August 2, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Screen Songs 1937-38: And the Ball Keeps Bouncing

Screen Songs during 1937 and into 1938 followed the same path they had used since their revision in 1935. The screwy non-sequiturs of the early 1930’s are long gone, and the bouncing ball sequences are played straight. The live action segments tend to feature sweet or society bands, usually led by people who don’t have a great deal of personality. Paramount musicals were still providing them with song material they could use. Plotwise, they tended to fall back upon newsreel spoofs and other formats for random spot gags.

Never Should Have Told You (1/28/37) – with Nat Brandwynne and his Orchestra, Maxine Tappen, vocal. Brandwynne had been second piano for Eddy Duchin for years, but left to form his own group that set up residency at the Stork Club in New York. Wiffle Piffle is featured as an eccentric inventor, who comes up with new inventions that are always announced in bold newspaper headlines. The way they are presented might just as well make this another newsreel spoof. Songs include “Here’s Love In Your Eye”, from “The Big Broadcast of 1937″, recorded by Benny Goodman for Victor, Teddy Wilson for Brunswick (with Goodman as well as Lionel Hampton present), and by “Jimmy Hunter” (actually a Jack Shilkret unit) for Melotone, Perfect, et al. “When a Lady Meets a Gentleman Down South” was also recorded by Benny Goodman on Victor, Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol on Bluebird, and Ted Weems on Decca. The title song of the cartoon was performed by Benny Goodman on Victor, Johnny Hamp on Bluebird, and Russ Morgan on Brunswick.

Twilight on the Trail (3/25/37) – with The Westerners, regular featured performers of the WLS National Barn Dance show from Chicago. They were originally billed parenthetically as “The Massey Family”. They would have extended recording careers, originally on Melotone, Perfect, et al., and later on Vocalion and Okeh. After WWII, one of their members would launch a career on his own, as a crooner – Curt Massey, who is well featured in this cartoon. Here, Curt does his best Bob Burns impression, without playing the “bazooka”. The cartoon is a collection of tall tales about a character’s exploits out West. The title song was recorded by Bing Crosby on Decca. Elton Britt covered it on Melotone, Dino Oliveri and his Orchestra would cover it in England on HMV. It was revived in the 1940s by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage on Majestic, and Denver Darling on Deluxe. The Mary Osborne Trio issued a single on MGM. Charles Magnante revived it for Accordion and combo on red Silvertone Record Club. Sam Cooke would issue a single on RCA Victor, and the Sons of the Pioneers in stereo on their “Cool Water” LP for the same label. Nat King Cole got it for Capitiol, and Dean Martin for Reprise.

Please Keep Me In Your Dreams (5/25/37) – Featuring Henry King and his Orchestra, vocal by Barbara Blake. Another newsreel spoof. However, this one avoids gags about the theater in which it is shown. Another excuse for blackout spot gags. Songs include returns for “Us On a Bus”; “I’m an Old Cowhand”, “Stay as Sweet As You Are”, and “Home Sweet Home”. “Do You Or Don’t You Love Me?” was recorded by Shep Fields on buff Bluebird. The title song of the film appeared in two well-known versions, by Billie Holiday on Vocalion, and by Fats Waller on Victor.

You Came To My Rescue (7/30/37) – featuring Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra, with vocal by Larry Stewart. Fields had emerged in 1936 and became a sensation with his stylized society music among dancers and record buyers. Lore has it that he discovered his primary gimmick while sitting at a soda fountain, by idly blowing into his straw, producing the bubbling effect that became his signature. The cartoon features a contest among humanitarians, to decode who has performed the best rescue, treated rather in the manner of the newsreel spoofs though presented as if it were on stage. Gags include a rather large women who saves a boy from drowning in an unusual manner, a fireman, and a pilot who proves airplane crashes are not what they’re cracked up to be. Songs include returns for “Cross Patch” and the “Funeral March.” “I’m Talking Through My Heart”, from “The Big Broadcast of 1937″, and also the cartoon’s title tune, from the same feature, appeared in three notable pair-ups of flip=side recordings by Teddy Wilson on Brunswick, Benny Goodman for Victor, and Shep Fields on Bluebird but with Dick Robertson taking the singing chores.

Whispers In the Dark (9/26/37) – Featuring Gus Arnheim and his Band From Movieland, vocalist June Robbins). Another newsreel spoof of sorts, done more as a parody of Ripley’s “Believe it Or Not” (here called “Believe It Or Leave It”). It features nature’s and other’s oddities, in the manner of comic strip creator Robert Ripley. Songs include another revisit for “Cross Patch”. “Alibi Baby” was recorded by Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol on Variety, and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake 7 on Victor. “Stop! You’re Breaking My Heart”, and the title song, are both from the Paramount feature, Artists and Models. The first of the two songs was written by Ted Koehler and Burton Lane, while the second was penned by Leo Robin and Friedrich Hollander (who had emigrated from Germany while the getting was good, formerly the secondary bandleader of Weintraub’s Syncopaters). Both pieces were cut by Willie Farmer for Bluebitd, Hal Kemp for Victor, Bob Crosby for Decca, and Claude Thornehill for Vocalion (with Maxine Sullivan as vocalist on “Stop…”) Also in the score is “Good Mornin”“ (not the song from “Singin’ in the Rain”, but a tune later generations associated as a jingle for Kellogg’s breakfast cereal. Dick Robertson would record the piece on Decca.

Magic on Broadway (7/26/37) – featuring Jay Freeman and his Orchestra. We may never know the entirety of this cartoon, as all circulating prints seem to be shorn of their live-action footage. A wealthy man stops at a hat check sand, doffs his top hat, cane and overcoat, and uses the old “coin on a string” trick to deprive the hat check person of a tip. Only this man is not going to the theater or the opera, but to a penny arcade! The arcade games and attractions tend to bite back, including a punch board which, if pinched hard enough, snaps a handcuff on the wrist of the puncher, with sign reading, “Release, 10 cents.” A game called “Mousie Mousie” is billed as “a spring game for fall guys”, in which one tries to use a rod to remove the cheese from a giant mouse trap without springing it. Lotsa lick! And an attraction called “Photo Muggo” – “Watch the birdie and get the bird”. The man faces a camera that shoots ink in his face, then mops it off onto a piece of paper to produce a facial image. Also, the Fleischer claw-machine is lampooned as “The Gold Digger”, which picks the man up bodily, shaking everything on his person out to serve as prizes in the box, including his false teeth. The Kay Freeman orchestra is supposed to appear in a movie viewer briefly seen. However, there is no sign of Doug Henning or any other stage magician performing magic (as in Henning’s TV show of the same name in the 1980’s). Songs: “Blossoms on Broadway”, recorded by Dick Robertson on Decca, Guy Lombardo on Victor, Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm on Bluebird, and as an aircheck by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, Also included again are “Good Mornin’”, and “Alibi Baby”.

You Took The Words Right Out Of My Heart (1/29/38) – with Jerry Blaine and his Stream-lined Rhythm, vocal by Phyllis Kenny. Blaine was at the time of this film currently recording for Bluebird records, and would have a later career as the chairman of the board of Jubilee records in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, likely responsible for hits of The Orioles and Don Rondo. Yet another newsreel spot gag reel, in the guise of a candid camera, and with some gags set in a circus, with lion tamer scared on a mouse, sure-footed tightrope walker stepping on banana peel when on ground, etc. Songs: “Always and Always”, best known from a recording by Benny Goodman on Victor. “Jammin’”, recorded by Phil Harris for Vocalion. The title song was from “The Big Broadcast of 1938″, the last feature in such series. Victor gave it to Benny Goodman, Shep Fields recorded it for Bluebird, and Dorothy Lamour performed a vocal version on Brunswick.

Thanks For the Memory (3/25/38) – featuring Bert Block and his Bell Music. Spot gags involving a trailer show, including special trailers for baseball fans, fishermen, and for back-seat “windbag” drivers. One trailer offers movies, and is where the live footage would have been put in – unfortunately, circulating prints are again minus the band performance. Songs: “June in January”, introduced by Bing Crosby from 1934’s “Here is My Heart”, recorded by Bing on Decca. Crosby’s co-star Kitty Carlisle performed it on an aircheck from the Rudy Vallee show. Roy Fox covered it in England for the Decca label. It was revived by Dean Martin on Capitol, Julie London for Liberty on her “Calendar Girl” album, Nelson Riddle on Capitol LP “The Joy of Living”, Ferrante and Teicher in the 1960’s (probably for United Artists), and Benny Carter in the 1960’s on an album called “Aspects” on Capitol. “A Melody From the Sky”, from Paramount’s first Technicolor production, Trail of the Lonesome Pine”, was recorded by Mezz Mezzrow on Bluebird, and Jan Gaber on Decca. Later versions included the Sons of the Pioneers on RCA Victor, and Lawrence Welk on Coral. Bob Crosby included the number on a transcribed radio show. The number also has the distinction of being the only song from a feature spotlighting Spanky McFarland which Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer got to massacre vocally onscreen, in the first MGM-produced Our Gang short, “The Little Ranger.” The title song was recorded by its originators, Bob Hope and Shirley Ross, for Decca. Bluebird gave it to Shep Fields. Vocalion passed it to Mildred Bailey. Bing Crosby performed it on an aircheck. Ella Fitzgerald revived it in the 1960’s with Andre Previn backing her, likely for Verve. Sarah Vaughan performed a concert version live on Mercury, getting hung up on the word “Parthenon”. Les Brown made a swinging version as title music for Bon Hope’s TV specials, commercially released in the album, “Juicy Fruit” (aka “Today” and “How Brown Sounds Now”) on MPS and BASF records. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass gave it an instrumental upbeat on “The Beat of the Brass” for A&M It was even revived in the early 70’s by Nilsson on RCA Victor. Also, revisits for “Love In Bloom” and “Blossoms on Broadway” are included.

You Leave Me Breathless (5/27/38 – Featuring Jimmy Dorsey w/Bob Eberly). Paramount Pictures was anticipating the rise of television, and was an early investor in the experimental station that would become KTLA in Los Angeles, which they would own for 16 years. Here, on a TV screen, we get “Tele-Scoops” – yet another format for a newsreel satire. Circulating prints do not include any of the footage of Dorsey and his band. None of the gags are that memorable. Songs: “How’d Ya Like To Love Me?”, from Paramount’s “College Swing”, recorded by Jimmy Dorsey on Decca, Glenn Miller on an aircheck, and Roy Fox in England for HMV The title song, from the Paramount feature Cocoanut Grove, was recorded by Tommy Dorsey on Victor, and as vocal by Connee Boswell on Decca. Later years found versions by Martha Tilton on Capitol, Billy Eckstine on Mercury, and Ella Fitzgerald (possibly on Verve).

Beside a Moonlit Stream (7/25/38 – with Frank Dailey and his Stop and Go Orchestra. Dailey had a long career owning the Meadowbrook Road House in New Jersey. When he couldn’t book a name band, he formed one himself. Eventually, Glenn Miller was booked, initiating a series of airchecks which made the spot one of the most well known in the country. Film elements on this title may be entirely lost, as seems to have occurred with several of Fleischer’s productions of 1938, so nothing is known of plot or underscore except the title song, a pop tune, composed by Freiderich Hollander (of “Whispers In the Dark” above), recorded by Freddy Martin on Bluebird, Horace Heidt on Brunswick, a vocal version by Buddy Clark on Vocalion, and Dick Jurgens for transcription (probably Standard). Some of these last Screen Songs seemed to be using pieces that were so contemporary and possibly transitory, that one seriously wonders if the audiences had even had time to assimilate the songs into their memory, let alone learn the lyrics – so was anybody actually following the bouncing ball to sing along? This may account for the ultimate demise of the series, of which this film would be the last – not to be revived until the rise of Famous Studios and the move to Technicolor production.

Next Post: Color Classics 1937-38. .


  • You’ve correctly identified the main problems with the final cartoons in Fleischer’s Screen Song series: bland artists, unfunny spot gags, and songs that, whatever their virtues, were too challenging for most people in the audience to sing along to. They might have been salvaged with some real knock-out performances; but while Maxine Tappen, Barbara Blake and June Robbins had perfectly good voices, they sang with very little expression or personality. No wonder that they recorded little, and that their careers as nightclub entertainers were short-lived. All of the recordings included in this post are more engaging than anything in the films.

    I wish I could like Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm more than I do. In addition to opening his broadcasts with the sound of bubbles blown through a straw (I’ve read that it was his wife who had the habit of doing that), another signature of the band was using the solo viola to mark phrases with glissandos on the low C string, as the trombone would do in other bands (e.g., Hal Kemp). In those days we violists seldom had a chance to take the limelight (even Paul Whiteman, who began his professional career as a section violist in the symphony orchestras of Denver and San Francisco, never featured the viola in his arrangements), so it’s nice to see it happen in a Screen Song, even if it is just for effect and not an actual melody. I like some of Fields’s wartime recordings, when he was billed as Shep Fields and his New Music, with an expanded woodwind section and an outstanding guitar soloist. But as for the Rippling Rhythm, the bubbles, accordion, and obligato triplets are altogether too reminiscent of Lawrence Welk for my liking.

    And so the Screen Songs come to an end, not with a bang but with a whimper. So long, Screen Songs! Thanks for the memory, and good riddance!

  • It would seem that the spot gag routine was forgone in the Fleischer Studios’ ultimate Screen Song in favor of an original story. As reviewed in Motion Picture Daily and The Film Daily:

    ‘Beside a Moonlit Stream’
    Here is a new way to put over a screen song, bouncing ball and all, for the song hit comes unexpectedly as a part of the birthday celebration given by the animals to the baby bear. No more ingenious tricks have been performed by cartoon animals since the little folk of the forest cleaned up the dwarfs’ cottage in “Snow White.” The music is an actual photography sequence accompanying the cartoon. Dailey’s “Stop and Go” Rhythms Orchestra features the singing of Howard du Lany, ace vocalist with the organization, and after Howard does “Beside a Moonlit Stream” there is an animated cartoon sequence of the animals again closing an interest-provoking story. Running time, 8 mins. “G.”

    “Beside a Moonlit Stream”
    Paramount, 8 mins.
    Entertaining Musical Number
    Frank Dailey and his orchestra offer a tuneful orchestration of “Beside a Moonlit Stream” in this musical short, and Howard Dulany, vocalist with the orchestra, gives a catchy vocal rendition of the number. The well known bouncing ball is used to get the audience into the spirit of the film. The story revolves around a bear cub that is having a birthday party. The guests arrive and the orchestra is cut in. The picture ends with the cub gobbling up the birthday cake and getting a tummy ache. Max Fleischer produced.

    This exhibitor, reviewing for a January 1939 issue of Motion Picture Herald, seems to agree on your point that the contemporary music was difficult to sing a-long to:

    BESIDES A MOONLIT STREAM: Screen Songs — A good band and a good soloist, but my people just won’t sing with the bouncing ball and that makes these tiresome. — Mayme P. Musselman, Princess Theatre, Lincoln, Kansas. Small town patronage.

    It is probable that “Beside a Moonlit Stream” was not sold as part of the U.M.&.M package, as even UCLA has no elements on it, as is the case with other lost Paramount Cartoons (1929 Screen Songs, Readin’ Writin’ ‘Rhythmic, Accordion Joe, etc) and the copyright was not renewed. Having the same release date as “Buzzy Boop,” it is likely that the negative was dislocated as with the other lost Fleischer cartoons of 1938. But unlike the four lost Betty Boop films, there seems to be absolutely no leads on it whatsoever. Has anyone ever seen a print?

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