’Neal, and the ebullient Winnie Lightner. The song is usually played or sung as a sprightly fox-trot, as recorded by Earl Burtnett and his Los Angeles Biltmore Orchestra (Brunswick), or by George Olsen and his Music (Victor), or as sung by Al Jolson (also on Brunswick), who ends each of two “takes’ of his performance with a playful “boop-boop-a-doop”.

In this cartoon, the song is played as a delicate waltz, featuring pizzicato strings. The other musical highlight finishes off the cartoon–the song ‘Givin’ It This and That”, introduced in the cautionary melodrama The Truth About Youth, which was a vehicle for a teenaged Loretta Young.

Hold Anything finds Bosko working the high iron, driving in rivets in a building under construction; he still has time for music, and for flirting with a secretary in an upper-floor office which is visible from where he is working. Again, there are two musical highlights. A gentle waltz introduced in the feature film Sally – “If I’m Dreaming (Don’t Wake Me Too Soon)” becomes a vehicle for a musical saw, while a hod-carrier mouse loses his head over the tune. This song got recorded several times when it was new.

Additionally, although Warners’ film adaptations of Broadway shows often disposed with parts of the original song score, the cartoon uses one from the original Broadway score of “Hold Everything” that appears not to have been included in the feature: called “Don’t Hold Everything”, written by the prolific and able songwriting team of B. G. “Buddy” de Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson.

The Booze Hangs High may have been a mite too adult for Guild Films’ package of black-and-white “Looney Tunes” cartoons, syndicated in 1955. Bosko is down on the farm in this one, feeding slop to the pigs. A couple of piglets discover a bottle (complete with cork), which has “X X X X” on the label–which is mental shorthand for spiritus frumenti. It turns out that is exactly what’s inside, as bubbles coming forth from the bottle pop to the tune of “How Dry I Am”, to telegraph to the audience that this is strong stuff.

Just a little nip from the bottle and they get a little tipsy–but papa Pig comes along, downs the bottle himself, and begins to sing the song “One Little Drink”, which had been introduced in Song Of the Flame, a drama set in old Russia featuring Noah Beery (in basso-profundo mode), who introduced and recorded the song for Brunswick. We don’t hear the lyrics in the pig’s solo.

Box Car Blues – Bosko is a hobo, riding empty cars in company with what appears to be a bear, and playing “Crying for the Carolines”, a song introduced in the film Spring Is Here. That tune was also the basis of the only existent “Spooney Melodies” short, produced by Leon Schlesinger for Vitaphone:

Also featured in the soundtrack are “Alabamy Bound” (a 1925 hit out of the Feist catalogue), heard over railroad sequences leading up to a runaway box car; and “Chinnin’ and Chattin’ With May”, a “rhythm number” heard over the last part of the cartoon, recorded for Victor by mute-trumpet specialist Bubber Miley and his Mileage Makers.

Warner’s execs should have been happy. Their songs were getting plugged in each cartoon they were releasing–one hand scratching the other, as it were.


  • “Givin’ It This and That” was actually heard first in the Alice White First National film “Sweet Mama,” which was released in July, 1930, five months before “The Truth About Youth” and two months before “Congo Jazz.” The number from “Sweet Mama” is available on YouTube:

    As with Alice White’s other films, her singing voice is dubbed.

  • Interesting enough, Warner Brothers acquired the Brunswick phonograph and radio division in April, 1930, within days of release of the Earl Burtnett side linked to this post. Warners didn’t stay in the record business for long, effectively exiting the business at the end of 1931 and gradually divesting ownership of Brunswick over the next decade or so.

    • One theory I’ve heard is that Brunswick was bought for its record-manufacturing capacity, so WB could make Vitaphone discs. When it became clear that Vitaphone, as sound-on-disc, was not going anywhere, that’s why they gradually broke up the firm. I think Brunswick had subsidiaries that made pool tables, as well.

  • Warner Brothers leased the Brunswick and Vocalion labels to the American Record Corporation in December 1931. It was after CBS bought out ARC in 1938 that the network phased out the Brunswick and Vocalion labels (which were ARC labels in name only) in favor of the resurrected Columbia and Okeh labels respectively that WB took back the Brunswick and Vocalion labels and in the early 1940s, those labels were sold outright to Decca.

  • Amazing and informative post as always!

    Yet, on a slightly off-topic subject, there is another song played at the opening and closing of “THE BOOZE HANGS HIGH”, a little tune that had me thinking that the BOSKO cartoon took place in an entirely different locale. If this little ditty, if I may call it that, has any other significant lyrics besides “iy-yiy…iy-yiy”, please inform. Forgive me, as these could be connected to further stereotyping, but I don’t recall actually seeing this cartoon anywhere on local TV when I was growing up, so distributors to TV very well might have thought this a bit too “adult” to be shown to “impressionable” youth, and not just for its extensive references to drink.

    There is also that scene in which the pig vomits up its dinner and then opens its stomach to replace the contents previously vomited…am I anywhere near right, here? Makes me wish that I could find kinescopes of local broadcasts so that I could see those shows of my youth where these cartoons would have been shown. I only remember all or most of the black and white LOONEY TUNES, following the dismissal of Bosko from the LOONEY TUNES roster, being shown. Sorry about the graphic description of the drunken pig sequence, but I really do want to know about the opening and closing music also mentioned above.

    • I remember this cartoon ran on Nickelodeon’s Looney Tunes package in its early years.

    • Yeah Nickelodeon used to play a lot of Bosko’s when they began the Looney Tunes in ’88. They didn’t play “Congo Jazz” but I remember the others like “The Booze Hangs High” being in regular rotation for years.

    • Kevin, both you and James have suggested that THE BOOZE HANGS HIGH was too racy for TV in the days of the Guild package. While that may have been true in some markets, there was absolutely a Guild version—I myself have seen multiple prints. But they’ve all been manually censored to remove part or all of the scene in which papa pig pukes up a corncob while singing, then opens a cupboard door in his stomach and puts it back in.

      The reason a Guild version doesn’t commonly circulate today is that an original, unedited 35mm was making the rounds as early as the 1980s (first released in Dave Butler’s Bosko Video collections), featuring a complete versions of the puking scene as well as original main and end titles. Since this version was everywhere, fandom didn’t need to circulate the edited Guild.

      As mentioned elsewhere, BOOZE was definitely part of the Nick package and rerun frequently, too, slotted into several different half-hour episodes, though the version used was always edited to remove the puking scene entirely.

    • Chris, Nick absolutely played CONGO JAZZ—that’s where I first saw it, numerous times.

      Their package left out UPS ‘N’ DOWNS, DUMB PATROL, YODELING YOKELS, BOSKO SHIPWRECKED, and BOSKO THE DOUGHBOY (and maybe one or two more), but CONGO JAZZ was absolutely included.

    • Thanks for clearing up CONGO JAZZ for me David, I just don’t remember watching it on Nick at all for some reason.

    • The song is “The Goose Hangs High” by Grant Clarke, Harry Akst and Edward Ward. It was featured in the 1930 musical “Song of the Flame” and was sung by Inez Courtney during the harvest festival sequence of the film. The title of the Bosko cartoon short was in direct reference to the song.

  • And I suppose it wasn’t until the 1950’s when WB got back into the recording business again, and one that they kept until the 2000’s, yet it still retains the “Warner” namesake!

  • The X X X X hootch your writing about must be EXTRA strong stuff since I count only 3 X’s in The Booze Hangs High!

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