June 20, 2023 posted by James Parten

Famous Studios: Noveltoons 1948-51

The Noveltoons of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s continued to please audiences, steady as she goes. The cartoons were reasonably pleasant time fillers in Paramount’s program. Among changes in the cast of reappearing characters were the arrivals of Baby Huey and Katnip, both voiced by Sid Raymond, who would graduate from his former role as Wolfie to become a mainstay of the voice staff. Buzzy the funny crow would make more regular appearances, aided and abetted by Katnip, who would perform double-duty between the Buzzy and Herman series. Casper would not remain with the Noveltoons, but would receive his own series banner. About this time, the characters also began making appearances in St. John’s comics, which were considerably scarcer than the plethora of publications which were to follow when Harvey comics acquired the Paramount rights.

We begin with one I overlooked from a previous article, The Bored Cuckoo (4/9/48). A wooden cuckoo has bachelor quarters inside a wall clock, but every hour gets an alarm, and is forced to step outside on a perch and “cuckoo”. Thus, he doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, and also becomes quite bored with his existence. Die to some accident, he winds up outside of his clock, and finds opportunity to explore the real world. He is rejected by the real birds, and finds himself much disappointed – until he hears the song of a female show-bird, who spends most of her time in a gilded cage, and sings a torch song about what she would do “If I were free.” He does not realize this is part of her stage act, and, romance striking him, tries to play hero to free her. Romance is interrupted by her manager, who boots him out of the night club – then further disrupted by the call for all the flock to go south for the winter. Being made of wood, the cuckoo is unable to join the migration, and dejectedly heads back to his home in the clock. But a surprise awaits him, as he hears the girl’s melodic voice inside the clock, tidying up his apartment – she has stayed behind just to join him. The final scene finds the happy couple settling down to domestic life, with an alteration of the cuckoo’s living arrangements. Now, when the alarm sounds, the cuckoo can comfortably relax in his easy chair without takig his stand on the perch. Instead, the “cuckoos” are handled by three hatchlings, who pop out of eggshells on every hour to take care of the timekeeping. Songs: two original numbers, “All I Ever Do Is Cuckoo”, and “If I Were Free” (no recordings of either are known). “Home Sweet Home” also slips in.

Tarts and Flowers (Little Audrey) (5/26/50) – Audrey is engrossed in following the recipe broadcast of “The Friendly Chef” over the radio. (One can only wonder what her mother will think when she sees the kitchen afterwards.) The recipe is for gingerbread – and after it’s baked, it springs to life as a gingerbread boy, and announces that it has to go to Cakeland to get married. Audrey follows, finding a land that would be my kind of place (slurp, slutp!) All manner of pastries abound, and the gingerbread man is set to marry Angel Food Cake – but the Devil’s Food Cake has other ideas. He kidnaps Angel, and takes her on a boat ride down a milk river. Audrey turns the tables by using an egg beater to churn the river into whipped cream. The villain is chased by “Cop Cakes” who make an arrest. Gingerbread Boy effects a rescue, and the wedding goes on. Audrey shows restraint this time, not setting herself up for the tummy ache blues, and awakes from her dream. Her real-life baking is ringing done at the oven, and she pulls out the baking tray – to find not only her gingerbread boy, but Angel, and a matching son and daughter, all together in the pan. Audrey laughs as usual for the iris out. Songs: “It’s a Gay Holiday”, an original (having no connotations to current uses of the word “gay’). with no known recordings.

Ups and Downs Derby (6/9/50) – The day of the big steeplechase race – and the jockey is trying to rouse “Lightning”, a horse who seems to want to spend all his time sleeping. The jockey can’t seem to get Lightning to go go go – until he sets up a mattress just beyond the finish line. Songs: a theme from “Jolly Robbers Overture” by Von Suppe, recorded in the 78 era by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops for Victor, and earlier, by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock, also for Victor.

Goofy Goofy Gander (8/18/50) – Little Audrey is in school, where she is showing a preference for reading Crime Comics, hidden within her textbook edition of Mother Goose. The teacher makes her sit in a cornet, to memorize her Mother Goose rhymes. Audrey falls asleep and dreams she is in Mother Goose Land, where she finds out the old bird is not such an “icky” after all, but is hep to the jive. Updated versions of Mother Goose rhymes are presented, including cameo appearance by a crooning Frank Sinatra. However, two crooks from Audrey’s Crime Comics attempt to muscle in, to steal the goose that lays the golden eggs. (Some gags are lifted from “Cilly Goose”’s egg-laying sequence to a conga rhythm, while the egg-slicer that makes gold coins is lifted from “Super Lulu”). Audrey uses some U-shaped tubing from Boy Blue’s horn to reverse the gangsters’ gunshots back at them, and becomes hero if the land, awakening from her dream with new-found respect for the rhymes. Songs: “Let’s Get Lost” (again used as a ballad for Sinatra, as in Shape Ahoy) and a swing version of “Little Boy Blue” with original lyrics, not recorded even by the kiddie labels.

Saved By the Bell (9/15/50) – Cousin Herman is riding a circuit, selling bells to be placed around a cat’s neck. The local mouse population can certainly use such a product, although they don’t know who’s going to be able to place the object round the cat’s neck. As part of a special introductory offer, Herman offers to provide free installation around a proto-Katnip (the same black cat previously seen in “Naughty But Mice”). Eventually, the cat winds up swallowing the bell, so that every movement causes a ringing. This drives the cat to conga off into the horizon – and Herman to continue the conga through the iris out and over the Paramount mountain for the closing credits. Songs: “Ding Dong Dell” with a new lyric and different melody than used in “Naughty But Mice”. Also, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” a song whose origins are unknown to this author.

Mice Meeting You (11/24/50) – This film marks the first full-fledged Herman and Katnip cartoon, Katnip making his screen debut in full traditional design and coloration, with Sid Raymond voicing (although technically, his name is not yet assigned, being referred to only as “Kitty” or “Cat” by the mice). Christmas finds the mice in a cozy house which has been vacated and is up for sale, decorating a human-sized Christmas tree and about to feast on a roast turkey, while Katnip is outside, homeless and up to his ankles in snow. Katnip peers in the window, and is more interested in taking over the warm home and tasty dinner than in feeding on the mice. He gains entry by covering portions of his face with snow and ice, forming white eyebrows and whiskers to impersonate Santa Claus. But the disguise quickly melts off his countenance, giving him away. The mice retreat out a mousehole into the snow outside, giving Katnip the run of the place, and a chance to hang his own stockings at the fireplace. Enter Herman for a Christmas visit, determined to at least rescue the turkey dinner for his cousins. The usual run of chase gags ensues, until Herman pulls off a Santa impersonation in the chimney with an old pair of boots to simulate Santa’s ankles, and a call for all good little boys and girls to be in bed so he can deliver the toys. Katnip races for a bed, calling out that he is fast asleep – allowing Herman to saw out a massive circle of ceiling above him to squash Katnip and the bed flat. The film ends with the mice enjoying their feast, and Herman plugging the tail of an ornament-decorated Katnip into a wall socket, causing a string of bulbs to light brightly upon Katnip’s person. Songs: “Christmas Is Here”, an original number, probably composed by the usual suspects, Buddy Kaye and Win Sharples. No known recordings, even in the burgeoning kiddie market. Also, a vocal rendition of “Jingle Bells” by Herman.

Sock-a-Bye Kitty (12/22/50) – Katnip has not been able to get any sleep for weeks, and has tried every self-help book he can find. One of them recommends consuming a blackbird, either in a pie or as crow-quettes. Buzzy the crow seems to fit the bill, although he doesn’t want to find himself between two layers of crust. Buzzy offers his usual brand of “help” to cure Katnip’s “in-somonia”, one method being by counting a hopping Buzzy disguised as a sheep – while he holds a saw within his claws to saw the floor out from under Katnip’s bed at the same time. Eventually, Katnip winds up in a tree, and Buzzy pulls the “rock-a-bye- baby “ bit to let the bough break and Katnip fall. Buzzy lifts the unconscious cat’s eyelids, which now read “Good Night”. Songs: “Good Night Ladies”, with new lyrics for Buzzy. “Emmett’s Lullaby” and “Rock-a-Bye Baby” also appear.

Party Smarty (8/3/51) – A lively yet formulaic Baby Huey entry, in which Huey is sent by Mama to take a birthday present to the home of a neighboring duckling Oscar at his birthday party. Huey is his usual destructive self, messing up both present and cake, and the ducklings dispose of him by putting him into a “pin the tail on the donkey” game, but opening the door to leave Huey wandering around blindfolded outside. The Fox turns up on cue, breaking up the party, but spying Huey as a more-inviting multi-course dinner. He invites Huey to his own private birthday party, at which Huey is the only guest, setting up various booby traps to cook the duck’s goose. Huey’s stupidity foils every plan with dumb duck luck, finally climaxing as Huey saves a last stick of peppermint candy for the Fox – the one which is a painted stick of lit dynamite. The party resumes at Oscar’s house, with Huey now the guest of honor, and playing a painful game of pin the tail on the Fox, “who got it in the end.” Songs: an original birthday song to Oscar, never commercially recorded, along with traditional tunes “London Bridge”, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, and a modified version of “Pat-a Cake” with new lyrics and a different melody than usually heard.

Next time: the further adventures of the bouncing ball.


  • I can tell you about the origin of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (or “We Won’t Go Home Until Morning”, or “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”, or any number of alternative lyrics). The tune comes from a French comic song of the 18th century about the death of the Duke of Marlborough, the British hero of the War of the Spanish Succession. Early French printings typically misspell the name of the Duke’s demesne as “Malbrough”, which has become the de facto title of the song.

    “Malbrough” was by far the most popular song worldwide in the 1700s, comparable to “Smoke on the Water” in 1973 or “Gangnam Style” in 2012. Goethe wrote that his travels in France were spoiled by brass bands incessantly playing “Malbrough” everywhere he went. Beethoven incorporated the melody into his worst piece of music, “Wellington’s Victory”, to represent the defeated French army. In my own library I have two duets by 18th-century composers — one for viola and viola d’amore by Carl Stamitz, the other for violin and viola by Johann Andreas Amon — that use the “Malbrough” theme as the basis for lengthy sets of variations.

    The song spread to the farthest corners of the world. Shortly after the first British colony was established in Australia in 1788, some of the local Aboriginal people were alarmed to hear one of the military officers whistling “Malbrough”; they had never heard anyone whistle before. Seeking to keep the peace, Governor Phillip ordered the officer to give them a demonstration. Soon the natives were whistling as well, and they taught their fellows how to do it in turn. However, they never figured out how to whistle any other song. Years later, when the first British explorers were travelling up the Hawkesbury River, they were astonished to encounter a group of Aborigines paddling their canoes down the river and whistling “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in unison.

  • I’d have included Casper’s second or third cartoon “There’s Good Boos Tonight,” which actually has a moving ending; and/or “Casper’s Spree Under the Sea,” the series launcher in which Casper attempts suicide (presumably forgetting that he’s already dead). But maybe you’re saving Casper for his own column.

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