NEEDLE DROP NOTES
July 13, 2021 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: 1929-30 Talkartoons – “Hello, Betty!”

The Fleischers were already used to offering more than one series of cartoons at the same time – even when they were offering product through Red Seal, when the Song Cartunes supplemented the Out of the Inkwell series, and later the Inkwell Imps. Thus, the Fleischers sought to introduce a new series not dependent upon song slides and incidental gag sequences, but that could concentrate on the staples of more developed gag and plot ideas and occasional action sequences. The name they chose for this new series was the “Talkartoon”. For these episodes, Ko-Ko the Clown was temporarily sidelined, and a permanent retirement occurred for his dog Fitz. A new lead character was to eventually take their place, known as Bimbo. Bimbo went through some tweaking and development, changing his appearance markedly from cartoon to cartoon. He settled on a “little guy” personality, with a definite degree of shyness when it came to matters dealing with the feminine gender – a trait which itself developed, as his first appearance, “Hot Dog”, displays him in considerably more forward sexual approach. Late in this season, he encounters the character of a canine chantuse, who would eventually develop into the true star of this series’ run – Betty Boop.

Noah’s Lark (10/26/29) – It’s a rough sea voyage for Noah, his crew, and his cargo, including for one elephant who is making the trip “by rail”. Coney Island offers the opportunity for shore leave for everybody, and everyone seems to be enjoying the attractions Coney has to offer. Somehow, upon call to re-board the ship, the entire ark sinks into the bay – not to the dislike of Noah, who discovers new companionship in a flock of topless mermaids.

Song score includes “There’s One More River to Cross”, (recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers for Vocalion with reissue on Colkumbia, Uncle Dave Macon for Bluebird, and Paul Tremaine’s dance band on Columbia). a children’s song which I believe is called “The Animals Came In Two By Two”, and many songs we’ve encountered in past articles regarding Warner Brothers music, including “Sailing, Sailing”,the old shanty “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest”, “The Girl I Left Behind Me”, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and “Rocked In the Cradle of the Deep” (played by the Ark’s funnel as it sinks into the blue).


Marriage Wows (1/1/30) is an unknown commodity, unavailable to collectors (though elements for the film exist at UCLA Film Archive, condition unknown).


Radio Riot (2/10/30) – Recently featured in the Animation Trails “Fitness v. Fatness” series, a sizeable portion of the film parodies the standard mainstay of opening a broadcast day – the morning exercise program. Musical programmes fill the mid-day schedule, with a group of singing flies, various birds on a wire, canines and felines engaged in such behavior as sawing a cello in half, and finally, a bedtime hour for the kiddies (with Billy Murray telling a blood-curdling tale guaranteed to keep your tykes wide-awake with horror the entire night). Songs include “Ach Du Lieber Augustin”, “Comin’ Through the Rye”, “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone”, and “Funiculi, Funicula”.


Hot Dog (3/22/30) has also appeared in an Animation Trail as an example of Courtroom Drama. Marking the first appearance of Bimbo, he put-puts around the road in a jalopy that would be considered a disgrace on “Jay Leno’s Garage”, trying to pick up women (sometimes litterally, with an extended seat that scoops them off the sidewalk). He has an inevitable brush with the law, and ends up in court, putting on the world’s first defense conveyed entirely in scat singing. Songs include a new lyric for “Polly Wolly Doodle”, an old familiar melody, recorded by Harry C. Brown for Columbia around 1917, and re-recorded as his only electrical recording in 1928. Also recorded in 1925 by Gid Tanner and the Skillet Likkers as “Polly Woddle Do” on Columbia. Frank Luther and Carson Robison issued a version billed as “Bud and Joe Billlings” on Victor. A new lyric was added for Shirley Temple in the 1930’s. Raymone Newell, a concert singer, recorded it on British Columbia in the 1930’s. Red Norvo did it for Decca in 1936. Ray Bloch had a version on V-Disc circa 1945-46 (probably derived from Works Transcriptions). The feature number of the cartoon, which I have previously highlighted in one of my early columns for Needle Drop Notes, was a true needle-drop, of “St. Louis Blues” by Eddie Peabody”, in his version for the dime store labels such as Romeo, Banner, Perfect, and Conquerer, that would become the “ARC” umbrella. The number, penned by W. C. Handy, would of course become a perennial jazz staple recorded prolifically – other notable early versions include Prince’s Band on Columbia, vocal versions by both Marion Harris and Bessie Smith on Columbia, Boyd Sentner on Perfect, and Thomas Waller – soon to be known better by the nickname “Fats” – in his debut appearance on Victor. Glenn Miller would revive it into a massive hit with his Army Air Force Band by converting it into a military march. And Max’s biggest rival, Mickey Mouse, would issue a version in the 1950’s culled from soundtrack of a short produced a season or so adter the Fleischer version (“Blue Rhythm”), under the title “Mickey’s Big Show”, on Mickey Mouse Club records.


Fire Bugs (5/4/30) – Gags around a fire engine company, in their efforts to save residents of a high rise – particularly a piano player, who refuses to stop playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, even though the lid of his piano is being used as a dancing floor by little flames. (This may possibly be animation’s first use of Liszt’s classic, which would ultimately rank as classical music’s biggest recurring “hit” for the medium. Also used in the score is “The Prep Step”, introduced by Helen Kane in the film “Sweetie”. I know of only one commercial recording of it – by Jesse Stafford and his Palace Hotel Orchestra on Brunswick.


Wise Flies (6/12/30) – Gags abounding about spiders and flies, including one arachnid who can’t seem to bring any of the latter species home to his misses. Songs include “Listen to the Mocking Bird”, and a true needle drop – Eddie Peabody performing “Some of These Days” on tenor guitar, in a performance issued on the ARC dime store labels (Banner, Perfect, Romeo, etc.). Said number is perhaps best known as a signature song for Ziegfield star Sophie Tucker, recorded by her on various labels several times during her long career.


Dizzy Dishes (8/5/30) – A busy night at a night club/restaurant. Bimbo plays the harried short order cook/waiter, dealing with such problems as an order from a Jewish patron for ham, and an irate customer wanting roast duck, but having to settle for leg of table instead. Between orders, Bimbo meets for the first time the long-eared canine entertainer who would become his recurring sweetheart – and animation’s as well – the as yet nameless Betty Boop, already voiced by Mae Questal. (Creator Grim Natwick, in a personal appearance a year before his death at the Los Angeles County Art Museum, recalled that around the studio, he never generally referred to her as Betty – merely as “the girl character”.) An unidentified chorus number opens the cartoon, which may derive from a film, but is to me unknown. The featured number by Boop is “I Have to Have You”, which was recorded by Helen Kane on Victor. Annette Hanshaw recorded it as a full vocal version for Okeh, and as a vocal refrain on a second version on Harmony et al., under the billing of Frank Auburn and his Orchestra (one of the regular pseudonyms for several different bands – this one sounds like a Ben Selvin group).


Barnacle Bill (8/25/30) – The film pretty much follows the plot of the lyric to “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. Bimbo plays the disreputable title mariner, one step ahead od his angry captain. Betty appears as the “Fair Young Maiden”, with some shape to the limbs but more skinny and elongated in torso than usual – almost a little Olive Oyl influence long before the character would arrive at the lot. Almost the same ending as “Noah’s Lark”, as Bimbo sinks to the bottom of the sea and meets the mermaids. Songs: “Nancy Lee”, a traditional sailor song. The title number, recorded by Frank Luther and Carson Robison for Victor, Brunswick, Perfect, et al. – basically farmed around to almost any studio who would have them. A famous alternate version was recorded by Hoagy Carmichael and his orchestra on Victor, with one of the last performances by the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, and also featuring as side men Benny Goodman on clarinet, Gene Krupa on drums, and violinist Joe Venuti (who joins in the vocal chorus and possibly mutters an off-color alternate to the word “sailor”). “Minnie the Mermaid” underscores the last gag, recorded by Bernie Cummings and his Hotel New Yorker Orchestra on Victor, and several years later by Phil Harris on transcription and later for Victor. Fred Harper performed it as a “soundie” for visual juke box. Lawrence Welk often used the number in his bandbook for his resident basso, Larry Hooper, recorded commercially on Coral. Pete Daily and his Chicagoans also recorded it for Capitol. The number was further revived by the Firehouse Give Plus Two for the album “Goes to Sea” on Good Time Jazz.


Swing You Sinners! (9/25/30) – A black proto-Bimbo rings almost all the changes on the accepted black stereotypes of the day (leaving out only watermelon). More importantly, the film features one of the hottest jazz soundtracks appearing on a Fleischer film to date. The protagonist displays temerity in attempting to steal a chicken despite the watchful eye of a cop (giving our “hero” visions of prison stripes and the electric chair), then displays characteristic timidity when surrounded by the headstones of a haunted graveyard, which self-locks him within its walls, Transformation gags abound, as the spooks lead the dog on a one-way trip to Hades. The title song was a big hit from the feature “Honey”, starring Lillian Roth. Principal recordings include the High Hatters on Victor, Duke Ellington on Brunswick with Irving Mills vocal (also re-recorded anonymously by Ellington for Durium’s cardboard “Hit of the Week” series under the pseudonym “Harlem Hot Chocolates”), the Charleston Chasers on Columbia, and in vocal recording by Lee Morse and her Bluegrass Boys on Columbia with Benny Goodman on clarinet. The song was successfully revived in the 1950’s by Tony Bennett for Columbia with lively big band backing by Percy Faith. Also included in the score are passages from “Down South”, most notable recording of which treated the number as an intermezzo, by the Eveready Hour Group on a 12″ black seal Victor release. Also again, a brief quote from “Mazel Tov” appears.

Next Time: Back to the Screen Songs

5 Comments

  • One of the most popular books in the public library among boys at my school was THE ANATOMY OF SWEARING by Ashley Montagu, though few had the nerve to check it out (I certainly didn’t). Dirty words in print were still a novelty in those days, and it was fascinating to see them treated as a serious subject of scholarly inquiry. Besides, the book was packed full of dirty jokes. I was intrigued to learn that “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”, a song I already knew from the Popeye cartoon, was itself a watered-down version of a much filthier song called “Bollocky Bill the Sailor”, which the erudite Professor Montagu had seen fit to include in the text without expurgation. Those are the lyrics that, to this day, go through my head whenever I see the Barnacle Bill cartoons. Too bad the Fleischers never made a cartoon out of “The Ballad of Eskimo Nell”. That song makes “Bollocky Bill” sound like a Calvinist hymn.

  • I had another look at “Hot Dog” and noticed a very catchy instrumental foxtrot that plays during the scene where Bimbo puts the moves on the girl he picked up in his car. At the end of the first stanza he sings to her “My sweetheart and squeeze,” which may be the title of the song; at least, it matches the rhythm of the cadence. However, I was unable to find sheet music or lyrics online to any song titled “My Sweetheart and Squeeze”. Whatever it’s called, I would love to hear some vintage recordings of it. It’s quite a cute little ditty.

  • Paul – The tune is “My Sweeter Than Sweet,” and those are the words Bimbo sings. The song is features in the Paramount film “Sweetie”, starring Nancy Carroll, Jack Oakie and Helen Kane. (I saw this picture ages ago but I don’t remember who sang it; possibly Jack Oakie.) There several recordings; here are just a few:
    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xeiego (over-processed audio, but the verse is included)
    https://my.mail.ru/mail/ykson2010/video/25660/25673.html
    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xhtab9

    • Thank you, Rich! I enjoyed those recordings very much. I’ll see if I can track down the “Sweetie” film — I love pre-Code musicals!

  • I was taught to sing “One Wide River” in elementary school (late 1960s/early 1970s), only it was “One Ride River” with very few changes in the lyrics. No idea why the title change.

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