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.