So I got to wondering about Mötley Crüe because you know what? Stop asking such nosey questions. Anyway I got to thinking about the metal thing of putting hilariously unneeded umlauts over things. Mostly letters. Like, where did this tradition come from, and why, and who started it, and why did umlauts catch on when perfectly good other diacritics like cedillas went unused. I figure there’s no way of actually researching this, so instead I’m just going to edit the band’s Wikipedia page to say they were the first band to put unnecessary umlauts in their name. Then go back two months later to edit it into saying they were the last metal band to put unnecessary umlauts in their name. The plan being that two months after that, I would go to the discussion page and see where the argument had gotten. Which is a great idea except that it’ll take four months to get results, by which time I’ll have completely forgotten ever caring about the subject. But the important thing is that I can name my imaginary 80s glam metal band “Unnecessary Umlauts”. I don’t mean all the time. When they do a Command Performance for the Queen they’ll be the “Unneedful Umlauts”.
[ Translated from the gestures, modal dialogues, and inarticulate howls of boundless rage at my iPod Touch. ]
Me: OK, iTunes, resume.
iTunes: Happy to!
Me: Resume my podcast.
iTunes: I didn’t know you had a podcast!
Me: Don’t ever talk like an online nerd. Resume the podcast I was listening to.
iTunes: Happy to!
Me: Resume it now.
iTunes: Resume what now?
Me: That’s Grandiloquence. Three guys take turns pronouncing a word they only know from reading, and then get into a big argument about who’s least wrong. They’re doing their 40th-episode super-spectacular on ‘synecdoche’.
iTunes: What’s that word?
iTunes: How do you pronounce it?
Me: Almost certainly wrong. That’s why I want to hear the podcast.
Here are some beliefs it is fine to have, even if you will never encounter a group of hundreds to thousands of people gathering in a hotel in some affordable hotel space on the outer edge of town for a weekend of merriment and panels and cosplay and frustrated attempts to get a group of six people together to go to the build-your-own-burrito place.
- That if your mind insists on fusing the songs American Pie and My Brown-Eyed Girl into one massive, never-ending whole, that’s fine. Your mind is your own. You can put not just any songs but any experiences together you like. If you wish to merge Hotel California with the experience of hollering at the movie theater’s automated ticket booth because you just don’t care where you sit to watch Barton Fink reboot origin movie, that’s your right. I mean, of course, if you aren’t at your gig-economy job putting in a few hours being part of the collective massmind. But that’s a special case.
- That it is the year 2019. By this I mean the ninth or maybe tenth year of the second decade of the current century. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are instead in the nineteenth year, somehow, of the first decade of the current century. But consider: how is it that we still have eighties nostalgia? The 80s are now so long ago there’ve been, like, five movie Batmans since then? How can we possibly feel any warmth to a time so long ago? If we are still in the first decade of the 2000’s, then that’s just two decades in the past. It makes plausible how, say, people might have any specific warm memories of the Whammy. So let’s take that: we’re not in the year 2019 but rather in the nineteenth year of the 2000s.
- That you just don’t have the emotional reserve to hang out with your fossa pal. That’s all right. Fossas are great, everybody agrees. They also have plenty of issues. It’s all right to let your fossa buddy march off to whatever it is they’re up to. You can recover your mental energies hanging out with a quokka or maybe a binturong. It’s not selfish to take some time not dealing with somebody else’s bizarrely complicated situation that’s somehow a fractal hyperfiasco, where every part of their fiasco is itself some deeper fiasco that’s just as impossible to deal with. Don’t feel guilty just hanging out with somebody who’s sleeping a lot and smells like popcorn.
- All right, so the planet is a sphere. What’s so great about spheres? Maybe we just have a sphere because nobody involved in making it put any thought into the question. If we put our minds to it we could probably have a toroidal planet or maybe one that’s a great big Möbius-strip band. And it’d be fast, too. It would take, like, four days at the longest. There’s three-room apartments you couldn’t clean out for moving anywhere near that fast. Anyway nobody is saying this would solve all our problems, or any of them. It’s just an option we haven’t given serious consideration. No, we’re not doing Menger sponges. We’ve totally read the ending of The War With The Newts on Wikipedia.
- That it would be a heck of a thing if it turned out vampires didn’t mind garlic. Like, maybe one didn’t, and everybody assumed all vampires were repelled by garlic? But it was just that guy’s preference? So what if it turns out vampires see garlic the way anybody might see, oh, Brussels sprouts? Where some just won’t eat them, and some kind of like them, and some love how it looks like they’re giants eating whole heads of lettuce in one bite? And it turns out that vampires actually have an issue with horse radish instead, which is why they only have lunch at Arby’s when it’s part of a long, serious meeting with their financial planner? Anyway you can have that belief and if need be donate that to a needy improv troupe.
- That the messages that would be on the answering machine, if there were any, would be very interesting ones. They might even change everything, if they did happen to exist. It’s your answering machine. You can have any imaginary messages you like on it.
There are more things you can believe even if they are not commonly held. Good luck.
Me, interacting with coworkers:
“So even if we were able to use Google Maps in the way we want this will not give us adequate aerial photography metadata. And while none of our clients have — to my knowledge — asked about this metadata that is nothing more than our good luck. When they recognize they need this, we are not going to have answers. We need to improve our geographic information services capacity now, before the storm.”
Me, in my head, in the style of the Ramones, on endless repeat:
o/` Gland gland glandgland
o/` Gland gland gland glandgland
o/` I wanna be sebaceous! o/`
As there are possibilities I didn’t cover yesterday.
Six more non-consecutive weeks of winter. This is foretold by the groundhog either seeing or not seeing its shadow (research department please clear this up) but being so distracted in the process there’s nothing jumbled thoughts incomplete returned to. While spring may arrive right about on time, there’ll be sudden bursts of winter throughout the whole year. It’s a bit inconvenient, because of the rush to put snow tires on and off again. But it’s pretty great to get, like, eight inches of snow in the middle of June when it’s warm enough to enjoy it. Plus it adds some realism to Christmas in July, if you’re lucky or if you have Christmas in July in June.
Six more leeks of winter. Predicted when the groundhog emerges and sees (or does not see) the shadow of a potato. Yes, I know, you’d think it would be the shadow of an onion or maybe chives. But that’s just how the folklore settled down. We suspect there’s some weird Cockney rhyming slang behind it.
Six more beats of winter. The groundhog is a dj and he’s got some vinyl rarities that are going to make this the best night ever.
Six door-weeks of winter. The groundhog emerges with either a doorknob or the knocker for an ISO standard front door. In this case winter will be longer by approximately the same amount of time you spend opening doors in an average six-week span. This isn’t all that much, really, considering the time spent closing these doors is not charged to the winter account.
Me, thinking: “You know, there’s stuff in my life I’d change if it were possible, and there’s stuff in my life I probably could change but that I’ve found myself unwilling to make the sustained effort that would require. But on the whole, it’s pretty good, and within the reasonable bounds you might expect for someone of my age and income and happily accepted obligations I’m doing pretty well at being master of my own destiny.”
Also me: has had the incidental background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon series running in his head for 46 hours straight now. Send help. Not from the Q*Bert cartoon.
So the 20th of October, 1957, The Stan Freberg Show came to its end. Freberg had promised to feature some of the most popular bits of the show and said he was getting card and letter from the listening audience about what to select. The show hadn’t quite given up, though: there are a couple of new bits, including what might have become running gag characters, appearing for the first time here. Still the show is mostly recreations, sometimes in abbreviated form. And of what?
Here’s the show:
|00:00||Open. It’s no longer an episode of a brand-new radio series, but rather a clonked-out radio series. And they’re bidding a fond farewell to r-a-d-i-o. And a trick of memory. I had remembered the last episode as opening with a more busted-up theme, one with sound effects of a machine conking out, and the music losing tempo and falling out of tune. Not so, but given the show’s use of that sort of sound effect (as in the fifth episode) I’m surprised it didn’t.|
|00:56||Opening remarks. Freberg’s grateful to his audience, and will miss talking to people like — some character who hasn’t appeared before. A jumpy, character complaining the road’s blocked by sheep, and who follows his lines with singing the line again in a high-pitched voice. He’s a brain surgeon.|
|02:45||Mr Tweedly, Censor from Citizen’s Radio. Stan Freberg tries to sing Old Man River, while getting buzzed for not saying thank you and for using needlessly harsh songs and bad grammar and such. This ran in the sixth episode.|
|06:26||Peggy Taylor. She’s crying, not because they’re going off the air, but because Stan Freberg’s on her foot. She gives a gift, not a sleeping bag but a Freberg Cozy, and I like the idea of calling a sleeping bag a personal cozy. She sings “The Birth of the Blues”. This was done in the second show, and I’m surprised they would redo a song. A good song, sure, but it’s not like 1957 was short on radio-ready music.|
|10:06||Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields. Soundtrack of a “typical” (adult) western, including sponsorship from the Eating Corporation of America. It’s truncated from the original, of course; just some examination of the fence and one commercial. This appeared on the 11th show originally.|
|15:20||Capitol Record. A “whole list of name” requested a performance of Day-Oh, the Banana Boat Song. It’s a bit too loud for the bongo player, who keeps insisting Freberg get farther away to be at his loudest. This appeared on the seventh show, and featured a bongo player who’d also been in the opening and closing segments of the fourth episode. I’m not surprised that St George and the Dragonet didn’t make the cut — the sketch is too long and has too big a cast, and doesn’t really condense well. I’m more surprised that Wun’erful, Wun’erful didn’t, but see the next item.|
|20:34||Billy May has a gift for Stan Freberg: an accordion-playing bandleader found in Balboa Bay. Reference to the Wun’erful, Wun’erful sketch from the fifth episode. In that, a Lawrence Welk parody floated out to sea. Their Welk is there to laugh at Freberg. “You don’t have to make fun of me.” “Look-a who’s talking!” Welk gets to play “a short medley based on the names of girls-a”. Mostly “Every Little Breeze Seems To Whisper Louise”, and stuff that can’t quite get going. The sketch was turned into a Capitol record, as announced the 13th show.|
|23:00||Package for Stan Freberg, about ten feet tall. New messenger character. The package is the Abominable Snowman. He’d been introduced the second episode. Abominable asks Freberg if it’s hard on him doing both voices like that; he admits it’s hard on him. It’s a bit of fourth-wall-breaking and plays on Freberg’s ability to shift character fast. Abominable Snowman isn’t wearing orange sneakers today, just purple, a new “ensemble”. Abominable and his wife Gladys are thinking what they could do to help the show. (Gladys was introduced, as his fiancee, in the ninth show.) “I could scare a couple of sponsors for you.” “We’ve already done that, thank you.” Abominable offers to teach Freberg how to be an Abominable Snowman, which gets to be funnier when you remember they just pointed out how he’s doing both voices.|
|26:48||Conclusion. Freberg admits they didn’t have time for Mr Poulet’s tuned sheep, the one sketch promised last week that they would do. Poulet and his Muppet Show-ready sketch appeared on the first episode and without the sheep turned up in the seventh show. Freberg thanks his audience, especially the press who supported the show so.|
My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. And now they are complete, too.
If I were to make up a story about Rankin/Bass having created a Christmas special built around the song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and claim that it was suppressed for being so weird and crazypants and indistinctly sexy that even the 70s couldn’t put up with it … how many of you would back me up? I’m not asking for the level of, like, making fan art. But would you insist on social media that oh, yeah, there was totally a crazypants sequence where Mommy’s brought to the North Pole for what is a sanitized, Love Boat-but-a-cartoon version of a swingers party where there might not be anything you can actually say is racy but it’s still like forty times the entendres that a kids’ animated special should have? Just doing a quick little headcount is all.
- Chrissy, the Christmas Mouse
- Bright Christmas Land
- The Holly and the Ivy
- Ding Dong Merrily On High
- Away In A Manger
- Got Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
- I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- O Christmas Tree
- O Holy Night
- O Little Town of Bethlehem
- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
- What Child Is This
- We Three Kings of Orient Are
- Wolcum Yole
Not listed: I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas because no matter how hard you try it’s not getting out of your head.
Reference: Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: or, The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History, Giles Milton.
This is the median of The Stan Freberg Show: it only ran fifteen weeks. Yes, I’m trying to think what I’ll do when I’m through these recaps. This episode originally aired the 1st of September, 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Opening Music. No pre-credits bit and no sound effects show.|
|00:50||Return of the Zazzalov Family. They’re the acrobats performing on radio as in the third episode. Freberg emphasizes the “We told you they’re Swiss so we don’t offend anyone” joke. There’s a “Wun’erful, Wun’erful” callback.|
|02:00||Interlude. Daws Butler wonders what they’re doing. Stan Freberg things about the Good Humor Man. If you’d wondered what exactly Daws Butler sounds like when he’s not doing a bit … I’m not actually promising this is what he sounded like. There’s no reason this wasn’t a stage voice too.|
|02:40||20th Century Freberg Presents: Uninterrupted Melody. Spoof movie about ice-cream truck drivers. It’s told in the format of a This Is The FBI-style drama. One of the supervisors heard of a truck playing ‘Hound Dog’. There’s a reference to a Costellanas(?) arrangement of The Three Little Kittens. I assume this is a joke but must let someone who understands what music is explain it. There’s talk among the men about transferring between songs. The story thread, such as it is, veers into war movies as well as these 1950s movies about grumpy executives at companies that think they’re awfully important. Awful company song. I like the promise of “Keep up the good work and one day soon, I’ll have your chimes tuned.” The situation turns to mutiny and the Good Humor executive gets dipped, not in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit way.|
|12:20||Peggy Taylor. Sings “Around the World in 80 Days”.|
|15:05||Face the Funnies. Follow-up from two weeks ago. They’re not bringing up Orphan Annie’s clothing situation or other stuff from before. The panelists get to picking up the old fights. Fresh questions: in Dick Tracy, does or does not Junior wear a fright wig? Who’d win in a ray gun fight, Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers? Pulls back to Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, and Tarzan. I think this time I caught everyone’s name: G L Spoon (who closes the sketch with a ridiculous Crimestopper tip), Dr Linus Quoit (closing with an Annie quote), and Edna St Louis Missouri (with the Tarzan yell).|
|22:30||Interlude. Freberg says, “We have received so many card and letter … as well as phone call … ” to do this next sketch…|
|23:05||St George and the Dragonet. Adaptation of Stan Freberg’s first comedy record. It is arguably the spoof of Dragnet. Freberg reportedly got the actual audio cues from the original radio show for the spoof. The cliche of Jack Webb demanding “just the facts, ma’am” traces more to this spoof than to the actual show. Although, yeah, Freberg says he wants “just the facts, sir” to the knave. Nobody ever gets quotes right. It also features an exchange that always amuses me even though it has no logical place in the sketch: “Say, did you take that 45 automatic into the lab to have them check on it it?” “Yeah. You were right.” “I was right?” “Yeah. It was a gun.” Although the dragon laughing at St George, “You slay me,” and George answering, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about” is good stuff.|
|27:45||Closing Remarks. Stan Freberg “fumbles” his farewells.|
This episode first aired the 25th of August, 1957. Yes, yes, it’s Rogers and Hart’s song.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Cold Open. Array of sound effects for the third week running; this time, it’s the outcome of the Floyd Patterson/Pete Rademacher fight. That fight happened the 22nd of August, in Seattle, and Patterson won.|
|01:13||Introduction. Newspaper clipping. Dr Hugo Gunk claims crime could be eliminated if we put as much money into psychology as we do into police. Just the premise is a laugh line, which is a bit depressing to consider. I don’t know whether this was based on something actually in the news; “Hugo Gunk” is a suspiciously silly-but-not-quite-funny name.|
|02:07||The Lone Analyst. Spoof built on the analysts-rather-than-police premise. It’s set in the town of New Roces, New Mexico. This is (of course) a very close spoof of The Lone Ranger‘s sound, and its plot beats. There’s side references to other westerns, notably Have Gun, Will Travel. (The Lone Ranger was unmistakably a kid’s show; Have Gun, Will Travel a grown-up’s.) The Lone Analyst has the saddle in these parts that opens out into a couch. There’s a nice Wile E Coyote style gag about “painting a shortcut on those rocks”. It’s got a man who thinks he’s a chicken and, to extend the joke, a chicken who thinks he’s a horse. And the good solid line, “I am not a Great Dane. I am Grandpa Snider.”|
|11:01||Francois Poulet is back, and playing the nose flute. Comic interview with a Frenchman who speaks Hawaiian. Billy Mays is able to talk with him, converting Hawaiian to groovy-musician. Then an actual song, until his nose is caught in the flute. Very Muppet-ready sketch.|
|14:25||Peggy Taylor. Follow-up joke about nose flautists sneezing. Then she sings “Dancing On the Ceiling”. Strange, very different Lionel Richie cover.|
|17:15||There You Are. Reenactment of the Driving of the Golden Spike. Very different from Robert E Tainter’s Great Moments in History bits. Very precise spoof of CBS/CBS News’s You Are There, which presented how network news might have covered historic events. Cute bit where the story behind the pick of who gets chosen to drive the last spike is frightfully mundane. Last-minute hold-up as they’re two feet short. “We could go back to Chicago and push a little.” The trains meet. President Grant says “it appears to me they should’ve laid two tracks”. As a kid I was always bothered there was just the one track too.|
|23:50||The Banana Boat Song. Adaptation of the comedy record he’d already published. Features that bongo player from a couple weeks ago who found the show to be loud.|
|27:50||Closing Remarks. Promises next week the content of this week. Next week: St George and the Dragonet.|
There’s three musical pieces this week’s show. Many of Freberg’s comedic records before the show began were musical riffs. It’s natural the show would use that tradition. This episode first aired the 18th of August, 1957.
And here’s the rundown.
|00:00||Cold Open. Another audio joke; we’re told was the theme song from I Was A Teenage Werewolf. It sounded like last week, when they just played the whole show backwards at high speed.|
|01:20||Introduction. The tap-dancing-around-the-world bit promised last week was postponed. And there’s a guest, a Mr Tweedly from the Citizens Radio Committee. He’s there to buzz anything objectionable that’s et onto the air.|
|03:30||Elderly Man River. I had thought this adapted a comedy record. It looks like it’s the other way around, and this sketch was released as a single. The premise is put out early: Tweedly is there to stop anything offensive or inappropriate for broadcast. Every comedian worth something has stories about fighting the network or the sponsor’s censors. Wanting to take the edge off “old” or insisting on careful enunciation of words like “nothing” feels like a fight Freberg (or his writers) actually went through. Similarly having to substitute “sweat”.|
|06:40||Robert E Tainter. He got out of jail (mentioned last week) just this morning. He got the celebrity-scandal-sheets to help him out. It’s interesting to me that the celebrity-scandal-sheets of 1957 are completely different from the ones of thirty years later. But the ones of 1987, like the National Enquirer, are still with us thirty years after that. Not sure what happened there.|
|08:40||Great Moments In History. As with the last two times, the figure renowned in poem insists on being paid before doing the heroic thing. This time the character is Giocante Casabianca, from a poem celebrating an incident during the Battle of the Nile (1798) that was just leaving the canon of things anybody might have heard of.|
|09:50||Peggy Taylor. A bit of talk about pets, including Freberg suggesting that while Taylor kept rabbits, “the rabbits raised themselves”. I’ve used the same line about the guinea pigs I had as a kid and I don’t know whether I adopted it from Freberg. Tweedly reappears around all this talk that might imply sex. Taylor sings “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody,” a song from 1918 so that “Old Man River” is not the oldest song in the show. (Judy Garland and Jerry Lewis had published versions of it in 1955 and 1956, so the song was at least in the air.)|
|13:20||Face The Funnies. Panel discussion about the comics page. The name of the host — “Fullbrook Mason” — puts me in mind of Mason Gross, one of those 1950s intellectuals who could stay respectable despite being a judge for quiz shows and other disreputable bits of pop culture. It’s a laugh line that someone might have studied Tarzan’s influence on 20th-century culture. It’s interesting to me all the strips discussed are adventure-continuity strips; nobody wants to talk about humor strips. The jokes are kind of what you’d get from any good slightly-snarky nerd discussion about the funnies, like whether Orphan Annie owns a second dress. Speculations about whether a given Dick Tracy character was guilty or not was, if not something people actually did, at least something characters in radio comedies did.|
|22:10||The Rock Island Line. And this one is an adaptation of an already-existing comedy album. That one (and the sketch) reused Freberg’s premise of the singer trying to get through a song and being nagged into distraction by a skeptical eavesdropper.|
|27:20||Closing remarks. Freberg can’t describe what next week’s show will be.|
See this and other recaps of The Stan Freberg Show at this link.
This episode of The Stan Freberg Show debuted on the 11th of August, 1957. So, in the late 50s, scripted fiction radio like this was dying, if not dead. Not, old-time-radio enthusiasts insist, because the medium was necessarily losing popularity. The big radio networks were also trying to be the big TV networks, and saw more money in bringing audiences to TV. So when this show gets into jokes about television being a dirty word around CBS Radio headquarters, that’s the light conspiracy getting joked about.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Cold Open. Audio joke; they play the “whole half hour backwards and at high speed”. And now play it forward at regular speed.|
|01:15||Opening comments. Freberg talks about hoping to avoid radio clichés, but turns this into talk about how the show hasn’t got a sponsor, as mentioned last week.|
|02:00||Orville arrives from the Moon. This starts as a news repot from “LeRoy Phipps” about a flying saucer reported near the funny-named town of Yreka, California. Sketch introduces the odd running joke of an “unusually musical hover-squash”. Phipps storms off, but — after the audience laughs at something it can see (about 05:30), Orville appears. He’s the brother of Miss Jupiter, the alien with the shapely wheels from the third episode. This brings in singer Peggy Taylor, and reveals that there’s smog on the moon. The lunar smog’s blamed on the flying saucers, but there’s people who suspect industry. Orville — after saying how he’d “like to see that [ typewriter ] in a bikini” — sings as “the voice of cheese”. His song is what I’m guessing is a variant of a song titled “Hello, out there Hello”. In a common joke about bandleaders being weird, not-quite-human figures, Orville says bandleader Billy May “sure looks like [ his friend ] Og-Og”.|
|10:25||Dr Herman Horn returns. as he did last week, he explains hi-fi and puts on a demonstration of weird sound effects. Horn’s nerd-rage complaints about his wife veer uncomfortably close for me to Kabibble Kabaret misogyny. But the writing does seem to be from the viewpoint that Horn’s the unreasonable one here. Anyway, Horn provides some lovely ridiculous sound effects, including “Benny Goodman in a skin-divers’ suit 20 feet underwater playing Danny Boy in a kelp bed”, and King Farouk applauding him, and John L Lewis giving his eyebrows a crewcut. These might be references of their time. But I think their ludicrous specificity leaves them funny anyway. This is the sketch that introduced to the language the immortal line, “All right, Strudelmeyer, let the air out of the latex piano player”, so you can maybe see why the show had ten more weeks to run.|
|17:35||June Foray asks if she can go home early to watch some television. Stan Freberg has a bootleg set in his dressing room that he’s passed off as an “unusually pictorial hover-squash”. There’s a use here of bowling as if it were inherently funny a woman might want to bowl.|
|18:50||Bubbles, the show June Foray and Stan Freberg watch. This is an adaptation of Freberg’s record “Wun’erful, Wun’erful”. The record and sketch spoofs The Lawrence Welk Show. (Here’s an attempt to match the audio of the record with clips from The Lawrence Welk Show.) The major difference in the sketch version is that it loses the absurdist ending of the record — in which the Aragon Ballroom floats off to sea and is observed by a couple disbelieving mariners. To me, more familiar with “Wun’erful, Wun’erful” than the show, this makes the sketch version feel unresolved. But that doesn’t affect the quality of the sketch to that point, and it only matters if you expect the sketch to include something it has no reason to, and would have trouble fitting in. The record, and sketch, are in two comedy modes I love: the slightly daft characters carrying on in scenes that locally make sense even if they’re globally doing nonsense; and people not quite carrying on while stuff breaks down. So the sketch might have been written expressly for me, which is always nice to find.|
|28:01||Teaser. Freberg says that next week will include one minute of universal tap-dancing.|
Archive.org has this really nice system to embed media in other pages. Both videos and audio files. The scheme works really well if there’s a single file on the archive.org host page. If there’s multiple files on the page, though — if it’s an archive page with whole collection of something, like, every episode of a radio series — then it gets harder. The simple “Share This Item” link gives code that shares the whole collection. And that defaults to the first item in the collection. A bit of URL hacking can fix that. But I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. So if you play this, and it’s just last week’s episode again, please let me know. I’ll try fixing it.
So here’s the rundown for this episode, from the 21st of July, 1957:
|00:00||Cold Open. Stan Freberg interrupts one of his own comedy records again; only the one, this time. This record is “John and Marsha”, his first comedy record. The original is a story, in which a woman says “John” and a man answers “Marsha”, and that’s basically it. The comedy’s all in the structure; for me, it works. But that’s also why the interrupting Freberg saying they have a lot to say to each other is a punch line.|
|00:40||Opening Theme. So now you see how this quiet bit of customization is going to go.|
|01:30||Interview with the Abominable Snowman. This instance of the Abominable Snowman turns out to be ten and a half feet tall and wears size 23 sneakers. I do, really, have a friend with enormously long feet in real life and I’m not sure they don’t wear size 23. Not quite that tall, though. The narrator’s introduction about how the show “goes everywhere, sees everything, does everyone” riffs on newsreel hype.|
|08:00||Great Moments In History: the story behind Barbara Fritchie. Quick little sketch based on a poem that I only know because of a Rocky and Bullwinkle sketch, this bit, and a sketch from the Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America albums. The sketch shows that sort of cheery, lightly cynical existentialism that at least I see all over cartoons of the era.|
|09:15||Song. Peggy Taylor sings “Birth of the Blues”.|
|13:00||Carving A New Statue At Mount Rushmore. Absurdist bit about carving a 400-foot oleomargarine statue. The sort of sketch you can only do on radio or the cartoons. Mary Mararet McBride did a daily housewife-advice chat show on radio for decades, including what sounds like an admirably eclectic line of interview subjects. This sounds all respectable enough, although by 1957 she’d been on the air for roughly a quarter-century. Likely she served well as an old-enough-to-be-square reference. My favorite line is the carver declaring of someone, “I hate her but she’s a lovely girl”.|
|16:00||Wrong number. The major sketch this piece, without the political energy of last week’s Incident at Los Voraces. It’s a simple slow-build, slow-burn sketch where a onetime common accident just keeps getting bigger. My favorite line is its most instantly dated, the man declaring he’s so tired he “wouldn’t go out to see Davey Crockett wrestle Marilyn Monroe”.|
|23:50||Stephen Foster Medley. Is there any dated comic premise more wonderfully dated than the late-50s/early-60s hate-on-rock-and-roll bit? I say there is only if you divide the early-60s-hate-on-the-Beatles into its own genre. This sketch revives a record-producer character from Freberg’s record “Sh-Boom”, mentioned early on, who’d helped a recording get to true modern greatness by avoiding problems like the audience being able to make out a word the singers were performing. This is the same premise, doing a rock-and-roll version of Stephen Foster songs. It’s more cleverly done than funny, and I don’t think just because Freberg writes for clever. Nor because the premise is hilariously dated, embedded as it is in a moment when American popular music styles changed to what is still the default mode, and writing from the perspective of the now-obsolete styles. I think Freberg (or his writers) got caught in an authenticity trap. They got so committed to making plausible arrangements that, actually, “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” set to the tune of “Rag Mop” works. I’ve been caught in this kind of authenticity trap myself. I suspect it’s caused by certain nerd personality traits. Particular strains of cleverness and industriousness and perfectionism can combine to where the goal becomes executing an idea perfectly. It’s easy to forget that you haven’t developed or escalated the idea past the original premise.|
|28:00||Closing Remarks. No teaser for next week; the first episode said the Barbara Fritchie bit would be here.|
I read a lot of nonfiction. Mostly history, it turns out, although sometimes also biography. I don’t know why, but the most interesting stuff to me these days is either histories or, like, collections of children’s comic books from the 50s and 60s. There’s stuff you never imagined Hot Stuff got into. Anyway, while I don’t remember specifically writing this bit from my archives, I do remember why I write it, as opposed to something else.
I was reading a biography of David Sarnoff, because, who wouldn’t? Besides Edwin Armstrong, obviously, and we’re not even going to get into television. Let’s not even get into Philo Farnsworth. There was a stray mention of a little, short-lived project that didn’t go anywhere. My mind quickly thought of the phrase “Intercontinental Ballistic Muzak” and I had to write everything else to fit that. So that’s why it exists, or ever could exist. I loved finding circa-1960-era-appropriate references to go along and bulk the piece out, but this is really a bit made because I wanted one string of syllables introduced to the world. The world, so far, insists it was fine without them. History will vindicate me.
I mean, if anyone still wants to at this point. I understand if you’ve just decided to write off the whole project. I’m not convinced that starting from scratch wouldn’t be less work myself. But then there’s this letter just run in the local alt-weekly:
Your August 22 issue highlighted an amusing dichotomy in Lansing City finances: on page 6 you report that residents of various neighborhoods are upset with the City’s continuing failure to enforce its overnight parking ban, and that the Mayor says, “We don’t have the resources to have a police officer dedicated specifically for overnight parking.”
Yet on page 5 you note that the City budget this year is giving the money-sucking black hole that is Common Ground Music Festival $140,000 — easily enough to fund TWO parking enforcement positions.
We recall that in the heyday of the Roman Empire, there was a reliance on bread and circuses to keep the rabble pacified. It’s heartwarming to see that over the millennia, a few things have not changed.
T E Klunzinger, Haslett
I had not seen the spotty enforcement of the municipal ban on overnight parking as a serious issue. I’m a little excited to hear that we do have law again. I’d like people not to be parked on the street if they’re going to be plowing the snow. But I live on a tertiary street. This means can only expect the snow to be plowed on the third day after the third storm of the third year after the last time our street got plowed. So it doesn’t matter whether there’s any cars in the street, not before February 2020 anyway. And I’m not complaining about this. I understand there’s higher-priority roads. I only need my street to get down to the corner anyway. (That line sounds like it should be a joke, but I can’t defend it. I think if you read it exactly the way I imagine delivering that line in my head it has enough of a joke shape to pass. I apologize if it’s not passing you.)
I also haven’t been to the Common Ground Music Festival in a couple years, but that’s just because they seem to schedule it when we’ve already got a week out of town planned. Maybe they’re avoiding us. I enjoyed it last time I was there. We watched the Violent Femmes performing their renowned album “Why Didn’t I Get To Have Sex”. We also heard, wafting in from over the gentle hill that divided us off from another pavilion, MGMT playing their instant classic “That MGMT Song That’s Always Playing”. Also a Michigan-area band named Flint Eastwood because that’s just the way we make band names anymore. Anyway if it’s not snowing, I don’t much care if people are parked on the street overnight, since I’m not on the street overnight either.
Still, if all it takes to avert the imminent collapse of civilization is cutting the city’s underwriting of the music festival and hiring two parking-rule-enforcement-cops? That seems like a small enough effort to make. Heck, I could even be coaxed into hiring a third parking-rule-enforcement-cop, as long as they understand they’re expected to issue, like, eight-dollar citations for parking, and are not to issue reasons they had to gun down that black person.
Except. This week one of the lights on our street fell down. It looks to me like it was knocked down. I would assume by a careless driver, but it’s just one house away from ours and I didn’t hear anything. This signifies nothing. Back in college I slept through when they set off fireworks in the dorm hallway, I am told. Anyway Tuesday I looked out the window and there was the lamppost, fallen over, with the glass dome rolled over on the sidewalk, and some guy at the next house over re-blacktopping the driveway. I don’t think he had anything to do with the lamp.
And here’s the thing. People keep going out and taking pictures of the lamp. I did. My love did, too, which is how we learned the glass dome covering it was actually plastic. This discovery left us feeling like we had been ripped off somehow. People walking up the street have been taking pictures. People have stopped their cars, parking on the wrong side of the street — of course, the No-Parking-This-Side sign was on the lamppost, so people can fairly claim there’s no way to know they were on the wrong side — to photograph this fallen lamppost.
So getting back to that bread-and-circuses thing. Our neighborhood must have a major circus deficit if a fallen streetlamp is this interesting. I’m not saying that we need to have MGMT coming around every few weeks. But it does look like we need some entertainments.
Anyway they’ve rolled the lamppost off the sidewalk, and put orange traffic cones on either side of it. And I’m figuring to set up a souvenir shop and go into business as my own little roadside attraction. I don’t figure the boom time for my street’s tourist trade will last, but there could be something good while it does.
Reference: The Mystery Of The Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity, Amir D Aczel.
I had a great idea going here. I’d show one of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons, and then show its reincarnation as a one-reeler clip cartoon. I’m foiled here. Not because Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves wasn’t used for a clip cartoon. Because I can’t find a copy of the clip cartoon online. I’m surprised and baffled by this. I could accept it somehow not having fallen into the same public-domain existence that so many other Famous Studios cartoons did. But to just evaporate altogether?
Ah well. And that’s particularly bad as there’s two clip cartoons based on Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. One I remember with confidence so let me talk about that. It’s Popeye Makes A Movie. This was released the 11th of August, 1950, or over two years before Big Bad Sindbad. That it is so much earlier may be why Popeye has the full complement of four nephews in it. By 1952 there were cutbacks.
The premise is … well, right there in the title. Popeye’s explicitly an actor here, and he’s making a movie about fighting Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Is it supposed to be the two-reeler movie actually released in the 1930s? Oh, who cares. If you have fun doing that, go ahead, but there’s just no fitting it all into one continuity. But Popeye’s an actor here, and he brings his nephews to watch a day of filming. And that’s the framework on which the clips are hung. There’s some of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy walking through the desert. There’s the bandit raid on the city, at which point the nephews get confused between fact and fiction and start punching Abu Hassan or maybe Bluto.
That seems to me a fair way to break up the clips. It’s a more interesting one than in Big Bad Sindbad, when the surviving nephews asked Popeye whether he got killed. That now there’s two clip cartoons that break up the clipping mid-action, where it’s not really needed, makes me wonder. Remember my wondering if there a production rule about how much of the cartoon could be recycled footage? I can’t time the clips from Popeye Makes A Movie, but the clips from Big Bad Sindbad were suspiciously close to 50% of the runtime. Now I wonder if there was a production rule about how long reused footage could be without some new footage.
The interruption also lets the clip cartoon go right to Popeye in Abu Hassan’s cage. It gets to the point where Popeye’s captured and lowered into the shark pit. Here the nephews again forget they’re watching some pretend action, and toss Popeye a can of spinach. This would seem to produce a continuity error in the movie being made. If we take the two-reeler as the produced movie, then, they must have done reshoots when the nephews were safely away from the studio.
It’s a fair enough premise. Gives a reason to show clips. If you’re alert enough to the realities of film production to question whether they’d film a walking-in-the-desert scene, a raid-on-a-city scene, and a battle-in-a-cave scene on the same day, well, shut up and go play outside. All right.
The other clip cartoon with Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves I remember more vaguely. But it’s interesting in that it’s also a clip cartoon for Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. And it, too, isn’t available online that I can find. It’s Spinach Packin’ Popeye, originally released the 21st of July, 1944. The name is a riff on Pistol-Packin’ Mama. That’s an inescapably popular and catchy song which made up about two-fifths of all sound during World War II. (If you look at the posters on the wall at R K Maroon’s office in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you’ll see a card for a Pistol-Packin’ Possum, another riff on the song.) I know, I know, you think — from movies and TV shows — that it was Glenn Miller’s version of American Patrol. No. It’s just easier for modern productions to record dialogue over an instrumental. In reality, between the 14th of October, 1943 and the 26th of March 1944, not a single sound that wasn’t Pistol-Packin’ Mama was produced domestically, and it stayed popular with soldiers until the USO performers curled up into helpless little balls pleading, “no … no … no more requests”.
The premise for this clip cartoon is more boring. Popeye goes to a scheduled boxing match with Bluto after donating blood. The weakened sailor gets knocked out. Olive Oyl declares she’s finished with this weakling. Popeye tries to argue he is not a weakling, and shows his photo album to prove it. The album has pictures(?) from Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. These come to life to show the clips, a device used in earlier clip cartoons too. None of this convinces Olive Oyl, but that’s all right, since his being knocked out was all a dream anyway.
Gathering around the photo album is a dull way to introduce clips. But it’s the sort of dull that doesn’t get in the way of the action either. I suspect it’s the clip-show equivalent of, in prose, tagging speech with “Name said”. It’s just invisible. I know I had to read the plot summary to have any memory of what the framing device was, and even the still frames on that Popeye Wikia didn’t help me much. The title card looks great, at least.
But there again is that breaking up of clips into at least two segments. This encourages my thinking that there was some production rule here. One might wonder why this cartoon featured two of the two-reelers and not more recent footage. A sufficient answer there is that they’d have had to be too recent footage. This was, if Wikipedia has the production schedules right, only the fifth color one-reeler Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s first one-reel color outing, Her Honor The Mare, was released the 26th of November, 1943. A snarky cartoon series of today might have characters flashing back to the stuff they aired last week. I can’t imagine getting away with that in theatrical shorts of the 40s.
I would have sworn there were other Popeye shorts that used “weakness after blood donation” as a premise for showing clips. Actually researching this suggests indicates I’m just wrong. I’m a touch surprised that Popeye, given his general moral-upstandingness, wasn’t shown to donate blood more. But it’s hard to figure a joke line to follow that. People getting Popeye’s blood and going on to feats of impossikible strength is obvious, but they’d do that from just eating spinach at his direction. (Which, come to think of it, is another storyline I don’t think they used.) Maybe they were working around guidelines about how to present the effects of blood transfusion. Maybe it just never occurred to anyone.
- The Inner Light
- Love Me Do
- I Want To Hold Your Hand
- All You Need Is Love
- Can’t Buy Me Love
- A Hard Day’s Night
- Eight Days A Week
- Nowhere Man
- Paperback Writer
- I Am The Walrus
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
- The Long And Winding Road
- Back In The USSR
- (We All Live In A) Yellow Submarine
- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
- Hey Jude
Reference: Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, Gaby Wood.
I’m sorry, but I’m coping with what I learned from looking up the nursery rhyme “The Gingerbread Man” on Wikipedia. Apparently the story was first written down in 1875, in the Saint Nicholas Magazine. And its teller claimed they got it from a “girl from Maine”. What the heck? A bit of obvious silly nonsense like this is supposed to come from, like, some snarky pamphlet published during the English Civil War. And folklorists are supposed to not be perfectly sure what it all means, but they think it’s all about mocking John Pym’s management of the Providence Island Company or something. But this? This!
Hold on. Wait. That John Pym thing I completely made up and yet it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it would kind of fit all the metaphors and see? This is why I have an enthusiastic readership of dozen of people. I know, I can’t help myself. I have the idea that somewhere out there are people who want to hear snide jokes referring to the English Parliament of 1642 and maybe there are. And maybe they’re going to just explode in joy when they hear a joke that isn’t completely far off. Big deal. There’s like twenty of them and they’ve already made all the John Pym jokes they need.
Anyway. Back to what primarily has me a quivering ball of impotent rage (non-US-politics division). “The Gingerbread Man” only being first published in 1875. I mean, for comparison, the first time “The Gingerbread Man” was written down, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was already ten years old. P T Barnum’s American Museum had been built, burned down, been rebuilt, and been re-burned-down. L Frank Baum was barely 24 years away from writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m sorry, I’m having trouble thinking of another circa-1875 cultural touchstone since I’m informed that 19th century superclown Dan Rice somehow does not qualify as known to anybody? Oh, here we go. Charles Dickens was already dead by then, and only after that does this story about a magic cookie running around teasing people about outrunning them gets written down?
You don’t suppose that could be causal, do you? “I hear Dickens died! Guess I’ll wait five years and then dash out that bit I was thinking of a gingerbread boy who runs off, but still gets eaten.”
Oh also apparently in the earliest versions the Gingerbread Man doesn’t call out “run, run, fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Instead he taunts with saying “I’ve run away from a little old woman, a little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!” So besides its other problems an America struggling its way out of the Panic of 1873 was still trying to learn how to make a taunt scan. I’m all kinds of discombobulated about this. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be functional again.
All right, that’s not happening and not just because it’s 2018. Do you remember this episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph Kramden is feeling old, so he figures the thing to do is act all young? And he dresses up ridiculously and tries to dance to this ridiculous song called “The Huckle-Buck”? I do, because I’m of that cohort where reruns of The Honeymooners was the only decent thing on between reruns of M*A*S*H and reruns of Star Trek, and the song’s been running without stop in my head since 1986. Fine.
Yeah so it turns out this was an actual song and actual dance craze that actually happened in actuality. “Actuality” is what we call “reality” when we got the sentence started off using “actual” instead of “real” and have to commit to that for the rhetorical value but it’s easier to keep typing instead of erasing three words. Anyway, I had gone my entire adult life figuring “The Huckle-Buck” was just this catchy plausibly dance-craze-ish song made for The Honeymooners so it wouldn’t get in the way of Ralph Kramden’s discovery that to stay young you most need some stories about ridiculous stuff you did as a youngling. And now I find out he was actually doing something actual — hang on. Not doing that again. But now I find out he was genuinely trying to get in on the dance craze of … eight years earlier? Hang on, that would be like me trying to get in touch with the young by listening to whatever the dance craze of 2010 was. What were people dancing to back then? Lemme go and check.
No, Wikipedia, I do not believe the summer dance sensation of 2010 was Lady Gaga’s “Gingerbread Dance”.
I’m going to bed and hide under it.
If The Dick van Dyke Show‘s “Twizzle” was a real thing I’m never coming out again ever.
So while I was thinking about how many people would forget what it means for a country to demand its young accept the horrors of war had Hi and Lois not reminded people of Memorial Day, I learned the hipster bar near us is having 90s Karaoke Night this week. So I’m thinking about dropping in for when they’re going to be playing nothing but “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. If karaoke night is at all representative of the real 90s, they should be playing this from about 9:23 through 11:15 without stopping. I might sign up for it myself since I’m not really sure what the verse is like. I’m assuming it has one. But in that regard it captures the experience of having watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s, since I’m awfully sure I’ve done that and I kind of remember there was something about a something or other happening and then at the end she’s not marrying the rich guy in the rain. This also matches my recollection of what the 90s were like. Might check in.
So after that weirdness of two Talkartoons released the same day, the Fleischer Studios went to a more relaxed pace. They didn’t release the next short until the 25th of March, 1932. This one was animated by Shamus Culhane and David Tendlar. Culhane has had credits here before. Tendlar is a new credit. He doesn’t seem to have any other credits on the Talkartoon series either. But he’d stick around, staying with Fleischer and then Famous Studios until that was finally shut down, and then to Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. I’m tickled that he’s got a lot of credits for Superfriends cartoons; a lot of my impression of what superheroes should be like are basically “like the one where the Wonder Twins are outwitted by an abandoned roller coaster”. I’m not sure Tendlar had anything to do with that one, but he is credited on the episode where a mad scientist sends a Stupid Ray back in time to prevent modern humans from evolving, so he can rule a planet of Neanderthals, and the plan would have worked except some Superfriends were visiting Skylab, which was outside the effect’s reach? … I’m pretty sure I have that right, and it’s still wrong. Anyway, here’s a Talkartoon.
The short starts with a familiar song, “Hot-cha-cha” with a fresh set of lyrics. We saw it back in Dizzy Dishes, that introduced who we’d know as Betty Boop. And it’s got a nice title sequence of looking at a booklet and letting that open into the action. Live action-and-animation hybrids were common in the 20s, always startling to people who think Who Framed Roger Rabbit or possibly Mary Poppins invented the idea. The Fleischers built their main series in the 20s on this sort of thing and it’s good to see they hadn’t lost that yet.
I also can’t see a cartoonish, overstuffed trolley without thinking of Fontaine Fox’s long-running panel strip The Toonerville Trolley, and cursing myself for never buying the book collecting strips from that used book store back in Troy, New York, in the late 90s. I don’t think there’s any reference being made here. The trolley driver and the banana-eating guy at about 3:00 in look to me like Old King Cole, from Mask-A-Raid. But that might just be that skinny old white guys in these cartoons tend to blend together.
The short itself is a long string of spot jokes. Betty and Bimbo travel to Crazy Town, and as implied, everything’s silly there. Mostly everything gets a basic reversal. A fish waves around a pole and catches a man. At the barber shop waving the scissors over a head makes hair grow. Big animals make tiny squeaks and a suspicious mouse (at about 5:45) roars like a lion. There’s not a lot of deep thinking going into the story-building here. This goes deep; the short isn’t even decided on whether Bimbo is a screwball character doing wild stuff (like early on, when he plays the trolley’s contact pole like a bass), or a straight-man to whom things happen (as when he and Betty watch with terror the approach of the Vermin Supreme ’32 supporter wearing hats on his feet and a boot on his head), or someone who comes around to embrace the weirdness (as when he gets into the barber shop’s logic). Betty doesn’t do much except react to stuff this short, but it does mean she’s got a consistent viewpoint.
I don’t think I can name a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Everything’s given about the time it needs. I can say the train station joke, with the station holding still and the city sliding behind it, catches my imagination. For its practical benefits, of course. But also because I think of how in a couple years the Fleischers would develop that set-back camera, which let them put animated stuff in front of real-world models that move. It’s always a stunning effect. It’s often the best part of a dull cartoon. And I think of what the city-moving-behind-the-station joke would look like with that effect.
The central song, “Foolish Facts”, wasn’t written for this cartoon. It looks like it should be credited to Frank Crumit. He was renowned for recordings of “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Abdul Abulbul Amir” and writing the fight song for Ohio State University. And he recorded titles that sound like the titles you’d make up about a phonograph star of around 1930, like “She Gives Them All The Ha-Ha-Ha”, “I Married The Bootlegger’s Daughter”, “Oh! Didn’t It Rain”, “There’s No One With Endurance Like The Man Who Sells Insurance”, and “The Prune Song”. Yes there’s a Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album available on iTunes for only US$5.99. Warning, at least one of the “Foolish Facts” verses not used in this cartoon does one of those 1930s oh-ha-ha wives-are-the-worst-right-fellas jokes. But if you can take that I have to say that’s a good value for a heaping pile of songs that all sound kind of like old-time cartoon music.
Today’s Talkartoon is a famous one. One that people might have heard of. Possibly by name; it often lands on the top of lists of all-time great cartoons and certainly of all-time great black-and-white cartoons. Possibly by reputation. It’s got images that define, for many people, the surreal world that pre-color cartoons did all the time. It’s a cartoon for which we have credits. The animators were Willard Bowksy, Ralph Somerville, and Bernard Wolf. Bowsky we’ve seen on (particularly) Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose. Somerville is a new credit. Wolf was on Minding The Baby. From the busy 11th of March, 1932, here’s Minnie the Moocher.
Back around 2000, when the Star Wars prequels were still looked on with optimism, Conan O’Brien visited an animation studio. He played around with the motion-capture gear. They used it to render a particularly silly version of C-3PO. Jerry Beck, then with Cartoon Brew, noted that Conan O’Brien put in a great motion-capture performance. He was a natural, putting in big, expressive movements that turned into compelling animation well.
Before motion-capture there was rotoscoping. The Fleischer Brothers hold the patent, United States patent number 1,242,674, on it. The technique, filming some live-action event and using that to animate a thing, made it possible to draw stuff that moved like real stuff did. If you don’t see what I mean, look at anything animated by Winsor McCay. This line work was always precise and well-detailed and fantastic. Then look at how any object in his cartoons falls down. Yeah.
It got a bad reputation, especially in the 70s, as a way studios would finish animation cheaply. Film a guy doing the thing, and then trace the action, and you’re done. But as with most tools, whether it’s good or not depends on the source material. Use the rotoscope footage to guide the line of action and you get better results. Start from interesting live-action footage and you get interesting results. And here, finally, is my point: this cartoon starts with great live-action footage.
It starts with Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, in what Wikipedia tells me is their earliest known footage. That’s worth watching on its own. Calloway moves with this incredible grace and style, beautiful and smooth. There’s moments I wondered if the film was being slowed or sped up, with the tempo of the film itself changing. Surely not; that sort of trick is easy enough today but would take far too much coordination for an animated feature of 1932. They’re building the short on rotoscoping some awesome footage.
So awesome it barely matters that Betty Boop is in the short. Even less that Bimbo is. There’s a bare thread of a reason for any of this to happen. A hard-to-watch scene of Betty’s father berating her, leavened by the weirdness of her father’s rant turning into a well-played record. And to ramp the weirdness up a bit, her mother changing the record. Betty’s given comfort by inanimate objects around her that she doesn’t notice, then decides to run away from home. She writes a farewell letter, and about 3:06 in draws Koko the Clown out of the inkwell. It’s a cute joke; most of the Koko the Clown cartoons did start with Koko being pulled out out of the inkwell. Koko’s also the figure that the Fleischers first used rotoscoping to animate. They can’t have meant that subtle a joke. It’s enough to suppose they saw someone dipping a pen in an inkwell and referred to that. But it does serve as this accidental bit of foreshadowing of what would happen.
What happens is Cab Calloway, rotoscoped and rendered as a walrus and singing “Minnie the Moocher”, then a brand-new song. Betty and Bimbo spend the song watching the walrus sing and dance. The backgrounds smoothly dissolve between nightmare scenes. Weird little spot gags about skeletons and ghosts and demons and all carry on. Eventually a witch(?) arrives and everybody runs off, possibly chasing Betty back home, possibly running from the witch(?).
(Quick question: why is Bimbo here? He doesn’t do anything besides be scared, and Betty’s already doing that. Is he lending his star power to the short? … Well, I can think of a purpose he serves. There’s a sexual charge in a strange, powerful menacing a lone woman. That the being is a rendition of a black man adds to the sexual charge. That the woman is here depicted as young enough to be living with her parents heightens that further. But having Betty and Bimbo together diffuses that charge. It’s not eliminated, and I think the short benefits from that charge being present. But it leaves the menace more exciting than worrisome. I don’t know that the animators were thinking on that level. It’s enough to suppose they figured the series was a Betty-and-Bimbo thing so of course Bimbo would be there. Betty hasn’t had a solo vehicle yet. I think it’s a choice that makes the short work better though.)
So there’s not much of a plot. And Betty and Bimbo don’t do anything interesting. That’s all right. This short is built on its technical prowess. Cab Calloway’s dancing is this wonderful magical thing. It turns into animation that’s magical. (For the most part. There’s a bit of the walrus chucking ho-de-ho-de-ho at about 6:58 in that my brain insists on reading as Homer Simpson laughing. That’s not this short’s fault and I hope I haven’t infected you with the same problem.)
There’s all the body horror you could want in this short. To me, the creepiest moment is the cat nursing her young; you, take your pick. The joke that I think it’s easiest to blink and miss has a well-established setup. That’s in how Betty, running away from home, rolls up the one thing she plans to keep, her toothbrush. The joke is she tosses it aside before jumping out the window. It’s so quick a thing did you even notice it when you first watched? I don’t spot any mice in the short, which surprises me since they could fit the ghosts-and-spirits styling easily. Maybe they ran out of time.
Some more reports of problems at City Hall. So according to the local news today they’ve found a storage closet on the fourth floor that’s just chock full of German-speaking academic types saying “peculiar”. Nobody knows why there’s this collection. For my tastes, just the great way they pronounce that central syllable is justification enough. But I don’t see why the city needs so many of them. Or really any of them at all. You’d think it was something for the community college.
Also in a waiting room on the sixth floor the audio system is always playing Kid Creole and the Coconuts’s 1985 hit “Endicott”. Like, the song finishes and then it starts right back up. It’s a fun enough song, but this is a bit much, considering the room doesn’t have an audio system. The leading hypothesis is the room is haunted by a fan of New Wave/Disco music but who just isn’t that adventurous, or has maybe been locked out of their iTunes account. Part of renovations would include just signing the ghost up for a new account already, one they have a password manager for.
It’s another Talkartoon without animation credits. There’s one more, after this, for which we don’t know or have a strong idea who the animators were. And it’s a shame (as it always is) to not know, since this is a cartoon with several noteworthy claims to historic interest. It also needs a content warning. There’s a lot of Betty Boop cartoons with sexual assault as subtext. This time around it’s pretty text. If you duck out at about 5:40 you can avoid the whole thing.
Also I apologize that the archive.org version is so badly pixellated. There’s a much clearer version on YouTube, but I am not at all confident that’s an archival-quality URL. At least for right now here’s a much cleaner version.
So this was the second Talkartoon of January 1932, coming out on the 16th. And it’s of historic significance. It’s the first appearance of the title song “Sweet Betty”, Betty Boop’s theme. I believe it’s the first time we get Betty Boop’s name shown on-screen. And we’ve finally got a very clear example of the Betty Boop Template Cartoon. It’s several minutes of puttering around with spot gags and little jokes, and then the Big Bad, with lust in his eyes and cutaway x-ray of his heart, tries to abduct Betty Boop, until her more desirable suitors pursue and vanquish him.
To my tastes the first part of the cartoon is the best. A circus offers plenty of room for little jokes. And for great dramatic angles. I like the severe angle for the high-diving act, but one could argue that’s the only shot that would make the joke read at all. The angle for the lion sneaking up on Betty is a more free choice, and it’s a great one, very nicely heightening the sense of danger.
That’s also the completely plotless part, though. Not that any of the jokes are bad. Just there’s no reason they have to be in this or any other order, and none of them build to anything. My favorite would be the fat girl who grows and shrinks with each cycle of an air pump. You take your pick. All the jokes are established well enough I don’t think there is a real blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe I blinked and missed it. The closest would be that the bearded lady’s beard is growing so fast that her helper is cutting it every beat. There are some suspicious-looking mice, appearing about 1:12 in as the Tall Man falls apart. (If you don’t recognize what’s going on with the elephant and Koko the Clown, it’s this: the elephant has a giant inkwell on his back. The elephant pokes his trunk into the inkwell and squirts out a drop that turns into Koko, an imigation of how silent-era Koko the Clown shorts started.)
So this time around Koko the Clown takes billing above Bimbo. Bimbo appears, he just doesn’t get billing. He gets a decent runner of a joke, as the peanut vendor. And gets to have Aloysius, it looks to me, as target for his vending. The choice seems odd. If you don’t recognize Aloysius then it’s just an odd choice to cast an infant in a role that any character could do. But if you do recognize Aloysius as Bimbo’s little brother then it’s a really odd choice to cast him in a role that any character could do.
And after five and a half minutes of amiable small jokes the plot kicks in. The ringmaster’s heart grows lusty and he — you know, as the template plot develops it gets less explicit. You get a big bully-type character who just abducts Betty Boop. Coming into her tent and asking if she likes her job? That’s a little raw. It’s a relief that Betty Boop seems to be adequately fighting him off. Also that Koko leaps in to her defense. I’m amused that he gets kicked right back out five times over, and he’s only able to successfully fight off the ringmaster by fighting ridiculously, with a big ol’ hammer.
Betty Boop sings “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”, one of the enormously many catchy little tunes that Sammy Timberg wrote for the Fleischer Studios and, later, Famous Studios. The most-used of them has to be “It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day”, which you can hear in the introductory scene on ever Famous Studios cartoon from 1940 to 1966. And I know what you’re thinking but no, “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” was written by a completely different Sammy working for Fleischer Studios. Sammy Lerner.
It’s the first cartoon with “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”. It’s not the first time Betty Boop’s sung it, though. Because, but good grief, on the 26th of December, 1931, Paramount dropped a live-action short starring Rudy Vallee. In Musical Justice Rudy Vallee and his band are the judge and jury at the Court of Musical Justice. It’s one of a peculiar genre of shorts from back in that day. In this genre, modern music is held up as this terrible stuff that’s degrading society and all that. But it’s argued, successfully, that this stuff isn’t really bad. Sometimes there’s an argument that modern music reflects classic rules of composition and all. Sometimes even that it uses bits of Great Music.
Anyway, so, in Musical Justice Betty Boop, played by Mae Questel for what I think was the first time, pleads for Judge Rudy Vallee and the jury the Connecticut Yankees to let her go on singing heartfelt lines like “Boop-oop-a-doop”. I think the song gets a couple more uses, but not so many. That’s all right. It’ll stick in your head already.
The host of 80s/90s Trivia asked, “Which child star of You Can’t Do That On Television would go on to be a major international music star?”
And I said, “How do we know any of them might not yet do it?”
I didn’t get the two points, but they’re hoping to get me in finals for the International Slightly Viral Meme Contest for April, motivational/inspirational-quotes division. It’s a long shot for for such an offhand quip but that’s all right. December 2017’s winner for Mot/Insp was itself a long shot, and it’s all about long shots like that winning the International Slightly Viral Meme Contests.
I’m sorry, but I just ran across how “Witchcraft,” made famous by Frank Sinatra, was recorded and released after Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and that just doesn’t make any sense. Like, “Heartbreak Hotel” is old, sure, but it’s clearly way closer to the present day than “Witchcraft,” which sounds like it ought to have come out during World War II as a revival of some tin pan alley song originally composed during the Era of Good Feelings. But there the record is: more time elapsed between the publishing of “Heartbreak Hotel” (27th of January, 1956) and “Witchcraft” (“Late 1957” sometime) than between “Witchcraft” and David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” (1st of April, 1958). The heck, right? Also I guess it’s the 60th anniversary of the proof that singing-chipmunk technology was at last practical? Is that a good thing? Anyway this is why I can’t figure out which of my 18 folders marked ‘php’ contains the php code we actually need.
I think it’s only fair to ask why I’m spending time, in 2018, going about my business while thinking of the background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. And don’t tell me that it’s my own stupid fault for watching the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. What choice did I have at that age, not watching a cartoon? Exactly. In any case there’s no reason for me to be puttering around the house humming it to myself in my melody-less, Morse Code-esque fashion. Not at this date.
And it’s not like I let just any song I was exposed to back then occupy my thoughts for hours on end. Why, it’s been weeks since I had that AT&T commercial for their hardware that repurposed the old “Second-Hand Rose” song as “Second-Class Phones/ they’re making/ second-class phones/ they’re breaking” occupy my every waking thought for three days straight.
|Song||Played How Much?|
|I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas||Too Much|
|Sleigh Ride (Instrumental)||About The Right Amount|
|The Muppet Twelve Days Of Christmas||Not Enough|
|Christmas Eve In Fairyland||Not Enough [*]|
|I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas||Too Much [**]|
|Sleigh Ride (With Words)||Too Much|
|The Twelve Pains Of Christmas||About The Right Amount|
|The Snow Miser/Heat Miser Song||About The Right Amount/Too Much [***]|
|Every Other Novelty Version Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas Ever||Too Much|
|Chrissy, The Christmas Mouse||Not Enough [****]|
[*] It doesn’t need to be played a lot, but it is under-performing so far.
[**] Without its use in that commercial for whatever it would still be too much, but much less too much.
[***] The Heat Miser side of the song is just so much weaker.
[****] At this point it’s so un-played I’m forced to wonder if I imagined the whole song.
Source: Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed The World, Brian J Cudahy.
Learning to play the violin is a simple way to bring joy to many people, including violin instructors. It’s not just violin instructors, of course; you also bring joy to violin salesmen, manufacturers, and distributors. That doesn’t even get into the powerful Violin Marketing Board and its renowned publicity arm that each year puts violins under the chins of dozens of schoolchildren who were just yawning. Considering the number of people who’d be made happy by your learning to play the violin refusing to learn makes you sound perfectly antisocial. About the only people you make happier by not learning are the neighbors.
Much folklore says the violin comes from the medieval instrument of the viol, a violin-shaped musical instrument not used anymore. This is a folk entomology, however, a bug-filled derivation which mistakes two things as one on the basis of roughly similar-sounding names and shapes. Do not open the derivation if you’re the least bit squeamish. In the late 1830s, Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born instrument maker, used a violin-shaped metal template to carve a figure out of a piece of maple wood, opened up a hollow box, and given a neck, bridge, toll both, and frontage road in order to assemble the first violin. While filing for his patent he was heartbroken to discover he was beaten to the work by over two hundred years by Italian musicians. Sax went on to invent the harpsichord, the theramin, the Reuben sandwich, and the photoelectric diode before his friends finally wrestled him to his senses. He put his time more productively into creating the Adolphephone, at which point his family and friends said fine and called it that in front of him. And only then.
The violin is tuned in perfect fifths, so if you see any you should take the chance to tune your instrument immediately, even if you are on the subway. There’s no way of guessing when you’ll see your next perfect fifth. Some wild youths rejecting the wisdom of tradition will accept a marginally flawed fifth or even a pretty good sixth. If you do try this route elder musicians will point at you and snicker during quarter rests. To tune the violin, turn the pegs, which can be found in any music store next to the sheet music for popular tunes of the 1910s clockwise until the instrument sounds clearly out of tune, and then reverse the process by turning the violin over and repeating.
There are several ways to make the violin produce sounds. The most sociable is to simply ask it in a calm, respectful tone. Unfortunately many mass-produced violins are made with few social graces and will respond poorly to such requests. The next technique is to hide a small CD or MP3 player underneath the violin’s body, and press play when your performance is to begin. If you are the lead character in a teen-oriented sitcom this will work for most of the scene, and then fail in a way which forces you to confess in front of many people you wished to impress. It would be less embarrassing to play on your own.
A manually-operated violin, then, can make a sound by the pizzicato method, in which one pizzicatoes the strings in quick, clean motions, or by stroking a bow along a string. It is better form to make strokes perpendicular to the string. With four strings a violin can make four distinct tones easily. To produce a different tone you place a finger in the appropriate spot along one of the strings. If you should find out how, please share the secret with me. I always got stuck while trying. I’m pretty sure I was putting my fingers in the designated and officially correct spaces. The instructor could do this and get a nice clear note, say, B-flat above middle C. I would repeat the motion and get a consoling hug and, somehow, first-chair placement at the fifth grade winter concert (“A Collection of Songs You Don’t Have To Hold Down The String For”). If that doesn’t work you can try sticking to songs which have mostly the same notes played over and over, such as Baudot Code, invented in 1874 by Adolphe Sax, who was recovering from overhearing his friends talking about him by overachieving. You know how instrument makers will get.