Song Shopping (5/19/33) – Featuring Ethel Merman with Johnny Green at the piano. Tin Pan Alley gets the Fleischer treatment, as a mostly animal cast produces music at a “song factory”, which is so busy that staves of music come out the smokestack. Some of the deathless classics composed include “Yes, We Have No Onions”, “When I’m With You, I’m Lonesome”, “My Fanny’s Getting Fatter Every Day”, and “Old Blank Joe” (not a comment on any president, previous or current). Ethel Merman is demonstrating songs at a music store, with Johnny Green, already well known as a songwriter, backing her on piano. After their numbers, which are delivered in typical Merman-esque fashion., we see what happens when a group of cats invade the music store – “Come and get your copies”. Some revisits to tunes within the cartoon score include “Look Who’s Here”, again, and “Sing You Sinners”. A virtuoso classic, “The Carnival of Venice”, gets an airing. Del Staigers recorded am early first-chair cornet solo of it for Victor in the acoustic era backed by the Goldman Band. Much later, it became a swing feature, recorded in two different versions by Harry James and his Orchestra, first on Varsity, and then on Columbia. In more recent years, it was recorded by Wynton Marsalis on Columbia, and a video performance exists by Doc Severinsen. “I’m Yours” was a 1930 pop written by Johnny Green himself. It was recorded by Russ Morgan on Okeh, Odeon, Parlophon, Harmony, et al., and by the Benrus Radio Orchestra on Hit of the Week. It was revived for Capitol by Dean Martin in the 1950’s. “Two Buck Tim From Timbuctoo”, a 1933 pop, was recorded by Gus Van on Bluebird, and by Tom Berwick house band as a dance version for Bluebird and Victor.
Boilesk (6/9/33) – Featuring the Watson Sisters (Fanny and Kitty), who had appeared both on Broadway and burlesque circuits. They did not record much, but had a few sides for early Okeh, just before the label became a “needle cut” record. A burlesque show forms the nucleus of out programme, complete with dancing troupe (all of whom seem to be members of the “beeftrust”, having curves going in the wrong direction, and even one that “peels”). “Love Me Tonight” makes a musical reappearance. The Watsons perform a sketch about Fanny receiving a “Dear Jane” letter from her fiancé. They sing “I’m Playing With Fire”, a pop song of 1933 by Irving Berlin (something it seemed Berlin could have written in his sleep – possibly leading to the urban myth that Berlin got his song ideas from a boy somewhere in Harlem). Rudy Vallee recorded it for Columbia, Jack Denny and his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra for Victor, a Spanish language version by Perla Violeta Amado on Brunswick, and a Victor Young house band on Melotone, Perfect, et al. In England, it was well covered by Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Orchestra with vocal by Al Bowlly.
Sing, Sisters, Sing (7/9/33) – A fire sale at the department store – but the fire is still burning on the roof. The gags are mainly about how crowded the store is, and what women will do when looking for bargains. Features the Three X Sisters (also known as the Hamilton Sisters and Fordyce, as one of them was not a sister at all). They were apparently very busy in radio, after having some success on the stage. The score features revisits for “When I Take My Sugar To Tea” “Tramp Tramp Tramp”, “Comin’ Thru the Rye”, “Oh, Susanna”, and “Auld Lang Syne”. “Scotland the Brave” appears, a traditional Scotch song, played by countless piper brigades over the years, which would receive a hit popularizing with added lyric by the Ames Brothers on RCA as “My Bonnie Lassie” in the 1950’s. “The Scat Song” is vocally presented by the sisters, complete with the unique touch of including phonetically-transcribed scat lyrics accompanied by the bouncing ball. The song is mostly associated with Cab Calloway on Brunswick, who himself will be heard performing it in a subsequent Betty Boop cartoon. It was also recorded by Billy Banks on Victor. “Listen to the German Band” is the sisters’ final number, which received recording by George Olsen on Victor with Ethel Shutta vocal, and by Ben Bernie on Brunswick. It received wider coverage in Europe, by Ambrose on Regal Zonophone, Jack Hylton on Decca, and the Durium Dance Band on Durium.
Stoopnocracy (8/21/33). Featuring Stoopnagle and Budd, well known satirists of the radio, Gags are set in a nuthouse, as we tour various padded cells. Stoopnagle is portrayed as an inventor of wacky things, and Budd as an interviewer. Their humor was considered unusually witty for radio at the time, and they are now classified in memory as pioneering satirists in the mode of Bob and Ray. Their partnership ended in the mid-thirties, but neither could really attract an audience without the other. As the pair were not a musical act, the film has to stretch to find something for the bouncing ball, even going so far as to feature footage of a young black boy doing impression of Cab Calloway on “Minnie the Moocher” (IMDB believes the boy to be a young Harold Nicholas of the Nicolas Brothers). “Look What I’ve Got” is a 1933 pop from Paramount’s A Bed Time Story, starring Maurice Chevalier. The piece was recorded by Chevalier for HMV in both English and French, but did not have a domestic release in the U.S. (although the French version appeared in Canada). Dance versions were recorded by Paul Whiteman on Victor, Ted Fio Rito on Brunswick, and the Hotel Commodore Orchestra (actually Freddy Martin) on Columbia. Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”, “Please” (given the bouncing ball treatment, when Budd smokes a “Bing Crosby Cigar” and becomes an instant crooner), and “London Bridge”, all make reappearances.
When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba (9/10/33) – Animated content of this two-part episode has been largely covered in a recent installment of Animation Trails’ “Flights of Fancy” current series, and can be found there on this website. An additional odd gag in the second half of the film (which features a cat trying to outrun a steam locomotive on a railroad handcar) features a locomotive which parts in the middle, to reveal Stan Laurel in a bathtub inside the boiler compartment, taking a hot shower. The Mills Brothers provide all musical accompaniment with their vocalese impressions of instruments and solo guitar. Their live-action segment of the title tune is excised from currently available prints, and thus unavailable for review, They made no commercial recording of the tune. However, the piece is vocally remembered by another group of close harmony singers, The Revelers on Victor, who performed it both as a complete side and as a part of the “Victor Artists Party”, a promotional disc which introduced the Victor Program Transcription series of long-play 10″ 33 1/3 RPM shellac records in 1031. Running time was about ten minutes, with emcee duties handled on the recording by Frank Crumit. The “Transcription” series was the commercial predecessor to the long-playing LP, except coarsely-grooved with a stylus almost the same size as a conventional 78. Hardware for the product also had not been perfected to modern standards, requiring a special turntable devoted to the one speed, in combination consoles that sold around $900 in 1931 currency – astronomical with a depression in full swing. The format died quickly, despite some illustrious releases by Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, and others, and long play would not be attempted again until Columbia’s introduction of the microgroove format in 1948. Other recordings of the title tune included Rudy Vallee on Victor (below), the Knickerbockers on Columbia, a Ben Selvin studio band on Harmony et al, Al Lack and his City Radiolians on Crown, and in England by Ambrose on HMV and the Durium Revelers on English Durium (the cardboard Hit of the Week equivalent). Spike Jones and his “Other Orchestra” revived the piece for Victor in the 1940’s, with Country Washburne performing on tuba.
Other songs in the film include reuse of the Mills’ theme “Goodbye Blues”, “I Ain’t Got Nobody” over the notice about only one guitar on the soundtrack (probably directly cut out of the negative from their first cartoon), and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, underscoring the opening half of the animation (a dirigible flight). “Loveless Love” underscores the railroad segment. The latter song is usually credited to W.C. Handy, also sometimes known by the title “Careless Love”. Bessie Smith had a version on Columbia. Blanche Calloway (Cab’s sister) and her Joy Boys recorded a version for Victor (below). A Paramount record features Katherine Harris. Seger Ellis had it fror Brunswick. Bo Carter did a blues version for Okeh in 1931. A rare “Timely Tunes” release out of the Victor records subsidiary (the label was only briefly pressed for sale exclusively in Montgomery Ward stores) was released by Dave Nelson and his Orchestra. A country version was issued in the mid ‘30’s by the Dixie Ramblers on Bluebird. Bob Wills did a country version for Vocalion in the late thirties – one of the few times Wills and Tommy Duncan sang in duet. W.C. Handy himself recorded it for Varsity in 1940. Billie Holiday also recorded it for Okeh in 1940.
Boo, Boo Theme Song (10/13/33) – Featuring the Funny Boners, a vocal trio best known for singing vocal refrains on a few Ruby Newman’s Society Band records for Victor in 1932 (their live segment is also currently missing from circulating print of the film). Gags around a ghost-operated radio station – one of the first films to use the old line about a “ghost to ghost hookup” which would become a later Casper staple. The main sponsor of Station BOO is a “life-shortening” beverage called “Decayo”, whose commercial includes the process of manufacture, adding such ingredients as gasoline, oil, acid, and TNT. (I wonder if the Fleischer veterans were remembering this when they came up with a Bluto potion to kill off all the spinach crops in 1949’s How Green Was My Spinach.) “Liebestraum #3″ by Franz Lizst, and “Here Lies Love”, make reappearances. “My Bluebird’s Singing the Blues”, a fairly current pop introduced in the picture “International House” by Baby Rose Marie, appears, and was recorded by her on Brunswick A Freddy Martin studio band also performed it under the borrowed name of Will Osborne (who takes vocal) on Melotone, Perfect, et al. An English version appeared by Madame Tussaud’s Dance Orchestra on Edison Bell Winner. The title number of the film, presumably the theme of the Funny Boners, seems to have never been commercially recorded.
I Like Mountain Music (11/10/33) – Rip Van Winkle as retold Fleischer-style. The traditional story, but instead of merely being forgotten, Rip finds his peaceful countryside has been urbanized, even with small skyscrapers, and things are moving too fast for him. Rip eventually jumps out of an upper story window, while someone on a lower floor holds out a wooden coffin for him to fall into, then he and the coffin fall into a ready-made grave, with “Do Not Disturb” written on the headstone. The Eton Boys’ live-action number is again excised from current circulating print. The Etons had recorded with Sam Lanin in 1931 for Perfect, et al., then would have their own record on Columbia in 1934. The tune score includes “Ho Him”, “Song of the Volga Boatmen”, and the title song, given to Ted Weems on Victor, and Gene Kardos on Melotone, Perfect, et al. The film is unique among Fleischer episodes, in being the only instance where both Warner Brothers and Fleischer distributed competing cartoons based upon the same song! If it were not for studio block-booking, this could definitely have led to major confusion among distributors.
Sing, Babies, Sing (12/15/33) – Featuring Baby Rose Marie (whom television audiences would later know as simply “Rose Marie” from the Dick Van Dyke show and the Hollywood Squares). Things are hopping at the baby factory, with production lines humming, including a black baby with rattle containing what appears to be one of a pair of dice. Squadrons of storks deliver ethnic babies to China and other lands. But expectant fathers still try to block off every entrance – while the swarm of infants already delivered on prior flights wail in the background. “Baby’s Birthday Party” appears yet again. “An Orchid to You” was one of the first songs to use phraseology from columnist/commentator Walter Winchell in its lyric. It was a pop song, recorded by Eddy Duchin for Victor. “Hiawatha’s Lullaby”, a 1933 pop, was recorded by Don Bestor for Victor, Joe Venuti for Columbia (with Jimmy Dorsey and Adrian Rollini as sidemen), and in an English version by Ray Noble with Al Bowlly on HMV (below).
Next Time: Betty Boop 1933-34: Betty Meets Her Match.