Monday, December 28, 2009

Scooby's Laff-a-Lympics and more

There will be a couple of DVD releases coming in January 2010. One of them is the long-awaited release of "Laff-a-Lympics" onto DVD format by a major company. The plus side is that the episodes are finally being put onto DVD circulation but the down side is, from the looks of it, it'll be a 4-episode per volume collection. There were 16 episodes produced of the series in 1977-1978...and it all adds up to 4 volumes of "Laff-a-Lympics" on DVD containing 4 episodes each. Now, of course, I would have preferred the episodes be released in one complete collection...8 episodes on 2 discs...but that isn't the way it's going to happen. So, what consumers should do, is purchase the first volume that's available for pre-order at Amazon and other on-line stores.

" only contains 4 episodes???!!???!!"

Well, for those who take that approach here's something important you should know. The company that's releasing this Volume One collection is pretty much going to base their follow-up plan based on the success rate of the DVD. What this means is if the first volume of episodes doesn't show any sales success then it'll more than likely cause the company to decide against releasing further episodes. You can't take a wait and see approach or have the opinion of "I'm just going to wait until a proper release comes along" because the on-going release of more episodes of "Laff-a-Lympics" onto DVD will be based on the sales success of this Volume One collection that hits in January 2010. You all can do whatever you want to, of course. I'll more than likely purchase the collection.

In another report on DVD releases pertaining to vintage cartoons we have the news of the upcoming release of the original "Superfriends" with Wendy and Marvin and their dog aiding the Superfriends. This original series wasn't as heavily reran as later episodes featuring the Wonder Twins...I believe at some point earlier this year the original episodes ran late at night on Boomerang. Well, anyway, fans of the series have been hoping for a release of the original episodes for years and in January 2010 they will get their wish. The original run of the series featured Ted Knight as the narrator instead of William Woodson. Also, the original episodes had a much more limited animation style than the series that became more well-known. The DVD will feature 8 episodes and they each ran about 45 minutes in hour when you factor in television commercial interruptions. There were 16 episodes produced of the original series, which was on the air during the 1973-1974 season. As with the "Laff-a-Lympics" release, the plans of following up "Superfriends" with the rest of the episodes will depend on the success of the Volume One collection.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The World Has Stopped Turning...

I wanted to pass along the news that has no doubt been broadcast on radio and TV newscasts, especially those on CBS, that the world has stopped turning for soap opera As The World Turns. Well, officially the world will stop turning on September 17, 2010 which will be almost one year since the cancellation of Guiding Light on September 18, 2009. I wasn't that much of a follower of As The World Turns even though on the daytime schedule here it aired prior to Guiding Light. I knew of some of the characters on ATWT but as far as really connecting with the characters or stories that's where the distance grew. My mom and sisters watched all the CBS soaps back in the 1980's into the early 1990's, particularly during the summer months when we were on summer break. I would catch Guiding Light off and on during that time period and would also watch the show off and on throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's but my big thing in the 1980's were the game shows that used to be all over daytime TV prior to the schedule being took over by court dramas and talk-shows. Of course I also watched cartoons as well. I caught episodes of ATWT long enough to know of the characters Bob Hughes and his wife, a somewhat super-couple named Tom and Margo, Lisa, and the doctor, John Dixon. Barbara is another character I know of. Lisa Brown, of Guiding Light fame, played a character as well. I don't know the character histories or anything as I do Guiding Light but I felt like passing along the news of As The World Turns leaving the air in the fall of 2010. This will end a run of 54 years.

The Best of Mel Blanc: Man of 1,000 Voices...

this 25 song CD from Collector's Choice Music came along in 2005. This is the only Mel Blanc compilation that I own and so I couldn't tell you if it's better than others but with 25 recordings you can't go wrong. One of the over-looked aspects of Mel's career was his music. The material, of course, was aimed primarily at children but at the same time much like the Looney Tunes cartoons playing in theaters there was plenty for adults to laugh at and enjoy. For example, I don't feel that a child could truly understand why "The Missus Wouldn't Approve" is hilarious beyond the sad, trembling voice he uses on the recording. He uses this voice on another recording, "I Tell My Troubles To Joe", a narrative that adults will understand more quicker than kids. This voice was similar to the one he used for The Happy Postman on the Burns and Allen radio show. There are even love songs on here...there is "My Kind of Love" and "I'm In the Mood for Love"...but everything else is on the comical and off-beat side.

One thing a listener will notice right away is the music is typical swing and big-band...sometimes there's a jazz overtone as well. These were the sounds that were considered "popular" prior to the creation of rock music. A few of the songs on this CD reached the Hot 100 in the late 1940's and early 1950's. His albums were primarily aimed at children and at one time he had several albums on the charts. Ironically, though, the more adult-oriented material I wrote of in the previous paragraph were released as singles to keep them separate from the albums that were aimed at kids.

I have the CD cover out of it's case, obviously. The cover is a centerfold where it has quite a few paragraphs from a man named Todd Everett from July 2005. The songs are written in list form and include the songwriter credits. Mel is listed as a co-writer on the song "There's a Hole in the Iron Curtain". Stan Freberg is credited as a co-writer on the song "Money". The songs associated with Mel that are considered the most popular are on the CD: "Woody Woodpecker", "Toot Toot Tootsie", "I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day", "Barney Google", "The Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Beeg", "Yosemite Sam", and "I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat". Some more hilarious recordings on the CD are "Yah Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree", "The E.I.O Song", "The Missus Wouldn't Approve", "Morris", "Money", and "I Tell My Troubles To Joe".

I would also like to use this blog entry to set the record straight about Mel and carrots. There has long been this myth that Mel was allergic to carrots. There is video footage of Mel on the special, Camera Three: The Boys From Termite Terrace, pointing out the fact that he isn't allergic to carrots. He simply doesn't like them...but the only thing that sounded like a carrot was a carrot...and so when recording the lines for Bugs Bunny he'd chew on the carrot and the recording would stop while he spit out the chewed carrot pieces in a bucket and they'd start recording again. This special was filmed at some point in the 1970's and was hosted by John Canemaker. In Mel's 1988 autobiography, That's Not All, Folks, he makes this similar statement again about not being allergic to carrots. Still to this day, 20 years after his death, people on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, My Space, etc etc all continue to pass on this Mel was allergic to carrots myth as fact and they won't listen if you attempt to correct their mistake. I guess in their minds it's funny to continue saying Mel was allergic to carrots instead of accepting the truth that he wasn't. I know this paragraph won't erase the decades of belief that Mel was allergic to carrots but for those who do happen to stop by and read this blog entry you'll know the truth.

Hubie and Bertie...twice the mice is nice

One of the lesser known character teams in the Looney Tunes family are a couple of mice named Hubie and Bertie. Each mouse changed color and voice in different episodes but what most recall is that Hubie is always depicted as the smart mouse and Bertie is the dumb mouse. The mice are perhaps more popular visually than they are by name because in a few of Chuck Jones' cartoons there were mice characters and their design and look were based on Hubie and Bertie. Now, throughout the final three cartoons of the series, they tormented a neurotic cat named Claude but in their first cartoon they tormented a similar cat in speech pattern and personality but visually different from Claude. The character's all had distinct voices. Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg provided the voices for all of the episodes...but some sources say that an actor named Dick Nelson voiced the role of Bertie in one cartoon short, "Roughly Squeaking", from 1946, and that Freberg voiced Hubie...the mouse often voiced by Mel Blanc. Hubie and Bertie can be seen on the various DVD collections of the Looney Tunes. Their likeness has appeared on other cartoons as well...including cameo appearances on 1990's editions of Warner Brothers cartoons. As I mentioned earlier, the names of Hubie and Bertie may not ring a bell but once you actually see the mice you'll no doubt go "oh, now I remember those mice...". The duo headlined six cartoons:

1. The Aristo-Cat; 1943
2. Roughly Squeaking; 1946
3. House Hunting Mice; 1947
4. Mouse Wreckers; 1949
5. The Hypo-Chondri-Cat; 1950
6. Cheese Chasers; 1951

Mel Blanc's autobiography came along 21 years ago in 1988. It was issued a year before his death and I'd known of the book for years but never had the chance to read it until I came across a copy for sale on eBay about 5 years ago. I've since read the book and continue to read and skim the pages to continually remind myself of things I've read. There are several pictures that appear throughout and there's plenty of backstage gossip and other anecdotes that Mel recalls. There's also a chapter devoted to his career on Jack Benny's radio show called "Me 'n Jack". There's some candid moments in the book where Mel gives his opinions of cartoons now {1988} verses then and what he thinks about those who are dishonest in the radio and cartoon business and want to steal material. And so, people who do come across this book on-line somewhere and purchase it, you'll be in for a nice trip back in time as well as an open and honest look at the present through the eyes and mind of Mel Blanc.

Saturday Night Live: The Tiger Woods skit

Can anyone say "how incredibly stupid are the liberal media?". I'll give anyone five seconds to repeat after me: "how incredibly stupid are the liberal media?". They're so stupid you'll end up making a stupid face like the one I'm wearing in this picture. Yes, they're that stupid! Can everyone make a stupid face like that one? I'll give you five seconds to try and duplicate the face. Anyway...seriously...this latest rant at the media and all things politically correct stems from the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring spoofs of Tiger Woods and his wife in the scandal/saga going on centering around the golfer. Was I offended by what I saw? Of course not! I took the sketch to be a satiric jab at Tiger Woods and how bizarre and strange all of these accusations and facts blending together are. What you have is a story like this centering an athlete, Tiger Woods, who up til now had what some derogatorily refer to as a "clean-cut" image. Now with accusations and what appears to be some sort of mysterious "confession" from Woods himself, the media and the comics are ready to pounce.

It's truly sad, though, to take in a belly full of political correctness and become aware that the Grand Dames of Democratic Discussion, collectively known as The View, charge the sketch with accusations of domestic violence insensitivity. Well, to be fair, not everyone on the panel of that show are rabid liberals...but 95% of the views expressed are liberal or moderate-Democrat. There's not too much conservative championing that goes on, let's put it that way. First of all, I don't find the sketch to be insensitive at all to domestic violence. Sure, domestic violence is an awful thing, but those who cry foul about the sketch need to simply lighten up. If I were a victim of domestic violence would I be ranting and screaming and accusing Saturday Night Live of being insensitive? Maybe...maybe not...but it's a free country...and those who are quote "insensitive" should have freedom of expression and that's what drives me up the wall when it comes to political correctness. It wants to silence other people's views and cause people to think only one way and have no mind of their own or voice of their own. If I'm not mistaken, though, the sketch wasn't cheering domestic violence...if anything the sketch was skewering Tiger Woods.

The domestic violence undertone of the sketch is what set people off...sending the misguided and the humorlessly politically correct advocates into a frenzy. People seem to forget that Tiger was dictating to the police how to behave and stalling and stonewalling until, in my opinion, he had time to plan his strategy and salvage his reputation somewhat. Didn't Tiger put off police questioning for a couple of days? Who else gets that treatment? So, Saturday Night Live in my opinion went after Tiger for his attitude and conduct, the fact that it had a domestic violence theme was unfortunate given how quick people fly off the handle.

So, I want to make it clear, I'm not a champion of domestic violence but if something strikes me as funny, and if a sketch is absurdly over-the-top in it's exaggeration, then I'll laugh. That's just the way it is. It doesn't mean it's okay, in real life, to abuse someone physically or verbally. It's time for some people out there to grab a hold of where reality and fiction meet and learn that there's a difference between exaggeration and realism. As a spokesperson for the show stated, the controversy and topicality of the whole bizarre scenario with the unlikely figure of Tiger Woods at the center of a sex scandal is too irresistible to shrug off.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Help!!! It's The Hair Bear Bunch

Yes, the cartoon series from 1971 will put you in a goofy mood...but let that not distract you all from experiencing the Hair Bear Bunch for yourselves. The series lasted just 16 episodes which was a common practice for Hanna-Barbera in the late '60s on through the 1970's. On more than one occasion networks that aired cartoons on Saturday mornings, which would mean all three networks, were always on the look out for material to program their fall schedules with. Unlike Warner Brothers whose major contribution to Saturday morning television were four decades of theatrical cartoon reruns, Hanna-Barbera was putting out made-for-TV cartoons in quick succession. A lot of Hanna-Barbera's cartoon series seem to have more episodes than actually exist and a large part of this feeling stems from the consistent re-runs. Jabber-Jaw, for example, had only a handful of episodes but they've been re-ran off and on for decades. A lot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons were spoofs and parodies of pop-culture. JAWS of course was the inspiration for Jabber-Jaw but in order to trump the potential violent over-tone of a cartoon focusing on a shark they gave the title character the sound of Curly from The Three Stooges. Frank Welker mimicked Curly Howard's voice in that series. Critics and fans alike refer to the cartoon as Scooby-Doo underwater because of it's mystery/teenager concept and a talking shark, instead of a talking dog.

So, what was the inspiration behind this 1971 cartoon that focuses on three bears and a couple of zoo keepers? The full title of this series is Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch. The program isn't based on Scooby-Doo, surprisingly enough. Instead, the series is based pretty much on The Phil Silvers Show. Hair Bear, the leader, has the smooth-talking con-artist voice that Daws Butler often gave characters with this personality. Phil Silvers never actually spoke like this but yet the personality of one cooking up schemes in order to get rich quick is so synonymous with Phil Silvers' Sgt Bilko character that it's hard not to make the connection. Hair's two friends are Square Bear and Bubi Bear. Each bear has a distinct voice and personality. Hair being the leader and the brains behind their schemes. Square is the laid-back, almost hippie-like bear with an invisible motorcycle and a huge appetite. Bubi on the other hand is the short bear who talks in gibberish. It's hilarious listening to his gibberish because nobody watching the cartoon understands him but Hair and Square do. Bubi was voiced by Paul Winchell and Square was voiced by Bill Callaway. Several other animals from the Wonderland Zoo stopped by the bears of the gimmicks is that the inside of the cave could transform into a swinging singles pad but if either of the two zoo keepers was spied making their way to the cave then the bears would flip various rock switches in their cave and transform the interior back into a barren, empty cave to hide how comfortable they lived. Peevly ran the zoo as if it were a military base...another connection to Phil Silvers' TV show.

What about those zoo keepers, though?? The head zoo keeper, Mr Peevly, was always peeved about something...taking out his anger on his assistant, Botch. 99% of Peevly's irritation came from Hair Bear. Peevly was always on the quest to expose the bears for hi-jinks but he could never catch them that much...on the rare moments that he had the bears cornered and threatened to ship them off somewhere else, Hair would use blackmail and threaten to go over Peevly's head about a prior incident involving Peevly himself. This often caused Peevly to bellow one of his catch-phrases which went something like "I'll get ya for this, Hair! MARK MY WORDS!!!! ONE OF THESE DAYS..." and he'd go stomping off with Botch tagging along beside him. The zoo keepers were voiced by John Stephenson as Mr. Peevly, doing his Joe Flynn high-nasal impression, and Joe E Ross as Botch. Joe used the voice he was famous for and the "ooh-ooh" catch-phrase he made popular in the 1960's on the sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You? Botch was incredibly stupid and Peevly was short-tempered explosive combination...factor in Peevly's irritations at the Bears and you had a walking time-bomb of anger. Joe Flynn, incidentally, played Captain Binghamton on McHale's Navy and his voice quickly became parodied on cartoons with John Stephenson often providing the vocals. Stephenson would use the Joe Flynn parody voice on other cartoon characters with similar short-tempered personalities.

This series, much like a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, is mostly memorable not for any specific episode but instead for it's theme song and characters. Once a person watches this cartoon series and gets a grasp of what it's all about the individual episode plots don't necessarily tend to stick out as much as it's theme song and the personalities/voices of the characters. I think this is true for a lot of the cartoons of this time period from Hanna-Barbera. There once was a series called Where's Huddles? and if someone with some knowledge of cartoons attempts to cite certain episodes it's almost impossible to do...but yet the person can quote some of it's theme song and tell you what the show was about.

For those interested, the series can be seen on-line at various video hosting web-sites. It also airs on Boomerang.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970's, Volume One!

This DVD collection features 12 cartoons on 2 discs...6 cartoon programs on each DVD. One of the programs is an hour-long and so technically you get 2 cartoons within the 1 hour time-frame. The hour cartoon is The Batman-Tarzan Hour. There are three extra's on the DVD. First we have something called "Saturday Morning Wake-Up Call" which is narrated by Casey Kasem. Mainstream audiences know of him for radio countdown programs while cartoon watchers immediately recognize his voice as Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, Alexander on Josie and the Pussycats, and Robin on Superfriends. The second and third extra are more traditional with interviews and commentary. There is a look at the cartoon series, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, with interviews by Eddie Carroll and Jamie Farr. The two of them describe what it was like writing a cartoon with a lot of interference from the censors and parental control groups. The third extra is a look at the Funky Phantom series with remarks about the series from fans in the cartoon industry and a brief acknowledgment to Daws Butler, the voice of the title character.

The extra's are a bit more irreverent but they aren't blatantly disrespectful to the audience. There is a companion Volume Two of this series and there is a two volume collection of the previous decade, the 1960's. Each collection has similar cover art. Several episodes on the DVD collections can be found on other releases. This DVD set is more or less for the general public and really isn't meant for the avid collector...even though the avid collector will no doubt purchase the series just to have it. The DVD being a sampler means that you're not going to be seeing the same characters over and over as you would in a DVD collection of one cartoon series. I liked all of the cartoons in this set and I was treated to a few I'd never seen before. Roman Holidays is by far the one that stands out because until this DVD came along I'd never seen that cartoon before. I'd also never seen any Tarzan cartoons, either, until now. Here's a list of what's on this DVD:












THE NEW SCOOBY DOO MOVIES {with the Harlem Globe Trotters}


EXTRA FEATURES: Saturday Morning Wake-Up Call; Solving Crimes the Chan-Clan Way; and Heavens To Betsy Ross: The Spirit of the Funky Phantom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Looney Tunes: Back on Cartoon Network

The picture I choose to put into this blog entry is appropriate. It's a picture of me reading Mel Blanc's autobiography, That's Not All, Folks!, published in 1988. Blanc was the primary voice artist on the hundreds of Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons released during the late '30s and throughout the '40s, '50s, and into the '60s. November 30th marked the debut of the official daily showing of Looney Tunes on Cartoon Network. The program airs at 11am Monday-Friday. The re-addition of the Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons marks the first time in almost four years that the theatricals have been shown on a mainstream American television channel. The classic cartoons I believe last aired on Boomerang in America back in 2006...but I could be wrong about that. The last television package to feature the classic theatricals was a program on Boomerang called The Bugs and Daffy Show around that time period.

The theatricals haven't aired on network television in America since 2000 when ABC sold their broadcast rights. ABC had been one of the homes of those theatrical cartoons dating back to 1986. CBS and ABC both aired a string of Warner Brothers cartoon programs throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s...with ABC gaining exclusive network rights in the mid '80s through 2000. The cable channels owned by Ted Turner, TBS and TNT, joined in the mix in the late '80s and early '90s, airing the classic theatricals.

So, in essence, the theatrical Warner Brothers cartoons were a part of nearly everyone's life at some point for over 60 years...from those who saw the cartoons originally at movie theaters to those who were raised on the reruns that aired on Saturday morning TV for those who discovered the cartoons on TBS or TNT...the exposure of the classic theatricals over the last several years have been limited mostly to the popular Golden Collection and Spotlight Collection series of DVD's.

Looney Tunes...11am...Monday-Friday; Cartoon Network...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gary Burbank: Radio comedy and my Memories

Photobucket This biography on Gary Burbank was released a few weeks ago...written by Greg Hoard, a local sportscaster, it's called Voices In My Head. For the curious, the reason the book has this title it's because Burbank's a skilled satirist and has a gift of mimicry. The characters that populated his radio programs grew into popular figures...a lot of times the characters were so convincing that some listeners assumed they were real at first.

When you read the book, or skim the many pages and look at the pictures, you'll learn the life and times of a popular Midwest DJ turned radio personality. Born Billy Purser, his first on-air name was Bill Williams. Afterward he began calling himself Johnny Apollo...who spoke with a decidedly edgy/groovy style. After creating a following as Johnny Apollo he became Gary Burbank in the late '60s. This name was inspired by radio DJ Gary Owens and the TV show Owens acted as the announcer for, Laugh-In, whose one of many catch-phrases was "beautiful, downtown Burbank". So, Gary and Burbank were combined. Ironically, though, Burbank's natural voice is similar to that of Gary Owens.

A lot of what you read here is my own thoughts from hearing Gary Burbank on the radio throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's. I still encourage those who know of the man to buy this book.

Burbank's legend was cemented at WLW radio in Cincinnati for 26 years, 1981-2007. His career, though, took off on WAKY radio in Louisville, KY and his popularity continued to soar during his stays at CKLW in Detroit-Windsor and WHAS in Louisville, KY. Along the way he did radio work at WNOE, KLPL, plus KUZN, WWUN, and WMPS. It was during Burbank's stay at WHAS that he enjoyed having a single hit the Hot 100. The song was "Who Shot J.R?" all about the Dallas cliff-hanger that fixated TV audiences throughout the summer of 1980.

Burbank won several awards for his radio work...including two Marconi Awards which some consider the Emmy or the Grammy of the radio industry. The list of characters that Gary brought to life all had a distinct personality and almost always there was an unusual or quirky character trait that made the characters durable. According to the book, the earliest character named 'Reverend Deuteronomy Skaggs' came about after an ordeal Gary went through with a studio packed with a religious group. The Reverend remained a core character for the rest of Burbank's years on radio. Then there were the bizarre characters of 'Eunice and Bernice' who were described by Burbank as Siamese twins joined at the telephone. This routine was recorded in advance and played back on the air as Burbank pretended to being taking a phone call...he would react to the taped out-bursts of the sisters who said just about anything.

A lot of the insane characters that Burbank voiced were recorded over a telephone in rehearsal and played back on-air under the disguise of a phone conversation with Burbank setting up the punchlines that the "caller" would inevitably deliver. This routine of Burbank "answering" the phone and hearing outrageous commentary on the other end would reach an all-time high in my opinion when the 'Synonymous Bengal' character came along. For this sketch, Burbank spoke in broken English and used sound-a-like words to replace other words in an effort to point out how stupid the character was. The absurdity of the caller referring to himself as the 'Synonymous Bengal' when he meant 'Anonymous Bengal' is what made it funnier because this character would call up and mangle the English language and pass along gossip but he wished to remain "synonymous". It was a skit that was way out there...of course it was rooted in local comedy and the Cincinnati Bengals.

In addition to Reverend Skaggs, Eunice and Bernice, and the Synonymous Bengal you'd also hear at various times Ranger Bob, Gilbert Gnarley, Lars Peevey, Big Fat, Howlin' Blind, Dan Buckles, Ed Harley...Burbank also spoofed local politicians and he'd spoof national politicians and celebrities if they happened to perk the curiosities of the local audience. Among the impressions Burbank was noted for were Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Paul Harvey, Jerry Springer, Dwight Tillery, and Tony Perez. Fake commercials was another treat. At one point in the series Weasel became a favorite subject to poke fun at. In the commercials it was referred to as "the other yellow meat" in a spoof of Pork. Jerry Springer's talk-show was spoofed a lot when it was a local program.

One character came along in the mid 1980's that remained a daily feature on his radio show...Earl Pitts. In the book you will learn why Earl's commentaries always start off with his familiar catch-phrase. Earl's commentary is usually 5 minutes long...sometimes they're 6 minutes. They typically aired at 3:23 or 3:25pm Monday-Friday on WLW and it would repeat at 5:23 or so.

When I became aware of Burbank his show was on from 2-6pm on WLW. During school I wasn't able to catch the first hour of his show but I'd listen almost religiously from 3pm onward. I was introduced to Burbank's radio program, and WLW radio, via my grandfather in 1991. He listened to talk-radio and WLW was and is a popular station and he started listening to it and I heard the station for the first time in 1991. So...getting back to Burbank's time-slot...when the summer came around and I was able to hear the first hour I realized that the show was broken into two segments: the first run and the re-run.

What I mean by that is how the skit's and routines would play out. Gary and his on-air partner, Kevin "Doc" Wolfe, were once on in the mornings at WLW. They were later put on in the mid-afternoon slot, 2-6pm, which is when I discovered them. The comedy bits that would pop up on the show within the 2:30-4pm time frame would be re-ran during the 4:30-6pm time frame. The reason? I suppose it was because a lot of people were still at work during the 2-4pm hours or they didn't get out of work until 4:30 or 5 and so the comedy bits that aired between 2:30 and 4 would get replayed for the people leaving work at the later time.

Sometimes the two were aided by Leah Burns who was called "Princess Leah" on the air. She played the legitimate female voices. Sometimes Burbank or Doc would play a female character with a stereotypical falsetto voice. Doc, by the way, was the voice of Barbara Bush whenever needed. Burbank was the voice of local news anchor Carol Williams from time to time. Leah was the voice of Hillary Clinton, Pearl Pitts, Sister Lamaze and the character of Portia Lynn Commode...a co-anchor with Dan Buckles. Portia was a spoof of Diane Sawyer and the character's name, Portia Lynn Commode is an obvious pun on porcelain commode. Doc portrayed a third co-anchor, Donald Samuelson, spoofing Sam Donaldson. Dan Buckles, of course, was a spoof of David Brinkley but with a hilarious twist: Buckles was a cross-dresser easily slipping from news reporting to commenting on his latest lingerie. As an added chuckle, Buckles depended so much on reading his scripts word for word that if a word was half-written he'd stop talking, you'd hear sound effects of ruffling paper, and he'd continue on with the second part of the word.

If a Monday-Friday show wasn't enough, fans could hear all of the weeks comedy bits played out on Saturday mornings from 8am until 12pm. This four hour program was called "The Burbank Saturday Morning Cartoons" where Leah Burns from 8-10am and Janine Coil from 10am-12pm would play music and air a week's worth of Burbank comedy bits throughout the morning. This style of program would later exit the airwaves when WLW stopped playing music on the weekends and went to all-talk all the time. A similar review of his comedy bits would later surface under the guise of "Burbank's Weekly Rear View". A BBC acronym was applied to Burbank's show during it's run on WLW. In this case BBC stood for 'The Broadbank Burbcasting Corporation'. As the 1990's wore on Leah Burns departed the show. Doc left the show in 1999 after an 18 year on-air partnership with Burbank, 1981-1999. Doc's on-air role on the show was taken over by 'Duke Sinatra' and the show coasted to it's eventual end in December 2007. By the time the show ended Burbank had been performing from a studio in Florida while the rest of his cast were in the WLW studios in Ohio. Amazingly, though, the show came off sounding as if everyone was all together in one studio.

Some of the recurring skits/comedy bits from the show could carry a local or national flavor. Among the many were...

Bush-Man and Quayle: self-explanatory; this was a political spoof of Batman and Robin featuring George Bush and Dan Quayle in the title roles.

First Family Ties: This was a spoof of domestic comedies featuring parodies of Bill, Hillary, and Chelsey Clinton.

Blues Break: This sketch aired on Friday and it featured Burbank as Howlin' Blind Muddy Slim. It was a respectable routine where Howlin' Blind would play blues songs...usually pieces of them. It was one of the only routines where it came off genuine and not a satire or a parody. This most likely is because in real life Burbank loves that kind of music.

The Boys In the Huddle: This was a lesser-known sketch spoofing the Cincinnati Bengals. There would be a 5 minute episode that aired on a Friday prior to the Sunday game. The episode would repeat during the Bengals pre-game radio show. There would then be a follow-up episode on Monday commenting on the loss or the win.

All My Bengals: This was the better-known sketch spoofing the Bengals. It would air on Friday's and Monday's during football season. One of the trademarks of the sketch was Burbank's long drawn-out delivery of the word "well". He'd sometimes stretch the word out to last at least 10 seconds... "wellllllllllllllllllll....".

ABCD News: In this sketch, news reporters Ed Harley, Fern Groto, and Bob Fishgill would deliver and comment on the news in an amateurish way. Burbank, Leah, and Doc participated in the sketch. In a separate routine Burbank and company could be heard as Dan Buckles, Portia Lynn Commode, and Donald Samuelson.

Vinyl Siding Theatre: Hosted by Big Fat, this sketch spoofed Saturday and Sunday matinee movie shows where a movie would air and during commercial breaks you'd see people trying to sell useless products before saying something like "...and now back to this weeks featured movie...". In Burbank's sketch, Big Fat is the brash host of a show that's so cheap he has to pretend he's the entire cast. The joke is that he has to talk to himself in different voices in order to create a conversation. His catch-phrase was "smooch, smooch".

Dwight Guy and Dave Man: This routine ran while Dwight Tillery was the mayor of Cincinnati, 1991-1993. Dwight's predecessor, Dave Mann, had the perfect super hero name.

The Reds and the Restless: Featuring authentic soap opera style theme music, this routine spoofed the Cincinnati Reds during baseball season. It wasn't a daily sketch but it would air periodically during the spring, summer, and fall. The restless in the title referred to the restless fans who wanted a winning team.

The Young Joe Nuxhall Chronicles: Doc took center stage on this routine. Doc spoofed Joe Nuxhall while Burbank was often heard as Reds TV commentator, Gordy 'Hey Buddy' Coleman.

Again, a lot of what you read are my own thoughts about Burbank's radio program with a mix of commentary about the book that's available. The likes of Burbank will perhaps never exist again and this book will let you in on all the behind the scenes goings-on, all the up's and downs of someone who rose through the ranks of radio from small market to large market during a 40 plus year career.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shortest Presidential Terms

Down through the decades and centuries there have been a number of United States Presidents who have short terms in office. I'm not meaning one term Presidents, either. I'm meaning Presidents that served less than 4 years. There's not that many and so here's the run-down...

1. William Henry Harrison; 1841 {died in office}

2. Zachary Taylor; 1849-1850 {died in office}

3. Millard Fillmore; 1850-1853 {took over Presidency after Taylor's death.}

4. James Garfield; 1881 {assassinated}

5. Warren G. Harding; 1921-1923 {died in office}

6. John F. Kennedy; 1961-1963 {assassinated in an infamous motorcade in Texas; Lyndon Johnson took over and was elected officially in 1964 but due to the civil rights and other social controversies of the late 1960's he didn't seek the re-election in 1968. He gave a famous speech about not seeking re-election and he wouldn't accept the nomination by the Democrats should they go ahead and nominate him in the 1968 election.}

7. Gerald Ford; 1974-1977 {took over when Nixon resigned; Ford ran for official election in 1976 but lost to Jimmy Carter; Ford had appointed Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973; Ford was then appointed the Presidency when Nixon resigned in 1974; This allowed Ford to have the unusual feat of serving in both the Vice Presidency and the Presidency without being elected by the people and this was used against him by the Democrats in 1976 by suggesting Ford wasn't a "real President" since he wasn't elected.}

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guiding Light: 1937-2009...Part Eight

A couple of days ago, September 18 to be specific, fans of the long-running daytime drama Guiding Light watched the final episode. The end of the show, which ran 72 years as noted in the blogs title, has left a void in the lives of millions. I for one thought that the show could possibly go on forever and the reason why I say that is because the show was on for 72 I assumed that it would just coast along and hit 75, then 80...etc.

The soap as you can tell has obtained several milestones in longevity. As far as soap operas are concerned...American soap operas...Guiding Light is hands down the longest running daily entertainment program. It's origins go back to 1937 where it debuted on radio. It moved to TV in 1952 and ran on both TV and radio until 1956...and then TV exclusively from that point forward. It's television run, 1952-2009, gives it a 57 year life-span. The only other soap to come close to matching or beating that longevity is As The World Turns, which debuted on TV in 1956 and it received a contract extension through 2010 which will bring that soap to 54 years guaranteed. So, that soap may in fact tie or beat Guiding Light but that's looking too far ahead...and that brings me to this...

The daytime drama climate as far as ratings go isn't exactly what it used to be and the highest rated show among the daytime dramas is pulling in an average of 1.5 to 2 million viewers where as in the mid 1990's and earlier the top rated soap was grabbing close to 3.5 million. In the 1960's and 1970's the top rated soap was grabbing over 5 million and close to 10 million viewers easily.

A lot of the morning news programs did their farewell segments on the soap and you can find those farewells on You Tube. One of the things that I wasn't too happy about was learning that the Soap Opera world, during their annual awards show, did a tribute of sorts that was terribly short. That salute to the longest running drama in broadcast history is also on You Tube. I would've expected that kind of rushed recognition from a national news outlet or something but not at a show promoting daytime television. On September 16, two days before the last episode, one of my favorite characters from the show died. Alan Spaulding died unexpectedly...while sitting on a park bench.

The character had been a part of the show since 1977 and had just two breaks: 1984-1986 and 1989-1994. The character was presumed dead from the latter half of 1984 through early 1986 when news started to surface that Alan could still be alive. The character was sent to prison in 1989...for shooting Roger Phillip and Blake's wedding. Roger survived the shot...Phillip had been shot as well...and he, too, survived. Alan on the other hand was convicted of attempted murder in 1989 and remained off the show until 1994. The character returned in 1994 and remained an integral part of the show for the next 15 years.

Chris Bernau portrayed the Alan Spaulding character originally. He remains the definitive Alan Spaulding for a lot of people even though Ron Raines, the last actor to portray the character, played the role the longest. In between these two stints, Daniel Pilon played the character.

Chris Bernau: 1977-1984; 1986-1988
Daniel Pilon: 1988-1989
Ron Raines: 1994-2009

Here's a very brief look at the Josh and Reva factor during 1983-1990...

The final scene of the last episode involved the shows super-couple, Josh and Reva. The two characters had a wild on-again/off-again relationship that led to many attempts of marriage and several marriages and divorces. Their story was always portrayed as a kind of tragic melodrama where the man and woman are always this close to being happy and something comes along to drive them apart. The couple, in the final scene, drove down the road together with a lighthouse in the background and the words "The End" came up on the screen. I was a bit surprised that there was no cast farewell...usually you'd expect some sort of "thanks" or "thank you for tuning in all these years" on a final episode and see the cast hug and cry but there wasn't anything like that.

Josh and Reva were played by the same people from start to finish. Robert Newman originated the role of Josh Lewis in 1981 and was a completely different character from what most viewers would recognize. The character of Reva came along in 1983, played by Kim Zimmer, and originally the viewers only knew that she was Billy's ex-wife who Alan Spaulding paid to come to town in an attempt to break up Billy's relationship with Vanessa Chamberlain. Billy was Josh's brother...and Billy was prone to calling Josh "little brother". The viewers then learn that Reva and Josh were childhood lovers...that the two dated as teenagers and it was Josh's choice of putting college above Reva that drove her into his brother's arms. So now the back-story of Josh and Reva was playing out amidst Billy's war against both Reva and Alan. Josh left town when he learned the real reason Reva arrived...and afterward Reva found herself the object of H.B's affections. This is important because H.B was the father of Billy and Josh...when Josh returned and learned that Reva had married his father he drove off wildly and slammed into a tree and was paralyzed. Reva later became pregnant with H.B.'s child but she miscarried. H.B and Reva divorced...but just as Josh and Reva were growing closer again she started having feelings for Kyle Sampson who at the time was believed to be H.B.'s son with another woman and therefore Josh and Billy's half-brother.

During Josh's hiatus in Venezuela the Reva and Kyle relationship was underway. Kyle then learned that H.B. was not his father but he was still a brother to Billy. How? Well, Kyle and Billy shared the same mother: Sally Gleason. Josh and Trish's mother was Martha. Kyle and Reva grew apart.

Josh returned but then left again...but then returned...all in the span of several months. When he returned he brought with him a man named Will Jeffries...and what nobody knew was that when Josh was in Venezuela he had married a woman named Sonni Carrera who died after falling off of a suspension bridge. He kept this a secret...even from Reva...until Sonni turned up alive and he had to reveal the truth and play her husband even though he wanted to be with Reva.

The plot that unfolded started when Will tampered with the birth results of Reva's baby. Will made it appear that the father of Reva's baby was Kyle Sampson instead of Josh. In addition to that sub-plot, the main plot centered around Will and Sonni's plan to kill Josh and steal the Lewis fortune. Those story lines took up all of late 1987 through early 1989. Josh found himself pushed off of a bridge...Reva found herself in a coma, too. While Reva was semi-conscious Alan married her...she thought that she was marrying Josh. The marriage was annulled after Reva regained her right state of mind. Josh then learns that he's the father of Marah, the baby that most thought belonged to Kyle. It's revealed that Alan had paid Will to tamper with the birth certificate.

After the mayhem with Sonni, Will, and Alan climaxed in early 1989 Reva and Billy grew closer when it was revealed that years ago Reva gave up a baby she had with Billy for adoption and she became obsessed with locating her son. The son turned out to be a newcomer to town named Dylan. Josh and Reva grew closer once again and she became pregnant and later gave birth to Shayne. Josh was the father.

Josh and Reva finally marry...and it wasn't long afterward that Reva's grasp on reality started to suffer and in a memorable scene in 1990 she drove her car off an unfinished bridge in Florida with Josh watching in horror. She was presumed dead for the next five years.

What was to become known as Reva's missing years, 1990-1995, were spotlighted throughout mid to late 1999. It was revealed that Reva survived her car crash into the ocean but suffered from amnesia and took on the name of Katherine and was married to a prince...Richard Winslow...on the island of San Cristobel. Katherine's disappearance sent Richard into alcoholism...but it would be revealed that Katherine's disappearance was as a result of Edmund's treachery. Edmund was Richard's evil brother. On the sideline was Olivia, Richard's soon to be wife, who was annoyed by the re-appearance of Katherine. As the plot thickened and Reva's missing years were explored and explained, Josh and Reva grew apart...divorcing not long after Reva learned that she and Richard shared a son, Jonathan. Josh and Olivia were married...but later divorced when her affair with Alan Spaulding was revealed. Olivia and Alan then married...but she began having an affair with his son, Phillip, which led to a divorce. All of the drama between Josh, Reva, Olivia, and Alan played out during 1999-2002. Edmund rivaled Alan in the bad-guy department...but strangely enough Edmund, to me at least, didn't seem likable or sympathetic compared to Alan. Olivia would go on and become half of the couple known on-line as Otalia. Olivia and Natalia became an item...two females...and the couple was nicknamed Otalia. This couple became the main focal point during the show's final months on the air. So, for those who caught the show very late in it's run, Olivia had a 9 and a half year history on the show prior to her pairing up with Natalia.

Thanks to You Tube videos the memories of the show will, I think, live on forever on-line. In my collection I have a couple of books about is the 50th Anniversary book published in 1987 and the other is the 60th Anniversary book published ten years later. I have some other items as well.

Guiding Light: 1937-2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Looney Tunes...crazy...100% nuts...

Posing with a book that I bought several years ago at a book store in a shopping mall, this blog entry is really about my salute to the Looney Tunes characters and those of the Merrie Melodies. Originally, there was a distinct separation between the two series from Warner Brothers. However, as time went on, the characters started to appear interchangeably to the point where there wasn't much of a distinction anymore other than the differing titles for both sets of cartoons. Originally the Merrie Melodies series featured serious, Disney-like cartoons with heavy use of songs from the Warner Brothers music catalog. The Looney Tunes series featured the wild and crazy cartoons that were funny in comparison. It's these cartoons and that style which pushed the more serious cartoons off to the side as time went on.

The series had it's share of top directors, animators, writers, etc etc and one of the most interesting things about the Warner Brothers cartoon directors and writers is that their names are more widely known than the directors and writers at Disney and MGM, the two chief rivals in the theatrical cartoon business to Warner Brothers. I suppose if I looked it up, the cartoon directors at Disney would be easy to find in this internet age but would they be names that I'm familiar with? I admit that this feeling comes from being raised on the Warner Brothers cartoons. I know of the Disney characters...who doesn't know of Mickey Mouse? Donald Duck? Goofy? Winnie the Pooh? I couldn't tell you who the cartoon directors were. A lot of it has to do with, as I mentioned, not being raised on Disney cartoons. When I was younger the Disney cartoons were exclusive to the Disney channel...a premium channel...that my parent's didn't spend extra money for. This was several years before the local FOX stations started airing Disney cartoons in the afternoons in the late '80s.

As I mentioned, when I was growing up, it was the Warner Brothers cartoons I was most familiar with. Popeye was another...and Tom and Jerry, along with MGM's cast of characters. As I got older I discovered the made-for-TV cartoons of Hanna-Barbera and liked those cartoons as well.

The most talked about, or celebrated, directors at Warner Brothers during their golden age were:

1. Friz Freleng
2. Chuck Jones
3. Tex Avery
4. Bob Clampett
5. Robert McKimson

After those five, you then usually hear about...

6. Frank Tashlin
7. Art Davis
8. Norm McCabe

Ironically, #3 and #4 were with the studio a short number of years, instead of decades like Chuck, Friz, and Bob McKimson...but even today, among Warner Brothers cartoon fans, both Bob Clampett and Tex Avery have just as much discussion as the others.

Who you don't hear much about are #6 through #8. This is just my opinion but the big reason for this is because they didn't make any cartoons that have stood the test of time. Art Davis was more of an animator turned director for a few cartoons. Frank Tashlin made just as many cartoons as Bob Clampett and Tex Avery but his cartoons seldom got much attention due to their lack of exposure to various generations. The Bugs Bunny Show helped expose the characters to 4 generations of audiences starting in 1960. The cartoons from Chuck, Friz, and Bob McKimson were heavily favored.

It was on the air on ABC, then CBS, and then back to ABC during it's 40 year run. The show during it's final ABC run was titled The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show and it left the air in 2000 after a 40 year run on the air, in various time slots and under various titles.

The book that you see me holding is a companion book, of sorts. It details the history of Sylvester and Tweety and it gives a year by year break down of the cartoons. It gives writer, director, producer, and animation credits along with voice credits for each cartoon listed and if it was nominated or if it won an Oscar then it was noted.

A cartoon winning an Oscar?? Yes...for those who aren't too well studied about theatrical cartoons...there was once a category called "Best Short Subject". There still may be a category called that?? Anyway...that category was usually reserved for the animated cartoon that would air in movie theaters prior to the showing of the movie. The Academy would then nominate which cartoons, or "short subjects", they felt were Oscar worthy. The cartoons were dubbed short subjects because, obviously, the running time was short compared to a feature length movie. Most cartoons ran no longer than 8 minutes...9 minutes was a rare occasion...6 minutes or 6 and a half was the norm for most cartoons.

When the winner was announced, the Oscar was awarded to the producer...the writers or director or anyone else weren't given any Oscar's for their participation. The producer of the cartoons, originally, was Leon Schlesinger. He was the producer until the mid 1940's...around 1944/1945. He sold his company to Warner Brothers and Eddie Selzer became the new producer. From the things I've read and from the commentary made by those who worked on the cartoons, Selzer wasn't too popular among the directors. Friz Freleng recounts an incident where Selzer insisted that Sylvester team up with a woodpecker for a series of cartoons. Sylvester and the woodpecker had appeared in just one cartoon together, prior to the cat officially being called "Sylvester".

Friz had gotten the idea to team Sylvester up with the Tweety character that Bob Clampett created. Selzer didn't like the idea and Friz threatened to walk away from the studio...and then Selzer contacted Friz and gave in and told Friz to go ahead and team Sylvester up with Tweety. Their first cartoon together as a team won an Oscar, 1947's "Tweetie Pie".

Some things the average cartoon watcher may not know is Robert McKimson created the character, Speedy Gonzales, but it was Friz Freleng who had his unit re-design the character into what people recognize today and Friz directed several Speedy cartoons and Robert McKimson later began directing his own Speedy cartoons based on the Hawley Pratt design. Pratt was Friz's layout artist. McKimson is also responsible for Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester Jr, and the Tazmanian Devil. Henery Hawk was a character created by Chuck Jones but McKimson borrowed the character and used him extensively in the Foghorn Leghorn series of cartoons.

Out of all the directors at the studio, Friz won the most Oscars.

Chuck Jones is often more celebrated and hyped given that his approach to cartoons mirrors the collegiate and intellectual approach to animation. His cartoons, while hilarious, tended to be slightly Avant-garde in comparison to the belly-laugh style of Friz and McKimson. Tex Avery on the other hand went beyond belly-laughs and could have a viewer laughing without anything hilarious going on...a simple facial expression or some other timed gag in one of his cartoons was as funny as dialogue and out of all the directors, Avery could get laughs with sight gags because of how well-timed they were. He would become even more legendary at MGM...the studio he left Warner Brothers for. Bob Clampett, who adopted a Tex Avery style, would also depart the studio. Frank Tashlin left cartoons for live action movies. So, for a bulk of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies throughout the 1940s, 1950's, and into the early 1960's you had three directors: Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Robert McKimson. Mel Blanc was the main voice artist for the studio from the late 1930s through the 1960's. He had co-stars, though. Arthur Q Bryan voiced Elmer Fudd for years. Bea Benaderet voiced Granny and many female characters up through the mid 1950's prior to June Foray coming aboard to voice Bea's characters and others that came along. Daws Butler was often heard doing celebrity impressions. Stan Freberg gave voice to quite a few characters that played off against characters Mel provided the voice to.

For those who want to see hilarious Warner Brothers cartoons seek out the Golden Collection DVD series. Not only will you get the cartoons but you'll also get a boat load of extra's that feature interview clips with the directors and animators involved in the cartoons. All of the major players, speaking about directors and writers and animators, are all gone. A few of the voice actors are still around. Here's a life-line of the heavy hitters at the studio and the lesser-known's...

Leon Schlesinger: May 20, 1884-December 25, 1949 {65; producer}

Eddie Selzer: January 12, 1893-February 22, 1970 {77; producer}

Mel Blanc: May 30, 1908–July 10, 1989 {81; voice artist}

Friz Freleng: August 21, 1906–May 26, 1995 {88; director}

Chuck Jones: September 21, 1912–February 22, 2002 {89; director}

Tex Avery: February 26, 1908-August 26, 1980 {72; animator/director}

Robert McKimson: October 13, 1910-September 29, 1977 {66; animator/director}

Bob Clampett: May 8, 1913-May 4, 1984 {70; animator/director}

Arthur Q Bryan: May 8, 1899–November 18, 1959 {60; voice artist}

**Stan Freberg: August 7, 1926- {currently 83; voice artist}

Bea Benadaret: April 4, 1906–October 13, 1968 {62; voice artist}

**June Foray: September 18, 1917- {curently 91; voice artist}

Daws Butler: November 16, 1916–May 18, 1988 {71; voice artist}

Frank Tashlin: February 19, 1913-May 5, 1972 {59; director}

Art Davis: June 14, 1905-May 9, 2000 {94; animator/director}

Norm McCabe: February 10, 1911-January 17, 2006 {94; animator/director}

Mike Maltese: February 6, 1908—February 22, 1981 {73; writer}

Warren Foster: October 24, 1904-December, 1971 {67; writer}

Tedd Pierce: August 12, 1906—February 19, 1972 {65; writer}

Carl Stalling: November 10, 1891–November 29, 1972 {81; music conductor}

Milt Franklyn: September 16, 1897–April 24, 1962 {64; music conductor}


**- both June Foray and Stan Freberg are the only surviving members of the Golden Age of Warner Brothers cartoons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Daffy Duck's Quackbusters

This 1988 film, built around classic cartoons from the Warner Brothers library and new footage, is a broad spoof of the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise. The obvious title of "Daffy Duck's Quackbusters" will tell you what this clip-fest film will be about. The film features two contemporary cartoon shorts, 1987's "The Duxorcist" and 1988's "Night of the Living Duck". These two cartoons, combined with specific clips edited from classic cartoons, were blended together to showcase a full-length animated feature poking fun at the GHOSTBUSTERS popularity and the language used in the movie. Daffy inherits a fortune because he was able to make a dying millionaire laugh. In a scenario from an earlier cartoon, "Daffy Dilly", Daffy plays a salesman who gets word that a dying millionaire will leave a fortune to whoever can make him laugh. The millionaire was offering a fortune to anyone who was able to give him one good laugh before he died. After arriving at the mansion and out-witting the butler, Daffy did a broad range of stunts that received no laughs but when he accidentally trips and a series of cakes fall on him, the dying millionaire {a dog named Cubish} starts to chuckle and soon breaks out into a fit of laughter.

Next we see Cubish in a pie throwing frenzy...hurling one pie after the other in Daffy's face. All through this he's laughing uncontrollably and that's when the original cartoon, "Daffy Dilly", ended. In the continuation, we see that Cubish dies laughing...and his estate goes to Daffy. The only catch is he has to use the money for good purposes or it'll cost him. Also, if Daffy even has the idea to use the money for greedy purposes, it'll cost him. Throughout the film each time Daffy gripes and complains about Cubish we hear thunder and see a stack of money in the vault vanish into thin air. Cubish often appears in ghost form throughout the cartoon. As a side business, Daffy goes into ghost hunting as a public service.

Daffy, Porky, and Bugs are billed as "Paranormalists at Large". Throughout the film a spoof commercial pops up promoting their ghost hunting business. Part of the commercial includes a now-popular phrase among Looney Tunes fans where Daffy explains the objectives of their business and tells potential clients something like: "spooks spooked, goblins gobbled, ufo's k.o'd, aliens alienated, and monsters remonstrated.". One of the memorable aspects of the film was how effortlessly the classic clips blended together. This wasn't the first time clip-filled animated films had been released by Warner Brothers but it was the first, to my knowledge, where two relatively new theatrical cartoons had been responsible for the commission of a full-length movie release.

And between the classic clips we see new animation of Bugs, Daffy, and Porky bridging the clips along. We'll see the hilarious "but I did see an elephant in my bird bath" clip and pieces of Porky and Sylvester's adventures when Sylvester was cast as a cowardly feline and Porky was his annoyed owner. The 1987 clip of "The Duxorcist" is hilarious...particularly for those familiar with what it's spoofing, The Exorcist. In it, Daffy investigates a strange case of a female duck who's possessed and it's in this cartoon where the female utters all sorts of rubbish, but plainly enunciating in a sweet voice "Mary had a little lamb..." and then shouting in her possessed voice: "BUT I ATE IT!!!!".

Photobucket Sharp eared listeners will note the differences in Daffy's voice when it segues from contemporary to classic footage. I believe they didn't speed up Daffy's voice enough in the new animation and so it sounds like Sylvester, more than it should. The difference between those two character's voices had always been that Sylvester had Mel Blanc's own voice with a lisp added to it while Daffy was actually the same voice only sped up a few octaves in the playback process to get a little higher tone.

The cartoon as a whole is 5 star material. It's funny, cute in places, satirical in places, and who can resist the Mel Torme contribution of "Monsters Lead Such Interesting Lives" that Daffy sings in a monsters club after spraying his throat with Torme liquid. This scene happens near the start of the movie, within "Night of the Living Duck". The bonus features include the cult favorite "Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th and 1/2 Century" along with "Superior Duck" and "Little Go Beep".

This is the first time this 1988 Daffy Duck movie has been released on DVD.

Monday, August 10, 2009

June Foray: The Autobiography

This book about the first lady of voice acting, called Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?, chronicles the life and times both on and off the air of June Foray. There are quite a collection of pictures of June and her voice acting that caught my eye right away, given that it was the first picture in the book, is a glorious picture of June surrounded by 5 amazingly talented people in the animation business. They're all standing side by side. There are pictures of June during the 1940's and 1950' of her, Stan Freberg, and Daws Butler and pictures of character's she gave voice to. It's a nice balance between her career and personal life, which of course is what an autobiography is. The epilogue section was written by June and it's dated July, 2009. Leonard Maltin wrote the forward...and do you know the story behind June Foray having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? You'll find out within the pages of this book.

A lot of the book is broken up into chapters that follow a theme. Near the end of the book there's a chapter dedicated to a few people June knew that are no longer living. Bill Scott, Jay Ward, Paul Frees, and a few others. She tells the intricate details of what "looping" means and she explains that it's wise to be punctual because it pays by the hour. Chapter Eight, called "My Rocky Life" is dedicated to her being cast in the Bullwinkle series, once known as Rocky and His Friends. This is where she remembers much of the Jay Ward era and offers pictures that were taken in the studio with her and Bill Scott and there's a picture of her, Bill, and Jay Ward; and a picture of her and Paul Frees. There are cartoon stills of the characters. In Chapter seven, called "Chuck Who?" for comical purposes, is about her association with Warner Brothers director, Chuck Jones. The chapter was called that because June didn't know who Chuck Jones was. In a lot of her interviews she admits to not being much of a cartoon watcher so she didn't really know who made the cartoons. Chuck cast her as Witch Hazel, the name of another witch that the Disney studio cast her as.

Legal acrobatics enabled Warner Brothers to continue using the Witch Hazel name. Bea Benaderet, the prominent female voice on mostly all of the Warner Brothers cartoons before June came along, was the original voice of Witch Hazel and was the original voice of Granny...Bea had did the Granny voice for almost 15 years before June took over the role in the top of my head I believe Bea started voicing Granny somewhere around 1943 or 1944. It was Bea's on-camera work in Burns and Allen plus her other on-camera assignments that led to her cartoon roles being re-cast in the mid 1950's. Her workload had become too hectic to continue and so she concentrated more on the TV sitcom's she appeared in.

June's been the voice of both characters, Witch Hazel and Granny, ever since...her most recent assignment as Granny was the Baby Looney Tunes series a few years back. There is an interesting story that June talks about when it came time to cast the voice actors for the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries series in 1994/1995. According to June, the producers were wanting her to come in an audition for the role of Granny...whoever was in charge apparently wanted the Granny voice to resemble the one provided by Bea Benaderet. June recalls how outraged she felt but then lets us in on how she came about being cast as Granny on the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries after all.

This brings me to a small little rant that I have about such things. When a voice actor or actress plays a role for a good number of years, he or she pretty much know the in's and out's of the character{s} they voice and the producers or casting directors should give the voice actors and actresses associated with the role automatic casting because of the proven track record. I feel the only time a character's voice should be re-cast is if the voice actor/actress can no longer do an adequate job...meaning they've lost their voice. I don't think a voice artist loses their natural whether someone is 21, 41, 61, 81, or 91, if he or she is still capable of doing their job they should be given the first shot and THEN if the producer isn't satisfied then a re-cast should happen. This notion that you have to audition voice actors for roles they've played for decades is ludicrous and offensive to the voice artist, as you'll see when you read June's thoughts about it.

In the "Chuck Who?" section she talks about how she was called on to do the voice of an Irish lady from the waist down on Chuck's version of Tom and Jerry plus she talks about the various witch characters she has performed. It is also in this chapter where she relates a story about cigarette smoking and how it was a big advertising sponsor at one time. There's a priceless story about how she gave up smoking but a lot of others didn't and she tells about a recording session in the mid 1980's during the revival of The Jetsons and it involves Mel Blanc. It's a cute little story about Mel's smoking in the studio. There's a picture of June and Mel in the studio, too.

As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few pictures...and there's one on page 129 of June and some friends at the 1974 Annie Awards. Before any can ask, the Annie Awards is short for the Animation Awards...a gala where animation big-wigs and voice actors and actresses gather. It's much like the typical awards programs you see but cartoons are being honored and celebrated instead of live-action.

One of the things you may or may not notice is that the chapter's are short...well, a lot of them are. "Chuck Who?" is a rather lengthy chapter as is "My Rocky Life". There's a section called "The War Years" where she talks about her career doing radio shows and offers a picture of her as part of a dance group. She makes a lot of jokes about her short stature and reflects that her short stature must have been a good reason she clicked so well with Daws Butler in the recording studio.

It's really a great look at June's life and career.

If you do much You Tube searching, be sure to look up some clips of Ma and Pa Kettle. The clips will feature an actress, Marjorie Main, in the role of Ma Kettle. This is the voice that June based a lot of the older lady types on...the voice is heard prominently in Fractured Fairy Tales, a segment in the Rocky and Bullwinkle series. June usually gave fairy godmothers or witches that voice. In the Disney cartoons, Duck Tales and Gummi Bears, June gave the Ma Beagle and Grammi Gummi characters the Marjorie Main vocal characterization.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hamateur Night: Major Bowes parody

Hamateur Night is a hilarious 1939 cartoon directed by Tex Avery. Yes, doing the math, it's from 70 years ago...on radio there was a program known as the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. On the show amateur's would be heard singing or telling jokes...or playing a piano. It's been considered the great-grandfather of all amateur talent programs to follow in it's path. Bowes often struck a gong if he didn't like a performance...shades of The Gong Show of a later generation. Also heard was a bell, almost like the one's heard during boxing matches. If the amateur wasn't too well received then the bell would strike.

The radio show ran for many years, beginning locally in 1934 and going national in 1935, on NBC radio. The program moved to CBS radio in 1936 and remained there until 1945. Bowes died in 1946...his side-kick/talent scout, Ted Mack, brought the show back in 1948 and hosted the slightly re-named Original Amateur Hour until 1952. The program was in production off and on throughout the 1950's on television. In 1960 it went back to CBS and remained on the air until 1970...some say that the program ended production before CBS could cancel it officially. At the time, CBS was ridding it's network of top-rated program that attracted older and rural audiences in favor of the big city/urban audiences topical comedies could bring in.

By 1972 CBS had removed such big ratings winners as "Petticoat Junction", "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Green Acres", "Hee-Haw", "Lawrence Welk", "The Red Skelton Show", "The Ed Sullivan Show", "Gomer Pyle, USMC" just to name a few and replaced those programs in the prime-time line-up with the likes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "All in the Family", "M*AS*H", "The Bob Newhart Show", "The Waltons", "Maude", and others. In reality, a few of those shows had left the CBS network in 1970 and 1971...but the fact that so many of the programs were gone by 1972 shows how intent the network was at reaching a different audience.

In the above cartoon, spoofing Major Bowes' radio program, we see a display of amateur's who all get their comeuppance. There are plenty of topical jokes. The first act introduced is a parody of Stokowski, a musical conductor. In the cartoon he's referred to as Maestro Can-o'-Whiskey. A recurring joke is the Egghead character appearing in between acts singing a brief refrain of "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain", always being yanked off stage by several hooks. A lot of the animals were also featured in other Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The rooster and Katherine Hepburn chicken, spoofing Romeo and Juliet, were seen in the cartoon, Daffy Duck in Hollywood. There is a recurring scene with a hippo character...he, too, was shown in a couple of other cartoons...specifically She Was An Acrobat's Daughter. In this Hamateur Night cartoon, the hippo has a very peculiar sense of humor and infectious laugh. Tex Avery voiced the character...he also used this voice in a cartoon short called The Bears Tale. The laugh is, this laugh will feature in toward the end of the on the look-out for it.

The cartoon ends with the host going by each amateur and through a series of boo's we're let in on the fact that the audience doesn't like any of the acts...until the host reaches Egghead. When he's singled out last the audience goes wild...much to the shock of the host. The camera shows the audience and we then understand why Egghead's simple rendition of "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain" is so well loved.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection, Vol. Five

This collection of hilarity features 30 cartoons. From the start, The Spotlight Collection was always meant to be a cheaper collection of cartoons derived from the more exhaustive Golden Collection sets. By cheap, I mean dollars and cents...not quality of the packaging.

The Spotlight Collection would feature 30 cartoons, 15 on 2 DVD's, culled from the latest installment of The Golden Collection, which in turn would feature 4 DVD's altogether. So, The Spotlight Collection was simply a much shorter collection of cartoons at a more smaller price.

In Volume Five of The Spotlight Collection we have 30 cartoons that also appear on The Golden Collection, Volume Five. DVD #2 is dedicated to the fairy tale parodies...and there were plenty. The funny thing is...there are various cartoons on DVD #2 that tell the same story but each and every cartoon is hilarious due to the writing and characters involved. In "The Bears Tale" from 1940 we see the telling of The Three Bears but with a twist. Tex Avery is the the cartoon we see the blending of two fairy tales. The Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood...the connection being the wolf who decides to exit Grandma's house and flee to The Three Bears place to attack Goldilocks instead. It's very funny...particularly the characterizations...Papa Bear's laugh is infectious. Robert Bruce narrates.

There are three parodies of Little Red Riding Hood back to back to back...but they're are so cleverly written that you don't mind the same story. In "Red Riding Hoodwinked" we see the goings-on between Tweety, Sylvester, a Wolf, Red Riding Hood, and Granny. In this parody, Sylvester and the Wolf are in the pursuit of Tweety and Red respectively. Granny falls into the scene as she's the "Grandmother" in the fairy tale. Her line, "Pow...right in the kisser!", is lifted from The Honeymooners. "Red Riding Hoodwinked" was released in 1955. In "Little Red Walking Hood", directed by Tex Avery, we're treated to a Katherine Hepburn version of the fairy tale character who uses typical reaction to almost everything that we know is suppose to happen in the story...the Grandmother is portrayed as a kind of loose cannon, hip to the scene. "Little Red Rodent Hood" is the third cartoon to spoof the Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

"Goldimouse and the Three Cats", from Friz Freleng, is easily one of the stand-outs on DVD #2 among many others. This parody of the Three Bears features three cats and a female mouse with flowing blond hair. The cats, headed up by Sylvester and his son, Sylvester Jr, plus a mama cat...make up the cat family who eat porridge, just like in the Three Bears. Before you all can ask: "what are cat's doing eating porridge?" Sylvester Jr wonders the same thing. Throughout the cartoon Sylvester tries his best to capture Goldimouse. She's voiced by June Foray, who also narrates the cartoon. "Bewitched Bunny" kicks off DVD #2. It's a Chuck Jones cartoon about Bugs Bunny encountering Witch Hazel who's plotting to cook Hansel and Gretel. A running joke is the pronunciation of the boy's name. "Hansel?", "Honsul?", "Han-so". After freeing the kids, Witch Hazel has ideas of having Bugs for dinner.

"Foney Fables", from Friz Freleng, is a grouping of fairy tale spoofs in one cartoon. Narrator Robert Bruce explains things as we see illustrations of Tom Thumb, the nursery rhyme about the piggie's that go off to the market, the boy who cried wolf, and others.

In DVD #1 we have traditional Warner Brothers cartoons. The kick-off cartoon is "14 Carrot Rabbit". In it, Yosemite Sam is a gold miner who doesn't have much luck. All of the sudden Bugs comes along with a huge gold boulder...having it weighed. All that he wants as a payment is a supply of carrots. Sam gets the idea to stalk and befriend seems Bugs has this "feeling" that comes over him whenever gold is in the area. The ending of the cartoon is hilarious as well. Friz Freleng directed he directed most, if not all, the cartoons with Yosemite Sam.

"The Stupor Salesman" tells the story of Daffy Duck as a door-to-door salesman. The joke is that Daffy's at the hide-out of a crook who doesn't want any interruptions. Daffy, being a salesman, won't back off no matter how much torment and torture the crook puts him through. Finally, in the climax of the cartoon, Daffy discovers something that the guy needs since throughout the cartoon he kept telling Daffy to scram or get lost. In "Buccaneer Bunny" we see another classic Bugs Bunny-Yosemite Sam team-up. In this one, Sam is a pirate and Bugs happens to be on a beach where Sam wants to bury his treasure. Since Bugs claims the area to be his home and Sam stubborn and won't bury the chest elsewhere, a battle of wits ensues on and off the pirate ship. This cartoon includes the famous cannon scene where Sam repeatedly gets shot in the face by a cannon.

"Bugs' Bonnets" is a surreal cartoon...a truck hauling hats hits a bump in the road and the back door becomes unlatched and the woods are littered with hats. Bugs and Elmer Fudd proceed to take on various personalities as hat's pop on and off of their heads. "Ali Baba Bunny", directed by Chuck Jones, has Bugs and Daffy on the run from an Arabian guard named Hassan...Daffy had discovered a hidden treasure after he and Bugs dug their way under a cave and come up on the inside. Meanwhile, Hassan has forgot the password. He finally discovers the password and goes running in after the trespassers. Throughout the cartoon we see a character study of opposites. Daffy wants to claim all the gold for himself while Bugs has no desire for it. Daffy's antics get him into trouble...always causing him to turn to Bugs for a way out of the mess. Bugs dresses up like a genie in one memorable scene. Later, Daffy discovers a lamp and rubs it. A genie pops out and a miserly Daffy will have no more threats to his wealth and he literally stomps the genie back into the lamp. This causes severe consequences, though.

Friz Freleng directs "A Star Is Bored" which pits Bugs against Daffy in a movie setting. Daffy wants to be a big star like Bugs and when he thinks he's finally gotten his big break he soon regrets it. Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd make cameo appearances. Daffy plays Bugs' stand-in...inserted into any scene that is potentially dangerous for Bugs to carry out. A running gag is Daffy's demand of "MAKE-UP!!" after every explosion and every scene. "Hollywood Daffy" has Daffy trying to get into the Warner Brothers lot. In the cartoon it's referred to as 'Warmer Brothers'. In most cartoons that spoof their own studio, it's referred to as Warmer Brothers. In "Hollywood Daffy" we see an over-zealous guard with a Joe Besser-like voice preventing Daffy from entering. By cartoon's end, Daffy insists that he isn't leaving until he see's some stars and the guard relents and affords him the ability to see star's.

"Stupor Duck", a cartoon from Robert McKimson, has Daffy spoofing Superman, of course. In the cartoon he's on the look-out for a villain, Aardvark Ratnik, but the villain is from a crime drama...Stupor Duck, in his secret identity of Cluck Trent, misunderstands while eavesdropping and he spends the episode on the hunt for this villain. Mel Blanc voices Daffy and Daws Butler voices the Editor and the narrator at the start of the cartoon. Porky Pig makes an appearance in "Paying the Piper". He plays a pied piper in charge of ridding a town of rats. He seems to have succeeded at the start of the cartoon until things go awry. The supreme ruler of the cats has other idea's and the fight ensues as the cat dresses up as a big rat...this causes the local mayor to angrily take away the sack of money he had given Porky for ridding the town of ALL rats. The cat's of course want the rats to stay because they chase after them for food. A battle of wits ensues...Porky ends up winning by cartoon's end. Mel does his famous "stuck-up" characterization for the Mayor while the supreme cat carries a thick New York accent. Robert McKimson directed the cartoon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite: 1916-2009

I assume by now the country has learned of the death of journalist/news anchor Walter Cronkite. I grew up in the era of Dan Rather hosting the CBS Evening News and so I do not personally recall when Cronkite was the anchor but I knew of him through his appearances on television programs and his distinctive voice isn't to be forgotten if you've heard it. I've been watching the coverage of the various tributes to Cronkite and those who are hard-core fans/appreciators of Cronkite will get the irony in this situation that's unfolded. He was known to not be very happy about 24/7 news channels, cable news specifically...because in his opinion he felt all-news networks politicized the coverage and those who watched cable news were watching because of the viewpoints of broadcasters and talk-show hosts about what's happening, and that they weren't watching to find out the in's and out's and facts of what's happening.

So, I find it very ironic that the 24/7 cable news stations that he often spoke out against are the very same outlets who are airing tributes to him even as I write this blog entry. I clicked over to CBS and they're airing their usual line-up of salute, no tribute, no fanfare. If anything demonstrates just how times have changed, the cable news channels of CNN and MSNBC are interviewing cable news anchors and personalities: the likes of Brian Williams, Sam Donaldson, Bob Schieffer, Morley Safer, Don Hewitt, Tom Brokaw, and several radio broadcasters have given their thoughts of Cronkite. Of course, watching cable news the last several hours I could have missed a CBS news-break or something but I just find it bizarre that, as far as I know, they hadn't said anything on their broadcast network. Perhaps the early morning newscasts will offer some commentary about the broadcaster who brought the network millions of viewers? If they don't, well, that's the way it is...

Anyway, it just seemed ironic that a lot of Cronkite's admirers in the news business shared their thoughts of him via the 24/7 cable news channels instead of on CBS...and I could be wrong but it appears as if CBS didn't want to interrupt their programming with any lengthy salute or tribute. Even more ironic is Cronkite passes away a few days before the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing of Apollo-11...and Cronkite is considered the face and voice of NASA's man on the moon coverage in 1969. It's his broadcast that typically gets singled out and re-played. July 16, 1969 was the launch and July 20, 1969 was the day of the moon landing. Just wrapping up on Fox News Channel was an hour long program about the Apollo-11 moon landing. It was a taped program...I assume contracts prevented the network from postponing the air-date. After it was over, a live transmission aired featuring a 5 minute look at Cronkite...but then it went into regularly scheduled programming of The O'Reilly Factor, a repeat from earlier in the evening.

Walter Cronkite was a radio correspondent/journalist during World War Two...and he joined CBS in 1950 and did a multitude of reports and stories. He hosted a series called You Are There for a total of four years, 1953-1957. Afterward he became the host of The Twentieth Century, a documentary program, which ran nine years, 1957-1966. Afterward, it was replaced by The Twenty-First Century, again hosted/narrated by Cronkite. This version remained on the air through 1970.

Eight years earlier, though, in 1962, he became the anchor of the CBS Evening News. It was in this position that he relayed and broadcast all of the events that took place in American and world history from 1962 through 1981. Dan Rather took over the anchor position and became a fixture in that position for decades, too. Cronkite continued to appear in news stories and remained a face/voice in news and current affairs programming. He lent his voice to a variety of projects...becoming the narrator/host on a 4-part series called Dinosaur for the A&E Network in 1996.

In his later years he became more known for his appearances on, and his narrations of, a wide variety of documentary programs ranging from sports to science to all points in American and world history. He often narrated documentaries on PBS. He hosted and or narrated several programs of that vein in this millennium. For those who think Cronkite slipped into obscurity and never did much after the 1980s you'll be in for a treat when you browse his credits at the Internet Movie Data Base.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beany and Cecil, Volume Two DVD

There is going to be a new DVD collection coming along this fall. The release of "Beany and Cecil, Volume Two" will happen on September 8th. This comes on the heels of a DVD collection from nearly 10 years ago.

Photobucket In the early part of this decade there was a DVD released called "Beany and Cecil: The Special Edition" which consisted of a wide variety of Bob Clampett programs. Of course, 90% of the material was Beany and Cecil related...but a lot of the extra's dealt with other projects. In the previous collection the DVD consisted of 4 episodes of the live-action puppet show, Time For Beany, which ran for six years, 1949-1955. The puppet show ran locally, 1949-1950, but then started airing nationally later in 1950. The first volume DVD featured quite a few of the episodes of the animated version, simply called Beany and Cecil. In the animated version, the voice actors were slightly different than what viewers of the puppet show heard. In the puppet version, Daws Butler and Stan Freberg voiced the characters. In the animated version, which ran for one season of first-run episodes, but aired in reruns on the network for four more years, the voice actors for the animated version were Jim MacGeorge and Irv Shoemaker.

The cartoons usually had a sing-a-long/rhyme segment which lead up to the two characters singing together "...a Bob Clampett Cartoon" prior to the start of each episode. Beany's voice in the animated series lacked the cuteness, I think, that Daws Butler gave the character in the puppet version. The boy's voice in the cartoon is nothing like Butler's while Cecil and the villain, Dishonest John, sound somewhat close to the way Stan Freberg did the characters in the puppet version. Captain Huffenpuff, Beany's uncle, was the fourth major character. Daws voiced the puppet version while Jim MacGeorge voiced the animated version.

Much of the program's charm was the dialogue between all the characters...when the cartoon version began a lot of the charm lay in the pun's that Clampett was noted for. In one episode there was a reference to Dinah Shore as "Dina Saur" {Dinosaur, get it?}.

If you can't open that link, copy and paste it in your search box, click enter, and see if a link to the site comes up. If not, try Googling CartoonBrew and navigate their site until you come across the Beany and Cecil photo album. They have a fabulous pictorial up of both Stan Freberg and Daws Butler performing on the 1949-1955 puppet show. There's 10 pages of black and white pictures of the two! I saved quite a few of them.

In closing...

There were 26 half-hour productions that started to air in 1962. There were 78 segments...which means there were something like 3 segments per episode, of varying length, if my math is correct which it usually never is. So, these 78 segments/26 episodes aired consistently in reruns until 1967. The show remained in syndication on into the 1970's but eventually it left the airwaves. The cartoon and the puppet show have a cult following today and the DVD releases have been sparse. The first release that I wrote of earlier, "Beany and Cecil: The Special Edition", was the first DVD release of it's kind to focus on these characters with any degree of respect. Fast-forward a decade later, 2009, and we're about to have a second volume released to us. "Beany and Cecil, Volume Two"...