November 7, 2023 posted by James Parten

The Music of Van Beuren Studios 1929

1929 saw Van Beuren making its peace with sound pictures. The cartoons would have peppy music tracks, and an occasional line of dialogue. Conductor Josiah Zuro gave way to Carl Edouarde, who had had a baptism of fire trying to conduct a score for “Steamboat Willie” for Walt Disney. (His efforts failed.) The biggest problem for Van Buren that year was hoping that nothing happened to Pathe Exchanges, Inc. The home of the crowing rooster was deeply affected by the changes going on in Hollywood at the time, switching from serials to features, and attracting the attention of Wall Street’s first “greenmailer”, Joseph P. Kennedy, a former rum runner who changed lines to raid corporations. Eventually, Pathe Exchanges would up under the umbrella of Radio Pictures, and the theaters operated under the Orpheum circuit – which gave the films guaranteed playdates. During this period, Paul Terry left to start his own company, preferring to use some of the techniques that had worked in silent pictures, but himself rapidly forced by the times to evolve into sound as well.

Slightly out of release sequence (my apologies), we have Custard Pies (5/26/29). This Paul Terry directed episode is likely a reissue with sound of The Pie Man from 1925. Farmer Al Falfa is traveling with his horse Napoleon, riding in a pie wagon loaded with delectable pies. This attracts various dogs and cats, who raid the wagon, and eventually get to use Al’s head for target practice when he gets stuck in a fence. Some fun bits in this one, which, unusual for a Fable cartoon, generally sticks to its storyline, and embellishes it with several good gags. A nice tracking shot on the interior of the wagon allows a dog to casually browse the merchandise for the choicest pie, right under the farmer’s nose. Military maneuvers of the dogs and cats include wig-wagging of signals by flags from one of the canines, answered by wig-wagging of the ears of Napoleon to relay that the coast is clear. A long pipe placed on the stairwell at the rear of the wagon serves as a speedy entrance ramp for the dogs and cats, and a banister to slide down once they have loaded their arms with pies. A feast at a banquet table allows the cats to demonstrate perfect table etiquette, while a tough bulldog uncouthly chomps whole pies in a few gulps, his face messily covered in pie filling in the process. Songs: “Cut Yourself a Piece of Cake (and Make Yourself At Home)”, a 1923 pop song about a bride who went to cooking school, but only learned how to bake. Recorded by Billy Murray on Victor, Billy Jones and Ernest Hare on Vocalion, and Paul Whiteman on Victor. Abe Lyman also got it on Brunswick (one of the first times a major label went out to Los Angeles to record). Billy Jones also recorded it without Ernest Hare on Banner et al. Also, “Old Man Sunshine (Little Boy Bluebird)”, a 1928 pop cut by George Olsen and his Misic for Victor, and by Lee Morse in a cover version for Columbia.

A Stone Age Romance (8/1/29) – Already, the comic tropes about the stone age have been established, including the misconception of man and dinosaur co-existing, and of the men dragging the women around by the hair. These tropes had already been used in live-action comedy shorts, and it makes sense that they would filter down to animated cartoons in due course. At least some of the tropes had been virtually forgotten by the 1960’s – we never see Fred dragging Wilma by the hair. Songs: “Raggin’ the Scale”, recordings of which date back to 1916, when Victor had two recordings of it – one by Conway’s Band, and a banjo solo by Fred Van Eps. Two versions were also recorded by Joe Venuti – one on Okeh in 1930, and one on Columbia in 1933. The song was referenced in a pulp magazine, “G8 and His Battle Aces”, where it was the favorite “think” music of aviator G8, who would listen to it on an old Victrola while pacing the floor in Felix the Cat fashion to formulate his thoughts. Also, another appearance of “I Just Roll Along”.

The Big Scare (8/15/29) – Not a Halloween cartoon. A newspaper popular in the barnyard and being peddled by cats has a banner headline – “The end of the world is near”. Farmer Al digs out his plane, which he intends to use as an ark, complete with what amounts to a mother-in-law seat for the usual skunks. One of the smoothest bits of animation found in the cartoon is when someone joes off into the horizon – as many of the animals do when they hear the news. Farmer Al ultimately winds up back on the ground with his plane in pieces, and somehow the world does not come to an end. Songs: “Henry’s Made a Lady Out Of Lizzie”, a song celebrating the introduction of the “new” Model A Ford (there had actually been a previous Model A at the dawn of Henry’s production in 1903, but few were aware of or able to purchase it.) Recorded versions included Billy Jones and Ernest Hare (The Happiness Boys) on Victor and Edison Diamond Disc, Vernon Dalhart (as Al Craver, below) for Columbia, Arthur Fields for Banner et al., and the Cliquot Club Eskimos (Cliquot Club was a brand of ginger ale, that sponsored this Harry Reser headed group) on Columbia. Jack Kaufman (as Paul Johnson) also performed a vocal on Perfect et al. In England, the song was covered by Jack Hylton on HMV.

Jungle Fool (9/15/29) – Farmer Al is going to Africa, and is seen off by his explorer’s club. When he gets there, there are the usual monkeyshines with real monkeys, as well as gorillas and elephants. Songs: “Down in Jungle Town” a song from about 1908, recorded for Victor by Collins and Harlan. It was revived by Henry Red Allen for Decca in 1940 (below), and by Spike Jones for Standard Transcriptions and later for RCA Victor in the later 1940’s. The Sportsman also produced a version for Capitol. Cliff Steward and his San Francisco Boys also revived the tune again in the 1950’s for Coral.

The Fly’s Bride (9/21/29) – A she-fly winds up on some flypaper, and the other neighboring flies try to rescue her. One fly gets drunk in the process, and is late for a date, allowing a spider to kidnap the damsel. A curve-shot with a revolver gets the spider in the rear, and the fly couple end in embrace. Songs: “The Flapper Wife”, a 1925 pop, recorded by the International Novelty Orchestra (Nat Shilkret, with vocal by Gene Austin) on Victor, Harry Reser’s Syncopaters on Columbia, and a second Harry Reser group (The Night Club Orchestra) on Vocalion, the Golden Gate Orchestra (better known as the California Ramblers) on Edison Diamond Disc, and the Southampton Society Orchestra on Perfect et al. Also, “Fire! (Turn the Hose On Me)”, a 1926 song recorded by Waring Pennsylvanians on Victor, and Earl Oliver’s Jazz Babies (actually Harry Reser again) on Edison Diamond Disc. The tune was revived as an album cut by Ward Kimball on “The Firehouse Five Plus Two Go To a Fire” on Good Time Jazz (first track below). Also old familiar tunes, “How Dry I Am”, and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Summertime (10/11/29) – A happy-go-lucky frog is walking around, and sees a whole crowd of animals (especially cats and mice) enjoying the warm summer weather. Mice take refuge from the heat by claiming their spot on the beach in the shadow of a fat lady. Farmer Al meets the blazing sun face to face when the sphere peers in his doorway for an unwanted friendly visit. He tries to cool his temper with a home-mixed, icy, intoxicating drink – but the mice in his house cruelly smash his glass, spoiling the refreshment. Farmer Al gives chase, but upsets a billy goat, who ends the film butting Farmer Al down the road. Songs: “The Aba Daba Honeymoon” a 1915 song which enjoyed a revival in 1950 when performed by Debbie Reynolds and Carlrton Carpenter in Two Weeks With Love and in soundtrack single on MGM records (below). Collins and Harlan were instrumental in the song’s debut, originally on Columbia, and Billy Murray also performed it on Victor. Even the Three Stooges revived it for “The Nonsense Songbook” LP on Coral. Also featured is “O Susanna”, not the Stephen Foster classic but a well-known German Schottische, recorded later in 1933 by Whoopee John Wilfhart on Vocalion. Also “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree”, as the mice bask in the shade, and “How Dry I Am”.

The Mill Pond (10/18/29) – A cat and a mouse walk down the road quite jauntily, and come to a mill pond with no mill in sight. Animals are enjoying swimming, including a pig whose diving attempts merely break the board under his weight, resulting in a cannonball. Farmer Al comes along, chasing the animals away and ordering “no swimming”. He winds up being thrown into the front of his own home by the animals, and all the bricks from the chimney come showering down upon him. Song: “Baby, Oh Where Can You Be?”, a fairly current pop of the day, recorded by Rudy Vallee on Victor as a dance record, Merle Johnson’s Saxophone Quartet on Columbia, and a vocal release by Bing Crosby on Columbia (below). Brunswick issued a dance version by a Meyer Davis group, under the name “The Travelers” under the direction of James Dorsey. Brunswick also released a pipe organ version by Lew White. Harmony issued one by Tom Clines and his Music featuring Jack Carney. Banner, Domino et al had one by The Aristocrats” (direction unknown).

The Barnyard Melody (11/1/29) – Farmer Al again shows up, and provides the bagpipe drone for a version of “The Campbells are Coming”. Some gags on the collapsibility of a silk hat which falls into the hands of a cat and mouse. Still uses techniques from the silent days, including music notes appearing visually in mid-air. Songs: “What a Day!”, recorded by Ted Weems on Victor (below), Carl Fenton on Brunswick (featuring a 20 year old clarinetist named Benny Goodman), Sammy Fain in a vocal version on Harmony, Sam Lanin on Cameo (and possibly under pseudonyms on Perfect and Pathe), and The Mason-Dixon Orchestra (a Frank Trumbauer group spun from the Paul Whiteman band) on Columbia. “Where Did You Get That Hat?”, written in 1888, also appears, eventually recorded by Stanley Holloway, possibly as an album cut. Repeat appearances for “Old Folks and Home (Swanee River)” and “The Skaters’ Waltz”.

Onward into 1930, next time.


  • “Aba Daba Honeymoon” was written for a revue at New York’s Palace Theatre, where it was sung by “vaudeville’s youngest singing comedienne” Ruth Roye, also known as “Princess of Ragtime” and “Empress of Ragtime”; she was still only in her teens. The song became one of her signature tunes, along with “Ain’t We Got Fun?” and “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee”. In the 1960s it was included on Disney’s album of songs from “The Jungle Book”, which is where I first heard it.

    “Down in Jungle Town” would later be heard in the 1930 Sound Fable “Jungle Jazz”, starring Waffles and Don. It’s sung at the very end of the cartoon by a quartet of jungle animals whose heads grow freakishly huge at the final cadence, in the characteristic Van Beuren style of the time.

    “What a Day!” What a toe-tapper!

  • Van Beuren wanted to make sound cartoons. Paul Terry didn’t. One of many reasons Van Beuren ultimately fired Terry.

  • “Down in Jungle Town” also appeared on Edison Cylinder #9941 in 1908,
    sung by Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan.

  • Great stuff! Thank you for this, especially for the G-8 mention! Now I know what to play while concentrating. So rare for any pulp hero to mention pop culture….

    Funny story — Carlton Carpenter once made a pass at me at a party. (Flattered, but declined…..)

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