November 12, 2017 posted by James Parten

Sing Me a Cartoon 18: “The World Owes Me A Living!”

The songs from The Grasshopper And The Ants, The Wise Little Hen, The Flying Mouse or Peculiar Penguins weren’t nearly as successful as Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf? had been. But that doesn’t mean that the music people at Disney were not trying!

Of the songs that came from these “Silly Symphonies” cartoons, the one that was the most successful was “The World Owes Me A Living”. In fact, it shows up in a most unlikely place–a romantic drama from Paramount that included a role for a young girl who was on the cusp of stardom herself.

The feature film was Now and Forever, a vehicle for Adolph Menjou, well-known leading man with a Continental flavor. This Paramount film features, at one point, a little girl getting up and singing, as though it were her practice piece, “The World Owes Me A Living”. She only gets in the first chorus, and the last one, sneezes and all, but she makes the desired impression. This little girl bore the name of Shirley Temple.

She had already impressed in Stand Up And Cheer (Fox, 1934), and in a loan-out to Paramount, in the title role of Little Miss Marker, based on one of Damn Runyon’s stories. Within a few months of Now and Forever, she would become one of Fox Films’ biggest stars–rivaling Will Rogers in that department.

The rest–as they say–is history–or, more properly, her-story!

I should note there have been two spectacular posts about Disney’s The Grasshopper and The Ants here on Cartoon Research. I highly recommend Greg Ehrbar’s look at the Disneyland Records releases of that Grasshopper song; and Devon Baxter’s Animation Breakdown of the cartoons production.

And, although there were no other commercial recordings of any of these songs, I do know of a recording that was not made for the take-home trade, or the music machines (that’s “juke boxes” to you.)

Recorded, “transcribed” or “canned” radio programs were going strong in the 1930’s. Major networks would have little or nothing to do with them. They–and the advertisers and advertising agencies–felt the Public would not accept programming unless it was live. . . Live!. . .LIVE!!!

It took Bing Crosby to prove them wrong. But that’s another story. . . for another post . . . on another blog.

However, “canned’ shows were popular with local radio stations, especially on the West Coast.
Due to the three-hour time difference between New York (where the networks were headquartered) and the West Coast,, the stations had plenty of prime-time to fill.

One of the leading producers of “canned” programs was C. P. MacGregor, originally out of San Francisco, later out of Hollywood.

MacGregor–then partnered with one Sig Sollie–was transcribing and syndicaing programs featuring such name bands as those of Anson Weeks and Ted Fio Rito.

There was also a series of programs featuring an orchestra identified as “The Ambassadors”. Collectors do not know the identity of “The Ambassadors”, or or the vocalists who appeared on these programs. But at least one of these programs has a version of “The World Owes Me a Living”. the band’s female vocalist talks the verses, while a male singer tries to imitate Pinto Colvig in singing the chorus.

These discs wee sent to radio stations, on big, thick sixteen-inch discs, playing from the inside out. It was expected that they’d either e set back to the syndicator, or destroyed after they had been broadcast. Collectors are lucky that some of them were not destroyed.

NEXT WEEK: A sequel. . . and a mystery!


  • i’ve always found it interesting that “The World Owes Me a Living” later became a theme for Goofy, as Pinto Colvig voiced both Goofy and the Grasshopper with essentially the same voice. This would not be news to anyone reading this blog, but it’s noteworthy for a theme song to” jump” (sorry for the pun) from one character to another simply because they had the same voice artist. The two characters are somewhat different in temperament, however, unless you count the Grasshopper’s reformation at the end. When Goofy sings the song it is in an ironic context, because he usually sings it as a work song while he is plodding away at some chore or other.

    The fact that Shirley Temple sings the song in “Now and Forever” illustrates the incredible popularity of the song, and by extension, of Disney’s output of animated films, during the 1930s. Though she was a child, Shirley’s films were generally aimed at adult audiences, and this also underscores Disney’s popularity among adults during the 1930’s.

  • luv luv LUVVV!

  • Thanks..always loved a lot of what Pinto Colvig did..esp. when it sounds like Goofy (one of the most loved human dogs..). BTW That poster for the cartoon is CLEARLY a late 40s release, at least-“Color by”, rather than “IN Technicolor (which the credit would be in the 30s..) is the giveaway).

  • The political dimension is crucial to understanding this situation. This song was popular, but not remotely as popular as “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” for a reason. Unlike its predecessor, It was out of sync with the zeitgeist. “Big Bad Wolf” was just the pick-me-up people struggling during the Depression needed.

    But “The World Owes Me a Living” reflects the Herbert Hoover attitude (and that of the GOP to this day). The implication is that people who don’t have jobs feel they are “owed a living.” They deserve handouts. This would NOT have gone down well with folks who were desperate for jobs and waiting in lines hoping for a slice of bread.

    I can’t be sure, but it looks like the reason they wanted Shirley Temple to be singing that song in that movie is because it comments on what’s happening to the adult in the scene. It’s a crime-doesn’t-pay kind of thing, a dark laugh at his expense. Otherwise, I doubt they would have used it.

    The fact that Walt Disney liked it — and gave it new life as a Goofy song, as Scarras notes above, is a reflection of Walt not GETTING the disconnect. He was a self-made Republican man to the bone.

    • Ah, but by the end of the song, the grasshopper has learned the error of his ways: “You ants were right the time you said / You’ve got to work for all you get”. Which doesn’t preclude people misinterpreting the song (something that happens all the time to all sorts of songs), particularly since, IIRC, Goofy only ever sang the titular lyric, but the song, as the cartoon, ends up extolling the virtues of hard work and personal responsibility.

    • Plus, remember that the Goof is rather a simple character and he wouldn’t know the whole point of the song.

    • There’s a more primordial meaning found in the cartoon’s source material, a fable from Aesop. Being a great observer of both nature and human nature, Aesop adapted the different behavior of different species of insects as an analogy in describing the different attitudes to work (survival) between people:

      Some people throw themselves dutifully into their work, some perform a minimal effort. (Most of us fall between the two extremes on the gradient, and aren’t important to this concept) The story’s moral directs us to the benefits of being industrial while we are able, adopting the ants’ attitude, through contrasting the results of the two lifestyles. The hardworking ants are surviving while the grasshopper is struggling.

      I have difficulty putting this into terms of Democrats vs Republicans, because in order to do so you must sidestep the moral to make it fit that frame. Here’s why: both the fable and cartoon depict a relationship between the grasshopper and ants, a structure to help make it a story relatable to humans. This is unimportant to the moral. What is important is their behavior and attitude to work (survival) and the results of their actions.

      I’d lean more towards being a Democrat (I believe in equal rights, everyone should vote, and I’m sane) but I don’t side with the grasshopper. It’s not a political question, really. The point is, we should all be working/changing/moving toward our survival. That’s the moral. To suggest there’s a legitimate opposite side, that yes, it’s okay to do nothing, or just the minimal effort, and all will be fine, makes no sense to me. Is it really sane or compassionate to encourage movement in any other direction than toward survival? I think it’s perhaps a crude caricature to consider it the part of Democrats to side with the cricket and his feckless and vain self-defeating ways.

      The follow-up question – how do you deal with the results? – politically divides us, but that’s by the by. By then the failure has already occurred, and so is beyond the moral of the story.

  • I’m still curious about who did the voice of the Queen Ant on The Ants and the Grasshopper?

  • Distinctly remember listening to a record of the Grasshopper & the Ant when FM radio was experimenting with free form stuff,late ’60s,early ’70s-rock,country blues,pop,just about anything that was recorded was fodder. Great times,even though stuff like G & A probably was not supposed to be played over the air. The World Owes Me A living played opposite of the stereotype that many thought about hippies-indeed I listened to this while working graveyard shift in a paper factory as one of my summer jobs during college(also worked concessions at baseball games on the same day). Those overnight airings sometimes included the Last Poets-rap before rap in the thick of the Black Power Movement. Then maybe dragstrip racing sounds-you never knew or Count Basie or Dr. John or the Dead!

  • Just found this article after watching Edward G. Robinson (!!!!) singing it while stretching in front of a window is his first scene within Columbia’s “The Whole Town’s Talking,” from 1935. I wasn’t aware of the Shirley Temple connection until now.

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