This is, in a way, the record that Jiminy Cricket rolled out of its album and played when he appeared in the first half of Disney’s 1947 “package feature.”
From Walt Disney’s “Fun and Fancy Free”
Told and Sung by Dinah Shore
Columbia Records MJ-41 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono / 1947)
CD Reissue (2004): DRG Records, “Clooney Tunes / Bongo / Piccolo, Saxie & Company”
Recorded July 27-28, 1947. Adapted by Ralph Rose. Based on “Little Bear Bongo” by Sinclair Lewis. Conductor: Sonny Burke. Sound Effects: Al Span. Running Time: 17 minutes.
Voices: Dinah Shore (Narrator, Bongo, Vocalist); Peter Leeds (Announcer); Ann Mason (Lulubelle); Al Span (Lumpjaw).
Songs: “Lazy Countryside” by Buddy Kaye, Bobby Worth, Eliot Daniel; “Too Good to Be True” by Buddy Kaye, Bobby Worth; “Say It With a Slap” by Eliot Daniel.
Underscore: “Bongo” by Bobby Worth.
To the record collector, seeing a record being played on a vintage phonograph in classic Disney animation is quite a treat. That’s what happens at the beginning of the Disney feature Fun and Fancy Free, a dual-segment package film from 1947. There couldn’t be more of a direct connection between what audiences saw on screen and what they could pick up at their favorite record store (after listening to it in one of those cool old booths they had back then).
Dinah Shore had already vocalized “Two Silhouettes” for Make Mine Music, but now she was in the more prominent position of narrator. A major recording star during WWII with decades of career transitions ahead of her–including musical variety TV stardom, talk show hosting and sponsoring a woman’s golf tournament—she was a big name to attach to an animated feature during the less-than-salad days of the Disney studio, when full-length features were not possible.
As she and her musical contemporaries had done in Make Mine Music, Shore offered the synergy of her appearance on radio shows, allowing her to promote the film and sing the songs. This is not unlike today’s employment of celebrity voices in order to assist in marketing on talk shows and in the press.
There’s just one little issue, though. Bongo is kind of a blah story. Perhaps the prestige of Pulitzer Prize-winning Sinclair Lewis added oomph to the publicity, but Bongo is basically a country mouse/city mouse yarn with bears. The character design and color styling of the segment is very appealing—in fact, Bongo himself comes off better in storybooks and comics than he does on film. As a lead, he’s not very sympathetic, despite all the attempts to make him endearing. Lulubelle and Lumpjaw don’t come across any better—though Dinah Shore’s spirited narration provides a much-needed amount of warmth and friendliness.
Then there’s that whole slapping thing. Maybe real bears like slapping each other, like puppies like to nip. But these are anthropomorphic animals who slap as a gesture of love and it’s jarring even by 1940’s standards. Such behavior was an element of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel too–the abuse inflicted by the antihero is strangely perceived by his wife and daughter in similar terms–but this 1945 musical (and the play upon which it was based), is a complex adult character study, not a whimsical family romp. Suffice it to say that “Say it with a Slap” isn’t likely to be featured in a new theme park parade or “We Love Disney” recording.
The songs are very pleasant, especially “Lazy Countryside,” also recorded by Bill Hayes, who would have a number one hit with Disney’s “Ballad of Davy Crockett.” The tunes are very much of their time, perhaps by design, as the studio needed the boost of jukebox hits. It’s worth noting that Eliot Daniel, who also wrote the lyric to “Lavender Blue,” did the same for the I Love Lucy theme—and Buddy Kaye penned goofball lyrics for the otherwise delightfully daffy I Dream of Jeannie (which were never heard on the series). Listen to this:
In addition, the recording is conducted by arranger/songwriter Sonny Burke, who would work with Peggy Lee on the songs for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Bongo” (Followed by Outtake)
Following the recording, listen for the cute little outtake in which Shore flubs her lines. The laughter that follows it is likely from the production team as well as the musicians; since in those days, each side of the six records was was recorded “live” with the orchestra, like a radio show. They didn’t record her voice separately and mix it in later.
Next week: Part Two of Fun and Fancy Free