March 12, 2024 posted by James Parten

Van Beuren Music: Late 1932 – 1933

With the new president in the White House, people were starting to get optimistic about things. Congress was also working fast, and within 2 months of inauguration, the new President was signing a bill legalizing beer of no more than 3.2 percent alcohol – still enough to put a heavy drinker under the table. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had bottomed out in the summer of 1932. There were still millions of unemployed, but people were expecting times to get better. At the movies, the musical had returned to popular favor, and RKO was riding the sound waves with musicals such as those mentioned last time, and Diplomaniacs with Wheeler and Woolsey. Deluge also provided spectacle, and at the end of the year, a head-to-head confrontation between a Broadway dancer and an RKO contract player would become legend, in Flying Down to Rio. Even the cartoons seemed to be improving, not looking quite as primitive as the early ones.

Apologies are first in order, as I will have to cover a title which I believed was unavailable, Pickaninny Blues, next time, as a print of same has finally turned up. A surprisingly good cartoon, and not nearly as politically incorrect as its title suggests.

A Yarn of Wool (12/16/32) – A cartoon rhapsody for feline shepherd, a flock of sheep, and a wolf interested in the flock not for meat, but for wool. Needless to say, the sheep are saved, and the wolf gets his come-uppins. Songs: “Rhythm”, written by Ted Dale, copyrighted in 1932, but recorded in 1933, by Ted Lewis for Columbia, and the Erwing Brothers (a West Coast band who recorded only a few sides) on gold box Vocalion. “I Must Have That Man”, another Fields-McHugh song from the score of Blackbirds of 1928, with recordings by Duke Ellington on Victor and also on Columbia (the latter only issued in England), The Knickerbockers on Columbia with Vaughn De Leath on vocal, and vocal records by Adelaide Hall from the original cast on Brunswick, Lee Morse on Columbia, Jack Hylton’s Band on HMV, and Lillie Delk Christian on Okeh Race Records with Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Noone backing her. Later recordings included Teddy Wilson on Brunswick with vocal by Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald on Verve. “Soldier on the Shelf”, a British novelty from 1930, was recorded by Jack Hylton on HMV (issued here on Victor), Debroy Sommers’ band on British Columbia, Marius B. Winter on Broadcast Twelve, Jay Wilbur on Imperial, Ben Selvin for U.S. Columbia, and Sam Lanin for Perfect, Banner, et al.

Tight Rope Tricks (1/6/33) – Tom and Jerry at the circus. They lead the circus band on parade, and then various of the other human and animal acts, including a lion that is easily angered when T&J eat his steak. One of the voices of Betty Boop turns up again, singing a popular song of the day with special lyrics. Eventually, the lion roars out the traditional circus cry of distress, “Hey Rube”, and all the circus lions run wild, panicking everybody. Tom and Jerry flood the lions away with the help of an overwatered elephant. Songs: “Circus Day” apparently an original for the parade. “You’ll Get By (With a Twinkle In Your Eye)”, written by Roy Turk and J. Fred Coots, recorded by Waring’s Pennsylvanians on Victor, Hal Kemp on Brunswick, and Bob Causer and his Cornellians (a Victor Young house band) with Dick Robertson vocal, on Melotone, Perfect, et al.

Silvery Moon (1/13/33) – Boy ad girl characters (apparently cats) question what the moon is made of. The boy thinks it’s made of green cheese. The girl thinks cakes and ice cream. The moon itself intervenes to settle the discussion, producing a stairway into its mouth. They find a fairyland of sweets. (This subject might have greatly benefitted from being made in color, but such luxuries were not yet available to the studio). The boy and girl cat overindulge, and get pursued off the lunar world by a large bottle of castor oil. They fall back into the lake and their canoe, and bid a farewell to the moon as he pulls a curtain down in front of his face. Songs: a new original song, “Good Night Mr. Moon”, not to be confused with “Goodnight, Moon”, a different 1931 copyright. Also, an extended reuse with retraced animation of “The Siamese Patrol” (embed below, the familiar them starts at 1:19), lifted from Toy Time.

A.M. to P.M. (1/20/33) – A day in the life of a royal sentinel (a sort of dress-rehearsal for Van Bueren’s acquisition of rights to the O. Soglow comic strip “The Little King”, as if produced either to prove they could handle the stylized look of the strip, or as a knock-off to capitalize upon the strip without paying royalties). Practically no plot, as the sentinel engages in random meetings and interactions with eccentric characters. Songs: “Crazy People”, a 1932 pop recorded by Gene Kardos on Victor, Ben Selvin on Columbia, and a Victor Young housse band on Perfect, Melotone, et al. Later revived by Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads for an album on Epic.

Tumble Down Town (1/27/33) – Contrasts between two parts of town: a happy shanty town where everyone is satisfied with what they’ve got, and a part of town predominated by a gas house and occupied by tough yeggs. A boy and girl cat are strolling along in the shanty town, oblivious to what’s going on near the gas works. A confrontation takes place between the leader of the gas house gang and the boy, leading to a veritable riot, and the ejection of the bullies by the shanty town folks. Songs: “A Shanty on Old Shanty Town” and “The Bowery”, both of which we’ve discussed before, and finally, “Down by the Gas House”, a 1926 novelty song with lyrics in tough-guy mode, recorded by Billy Murray and Aileen Stanley for Victor.

Magic Mummy (2/7/33) – Tom and Jerry on the police force, assigned to Radio Car #44, equipped with one of those 1920’s-era radio loudspeakers. A mummy case has been stolen from the museum by a sinister robed figure, and for a while, the cartoon looks like it’s going to be another Svengali story, with the maestro ordering the mummy once unwrapped to sing. (No, she does not perform “Ben Bolt”.) Jerry retrieves the mummy case after a long and convoluted chase, and brings it back to headquarters, only to find that all that is insude the case is Tom. Songs: “The Cop On the Beat, The Man In The Moon, and Me”, a 1932 song with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, recorded by Victor Arden and Phil Ohman and their orchestra on Victor, and on a radio transcription by Phil Harris and his Orchestra. Also, “Sing (It’s Good For You)”, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers for Brunswick, and by Gene Kardos for Victor. It was revived in the stereo era for RCA Victor as the title song for an album by the Norman Luboff Choir.

Love’s Labor Won (3/10/33) – Lots of musical cavorting and barely any plot, with new star Cubby Bear on a date with his girlfriend. A wolf horns in, using a Rube Goldberg style contraption to sharpen his false teeth, but they do little good in confrontation with Cubby, as Cubby causes the dentures to fall out, then kicks them out of frame. The wolf resorts to bare knuckle fisticuffs, but Cubby prevails, giving a radio microphone the “It was a great fight” speech bit. Songs: a possible original which I’ll call “Just a Little Goofer” or “Never Took a Lesson”, featuring Cubby playing a flute while riding a dachshund, and “It Was So Beautiful”, a 1932 pop song, recorded by George Olson for Victor, and as an overblown vocal by Harry Richman on Columbia.

The Last Mail (3/24/33) – Cubby Bear in the frozen North, mushing his dogs and delivering mail by sled to remote outposts in a blinding snowstorm, caused by Jupiter Pluvius sawing open pillows and tossing out their stuffing. A raccoon becomes mail thief and kidnapper of Cubby’s girl at the same time. Cubby enlists the services of an American Eagle manning a first-aid outpost, to swoop down on the villain and battle him out of a tree hideout, then Cubby and the girl mount the eagle to fly the mail safely through. Songs: “The Devil’s Dream”, a standard fiddle tune, especially in the Northeast, deriving from an Irish hornpipe. Don Richardson recorded a Columbia side of it in 1921. William B. Houchens on Gennett in 1922. O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels for Columbia in 1926. George Wade and his Corn Huskers performed it for Canadian Victor in 1931. Clayton McMichen (often second fiddle from Gid Tanner’s Skillet Likkers) recorded it as part of a medley on Decca in 1939. Spade Cooley on Columbia circa 1947. Cliffie Stone on Capitol as part of a medley. Jerry’s Haymakers on Copley Records out of Boston (a label mainly aimed at Irish audiences). Riley Shepherd and Shorty Long on Hi-Tone in the late 1940’s. Coy McDaniel on MGM. Tommy Jackson on Mercury in the early 1950’s. Fiddlin’ Red Heron on Federal in 1951. The film ends with an extended rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever”, predicting what would be a forthcoming tradition for episodes of Popeye from the studio’s crosstown rival, Fleischer.

More of 1933, next time.


  • A few notes:

    – “Good-Night Mr. Moon” isn’t original, although the cartoon uses a new set of context-appropriate lyrics. Written in 1911 by Eli Dawson and Albert Von Tilzer.

    – Sentinel Louie was essentially a “b” strip to the King at the time – only really appearing with him on Sundays. I can only guess why Van Beuren did a trial run with his two shorts… or how they’re far more accurate to Soglow’s style than the King series ever was.

    – A.M. To P.M., in addition to “Crazy People”, features “The Mysterious Mister Zilch”, which was never commercially recorded. Written by Mitchell Parish and Frank Perkins

    – I honestly can’t tell what the chorus is in Cubby’s theme song. “He’s just a little bruin” would make sense, because bear, but it really sounds like “He’s just a little brute”, which rhymes with the flute line. Anyways, Harman and Ising would try to create their own Cubby theme song in that year’s World Flight… it wasn’t really much better.

  • I’ve never seen “A Yarn of Wool” and can’t find it online, so if anyone can provide a link to it I’d be very grateful.

    Harry Richman’s recording of “It Was So Beautiful” might be overblown, but back in the days before electric sound amplification, that was exactly the kind of voice you’d want to fill a Broadway theatre so the people in the back of the balcony could hear it over the orchestra.

    Fiddlers love “Devil’s Dream” because, like the best virtuoso showpieces, it sounds a lot more difficult than it really is. A common trick is for the fiddler to play it faster and faster until, one by one, the others in the band just give up and quit. Funny you should mention that it’s especially popular in the Northeast, because as it happens I learned it from a former New England fiddle champion.

    The connection between violin music and the devil goes back hundreds of years before Charlie Daniels thought of making a hit song out of it. The 18th-century composer Tartini claimed that the devil appeared to him in a dream and, borrowing a violin, proceeded to play the most fiendishly brilliant music imaginable; upon awakening, Tartini composed his “Devil’s Trill” Sonata, which to this day remains his best-known work. Then there’s “Danse Macabre” and “L’Histoire du Soldat”, not to mention horror stories like Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann”. Why the violin should have a reputation as the most diabolical of musical instruments is more than I can fathom, but I think it’s undeserved. I’ve known plenty of harpists, too, and believe me, they’re no angels.

    Cubby sings another ostensibly original song in “Love’s Labor Won” in addition to his opening flute number: “Get Yourself a Girl and Fall in Love.” They’re both great songs, and it’s too bad that several lines of each are either left out or obscured by sound effects. Makes me wish Gene Rodemich had released them commercially, but maybe there was a clause in his contract with Van Beuren that prevented him from doing so.

    • Unfortunately, all existing publications of “A Yarn of Wool” have been removed from the internet for some unknown reason. However, Tommy Stathes has a copy of this cartoon, so perhaps he’ll agree to publish it on his youtube channel if you ask him to.

  • You can tell the Van Beuren cartoons are improving when they look more like Fleischer cartoons.

  • Thank you so much for including the cartoon “A Yarn of Wool” in your list, the song “I Must Have That Man” is a real treat for the ears!

    I’m really looking forward to hearing what songs were used in the modernist accompaniment to the “A Dizzy Day” cartoon.

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