Thoughts and Kats

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Here are the Kats from 9-30-1938 to 10-6. We have the conclusion of the log sequence from last week and a funny new series with Ignatz trying to do a phone-in order to Kolin Kelly. Offissa Pupp is so on the job it’s ridiculous! I love that pantomime strip of 10-1, Pupp is a smart/stupid wonder.

Cathy and I had a pretty good week. The only low point was trying to get a passport at the post office. When you have to wait an hour and a half to get waited on, with all the paper work filled out and the pictures taken, and  then give up in disgust without accomplishing anything, well…obviously the post office is not equipped for passport processing. We went to a beautiful house on Thursday morning which overlooks the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, beautiful views of the old Vista De Arroyo hotel and the old riverbed and the San Gabriel mountains! It was such a hot day that we found ourselves gravitating to the beautiful swimming pool and pool house in the front of the property. We vicariously experienced the cool water by painting the Ultramarine and Cerulean blues in the water with the peach/orange of the pool-house for contrast. The famous Jason Situ, world-class Chinese landscape painter joined us, and turned out a good oil study of the pool. His knowledge of values and colors is always inspiring to us, he always uses Prussian Blue for his darks, he likes to avoid black. As usual, Jason was the last artist painting, he’s slow, but good! He learned to paint the hard way, by being forced to paint images of Chairman Mao as a kid! It paid off.

I didn’t get any response to my mechanics problem on Sc. 25, so I am into the first third of Sc. 26, animating Pearly’s house going through gyrations. My animation board shorted out, and I’ve had a temporary light in it for awhile, but I longed to get it back in proper operation again. So, I called an electrician! Don’t do this, folks. He charged $100.00 just to LOOK at the job, then wanted $900.00 to rewire my desk and fix a ceiling fixture in the kitchen that also fizzled out. I didn’t even pay $100.00 for my animation desk in the first place! Well, needless to say, I didn’t hire him and found a handyman through our local hardware dealer. The guy came out to the house two days later, with all the proper tools in hand and fixed everything up for $75.00! The problem with the desk was a burned-out plug, not the wiring. Also the florescent tube was at the end of it’s life. Now with a new plug and tube, the old Disney Inbetweeners desk is working like new again. So if you hire an electrician with a fancy truck who charges a century note just to look at your job, think again, there’s cheaper ways to go.

In the previous post, Craig Clark asked me what I thought of the animated versions of Krazy Kat. If you want to limit it just to Herriman’s version of the character, then the 1936 Columbia cartoon; “L’il Anjil” is the most successful interpretation. The animation is fluid, the only significant voice is Offissa Pupp. Manny Gould and the other animators really make you feel the joy that Krazy feels from being socked with a brick, through that little dance than he does. The backgrounds and the props have a real Herriman feel to them, I even like the title card, a brick with the lettering inside of it. It is not perfect, it fails at capturing the underlying gentleness and bittersweet underpinnings of the love triangle that is central to the strip. In fairness, that kind of feel is probably outside the dimensions of a six minute slapstick animated cartoon, especially in 1936. The little mewling theme song that Joe De Nat wrote for this cartoon seems to be the perfect music for Herriman’s Kat. The second most successful animated version of Herriman (a very distant second) is Gene Deitch’s series of cartoons for Hearst corp. in 1963. Penny Philips was cast as the voice of Krazy, and she almost matches the way I hear Krazy as I read the strip, except Krazy sounds more like a lower east side Jewish mother. Where Gene made his mistake was giving Krazy feminine MANNERISMS to go with the voice. Krazy should move like a boy, but sound more or less like a woman with a strange accent. Paul Frees did a creditable job as Ignatz and Offissa, sounding tough as Ignatz and Ed Wynnish as Offissa. The animation is good off and on as schedules and the talents of the crew in Prague permitted. The style is close to Herriman, but a little too rough and coarse in the outlines. Herriman’s use of values and his aggressive cross-hatching sometimes make it look like his characters are emerging from blackness. Gene’s art direction looks too sunny and open-air. He did set all the action in Coconino with the monuments from the Navajo Tribal Park in all their glory, so at least that was done right.

Most of the other attempts at Krazy cartoons missed Herriman completely. Some, however, succeed at being good animated cartoons anyway. I like the looseness of Bill Nolan and Grim Natwick’s animation in the early 1920s releases such as Bokays and Brickbats, which has Krazy fighting a whole army of Ignatz like-alooks. “Making Good” has some great Grim Natwick tall girls in it, and some nice animation of Krazy looking for a hair ribbon. The silent Ben Harrison and Manny Gould efforts such as Sleepy Holler that were recently uprooted from the British Film Institute look good and show Krazy as a dad with a bunch of little Krazys in a cradle. The animation is good, but not as good as the Bill Nolans. I love the early thirties sound Columbia Krazys, not because they evoke Herriman, but because they are noble cartoons with the even nobler music of Joe De Nat to support them. Have you seen “Farm Relief” from 1929? This was apparently made in New York, as some of Friz Freleng’s animation is in evidence with very Harman-Ising style chickens laying eggs in a great hatching-to-maturity cycle. Harrison and Manny Gould tried a lot of story concepts which no other studio attempted, like trying to explain Wall Street in LAMBS WILL GAMBLE (1930), I love the bear sequence in that one, Joe De Nat underscores it with the old “Grizzly Bear Rag” song. BIRTH OF JAZZ (1932) is one of my favorites as Harrison/Gould’s version of Krazy is dropped down a chimney by the stork and emerges as a Ted Lewis bringing “St. Louis Blues” to life on his licorice stick. He then hops a plane with all the instruments and brings jazz to the whole world. 1935’s THE HOTCHA MELODY is one of the few cartoons that shows the life of a creative person, in this case a composer of popular music (Krazy Kat), in the actual process of getting an idea. He is literally tempted by the devil to steal Robert Schumann’s “Traumerai” and turn it into a popular song called “The Hot-cha Melody”. Krazy is delighted to hear his song on all the radio stations sung by Kate Smith, Bing Crosby, the Boswell sisters and Cab Calloway. He pays the price though, when the spirit of Schumann appears to him and beats him up for stealing his melody. There is satiric commentary about Tin Pan Alley and the whole process of popular music marketing in the thirties that I’ve never seen in any other cartoon. I’ve always liked 1936’s THE MERRY CAFE too. It’s about poor Krazy starving amid plenty in the “Eat-O-Mat”, a cartoon version of Manhattan’s Automat restaurant of the 1920s and 1930s. The whole concept of “automatic” dining works well as cartoon backdrop and the fantasy sequence with the various foodstuffs coming to life is a lot of fun. My favorite scene is the hot drops of chocolate emerging from an urn and turning into little black dancers. I think Joe De Nat uses the “Muskrat Ramble” to great effect in this cartoon. A few peaches sing “Music Is Magic” by Arthur Johnston, from the 20th Century-Fox musical “Music Is Magic” introduced by Alice Faye.

I’ve always imagined Columbia’s Krazy to be a Kat apart. He was the first character I was exposed to as a kid with the name Krazy Kat, so I thought he was the “real” Kat. Then when our local TV station ran “L’il Ainjil”, I thought something was terribly wrong! What happened to Krazy? Who were that weird dog, duck and mouse? Well, thanks to Coulton Waugh’s “The Comics”, I found the answer, the comic strip! It was love at first sight, ever since then I’ve read Krazy Kat where ever I can find it. The strip is really a pure thing, it can’t successfully be interpreted in any other media. Of course, I’ve never seen the John Alden Carpenter ballet, but for that I’d need a time machine! So long until next time.

5 Responses to “Thoughts and Kats”

  1. Michael Sporn Says:

    Excellent analysis of all those Krazy Kat films! I don’t think I’ve read anyone else talk about the King Features films. Somehow I have a fondness for them even though they were more miss than hit. I guess I was young when I saw them.

  2. Mark Kausler Says:

    Thanks for reading this screed, Mike! I will put up a link to your blog very soon the next time I “manage” the list. Every once in awhile I find myself singing the old King Features Trilogy “Beetle Bailey” and “Snuffy Smith” theme songs out loud, then I stop before anybody gets out a net.

  3. Thomas Stathes Says:

    I really enjoyed the read as well. Interesting & precise observations on the different screen incarnations of Krazy. After seeing so many Columbia Krazys, “Li’l Ainjil” was something of a shock to me too! (Although I had knowledge of the original character and strip, I just didn’t see that coming.)
    I picked up the Popeye set today- AWESOME seeing you in the documentary! Kudos on that. I hope to be joining those ranks at some point ;-)
    Tom

  4. Paul Etcheverry Says:

    Great post! You’re the first person I’ve seen write anything about Joe DeNat, who was responsible for some pretty wonderful scores. I’m a huge fan of the 1930’s Mintz series, but haven’t seen LIL ANJIL’ in close to 45 years.

    I send you and Kathy my best regards . . . must get back to editing 16mm footage for this weekend’s Thrill-o-tronic Film Show.

    Cheers,
    Paul

  5. Marc Crisafulli Says:

    This is a great blog! Herriman utilizes his dailies every bit as well as his Sundays… the great sense of timing and wonderment still shine through. I also really enjoy hearing about your precoccupations and processes. Thanks!

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