Sunday, February 22, 2015

And This Blog Loves George "Jetson" O' Hanlon And Richard L. Bare

Comedy is our beat - we will be watching the Oscar Levants and the Oscar Madisons, as well as a woman yelling "Oscar!" from Helzapoppin tonight - and the list of all-time favorite film humor creators remains a (well, relatively) short one. Two who are tops, both in the worlds of theatrical short subjects and television, would be comedian and cartoon voice artist George O'Hanlon and producer-director-writer Richard L. Bare.

This writer considers a good many of the WB Joe McDoakes 1-reelers, starring George O' Hanlon, pretty high on the list of funniest short comedies in which the names Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase do not appear. Fortunately, they do get shown periodically between feature films on Turner Classic Movies.

Although this scribe does not recall ever seeing Joe McDoakes on TV in his neck of the woods during the 1960's or early 1970'a (but did read about the series in Leonard Maltin's 1972 book The Great Movie Shorts), much later, in the latter 1980's, the long gone Comedy Channel showed ran the series. Some of us were watching - and laughing!

If Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has a McDoakes favorite (among many), that would be So You Want To Be A Detective, the whodunit sendup that features our hero as gumshoe Philip Snarlow and has a plum role for intrepid series narrator Art Gilmore.

The McDoakes comedies may not be quite in the same league with the Chaplin Mutuals, Keaton's 2-reelers or the Chase-Leo McCarey-L&H masterpieces, but the overall batting average for the series (first one released in 1942, last in 1956), is very good.

The operative word describing the Joe McDoakes adventures is zany, but not monolithically so; Bare and O'Hanlon feature a trademark blend of alternating subtle and outrageously over-the-top comedy. Some entries, such as the following, So You Want To Hold Your Husband, toy with the central characterization - in this one, Joe, rather than a likable everyman, is an obnoxious, selfish husband (pre-dating Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin by decades), with the jokes revolving around the extent to which he's a complete jerk - and save the ultra-wacky "topper" for the very end.

The Joe McDoakes series originated with So You Want To Give Up Smoking, which was the third USC student film made by Richard L. Bare. The script for the USC film was was originally pitched to Pete Smith at MGM as a potential Pete Smith Specialty on kicking the smoking habit.

The first three entries, to some degree, emulate the humor + information template of the Pete Smith short subjects. Luckily for Warner Brothers and not so luckily for MGM (which already had a go-to physical comic, Dave O'Brien, in the Pete Smith 1-reelers), the answer was no - and Bare and O'Hanlon went on to produce quite a few more Joe McDoakes comedies. . . 62 more.

Only The Three Stooges and Andy Clyde at Columbia ran longer as a series of comedy shorts produced for theatrical distribution.

Once the McDoakes series ended, George O' Hanlon went on to some showbiz lean times and hard knocks, a few good roles in movies before landing that wonderful and enduring gig as the voice of George Jetson. Very likely best known among his features is his role in the massively entertaining 1957 sci-fi classic Kronos.

George is the scientist in the "aliens gone wild" story and, while (unlike Joe McDoakes) understated, sneaks a certain subtle element of sly fun into the proceedings.

Even though this writer is a science fiction fan and will drop whatever he is doing to watch Kronos again, he finds it impossible NOT to watch the film without saying, "look - that scientist. . . it's FREAKIN' GEORGE JETSON!"

And then George ended up, along with the formidable likes of Mel Blanc, June Foray, Bill Scott, Daws Butler, Don Messick and others, as an ace voice artist for animated cartoons. Unlike all of the above, George had one characterization instead of 1000. . . however, that voice, for intergalactic family man George Jetson, suited the character to a fission-powered T. O'Hanlon was surrounded by high-powered talents, including the wonderful Penny Singleton and Janet Waldo.

Meanwhile, as O'Hanlon was bringing personality plus to George Jetson, Richard L. Bare ended up directing dozens of TV shows, at a time when the likes of Ida Lupino, Mitchell Leisen, Samuel Fuller, Joseph H. Lewis and Robert Altman were working in the medium. Part of this was his arrival at WB television, along with ace writer Roy Huggins, at the beginning of the studio's TV westerns boom (Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Maverick, etc.) Later, he directed excellent episodes of The Twilight Zone (Nick Of Time, Third From The Sun, To Serve Man), among many other shows, and also, for Filmways Productions, the small-town sitcom Petticoat Junction.

Eventually, Richard L. Bare would enter the world of TV sitcoms in a big way on Green Acres, directing the entire series run for producer Jay Sommers. The temptation is to present Mr. Bare as an "auteur" of the series, because Acres and Joe McDoakes do share a zany sense of humor, more akin to animated cartoons than TV sitcoms. In interviews, Bare insisted that he only directed the shows and that the gags strictly came from the duo who wrote ALL the episodes.

Now if one mentioned the word "surreal" to Richard Bare regarding Green Acres, he thought it was nonsense. While the show was substantially, cosmically wackier than its mates at Filmways - Mr. Ed, Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction - that is due to the vivid imaginations of the writers. One certainly wonders if Mr. Bare, in his "hey - I was strictly a hired gun and director" insistence is simply being modest. There are frequent leaps into utter bizarreness on Green Acres - and this trait is definitely NOT shared by the other Filmways TV shows.

Richard L. Bare, rather amazingly, is still living among us - and very likely still damn funny - at 101 years of age. We shall close today's post with this clip of Richard and frequent "Joe McDoakes" co-star Phyllis Coates at the Labor Day weekend Cinecon in Hollywood. There are also the Richard Bare Visual History Interview conducted by Gene Reynolds, and an interview by the Archive Of American Television

Acknowledgements go to the aforementioned interviews, Leonard Maltin's review of The Joe McDoakes Collection, Don M. Wowp's outstanding Tralfaz blog, which beat us to the punch with TWO tributes Meet George O'Hanlon and more recently How To Be A Star (both easily among the very best pieces this correspondent has read about this very, very funny comedian's career) - and Madame Blogmeister, for thoughtfully choosing the McDoakes DVD set as a gift!

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