June 6, 2023 posted by James Parten

Famous Studios: Screen Songs 1948-49

Revival of the bouncing ball sing-alongs must have been doing pretty well in theaters, as Famous Studios kept churning them out. These cartoons seem to be developing a formula: find a locale, and build gags around it. One wonders if animators and inbetweeners competed for bonuses for the abundance of punny gags that appear in these shorts.

Readin’, Ritin’, and Rhythmetic (10/22/48) – A “lost” entry in the series, remaining unrestored from elements which still exist at UCLA, but are unavailable for public review. Set in the old village school, where the teacher calls the roll. As the visuals for the film have not turned up (publicly-available elements consisting only of an audio work-disc), we don’t know what the gags are. (There’s a project for an aspiring animator – come up with a reel to match the track.) Song: “School Days”, a 1907 song, previously used by Fleischer on two occasions, in Bimbo’s “Teacher’s Pest” and in a previous Screen Song from 1932, “School Days”, with composer Gus Edwards. It was recorded in the day by Albert Campbell on Columbia, by Byron G. Harlan on Victor disc and on Columbia and Edison cylinders. Later recorded by Anne Lloyd on Little Golden Records (below), and also anonymously on Peter Pan records.

The Funshine State (1/7/49) – Spot gags about Florida, bringing up such aspects of the state’s appeal as bountiful orange groves, sandy beaches with mild weather (though punctuated by a hurricane for the pay-off gag), and football games at the Orange Bowl. Song: “Tallahassee”, written by Frank Loesser for the feature, Variety Girl. Decca gave it to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (below). RCA gave it to Vaughn Monroe. Columbia formed an odd duet of Dinah Shore and Woody Herman, the latter between stints with various of his “herd” big bands, and trying at the time to make it as a vocalist.

The Emerald Isle (2/25/49) – Spot gags about Ireland. Opens with a gentle narration about the land’s natural beauties. Three “spirits” appear from a bottle, who might almost pass for a proto-version of the Ghostly Trio. The film does not dwell on leprechauns, but the studio’s clan of them from “The Wee Men” do make an appearance, as the members of “MacNamara’s Band” which is the featured tune for singing with the bouncing ball. It was recorded at least three times by The Jesters – for Victor in 1932, for Decca in 1940, and then most famously, in conjunction with Bing Crosby in 1945 on Decca, which reached #10 on the Billboard charts. The song had first been published in 1917, and I suspect the Jesters were later responsible for adding the extra verse concerning Swede “Uncle Julius” joining the band. Dennis Day would cover the number on RCA. Mitchell Ayres issued an early 1940’s version. Spike Jones also released a version on RCA. Columbia issued an odd square dance version by Lawrence Loy entitled “The Zig-Zag Trail.” John Ryan (aka Joe Rines), a jingle writer (“Halo, Everybody. Halo”), performed a Victor version with the Sportsmen Quartet from the Jack Benny Program. In England, Geraldo recorded it for Parlophone, and Gracie Fields did a vocal version on Decca. Connie Francis would perform it is stereo for the MGM LP, “Connie Francis Sings Irish Favorites”. Also included are “Come Back to Erin”, and “Killarney”, both of which were recorded by John McCormack for Victor circa 1910, out of the standard book of Irish tenor favorites. Nellie Melba had also recorded “Erin” about 1904 for G&T, issued here on Victor. Harry MacDonough recorded “Killarney”, for Victor Monarch circa 1901. Theo Karle performed it for Brunswick in the 1920’s. Hans Kindler also performed around the same time on Victor. “Gary Owen” is also heard.

Comin’ Round the Mountain (5/11/49) – Spot gags on feudin’ hillbillies, with so much artillery, it almost looks like a wartime cartoon. Not much in the way of memorable ideas, but fairly typical. However, the mountaineers try to be on their best behavior when the new schoolma’rm comes to the hills, leading to the tile song, with special lyrics (no sign of the six white horses, or chicken and dumplings, but new material about teacher in the market for a husband). Gid Tanner and the Skillet Likkers had a version on Columbia. Uncle Dave Macon and Sam McGee on Brunswick circa 1928. The Roe Brothers performed a Columbia electric in the 1920’s on one of Columbia’s field trips. Vernon Dalhart performed it on Victor, and probably other labels as well. Henry Witter recorded it for Okeh. A Conqueror version was issued under the pseudonym “Hollywood Dance Orchestra”. H.M. Barnes’ troupe performed an electric Brunswick about 1929. A second Conqueror release from the 30’s was performed by the Pickard Family. The Carson Robison Trio performed it on Crown. A brief bonus selection appeared on the tail end of a version of “Guilty” by Phil Spitalny on Hit of the Week. Fiddin’ John Carson performed “The New Comin’ Round the Mountain” for Bluebird circa 1934. Nat Brandwynne oddly chose the number on American Decca. The Rhythm Wreckers, a group that featured Muggsy Spanier, got a Vocalion date. Tommy Tucker Time swung it on Vocalion. In England, a Decca version credited “Harry Lester ad his Hayseeds”. “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Katzkills” was a parody version by Mickey Katz on Capitol back in the states. Mitch Miller would also include it as an LP cut on one of his many sing-along albums for Columbia.

The Stork Market (4/8/49) – Spot gags on babies. There is an automatic baby factory where babies are manufactured for delivery by the storks (none of whom join in the revelry of celebrations like the drunken stork at Warner Brothers). Nor do we get any racial gags in this one. The payoff copes frequent gags from other studios (Disney and Terrytoons included), with someone trying to barricade himself from any further of the stork’s deliveries. Songs: “Brahms’ Lullaby”, “Home Sweet Home”, and a newcomer, “Pretty Baby”, a 1916 song, best known in the day by a Victor recording by Billy Murray. In later years, there were versions by Darnell Howard and his Frisco Foot Warmers on Jazz Man, and Somethin’ Smith and the Red Heads on Epic.

Spring Song (6/3/49) – Spot gags about the coming of spring. A satyr emerges and begins playing Mendelssohn’s famous melody on panpipes. Blooming flowers engage in lovers’ clinches. A bear is awakened by a Rube Goldberg contraption, in seeming end to his hibernation – but after taking a quick breakfast, the bear returns to the sack for more snoozing. The “Spring Song” be Felix Mendelssohn is the featured number for the bouncing ball, featuring a new custom lyric that appears to be unique to the cartoon, not encountered in any other source or recording. The lyric is credited in the titles to Buddy Kaye. It was recorded back in the day instrumentally as a violin solo by Efrem Zimbalist on Victor, Sacha Jacobsen on Columbia, Rae Eleanor Ball on Pathe, and as an orchestral piece by Victor Herbert’s Orchestra on blue seal Victor. It was recorded in the swing vein by Tommy Dorsey on Decca, and by Benny Goodman on Columbia. Its use in cartoons is almost always a “marker” for the effeminate.

The Ski’s The Limit (6/21/49) – Spot gags about Switzerland. The studio writers manage to work in watches, chocolate, cheese, and Alpenhorn. There is a gag used which is not generally associated with Famous or the preceding Fleischers – shooting holes in Swiss cheese, most commonly seen at Terrytoons but dating back to Mutt and Jeff. Additional sequences involve skiing and St. Bernard dogs (the dogs oddly do not get schnockered). Song: “I Miss My Swiss”, a 1925 novelty song, rendered originally by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, recorded for both Victor and Columbia. For dancing, audiences had a choice of Paul Whiteman on Victor, Ted Lewis on Columbia, Carl Fenton for Brunswick, the California Ramblers on Banner et al., among others. The song had in fact seen service years earlier in cartoons, being a featured number in Oswald Rabbit’s “Cold Feet” for Walter Lantz.

Our Funny Finny Friends (9/26/49) – Piscatorial puns, with gags about fish. One gag that might be considered beyond the pale of the day is a fiddler crab who plays “Love in Bloom” badly – a Jack Benny reference with a Rochester “blackfish” along for reaction. Song: “Three Little Fishies” written by Saxie Dowell in 1939. Kay Kyser got the primary action on Brunswick, though Dowell, a sax player for Hal Kemp’s orchestra, got in the first recorded version with such band on Victor. Other orchestral versions went to Glenn Miller on Bluebird, Red Norvo on Vocalion, and Paul Whiteman (credited to his “Swing Wing”) on Decca. A country version appeared on Vocalion and Conqueror by the Hoosier Hot Shots. A “square” version appeared by Guy Lombardo on Decca. The Smoothies performed it vocally on Bluebird. Spike Jones got out a later version for Victor. In England, Ambrose recorded it for Decca, Joe Loss for Regal=Zonophone, Nat Gonella on Parlophone, and later vocal versions were performed by The Radio Revellers on Columbia, and Frankie Howard on Harmony. A late recording in 1957 also appeared by the John Barry Seven on Parlophone. The Andrews Sisters would record a late jumped-up version as an album cut on Dot. Even the Three Stooges performed in on “The Nonsense Songbook” LP for Coral, having some fun trying not to say the forbidden word, “Dam”.

Next Time: Noveltoons 1950 and on.


  • The Bok Singing Tower that introduces the song in “The Funshine State” is at the centre of an ornamental garden and bird sanctuary established by magazine editor Edward Bok. It’s also featured in the 1941 Terrytoon “The Bird Tower”.

    “…and when we play at funerals, we play the March from Saul.” That is, the Dead March from Act III of Handel’s oratorio “Saul”. It’s scored predominantly for winds and is therefore well suited to bands like McNamara’s. It’s long been played at state and military funerals in Europe, and it used to be in America as well; though for some ungodly reason it’s been largely supplanted in recent years by “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

    According to the label on that Victor record, “I Miss My Swiss” was introduced in Nikita Balieff’s “La Chauve-Souris [The Bat]”. This long-running revue also popularised Leon Jessel’s “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”.

    When I was little I had a book called “Over in the Meadow”, written in rhyming verse. My mother used to sing it to us to the tune of “Three Little Fishies”, complete with the chorus of diddums and daddums. I had long assumed that the book was derived from the song; but I just looked it up, and it turns out the book dates from the early twentieth century, so the opposite must be true.

    “Over in the meadow, where the stream runs blue,
    Lived an old mother fish and her little fishies two.
    ‘Swim!’ said the mother. ‘We swim!’ said the two.
    So they swam and they swam where the stream runs blue.”

  • The Emerald Isle is one of my least favorite cartoons ever.

  • Makes you wonder how many other cinematic missing links UCLA is sitting on.

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