Thursday, November 28, 2019
It's Thanksgiving 2019! Still here - YAY and Hallelujah!
Here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we champion mindless laughs - and lots of 'em - throughout the holidays.
Elmer Fudd re-enacting the Miles Standish story with Edna May Oliver - and Hugh "Woowoo" Herbert? Yes!
Nobody was better at mindless laughs than Moe, Larry and Curly, the poet laureates of nyuk nyuk nyuk woowoowoo.
While our favorite thing about the following Thanksgiving opus de Stooge - even more than the presence of both Bud Jamison and Vernon Dent - is the Big Apple dance number (starting at 4:45), utter ridiculousness remains the order of the day throughout. This includes the would-be Native American braves who look like the cast of Sgt. Bilko or McHale's Navy; no doubt Chief Dan George's agent would never let him work in a cheap 2-reeler. The only disappointment is that Back To The Woods does not have a "topper" involving wild turkeys chasing Moe, Larry and Curly off into the distant horizon.
Back To The Woods was directed by the gentleman on the right in the following photo, Jack "Preston Black" White, here being targeted by silent movie comedian (and most unlikely Puritan) Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton.
Although this isn't in the 20th century pop culture focus of this blog, we recommend the new video The Turkey Strikes Back | GOOD EATS: THE RETURN with Alton Brown. It is sensational, as have been the Good Eats programs going all the way back to the halycon 20th century days of the 1990's. Happy Thanksgiving!
Friday, November 22, 2019
This blogger, darn near glued to the AM radio in the 1960's, when this medium was devoted entirely to Top 40 hits and sports, was always fascinated by the highly unusual song that would turn up in a mix full of icons (from Elvis Presley to The Beatles to Sinatra). In other words, songs that elicited ????????
Love the icons, but also love the outliers, so it is admittedly facetious to term their hits "non-wonders." One all-time favorite song remains the wonderfully indescribable "Let It Out" a.k.a. Let It All Hang Out by the even more indescribable group from Memphis, The Hombres.
Some of these tunes were not novelty records at all, but hits by popular regional bands. . . no surprise there, as such popular regional groups as The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & The Raiders had #1 hits (both recorded Louie Louie).
Lousiana's own John Fred And His Playboy Band had one ridiculously catchy hit.
There were a slew of these records in 1965-1967. Some were profoundly influenced by r&b music, such as Philadelphia's Soul Survivors.
Others personified the sound of soul music!
Quite a few worthy 1960's rock groups, such as Love with Arthur Lee and the San Francisco Bay Area's Beau Brummels did not make it into this post because they actually had more than one Top 40 hit! Very much drawing from the influence of The Beau Brummels, The Beatles and the Pet Sounds era Beach Boys, as well as The Left Banke, a stylish Baroque Pop group which had TWO hits in 1966-1967, the one hit record by The Mojo Men is pure pop delight.
Other bands heard on the radio in the mid-1960's were less from state-of-the-art recording studios in the George Martin - Brian Wilson tradition than from their garages. Fun With Fender, Gibson and Silvertone electric guitars sometimes translated into massive garage band hits. As the cornerstones of Rhino Records' vinyl and CD compilations, Nuggets volumes 1 and 2: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 + Original Artyfacts From The British Empire & Beyond, these tunes are also on Rhino's YouTube playlist.
A group that influenced later punk rock bands, San Jose's psychedelic rockers Count Five, their one album championed by Lester Bangs in his book Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, had just one national hit single, but made the most of their moment in the spotlight. Their hit Psychotic Reaction would later be a much covered garage rock classic, performed by bands ranging from The Cramps to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
The mid-1960's was a time in which Captain Beefheart, closer to the surrealist soundscapes of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler in his records just a few years later (Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby) than anything in pop, actually appeared on Where The Action Is singing his one hit, Diddy Wah Diddy.
Getting back to that one hit wonder sideline, the novelty record, sometimes a true oddball piece of genius, such as the aforementioned Rubber Biscuit by The Chips, would make it into the Oldies But Goodies playlist.
The first song this music nut remembers hearing on Top 40 radio that was definitely a Dr. Demento style novelty number, besides Bobby "Boris" Pickett's The Monster Mash, was this ditty by Napoleon XIV.
There were others, not just the great comedy records by Stan Freberg and Allan Sherman but the following, the only hit record by Jim Backus & Friend (Hermione Gingold?), backed by Appleknocker & His Group! Don't remember hearing this on our AM stations, but it is so funny, Delicious merits inclusion here as an inspired novelty record.
The song that got the ball rolling in the novelty record field was the infamous Okeh Laughing Record, from the same label that brought the world King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Mamie Smith and Bix Beiderbecke.
Thirty years later, Tex Avery made a very funny and very diabolical cartoon based on this record.
Decades later, the 1-hit wonders captivated my imagination so much I was thrilled to see Tom Hanks' movie about a 1960's band, That Thing You Do.
Also absolutely love the Wonders' rather Dave Clark 5 like title song, their one hit.
As Mr. Hanks is now appearing in a 21st century movie about 20th century icon, educator, children's program mastermind and nice fellow Fred Rogers, ending on a reference to Tom's film strikes this writer as the best way to say adieu and wish all readers a good weekend.
Friday, November 15, 2019
Yes, Virginia (O' Brien or Mayo), it's true. . . November 15 is National Raisin Bran Cereal Day.
It does not specify Kellogg's, Post or newfangled Trader Joe's Raisin Bran.
Alas, this scribe, unfortunately, likes cereals way too much for his own good.
It is likely that in this loony world we inhabit, when National Cereal Day was declared on March 7, a bunch of pushed-out-of-shape, outraged, discombobulated and inflamed devotees of Raisin Bran protested and demanded their own day.
The TV ad for Raisin Bran this blogger/cereal fan digs the most is from Post - and stars Maisie Raisin and Jake the Flake!
Once Madison Avenue got past the jingle-packed singing cereal commercial in the early days of TV, the realization that offering cool stuff in or on cereal boxes took hold. Take it from Tom Corbett, Space Ranger!
Better yet, miniature cartoon characters inside cereal boxes might be the best way to market Raisin Bran!
We sincerely hope at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog that no obsessed collectors bid 27 million bucks on eBay to win a cheap cardboard cut-out of Sniffles The Mouse from a 1956 cereal box.
I don't remember records inside cereal boxes, but this was another marketing gimmick that sold lots of cereal, in this case to junior high school kids.
Perhaps what led to a Post Raisin Bran with a free Bobby Sherman record inside was a cult of crazed pre-teens on an extended sugar high from devouring entire boxes of the crunchy cereal, as seen in the following commercial.
The Raisin Counters commercials made one wonder why Post even bothered to include actual cereal in the mix.
Kellogg's was the sponsor for a slew of Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning shows in the late 1950's and early 1960's and produced a gazillion commercials.
The Kellogg's Raisin Bran sun, at first voiced by the great Daws Butler, ended up the cereal's cheerful spokes-model through animated ads in the 1970's, 1980's and into the 1990's - and remains the smiling face of the product today.
This blogger forgets six month sections of his own life, but remembers Post Raisin Bran commercials from the enjoyable Linus The Lionhearted show.
Love those cool voice characterizations by Sheldon Leonard, Carl Reiner, Ruth Buzzi, Jesse White, Paul Frees and more.
Now, in 2019, should any snotty, snarky, hipper-then-thou individual say "ok, boomer" to me, the following is the only thing I can think of.
Bring on the crunchy cereal - and no fat free milk, please. Let's watch some TV, after I check my blood glucose levels!
Now pondering if a Raisin Brain Day ever happened. . .
Saturday, November 09, 2019
Before Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks hit the jackpot with Mickey Mouse, there was a cartoon star popular around the world: Felix The Cat.
The Cartoon Research website posted an informative and splendid piece about Felix two days ago. Universal Pictures has dubbed today Felix The Cat Day.
Thanks to the British Pathé Collection, quite a few excellent silent Felix cartoons can be seen on YouTube in good pictorial quality (note: for licensing inquiries, go to the British Pathé website).
Created by Otto Messmer (1892-1983) for the Pat Sullivan Studio, Felix The Cat was the most internationally popular of cartoon stars. Producer Pat Sullivan was a ferocious marketer who promoted the living daylights out of the resourceful black cat with the magic bag of tricks; in this sense, Sullivan predated and paved the way for Disney's merchandising of Mickey Mouse.
Mr. Messmer, whose concepts and designs were both minimalist and dreamlike, remains one of the all-time animation greats. So are two of the pioneering animators who worked on the series at Sullivan's New York studio, Bill Nolan and Raoul Barré.
By most accounts, the first Felix The Cat cartoon, Feline Follies, was released 100 years ago today, on November 9th, 1919.
Others suggest that Feline Follies was released to theatres earlier, in August of 1919, but we'll go with this date, as November 9 - also the birthday of comedy greats Mabel Normand, Marie Dressler and Ed Wynn - is being celebrated as the Felix centenary.
Otto Messmer began his career in 1912 drawing comics for local newspapers in 1912, but eventually. . . he would sacrifice his art and go in the movies!
Felix' intergalactic animated adventures remain funny, imaginative and highly original nearly a century later. The visual philosophy can be perspective and atmosphere-bending, and is closer to the sensibility of the Fleischer Studio's Out Of The Inkwell than to Paul Terry's Aesop's Fables.
Cranking out cartoons almost as blindingly fast as Paul Terry's studio produced Terrytoons, Messmer would make some of the greatest short films of the silent era.
The indefatigable Felix soon would go paw-to-toe with box office champion Charlie Chaplin and surpass the other cartoon characters of the era as a hit with movie audiences.
Competing cartoon producer Walt Disney, in his live-action + animation Alice In Cartoonland series, actually had a continuing feline character named Julius who looked somewhere between Felix and the cats who were bedeviled by Mickey Rats in Paul Terry's Aesop's Fables cartoons of the 1920's.
Felix could delve into futuristic science fiction by shrinking to the size of a molecule.
Felix traveled around the world in a lot less then 80 days in his many adventures.
One would assume Pat Sullivan was unimpressed by the jaunty rapscallion with a "Mickey Rat" quality that starred in the Walt Disney Comic Plane Crazy (produced as a silent, then later dubbed with a music track and sound effects). He and other producers of animation not named Walt Disney very likely got caught by surprise by the devil-may-care rodent's first sound cartoon.
Steamboat Willie, released theatrically on November 18, 1928, both featured a somewhat more refined version of Mickey Mouse and changed the game with its advanced concept of mixing sound and image, not just slapping a music track on a silent.
Pat Sullivan at first refused to convert to sound production, as did much of the industry, but eventually made Felix cartoons with music and sound effects.
The Felix cartoons with soundtracks from the 1929-1930 season remain fun and creative, much as Messmer's remarkable silents were, but it seems that the music tracks were essentially tacked on as an afterthought. Although Messmer continued making very enjoyable cartoons after sound became the rage, since Disney's latest cartoons had synchronized sound and, most importantly, incorporated the music into the animation, the Felix The Cat series soon, as inventive as they were, became something of an anachronism.
By the time progress had been made to adapt Felix to the world of synchronized sound, music and sound effects, as far as the character's popularity was concerned, the ship had sailed.
Still, even at the end of the run, there were individual cartoons such as Felix Woos Whoopee that were as wonderful and full of unfettered imagination as any in the series.
Otto Messmer only got credit for his amazing work in animation many decades after Felix' heydey as an international star, as booked in grand movie palaces around the world as Rudolf Valentino. Here's a clip from Jane Canemaker's interview with the legendary animator in his documentary Otto Messmer & Felix The Cat.
After the end of the animated series, Messmer drew Felix The Cat comics. The series lasted for 31 years. These comics have been compiled into a book which is gorgeous, but, alas, now out-of-print and, buyer beware, it can vary in price.
It isn't possible to keep a good magic cat down, so a few years after the 1930 season of Jacques Kopstein/Copley Pictures entries that concluded Otto Messmer's Felix series, the Van Beuren Studio, former specialists in primitive, bizarre, grotesque, rather weirdly funny (and frequently in bad taste) animated cartoons, bought the rights to Felix The Cat.
The Van Beuren studio opted to change course and get Disney-fied by hiring former Walt Disney Studio animation director Burt Gillett to make Rainbow Parade cartoons.
The Rainbow Parade series, along with the Fleischer's Color Classics, Ub Iwerks' Comicolor Fairytales, Charles Mintz/Columbia's Color Rhapsodies, Walter Lantz' Cartune Classics, Warner Brothers' Merrie Melodies and Harman-Ising's Happy Harmonies, number among the entries in the "let's copy - I mean emulate - the Walt Disney Silly Symphonies" sweepstakes.
While, unfortunately, Gillett didn't bring such key Disney animators as Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore along with him to Van Beuren, he did bring Disney animator and later Schlesinger/Warners director Tom Palmer, whose films Buddy's Day Out and I've Got To Sing A Torch Song, the first two releases of the fledgling post-Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising WB animation crew, compelled the powers that were to beg Friz Freleng to take over the directorial reins.
The three Felix cartoons among the Rainbow Parades are a substantial step up from these Schlesinger (not especially) Looney Tunes, as well as other entries in the RKO Radio Pictures series produced by the Burt Gillett crew.
While Otto Messmer's name is not in any of the screen credits, it has been written in several places that he supervised )or at least acted as a consultant for) the Felix series at Van Beuren. Steve Stanchfield posted one of the 35mm prints at UCLA, scanned in standard definition, of a Felix cartoon from the Rainbow Parade series in his Cartoon Research entry Rainbow’s End: The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.
In this animation buff's opinion, while Felix the Cat and the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg does not inhabit the deep realm of the subconscious imagination that the Otto Messmer silents and the 1990's Twisted Tales Of Felix TV series does, it remains a charming and enjoyable cartoon. It brings Felix more into a Fairbanks-ian action/adventure storyline, as opposed to the fourth wall-breaking tales starring the insouciant anti-hero of silents.
After the comeback in Burt Gillett's Rainbow Parade cartoons ended in 1936, due to Walt Disney Productions contracting with RKO for theatrical distribution (and instantaneously finishing the Van Beuren animation studio), Felix The Cat would continue a successful stint in comic strips until a series of made-for-TV Felix cartoons were produced by Trans-Lux, Joe Oriolo's studio, from 1959 to 1961. Oriolo worked with Otto Messmer on many a Felix comic book.
These cartoons - 260 of them - are not without their charms and have a good humor not seen often in low-budget made for TV series.
The TV series is frequently quite entertaining, to a significant degree because of the fun voice work throughout by Jack "Popeye" Mercer and Jim Tyer's always distinctive animation. One would think that limited animation would slow Tyer down, but in this and other television series he worked on, if anything, Tyer gives his hilariously extreme approach to extreme poses some extra zest. Tyer's characters move in a funny way and his humor serves the storylines.
While there have been Felix feature films and TV shows going into the 21st century, our favorite by far, produced three decades after the Trans-Lux Felix cartoons, remains the superb Twisted Tales Of Felix show. Many productions have brought the character back for an encore, but this series alone did a fantastic job both bringing back Messmer's imaginative 1920's approach - and also combined it with the phantasmagorical Fleischer school of animation from early talkies.
Although episodes of The Twisted Tales Of Felix can be found on YouTube, frankly, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog would REALLY like to see the complete series released on Blu-ray - and would buy that release in a heart beat.
There is an Official Felix the Cat YouTube channel, which includes several films seen in this post, as well as the following documentary about the magical cat.