Saturday, December 22, 2007


How about Joan Crawford, who was good when she was young (above, topmost) but who morphed into a complete genius in middle age (above). How do you like this combination of a slip, a near-unibrow, and an aesome awning-stripe background?

I sneaked this (above) in after I got comments reminding me that I left out Garbo. I should be flogged for that because I love Garbo. Amazingly, I didn't always feel that way. Before two or three years ago I used to wonder what all the fuss was about. What turned me around was that I finally got hold of a good print of "Grand Hotel." Watch that, "Anna Christie" and "Romance" and you'll see for yourself why she was so special. She's one of the queens of sentimental over-the-top.

And let us not forget Madeline Kahn who was brilliant as Eunice in "What's Up, Doc?"

Imogene Coca (above, spelled right this time), the wonderful partner of Sid Ceasar in the 50s!

Come on, no screen witch matched Margaret Hamilton, though the woman who did the voice of the hag in Disney's "Snow White" wasn't shabby.

Hamilton played a pretty good biddie, too.

What about Edna May Oliver (above) who was so good in "David Copperfield"?

Then there's women like Bette Davis, Margaret Rutherford, and the like. This would be a long list if I wasn't so sleepy.

Friday, December 21, 2007


My preferred Christmas present this year (for people who don't have it) is once again this must-read book, "The Essence of Style" by Joan DeJean." It's ostensibly a book about fashion but it's really about politics, in fact it's one of the the very best books on politics I've ever read! Don't ask if it favors the Republicans or the Democrats; that's beside the point. The book says that politics is about aggressively bringing prosperity and jobs to one's own city or country. Let me explain.

According to DeJean, Louis XIV dedicated his reign to making France the pre-eminent economic power in 17th century Europe. One by one he targeted the trades that interested him and gave gifted people the power to make improvements happen. The king took a personal interest in these projects and rewarded people who delivered the goods with knighthood. He demanded results. He said in effect, "Do what you have to do to win. I'll back you up 100%."

The king was not above bribing skilled foreigners to leave their guilds and take up residence in France. He even had one of them kidnapped! Other nations didn't like to lose their skilled workers and would threaten to imprison or even kill these workers if they tried to leave. Undeterred, Louis sent gangs of soldiers dressed as civilians to smuggle these workers out. Once in France they were showered with money and privileges. Some of them were invited to live in the palace and were given titles.
Louis didn't stand idly by while all this happened. He was full of innovative ideas himself. He invented shopping and he lit up Paris with candles and oil lamps at night to prolong shopping hours and stimulate night life in cafes and theaters. When parts of Paris dragged their feet and were slow to rebuild to attract visitors, he set up tent cities where merchants could sell. The guy was a powerhouse of energy!
My favorite story in the book is one where Louis claimed at court that French shoemakers were the best in the world, so good that they could make seamless leather boots. He said he was wearing a pair that very moment. Of course, he was king, and no one had the nerve to ask for proof. All over Europe the foreign shoemakers instantly suffered a lowering of status since none of them knew how to make seamless boots. He'd used the same kind of tricks to promote French agriculture. He even convinced people to pay big prices for champagne, which was formerly considered an inferior wine, plagued with excessive gasification.
If I could afford it, I'd send everyone in Congress a copy of this book.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The other day I saw Jean Harlow's "Reckless" on Turner. It's not a great film, and I'm not a fan of Harlow, but she, or rather the girl who sang in her place, did a great job on the prelude to the title song. It's a nifty piece of work that deserves to be recognized. Here's the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein:

Harlow: "What'll you ever BE?"

"What'll you ever DO?"

"How will you ever KNOW if you don't take a chance!?"

Girl Chorus: "You have got-to-get-ONE...SWEET...TASTE..."

Harlow: "I'm gonna LIVE long,

LEARN a lot,

I'll light my candle,

and I'll BURN a lot!"

Girl Chorus: "You'll have your BEST shocks,

HARD knocks..."

Harlow: "I'm on my OWN if I bruise!"

Girl Chorus: "And they'll be SMART TEARS,


Harlow: "And I can take it on the CHIN if I lose,

because I'm RECKLESS!!!"

Girl Chorus: "Because she's reckless..."

Harlow: "RECKLESS!"

Girl Chorus: "Because she's reckless..."

Harlow: "I'm gonna GO PLACES and LOOK LIFE IN THE FACE!!!!"

Astonishing genius! I love the rhetorical structure of the piece, and the contrast between the earthy, almost masculine voice of the singer, and the feminine voices in the choir. Never skimp on the choir. Without them (or a good instrumental or spoken poem) there's no contrast.

It's a pity that so many arrangements don't adequately set up the song. You have to prime a song, just like a pump. The song needs something to bounce off of, and that something has to be major entertainment in its own right, independent of the song. In the case of "Reckless" the primer overshadows the song, and that's OK. I would never cripple a really good primer, whether in music or animation, just to make the mediocre subsequent statement a little less offensive.

I'M NOT DEAD!!!!!!!

I'm not dead, I'm just super busy!!!! Man, Christmas is a bear, isn't it?!!! I'll try to post something later today!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I have a rough deadline to meet tomorrow so I can't do a really first-rate post. How about a really good second-rate post?...second-rate only because I can't take the time to comment on it...Mario Lanza singing "Be My Love." Boy, he really belts this out! If I've posted this before then forgive me, but I doubt many will mind hearing it a second time.

Here's (above) a song that used to be sung at weddings. It starts mild then Mario goes into turbo mode the way Caruso used to do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My favorite Christmas CD? That's easy: "The Christmas Album," shown above. One thing that's striking about it: every song is sung with conviction. No irony, no condescension, just the straight dope. I also like the idea that some of the songs come from the mono era, and that artists include off-the-wall choices like The Associated Glee Clubs of America, and the De Paur Infantry Chorus.

While I'm at it, I think I'll put up my list of definitive versions of Christmas songs. Here goes:

First Noel: Mario Lanza (45rpm version only, not the one on his Christmas album).

Jingle Bells: The Chipmunks

Cherry Tree Carol: Beers family

Watts Nativity: Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Mono)

O Holy Night: Mahalia Jackson

Silver Bells: Johnny Mathis

Blue Christmas: Elvis

White Christmas: Bing

Rudolph: Autry

This list leaves out a lot, most notably "Silent Night." That's because those songs are done well in several versions and no one version stands out as the best.

Favorite Christmas albums include ones by King's College (the early ones), Mathis, Jackson, the Chipmunks (only the one with Jingle bells is commendable), Nat King Cole and a bargain audio cassette: "Music Box Christmas." Come to think of it, there's a great CD containing songs and recitations by Hollywood stars of the 40s...I just can't think of the name.



Boy, you have to have thick skin to be a caricature subject for John! Here I am on a restaurant napkin, sharing the space with a starfish, a screaming girl, and a puppet profile.

If you're curious to see what doodles were on the other side, then here you go!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


It was announced yesterday! ASIFA's 2008 Winsor McCay Award for career achievement goes to John Kricfaluci! I can't think of a better choice! Hearty congratulations, John!

I'm just stating the obvious when I say that John's contribution to the industry has been immense. He and Ralph re-invigorated a dying animation industry with "New Adventures of Mighty Mouse " which, together with Disney's "Roger Rabbit, " brought on the 90s animation boom. His "Ren & Stimpy" was ground-breaking in every way, and is still massively influential, even today. Flash animation was just a way to do banner-ads before he got hold of it, and his blog is a stunning teaching tool and oasis of thoughtful cartoon analysis. If I were to discuss his drawing innovations this post would require a couple of hours to read. The man's amazing, what can I say?

The award ceremony is on February 8, 2008. For tickets and information :


Here's (above) a picture of a near-by galaxy that's believed to look like our own. Pretty isn't it? When I was a kid they told us that no one could see the center of our own galaxy, that whatever was there was a mystery. Now all that's changed. Now we know that a monster black hole lies at the center, and we even have pictures of the area surrounding it.

And here (above) it is, the center of the galaxy. The space you see isn't very wide, there's just a lot of stars packed into it. These stars are highly energetic. They're born, live and die in an amazingly short time. They're constantly colliding and eating each other up.

If you want to see the very, very center then here (above) it is, where the arrows are pointing on the picture on the right. The stars closest to the center of the picture are erratically orbiting the black hole at a velocity of three million miles an hour. The size of the hole? It contains two million solar mases and it's the size of a grain of dust!

Here's (below) a link to an animated film showing the path of the stars closest to the hole:
Here's (above) the center of the Andromeda galaxy where a black hole is in evidence which is even more powerful than our own. I know what you're thinking it looks like.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


A good day so far, I figured.

I was on my way from the parking lot to the restaurant when I realized that an old lady with a walker was also hobbling toward the door from a different direction. She looked kind of frail so I speeded up a little, thinking I'd hold the door open for her. Big mistake!

When she saw me speeding up she figured I was trying to beat her to the door so I could get a better place in line... so she hobbled faster. I saw her hobbling faster so I walked faster. She saw me walk faster so she began to run, taking what for her were giant strides with the walker. I saw her running so I ran even faster. She saw me running and really tore for the door. Neck and neck, we both almost dived for the door. I don't mean to brag but I got there a full second or two before her, and I gallantly (I thought) opened the door for her.

No thanks were offered but a good deed is its own reward.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Today we met again at "The Bear Pit," a local sawdust-on-the-floor barbecue restaurant with Preston Blair - style paintings all around the walls. When I came in John was reading The National Enquirer, which is essential reading for cartoonists since it contains all the necessary info about what stars have cellulite. Orders were placed and the conversation commenced.

We began with a fascinating discussion of Scribner but that'll require a lot of pictures to explain, so I'll save it for last.

After Scribner we talked for a bit about how old I look in those photo essay pictures I took. Maybe anticipating an outpouring of self-pity, John kindly said I didn't look that old in real life, but really, that wasn't necessary. I explained that I'd reached an advanced philosophical level where I was beyond worldly concerns like screamingly grotesque wrinkles. People at my elevated level laugh at people who worry about things like that. "Ha!", we say, "Ha!"

Then we talked for a while about what tragic creatures men are. Poor men spend their whole lives chasing after sex and get only a fraction of what they need. John said that's why men have to go to war, because somebody has to be made to pay for our frustration at not being able to have a harem.

Talking about sex brought us around to Tex Avery, maybe the most heterosexual director of the color cartoon era. We both agreed that after Clampett, Tex was the greatest cartoon director. Jones ranks third, which is still a very high position.

Jones was all about telling linear stories in a humorous, well-executed and professional manner. Clampett was a creature of the big band and jitterbug era, and also of the golden age of radio and live-action film comedy. He swam in media. He had street smarts, charisma and almost unfailing intuition. In John's words, he made cartoons an "experience."

Somehow (?) this digressed into a discussion of Tim Russert (spelled right?), the TV news commentator. Russert used to be a rock & roll promoter and he still looks like someone who could tell a good dirty joke. You have to admire the guy for his ability to re-invent himself as a news commentator. Here's (above) a napkin drawing John did of him. I like the Thurber arms and serious expression.

Here's (above) what we talked about most of the time. John's been telling me that the new Warner set contains a break-through print of Clampett's "Eatin' on the Cuff." He said the amazing clarity of the print allows us to see never-before-seen (by this generation) nuances in the cartooning and animation, and that this necessitates a re-evaluation of the film as one of Clampett's best. He makes the case in a wonderful post that's on his site now:

I'd already read the blog and I had to admit that John was right. Take a look at these Scribner drawings. The happy energy, the love of cartooning, the inventive poses, the beautiful proportions and attention to detail are awe-inspiring! I love the wrinkled sleeves...who said you can't animate wrinkled clothing? The black and white values are handled so well that you don't even miss the color.

Notice that the girl looks feminine and funny at the same time. Scribner was able to do both! After seeing this it's going to be hard to go back to seeing cartoon girls that are only one or the other.

Here the Veronica Lake spider shows off her glorious schnoz. Note the big hands and big eyes. My favorite cartoon characters usually have big hands and eyes. That's what you make expressions with. In my world only secondary characters have small hands and small eyes.

Here's (above) a wonderful example of Scribner cartooning. It's just a back shot, yet it leaves me breathless! The hair and large lower body are hilarious and the size and orientation of the legs are inspired!

You can say that real girls don't look like that, but are you sure? I see girls (above) who are a bit like that all the time.

Anyway, I digress. We talked endlessly about Scribner and spent some time trying to figure out why Clampett, who was very prolific in his black and white period, turned out fewer cartoons a year in his color period. Maybe he was busy developing his own projects on the side, maybe good work requires more time. We could only guess.
Anyway, the conversation eventually ran out of gas and we found ourselves out in the blinding sunlight of the parking lot, ready to face another day!


Continued below.........

Saturday, December 08, 2007