June 29, 2021 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Screen Songs 1930 – They Still Want Us at Paramount

Even though many businesses were realizing that times were getting hard, this may not have been the case at the Max Fleischer studio. Paramount seemed to want a bouncing ball cartoon every couple of weeks, plus the new Talkartoon series. Meanwhile, the film industry in general was facing impatience of a public with the plethora of all stalking, all singing, all dancing pictures flowing from the major studios, and the returns were starting to diminish. Tin Pan Alley was starting to produce lively cheer-up songs to convince people that times weren’t so bad. Songs like “Cheer Up, Good Times Are Coming” were being found in sheet music and record racks all over the country. But the Fleischers rolled on with production, and Paramount must have been satisfied.

I’m Forwever Blowing Bubbles (3/16/30) – Bath day at the local zoo supplies the setting for the animated wraparound. Songs besides the title number include “How Dry I Am”. “Alma Mammy” (recorded by Waring’s Pennsylvanians on Victor, and the Golden Gate Orchestra on Harmony, Velvet Tone and Diva), and “My Sweeter Than Sweet” (recorded by Leo Reisman on Vicror, Jesse Stafford on Brunswicl, and Frankie Trumbauer of Okeh (featuring Andy Secrest on cornet). The title tune was introduced in 1919, recorded by Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra for Victor (one of the earliest recordings from the prolific Ben Selvin), Vincent Lopez for Perfect and the dime store labels, and as a vocal by Albert Campbell and Henry Burr (the latter masquerading as “Irving Gilette”) for Columbia. Charles Hart and Elliot Shaw also performed it for Pathe, and Helen Clark and George Wilson Ballard on Edison. Wayne King had a successful Victor version in the 1930’s that stayed in catalog for years, and Artie Shaw performed a duet version with Gordon Jenkins’ orchestra and low-note piano accompaniment on Decca.

La Paloma (4/12/30) – A singer serenades his girl from the streets to her balcony. He eventually winds up wearing a flower pot for a chapeau. The title song, written by Yradier, was recorded acoustically bby Emilio de Gorgoza on red seal Victor. (He had also recorded an extremely early version around 1903 for standard black-seal Victor, under the name “Carlos Francesco”. Sousa’s Band would also perform an early version on the same label. Prince’s Orchestra recorded a Columbia version around 1915. Also recorded electrically by Beniamino Gigle for HMV.. Harry James (below) would swing it a decade later for Columbia. Al Goodman revived it orchestrally for RCA in the 1940’s. The song would provide the title number for a stereo LP by Billy Vaughn’s orchestra on Dot. The only other song in the score is “Ai-Ay-Ay” recorded by Tito Schipa fot red seal Vicror and Pathe electrical, Miguel Sleta for HMV, and in Swedish by Sven -Olof Sandberg for British Odeon. The melody was also used as an incidental medley piece on the irritatingly repetitious number, “Oh Ya Ya” by Paul Whiteman for Victor.

Yes, We Have No Bananas (4/26/30) – Gags around a fruit and vegetable stand. Lore has it that the song was inspired by a shortage of bananas resulting from a blight on the most popular varieties of the time. It became a “national earache” – even inspiring a parody tribute, “I’ve Got the ‘Yes We Have No Bananas’ Blues” – recorded by Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams Blue Five on Okeh (Eddie Cantor’s take is embed below). We’ve already covered recordings of the title number in our previous discussion of “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers”.

Come Take a Trip In My Airship (4/26/30) – Gags about cats moving a piano to an upper-story apartment (“Song of the Volga Boatmen” accompanies this effort), followed by some aerial exhibition on the final chorus, with two cats being swallowed by the man in the moon. Also included in the score is “True Blue Lou” (from the feature “The Dance of Life” – best known recordings by Ethel Waters on Columbia, Johnny Marvin on Victor, and a dance version by Ben Pollack on Victor). We’ve covered sources of the title song from the silent version, earlier in these articles.

In the Good old Summertime (6/6/30) – The Fleischers revisit another song already covered back in their Red Seal days. Action takes place at a party among the animals, including a “one critter” band. A maypole dance is performed around the tall neck of a giraffe. A little bit of “Mazel Tov” appears as the only other tune than the title song. Song history on the title number again has been previously covered in this series.

A Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight (8/1/30) – A mouse emerges from a saloon, quite under the influence, with a roll of posters to advertise a “Hot Time” “Turkey in the Straw” appears in the score,, and a quartet of mice sing “We Won’t Be Home Until Morning”. Billy Murray finally engages in the singing as well as the narration for the title tune. The film ends with a parade. The title song was written in 1898, and was inspired by a poster the author had seen for a minstrel show in Old Town, Louisiana, advertising a “hot time in Old Town tonight”. Among the better known recordings were Bessie Smith on Columbia, accompanied by a contingent from Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, where she sings two verses and all three choruses. Prince’s Band recorded an acoustic version for Columbia, and Sousa’s Band for Victor. Frank Novak and his Rootin’ Tootin’ Boys performed it in the 30‘s for Vocalion (below). Guy Lombardo waxed it for Decca, as did Freddie “Schnickelfritz” Fisher. Chris Barber gave it a trad dixieland treatment on British Columbia.

The Glow Worm (8/28/30) – The song was written for an operertta, “Lysistrata”. It must have been overly popular, as it spawned a “protest” song, “Nix on the Glow Worm, Lena”, recorded by Ada Jones for Victor. Straight versions were recorded by Prince’s Orchestra on Columbia, the Victor Orchestra on Victor, the Columbia Orchestra on Columba, King’s Colonials on Edison Winner in England arounf 1913, an early electrical version by the Victor Salon Orchestra, and Jack Hylton on HMV in the late 1920’s. Spike Jones would fracture it for Victor in the 1940’s, while the Mills Brothers performed a rocked-up chart hit revival with new Johnny Mercer lyrics for Decca in the 1950’s.

The Stein Song (9/6/30) – This song was the national earache of 1930. It prompted a landmark move for the series – the first on-screen appearance of a celebrity guest star – in this instance, the song’s hit-maker, Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees. Rudy had attended the University of Maine in the city of Orono. Gags in the film are mostly about the big football game. Rudy had the hif recording on Victor records, while Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys covered it for Columbia, and the Colonial Club Orchestra (a house band) for Brunswick. Most of the dime store labels also covered it, and had several good sellers, including Hotel Pennsylvania Music on Harmony, and the Hollywood Dance Orchestra on Perfect. In England, Jack Hylton performed it on HMV, while Jack Payne and the BBC Dance Orchestra got it for Columbia with a slightly revised lyric. There was a Canadian cover by Fred Culley and his Mount Royal Hotel Orchestra on Canadian Victor. It even got a French lyric and became a hit for Mystinguett for Odeon, under the unlikely title, “La Petite Femme De Paris”. Again, the song was so popular that a protest song was written, “If I Could Find the Guy That Wrote the Stein Song”, recorded by Johnny Johnson’s Orchestra on Victor with Jerry McDaniel on vocal, and as a purely vocal record by Albert Wheelan on English Imperial.

Next time, we dive into the shallow end of the Talkartoons pool


  • “In the Good Old Summer Time” (1902) and “Come Take a Trip in My Airship” (1904) were both written by the team of composer George Evans and lyricist Ren Shields. The original sheet music to the former contains no less than thirteen verses, commenting on everything from public displays of affection to the effects of alcoholic beverages to the high price of coal (there was a coal strike in 1902, successfully arbitrated by the federal government). In 1901, a piano rag by Charles J. Rockwell was published under the title “Tootsie Wootsie”. So that must have been a current expression that found its way into the popular music of the time, just as “heebee jeebies” suddenly started appearing in the songs of the mid-’20s. “Tootsie Wootsie” was also the title of an early rock and roll single by Davey Jones (not to be confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees) in 1959, but by then the expression had become totally squaresville, daddy-o.

    The first chapter of Upton Sinclair’s 1905 socialist propaganda novel “The Jungle” takes place at a Lithuanian immigrant wedding in Chicago. After hours of wholesome and soulful folk songs from the old country, the orchestra (or rather, a string trio) concludes its set with the crass commercial product of Tin Pan Alley, i.e., “In the Good Old Summer Time”. “There seems to be something hypnotic about this, with its endlessly recurring dominant,” Sinclair wrote. “It has put a stupor upon everyone who hears it, as well as upon the men who are playing it. No one can get away from it, or even think of getting away from it.” Thus the song becomes a metaphor for the corruption of culture by the forces of aggressive free-market capitalism. You wouldn’t think “In the Good Old Summer Time” would make anyone think the world was going to hell in a handbasket, but there it is.

    Still, it’s funny how well Sinclair’s words describe the seductive effect of the song upon the animals in the cartoon — and not only the animals, but the cuts of meat, the dry goods, and even the shopkeeper’s pants. Leave it to the Fleischers to portray a Jewish shopkeeper as a pig, and get away with it.

    “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” was later used in the Famous Screen Song “The Big Flame up” (1949), with the original minstrel show lyrics about a revival meeting replaced with rather innocuous text describing a big party. The bulk of the cartoon is a funny-animal fire brigade set to Otto Nicolai’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” Overture. Sharples seldom borrowed verbatim from a classical score, but it works pretty well here.

    “Lysistrata” is a comedy by Aristophanes, the Mel Brooks of Periclean Athens. It’s about the women of Greece uniting to withhold sex from their husbands in order to force them to broker an end to the Peloponnesian War. I’m not familiar with the operetta, but it must have been heavily bowdlerised before it could get to the stage even in turn-of-the-century Berlin. No idea how “Glow-Worm” figures into the plot.

    Bring on the Talkartoons!

  • I wonder, have you found the prints to these two Screen Songs: Mr. Gallagher And Mr. Shean and Readin, Rittin And Rhythmetic?

    • Both those films exist… but prints of them are scarce. UCLA Film Archive has them.

      • What about the final Fleischer Screen Song, Beside a Moonlit Stream?

  • Wow! Didn’t expect finally being able to see The Glow Worm in this series of posts—thanks, Jerry, and whoever provided the print! A print was auctioned off on eBay about five years back but it sold for more than I was able to bid at the time. Shamus Culhane claimed in his memoir that Dick Huemer was the original animator working on this one but it was finished by Rudy Zamora (the credited animator) after he left the studio. From initial viewings, the (unusually short) opening segment of the film is clearly Zamora’s work, but the timing and drawing/animation style of the second verse animation, at least, does look more like it’s Huemer’s. Zamora’s early drawing style exhibits noticeable influence from Huemer’s, so one does have to be careful. (A clearer/less-compressed copy would help with discerning the difference.)

    In a way, it’s too bad that Huemer didn’t stick around at Fleischer a little longer so we could have gotten more of his wonderful animated cartooning as it would have looked in early-sound Fleischer cel animation, but at least we have the sampling in some of these early Screen Songs and Talkartoons (including La Paloma). Being hired by the Winkler (Mintz) studio as co-director/animator of a series of cartoons was about the best thing that could have happened otherwise, even if he didn’t think so in later years. A talented artist with such a great personal style being assimilated by the Disney Machine in the end is the real shame.

    Things weren’t completely smooth-sailing for Fleischer Studios around this time. All or almost all of the existing crew of animators left at or around the same time in February 1930. Dick Huemer and Sid Marcus followed the Winkler studio’s relocation to Hollywood; George Rufle was apparently also there and ended up at Van Beuren; and Culhane also listed George Stallings (also later at Van Beuren) as another of the animators who left, though I don’t have external confirmation of that. I’m not sure of the exact number. The abrupt exodus prompted the hiring of Grim Natwick (I’m not sure if Ted Sears was a hold-out from the old guard or also a new hire) and the promotion of several inbetweeners to animators. Interestingly, the animators finally began receiving screen credit right after the exodus; one wonders if working in obscurity while the Fleischers hogged all the credit was a contributing factor in the prior staffers’ departure (Dave Fleischer would still continue to unjustly receive sole credit for directing on all of the studios’ films, though).

    The Glow Worm wouldn’t be the only Screen Song that was completed by one of the new animators after the prior ones left; I believe Come Take a Trip In My Airship credits Willard Bowsky as the animator (it is hard to read in the circulating transfer, though study of the animation also points to it), but most of it is by one of the departed animators (don’t know which, sadly, other than it isn’t Huemer or Marcus); Bowsky picks up the final chorus animation during the line “No one to see while we spoon”.

    • “A talented artist with such a great personal style being assimilated by the Disney Machine in the end is the real shame.”

      Excuse me?! I thought his Disney stuff was good regardless of the less cartoony nature of the studio. His only (or one of his) director credit “Goofy and Wilber” (1939) happen to be one of my personal favorites (of many). Plus, he did a great job on the anthology series including “The Story of the Animated Drawing”.

  • Sorry if this is bit late, but to me, the most memorable appearance of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” has to be in 1931’s “The Public Enemy.”

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