NEEDLE DROP NOTES
February 9, 2021 posted by James Parten

Looney Tunes 1955-56: Frogs, Felines, and Far-Away Places

This was a period when Warner began collecting oscars quite regularly for its shorts, after years of watching the statues go to Disney, MGM, and the artsy-craftsy product of UPA. The cartoons, with Milt Franklyn appearing more often as composer, and Treg Brown receiving several credits as film editor, would still retrieve old musical numbers from the archives as part of the underscore, and occasionally for a more prominent role.

Tweety’s Circus (6/4/55) – The inevitable Sylvester-Tweety chase goes on through a circus, with Sylvester coming off the worse for wear, finally winding up among the circus’s 50 lions – until they remove one black feline from the performing cast. The old favorite, “Meow” appears with a brand new lyric (as the original had to do with drowning a pussy cat – not the kind of thing Sylvester would be expected to sing). Recorded with original lyric by Irving Kaufman for Edison Blue Amberol cylinder. Also recorded instrumentally by Joseph C. Smith’s orchestra for Victor…


One Froggy Evening (12/31/55) – UPA-ish parable on greed, known and beloved by many cartoon fans, which spawned the official mascot for the WB network – the as-yet unnamed Michigan J. Frog. His introductory theme, “Hello. Ma Baby”, was an 1898 ragtime song, recorded in the day by Arthur Collins for Columbia cylinders. An original piece, “The Michigan Rag”, is featured, composed by Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese, and manages to fit seamlessly between the genuine articles of yesteryear. “Come Back to Erin”, an 1864 song generally associated as part of the Irish standard repertoire, was performed as least twice by John McCormack of Victor and HMV, and by Nellie Melba on HMV. “Won’t You Come Over To My House”, was recorded by Henry Burr on Columbia, Ford (Rush) and Glenn (Rowell) on Columbia, Byron G. Harlan on Victor, and much later, Dick Robertson on Decca. “Throw Him Down, McCloskey” appears to have had only one commercial recording, in late revival by Rickard Kiley on Talentoon records. “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” was a 1931 song recorded by both dance bands and singers. Bert Lown had in on Victor for band, and vocal versions included Gene Austin on Victor and Ethel Waters on Columbia. Returning numbers include “I’m Just Wild About Harry”, and Rossini’s “Largo Al Factotum”.


Rocket Squad (3/10/56) – Daffy and Porky in a Dragnet spoof, set in the far out future of outer space. Uses some of the same set designs as Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century. Daffy takes the Jack Webb role, while Porky is resigned to Ben Alexander status. Spoofs most of the program’s cliches, and ends with our heroes doing hard time. Song: “Mother Machree”, another standard piece out of the repertoire of Irish tenors. Recordings include John McCormack on Victor, Will Oakland on Columbia, Charles Hackett on Columbia Exclusive Artist, Charles Harrison on Velvet Tone, Sam Moore and Horace Davis on Vocalion, Henry Burr on Paramount, Morton Downey (a British Rex issue has been located), and later, Richard Crooks on Victor, Dick Todd on Bluebird, and Phil Regan on Decca, to name a few.


Heaven Scent (3/31/56) – The usual chase between Pepe Le Pew and a female cat with painted white stripe (which in this case was obtained quite deliberately, as means to obtain a basket of fish). Pepe chases her into the mountains, and the chase goes on interminably until the cat is trapped in a blocked tunnel. Touting the small difference betwen men and women, Pepe follows with the victory cry, “Vive le difference”. Songs: “Au Clair De la Lune”, a French children’s song; recorded by Geraldine Farrar and Edmond Clement on Victor, Alma Gluck and Paul Reimers on Victor Red Seal, Charles Trenet on French Columbia, and the Ramblers on European Decca, among others; and the old favorite, “Fountain in the Park”, sung in Pepe’s fractured French.


Rabbitson Crusoe (4/28/56) – Sam has been marooned on an island for years, living entirely off coconuts, and hating it! His supplies being aboard his old ship in the bay, they can only be reached by rock-hopping past a man-eating shark (Dopey Dick). Bugs unexpectedly floats in aboard a barrel, victim of another wreck, and instantly finds himself on Sam’s newly expanded menu. The shark provides welcome interference, until the island is wiped out by a tidal wave, and Sam forced to become Bugs’ rowing crew as price for being kept out of the shark’s jaws. Songs include “Secret Love”, an Academy Award-winning song by Doris Day in the Warner feature, Calamity Jane, recorded by Doris for Columbia, The Moonglows on Chance, and Eddie Heywood on Emarcy, and a budget label cover by Helen Forrest on Bell. Returning numbers include “Trade Winds” and “California, Here I Come”


Napoleon Bunny-Part (6/16/56) – Bugs makes the inevitable wrong turn at Albuquerque, and thinks he’s in a theatre lobby – only to discover himself in the palace of Napoleon, and intruding upon the emperor’s planning of war strategy with model soldiers and weapons on a map. Bugs takes over the plotting himself, and insists the game has Scrabble beaten by a mile. Napoleon spends most of the film trying to avoid getting jabbed by his own guard’s bayonet, and finally is carted off by some strongarms from the Funny Farm for thinking he’s Napoleon – when Bugs insists that he’s really the emperor. Bugs also goes in drag as Josephine, using a palace juke box featuring numbers by the Duc d’Ellington and Count Du Basie. Songs: “La Marseillaise”, most notably recorded in the early electrical days by the Republican Guard Band de France on Disque “Gramophone” in France, and imported here on Victor. This regimental band seemed to be so busy making records that it’s a wonder they ever found any time to guard the republic. A return of “Yankee Doodle” is also heard.


Barbary Coast Bunny (7/21/56) – Bugs finds a huge gold nugget, and is immediately swindled out of it by Nasty Canasta. Shortly thereafter, Bugs appears in disguise as a country bumpkin at Nasty Canasta’s newly-established casino – and proceeds to break the bank, winning back his nugget and then some. Moral: “Don’t go stealing no 18 carrots from no rabbit.” Songs: “Clementine”, considered a folk song, later to become more closely associated as the unofficial theme song of Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound. Most notable recording were by Bing Crosby on Decca, The Weavers on Decca, and a rocking version by Bobby Darin on Atco.

Next Time: We’ve almost reached Porky’s curtain line.

7 Comments

  • Thanks for including all of the vintage songs from “One Froggy Evening”. That 1899 recording of “Hello, Ma Baby” bears out a fact I once read: that the word “hello” was seldom used before the invention of the telephone. I suppose the song may have boosted the popularity of the word as an all-purpose greeting.

    Many years ago I tried to track down the sheet music to “The Michigan Rag”. When I couldn’t find it in my mother’s sheet music collection, I searched through the volumes of ragtime songs in the Detroit Public Library as well as those at Michigan State and Wayne State, all in vain. I was convinced it was another vintage song from the frog’s repertoire, and it never occurred to me that it had been written specifically for the cartoon. I thought it should be the official state song. Still do.

    “Au Clair de la Lune” figures prominently in the 1956 Warner Bros. film “The Bad Seed”. The homicidal little girl plays it on the piano to cover up the screams of the handyman whom she has set on fire and locked in the basement. It’s probably just a coincidence that it was used in a Pepe Le Pew cartoon that same year; that would have been a very weird kind of cross-promotion.

  • Napoleon Bunny-Part also used “Grand Central Station” by John Redmond, James Cavanaugh, and Frank Weldon, briefly heard when Bugs turns on the jukebox. Same song was also heard over the title cards for There Auto Be a Law (1953) and Stop! Look! and Hasten! (1954).

  • Besdies “Clementine”, two other connections to Hanna-Barbera’s Huck and HB in general, not just MelBlanc, but more so Daws Butler..also Jones’s storyman Miike Maltese, only he was at Lantz, so Pierce, so weirdly didn’t write at HB, wrote this and a few other Jones shorts. Daws did a great voice in this.

  • “Hello Ma Baby” was my answering machine message in the ’80s. At exactly 20 seconds, it fit the primitive Phonemate “outgoing” cassette just right.

  • I don’t know what the cue sheets at UCLA say, but an ASCAP search reveals Jones had nothing to do with the composition of “Michigan Rag.” It gives sole credit to Mike Maltese. It is still licensed by Warner Olive Music.
    Milt Franklyn named some of his own music for the cartoon. ASCAP says he composed “Amazing Discovery,” “Hidden Talent,” “Here We Go Again,” and “One Froggy Evening,” which I presume is the hoppy music under the opening titles.

    • Franklyn was credited in Son of the Mask (2005) with “Amazing Discovery” – my guess is that’s the music when the man first comes across the frog, as the same music plays in Son of the Mask right before the baby dances. I won’t link to the video of that scene for everyone’s sanity.

      “Hidden Talent” is likely the music that plays when the man shows off the frog to the talent agent. If so, the same original melody also appeared in A Star is Bored (1956) and Go Fly a Kit (1957).

  • I could have done without the racist intro to Hello Ma Baby, and the offensive slur in the lyrics of McCloskey. Might want to check those before posting (noting that the cartoon in question doesn’t use those words). Thanks.

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