August 29, 2023 posted by James Parten

Famous Studios: A 50s Grab Bag

By 1952, the Kartune series was well enough established with exhibitors to continue into the next season. Although the staff did not have to sweep up after a nighttime performance, (as they may have for a matinee, as suggested by one of our readers’ comments to our last installment in this series), it’s not a guarantee that the parents would have known the old songs given the bouncing-ball treatment. The Kartune series ended in the 1952-53 season, though one stray would appear as a Noveltoon. The Noveltoons continued to be a catch-all. Herman and Katnip had been spun off into their own series, but there was still Little Audrey, Buzzy the Crow, and Baby Huey to go around.

As original music and first-time-out popular tunes began to become scarcer and scarcer, with Winston Sharples scores taking their place, today’s sampling is a grab bag, mostly of bouncing ball episodes, but with a few side trips into the Noveltoons, and even a stray Casper that chose not to follow the traditional same-old storyline.

Forest Fantasy (11/14/52) – Spot gags set around night time in a forest. Grasshoppers, owls, and lightning bugs (or fireflies) with Mazda lamps attached to their rear ends. Not the kind of cartoon to bring out big belly laughs, but more of a mood piece or tone poem. Songs: “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” returns, and as a newcomer, “Nola”, arranged with full orchestration. Nola was a piano novelty written in 1915 by Felix Arndt, originally issued by him on Victor. Arndt was not able to capitalize on the song for long, as he died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. The song was picked up by Vincent Lopez as his theme song, his orchestra performing its first recording circa 1923 on Okeh, then re-recorded electrically later, including on Bluebird. A lyric was set to the piece and performed on Victor by the Revelers. Paul Whiteman performed a concert-size version for Columbia. Tommy Dorsey swung it on Victor. Ted Weems would use it as a feature for virtuoso whistler Elmo Tanner on Decca. In England, a Parlophone issue appeared by Victor Sylvester. Frankie Carle issued it on RCA Victor. In later years, Les Paul would adapt it to his multitrack “New Sound” on Capitol. Herb Kern and Lloyd Sloop (Organ and Novachord) would issue it on Novachord. Liberace would get it for Columbia with his usual signature embellishments. Billy Williams issued a vocal on Coral.

Hysterical History (1/28/53) – Spot gags on American history. This cartoon takes off on Christopher Columbus, John Alden, and Peter Stuyvesant. A map gag has Massachusetts squeezing Rhode Island off into the ocean, then the smallest state shoving its way back in. The discovery of gold in California has an I.R.S. agent ready at hand. It ends with a fireworks display, partially excised from television prints to remove a skyrocket forming the trail of stars leading to the Paramount logo (now well recreated by several sources on the internet in slightly-varying quality). Song: “The Yankee Doodle Boy” the hit song from the 1904 George M. Cohan musical, “Little Johnny Jones”. It was recorded at least three times by Billy Murray, for Columbia, American, and Zonophone. Also recorded by Arthur Collins for Leeds. Jimmy Cagney would of course feature it in the picture “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. A version was later issued by the Andrews Sisters for Decca. Victor recorded a version for their George M. Cohen album set, and later Mickey Rooney on an LP project. Bert Parks (for 30 years the singer and host of the Miss America pageant) recorded a version for Little Golden Records in the 1950’s.

Philharmaniacs (4/3/53) – More or less a redo of Fleischer’s A Car-Tune Portrait, with animals trying to play a concert straight, until a mouse pokes his head out of the concert hall wall, complaining about the “icky longhair music” played every night. After trying to throw in some cadenzas of his own, the mouse conducts the orchestra in a swinging arrangement of the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, leaving the lion conductor to sit and strum his lips. Song: “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, by Irving Berlin. Victor and Columbia both gave the piece to Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan. Billy Murray got an Edison cylinder. A dance version appeared by the Victor Military Band. HMV issued a version by Gottlieb’s Orchestra. Ted Lewis performed it electrically for Columbia. Gene Kardos issued a Victor version in 1932. Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell performed a 1930’s version for Decca, with an intro by Eddie Cantor, with proceeds of the revenues going to the March of Dimes. Bing Crosby and Al Jolson would revive it again in the 1940’s for Decca.

Aero-Nutics (5/8/53) – Spot gags about aviation. Gags include flying blind (a plane with a cane on one wing, and a tin cup on the other). An aeronautical date results in a fresh boy being deserted by his girl, who flies home via a picket plane concealed in her purse.

Song: “Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine”, a song from 1911, recorded by Billy Murray (with American Quartette) and Ada Jones on Victor disc and Edison cylinder. Harry Tally covered it for Columbia. It was revived in the 1940’s by Spike Jones on Bluebird (with one verse updated for WWII pilots). And here’s a version readers of this website should particularly enjoy – sung The Mellomen with Thurl Ravenscroft (who gets a solo line at 1:55):

No Place Like Rome (7/31/53) – Spot gags about Italy. Topics include the shape of the Italian peninsula, volcanoes (Mt. Etna featured), Italian food, wine, opera, Song: “Oh, Ma-Ma (the Butcher Boy)”, an Americanization of a traditional Italian song, “Luna Mezzo Mare”, which was also the basis for one of Lou Monte’s big hits, “Lazy Mary”, a top 20 seller on Victor in 1958. The “Butcher Boy” lyric seems to have first appeared on record by Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees on Bluebird, with most of the vocal going to Cliff (Red) Stanley. Guy Lombardo covered it for Decca with the Lombardo trio. The Andrews Sisters also recorded it for Decca:

Candy Cabaret (6/16/54) – Although the Kartunes had officially ended, this one slipped out as a Noveltoon. The kind of cartoon that studios might have produced about 20 years earlier when they first got the rights to use three-strip Technicolor. Spot gags with various candies putting on (and reacting to) a cabaret show. Gags include a butterscotch that approves of the Bon-Bonnettes while speaking with a Scottish burr, while a sour ball has a different opinion. Three pieces of salt water taffy dance a hornpipe. Songs: “Ain’t She Sweet”, “Sailor’s Hornpipe”, and a newcomer, “When I Take My Sugar To Tea”, a 1931 pop song played by the cabaret’s pit orchestra. Early recordings include the Boswell Sisters on Brunswick, Noble Sissle’s Orchestra, also on Brunswick, a Fred Rich studio group appearing under various names on Harmony, Clarion, et al., and also appearing on the scarce American Odeom and Parlophone labels (try and find them), The Melotone Boys (Joe and Dan Mooney) on Melotone, Jack Hylton on HMV, Johnny Long on Decca in 1940, the Nat King Cole trio on Capitol, Billy May on Capitol, Les Elgart on Columbia (included on LP ”The Great Sound Of”), and later Frank Sinatra on the “Ring a Ding Ding” LP for Reprise. Just for fun, here’s The Beatles doing a cover of “Ain’t She Sweet”:

No Ifs, Ands, of Butts (12/17/54) – Katnip’s ailment is a severe case of the nicotine habit. (It should be noted that Katnip is completely redesigned for this cartoon, as if to distinguish him from the version concurrently appearing in Herman and Katnip cartoons, in the form of a blue cat. Harvey comics would adopt this model for its Buzzy comic issues, and re-Christen the feline “Katsy”. This was the only animated appearance of this model.) Katnip admits he’s been feeling punk lately, and hears a list of symptoms from a radio broadcast by Dr. Nicotine that match his own symptoms, followed by the Doctor’s remark, “Brother, you’ve got about two minutes left to live.” Katnip sends for the Doctor’s book about sure cure for the smoking habit. Does he ever get quick service from the post office! (The postman hands him the book before he can even post the letter.) As usual, the cure is a crow meat salad. Appearing at the window in his quickest entrance ever is Buzzy, complete with cigarette, asking, “Hey, boss. Got a light?” Among the strategies Buzzy uses to “help” Katnip are a painful test of “will power”, with Katnip’s power “wilting”. The chase eventually leads to a Broadway billboard from which smoke rings emanate (based on a famous real-life billboard ad). Katnip falls from the rings, lands on a skyrocket set up by Buzzy, and is launched into the heavens, last seen in an explosion that lights the sky with the words “Smoke Smellos”. Buzzy ends the film smoking a mile long “king size” cigarette, and blowing a smoke ring at the audience that reveals the Paramount mountain. (Could this film have originally been intended as the next “Stereotoon” release in 3-D?) Interestingly, this cartoon came out in the same year of one of the first studies indicating the dangers of smoking to your health, so it was current with the news of the day. Song: “My Heart Is a Hobo”, from the 1947 Bing Crosby/Barry Fitzgerald feature “Welcome Stranger”. Bing, who introduced the song on film, recorded it for Decca. The only version to make Billboard charts was the cover version recorded for RCA Victor by Tex Beneke and his Orchestra.

Boo Bop (11/11/57) – In this non-formula Casper episode, the title actually doesn’t make much sense in the context of the storyline, which instead focuses on classical music. Casper is walking invisibly down the street, and winds up in the Museum of Music. After trying out several instruments, he encounters Franz Schubert’s original piano. Suddenly a second ghost appears, producing music from the instrument – the ghost of the original composer. He returns frequently to the museum, in an attempt to finish his famous “Unfinished Symphony” (Symphony #8), but constantly has his concentration broken from the noises and interruptions of city life outside. Casper volunteers to try to keep the noises under control – a task that closely mirrors Popeye’s in previous episodes “Sock a Bye Baby” and “Quiet, Pleeze”. Casper collects an array of noisemaking junk and stashes it in the museum out of harm’s way. Schubert at last receives peace and quiet – but still finds himself without inspiration. Casper uses his ghostly powers to suggest additional notes from the junk items he has collected, and as the composer begins to compose, Casper provides an orchestral accompaniment as conductor of musician-less instruments, for a grand finale. The music used in this cartoon is from the actually-finished first movement of Schubert’s Symphony. Notable early recordings include condensed versions by Prince’s Orchestra for Columbia, the Victor Concert Orchestra circa 1913, and a possibly longer version in early military band style by the Silver Stars Band for British Regal. An early electrical from 1928 appeared by the Cleveland Orchestra with Nikolai Sokoloff on gold Brunswick Hall of Fame Series. Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra would record it several times for Victor, including on a Victor “Program Transcription” (33 RPM) shellac 10″ disc. Other versions included the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Bruno Walter of red seal HMV, Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on red seal RCA Victor, Sir Henry J. Wood and the London Symphony Orchestra on British Columbia, Professor Max Von Schillings in a German recording released by Parlophon, and Sir Thomas Beecham and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1944 on Columbia. There were even attempts to “finish” the unfinished symphony, including contests run at anniversaries of its composition – so Casper was not alone in his endeavor.

Next Post: Famous Studios 1958 and on.

1 Comment

  • “Tenement Symphony”, sung by Tony Martin in the Marx Brothers comedy “The Big Store”, begins with the line: “Schubert wrote a symphony. Too bad he didn’t finish it.” In fact Schubert finished seven symphonies, six of them by age 21, none of which was ever performed during his lifetime. The famous Unfinished Symphony in B minor is one of six others that he never got around to completing.

    We do not know why Schubert never finished his Unfinished Symphony. It wasn’t that he died before he could do so; he lived another six years after composing the two movements (plus sketches for a third) that we have. Nor was it, as “Boo Bop” would have it, because he was too distracted by extraneous noise to concentrate. Schubert composed with incredible facility under any circumstances; he wrote some of his greatest melodies while drinking in a noisy beer garden.

    The Museum of Music in “Boo Bop” (which I believe was inspired by the musical instrument collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) contains what’s billed as “Franz Schubert’s original piano”. But Schubert never owned a piano; he couldn’t afford one. The piano in the tiny apartment in Vienna where Schubert died, which is a tourist attraction today, was actually owned by Schubert’s brother, though the composer almost certainly played on it from time to time. Schubert’s usual practice was to play piano at his friends’ homes, where he could scrounge a free meal in return.

    A minor point: The competitions to complete Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony were held, not concurrently with the anniversary of the work’s composition, but during the centenary of his death in 1928. None of the winning works is in print or is ever performed today.

    While “Boo Bop” may not be an apt title for a cartoon about classical music, it could have been worse. They might have decided to call it “Boo-bert’s Un-Fiendish Scream-phony”. Ach du Liebe….

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