THE ANIMATED WORLD OF LAUREL AND HARDY PART ONE
THE BOYS, DISNEY AND IWERKS
By Antony Waite & Joanne Mitchell
We read with interest Rob Ewen's recent feature as Sons who have been researching the Boys appearances in "cartoons" for the last five years. It is interesting to note that although Disney studios were not the most prolific studios with Hollywood parodies (that would be Warner Brothers), they certainly did make, and still do to this day, films which reference our heroes, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
There were earlier parody shorts from other studios, but these did not really have the wealth of "stars" available, or the quality of animation, as compared to Disney in the mid 1930's. Caricatures were used for on the spot gags or entire shorts (film stars, politicians or real heroes like Charles Lindbergh were used) - indeed it is said that Frank Tashlin often watched comedy films with a note book in hand, jotting down gags and ideas. His "Porky and Teabiscuit" (1939) re-works the auction scene of "One Good Turn", for example.
One of the earliest Hollywood parody cartoons was mentioned in Rob's article, although not named, and was "Mickey's Gala Premiere" (1933), and is available on the DVD "Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 1". This short shows all of the famous stars of the time arriving at Graumann's Theatre for the premiere of the latest Mickey Mouse cartoon, and Stan and Ollie, The Marx Brothers, Chaplin and a whole host of stars too numerous to list here, all turn up to pay their respects and many are seen entering the theatre, and again laughing inside.
Many of the "guests" at the premiere proved very hard to identify as some are not actors, such as theatre owner Sid Graumann and one interesting character is that of a "king" overlooking the crowd from the balcony - Dave Dodd discovered that it is meant to be the film censor Will Hayes, overseeing the proceedings from his position on high.
Known as "Movie Star Mickey" for the re-edited and shortened version (and 16mm release), this was the last item to be broadcast by BBC before its service shut down at the start of WWII - it was also the first to be shown after the war ended and service was resumed.
Another Mickey Mouse short, "The Pet Store" (1933) is a good "King Kong" spoof in which Mickey works in a pet shop, and Beppo the Gorilla uses Minnie as his Fay Wray. Beppo does an impersonation of Stan after seeing a picture of him in a movie magazine - scratching his head and then scratching his hair on his backside! This is also available on the DVD Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 1. In "Lady and The Tramp" (1955) there is a brief moment when the dogs stroll through a park, which has animals in cages - passing the ape house, one of them scratches its head, almost like Stan, but there are no changed facial expressions. It has to be said that apes and monkeys in other Disney cartoons also have this mannerism as well - harking back to Beppo.
The only other Mickey short to actually feature Stan and Babe is "Mickey's Polo Team" (1936). As this was covered in detail previously we will not dwell upon it again here, but it is worth mentioning that this short was based upon Walt Disney's love of polo, a game he often played with Hollywood stars. The release was delayed due to the death of Will Rogers, who should have been portrayed in the film - and is replaced with early versions of Donald and Goofy (billed as The Goof on the scoreboard). Stan and Babe saw and liked the cartoon, and wrote "Thanks Walt for the swell cartoon" in a letter which can be found in the Disney archives at Burbank Studios - we know it is genuine, as Lois Laurel has also said how much she enjoyed the Disney appearances, and she knows her father did too. Likewise, Walt Disney enjoyed the Laurel and Hardy films, and let Mickey Mouse appear "live" in "Babes in Toyland", as well as providing the animated segment "Hot Choc-Late Soldiers" for "Hollywood Party" (1934), along with an animated Mickey.
There are however, like the previously mentioned "The Whalers" (see Vol 7 Issue 7), several shorts starring Mickey that reference Stan and Ollie films in other ways. First "Alpine Climbers" is a short reminiscent of "Swiss Miss" and was released that same year. It features amongst others, a dog carrying brandy, which Pluto tries to steal. In "Moving Day" a piano has a life of its own - more so than "The Music Box". In a short from 1940 called "Mr Mouse Takes a Trip" there features a train porter (voiced by Billy Bletcher) who announces the destinations in a manner similar to that in "Berth Marks", and sounds similar to Walter Long. Billy Bletcher sometimes provided voice-overs for Hal Roach films, and is sometimes credited as doing the voice of the little man in the lift from "Block-Heads", but this is wrong.
"The Nifty Nineties" features the song, "In The Good Old Summertime", "Mickey's Rival" features a mouse with Charley Chase traits, and also has Mickey and Minnie whistling the tune, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". Mickey says, "Yes ma'am" to a male character in "The Chain Gang".
Probably the greatest cartoon from this period, in terms of general story and animation, as well as Stan and Babe caricatures is the excellent Disney Silly Symphony, "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" (1938). It "stars" Katherine Hepburn as Bo Peep trying to find her sheep by traveling through nursery rhymes. On the way she meets Humpty Dumpty WC Fields, and other Hollywood stars including Stan and Ollie as Simple Simon and The Pie Man (who whistles Ku-Ku). They have a fight with some pies and their mannerisms shown include tie twiddling and head scratching. Later, in the grand musical finale, Stan is seen playing a clarinet while Ollie plays a trombone. Other characters seen are Harpo, Chico and Groucho Marx as The Fiddlers Three, and Cab Calloway and his band as The Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Readers may have seen some of the original sketches or cel art appearing on e-bay or other auction sites, for very silly prices indeed! A new print can be seen on the US DVD "More Silly Symphonies Volume Two 1929-1938".
In reading through past magazines, several sons thought that Ollie appeared in the Silly Symphony "Musicland" (1935). Although similar in looks, it is actually jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman - often if you think it is Ollie without Stan, it is more likely to be Mr Whiteman (Ollie is called Mr Whiteman in "Below Zero"). The same mix up happened with a Looney Tune film called "Wake up the Gypsy in Me" (1933), and may possibly be in a short called "Looney Balloonists" (Columbia 1936), then again, without viewing it properly, it may turn out to be Babe after all. Another Symphony called "The Bird Store" (1932) has also been mentioned as having Stan and Babe in it, but on viewing turns out to be a fat and a thin bird!
There are several Disney films and shows that have references to Stan and Ollie in much smaller capacities to the others already mentioned elsewhere. "The Rescuers" (1977) has Stan and Ollie dialogue in it, and the character of Horace Horsecollar is always seen in a bowler hat and bow tie. In the more recent "Hercules" (1997), the villain strikes a light with his thumb like Stan in "Way Out West", and "Treasure Planet" (2002) has a Walter Long type character in John Silver, while "Morph" makes a cuckoo noise also in this film. In the "Casey Jnr." segment of "The Reluctant Dragon" (1941) there is one brief Babe moment, when the train falls off the tracks, looks to camera, and does a Hardy-esque finger tap. Rubble then falls on his head, a la Ollie in "Dirty Work". The director Alfred Werker also worked with Stan and Babe, directing them in "A-Haunting We Will Go". During "The Diggers Split Up" episode of "Disney's Recess" (1999), Digger Dave quits digging, and bosses everyone around, before one character says to the other "You are a team, like Laurel and Hardy".
Finally we come right up to date with "Chicken Little" (2005). Although not an appearance, it is nice to know that in today's CG animated films, the Boys are still thought of, as Doug Bennett, the animator for Runt of the Litter explains him as an "Oliver Hardy kind of character A big guy with delicate movements. He's very solid and yet light on his feet". In the recent "Meet the Robinsons" (2007), one of the main stars is a bowler hat!
Dick Jones, a child extra in "Babes In Toyland", voiced the character of "Pinocchio" (1940) in the Disney version, while Charles Judels - the cheese shop owner from "Swiss Miss", voiced the character of Stromboli. Not forgetting of course that Billy Gilbert was the voice behind Sneezy in "Snow White" (1937), and the giant in "Fun and Fancy Free" (1947); this film also contains the dialogue "Three minds without a single thought", referring to Mickey, Donald and Goofy!
During the early years at Disney, Ub Iwerks (artist for Mickey) was responsible for many of the caricatures and designs, and made many shorts at other studios.Four titles he produced actually have Stan and Ollie caricatures in them, and a few others have references in other ways. Probably the two most well known amongst Sons are "Balloonland" (aka "Pincushionman" 1935) and "The Brave Tin Soldier" 1934), released independently by PA Powers. The appearances are very brief, and no dialogue is used - in the first short Stan and Ollie are balloons (along with Chaplin) that float across the screen, and in the second they literally pop up as round-bottom toy dolls, in this re-working of the Hans Christian Anderson tale. Eddie Cantor and two of The Marx Brothers also appear, and Groucho is seen as a Jack-in-the-box judge, who at one point gives the verdict to shoot the soldier. It is also known as "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" for TV and video releases - a version which has a new soundtrack, which omits much of the spoken dialogue, including the Grouch Marx sentencing, and the Ku-Ku reference.
Iwerks' own character creation of Flip the Frog was no where near as popular, or remembered today as Mickey Mouse - nevertheless, he starred in over 30 very entertaining and musical shorts in the early 1930's, released by MGM, two of which also have Stan and Ollie appearances. "Movie Mad" (1931) is a going to Hollywood parody that borrows ideas from the earlier short, "Felix in Hollywood" (1923). This time, Flip sees Chaplin in a magazine and does an impression of him, before breaking into some studios where he sees a pig (Babe) and a dog (Stan) making a film.
In the entertaining and last to be produced short "Soda Squirt" (1933), Flip opens a drug store in Hollywood where famous faces come to drink from his soda fountain. These excellent parodies include Babe, Stan, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton, Lionel Barrymore as Rasputin, Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx, Mae West, Joe E Brown and "Mr. Hyde". The Boys are the first to arrive, and Babe Hardy greets the crowd, and once inside the store he orders "two orange cokes"!
One other short worth mentioning is "What-A-Life" (1932). In this short Flip and his friend are busking in the snow, in a scene very reminiscent of "Below Zero" - it even has a bird lay an egg into the collection cup! All three Flip cartoons are available on the USA DVD Cartoons That Time Forgot Ub Iwerks Volume 2. Six months after "Pardon Us" was released, a Flip the Frog cartoon called "Jailbirds" was released, and three months after that, one called "School Days" - in this one a schoolteacher sings "Good morning to you", and the children in class reply in song.
Two animators by the names of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising also helped in creating the musical Symphonies, and later created the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies at Warner Brothers - next time we will look at these shorts and their Stan and Ollie appearances.
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