NEEDLE DROP NOTES
October 12, 2021 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Screen Songs 1932 – More Live Footage

During the remainder of the 1931-32 season, the Screen Songs began to feature more live footage from well known radio artists. The arrangement worked out well for the artists in question. Most big city Paramount and Publix theatres had adopted a policy which Variety would refer to as “VodFilm”, where there feature film would be accompanied not only by a panoply of the usual short subjects, but by a “stage show”. This might be hard on the acts in question, as they would have to do four or five shows a day. But small time vaudeville never attracted as much crows as went to the Paramount theater on Broadway. Apparently they would run the cartoon one week, then the next week feature the actual artist, be it Art Jarrett, Arthur Tracy, or Cab Calloway.

Show Me the Way to Go Home (1/30/32). After a night of revelry, someone is trying to walk home. (Ha!) The animated sequence which introduces the film is set in a speak-easy where the beer flows like water and the glasses slide down the bar. Oddly, the footage of the patron trying to get home is presented in live action – a sort of attempt to copycat Charlie Chaplin in One A.M. Songs include “Drink ‘er Down”, “How Dry I Am”, “(Let’s Drink a) Drink to the Future” (recorded by Ben Selvin on Columbia and by a Ben Selvin Group om Harmony, Velvet Tone, and Clarion), and “Drunk Last Night (Drunk the Night Before)” (a pretty standard intoxication number with no particular recorded history). Also included is “Stumbling”, a 1922 pop written by Zez Confrey, recorded by Paul Whiteman on Victor, and a vocal by Margaret Young on Victor (the aunt of later singing star Margaret Whiting). A notable revival included a version on the album, “Movin’ and Groovin’” by the Three Suns in the stereo days – billed as “Stereo Action”, with the the footsteps of the stumbler traveling all over the place from channel to channel.

The title song of the film was originally a British novelty from 1925, and was picked up here, recorded for dancing by the International Novelty Orchestra on Victor, and the California Ramblers on Columbia, among cover versions by almost every other label. Vocal versions included the Singing Sophomores (actually the Revelers) on Columbia, and a Victor version by Frank Crumit (bellow). Later versions included Henry Jerome on Roulette in the 1950’s (before he became known for a series of albums entitled “Brazen Brass” on Decca), Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads on Epic, and by Lou Monte on Reprise.


When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along (2/12/32) – Daily life in wartime birdland. The birds are at war with the worms, and it is a life or death struggle. Papa bird leaves his nest, wife and kiddies, for his daily routine, and winds up chained to a tree, facing a firing squad of worms. Their volley just disintegrates the chain and trees, allowing pop to escape back home. Very little dialogue. The title song is a 1926 pop, recorded by Paul Whiteman on Victor. One of the best known voocal versions was by Al Jolson on Brunswick. Also recorded by the Arkansaw Travelers on Okeh (a Sam Lanin group featuring Red Nichols prominently on cornet). A much later version featured Doris Day on Columbia. The song was remembered in the late 1950’s by a verbal referenced in Warner’s Birds Anonymous (1957), as Sylvester tries to get his mind off birds, but can only get songs about them when he tunes in the radio. Other songs include, “Rock a Bye Baby”, and “What’s the Matter With Father?” (rearrangesd into a fox trot rather than at 6/8 tempo).


Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (3/4/32) – Betty and neighbor Bimbo are trying to clear the snow from their respective walks, with the shoveled snow winding up deposited on each other’s property. They head for the pond to enjoy some skating. Centipedes with multitudes of skates pass, and a walrus who cracks the ice Betty and Bimbo both wind up in the water, and emerge trapped in ice cubes, prompting Bimbo to suggest they “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie”, leading to the bouncing ball, and the performance of the Round Towners’ Quartet. (I do not know their personnel except for Larry Murphy, their second tenor. They did not record commercially except for one session on Harmony with Fred Rich’s Orchestra. However, I believe they are the same voices heard anonymously in credits and various sing-along choruses on previous Screen Songs. The finale has Betty and Bimbo tobogganing, losing same and jumping from ice floe to ice floe (much like the “girders” gag from skyscraper pictures), then rolling inside a snowball. Songs: “Over the Waves”, “Jingle Bells”, “Please Let Me Sleep” (as a fish is awakened by the activity above), and the title song, recorded by Byron G. Harlan for Victor. A later country version appeared by Riley Puckett for Columbia. Bing Crosby and Mary Martin would perform a lively duet arrangement on Decca, reduced from an extended version from the feature Birth of the Blues (below). In the 60’s, a version (possibly a demo recorded in the 50’s, not released until the next decade) appeared by Buddy Holly on Coral. Van Johnson would use the song, self-accompanied on lute, in the role of The Minstrel in a 1960’s “Batman” episode, with the new lyric, “Wait ‘till the Jaul Break, Batman.”


Just One More Chance (4/1/32) – Betty Boop works in a casino, including every fame of chance doen to “the old shell game”. One suspects the place is not being run on the up and up. Songs include “How Dry I Am”, and the title song, a 1931 pop recorded as a vocal by Bing Crosby on Brunswick (below – he would later remake it on Decca), and as a dance record by Gus Arnheim on Victor, and on Hit of the Week by the Hit Of the Week Orchestra, Bert Hirsch directing. Ben Selvin also had it on Columbia, and Abe Lyman on Brunswick. English versions included Roy Fox on Decca, Jay Wilbur on Imperial, Percival Mackey and his Kit Kat Band on Regal, and Ambrose on HMV. Les Paul and Mary Ford would revive it for Capitol. Stan Kenton would also revive it in the 50’s for Capitol, as would Ralph Flanagan for Victor, and the Three Suns on Victor. Dean Martin also performed it on Capitol.


Oh, How I Hate to Get Up In the Morning (4/22/32) – Betty Boop again appears to call the boys to sing about army life. Basic gags on military life in peacetime, with the tents yawning and stretching, and the cannon wanting to go to sleep. We have already covered the title song in its original use in the “Song Car-Tune” days. Also includes “Reveille”, “Mess Call”, “You’re I n the Army Now”, “Aura Lee”, “Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous”, and “Here We Are” a 1929 pop, most well known to collectors from a Ted Weems Victor, which was the original flip side of the hit “Piccolo Pete”. Les Reis and Artie Dunn, the featured artists in the film, were active in radio from 1931 to 1934. During this period, Rice was spending his time imitating Bing Crosby (who wasn’t?). Artie Dunn had a succession of duet partners between 1926 and 1934, imncluding composer Sammy Fain, Scrappty Lambert, and Henry Cross (with whom Dunn made one of the Rambling ‘Round Radio Row shorts for Vitaphone). Reis and Dunn show up on records on Crown, but has one session on Harmony, Velvet Tone and Clarionm where they were backed by Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. Dunn would go on to become organist for the Three Suns with the Nevins Brothers, and often take the vocals on their sessions for Majestic and Victor. Reis and Dunn can be heard in many additional Fleischer cartoons, with repeated use of their singing introduction chorus of “Sweet Betty” for the Betty Boop series.


Shine on Harvest Moon (5/6/32) – Featuring Alice Joy, The Dream Singer – however, that live action bouncing ball segment is currently lost. Only a fragment consisting of the first three minutes of the film is available, but its pure Fleischer magic. The harvest moon advises a cloud named “Windy” that it’s harvest time, and he’d better begin to blow. The cloud morphs into a grotesque, beareded face, not entirely unlike the Old Man of the Mountain to be seen in later years, and commences a whirlwind campaign of upsetting everything standing still. A Mother bird breaks her egg open prematurely to put a pair of long johns on her unhatched chick, then clamps him back inside the egg. Trees and scarecrows don winter apparel or run for cover. Windy even blows at the moon itself, reducing it to a crescent, which falls inverted upon another cloud, transforming it into the horns of Taurus the bull, which chases Windy away in the last shots of the fragment. Songs include the “William Tell Overture (the Storm)”, and the “Toreador Song” from Carmen. The title song (only heard over the credits in the fragment) was from 1908, introduced by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth in the Ziegfield Follies of the same year, They did not get to record it at the time, recordings going to Elise Stevenson and Harry MacDonough on Victor, and Ada Jones and Billy Murray on Edison. The Carolina Club Orchestra (aka Hal Kemp) revived it for Okeh in 1929, by which time it was becoming a beloved standard. It enjoyed a major revival in 1931 when it was interpolated into that year’s Ziegfeld Follies, recorded for dancing by Ted Wallace ans his Campus Boys on Columbia, and as a vocal by Ruth Etting on the same label. The Boswell Susters also gave it their own interpretation on Brunswick. Glen Gray had a version in 1939 on Decca. Vaughn Monroe followed in the 40’s on Voctor, among his many “moon” songs to go with his theme. The Four Aces included it as a flip side to their top hit, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” in the 1950’s. The Pied Pipers also had it on Capitol.


Let Me Call You Sweetheart (5/30/32) – Featuring Ethel Merman in her first appearance for Fleischer. She sings with somewhat more restraint than one might expect, not belting the notes in her usual manner until the very end of the cartoon. Betty Boop is strolling through the park with a baby carriage. She is approached by a rather shy Bimbo, who is only interested in spooning. Betty likes the idea too, so much so that she forgets her duties and lets the baby carriage roll down a sloping path. The baby regards spooning as mere “horse feathers”. He also has encounters with an Italian street food vendor and a fountain. Eventually, Bimbo asks Betty to let him call her sweetheart, leading in the bouncing ball and Miss Merman. The “second chorus” delivers the lyrics to the audience in the unusual form of a rebus. There is an entire generation of viewers who will see this with memories of the game show “Concentration”, while others will be forced to use all their concentration to understand the visual puzzles. Songs include “Fountain in the Park”, “Got the Bench. Got the Park”, “Merrily We Roll Along”, “Santa Lucia”, “Narcissus”, Mendelsohn’s “Spring Song”, and the title number, from 1910, recorded in its first bloom by Miss Mayhew (I do not know her first name) and Henry Burr on Columbia. The song became an evergreen, and was recorded in 1924 by the International Novelty Ochestra on Victor (remade as an electrical in 1926), by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare on acoustic Brunswick in 1925, ad by the Halfway House Orchestra recorded in New Orleans for Columbia, also in 1925. (The latter group got its name from the venue where it played, halfway between the Mississippi river and the shores of Lake Ponchartrain.) Vernon Dalhart recorded a ‘20’s vocal for Brunswick, while Helen Clark and Franklyn Baur did likewise for Victor electrical. Riley Puckett recorded a hillbilly version on Columbia. Bing Crosby had it as one side of his first date for Decca records in 1934. Al Goodman recorded a 40’s version as part of an album set for Columbia. Patti Page further revived the number in 1952 for Mercury, and much later Slim Whitman in 1977 for United Artists.

Next Time: a nixed bag of Screen Songs and Talkartoons.

6 Comments

  • When I was little, someone on TV told a shaggy dog story about the time comedian Shelley Berman and the Singing Nun both performed in the same show, and afterwards a fan approached them for their autographs. Berman immediately took out his pen, but the etiquette-conscious emcee stopped him and said: “Wait till the nun signs, Shelley!” I didn’t get it, and my mother had to explain it to me. “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie” always reminds me of that joke — and I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that this barbershop standard was recorded by the Buffalo Bills on their album “Remembering Time”, released in 1965 on RCA Victor.

    Around the same time that I first became aware of that song, in one of her sitcoms Lucy stowed away on an Apollo mission and sang “Shine On, Harvest Moon” with the astronauts.

    I don’t hear Zez Confrey’s “Stumbling” anywhere in “Show Me the Way to Go Home”, but “Let’s Make a Deal” host Monty Hall sang it in a memorable episode of “The Odd Couple”.

    And in the early 1960s “What’s the Matter with Father?” was used in both The Flintstones (“What’s the matter with Flintstone?”) and the Andy Griffith Show (“What’s the matter with Barney?”).

    It occurs to me now that in the ’60s and ’70s, all of these songs were about as old, and just as familiar and well-loved, as those of the Beatles are today.

    I suspect the “Miss Mayhew” you mentioned was vaudeville star Stella Mayhew, who was at the height of her fame around 1910. Unfortunately she lost her fortune in the stock market crash of 1929 and died in poverty a few years later.

  • How many Screen Songs did Merman lead? The other one I know is “You Try Somebody Else” (1932).

    • “Time on My Hands” is also coming.

    • There’s also “Song Shopping”, in which Ethel sings “I’m Yours” and “Sing, You Sinners”, for a total of five songs in four films.

  • The Alice Joy sequence in “Shine On Harvest Moon” is NOT lost. I have a 35mm safety print of the Screen Song, printed from the 35mm UM&M negative.

    • I hope there’s a chance you can share that rare print in this forum someday. I for one would love to see it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.