Music in Van Beuren Sound Cartoons 1928-29

This week we start a new series with the focus on the music in the cartoons produced by Amadee Van Beuren.

Mr. Van Beuren is not known to have ever dipped a brush into a paintpot or pen into an inkwell (except to write checks). But he did know his way about the financial ins and outs of the studio system. And, as financial head of Fables Pictures, Inc., he headed one of the most successful studios of the 1920’s. Van Beuren was also intrepid, and willing to spend the money on the new complication that was increasing the budgets of animated pictures just as it was the budgets of live-action production – sound. Parsimonious Paul Terry was so devoted to silent pictures that he found himself getting fired within the first year of such production. The Aesop’s Sound Fables cartoons continued, without much dialogue, but with soundtracks synchronized by one Josiah Zuro, including some of the popular songs of the day. Neither Van Buren, nor Terry, nor Pathe, owned any music publishing houses, so they were not trying to push songs generated from their musical features, like Paramount or Warner Brothers.

Dinner Time (10/14/28). For some people, this was their first exposure to a “synchronized” sound cartoon – although Fleischer’s experiments with DeForest Photofilms preceded it. The release of this film predates the debut of Steamboat Willie, though Disney and staff are said not to have been much intimidated by its primitive approach to audio. Not much plot, but mostly gags about dogs and cats. A cat tries to snag a bird of a pulley line, and drops to the ground, leaving behind the spirits of 8 previous lives in the process. Farmer Al Falfa shows up as a butcher, and the local dogs gather around where he is displaying some of his choicest hams and chops. Eventually, the horse-drawn wagon of the public dog pound gets into the act for a chase. Songs: “We Love It”, a 1928 pop, not much recorded at the time, but covered by Charles W. Hamp on Okeh and “Miss Annette Hanshaw” on Perfect. The song was revived in 1969 by Tiny Tim for Reprise on the “God Bless Tiny Tim” LP. “I Just Roll Along (Having My Ups and Downs)”, another 1928 hit, was recorded for Brunswick by Harry Richman, and delivered in his usual “I will not be undersold” style. “Miss Annette Hanshaw” again got the number for Perfect. Jack Hulbert issued a version in England for HMV. The song would be revived as the theme song for a early network radio show, “Coast to Coast on a Bus”, a series describing the travels of the fictitious White Rabbit Lines (“jumps anywhere, anytime”), and serving as a vehicle for some of the young New York talent of the time. “Skadatin-Dee” also appears, a number of which I know of only one recording – by Van and Schenck, “the pennant-winning battery of Songland” on Columbia – the most popular two-act on the Vaudeville stage. “I’m Wingin’ Home” was recorded by Paul Whiteman with vocal by Bung Crosby on Victor. Columbia had a version by “Eddie’s Hawaiian Serenaders” (who is the mysterious “Eddie”?). Brunswick had a vocal version by Harold “Scrappy” Lambert, a very busy recording singer, also working at the time on NBC radio as one of the “Smith Brothers”, sponsored by a well-known cough drop.

Concentrate (original title: “Hold That Thought”, from 1925) (re-released with sound 5/4/29) – All the local farm animals are watching a magic show, which features a levitation act, and the distribution of books on magic and the power of concentration – one of which conks Farmer Al Falfa on the noggin. Al begins reading, and tries practicing the tricks. He finds himself able to walk off cliff ledges, and maintain himself in mid-air by sheer will power. The animals applaud – until Al encounters a lion, who has been reading the same book, and working on propelling himself through the sky by rotating his tail like a helicopter blade. The two collide in mid-air, and a battle royal ensues. Song: “Waltzing Doll”, a piece that used to be considered part of the basic piano repertoire. Victor Herbert’s Orchestra recorded it on Victor blue seal, circa 1912, and a revival appeared in the late 40’s or early ‘50’s by Lawrence Welk on Mercury.

The Jail Breakers (5/6/29) – A gang of mice try to break out of jail. Once out, the mice are conspicuous because of their striped shirts. There are gags involving the rock pile, with an elephant who seems to hit rocks with as little exertion as possible. Songs: “The Prisoner’s Song”, the perennial favorite most associated with countless versions by Vernon Dalhart on various labels, previously discussed in these articles for its use by other studios. “I Faw Down and Go Boom”, recorded by Eddie Cantor on Victor (below), George Olsen and his Dance Orchestra for Victor, Charles Fulcher’s Orchestra for Columbia, the Six Jumping Jacks (a Harry Reser group) for Brunswick, Irving Kaufman in a vocal version on Banner et al., The Wolverines (directed by Dick Voynow, who had been the pianist for the group back when Bix Beiderbecke had been their cornetist) on Vocalion, and Whispering Jack Smith on HMV in England. “Get Out and Get Under the Moon”, recorded by Paul Whiteman with Bing Crosby for Columbia, and in a vocal version by Van and Schenck, also on the same label. Victor had Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra, and also issued a vocal version by Helen Kane. Frankie Marvin and his Uke performed it on Edison Diamond Disc. Lou Raderman performed it on Banner et al. The Broadway Bell-Hops (a Sam Lanin group) issued it on Velvet Tone, Harmony, et al. The Levee Loungers performed it on Perfect. Also included: “Spring Song”, “Anvil Chorus” and “Home Sweet Home”.

Wood Choppers (5/9/29) – Spot gags in and around a lumber camp, many of them dealing with the log flume. There’s even a gag with flumes criss-crossing one another like intersections in a city street, with one set of logs stopping to make way for cross-traffic. Songs: “Dream Train”, a 1929 pop recorded by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra for Victor (below), Devine’s Wisconsin Roof Orchestra on Paramount and Broadway (sold at Montgomery Ward stores), and as a vocal by Scrappy Lambert (under the pseudonym Harold Lang) on Cameo, Romeo, and Lincoln. Also in the cartoon is “Horses” which we’ve seen in films of other studios, and a return for “I Just Roll Along”.

Presto Chango (5/20/29) – A cat is fooling around with a magic wand. He looks up his girlfriend, and takes her out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, where he has trouble manipulating chopsticks. A chase involving most of Chinatown (looking very similar to scenes recreated in Terry’s subsequent production, “Chop Suey”) is resolved when the cat produces a mule to kick away his pursuers. He then causes a Justice of the Peace to appear, who knots the cat’s and his girlfriend’s tails together in matrimony. Songs: “Oh Promise Me”, written by Reginald De Koven, a song associated with weddings. Harry Macdonough was among the early action on this piece, for Victor circa 1901. Irene Williams performed it for Brunswick circa 1921. Elsie Baker recorded a vocal version for acoustic Victor, who also issued an instrumental version by the Venetian Trio. Louise Homer got the more expensive red seal release on Victrola. Edison issued a diamond disc by Elizabeth Spencer. Jules Levy Jr.’s Brass Quartette performed it on Pathe Actuelle – Levy’s father was a first chair trumpeter in New York. An early electrical version appeared on scroll victor by Renee Clement. Paul Robeson performed it electrically on HMV. Al Bowlly also performed it on HMV in the late 1930’s, accompanied by George Scott Wood on pipe organ. Later versions included Nelson Eddy for Columbia, and Jan Peerce on RCA Victor.

Skating Hounds (5/27/29) – Spot gags on snow-covered hills and a frozen-over lake. Our Farmer Al winds up frozen in a block of ice. Being a toon, he doesn’t have to worry about hypothermia. Songs: “The Skater’s Waltz” (below, covered in articles regarding other studios), and “Jingle Bells”.

Bughouse College Days (7/23/29) (reissue of “Bugville Field Day”, released June 11, 1925). An insect athletic competition, presumably between rival learning institutions (though never identified or clearly explained in the film), complete with a homecoming king and queen. A spider loses a race but steals the homecoming queen anyway, and duels the hero in Terry fashion that would be often repeated in later films, both at Van Buren and Terrytoons, with beheading gags and the spider succumbing to multiple blood-spurting stab wounds. (Spiders were definitely expendable in these productions and subject to the most violent deaths, with no thought of showing them any humane mercy.) Songs: “Oh, You Circus Day”, a song from 1912, recorded on Columbia by Arthur Colling and Byron G. Harlan, on Edison by Vernon Dalhart (as Robert White); and Harry (Haywire Mac) McClintock on Victor. “Dancing Shadows”, best known by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra on Victor, with a solo by Frank Trumbauer (below). Also recorded by pianist Raie Da Costa on Parlophone, and George Hall’s Orchestra on Romeo. “Honey”, recorded by Rudy Vallee on Victor, Oscar Grogan on Columbia, Lew White in an organ solo on Brunswick, The Jardin Royal Orchestra on Angelus, the Fred Bird Rhythmicans on Homochord, the alleged “Los Angeles Ambassadors” on British Broadcast, and later, Teddy Powell on Bluebird, Arthur Godfrey on Columbia, and in a late single by Chet Atkins on RCA Victor. “My Hero”, from the operetta “The Chocolate Soldier”, recorded by Inez Barbour on acoustic Columbia, and later, Rise Stevens on Columbia Masterworks, Al Goodman in an album set from the Operetta on RCA Victor, and revived in the 1950’s by The Four Aces on Decca, and in 1960 by the Blue Notes on Value. Also appearing is “Over the Waves”, which has been covered in articles on other studios.

House Cleaning Time (7/23/29) – Farmer Al Falfa and his cat are trying to swab the floor of his house – but the resident mice are having no part of it. They prefer to go skating on the freshly-waxed floor. Featuring the usual Terry trademark of masses of mice. Songs: “That’s My Weakness Now”, previously discussed in uses from a rival studio, and “Kansas City Kitty”, one of the best-known versions of which was the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks on Victor. Billy Murray cut it as a vocal on Edison Diamond Disc in an early electrical performance. HMV did not issue the Victor version, but cut their own performance by Noble Sissle and His Orchestra. Harry Reser’s Syncopaters recorded it for Columbia. The Rhythmic Eight performed it for Zonphone. The Cotton Pickers (a house band that sometimes featured the Dorsey Brother and/or Phil Napoleon) recorded a Brunswick version. Ezra Buzzington’s Orchestra (something of a precursor to the Hoosier Hot Shots) performed a novelty version on Champion. Cody Fox and his Yellow Jackets performed another country version on a late 30’s issue from Perfect. Ambrose Haley and his Ozark Ramblers also performed a country version on Mercury in the 1940’s.

Next Time: More Van Buren from 1929.