Paul Whiteman was the Leviathan of the dance-band business all through the 1920’s, and into the 1930’s.
And I’m not just talking about his weight!
So, of course, animated cartoons, newly spiced up with music, sound effects and even dialogue, and having become as topical as all get-out, were going to take off on him. And he doesn’t seem to have minded one bit!Indeed, Whiteman assented to there being an animated sequence in The King of Jazz (1930), one of those plotless all-talking-all-singing-all-dancing-let’s-cram-all-our-contract-players-onto-the-screen-so-that-they-can-show-the-public-that-they-can-talk-sing-and-or-dance affairs.
Universal sprang for all the trimmings–including two-strip Technicolor, Broadway’s own John Murray Anderson, a bevy of songwriters, a larger bevy of dancers, and the entire Paul Whiteman ensemble. The result was a box-office disappointment, although a trimmed-down reissue in 1933 did better.
The film has been recently restored in a miraculous way (see it on the big screen, if it comes to a museum or repertory theater near you) and a lavish new book on the making of the film (and the process of its recent restoration) has just been published. I highly recommend it.
As for the animation sequence – this being a Universal production, it made sense that the animation production would go to Walter Lantz and Bill Nolan. These folks had only recently inherited Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and were satisfying Universal’s desire to have cartoons to go with their feature films.
Universal had not bought established music publishers (as had Warner Bros. or M-G-M), nor did they set up their own publishing house (as had Paramount). So, they didn’t have the ability to plug new songs form their musicals–such as they were at the time.
The animated sequence–showing how Whieman was “crowned” as King of Jazz–is more of a feast for the ear than for the eye. The soundtrack features the full Whiteman orchestra and ensemble, and has feature bits for Joe Venuti (violin), Eddie Lang (guitar), Bing Crosby (providing a singing voice for the animated Whiteman), and the Rhythm Boys (with some of their scat).
The orchestra plays their arrangement in their usual style, with a reference to Arthur Fields’ successful 1914 song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” leading into Whiteman’s being “crowned” with an animated coconut, with the lump turning into the crown marking him as the King of Jazz.
(By the way, Oswald gets a cameo in, dancing to the rhyrhmic strains in the company of a cobra.)
Having started “The King of Jazz” off with a bang, it makes sense that Lantz and Nolan would take of on Whiteman once again, within less than a year after having done the opening of the feature film.
My Pal Paul (1930) opens with a hefty silhouette “conducting” music from “The King of Jazz” in front of a poster advertising the film.
Turns out it’s only Oswald, and his efforts are not widely appreciated in the hobo jungle where he dwells. As a result, he decides to End It All–by hanging himself.
That result goes awry anyway–but is ended by a visit by a motoring Paul Whiteman, potato-head and all. There are a number of musical interludes, which allow for exposure of several of the hit sons from “The King of Jazz”. These include “The Song of the Dawn” (heard over the credits), “A Bench In The Park”, “Ragamufin Romeo”, “It Happened In Monterey” and “Happy Feet”.
Eventually, Paul gets so exasperated with Oswald’s antics that he decides to hang the Lucky Rabbit himself. This does not work as planed, as Whiteman winds up pulling down the tree and everything. A sarcastic “My Pal!’, then it’s “boop-boop-be-doop, that’s Oswald!” — over and out.
Whiteman had gone back East and reduced the size of his entourage by the time this cartoon was in production. So, we don’t get the full Whiteman orchesra–we get a group of Local 47 cleffers, directed by Jamed Dietrich, who is said to have come from within he Whiteman organization to do musical scores for Lantz for several years. And even though Bing Crosby had stayed out here when Whiteman went East, he is not heard whenever Whiteman has to “sing”. Some other singer gets to provide Whiteman’s “voice”.
Please Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my colleagues Tom Klein and Steve Stanchfield who have written previous posts about King Of Jazz and My Paul Paul here and here. I highly recommend you check them out again!
Next Week: Some other cartoons–from other studios–give Paul Whiteman a gentle razz.