April 9, 2024 posted by James Parten

Van Beuren Music: Late 1933 – Early 1934

1934 was a year of change, and a year of franchises (or attempts at same) which would predominate Van Beuren studios. Probably the least-noticed change (and maybe the most positive) was the eventual passing of the musical baton from Gene Rodemich to Winston Sharples, who would subsequently find a longstanding niche in New York animation by moving on to become musical director in the 1940’s for Paramount. His arrival resulted in a movement toward composition of original scores and song material instead of incorporation of the hit parade of Tin Pan Alley.

The Aesop’s Fables and Tom and Jerrys had run their course, and the studio, having for the moment seemingly run out of ideas for one-shot episodes, followed suit with many of the smaller studios in taking its hand at producing only cartoons featuring name series characters. Unfortunately, none of its “properties” were the same caliber drawing cards as the live-action division of the studio’s budding series of Astaire-Rogers musicals, or the continuing comedy successes of Wheeler and Woolsey or the shorts of Clark and McCulloigh and Edgar Kennedy. Cubby Bear was hanging on as a default “animal” series in place of the Aesops, but it had to have become obvious that the character had little to offer in personality traits, and while several of his episodes featured lively settings or gags, he remained purely a Mickey Mouse clone.

The Little King was a more recognized name due to his newspaper exposure, offering something a little different, but his cartoons seemed not to catch on in the public’s eye, depriving the studio of the revenue boost the executives had probably anticipated, hoping that they had magically found the next “Popeye”. A desperate attempt to boost prestige had the studio negotiate for rights to the voice talent of one of America’s most popular comedy radio shows (Amos ‘n’ Andy), a team whom RKO had already tried to adapt to the big screen (with a degree of failure) in Iive-action in the 1930 feature “Check and Double Check”. However, the poor quality of Van Beuren’s artwork, coupled with the difficulty of finding appropriate settings to move the duo from their urban big-city existence into an animated world, made the team’s animated adaptation about as hopeless as drawing convincing screen performances out of the real-life white radio comedians painted in blackface. The series died after only two episodes, and would have to wait until reimagined in the television era as an all-animal sitcom (Calvin and the Colonel) to see again the light of day, which at least lasted one season. The winds of upheaval were brewing in RKO’s executive offices, despite gradual increases in the quality of the animation artwork, to keep competitive with the screen success of Disney – and the shake-up would soon manifest itself by year’s end

Cubby’s Picnic (10/6/33) – Cubby Bear, his band, and his girlfriend are out for a picnic. In the course of their frolicking, they disturb a hive of bees, who does what all good cartoon bees do – swarm in formation. It seems that everyone winds up getting stung, but Cubby and his girl are still kissing. Songs: “A Popular Pastime”, an original composition, performed on the soundtrack by Red McKenzie, who was at the time a crooner who sang for a while with Paul Whiteman. (Embed below is not from the Cubby’s Picnic, but you can get an idea of McKenzie’s voice from it). About ten years earlier, he had been part of a trio known as the Mound City Blue Blowers, who themselves became nationally known by working with Gene Rodemich – thus, a definite connection as to how McKenzie came to be involved with this cartoon, and at least one other to follow.

Marching Along (10/27/33) – The Little King and his prime minister are playing some kind of board game, until the furniture man comes and repossesses the card table. The film is full of ethnic stereotypes, including Italian and Jewish. We find out the King hasn’t been paying any of his bills, as even the King’s “longhandles” (long underwear) get repossessed. The Prime Minister continually interrupts the king to state that something must be done. The Queen interrupts to note that a new plan has become available – the N.R.A. (National Relief Act). The plan is implemented, and the factories start humming again. But the queen points out that the King has forgotten the forgotten man, who march in an angry mob upon the palace. The King orders out a row of cannons to repel the attack – but accomplish this in a unique way, by loading each cannon to its fill with good food from the royal chefs. Everyone eats, and everyone is happy. Songs: an original, which I’ll call “A Terrible Place”, which appears to be sung by Irving Kaufman and chorus. Also, an original N.R.A. song sung by the queen, and “America (My Country, Tis of Thee)”.

For reference, an Irving Kaufman track (recorded under the name Jack Manning):

The Gay Gaucho (11/3/33) – Cubby Bear is traveling through the pampas to a cantina, where his girlfriend is dancing. (This, the last released studio title farmed out to Harman and Ising, will seem altogether too familiar in a number of its shots, lifting stock animation from Warner’s “Lady, Play Your Mandolin”.) A bandito identified as Pedro tries to put the make on the girl, and Cubby and the girl attempt to make an escape, leading to a chase between the bandits and Cubby and the girl on a stagecoach. Cubby becomes separated from the coach as the wagon runs wild down a canyon road. He attempts to lasso the coach from a tall peak, but the rope fails to hold, spinning Cubby several times around a cactus. The bandits corner Cubby at the edge of a cliff, as Cubby braces for the fatal shot to meet his maker. Instead, he awakens from a dream in a cozy bedroom, where a fireplace ember takes the place of the fatal shot, causing Cubby to collapse, and fold up into the wall in his Murphy bed.

Songs: “Quiereme Mucho”, a 1926 Cuban song, recorded by Tito Schipa for Red Seal Victor (both acoustically and electrically). Regular label Victor would record it again in the early 1930’s by a “Victor Cuban Orchestra” in the Continental Gems series. The song would later receive an English lyric as “Yours”, appearing by Dinah Shore and Xavier Cugat in 1939 on Victor (below), then popularized by a Jimmy Dorsey recording with Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell for Decca in 1941. Vaughn Monroe would cover the tune on Bluebird, and Vera Lynn on English Decca. Juan Vicari would record a mid-40’s version on New York’s Harmonia label. Also appearing in the film is “El Choclo”, recorded about 1906 in New York by the Banda Columbia for Columbia, which stayed in catalogue for 20 tears, until it was replaced by an electrical version (still as “Banda Columbia”) on Columbia’s ethnic green label. Another good selling version was by the International Novelty Orchestra conducted by Nat Shilkret on Victor. Stan Kenton would record a version for Decca in 1941. And in 1952, the song was a hit again with a new English lyric, “Kiss of Fire”, with sales going to Georgia Gibbs on Mercury, with covers by Billy Eckstine on MGM, Tony Martin on Victor, Joe Gibson on Columbia, and a comedy parody (“Little Ol’ Kiss of Fire”) by Homer and Jethro on Victor.

On the Pan (11/24/33) – The Queen has commanded the Little King to go out on a hunt. The King and his entourage head out to Africa, the King taking no chances, by packing along with the safari all the animals he intends to hunt. It is questionable whether the king could even hit a stationary traget, as the Prime Minister has to move the target all over the place to catch a bullet during the King’s target practice. It’s a wonder he doesn’t need a new prime minister. (Inconsistently, the King would become a crack marksman in A Royal Good Time.) The King encounters a bird who delivers his lines like Jimmy Durante. He also meets up with a tribe of cannibals, who decide he will make a tender plump main course. The King is laid upon a roasting pan with a cover on it, and placed in an oven. The natives must think he’s been overcooked when they remove the pan from the oven, finding inside only his shoes. Once the real King is again located, the chase ensues, with the King finding out that the cannibals pop like balloons when they are hit by spears. The Durante bird compliments the King’s marksmanship in spear-throwing, for the conclusion. Songs: “The King He Would a -Hunting Go”, an original song.

Galloping Fanny (12/1/33) – There’s a big horse race going on, and Cubby Bear is riding Fanny Lou, the favorite. His opposition is mostly a gang of ethnic stereotypes (Italian, Jewish, British, etc.). His biggest competition, though, is a tough guy from the Bowery, who is riding Battle-Axe. Fanny (with a Mae West style voice that somehow drops to a microphone ambience that suggests it was recorded in a bathroom) deserts the race for an elopement, and Cubby recruits two black stable boys to don a horse costume as a substitute entry. (Coincidence or plagiarism, that Mickey Mouse would do the same thing only three months earlier in “The Steeplechase”?) During the race, the mug tries a number of cheating tricks to throw everyone off the track. Cubby’s mount and Battle Axe wind up in a fight cloud which manages to stall just before the finish line. Cubby’s “Fanny” collapses, and a pre-code track announcer states “Fanny is over the line.” Songs: an original, “We’re Going to See The Race”, sung by about everyone involved. Also, “Rock a Bye Baby.”

Croon Crazy (12/29/33) – Cubby Bear is producing and performing a radio revue over station RKO, but forced to provide impersonations of Al Joson, Paul Whiteman, Kate Smith, and Mae West, when the real stars fail to appear, all for the greater glory of the McHangnail Cuticle Company. Much of the cartoon is taken up with illustrations of the impact of radio and crooning upon various peoples of the world. This cartoon is comparable in plot (?) with Warner Brothers’ I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song – a film that also had premiered just three months earlier. This double “coincidence” of similarity to competing studios’ output in back-to-back episodes suggests the gestation period for the creation of Cubby Bear episodes. There is a running gag about a little guy waiting to strike a gong at the top of the hour for a time signal. Somehow, striking this gong reduces the studio to rubble. The voice of Red McKenzie is heard for Cubby’s singing over the main title and in the primary song of the cartoon. Songs: “I Can Croon To the Moon”, an original presumably penned by Winston Sharples. Also “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” (sung as “The Moon Came Over the Mountain” in the Kate Smith parody), “I Used To Be Her Boy”, an original appearing in the Jolson parody, and “I’ve Got a Lot”, another original, used in the Mae West sequence.

The Rasslin’ Match (1/5/34) – Andrew H. Brown gets suckered by the Kingfish into participating in a wrestling match with Bullneck Mooseface (a bruiser of a fighter, with one shot in which he transforms in appearance into an antlered animal). The film uses the radio voices of Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden, whose “Amos ‘n’ Andy” show, while possibly having dropped off slightly from its peak of popularity, nevertheless remained a formidable mainstay in radio broadcasting. Gosden and Correll had begun in vaudeville as a mediocre song and dance act (with little dancing), until early 1928, when they switched to WMAQ from WGN. At the former station, they had begun their signature characters as “Sam and Henry”, but WGN claimed they owned these characters’ rights, resulting in a name change for the new station. The rest is history. They were especially popular in black neighborhoods. It was said you could walk down a street in such communities in the summer, and not miss a word of the team’s broadcasts, with every radio in the neighborhood tuned to the show. In the film, Andy gets tossed around the ring by his opponent, but winds up taking advantage of the champ’s one weak spot (the top of his head) by removing his own derby, allowing him to collide headfirst with the champ’s noggin. Andy is unconscious, but lands on top in a pin, winning the crown.

Songs: “The Perfect Song”, a 1915 song which may have been written for the score of “The Birth of a Nation”. While I am unaware of early versions contemporaneous with its writing, it was eventually recorded by the Victor Salon Group conducted by Nat Shilkret on Victor, Hotel Pennsylvania Music (actually Phil Spitalny) on Harmony, the Brunswick Concert Orchestra on Brunswick, Bert Lown and his Biltmore Hotel Orchestra on Romeo, Tommy Bohn’s Penn-Sirens Orchestra (possibly an Ed Kirkeby group, a band for which Bohn worked) on Okeh, Guy Lombardo on Bluebird (a Victor date which was held back for many years before issue), The Madcaps (a harmonica diet) on Decca in the 1950’s, and Richard Hayman on Mercury.

Also prominent in the film is “Sophisticated Lady”, a 1933 Duke Ellington composition, recorded several times by the composer and his Famous Orchestra, including versions for both Columbia and Brunswick in 1933, and Columbia and Victor versions both in 1940. Duke would provide backing for later LP vocal versions by Ella Fitzgerald (“The Duke Ellington Songbook”) for Verve, and for Rosemary Clooney (“Blue Rose”) on Columbia. Other versions include Don Redman on Brunswick, later reissued on Melotone, Banner, Perfect, and Romeo, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra on Victor, Jimmie Lunceford on Decca, George Shearing on Savoy, Johnny Guarnieri’s Quartet (I am unsure of what label), and Erroll Garner on Columbia. The song had a rather literate lyric added in 1933, first recorded by the Boswell Sisters for Brunswick. “Mademoiselle” Dinah Shore, accompanied by Paul Lavalle’s “Windy Ten”, issued a version for Victor as part of a set devoted to the radio show “The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street”. It was performed in later years by Sarah Vaughan in a live performance on Mercury, Billie Holiday in 1956 for Clef, Julie London on Liberty, Tony Bennett in live performance, and later in duet with Lady Gaga.

A third song appears in the cartoon, “Why Don’t You Get Lost”, used during the final match, a 1932 novelty recorded by Roane’s Pennsylvanians on Victor (reissued as “Calloway’s Hot Shots” on Bluebird), Chick Bullock and his Levee Loungers on Perfect, Banner, Oriole and Romeo, the Carolian Club Orchestra on Melotone, with vocal by Dick Robertson, and Joel Shaw (actually Gene Kardos) on Crown, also with Dick Robertson vocal. Also appearing in the film is a brief chorus of “Am I Blue”, sung by Amos at the opening, which we have discussed in my previous columns regarding Warner Brothers music.

The Lion Tamer (2/2/34) – Once again, Andrew Brown is fast-talked by the Kingfish into performing a charity lion taming act, supposedly with a fake lion with two of his lodge brothers inside, but at the last minute replaced by a real lion. Song: “Ballin’ the Jack”, underscoring nearly the entire cartoon, a 1913 copyright recorded the next year for Columbia by Prince’s Band. Later revived in 1928 by the Louisiana Rhythm Kings (a Red Nichols group) on Vocalion. A Radio Transcription was recorded in the 1930’s by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra. An aircheck exists of Eddie Cantor performing it live on a radio show, interrupted with reminiscences of when he first sang it on stage. Later recorded by artists as diverse as Danny Kaye on Decca, Georgia Gibbs on Mercury, Coral, and Majestic, Miff Mole and his Dixieland Orchestra in a driving rendition on Brunswick, and Chubby Checker on Parkway.

Further progressing into 1934, next time.


  • Note Tom and Jerry in the crowd listening to “Mae West” in “Croon Crazy.” Also, Gandhi (a frequent cartoon guest star in this era) wearing women’s underwear.

  • Thanks for identifying Red McKenzie as the singer of “Love Is a Popular Pastime” in “Cubby’s Picnic”. It’s a terrific song, and I really like Red’s style.

    “The Perfect Song” was indeed composed for the three-hour-long musical score to “The Birth of a Nation”. Like practically everybody alive today, I’ve never seen the film, but the cover of the song’s original sheet music plugs it as “The Love Strain from D. W. Griffith’s Gigantic Spectacle,” which we may take as conclusive. More to the point, “The Perfect Song” was also the theme to the “Amos and Andy” radio show, which accounts for its inclusion in “The Rasslin’ Match”.

    About the “McHangnail Cuticle Company”: Apparently there was a business correspondence school that used to run magazine ads with an illustration of a successful tycoon putting his hand on a young man’s shoulder and saying something like: “My boy, if you take this correspondence course, as I did, someday you may become, as I did, Third Assistant Vice-President of the Schenectady Consolidated Nail-File and Eyebrow-Tweezer Corporation.” P. G. Wodehouse occasionally alluded to these ads in his fiction, so they must have been familiar to readers. I suspect that they likewise inspired this joke in “Croon Crazy” about the notion of a nail file company being big business.

    The Flintstones episode in which Fred takes a job as a school bus driver has a send-up of “Ballin’ the Jack”, as Barney reads aloud from the bus driver’s manual:

    “First you put your two feet close up tight.
    The clutch is on the left, and the brake is on the right.
    Take hold of the wheel kind of nice and light
    And twist it around with all your might.
    Now shove your lovin’ hand way out in space
    And ease it into gear with style and grace.
    If you’ve gone this far, you can’t turn back.
    Geronimo! And good luck, Jack.”

  • I generally enjoy this series but fail to see how the untimely death of Gene Rodemich can be described simply as “the eventual passing of the baton” and a “most positive change.” An important figure in the history of American popular music and recording industry.

    • I agree that Gene Rodemich was an important figure in the history of American popular music, but while his sudden death in February 1934 was unquestionably tragic, it had nothing to do with the “passing of the baton” to Winston Sharples. The Film Daily reported in December 1933 that Rodemich had already left Van Beuren, and the first two cartoons with music credited to Sharples, as profiled above, were released in that same month. Rodemich’s obituary in the New York Times had much to say about his work in radio and recording, but it glossed over his film work in a single sentence that didn’t even bother to mention the studio’s name. Sharples would have ascended to the directorship exactly as he did even if Rodemich had gone on to live a long life.

      I personally prefer Sharples work for Van Beuren over the repetitive, cliché-ridden scores that he would later grind out at Famous. “Galloping Fanny” and “Croon Crazy” prove that he hit the ground running, equally adept at scoring fast-paced action and elaborately staged musical numbers. His through-composed scores were very effective, and would have been more so if he had been provided with stronger stories.

      • Thanks for your correction. Perhaps you could help correct the Rodemich page on Wikipedia.

      • There is some additional information that needs to be provided on Gene Rodemich in order to understand the reason for his dismissal.

        First of all, it should be noted that Rodemich was appointed head of the Van Beuren studio to replace animator John Foster, who had left the studio at the beginning of 1933, an assertion confirmed by articles in Film Daily and Motion Picture, which clearly state that Gene Rodemich had become the studio’s director in addition to continuing to compose the films’ music. Gene Rodemich’s promotion was accompanied by a very generous salary increase from Van Beuren, demonstrating that Rodemich had become the most important member of the studio by this time. However, animator George Stalling also aspired to run the studio, and he knew that most of his fellow animators were in the process of organizing a union to put pressure on the bosses and obtain better working conditions. Stalling therefore decided to strike a deal with Van Beuren and the studio’s main shareholders: in addition, George Stalling denounced all his fellow workers who were linked to the unions, and in exchange Van Beuren appointed him to the studio’s management in place of Gene Rodemich. But Van Beuren allowed Rodemich to continue earning the same salary as he had when he was director, and this situation displeased George Stalling, since Rodemich was earning far more money than he was, even though he had technically lost the more important position. So Stalling came up with a new plan: he decided to reveal Rodemich’s salary to the studio’s shareholders, so that they would force Van Beuren to fire him. This strategy worked perfectly because, as Yowp noted in his review of the film “Galopin Fanny”, the studio’s commercial director, Hiram Brown, sent a letter to Van Beuren demanding the immediate dismissal of Gene Rodemich.

        As for criticism of Gene Rodemich’s compositions for Van Beuren cartoons, I personally find Rodemich’s much more successful than his successor’s, for Rodemich’s music is a marvel for the ears, displaying an energy and gaiety that are simply unequalled. In comparison, Winston Sharples’s music is far less successful, as the rhythm of his compositions is far too soft and monotonous, almost making you wonder why Sharples is so popular in Golden Age animation fan circles, as his scores are nothing exceptional compared to Rodemich’s.

        Also, I find that qualifying Rodemich’s dismissal as a positive event, knowing that it is his departure that will be the direct cause of his death, seems to me to be more than a little misplaced.

        • Thanks for that additional information, B. C. It’s a shame that Rodemich lost his position due to the machinations of a resentful union-buster. However, I fail to see how that could have been “the direct cause of his death,” as you say. As I understand it, Rodemich fell ill during a broadcast of the NBC radio program “Manhattan Mery-Go-Round”, for which he had directed the orchestra since 1932. Rodemich made it through the show but died of pneumonia three days later. This happened months after his departure from Van Beuren. If you have any other information directly linking his death to his dismissal, then by all means please share it here.

          • Sorry for the late reply Paul, I hadn’t seen your response. On reflection, it seems that I exaggerated when I said that Gene Rodemich’s dismissal was the direct cause of his death, but it was definitely linked to it because it was only after his dismissal from the Van Beuren studio that Rodemich was able to devote much more time to his orchestra, something he couldn’t afford while working at VB.

            It’s a pity Rodemich didn’t stay at VB – it probably could have saved his life!

  • “Croon Crazy” was actually quite a good cartoon.

  • Neat post. Thank you. Harman and Ising recycled animation from Disney’s Oswald at Schlesingers. “Don’t draw what you can trace. Don’t trace what you can paste.”–Wallace Wood.

  • “Ballin’ the Jack” also performed by Dom DeLuise and Gilda Radner in the dreary 1986 “comedy”, Haunted Honeymoon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *