February 22, 2002 · 7:00 PM PST ·
ONE OF THE world's greatest animation directors, Charles M. "Chuck" Jones died this afternoon. It hasn't made the wire
services at this moment but any minute now, they'll erupt with the sad news. Someone once wrote that if all Chuck Jones had ever given us was
What's Opera, Doc? and One Froggy Evening, he would still be hailed as one of the greats. It's very easy to forget — and
watch the obits and see if this isn't the case — how truly staggering was this man's lifetime output. He was born in 1912 and started as
a lowly cel washer (the rock bottom job in the biz at the time) in 1932, working for Ub Iwerks. In 1936, he became a junior, apprentice
animator at Leon Schlesinger's cartoon studio (aka Warner Brothers) and, just two years later, directed his first cartoon, The Night
Before long, he was among the architects of the legendary Warner Brothers cartoon style, supervising some of the exploits of Bugs Bunny
and Daffy Duck, as well as several series that were all his...most notably, Pepe LePew and the legendary Road Runner and Coyote.
When theatrical animation died out, he segued to television where his output was more varied, but still hit occasional heights with
specials like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The last few years, he had supervised several animation projects and done a lot in the
field of limited edition cels.
This is only a short overview. In the days and weeks to come, I'm sure we'll hear and see tons of specials, articles, obits and
tributes to the man. And you know what? They still probably won't list all that he did.
February 22, 2002 · 4:30 PM PST ·
TOM GALLOWAY calls my (and, therefore, your) attention to this short-but-sweet article in USA Today. It's about
the Silent Movie Theatre, which is also the subject of this article on this site. I've never met Charlie
Lustman, the entrepreneur who saved the place from oblivion and is, apparently, making a go of it, but I am grateful to him for the effort.
He's a hero. I would question though his quote in the article that, "Buster [Keaton] was the most original of all. He never repeated a
gag once in his career." This is a minor point but it's an excuse for me to suggest that we oughta all badger Sony to release Keaton's sound
shorts — assuming they own them — on home video. Talk about repeating old gags. The films aren't vintage Keaton but, hey,
Some are a bit sad, especially when they recycle his old routines with increasingly-unfunny results. But most are well worth
watching and a few, like Grand Slam Opera, are quite enjoyable. And while we're wishing, I wish someone would put out some good copies
of The Buster Keaton Show — the one he did for TV, the one where he labored in a sporting goods shop. Again, it's sometimes
uncomfy to see him reusing old bits, but the genius was always evident, at least in the background, and sometimes it took center stage. (Keaton
also did a live show for TV, only a few bad kinescopes of which seem to exist...but I think all the episodes of the film show are still in
existence. I have one or two on tape and can't imagine that there wouldn't be a market for them.)
February 22, 2002 · 10:30 AM PST ·
The prolific author Stephen Longstreet has passed away at the age of 94. (Here's a link to an obit.) But that's not a picture of
him...that's Phil Silvers. Long before Bilko, long before Silvers was a major star, he headlined a Broadway show called High Button
Shoes, the book of which was sort of written by Mr. Longstreet. That is, Longstreet penned the script and then — if we believe the
legend — he departed, leaving others to revise it during its out-of-town try-outs. Legend further has it that those try-outs were so
disastrous that other hands — mostly Silvers and lyricist Sammy Cahn — wound up changing every word of the book. In any case,
High Button Shoes was a considerable success, and Silvers believed he was the reason. He was therefore miffed, after the show opened, to
read items that kept turning up in the gossip columns about a planned movie version.
The first one said, "Author Stephen Longstreet is in talks with Danny Kaye to star in the movie of his Broadway smash, High Button
Shoes." The next said, "Author Stephen Longstreet says he expects Red Skelton to star in the movie of his Broadway hit, High Button
Shoes." The next said, "Stephen Longstreet reports that Ray Bolger is close to signing to star in the motion picture version of High
Button Shoes." It was when he read the Bolger one that Silvers lost his temper and, from his dressing room on Broadway, dispatched a
telegram to Longstreet, who was out here in Hollywood. It said:
IF I READ ONE MORE ITEM ABOUT WHO'S PLAYING MY ROLE IN A MOVIE OF HIGH BUTTON SHOES, I WILL START PLAYING THIS SHOW EXACTLY AS YOU
The press items stopped.
February 22, 2002 · 12:30 AM PST ·
THE FIRST 24 issues of Mad Comics — it became Mad Magazine with #25 — have to be the most-reprinted
comic books in history. I must have at least ten copies of the best stories and six or seven of the worst. That's not even counting the
fact that I own them all in their original printings...a revelation that probably causes you to wonder why then, I buy all the reprints. It's
because I am a monumental chowderhead, that's why. (Didn't think I had a good reason, did you?) Anyway, the first time any of that
material was reissued was in a series of Ballantine paperbacks that came out in
the fifties. They were black-and-white and the pages were chopped up and
printed sideways, one third of a comic book page to each paperback page.
It was a helluva thing to do to such wonderful material
but, somehow, it didn't matter to those of us who discovered the golden wit of the seminal Mad in this venue.
It threw me at first. I'd started reading Mad with #70, by which time it had evolved far from the comic book issues edited
and written by Harvey Kurtzman. I picked up the first paperbacks, which were then in print, expecting the kind of stuff being done in the
current magazine — Spy Vs. Spy, Don Martin, movie parodies, etc. When I didn't get it, I felt swindled...but when you're that age, you
tend to think, "I paid for it, I'm going to read it." So I read it, "it" being the very first one issued, The Mad Reader. And I
As noted, I have all those stories in many color editions, with the pages intact and rightside-up. Still, there's something
wonderfully nostalgic and even historic about those old paperbacks. I just thumbed through my first edition of The Mad Reader and
vividly recalled where I was when I read it. Like the Grinch's heart, my sense of humor grew three sizes that day.
If you just want to read Kurtzman at his best (abetted by Will Elder, Wally Wood, Jack Davis and John Severin), there are other
reprintings you should seek out...including DC's forthcoming Mad Library editions in hardcover and vivid color. But if you wax
melancholy for those old paperbacks, you can order reissues of the first two over at Amazon. They are The Mad Reader and Mad Strikes Back, and clicking on their names will whisk
you over there to order them and give us a tiny cut. And do beware of the Potrzebie.
February 21, 2002 · 2:00 AM PST ·
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE WHOLE THING
A FRIEND sent me this picture of a famous (in Broadway lore) full-page ad that ran only once and only in one edition of The
New York Herald-Tribune. Wanna hear the story behind it? Good. In 1961, the notorious Broadway producer David Merrick had a
musical called Subways Are For Sleeping that was limping along at the box office, losing business and about to warrant closure. One
reason was that the seven major Broadway critics had been indifferent — some, outright negative — about it. So, if only to cause
trouble, Mr. Merrick had his staff dig up seven men with the same names as the seven critics. He brought the men in to see the show, wined and dined
them, and secured permission to use their names and photos along with quotes about how much they enjoyed what they'd seen.
An ad was prepared and submitted to all seven newspapers...and it would have gotten into all seven, some say, had not a copy editor at
one of the papers spotted the hoax just moments before press time. (The tip-off? The photo of Richard Watts. The theatre critic
with that name was not black.) The alert copy editor phoned all the newspapers in town and they all pulled it...except that the early edition
of the Herald-Tribune was already on the streets. No matter. Merrick secured what he wanted, which was an enormous amount of
publicity. The grosses on Subways took an enormous leap upwards and, while the show was never a huge hit, it managed to last out the
season and turn a modest profit.
It was a brilliant publicity stunt...and one that Merrick had wanted to do since the idea occurred to him years earlier. What
stopped him was that, back then, the critic for The New York Times was Brooks Atkinson...and Merrick couldn't find anyone else with that
name. When Atkinson retired, he was replaced by Howard Taubman...and there was an insurance agent named Howard Taubman.
Some called Merrick "The Abominable Showman" and there are those who worked with him who still get migraines at the mention of his
name. I don't doubt that all or most of their tales are true...but I do think this ad was a stroke of genius. They don't make them like
David Merrick any longer...which is both good and bad.
February 20, 2002 · 5:00 PM PST ·
Everyone on the Internet is sending me the following info, so I might as well post it here:
Here is a useless but curious piece of information. Today,
at 8:02 PM, something will happen that will not happen again for 110 years.
For one minute, it will be 20:02, 20/02, 2002. You will have to wait until
21:12, 21/12, 2112 to see anything like this again: December 21, 2112, at 9:12
Reminds me of how Mad Magazine once pointed out that 1961 was an upside-down year...the first year that read the same
upside-down as rightside-up since 1881 and the last until 6009.
February 19, 2002 · 12:00 PM PST ·
Last week, we raved about the legendary voice demos of Paul Frees and posted a link to a site where you could hear one. Well,
just our luck: That link's server has been shut down. So I've uploaded an MP3 file of a different Frees demo to my site's server.
Depending on which browser you're using and what audio programs you have installed, you should be able to listen to it and/or download it by clicking
on the link below. Warning: This file is almost 6MB and it runs for five minutes so, if you're on a dial-up connection, I wouldn't
Paul Frees Voice Demo
February 18, 2002 · 4:30 PM PST ·
GREAT EXAMPLE last night on Game Show Network of why Garry Moore was maybe the best TV host ever, at least for that kind of
show. The rerun was I've Got A Secret for January 14, 1959, back when the show was broadcast live. The second guest was a gent
named Jack Mosely (sp?) whose secret was that using only his own lung power, he could inflate an inner tube until it burst. Naturally, he had
to demonstrate this...but when he did, it took a lot longer than usual. Long past the allotted time for the stunt, Jack was still blowing into
the thing, which had expanded to the point where it seemed ready to explode...but didn't.
On and on he went, with the audience getting hysterical — and, even on a black-and-white telecast, you could see that Mosely was
turning eleven shades of fuchsia. Through it all, Moore kept up a witty, unscripted running commentary and resisted the shouts of his producer
to cut the spot off. Special Guest Andy Griffith was still to follow but obviously, Moore reasoned that they had to play the act out
to its pay-off. I suspect he thought — no doubt, correctly — "Not one person in America's going to change channels until that
tube goes kablooey!" Instead, when a commercial became mandatory, Moore had Mosely pause and then, following the break, the inner tube inflation
resumed, now with Andy G. joining Garry to do play-by-play. The tire finally went bang, knocking Mosely on his ass and prompting an
incredible audience ovation. They never got to Griffith's "secret" but so what? It was good, fun live television...and honest.
Silly stuff, of course. But I couldn't help think that it would never happen on a TV show today...and I'm not even certain
there's a host who could properly ad-lib and cope with all that spontaneity. It isn't just that we rely too much on precisely-edited
videotape. It's that the star and format have to be protected at all times. They have to know exactly what's going to happen and have
lines prepped for when it happens...and if it doesn't happen that way, they stop tape or edit. Even on a live program — say, an awards
ceremony — any chance of surprise is kept to an utter minimum. Maybe the mania some folks have for watching live, televised police chases
is because it's such a novelty to view something other than sports on TV where fate, as opposed to a producer, is in control. With all the
"reality" shows around, it's only a matter of time before it dawns on someone that real, effective reality begins with allowing the unexpected to
February 18, 2002 · 2:30 PM PST ·
HAVE WE reached the end of the great publishing practice of Mad Magazine knock-offs? Since Bill Gaines's silly
periodical began cleaning up on newsstands fifty years ago, rival publishers have been whipping up knock-offs with names like Sick, Blast, Crazy,
Up Your Nose, The National Review, etc. (Okay, forget The National Review. It hasn't been funny in years.) But most of
the others were...some for a long time, some for a few issues. My favorite of them was Sick, especially in the first issues edited by
Joe Simon and written (mostly) by Dee Caruso...but the longest-running of them all was Cracked, which started in 1958 and endured into the new
century without, insofar as I could see, ever developing a viewpoint or style of its own. At times, it looked like Mad's refugee camp,
employing folks who were on the "outs" with Gaines.
Among many examples: The cover at upper left is from Cracked #10 and was painted by Will Elder...and for a long time,
Cracked's lead artist was John Severin, who dated back to Mad #1. When "Mad's Maddest Artist," Don Martin, went away mad in a
contract dispute, he found a home in Cracked. So did former Mad associate editor Jerry DeFuccio and one of Mad's most
prolific writers, Lou Silverstone, who was an editor at Cracked for a time. (A number of Mad scribes considered it a dandy place
to sell their rejects, often employing pen names.)
Cracked did, however, demonstrate enormous endurance. Rumor has it that this was because its publisher was in tight with a
powerful distributor. Indeed, the magazine managed some incredible feats of penetration, even getting into that most coveted of outlets,
airport gift shops. Last year at this time, it was the last surviving Mad doppelganger...but it's gone through a change of owners and
some rough times. At last report, it had been more than six months since an issue materialized, though the publisher is telling contributors
that this is a temporary condition and that they will also receive money they have long been owed. I hope so...but the two likeliest indicators
of Death in magazine publishing are a suspension of publication and not paying your contributors. If it's history, it will be a sad end to a
JACK SWERSIE is a comedian who juggles Spam luncheon meat, as well as more conventional items. Over at his website, he has an interesting journal giving his impressions of every celebrity
with whom he's ever shared a bill. I stumbled on the page by accident and enjoyed perusing it. Perhaps you will, as well.
February 18, 2002 · 4:30 AM PST ·
ATTENTION, FRANK WELKER: This evening at 11:30 PM, KFTR — a Spanish language TV station based in Los Angeles and
broadcasting on Channel 46 — is running How to Frame a Figg, the 1971 movie in which you co-starred with Don Knotts. Let's see how
you like being dubbed for a change.
February 18, 2002 · 3:00 AM PST ·
JUST SPENT AN HOUR I could ill afford reading interesting articles and looking at pretty pictures at www.comicartville.com, a terrific compendium of comic art history. At the moment, they have
— among other goodies — a lovely gallery of Alex Toth art, a good article about Doug Wildey's career, a memoir by Shel Dorf about
lettering for Milton Caniff, a discussion of Russ Heath's art and an essay on Al Williamson's art for the Flash Gordon comic book. The
above illo was cribbed from the Williamson piece.
Nothing more I need to add. If any of those names mean anything to you, click on the link and go spend an hour you probably can't
THERE'S A wonderful reward that one derives from operating a site like this. It's hearing from (a) old friends you
haven't heard from in years and (b) people you always admired. I've had plenty in both categories but a biggie in the latter came the
other day with a lovely e-mail from Peter and Alice Gowland. At various times earlier in my ongoing childhood, I wanted to be Rob Petrie, Stan
Freberg, Bob Clampett, Al Feldstein and Peter Gowland. The last of these was not merely because Mr. Gowland got paid for taking pictures of
beautiful women in little or no clothing (although that would have been quite sufficient) but because, of all the folks who did that, he actually
seemed to do a lot more than just hire gorgeous women and light them correctly.
I appreciated the work of other glamour photographers but Gowland consistently worked a magic that others could only occasionally touch
upon. You wanna see what I'm babbling about? Go over to his website — it's, as you've probably guessed, www.petergowland.com — and browse a few of his galleries. Note how he (and his partner/spouse, Alice)
always caught something about their subjects' faces that was strikingly human. Even the ladies with the most spectacular, undraped physiques
were sexiest from the neck up. And while you're there, tear yourself away from the pages of bikini babes and look at the shots of Hollywood
celebs and such. Isn't that the best picture of Alfred Hitchcock you ever saw?
Mr. Gowland was mentioned in an article I posted here about the store where I used to buy my comic books, Pico Drugs. It was near
the corner of Pico and Overland in West L.A. and I was astounded one day to discover Gowland's studio right around the corner on Overland. (He
has some pictures of that building on his site, on this page.) The mention
seems to have drawn the Gowlands to this site, which is great...because they sent me a fan letter and I got to send them an even gushier fan letter
and, boy, I think I've now "connected" with every one of my childhood heroes who lived into my alleged adulthood. Wheeee!
Another nice "connect" via website: My obit on Billy Barty caught the eye of some folks who are
assembling an authorized biography. They asked if they could include my piece in the book and, yes, of course they can. I'll announce
here when it's published and where you can snag a copy.
JUST ADDED more of those lovable possum pix to the section we call My
Backyard. Also, I fixed a whole bunch of columns where, for some reason, the logos at the tops decided they wanted to be flush left instead
of centered. And keep your eye on the counter at the bottom of this page. It's gonna roll over 100,000 in about a week. I've done
shows on CBS that didn't have that many viewers.
Click here to read the previous NEWS FROM ME