It was a long time coming, but a simple worldwide Covid outbreak can’t keep a cartoon genius down.
The third long-anticipated volume of Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons is on Blu-ray and again I would like to detail many of the uncredited voices we hear in these timeless films some of which are aproaching their 70th birthday. Along with the animation, design work, music and sound effects the neglected actors are as responsible as anyone for giving the Avery cartoons many of their special qualities.
After six years at Schlesinger’s animation plant Tex Avery had a falling out with Leon in mid-1941. Laid off for a couple of months he dabbled in the SPEAKING OF ANIMALS shorts he had first conceived, then took a job at MGM when Hugh Harman departed. Friz Freleng warned him about the politics at the place but felt that Tex’s talents would fit in at the Metro studio, the plushest and most well-appointed cartoon production shop after Disney’s.
He landed at MGM in September. He already had two cartoons cooked up by the time he arrived. Surrounded by top animation talents and his seasoned cartoon writer Rich Hogan, he was able to ease his way into MGM’s modus operandi. He was assisted at first by former Disney animator and character layout specialist Berny Wolf. Claude Smith took over this role after a year, while Avery’s gifted team of animators – like Disney-trained Preston Blair and his ex-WB animator Irv Spence – rose to each of Avery’s challenges.
Tex truly blossomed at MGM and everything he had absorbed in the previous eleven years at Universal and Warners suddenly ramped up two fold…his uncanny timing, his daringly outlandish gags and his overall confidence in all aspects of cartoon production. At MGM Avery felt a new level of authorship above what he had experienced at Schlesinger’s, where he always felt he was still learning his timing. He also found MGM different under Fred Quimby. Leon Schlesinger, despite his affectations, was always described as “a good boss” by Tex. Leon had a solid sense of humor and mostly knew when to butt out. But Fred Quimby, a hard-nosed studio veteran, was a cartoon boss who needed things explained. Especially Avery’s cartoons!
BLITZ WOLF (released 8-22-42)
The set kicks off with the second cartoon Avery completed for Metro, and the first to be released. Please be aware – as Jerry explains in this post – that the first minute and 52 seconds of picture are from a dupe element. The soundtrack throughout is beautifully restored.
This project was begun in September of ’41 three months before America entered the war. Tex decided to really kick off his MGM debut with outrageous visuals and pacing, and funny swipes at everyone from Adolf Hitler to Walt Disney. The film begins as a parody of Disney’s THREE LITTLE PIGS. But it’s also amusingly topical. With the Fall 1938 “Munich” meeting with Hitler and Britain’s ineffectual Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain still fresh in everyone’s memory, and with war now raging in Europe, the cartoon became not so much a satire as the very thing Avery knew Hitler would hate…ridicule. Here the Nazi villain was devastatingly mocked as good guy Sergeant Pork is asked to sign a treaty with the storm trooping Adolph Wolf. The wolf’s ludicrous animated goosestepping rendered recent newsreel images of marching German soldiers into figures of ridicule. The title itself was a swipe at the German “Blitzkrieg,” a swift, intense campaign ensuring quick and total victory.
For the dialogue, fashioned by Avery and his ex-Warner gag man Rich Hogan, Tex was aware he could no longer rely on Mel Blanc who had been under exclusive contract to Warner Bros. for six months already. He needed a new range of actors. Another person known in Hollywood as a Man of a Thousand Voices was Frank Graham who had been heard each night of the week for two years as the sole star of radio’s Nightcap Yarns. Graham was making his vocal talents known to the cartoon studios to augment his busy radio schedule. Avery hired him to narrate the cartoon’s fairy tale opening.
To play the sceptical but patriotic Sergeant Pork Tex then got his old Lantz colleague Pinto Colvig who had recently done a track for ALOHA HOOEY (one of the Warner cartoons Tex left for Bob Clampett to finish) and Colvig ended up effectively doing an imitation of his own Disney-esque Practical Pig voice.
For his third actor Avery chose Bill Thompson, nationally known as the comic actor who played memorable regular characters like The Old Timer and “Wallace Wimple” on the top-rating radio comedy Fibber McGee and Molly. Thompson auditioned for and won the role of Adolph Wolf, “Colossal Stinker” who speaks in a crazy mock-German accent. Sara Berner was double tracked as the voices of the naïve Pigs 1 & 2, while Kent Rogers, also double-tracked, did the devils at the end in yet another radio appropriation, that of Jewish comedian Mr. Kitzel’s famous “Mmmmm, could be!!” Another radio gag that has confused many latter day cartoon fans with no knowledge of old-time radio is the Wolf’s making a phone call and stopping to say, “Is that you Myrt? How’s every little thing, Myrt?” On the Fibber McGee and Molly program it was a running gag that Fibber would pick up his phone and get Myrt, the local switchboard operator…it ran for years on the radio show, and the real gag was that not once was the voice of Myrt herself ever heard.
Avery’s debut cartoon was a smash, receiving heavy studio promotion. It was one of those morale boosting comedies always welcome in a time of increasing tension and was nominated for an Oscar (sadly losing out to Disney’s thematically similar Donald Duck entry, DER FUEHRER’S FACE). Tex Avery was now well on his way.
THE EARLY BIRD DOOD IT! (released 8-29-42)
Completed before BLITZ WOLF but released as Avery’s second Metro film, this is an enjoyable journey into the familiar cartoon territory of adversarial animals, with the usual Avery twist of parodying the form. There are also typical Avery comic touches such as the characters stopping in frantic mid-chase to look at a movie poster for MGM’s Mrs. Miniver, here renamed “Mrs. Minimum”, when they notice this very cartoon is also advertised. To which the cat says, “I er, hear that’s a pretty funny cartoon!” Kent Rogers adopted a Lou Costello-ish approach for the little Worm’s voice (including Costello’s through-the-teeth whistling), while Frank Graham, for the first time in an MGM cartoon, did his great gruff voice for the tough-guy Bird, with Tex himself voicing the dumb cat.
ONE HAM’S FAMILY (released 8-14-43)
Begun in mid-June 1942, this was another Avery cartoon to pay tribute to then-current radio programs. This one is an ode to MGM’s star comic Red Skelton who was enormously popular on-air each week at the time this cartoon was being made. One of Skelton’s several zany characters was a baby-talking brat named Junior, “The Mean Widdle Kid.” Kent Rogers not only imitates that voice as Junior Pig but also does an excellent impression of Hal Peary, the comedy actor who played The Great Gildersleeve on NBC radio from 1941-58. The pompous Gildy voice is used for the hapless, giggling Wolf. Rogers even adds his talent to the opening gag where a storybook Narrator has to rush to keep up with the suddenly speeding on-screen words. Avery regulars Sara Berner and Pinto Colvig are Junior’s put-upon parents, with Colvig once again doing a satire on his own Pig voice from THREE LITTLE PIGS.
HAPPY GO NUTTY (released 6-24-44)
This short, full of self-aware cartoon gags, had a shorter production time than many others in this collection: from inception to release it took a relatively quick ten months. Radio actor Wally Maher returns doing his original Screwy Squirrel voice, last heard in his other three cartoons on Volume One. Maher’s Screwy is still another of the many radio voices Avery used for a cartoon character. The dumb dog Meathead remains unconfirmed, but I suspect it is Tex himself doing that voice for this cartoon. It sounds very much like the Willoughby voice he used at Warner Bros. in THE CRACKPOT QUAIL (a bonus cartoon in this collection). I could be wrong, but either way until various MGM sound records are located poor old Meathead is still a mystery voice for the ages. As is the imitation of Rochester heard in one gag in this cartoon.
JERKY TURKEY (begun in early 1944, released 4-7-45)
The town cryer’s baby cry is re-used track from Baseball Batty (from Volume 1). Frank Graham voices one Native American (“Me half breed”), but the deep Indian Chief is someone I can’t name. Wally Maher does the Jimmy Durante-esque wise-guy turkey, another in the long parade of actors who did a Schnozzola imitation. It has long been assumed that Avery himself is doing the Pilgrim, which is the Droopy voice used in THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGOO during actor Bill Thompson’s absence (Thompson had been serving his country in the Navy since March 1943). Avery also provides the yells in this cartoon (“Land ho!!,” “Hey turkey!!”).
THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGOO (released 3-3-45)
Tex had already satirized the famous Robert W. Service poem before at WB with his Merrie Melody DANGEROUS DAN McFOO. Some of the verbal-visual gags even presage Tex’s pun-filled SYMPHONY IN SLANG (Volume 1) from six years later (“The drinks are on the house, boys” and “He looked like a man with a foot in the grave”). For the voices in this cartoon, Frank Graham does triple duty as the sonorous opening poem narrator, the bartender and the Wolf stranger. A re-use of Bill Thompson’s Droopy line “Hello, all you happy taxpayers” is lifted from BIG HEEL-WATHA (in Volume 1). Then Avery – we again assume – does the dog’s other dialogue in Thompson’s absence. Sara Berner does the speaking voice of Lady Lou, but her singing of “Put Your Arms Around Me, Wolfie” is by Imogene Lynn, the fine vocalist from Artie Shaw’s band. Avery and Scott Bradley auditioned several chanteuses, including a fine singer named Gloria Grafton who sang “You’re Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” in a September 1943 unused audition track for this cartoon, soon after it had commenced production. A re-use of “What a repulsive way to make a livin’!” from WHAT’S BUZZIN’ BUZZARD? is used for the pianist, with the voice of Pat McGeehan.
SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA (released 8-25-45)
Begun in May 1944 under the working title “Red Hot Cindy,” this is a sequel to Avery’s famous RED HOT RIDING HOOD (in Volume 1). This cartoon, one of Tex’s fine fairy tale skewerings, brings back Sara Berner as two fairy tale icons: Red Riding Hood and Cinderella (speaking in a Bette Davis imitation), as well as Grandma who has a voice based on the man-hungry radio character Vera Vague who appeared on Bob Hope’s program. Imogene Lynn’s fine vocal track “Oh Wolfie” (a parody on the famous original song “Oh, Johnny” popularized by Wee Bonnie Baker) was recorded well in advance on January 23, 1944, possibly for inclusion in DAN McGOO but later shelved. Continuing as his patented lecherous Wolf was Frank Graham, who also voices the nightclub M.C. As with many of Avery’s soundtracks he re-uses some earlier effects stored in the cartoon sound department library, in this case the eerie laugh and screams from the opening of WHO KILLED WHO? (also in Volume 1)
WILD AND WOLFY (released 11-3-45)
Production began in the spring of 1944 for this funny cartoon, the first of many Western parodies done by Tex and his writer Heck Allen, both self-confessed Western movie buffs. This was another piecemeal recording job, with regulars Sara Berner and Frank Graham contributing just one line each: Sara does the Saloon Girl as Mae West saying, “My hero,” while Graham is the brief race caller. Tex himself contributes some bit lines as he used to do in many 1930s Lantz cartoons: here he says “Gimme a Neapolitan” and “Make mine a Tutti Frutti” as well as the “Whoahhhh!!!” He also speaks again for the dog hero (later known as Droopy) in Bill Thompson’s continuing war service absence. This time the wolf villain’s voice is unknown – possibly Pat McGeehan – but whoever it is also says, “Let’s get him boys.” Another unidentified Texan twang – like that of Cactus Mack’s – says “Howdy, Mule.” This time around the sexy girl singer is a specialty voice from the country-western music field. The Pickard Family ensemble had appeared in the 1941 MGM feature Billy The Kid as party singers, and daughter Ann Pickard is the excellent vocalist Tex hired to warble the Stuart Hamblen composition “[Out on the] Texas Plains,” for which she is backed by the rest of the Pickard Family.
NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE (released 8-3-46)
Started in late 1944 this cartoon took almost two years. It’s a fast-paced re-working of the earlier DUMB HOUNDED (from Volume 1) which first brought us the hangdog Droopy character, seemingly an ineffectual creampuff but always ten times more capable than the villain suspects. Again I believe it’s Avery subbing for Droopy during Bill Thompson’s enforced absence. Frank Graham, Avery’s favourite 1940s voice artist, steps up to the microphone for his by now famous Wolf bad guy and also the voice of the plastic surgeon. Although I’m not sure without some documentary proof, it sounds like Pat McGeehan doing the R.C.M.P. Chief.
SLAP HAPPY LION (released 9-20-47)
Another cartoon with a two year gestation period. Frank Graham does his wolf voice for the little gruff mouse whose dialog is mostly “Boo.” Sara Berner contributes a scream and the famous line “Well….I’ve been sick” for the sadly emaciated miniature crocodile. The baby crying is re-used from both BATTY BASEBALL and JERKY TURKEY and cut in to this cartoon.
KING-SIZE CANARY (released 12-6-47)
Still another cartoon that took two years from inception to release. Very likely considered by most animation lovers one of Tex’s five most famous cartoons, this seven minutes of total nonsense is always a pleasure to revisit. Frank Graham again plays the tough mouse he did in SLAP HAPPY LION, and Sara Berner’s “I’ve been sick,” also from that cartoon, is inserted into this one’s soundtrack. The animation of the increasingly ungainly and lumberingly gigantic cat and mouse is wonderful to see over and over. The cat is either Pinto Colvig or someone trying very hard for one of his voices.
WHAT PRICE FLEADOM (released 3-20-48)
I believe it’s Tex Avery again doing the Willoughby-like delivery for the Dog, and the sound editors insert one of Bill Hanna’s patented agonized screams for the bulldog. This cartoon has model sheets from as far back as April 1945 and a year later in mid-1946, indicating it was possibly shelved for a while and started up again.
LITTLE ‘TINKER (released 5-15-48)
The working title was “Smell Bound,” mainly because the lead character of B. O. is a cute skunk. That title was likely nixed by Quimby but was originally a pun on the Hitchcock psychology thriller Spellbound. The cartoon was already being worked out by mid-1946, and the Sinatra take-off of “All or Nothing at All” was recorded by session singer Bill Roberts on June 28 of that year. On the same day the flexible Roberts also recorded B.O.’s operatic voice singing the “Sextet from Lucia.” (Cartoon Research readers are by now surely aware of Bill Roberts, the famous singer for Chuck Jones’s immortal frog in Warner’s One Froggy Evening). It is assumed that these musical numbers were recorded this early for the animators’ reference: extra time and effort was taken to animate the intricate musical numbers and accompanying visual gags to Avery’s precise specifications. Other artists hired for voices in this cartoon were Dick Nelson as Cupid, Sara Berner as both Cobina Rabbit and the swooning sighs of “Frankie,” and Lillian Randolph who says, “Love dat man!” Mimic Walter Craig did B. O.’s Charles Boyer imitation.
SENOR DROOPY (released 4-9-49)
Character models for this cartoon appear as early as December 1946. Bill Thompson returns to MGM as the definitive and original Droopy voice, and is finally referred to by that name (“Senor Droopy from Guadalupe”) for the first time since he was drawn in 1942. Thompson also does the nervous guy who querulously says, “On your mark…” Tex Avery revives his amusing chortle for the sadistic bull, while character actor Nestor Paiva is the voice of the portly bullfight announcer. MGM musical contractee Lina Romay appears in a live action combination with Droopy.
COCK-A-DOODLE DOG (released 2-10-51)
A dialogue-free cartoon although Avery does some of Spike’s vocal effects, and somebody is doing those rooster sounds!
ROCK-A-BYE BEAR (released 7-12-52)
At long last, one of Tex’s most well-remembered cartoons comes to Blu-ray. It’s a marvellously timed study in comic frustration which Avery would re-visit in DEPUTY DROOPY and for Lantz’s THE LEGEND OF ROCKABYE POINT. Joe Bear, who “CAN’T STAND NOISE!!!!!” was voiced by radio veteran Patrick McGeehan who did all the many character voices in Red Skelton’s radio shows, in a recording date he must have sworn never to repeat. If we recall Avery’s finicky and often insecure reputation for multiple takes, this session was likely as much of a workout for McGeehan’s throat as Mel Blanc’s dreaded Yosemite Sam recordings! But it’s a hell of a funny cartoon. (Almost forgot, McGeehan also provides the voice of the dog pound owner, while Tex adds the vocal effects for the hapless dog trying to be quiet.)
LITTLE JOHNNY JET (released 4-18-53) Oscar-nominated
Daws Butler does John Jet and other male voices, and Colleen Collins plays Mary Jet. A re-working of ONE CAB’S FAMILY (Volume 2), this was pleasant enough but one of the weaker Tex entries from the 1950s, the first cartoon he directed after returning to MGM. He had spent 16 months away from the business, recuperating from burnout caused by years of working too hard without any down time, and from his characteristic worrying and micro-managing every detail of his films. He was only back for 20 months during which time he completed 12 more cartoons, but he finally left MGM permanently in June 1953 for a position with his old boss Walter Lantz, so most of these later MGM cartoons were completed and released in his absence.
BILLY BOY (released 5-8-54)
Daws Butler’s laconic Carolinian dialect wolf returns after being hailed as an outstanding voice in Avery’s THE THREE LITTLE PUPS (from Vol. 2). Here the character is a farmer attempting to banish the world’s hungriest baby goat. An odd vocal tic is added to the wolf via a stammering repeat of the last word in each sentence, like “Billy boy-boy-boy-boy-boy.”
DEPUTY DROOPY (released 10-28-55)
An amusing Western parody, the last such by Avery and his long-time collaborator Heck Allen. Daws Butler does the voices of both Sheriff and Bandit, while Avery owned up to his biographer Joe Adamson that he was the little “ouch” noises from inside the bottle. Droopy here is an unfamiliar voice. A rare example of a re-worked concept being just as effective as the original, ROCK-A-BYE BEAR.
For the final of his sixty-five MGM cartoons, Avery hired the versatile voice master Paul Frees as all the voices heard here: Spike, the Prison Warden, the warden’s wife, and two inmates. For some nice “big house” prison ambience, well known L. A. session musician Gus Bivona contributes the harmonica solo.
THE CRACKPOT QUAIL (released 2-15-41, Warner Bros.)
This cartoon, restored with its original soundtrack, was made in 1940 at least a year before Avery left Schlesinger’s employ. Mel Blanc is the squeaky voice of the title character and Tex himself speaks for Willoughby, the slow-thinking dog who appeared two months earlier in his cartoon OF FOX AND HOUNDS. Avery had been deeply impressed by Lon Chaney Jr’s fine performance of the gentle but mentally challenged and potentially dangerous Lenny in the 1939 feature movie Of Mice and Men, from the classic John Steinbeck story. Avery found the film well-made, but it was Lenny’s tragic character he found both fascinating and instant fodder just made for his parodic mind.
That completes this set with only a few Avery titles left to go. This Blu-ray collection is loaded with many fine cartoons, most of them from the 1940s when Tex’s powers reached their pinnacle at MGM. The actors he hired were always right for the way Avery heard the gags in his head. Although all the players mentioned above are sadly long departed, their performances under Tex’s studio tutelage live on to amuse future generations.
Copyright KEITH SCOTT, August 2021
Over the decades I’ve spent researching this topic, the fine USC Cinema-Television Library (Arthur Freed-MGM Music Department collection) and its outstanding curator Ned Comstock were most helpful, and the Margaret Herrick library at The Center for Motion Picture Studies was another excellent facility. Tex Avery chroniclers Joe Adamson, Michael Barrier & Milton Gray, Tom Klein and John Canemaker have all written fine material about the cartoon master. The late Daws Butler, June Foray, Paul Frees, Don Messick, Mel Blanc, Robert Bruce, Chuck Jones and Bill Hanna all described working with Tex Avery to me. My second set of ears was, at different times, Ken Greenwald, Graham Webb and the late and missed Hames Ware. Thanks too, to Yowp for digging up various trade notices that both confirmed my research and also provided new information. And a tip of the hat as ever to Jerry Beck and this great platform for my digging into these arcane byways of vintage animation.
Fantastic trove of information.
Adolf Wolf’s “Open up der door, Schnitzel!” must be the most fascist way ever to approach an adversary.
I always found it hilarious that Pinto Colvig lent his voice to the exact same role from the Three Little Pigs series for Blitz Wolf. I’ve wondered if this was intentional on Colvig’s part as a shot at Walt for whatever issue they had a few years earlier or if it was Avery’s own subtle playful shot at the iconic Disney short.
According to Toonheads, it was a parody of Three Little Pigs so Avery probably chose Pinto
Sure, as I mention, that choice of voice was totally Avery taking a potshot at THREE LITTLE PIGS, and he mischievously got Pinto Colvig to do the same pig character he’d recorded for Disney nine years earlier. (Then he got Pinto to do it again a year later for ONE HAM’S FAMILY.)
Will we ever see a release of Henpecked Hoboes, Uncle Tom’s Cabaña, Half-Pint Pygmy, Lucky Ducky, and Droopy’s Good Deed as these five cartoons are considered non PC?
Droopy’s Good Deed is available on the Droopy DVD If that means anything
Since Cabana or Pygmy will never see the light of day on Blu-Ray, can anyone specify who the voice actors were in these cartoons?
The Hollywood Reporter of May 18, 1945 explained one of the reasons it took time for cartoons to hit the screen:
Release of short subjects already completed is being severely hindered by the lack of raw stock for release prints, it was learned yesterday, with the disclosure that most of the major distributors are behind in varying degrees on their miniature released. Most of the Technicolor subject series are lagging.
Raw stock supplies are being turned over to important features, while the shorts are shelved until the footage crisis passes.
MGM has only delivered two of its 12 FitzPatrick Traveltalks for this season; of its 16 color cartoons scheduled, only one has been issued, and there is one two-reeler from last year’s program to be delivered.
RKO is late on some of the Walt Disney subjects, in Technicolor, but up to date on its black-and-white releases. Warners, Paramount, 20th-Fox and Columbia are similarly affected, mostly, however, in the color reels.
Yes — I found in my BUGS BUNNY research that there was a lag in delivering Technicolor prints during the war, so many cartoons were held up for this reason too —
Thanks for all this fascinating background. I’m looking forward to Volume 3 more than ever!
I’ve always been curious about the “I’ve been sick” line. Where did that first come from? As you point out, a bunch of familiar WB & MGM cartoon lines like, “Is that you Myrt? was from Fibber McGee and Molly’s radio program.
I first noticed that line when I saw “Slap Happy Lion” and “King Size Canary” on a VHS compilation of Tex Avery cartoons in the early ’90s, and I thought then, and I still think, that it referred to children whose growth had been stunted by poliomyelitis. At that time the disease was rampant, there was no vaccine yet, and “I’ve been sick” sounds like something children would have said, or been coached by their parents to say, to well-meaning strangers inquiring about their condition (“Jesus, kid, what happened to you?” “Oh, I’ve been sick!”). I’ll be happy to be proved wrong if it happens to be nothing more than a radio catchphrase, as you suggest. But if I’m right, it’s further evidence, if it were needed, that the humour of Tex Avery knew no boundaries.
Yeah, I don’t think anyone was joking about polio at the time. Also, although it can cause deformities, polio isn’t associated with stunting children’s growth.
You quoted two Tex Avery cartoons from the MGM years but he was also using that joke in Wacky Wildlife (1940) and Aviation Vacation (1941) at Warner Brothers. But, it’s not just a Tex Avery thing because Tweety says it in Friz Freleng’s Trick or Tweet (1959) when Sylvester and Sam the cat are noting how puny Tweety is. And that’s the common thread I’ve seen, it’s used as an explanation for how small someone or something is. Maybe Friz was using it as an homage to Tex.
I remember as a kid after encountering that line that I thought it had something to do with the peacetime draft, but the dates don’t work and the 1940 Selective Service Act was signed into law only two months before Wacky Wildlife hit theaters in November of that year.
It’s just that in addition to quoting popular radio programs catchphrases I’ve also hear so many lines from Warner Bros movies coming out of Bugs Bunny “That’s what the man said, he said that” and such I thought “I’ve been sick” would be another recognizable one.
Thanks for those additional citations. I also would be very interested to learn whether that line had an origin in radio or film. As for people not joking about polio, well, right here on this page there’s a picture of Little Tinker in an iron lung….
And as soon as I posted that I knew you would bring that up. If you watch the cartoon they’re actually making fun of Frank Sinatra’s gaunt and sickly appearance. While singing, first he has a plasma IV draining into him, then an oxygen mask and then finally an iron lung all in a comedic progression of things providing assistance so he can sing. So I reiterate, the jokes in that section of the cartoon are all on Sinatra and have nothing to do with polio.
Well said. I stand corrected.
Little Tinker has my favorite Sinatra parody ever! And it also shows that Tex had a sentimental and heartwarming side too!
Hogan’s situation that Keith mentions above is an odd one, as not all the pieces have been found to fit it together.
The trades announced on Sept. 2, 1941 that Avery had been hired by MGM.
But it wasn’t until the following June 17th that Variety reported: Rich Hogan has joined writing staff of Metro cartoon department, his first assignment being ‘Blitz Wolf.’ Hogan paid Leon Schlesinger studio $1000 for release from his
contract, which had until June next year to run.
Obviously work had to have begun on The Blitz Wolf before Hogan was on staff. Did Hogan do work on the side while still working for Leon?
Hogan’s last three writing credits at Warners were on Jones cartoons, ending with The Brave Little Bat, released Sept. 27, 1941. Interestingly, Jones last two cartoons released in 1941 (Saddle Silly and Porky’s Midnight Matinee have no story credit, nor do three of his first four releases of 1942 (The Bird Came C.O.D., Porky’s Cafe and Dog Tired.
Hogan wasn’t at MGM long; he was inducted in September, about three months after he officially joined the staff. He must have been very dedicated to Tex for when Avery took time off from MGM in 1950, Hogan didn’t stay when Dick Lundy took over the unit, and quit animation.
Thanks for clarifying that, Yowp. It would appear that Hogan moonlighted for Avery, who obviously had faith in Hogan’s gagging ability from as far back as 1937. JOHNNY SMITH AND POKER-HUNTAS, DANGEROUS DAN McFOO, CROSS COUNTRY DETOURS, A WILD HARE, THE CRACKPOT QUAIL, and at least three of the early MGMs have Hogan’s story credit. And it is obvious from comments made by various story pioneers they all contributed to each cartoon’s formative story sessions. It would be interesting to learn about the long-term contracts those Schlesinger story guys had…they must have been pretty ironclad for Hogan to buy himself out, and at that price (no small sum back then). I wish I knew how to find copies of contracts for Hogan, Dave Monahan, Jack Miller and Maltese. Hogan also did an additional 23 later period MGMs with Tex after his war service. They were released between 1949 and 1952, so Hogan, had he lived, would have been a prime interview subject for we latter day historians. So much info we have simply missed out on, research wise, which is why piecing all this stuff together via remaining fragments is so fiddly and frustrating at times.
I believe the cat in King Size Canary is done by Tex Avery. It’s very similar to the voice of the dog in What Priced Fleadom.
You could well be right with that observation. Avery was very good at cartoon voices himself. I just can’t be 100% certain without some proof.
He’s listed as the cat in VENTRILOQUIST CAT, which appears to be the same cat from COUNTERFEIT CAT.
Now when I mention VC I’m talking about the voice that you hear when he’s laughing and doing the lower pitched meows.
The Donald Duck like meows are Red Coffey
I thought Joe Bear in Rock A Bye Bear was Paul Frees, Also I had heard that in The Early Bird Dood It, Dick Nelson was the worm and the cat. You sure that they are Kent Rogers and Tex himself?
Sorry but the bear’s voice is nothing like Paul Frees’s vocal quality. It is Pat McGeehan, who doubles as the dog pound guy. He was recognized for doing cartoon work in a Radio Life magazine article, and I know his voice from dozens of Red Skelton radio shows. It’s unmistakably Frank Graham as the gruff bird in Early Bird…same as his later wolf voice. Dick Nelson was listed in Graham Webb’s book, but I hear Kent Rogers. If proof is forthcoming I am happy to change my opinion.But the identification of many voices is the same as people who can recognize an animator’s work…in my case it’s a distinctive voice print.
The line “I’ve been sick” was, I thought, an old stage joke in the blackout sketch comedy era of burlesque and vaudeville. A group of tall men were joined by a little person. When they stared at him, he yelled “Well, I’ve been sick.”
It’s a funny line in the context of his cartoons regardless of its origin.
No, you were close but your suggestion was the last piece of the puzzle. It was an old joke in the United States that started out as political humor. It was printed in a newspaper named the Kansas Commoner in the late 1800’s. Fortunately it was reprinted in a magazine that reprinted articles from other publications. So in the Commonwealth Magazine 15 January 1898 we find:
AND OTHERS WILL BE SICKER.- A man traveling on a Missouri train told another that he could tell by the looks of the passengers what political party they belonged to. “This man here,” said the passenger, “is a Bryan democrat.” “ Yes,” said the passenger, “that’s my politics. “That man over there is a sound money democrat. ” “ That’s correct,” responded the passenger. “ That man in the third seat is a populist.” “ Correct you are, ” said the populist. “ And that man down further is a republican and voted for McKinley.” “No, I am not,” promptly responded the fellow. “I’ve been sick. That’s what makes me look this way.” — Kansas Commoner
And in the 29 November 1919 issue of Liasion magazine on Page 271 we find “Greenie, you see literally speaking, what I asked her was equivalent to: “Is the Beautiful Senoretta [sic] possessed of a Husband?” and she replies in purest Castillian: “No, I’ve been sick, that’s what makes me look this way,” simply by replying “Si, si, senor.”
Then in the July 1920 edition of Western Electric News on Page 6 we find:
“Ever been in Chicago, Marty”? asked Kitty, the first row bathing beauty of the Manhattan Mermaids, as she penciled her last eyebrow.
Marty, the matinee mongrel, struck a match on the “No Smoking” sign and lit a fresh cigarette before he spoke. “Cut the Sherlock Holmes stuff, kid” he advised. “I’ve been sick — that’s what makes me look this way.”
“Took you a long time to remember that one, didn’t it?” remarked Kitty.
Finally, Longwood College in Virginia publishes a school newspaper called The Rotunda. On page 4 of the 23 March 1932 edition we find in the joke section:
Walters: “Mary Alice, you must be in love.”
Mary Alice: “Nope. I’ve been sick that’s why I look this way.
So, having been born in 1908, this is a joke that Tex Avery would have grown up hearing and I have no doubt it’s the origin of a smaller than expected version of something appearing and explaining that “I’ve been sick”.
Ok, but I honestly don’t think that the joke needs that context to be funny. I watched Slap Happy Lion and King-Size Canary, and I thought that the line “I’ve been sick” was simply funny, I didn’t even think that there could be a context beyond the cartoon. That crocodile getting out of the water, only to be revealed to have a pathetically small body compared to the head, is hilarious. The “I’ve been sick” line is the last touch of the cake.
Nobody ever said it needed that to be funny. I was laughing at it before I researched it. I just wanted to satisfy my curiosity. Credit where it’s due and all that. People watching nowadays have no idea why Bugs Bunny calling Uncle Louie on the phone (in The Wabbit Who Came to Supper) and then going, “Is that you, Myrt?” is supposed to be funny. I just thought it was interesting as to what the origin was but it’s not a question of needing context to be funny. Unlike Bugs Bunny’s final joke at the end of Hurdy Gurdy Hare saying that he sure hopes Petrillo doesn’t hear about this. For that one to be funny you’d have to know who Sam Petrillo was as well as the 1948 Petrillo Ban that was being referred to.
I don’t care that you don’t care. I did it for me. not you in any case.
Sorry if my first reply came across as critical. It’s probably a reaction to another comment here too, by Peter Mork, which complained that Tex Avery’s cartoons leaned too much on references and things like that overall, which is something I strongly disagree with, and I also replied to him on that regard.
I guess I’m the only one who doesn’t consider Tex Avery’s MGM output to be any kind of pinnacle. Maybe giant eyeballs popping out of characters’ heads over and over doesn’t really tickle me. More likely, as this article points out, the films lean heavily on jokes and catchphrases borrowed from radio – yes, lots of studios did that, but Avery really leaned on it, and since I didn’t grow up listening to Jack Benny and Fibber McGee (and for the most part don’t find those shows from the 40s and the parade of oddball characters doing shtick to wear very well) I’m not especially charmed seeing that stuff recycled onscreen, as if just throwing it out there is enough. Yes, the cartoons look great, but they are repetitive in ways a good Bugs or Woody outing was able to avoid.
Interesting that you suggest that Avery really blossomed as a director after leaving Warner’s, while noting that he found Leon Schlesinger to be more in tune with what he wanted to do than the square Quimby – isn’t that a contradiction?
Your opinion is valid and is shared by some. To each their own I say! But I don’t regard the last bit you mention as a contradiction. He spoke of Schlesinger as the best boss he had but he also felt he had more leeway at MGM to do his outlandish gags. Quimby might have been a humourless individual compared with Schlesinger but that didn’t impede Avery.
I don’t think Tex Avery’s cartoons rely on current pop culture references to be loved. I don’t know many such references, and I love many of his MGM cartoons. His energy, his wild takes, his massive creativity, his timing! His cartoons were comical madness perfected, like King-Size Canary, Bad Luck Blackie, Northwest Hounded Police, Little Rural Riding Hood, and many others. Taking silly ideas and escalating them to absurd levels.
Where I think that Avery “loses” you is that at MGM he was increasingly all about the visual gags, the cartoon madness and so on. He wasn’t very interested in creating memorable characters like the Looney Tunes, characters for him were generally just cyphers for the outlandish gags to happen with, and the outlandishness and perfect timing is the greatness of his MGM output (but it just does not seem to fit well with your preferences of animated comedy). Hence why a lot of his MGM cartoons have so little dialogue too.
That was different with the cartoons that Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng made for Warner Bros., in which character comedy plays a much bigger role.
Actually, that’s a big difference between the Warner Bros. cartoons and the MGM ones in general (like Tom & Jerry).
Also, maybe Avery’s incresing emphasis on outlandish gags and pure energy over character comedy is why his MGM cartoons feel repetitive to you, even though their gags and outlandish situations are very creative. The common lack of character comedy, and obssession with insane ideas, makes their humor perhaps more narrow than Looney Tunes.
I’m not complaining though. I think at least half of his MGM work ranges from good to fantastic. Timeless cartoon madness.
I notice, though, that many of the cartoons that Tex Avery released from 1950 to 1952 (the cartoons that were made right before his sabbatical year in 1950) could recycle gags very often, and tended to be far more formulaic, often adopting a structure of a mere package of jokes (specially in the Droopy vs. Spike cartoons), rather than having the gags quickly building upon each other in a crescendo, which was the hallmark of almost all of Avery’s best cartoons. But that’s totally understandable, considering how much Tex Avery had stretched himself to the limits of exhaustion in those two years before his sabbatical year, culminating in his mental breakdown that resulted in his sabbatical year. From what I’ve read, he was a perfectionist and worrywart, and he put almost all of that burden on himself rather than his animators, and ended up overworking himself a lot and burning out.
His output in the 40s doesn’t have many recicled gags, it’s only a major issue in his 50s output.
I could make a list of many of his best cartoons, all with pretty much no recycled gags, and enjoy them a lot, marvel at his creativity and genius. Like Red Hot Riding Hood, Wild And Woolfy, Northwest Hounded Police, King-Size Canary, Slaphappy Lion, Lucky Ducky, Little Tinker, Little Rural Riding Hood, Rock-A-Bye Bear, The Counterfeit Cat, Drag-Along Droopy and many others.
The naming of Droopy is similar to the naming of Bugs Bunny—it happened in publicity first.
As early as 1943, Droopy is called Droopy in the model sheet for DUMB-HOUNDED, as well as publicly in some reviews of the film, indicating that publicity must have used the name as well, right from the start.
Confusion reigned, however, as Western Publishing comics writer/artist Carl Barks—then busy on the MGM comics along with his more usual Disney fare—was sent a variant model sheet without a name, according to his recollections, and called the “nameless dog” Happy Hound for comic book stories, which began on an occasional basis in 1944.
MGM publicity after that point calls the dog alternately Happy or Droopy as the mood arises; for a moment, Avery even appears to have considered adopting the comics name, as it can be seen on March 1947 model sheets for what was then called “The Bull Fight.”
Of course, this cartoon was finished as SENOR DROOPY, and by 1948, publicity had already made the shift permanently. From October to November 1948, Happy became Droopy in the comics, too.
I’m enjoying this collection! A slight mistake: at the end of “Slap Happy Lion”, the ending title card reads “A Tom and Jerry Cartoon”
Yes. That IS a mistake! But it wasn’t made by Warner Bros. or the Warner Archive Collection.
That boo-boo is on the negative itself. It was that way when it was originally released (or in its 1950s reissue) by MGM. It’s been that way in all its television broadcasts since the 1960s.
Thanks for the info Jerry! It seems more likely that the mistake was made when it was resissued in the ’50’s.
Is there any documentation on how the sound effects were achieved? The wolf’s reactions in NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE are so hilarious, I’ve wondered “what made those sounds?” (Ditto for the lion’s roar in SLAP HAPPY LION).
Brilliant stuff, Keith! All these great voice artists and radio actors should never be forgotten, but alas it takes some heavy paddling these days to keep the torch lit.
Re DEPUTY DROOPY, I could’ve sworn Daws Butler did Droopy’s voice as well. Maybe not?
Jerry Beck is visibly proud of volume 3 in a way he wasn’t when vol. 2 was released.
I heard a hint in a podcast, that you may release Lucky Ducky next through WAC. That’s one of the greatest hunting cartoons of all time. Heck, one of the greatest cartoons of all time.
I and all the classic animation fanbase woudl greatly appreciate a recall of Tex Avery volume 2. The difference in picture quality is heartbreaking. Volumes 1 and 3 are gorgeous. The circumstances that led to volume 2’s lack of quality are no more. WAC has a boutique-label-like reputation of top-quality restorations that volume 2 does not match. A recall or re-release would rectify it. Please give that gift to all animation enthusiasts and to yourselves. I know things in Warner are strictly profit but we animation lovers deserve it.