AUGUST 18, 1930: A DOG WALKS INTO A BAR

A DOG WALKS INTO A BAR

The world of Disney (as opposed to Disney World) is “peopled” by a group of cartoon animals who walk on two legs, talk intelligibly and dress stylishly. Mickey came first. Then Minnie. Add Donald plutoDuck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy, and you have five of the characters known as the Sensational Six — the superstars of the Disney universe. The sixth character joined the group on August 18, 1930, with the release of the cartoon short Chain Gang. But he was different from the other five. He walked on all fours, barked and was completely naked. He was an animal animal.

Pluto was nameless in his debut vehicle. It wasn’t until a month later and a second appearance in The Picnic that he acquired the clever name Rover. In the cartoon, Rover belongs to Minnie Mouse who brings him along on a picnic with Mickey. In a Mitt Romney moment, Mickey ties the dog to the back of the car before driving off and dragging him behind. But when the poor pooch spots a couple of frolicking rabbits, he ends up dragging the car and its mouse occupants on a merry chase.

The following year, Rover returned as Mickey’s pet with the new name Pluto the Pup. The origin of that name is the subject of argument. It was back in 1930 that the now ex-planet Pluto was discovered. Was this the source of his name? Or were both planet and dog named after the Roman god of the underworld? And then there’s that other great mystery: If Pluto’s a dog and Goofy’s a dog, why is the latter anthropomorphic and the former not?  Walt remained mum.

 

 

 

 

 

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APRIL 27, 1899: I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons, he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

January 13, 1404: Silver Threads and Golden Needles

On January 13, 1404, the British Parliament under the guidance of King Henry IV signed into law an act that would endear them all to millions of today’s schoolkids — the Act Against Multipliers. Oops. Turns out he wasn’t outlawing multiplication tables. Back then multipliers were what we know as alchemists.

Alchemy actually had a somewhat noble background. Alchemists sought to purify, mature and perfect certain things — an elixir of immortality here, a cure-all for disease there, perfection of the human body, perfection of the human soul. But what really got the alchemists’ juices flowing was the use of philosopher’s stone to transform base metals into “noble metals” such as gold and silver.

And that’s exactly what Henry was making illegal — the possibility of some commoner making himself very rich, causing a redistribution of wealth and income equality that would bring ruin on the state. It would be as if in the U.S. today any Tom Dick or Harry could own as large and garish hotel as a president.

Therefore “none from henceforth should use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do, they incur the pain of felony.” Off with their heads, most likely.

Philosopher’s stone is available from Amazon.

Where’s a Henry IV When You Need Him?

On January 13, 1854, alchemist turned musical inventor Anthony Foss received a patent for his accordion, a strange device shaped like a box with a bellows that is compressed or expanded while pressing buttons or keys which cause pallets to open and air to flow across strips of brass or steel, creating something that vaguely resembles music. It is sometimes called a squeezebox. The person playing it is called an accordionist (or squeezeboxer?)

The harmonium and concertina are cousins. And, yes, there is a World Accordion Day.

M – I – C.  K – E – Y . . .

The first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared on January 13, 1930:

 

September 19, 1959: They Say Goofy Is a Fellow Traveler

The Cold War took a heated turn during a visit to the United States by Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev was several days into an extended visit for a summit meeting with President Eisenhower, when at the Soviet leader’s request, a visit to Hollywood was arranged. On September shirley119, 1959, Khrushchev and his wife arrived in Los Angeles, where the day started with a tour of the Twentieth Century Fox Studios in Hollywood and a visit to the sound stage of  Can-Can. Meeting stars Shirley MacLaine and Juliet Prowse pleased the roly-poly dictator even though he had to nyet a chance to dance with MacLaine (probably something to do with the Siberian stare coming from Mrs. K)   A lunch hosted by Frank Sinatra was also a big success even though Sinatra didn’t sing “That Old Bolshevik Magic,” as Nikita requested.

The day headed downhill when Twentieth Century Fox President Spyros P. Skouras, who wore his anticommunism on his sleeve, got into a bit of a who-will-bury-whom brouhaha with the Russian leader who was known for his temper tantrums.

Shortly afterward, it began to look as though a nuclear exchange were imminent. Meeting Frank Sinatra was nice, but who Nikita really wanted to meet was Mickey Mouse.  His American hosts told him it couldn’t happen.  Security concerns.   Perhaps he’d like to see Cape Canaveral, the White House War Room, the Strategic Air Command. But no Disneyland.  Nicky exploded. “And I say, I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. But then, we cannot guarantee your security, they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?”

Khrushchev left Los Angeles the next morning, and the Cold War returned to deep freeze.