December 19, 2023 posted by James Parten

Van Beuren Music – 1930-31

During the 1930-31 season, Pathe Exchanges was in a bad way. They had somehow managed to escape the depredations of Joseph P. Kennedy, only to have Wall Street lay its proverbial egg. Eventually, Pathe would become a part of RKO by the next season, with live-action films taking on a new combined logo of the rooster crowing on top of the world. The Van Beuren films, however, still managed to chug along, meeting their quota, despite continuing legal issues over their liberal use of Farmer Al Falfa and Mickey Mouse look-alikes.

Farm Foolery (9/14/30) – Spot gags down on the farm. Animation of farm animals singing in a hayride would be retreaded later for reuse in “The Farmerette” (even continuing to include an original animation error where a character’s head disappears for several frames). Songs: “Way Down On the Farm” sung by a male quartet doing barnyard imitations. I am unaware of any recordings of it outside of this film. “Hi Diddle Diddle” was recorded by George Olsen on Victor, Ted Lewis on Columbia (below), Jack Kaufman on Genett and Silvertone, The Seven Little Polar Bears (a Harry Reser Group) on Cameo, Romeo, and Lincoln, and Charlie Straight and his Rendezvous Orchestra on Brunswick. Phil Harris and the Sportsmen Quartet (possibly billed as “Jack Benny’s Quartet”) revived the piece for RCA Victor. Also reappearances of “The Old Gray Mare”, “Chicken Reel”, “Turkey in the Straw” and “By Heck”.

Midnight (10/12/30) – Farmer Al is being kept awake by the cats serenading on the back fence. Not much else to say. Songs: “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider”, a song associated with famous vaudevillian Eddie Leonard (who never got a chance to record it), possibly dating back to the early 1900’s. Earl Fuller’s Rector Novelty Orchestra recorded an acoustic version for Columbia. Frank Crumit performed a 1924 version for Victor. Am electrical by Red Nichols and His Five Pennies was a good seller for Brunswick in 1927 (below). Frank Winnegar’s Penn. Boys issued an Edison Diamond Disc. Eddie Peabody performed a banjo version for Banner. Al Bernard would sing it on Harmony. Milton Brown and his Brownies also provided a country swing version for Decca. The Hoosier Hot Shots countered on Melotone. Bing Crosby and the Foursome performed it for Decca. The Mills Brothers also gave it their special brand of harmony on Decca. The Benny Goodman Quartet performed it for Victor. Eddie Cantor, whose wife was named Ida, would adopt the song for his own, on another Decca recording, and later in an LP version on X, Tommy Dorsey recorded a version on Victor. Glenn Miller also recorded it for Bluebird, with vocal by Tex Beneke. Frankie Carle would include it on an album set for Columbia, “Frankie Carle and his Girl Friends”. Bernie Holmes and his Orchestra issued a version on 40’s Okeh, which seems to have had little sales. Eddie Condon gave it a jazz feel on Decca. British Dacca’s “Music While You Work” series, to be played at aircraft and munitions production plants, issued a medley of the song (combined with “Is It True What They Sau About Dixie”), recorded by clarinetist/sax player Freddy Gardner and his Messmates, later reissued for American audiences in London’s Music Library series. Merle Travis had a Capitol guitar issue in 1948. Gene Kelly recorded a schmaltzy version with some tap dancing in a studio date for MGM records. Ben Light would revive it on Capitol. Steve Allen would give it a contemporary feel on an instrumental single at 45 RPM on Dot.

The Office Boy (11/23/30) – This cartoon drew the interest of Walt Disney’s attorneys. The two main characters were too close for comfort to Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Pseudo Mickey is working as an office boy at the headquarters of the EXY Railroad, E. P. Dunkwasser, President. He dusts the doors of the various private offices, and keeps out unwanted riff raff. Faux Minnie types letters for the president, including all the boss’s grunts and groans as he decides what he’s going to write, and interpolating liberally with her own extensive typewritten phrases, finishing before he’s said anything amounting to substantive content. The boss gets fresh with her, until pseudo Mickey lets in Mrs. Dunkwasser, who gets busy with the rolling pin. Psuedo Mickey and Faux Minnie make an exit on a train in a picture on the wall, smooching and disappearing into a tunnel, with the feeling it is going to be a tunnel of love. Song: “You’re a Fascinating Baby”, a catchy piece which may be an original song, as I know of no recordings or sheet music, nor is any composer credited on IMDB.

Red Riding Hood (1/18/31) – Follows the bare bones of the familiar fairy tale, except for the addition of a miracle elixir called “Jazz Tonic”, which seems to do wonders for Granny mouse, turning her into a shapely seductive youth. The wolf is about to say his “I dos” with Granny at the altar, when his wife comes in, rolling pin in hand, followed by a litter of wolf cubs. Wolf gets his just desserts, while Red (ersatz Minne Mouse), Granny, and the parson are left crying in the chapel, then change mood to announce the end of the story in song. Songs: “The Old Gray Mare”. Arthur Collins recorded the piece as early as 1917. Instrumental versions included Prince’s Orchestra on Columbia, and Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band with Ted Lewis on clarinet for Victor. There were hillbilly versions by Gid Tanner and his Skillet Likkers on Columbia, and Vernon Dalhart on Banner et al, Perfect, Pathe, and Harmony (3 different sessions in all). Carson Robison used it as melody for a new lyric in wartime, “The Old Gray Mare Is Back Where She Used To Be” on Bluebird.

Cowboy Blues (2/15/31) – Another appearance for the Faux Mickey and Minnie. The bad cat tries to stick up Mickey, then rides off to the Red Dog Saloon, where there is an upright piano. He plays a tune he’s been yodeling all through the picture (title unknown, possibly another original number), The cat makes off with the safe, presuming there’s got to be loot within. He tries to manipulate the combination lock, and instead gets radio static (a gag later used by Tex Avery in Thugs With Dirty Mugs). The cat finally opens the safe, but is kicked into it by Mickey, who locks him in, then receives a kiss from the faux Minnie. Songs: Aside from the yodel, there is also an art song (also title unknown) sung by an obese bird. One recognizable song is present, “Break the News to Mother”, which goes back to about 1898, written by Charles K. Harris, of fame for composing “After the Ball”. J. W. Myers sang it on Columbia records around 1901-02. Henry Burr would replace it in the Columbia catalog. The Shannon Four recorded it for Victor in 1917. The inevitable Vernon Dalgart version would appear on Bell, and probably other labels. Blunf Andy would perform it on Okeh. The Carson Robison Trio recorded it electrically on red shellac Perfect. Maurice H. Gunsky also recorded a 1926 version for Victor. The Old Southern Sacred Singers would issue a version on Brunswick. The Mills Brothers gave it their treatment on Decca.

Radio Racket (3/1/31) – A simple musical broadcast from the jungle, with typical, and somewhat forgettable, hijinks. Songs include “Please Let Me Sleep” and “My Gal Sal” (which we’ve discussed in use by other studios), a return for “San” and “Caro Nome”, an an unidentified rumba which I cannot place – the only new number in the production.

Old Hokum Bucket (3/29/31) – Although the rights to Farmer Al Falfa had by this time passed to Terrytoons, John Foster just couldn’t break from the old ways – and presents his own dead-ringer for the old coot, in a typical script where the city slicker sells him a box of pills branded as “Peppo”, putting new life in the farmer and all the farm animals – even the barnyard bull, who butts the farmer down the well along with “The Old Oaken Bucket”, the featured song of the film. A favorite Scotch song composed by Samuel Woodworth in the early 1800’s, recordings of it include the Haydn Quartet for Victor Monarch in 1901, the Shannon Four for Okeh, the Columbia Stellar Quartette for Columbia, the Peerless Quartet for Victor, Nat Wills in a parody version for Victor, the Knickerbocker Quartet for etched Edison, Sleepy Hall and his Orchestra for Variety in the mid- 1930’s, and Bing Crosby for Decca.

Mad Melody (4/26/31) – A lion pianist is rehearsing, prior to a performance of grand opera. The opera goes on as most cartoon operas go, with morbidly obese soprano, and singing troubadour in the manner of Romeo and Juliet. (Lyrics are presented in a mixture of mock-Italian and gibberish.) An epic staircase sword battle occurs with an endless cycle of dueling cavaliers, and a beheading of the villain (animation that seems to have been reused as reference in Cubby Bear’s Opening Night). The soprano finally causes the stage to collapse for the iris out. Songs: Return engagements for the “Poet and Peasant Overture” and the Sextet from “Lucia Di Lammermoor”, plus the new addition, “Minute Waltz”, by Frederic Chopin, Op. 64 No. 1 in D Flat Major. The latter work would be recorded by Maud Powell (violinist) on red seal Victrola Ignaz Friedman on Columbia, Raphael (World’s Greatest Artist of the Concertina) on Decca red label Personality Series, Alfred Newman and his Orchestra on Majestic, Pauline Alpert (Pianist) on Pilotone, Gaylord Carter (Organ) on Black and White, Jose Iturbi on Red Seal Victor, and in the 1950’s by Liberace, recorded by Columbia but often pressed up in several different labels for local banks sponsoring his syndicated television show. Also recorded in swingtime by the John Kirby Sextet on Columbia, and by Charlie Ventura for Imperial.

NEXT TIME: Continuing into 1931.


  • Some great old tunes here. I almost wish, from the description of the cartoons, that you embedded the cartoons as well. And how many times did studios use “the poet and the peasant“. It Hass to go down as the piece of music most used in animated cartoons, either in fight scenes or in other bizarre scenes as I pointed out in my usual references to “circus days“, a cartoon for the happy harmony series at MGM. You could actually do a festival of how many times that piece has come up throughout the decades. In various animation studios music scores. Thanks again for another great music examination post.

  • I’ve read that the Van Beuren mice are named Milton and Rita. How similar are they to Mickey and Minnie? Well, when the Michigan Technic, the journal of the University of Michigan College of Engineering, ran an article in its April 1938 edition about the colour processes used in motion pictures, it was illustrated with a still from the black-and-white Van Beuren cartoon “The Office Boy” — the name E. P. Dunkwasser is plainly visible on the office door — above the caption: “Technicolor immediately brings Disney to mind.” An understandable mistake? Maybe, but for those of us who like to joke about the low intelligence of engineering students and faculty, this is pure gold.

    Mrs. Dunkwasser’s entrance is heralded by the Humoresque, Op. 10, No. 2, for solo piano by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. Orchestral transcriptions of it have been made by Igor Stravinsky (in his ballet “The Fairy’s Kiss”), Leopold Stokowski, and Sir Malcolm Sargent, among others. I’m sorry you weren’t able to find a vintage recording of “Fascinating Baby”; it’s a terrific song!

    I was interested to see guitarist Perry Botkin credited on Pinky Tomlin’s recording of “The Old Oaken Bucket”. Botkin would later compose much of the incidental music used in “The Beverly Hillbillies” (but not the theme song). Pinky Tomlin’s first hit song was “The Object of My Affection”, which was sung by Alfalfa in “Our Gang Follies of 1936”; Pinky’s other big hit, “The Love Bug Will Bite You If You Don’t Watch Out”, was sung by Darla Hood in “Our Gang Follies of 1938”.

    “Mad Melody” contains some other classical standards. Immediately after Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”, the pianist launches into the opening of Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major. There’s an old story that the motif is meant to represent the words “Das versteht ihr alle nicht [You all don’t understand this], haha!”, as a taunt to Liszt’s critics. During the scene when the hippopotamus patron is arguing with the usher in the theatre, we hear the Minuet from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. It’s played by a small onstage orchestra towards the end of Act I, while the lecherous Don is attempting to seduce the peasant girl Zerlina.

    For opera lovers, it’s very amusing that “Midnight” features Donizetti’s Sextet from “Lucia”, but a couple of strains from Wagner play over the opening title: the Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin”, and the aria “O Du mein holder Abendstern” from “Tannhäuser”. In 1840, Donizetti was living in Paris, where, following the death of Bellini and the retirement of Rossini, he was hailed as the greatest living Italian opera composer. Also living in Paris, under considerably more straitened circumstances, was young Richard Wagner, who was on the run from debt collectors in Germany. Desperate for cash, he accepted an offer of 500 francs from a music publisher to write a piano reduction of Donizetti’s new opera “La favorite” — an irksome task that cemented Wagner’s opinion of Donizetti as a hack composer. Years later, after Wagner had become famous, the publisher reissued the score with Wagner’s name prominently displayed on the cover and the title page. Wagner was furious, but there was nothing he could do about it. If you ask me, it served him right.

    • The name “Milton Mouse” certainly sounds like a knockoff of “Mickey Mouse,” but it’s worth noting the leading mouse in the “Aesop’s Fables” was named Milton well before Mickey came along–he’s called Milton in a review of the Fable “The Last Ha-Ha” published in Film Daily, Aug. 22, 1926, p.10, and there are very probably examples before that I’m not aware of. Does anyone know of an occasion at any time when he’s called Milton onscreen?

      • Amadee Van Beuren testified that the character was named Milton upon his creation in 1921. Silent Fables cartoons have often had soundtracks added and intertitles removed, so any onscreen references to the mouse by name may not have survived. No doubt Thad Komorowski’s forthcoming collection of Paul Terry cartoons will answer a lot of questions.

  • I discovered in a newspaper article of the time describing the lawsuit between Disney and Van Beuren that some of the general public were in fact confusing Milton and Rita with Mickey and Minnie, because people who had been shocked by Milton’s actions on screen had sent letters of complaint to Walt Disney thinking they were his cartoons.

    Ironically, Van Beuren was right when he said that Walt Disney was the first to have plagiarized his cartoons, because Mickey, as he appears in “Plane Crazy”, is an almost identical clone of Milton and in particular of the version drawn by animator Frank Moser, even having his eyes ringed, and if Van Beuren had been able to get his hands on “Plane Crazy” to show in court, he could have proved his claims and won the case. But unfortunately for him, in those days, it was extremely difficult to get hold of film reels once they were no longer on the market, since cinema producers preferred to get rid of reels because they were highly flammable.

    Also, the salesman who appears in “Old Hokum Dukket” is an evolution of the salesman character who regularly appeared in Silent Fables, here his design has been redesigned to be extremely rubbery.

    • Very interesting stuff about Mickey and Minnie vs Milton and Rita. Thanks for sharing your comment!

    • The problem with that is that the mice population in Aseop’s Fables was all Paul Terry’s idea and considering that Terrytoons was starting up and that Van Burean already got in trouble of using Farmer Alfalfa without permission, I don’t think it would be a wise move of dragging Paul into that lawsuit (not to mentioned that Paul would eventually get his own mouse mascot).

  • Red Riding Hood is almost a blueprint for the multiple Tex Avery variations.

  • VB’s OFFICE BOY cartoon isn’t nearly as much fun as the Flip entry of the same title, but least they beat Tex by nine years with the “safe combination lock as radio dial” gag from THUGS WITH DIRTY MUGS.

    • In fact, this gag had first appeared in the Oswald the lucky rabbit cartoon “Hell’s Heels”, released a few months earlier and on which Tex Avery worked as an intervalist.

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