Month: November 2009
A few Thanksgiving leftovers this time around. I found a few articles in the Los Angeles Examiner which were illustrated by Webb Smith, the creator of the “flypaper sequence” first used in the Mickey Mouse cartoon “Playful Pluto”. This sequence became the template for Disney frustration comedy for a long time after it was created, for it allowed the protagonist (in this case Pluto) to pause long enough in the action of getting stuck in something (flypaper) to register thinking and emotions to the audience, usually by a camera look. The sequence was animated by Norm Ferguson, who brought all the thinking in Smith’s sketches to life on the screen. Practically every Pluto cartoon thereafter had elements of the “stuck-in something” formula, and of course it worked especially well when used with a low-boiling point personality like Donald Duck. Webb Smith was referred to as a “cracking-good cartoonist” by Walt Disney in his daughter Diane’s book, and here is a column of his illustrations for an article which originally ran on 4/11/26.
Felix this time is from 7/13 to 7/19/36 with the 7/5/36 Sunday page thown in. Felix is paired with Snobbs the butler this week in babysitting gags. Snobbs has to take care of Mrs. Boo’s baby, much against his will. I love the sleeping Felix in the baby’s crib in the 7/14. Felix at this time is a true “humourous continuity”, so the effort to supply the missing strips is really paying off.
Krazy Kat starts the 1940 dailies this time, from 1/1 to 1/6/1940. Mostly one off gags here, the 1/1 is the most obscure. Ignatz hides his head like an ostrich and Offissa Pupp puts him in jail, earth and all. I love Pupp’s gleeful expression as Ignatz gets the brick in the 1/4.
From the generous Cole Johnson comes one of the Missing Marvelous Mikes, the episode of 9/9/1957 which was preempted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper strike. What beautiful quality!
Cathy and I stayed in the little town of Tehachapi over Thanksgiving this year. What a town for rail fans with the 122 year old Tehachapi Loop still functioning. We watched a 122 car freight train making the circuit. It was so long a train that it doubled up on itself as it went around the loop. If you visit the town of Tehachapi, the “Loop” is actually nearer to the town of Keene, about 12 miles from Tehachapi. The old downtown has a lot of model train stores and old coffee shops and motels. We found a lot of charming farms and countryside to paint as we travelled about. If you go, prepare for a slower, more relaxed pace with plenty of friendly people. By the way, look at how green the landscape was in the postcard, and how brown it is in our photos. The effects of long-term drought!
Boy, I hate to be rushed, but Alan Holtz’s Stripper’s Guide is posting SYNDICATE PROOFS of Marvelous Mike from Cole Johnson’s collection. So rather than be completely scooped, I’m going to print the concluding story line of MARVELOUS MIKE in one post.
Well, that’s the story. Bob Kuwahara’s job as the first story sketch artist at Disney may have influenced the idea behind Mike. It’s really “Baby Weems” from “The Reluctant Dragon” isn’t it? Just a bit soapier, with a bit of Little Orphan Annie style sidetracking going on. It’s interesting that with only 6 days of the strip left to go, the Post-Dispatch was still promoting it: This ad ran on 9-15-1957. Most of the run of Mike was printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “Everyday Magazine” on the back page. The Post ran most of the daily comics with color added, not always the best color and not always in register. That’s why the copies of Mike I used were often murky. Here is a note that the Post ran on 4-25-47 when the ongoing labor disputes forced the dailies into black and white:
You will notice that I’m missing 9/2 and 9/9/57 from the above strips. 9/2 was Labor Day, and 9/9, a Saturday episode that wasn’t printed because the Post was shut down in a strike! Mike’s final strips were printed in the midst of labor troubles. I used two versions of the 9/18 strip, one for the dialog, and one for the drawings. The microfilm printer just wouldn’t cooperate that day. It is with sadness that I bring to a close these Marvelous Mike episodes, one of my favorite strips from childhood. Again, thanks to my brother for risking his life (literally) to copy these from the microfilm collection of the St. Louis Public Library. It took many years to complete this project, I can’t believe it’s done! Now, click the link to the right, and go over to Stripper’s Guide, they have a better class of material. I hope they get more response to reprinting Marvelous Mike than I did! Remember to click on the thumbnails to see the strips at readable size.
You can see more of these great scans if you go over to the Stripper’s Guide blog.
I’m playing Cat-Chup this week with the Felix strips. Here are the missing dailies: 5/23, 5/30, 6/19, 6/25, 6/29 and 7/2/36. As a bonus, here are the four missing Sunday pages that fit into our dates: 5/24, 5/31, 6/7 and 6/14/36. These fill in the missing Socky and magic wand episodes and the Sundays are the start of the circus story line. Enjoy! I’ll try to resume continuity next week. Thanks to David Gerstein for the plug and the link from his Prehistoric Pop Culture site. You’ll find a link over to him on the right side of this screen. David put together a nice Felix video compilation in honor of the cat’s 90th birthday. If only REAL cats could live that long. Kudos to Felix!
Here’s Krazy from 12/25 to 12/30/1939, finishing the 1939 dailies! In this week’s strips, Garge does “Town Crier” gags, Ostrich gags and a great snapping turtle gag on 12/28. I love the pose of Krazy looking into the turtle’s shell, very feline. Krazy finishes off the 12/30 with a terse line of dialog: “Smudda Time”.
Marvelous Mike is from 8/5 to 8/10/1957 this time. Bill Bell’s “Madeline” strip is saved by Mike and the kid contributors! Bill’s boss gives him a vacation, and Bill gives Mike a real little gasoline two-seater car! Next time we will start the last Mike story line as the strip winds up. Don’t miss it, it’s a real three hankie weeper!
For those who have trouble reading the 8-5 Mike strip due to the microfilm scan, here’s the dialog in the strip submitted by Sally Keene, Age 8 in the last panel: Little Girl: “Hi, Johnnie…I Like You…” Johnnie: “If you like me why did you hit me yesterday?” Little Girl: “I always hit peepul I like!” Johnnie: “If I like somebody I don’t hit him..” Little Girl: “Well, we can’t all be ALIKE!”
I guess nobody thought very much of my Soupy Sales tribute. Nevertheless it was heartfelt, I really loved his comedy. I find myself using a lot of his old jokes in everyday conversation, such as when somebody says “Go ahead”, I can’t resist saying “Who are you calling a gourd head?” Don’t throw that pie!
Thanks again to all those who wrote sympathy messages about my mother. It’s great to be remembered at a sad time like this. And now, to steal from Mark Evanier, “Goodnight, Internet.”
Hello Readers, this week I’m doing a little tribute to a man who lit up my childhood in St. Louis many times via his Detroit program in the 1950s and his Los Angeles programs of 1962 and 1979. Soupy Sales has gone on to entertain in heaven, he left us Oct. 22nd at the age of 83. But first, the comics!
Krazy is from 12/18 to 12/23/1939. Offissa Pupp is ever vigilant in his anti-brick campaign, using his usual weapon, the Jail , and a phalanx of alarm clocks in the 12/23. Ignatz refers to a “Juice Harp” in the 12/19 strip. This musical instrument, used a lot in jug bands and Mountain Music also went by the popular name, the “Jew’s Harp”. You can look it up.
Marvelous Mike, from 7/29 to 8/3/1957, reveals Mike to be way ahead of his time. He invents the interactive comic strip! From the mail that Bill Bell is getting from children, it looks like a smash. The syndicate prexy isn’t too happy so far, we’ll see what develops. I like the little personality touch in the 7/31, as Mike spells out “procrastinate” with his letter blocks. 8/1 and 8/2 are a little faint, because the microfilm was so dark that I thought I would try to lighten the strips so they would read better. That’s a whole string of mailmen in the 8/1, bringing in sacks of mail to the Famous Features office.
Felix is from 7/6 to 7/12/1936 this time. Felix continues to attempt to “live” with the Dooit family. Socky the bodyguard and Snobbs the butler try to make life difficult, but Felix always makes the adjustment. A running theme in the strip is the ingratitude of Felix’s “owners”. When Felix does something good for them, they lavish him with milk and sardines, but as soon as a few days elapse, they try to get rid of him again.
Losing Soupy Sales is like losing a good friend. Strange that I think of him as a friend, since I only “met” him one time, in 2006 at his Walk of Fame ceremony (that’s Soupy with Johnny Grant, the ‘Mayor’ of Hollywood in the photo up there). I was so happy just to be able to see him, it was pouring down rain that day, but the faithful were there, and Johnny Grant caught a pie in the face. Soupy couldn’t talk except to say, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart”, in a strangulated whisper. In our house, in 1962, Soupy’s Los Angeles show came in on Channel Seven. Soupy had something more than jokes, pies and puppets. He had CHARISMA, he could look at you through the TV camera lens and make you feel like you were a part of his world. That’s where the friendliness comes in. His slight North Carolina accent made him seem a bit cornpone, but he was fast and witty. It’s interesting that Soupy was really closer to my parent’s generation than mine, he was born in 1926 (nee: Milton Supman), and served in the Navy during World War Two. Yet, he projected such a youthful vibrancy and enthusiasm, us “youts” accepted him as a “kid”. He could de-fuse a joke that bombed by saying “Well, let’s look at it this way,” and make a funny face. Or, he would launch into a fast dance called “The Soupy Shuffle”, which, as Mom pointed out, was a new version of a dance called the “Flea Hop” which was big in the 1920s. My Dad was never a man to suffer fools gladly, and my brother and I were often the fools, but Soupy could make him double up with laughter. When White Fang would get really vicious after a bad joke and pummel Soupy with pies to the sound of rifle shots, that did it! The more pies that flew, the funnier the show became. Of course, the show was really Nebbish comedy. Soupy got no respect from anybody, the crew, White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie, Peaches, Herbie the Elephant Man or Spanky (from an old film clip). Clyde Adler and later, Frank Nastasi, were the offscreen tormentors that doused Soupy with water, put ice down his back, blew him up with firecrackers and of course, pummeled him with pastry. Clyde Adler was the puppeteer and voice man in 1962, my greatest year of Soupy “awareness”, and his delivery was spot on. The sneering disrespect in his voice, in any of his many roles on the show, always just as a pair of hands at the door, or hands hidden in “dog mittens”, created sympathy for the top banana. Clyde’s voice for White Fang was loud, inquisitive, and occasionally tearful, when Soupy tried to take his beloved fire hydrant away. When White Fang threw a pie, he snarled really loud, and the loud rifle shot of the pie made me think of a dog bite. There was a “monster” subtext to the show, the dogs were monsters, and even the little lion puppet, Pookie, could be a little monstrous himself. “These are the jokes, laugh it up”, Pookie would declare. Pook originally just whistled, then Adler came up with a tiny, slightly sneering voice for him, and his personality bloomed. It’s interesting to compare Soupy’s attitude toward puppets to other host/puppet shows of the 1950s and 1960s, Bob Smith and Howdy Doody had a very loving relationship, and even the villains on the show, like Mr. Bluster, never really got too monstrous. Burr Tilstrom, Fran Allison, Kukla and Oliver Dragon were the most gentle of the puppet shows. (Soupy actually replaced them in the summer of 1955 on ABC. I wonder what Burr Tillstrom thought of THAT!?) Fran Allison always had a very warm interaction with the puppets, their “villain” was Bulah Witch, and she was a complete incompetent, but a charming one. Oliver Dragon could look a bit like a monster, but he was really a cuddly dragon with only one tooth. Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop were a little sharper in the comebacks, but that was the late 1950s. Soupy had a more casual, matter-of-fact interaction with Pookie and the Dogs. I never got to see Willie the Worm from the Detroit shows, but he was reported to have been a unique character as well. Soupy would kiss Pookie across the puppet stage, often to the lion’s disgust, as he would spit right after the kiss. Sometimes the kisses were very lengthy and loving, the puppet’s rubber head getting mashed in the process. When Pookie took a pie in the face, it was the most visually hilarious of all the pie gags. Imagine a little hand puppet, completely covered in gooey shaving cream, mane frazzed out to all compass points, indignant, and trembling with rage! The fact that most of the larger puppets, like the dogs, were never seen on camera, let the viewer’s imagination fill in the void. The White Fang of my imagination was a 20 foot tall dog with a wolf-like head full of teeth. My Black Tooth looked like a tall, canine Effie Clinker (if you remember your Bergen). My Dad and I would often “talk” to each other in Fang and Tooth squawks. Soupy’s pie throwing became a big fad, my friend Elliot (Gibbons, from the 8th grade) and I threw pies made out of old oatmeal at each other at school. Elliot often drew pictures of Black Tooth’s arm throwing a pie: What memories! White Fang was part of the Soupy gang as far back as 1952, as this clipping from Radio-TV Mirror reveals: This article describes Soupy’s 1952 radio show in Cleveland, when he was known as “Soupy Hines”. This article, from TV-Radio Mirror (note the switch) from 1955 covers a later Soupy on Detroit TV when he changed his name to “Sales”: It’s hard to believe he was ever that young. You can read a lot more about the early history of Soupy and Clyde Adler over on www.detroitkidshow.com. It’s interesting that the talented Mr. Adler didn’t do much performing outside of the “Soupy Sales Show”. His voice was so funny and forceful, he should have at least done cartoon voices. However, he preferred to be a film editor in Detroit, when Soupy wasn’t doing his regular show on TV. Clyde chose not to do the New York 1965 show. That’s why there are two “camps” of Soupy fans, those who like Clyde’s version of the puppets, and those who like Frank Nastasi’s more squeaky and nasal puppet voices. Nastasi was funny, though, and you can tell that Soupy really enjoyed working with him on the few kinescopes that are still around.
If you go to http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/23/remembering-soupy-sales/, you’ll be overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for this man and his old shows from many fans from all walks of life. Many of his old jokes and favorite “routines”, real or imaginary, are discussed on that blog. Soupy made it all look effortless, but a daily live TV show is and was a relentless grind. Here’s one of my favorite photos of Soupy at WNEW in 1965 from Life magazine, looking completely drained, as an assistant makes hot tea with honey in it for him: Soupy smoked backstage to relieve the tension: Outtakes are around on video from the KTLA 1979 show, revealing a driven comic, getting angry at himself for blowing a routine and using some “effen” strong language. Soupy’s live puppet-based shows usually only lasted for a few years at a time, Soupy needed to rest every once in awhile. By the time he did his last really good show, he was 53.
Looking back on his work, now, it all seems pretty remote. I love the friendly and silly slapstick of his programs, but comedy has changed. It’s now much more aggressive and coarse than Soupy’s show ever was. Of course, in a way, Soupy’s program was a more violent, faster paced version of the old TV puppet programs, which were fundamentally gentle. The show was aimed at a general audience, really, not just children. Have you ever seen Robert Homme’s “The Friendly Giant”? It’s about the coziest puppet show ever done, definitely wouldn’t have a chance on TV now. The only puppet and live people show left is “Sesame Street”. It’s less gentle than the Giant, but there are no pies anywhere on the show, except where educationally appropriate.
Soupy, I will miss you, and the wonderful little off-stage world that you and your puppet brainchildren lived in. I will leave you in my mind as a happy man, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right outside the Hollywood Roosevelt, surrounded by your fans and wife Trudy: You do dat, and we’ll love you and give you a big kiss! Oh, sorry, Don’t Kiss (That’s a Black Tooth bit)!