NEEDLE DROP NOTES
October 13, 2020 posted by James Parten

Merrie Melodies 1942-43 and more: The Last Year of Difference

The Merrie Melodies brand continued to eclipse the prominence of the Looney Tunes label in the eyes of distributors. It is unknown what the differential was in the booking rates between the lower cost Black and Whites, and the high-priced “spread” of Melodies’ glorious Technicolor. By the next season, the difference would become irrelevant, with Looney Tunes joining the Technicolor ranks. Perhaps any differential in booking rates also disappeared at the same time. But the popularity of both series in Technicolor was such that the distributors didn’t seem to care.

With this week’s chapter, we’re going to start tightening up our format. Stalling was developing a book of standard cues, and falling into a pattern where many tunes used in the past would frequently recur (sort of like a Marvin Hatley book of tunes for a Hal Roach Comedy of the 30’s, but in shorter spurts). Between the cues, more original scores were being created. As a result, many titles released during this period either churn through numbers we have already encountered or rely primarily on Stalling’s own original music. To shorten our survey up, we will this concentrate on episodes which added something new, reaching into vintage songs of the past not previously used, or keeping a watchful eye upon the Hit Parade and/or numbers worth pushing from concurrent feature productions. Thus, articles will not be restricted to a single season or to a single series of cartoons (as virtually no one could tell a Merrie Melodie from a Looney Tune any more), but will attempt to list select titles in order of appearance, irrespective of series banner.


The Case of the Missng Hare (12/19/42) – Stage Magician Ala Bahma is “four walling” the community with posters for his upcoming performance. He plasters one over the hole of a tree in which Bugs Bunny resides. The confrontation leads to Bugs’ first use under Jones’ direction of “Of course you realize this means war.” And it does, at the theatre, where Bugs appears as rabbit in the hat, then as a junior participant in a sword-through-the-basket trick. A classic pie-in-the-face ending allows Bugs to exit, self-accompanied on ukelele, singing, “Farewell to Thee.” Songs include “The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish”, “The Latin Quarter” (accompanying the dance troupe preceding Bahma on the bill), “Over the Waves” and Aloha Oe”. Newcomer (actually quite old in age, depending on your point of view) is “Tonight We Love”, based on a theme from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and popularized by Freddy Martin and his orchestra with a contemporary lyric, as a major hit on Bluebird records. Another Martin (Tony – no relation) would cover the piece vocally on Decca. Joe Reichman would also cover it with Orchestra for the full price Victor label. And Xavier Cugat would perform it for Columbia, Nuch later, when Victor now had RCA ahead of it on the lavel, Tommy Dorsey would record it as part of an album set. And Jack Fina, pianist on the Martin version, wold re-record it with his own band years later on Mercury. As for the unexpurgated Concerto, notable recordings included a 1941 version Vladimir Horowitz accompanied by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and a gold record stereo recording by Van Cliburn in the 1950’s, both on Victor/RCA Victor. The piece would later be heard notably as opening titles underscore for Bob Clampett’s A Corny Concerto, referenced below.


Pigs In a Polka (2/2/43) – Friz Freleng, following on the previous season’s success of Rhapsody in Rivets, sets the Three Little Pigs to melodies from Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. The two most prominently used are from Dances #5 and #6 (Brahms wrote 21 of them!) Recordings of Dance #5 (undoubtedly abridged) date at least back to 1903 by Arthur Pryor’s band on Monarch (a division of Victor), and in or around 1912 by Eugene Ysate on Columbia. A version of #6 was recorded in the lare teens or early 20’s by violinist Du De Kerekjarto in Hungary on Columbia. Nominated for an Academy Award.


Jack Wabbit and the Beanstalk (6/12/43) – Jack and the Beanstalk gets the Bugs Bunny treatment, invading a certain victory garden he’s heard about. The Giant (who is questionable between the ears, empty except for an “Ear Drum”), takes the usual 32 feet per second per second drop, and remarks, “Watch out for that first step,. It’s a lulu.” Songs: “It Can’t Be Wrong”, written by Max Steiner for the “4 hankie” Bette Davis picture Now, Voyager. The song was recorded by Dick Haymes and the Song Spinners on Decca, The Four Vagabonds on Bluebird, and “Allen Miller and his Orchestra” on Hit Records (one of the infamous “anonymous” musicians’ dates, often recorded in hotel rooms in the evening, to avoid the American Federation of Musicians’ strike called by Petrillo against the juke box trade). Also performed in respective broadcasts by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Also included in the score are past-encountered tunes “Congo”, and an up-tempo rendition of “Long Long Ago”.


Wackiki Wabbit (7/3/43) – Two shipwreck survivors, hallucinating each other as their next meal, land on a tropical island, finding more appetizing possibilities in native islander Bugs Bunny (who not only delivers some lines in a Polynesian accent, but with subtitles that seem ill-matched in length to the lines spoken (“Now is the time for every good men to come to the aid of his party” accompanies a three-syllable grunt.) A rescue ship arrives, but Bugs takes the voyage, leaving his pursuers the island – and themselves to eat. Songs: “The Penguin”, a delightful bouncy Raymond Scott Quintette composition recorded on Brunswick, which was also covered in England by Ambrose and his Orchestra. Also included is “Trade Winds”.


Hiss and Make Up (9/11/43) – A granny’s dog and cat keep fighting, to her disturbance. They are egged-on to a degree by a canary (bearing no resemblance to Tweety). All three ultimately wind up kicked out into the snow, and the dog can’t inderstand why the cat is still smiling – until the cat smiles a toothy grin, revealing the canary trapped within his teeth as a jailbird. Song programme includes, “As Time Goes By”, popularized by Dooley Wilson in the Warner classic, Casablanca, but actually lifted from recordings made in 1931 by Rudy Vallee on Victor, and Jacques Renard on Bruunswick. Since the recording ban was still on, both recording companies reserviced their old 1931 masters to capitalize on the song’s newfound popularity. Also included is “Huckleberry Duck”, another catchy Raymond Scott composition, recorded with his full orchestra for Columbia. The “B” Theme of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” also makes an appearance – a marching riff for any powerful character that Stalling would frequently adapt into entrance music for a bulldog or other brute. Rounding out the score is the old cue. Carolina in the Morning”.


A Corny Concerto (9/18/43) – If setting cartoons to classical music was working for Freleng, why not Clampett? This film takes broad strokes at parodying Disney’s Fantasia, complete with Elmer Fudd serving as a combination of Stokowski and Deems Taylor, providing interstituals between segments including “weference” to “The Music Goes Wound and Wound”, and dealing with wardrobe malfunctions of his dickey. As mentioned, “Tonight We Love” appears over the credits. The first segment, “Tales of the Vienna Woods”, features one of the only instances of Porky Pig hunting Bugs Bunny since Bugs’ premiere in “Porky’s Hare Hunt”. The second segment, “Blue Danube”, casts a young Daffy Duck as the ugly cygnet, who gains the approval of mother swan after saving her brood from a “Beaky Buzzard” look-alike. The two classical pieces (so convenient for use, both being in the public domain) were well-established in many versions on record, dating back to early military band versions at the dawn of recorded sound, Two notable “compact” condensed versions of Blue Danube were recorded by the Metropolitan Orchestra for Victor in the 1900’s. Stokowski himself recorded a good-selling version of “Vienna Woods” for Victor, and Bruno Walter also had good selling versions on various labels.


Fin ‘n Catty (10/23/43) – Goldfish can’t live without water – and hate cats. Cats hate water, but can’t live without goldfish. (So says our narrator anyway). The scene is set for the goldfish to find endless ways to get the cat wet, and for the cat to try to deprive the goldfish of the comfort of his bowl. Circumstances finally make the cat a convert to a “life aquatic”, with the goldfish dispossessed from his underwater castle. Songs: “I’m Ridin’ For a Fall”, introduced by Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie with backing by Spike Jones and his City Slickers in the Warner all-star revue, Thank Your Lucky Stars (below). It was recorded commercially by the Merry Macs on Decca (one of the first labels to sign a “sweetheart” contract with the musicians’ union). Freddy Martin and his orchestra also recorded it for AFRS V-Disc. A revival of the tune appeared in the 1950’s by the Jordanaires on Capitol.


Falling Hare (10/30/43) – The first of the “Gremlins” cartoons from Clampett that Disney tried to quash. Bugs coincidentally is reading a book paralleling the source material for another Disney feature project – Victory Thru Hare Power, where he learns about the “diabolical sabotage” Gremlins wreak upon airplanes. A Benny Rubin sound-alike gremlin (with trademark laugh set to the first bars of “Yankee Doodle”) teaches him firsthand lessons in destruction, including how to whack at blockbuster bombs. A supersonic crash is only averted when the plane runs out of gas, having only an “A” card for gas rationing. Songs include a return of “We’re In To Win” from Scrap Happy Daffy, and a first appearance of the Russian claassic, “Dark Eyes”. Said number was recorded of note by Pola Negri on HMV in England, issued here on Victor’s International Series. In the 40’s, Spike Jones would “murder” the piece, in a Bluebird issue entitled “Hotcha Cornia”. Many may also remember Lee Sweetland’s version of the piece in two Woody Woodpecker cartoons – Ski For Two, and The Dippy Diplomat.

Work remains in progress as to what will be included in our next entry. Come back next time and be surprised.

13 Comments

  • Delighted that you mentioned the 1941 Horowitz/Toscanini/NBC recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, especially as one of my teachers played in that orchestra. Two years later, Horowitz and Toscanini teamed up for an all-Tchaikovsky concert at Carnegie Hall, which included the first piano concerto. Tickets to the concert could only be obtained by buying war bonds; whoever bought the most bonds got the best seats. Neither Horowitz nor Toscanini took any fee for this event — and they raised $11 million for the war effort!

    As for Van Cliburn, he won the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, just after Sputnik went up, and he instantly became a national hero. The Tchaikovsky concerto, of course, was one of his signature pieces.

    The melody to the Russian song “Ochi chornye” (Dark Eyes) was actually written by a Cuban musician named Sindo Garay. A Russian choir that visited Cuba in the 1890s was impressed with the tune; then, back home, somebody set it to a Russian poem, and it really took off. Garay didn’t know he had written the music to one of Russia’s iconic songs until he heard it in the soundtrack of a Russian movie in the 1930s. It’s one of those musical ironies, like the melody of the Marine Corps Hymn coming from a French operetta by Offenbach, or the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” being originally an English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven”.

    By the way, the Belgian violinist who recorded the Hungarian Dance #5 was Eugene Ysaye, not “Ysate”. I know, it looks like a misspelling anyway. If he were alive today, he’d probably call himself “Easy Y”.

    “The Penguin” is my new favourite song!

  • “Fin n’ Catty” includes another Raymond Scott piece, “Twilight in Turkey”.

  • “Hotcha Cornia” references the traditional “Song of the Volga Boat Men” as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOwOLNuEe5g

    The song that opens “Wackiki Wabbit” after the title card is “Asleep in the Deep” by Henry W. Petrie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXVIL06VoNY . I believe this is the only Looney Tunes short to use the piece.

    “Falling Hare” once again uses the J.S. Zamecnik piece “Traffic”. Is there anywhere to listen to it? This is, strangely, one of the few Zamecnik pieces that is hard to find online despite being used quite a bit by Carl Stalling.

  • As one who is an avid WB fan, AND old songs…your posts are wonderful, to say the least!! TY!!!

  • Isn’t that Sally Sweetland singing for Joan Leslie in THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS?

  • Re: your introduction’s mention of a “Marvin Hatley book of tunes” for the Laurel & Hardy Hal Roach films of the 30s, while Hatley did indeed write lots of music for L&H (including the “Cuckoo Song” that became their trademark), most of the themes heard in their films (as well as just about all other Roach shorts series of the time), the ones that burned themselves into the collective memories of fans like me who have been hearing them for decades, were those written by Leroy Shield.

  • I think this new style of posts will be just dandy. I’ve been following this series since the very beginning, I can’t wait for the future installments.

  • “Cagey Canary”, during the piunup book picture, has a tune that I;ve got by “:stylized smooth easy listgening” band leader Russ Morgan from a 1937-40 “Hindsight Records-Transcriptions”,”You’re a Natural”.

  • And that is Bob Bruce,. aka Robert C.Bruce, doing his usual fine narrator job at the beginning of “Fin n Catty”, whose own title’s aname play on the fish preparation, Fin n Hattie.

  • It’s “Finnan haddie”, SJC, or smoked haddock. Cole Porter used it as a sexual innuendo in his song “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”:

    If I invite a boy some night
    To dine on my fine Finnan haddie,
    I just adore his asking for more,
    But my heart belongs to Daddy.

    Finnan haddie is also mentioned in the “Fish Store” song in Van Beuren’s 1932 cartoon “Rocketeers”. As piscine caricatures of an Irishman and a Jew swim by, our heroes Tom and Jerry sing:

    To all the Paddies,
    We’d sell the Finnan haddies,
    And to all the Cohens and Mischas,
    We would sell gefilte fishes!

    Funny, I always thought Finnan haddie was Scottish cuisine, not Irish. Maybe they meant “Fenian haddies”.

  • The Raymond Scott CD “Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights,” from which “The Penguin” is taken above, is probably the best compilation of original Raymond Scott music that was used in Warner Bros. cartoons. I believe it is now out of print but second-hand copies are still available from various online vendors.

  • Leroy Shield was busy at NBC till the early ’50s, where he was credited as “Dr. Roy Shield” (whether he actually held a doctorate, I don’t know). He did some fine work scoring the “Author’s Playhouse” series in the mid-’40s, and in at least one episode (“He Woke Up Famous”) he used one of his Hal Roach pieces, a very familiar melody to Laurel & Hardy/Our Gang fans.

  • Rnigma: Leroy Shield received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Chicago in 1942.

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