Here’s a special “Christmas in July” post for this week’s breakdown!
Toyland Broadcast, released December 1934, was the fifth Happy Harmony produced by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising for MGM. Ising directed the bulk of the 1934 releases, while Harman directed only Bosko’s Parlor Pranks. Because of Disney’s monopoly of full three-color Technicolor, the first few Happy Harmonies would be processed in two-color Technicolor (a red and green process).Toyland Broadcast, like many of the early entries, bears a strong likeness to the cartoons Harman and Ising produced for Leon Schlesinger. There are several instances here of re-used animation from the earlier Merrie Melodies—including a doll blowing up a balloon, which then inflates her to resemble radio singer Kate Smith is partially lifted from The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives, released a year earlier. (The Apache dance is lifted from 1932’s It’s Got Me Again, switching from mice in the Schlesinger cartoon to French dolls; the beaded toy on the xylophone is loosely based on scenes from 1933’s We’re in the Money, the last Merrie Melodie released by Harman-Ising.)
The character voices sound similar, as well—the probable voice of the toy emcee could be Johnny Murray, who provided the voice for Bosko and other squeaky vocals. The doll trio at the start of the film is sung by the Rhythmettes, whom were favored by Ising and MGM sound editor Fred MacAlpin, as they were heard in several Harman-Ising cartoons for Schlesinger. An interesting detail about the animator records for this film: its assignments are written on an exposure sheet from Schlesinger’s — it even bears a “Merrie Melodies” designation. The resources from their former studio clearly came in handy before Harman and Ising prepared their own stationary.
Animator Bob Stokes mainly handles the close-ups of the toy soldier emcee. Cal Dalton animates the key song sequences in Toyland Broadcast, including the singing doll trio, a violinist toy resembling David Rubinoff, and the Mills Brothers’ performance of Howard Dietz/Walter Donaldson’s “Jungle Fever,” from the 1934 film Operator 13, with Gary Cooper and Marion Davies. (The Mills Brothers in this film are harmonized by The Four Blackbirds, also heard near the end of 1937’s Clean Pastures, from Warner Bros.) Some assignments are composed of featured caricatures; Jim Pabian animates the Bing Crosby jack-in-the-box and the Kate Smith doll and Tom McKimson animates the roly-poly Paul Whiteman toy and his jazz band (touted as “The Old Maestro” by the emcee—in a voice spoofing bandleader Ben Bernie, who held the nickname on radio airwaves) and the stuffed dog resembling popular crooner Rudy Vallee.
Frankie Smith, brother of animator Paul Smith, handles the Apache dance in the film. The draft here credits him as “Franswaw,” a phonetic spelling of the name Francois. Apparently, it was a studio in-joke to refer to Frankie as “Francois”; even surviving exposure sheets listed him as “Francois Smith.” He worked at the Lantz studio by 1944-45, while his brother animated there, as the head of the animation department, overseeing the artists’ work. By 1948, he served as an animator at UPA. He later worked for Bill Melendez on the Peanuts television specials.
Portions of the draft for Toyland Broadcast, photocopied from Ising’s collection in the mid-‘70s, are hard to decipher, given its handwritten notations. However, by magnifying the document pages, the names have all been credited in the video. One perplexing aspect of the draft is the assignments on scenes 27 and 28, which seem to credit two animators; it could mean two animators animated on different characters, as seen on the video (Bob Stokes on the calico dog/Jim Pabian on the calico puppies in sc. 27; Frankie Smith on the applauding toys/Tom McKimson on Rubinoff in sc. 28).
As for the re-used scenes from the earlier Merrie Melodies, it’s not known if the animators credited on the scenes in the draft were the artists responsible for the scenes they originated, since no drafts from Harman-Ising’s Schlesinger period are known to exist.
Enjoy the Toyland Revue, fellers!
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott, Frank Young, Don Yowp and J.B. Kaufman for their help.)