Famous Studios: Oh, Lulu!

The Popeye cartoons were still the main drawing card for Paramount’s shorts subject line. But with the switch from Fleischer Studios to Famous Studios, money had to be saved in some way – avoiding the Flesichers’ tendency to be amazingly elaborate. The new Little Lulu cartoons were, like Popeye and Superman, based on a pre-sold character (appearing in the popular Saturday Evening Post magazine) and were not going to be nearly as complex to produce as the Man of Steel of Max and Dave. And it is quite possible the rights to use Marge’s character were considerably less expensive than permission to animate Superman and company. The staff writers were clearly encouraged to aim the storylines at a younger, home front audience. After all, the main protagonist was a little girl – not a strange being from the Planet Krypton.

Eggs Don’t Bounce (12/14/43) – Mandy, the Moppets’ maid, is looking for Lulu, who is out walking and being her usual mischievous self. Mandy asks Lulu to go to the store for a dizen eggs, adding that she be “mighty careful not to disintegrate them”. However, through no fault of her own, the eggs wind up shattered anyway. Envisioning in a musical number suffering the consequences of this development, Lulu decides to raid the nest of Henrietta Hen in the farmhouse for a replacement dozen. Her dog stages a parade with fife and drum imitations to raise Henrietta’s patriotic spirit, while Lulu attempts to pilfer the henfruit from behind. Henrietta foils her schemes repeatedly, until Lulu (politically incorrectly) impersonates a black farmhand, contemplating a chicken dinner. Lulu ultimately makes off with the nestful, and thinks she’s dodged a bullet of a spanking, but trips again on the doorstep of her home. However, she receives no whipping, as she is just too cute amidst the flock of a dozen chicks that have popped out of the cracked egg shells. Song: “Now Ya Done It”, an original with lyrics by Buddy Kaye and Fred Wise, and music by Sammy Timberg (which was published as sheet music with Lulu on the cover).

Also, this premiere film in the series introduced the “Little Lulu” theme, with credit on sheet music allocated to Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, and Sidney Lippman/ The song would receive one commercial recording, by Helen Carroll and the Satisfiers on RCA Victor, who performed it on the track of each film. The recording was not contemporaneous with the film’s debut, as there was a recording ban in progress. The group would also not yet have acquired the name “The Satisfiers” nor achieved a position of public spotlight until later, when they became regular features on the Perry Como Chesterfield Show (a cigarette which had the slogan, “They satisfy”). The group must have had a soft spot for the continued use of their track for the theme, and finally decided to capitalize on it as a B-side when RCA began letting them obtain some recording dates on their own. The recorded version features a bridge and second verse never heard in the cartoons. One curiosity of the film version’s first appearance of the tune was that, while the vocal recording may be the same as what was used in later cartoons, the musical bed is considerably different, lacking in several embellishments including a piano flourish which would close the tune in all subsequent episodes. The tune would receive one more afterlife, revived for HBO’s The Little Lulu Show with slightly-altered lyrics (removing the line “Though you’re wild as any Zulu”).

The Cue Sheet:

Lulu in Hollywood (5/19/44) – A telegram arrives at the Moppet household. When Mom reads it, she faints dead away. Dad goes right through the floor. Lulu is the only one who takes the news with deadpan calmness – she is being asked to go to Hollywood, for $10,000 a week (which is not mere pin money, even in this age). Packing a valise full of lollipops (indexed by flavor) and a rain slicker to deal with California weather, Lulu is off. She is her usual self at the contract signing meeting, skating on the highly-polished board room table, and signing the contract with two fingers dipped in ink, duplicating side-by-side efforts as she writes only “LU” but prints the letters twice. She receives the Hollywood treatment in publicity photos, including a hair restyling resembling Veronica Lake. She shows her stuff in acting to the Germanic director, mirroring a sequence from Marion Davies’ “Show People” (1928) in which she hides her face behind a fan, then reveals a different expression with each lowering of the fan to demonstrate her ability to emote – except that Lulu’s face reveals the same deadpan look every time! Nevertheless, she commences shooting of an epic, casting her as a royal princess – who seems to have nothing more to do than lick lollipops and gobble pie. The film director gives her a kiss at the gala premiere, resulting in Lulu’s lollipop stuck to his lips, while his moustache transposes to Lulu’s lip, allowing her to impersonate Charlie Chaplin’s moustache twitch for the fade out. Songs: “California, Here I Come”, introduced by Al Jolson in 1924, and recorded by him for Brunswick with Isham Jones’ Orchestra, Brunswick’s top dance band. Also recorded in the day by Paul Whiteman for Victor, the California Ramblers for Columbia, and by various other bands for nearly every label in New York at the time. It was revived in 1928 by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra, and in 1933 by Claude Hopkins for royal blue Columbia (embed below). AL Jolson would remake it electrically in the 1940’s for Decca. Also included in the film score is a return for “Moonlight Becomes You”, and a brief quote from the William Tell Overture – The Storm.

I’m Just Curious (9/8/44) – Lulu is sent to bed after a spanking – however, her rear end has been saved from her father’s whipping by insertion inside her clothes of a book on “The Art of Self Defense”. Lulu sings a song from her bed about why she gets in trouble, furious, because “What I really am is curious.” She spots a shadow outside resembling a stork – but it is a chicken hawk planning a raid on the henhouse, who tries to pull the wool over her eyes, Lulu innocently upsets his plans at every turn. She nevertheless winds up in Dutch again, and ends the cartoon after a spanking that hit the mark, requiring her to sit atop a dozen pillows. Song: “I’m Just Curious”, an original with writers unknown.

Lulu’s Birthday Party (12/1/44) – Lulu has plastered every wall, object, nook and cranny of her home with written reminders of her impending Birthday – including one note pinned to Mandy’s rear. Mandy plans to whip up a birthday cake, but faces the dilemma of trying to keep it secret from nosy Lulu and her pet bullfrog Quincy. Lulu spies in every window and door, only to be shut out again and again, until she lets Quincy hop into the kitchen through a window, frightening Mandy and destroying the cake. Mandy tells her there will be no party (spelling the operative word “N-O-U-G-H”). Lulu bemoans her curiosity again having brought about nothing but trouble, and lapses into a fantastic dream as she dozes off in the back yard, of lemonade lakes, lollipop Ferris wheels, and cakes reaching the sky at her special birthday party. Just as her dream cake begins to topple, she is snapped back to reality by Mandy’s call. As she enters the house, a yell of “Surprise” greets her, as Mandy has cooked up another cake anyway, and all the kids have arrived for the party. Lulu blows out the birthday candles with a fireplace bellows, spraying the kids across the table with cake on their face – bit it tastes good, so they’re happy. Song: “At My Birthday Party”, an original song. Unique to this cartoon was that The Satisfiers, who had given Lulu her theme, were called back for the only time in the studio’s career to record the new specialty number. They would soon find work a few doors down at rival Terrytoons, where they would spend the next decade in recurrent voice-over vocals.

Beau Ties (4/20/45) – Lulu is disconsolate after receiving a note that her date with Tubby (here called “Fatso”) has to be cancelled because Tubby is ill. Lulu decides to go for a walk, and spots Tubby entertaining a blonde at an ice cream parlor, performing stunts at the table blindfolded. Uh-oh – Busted! Tubby gets knocked out, and has a nightmare about married life with Lulu. Scenes include endless exhortations to “Get to work”, having to raise a kitchen full of very Little Lulus, and even being placed on exhibition by Lulu in going over Niagara Falls in a barrel during their honeymoon. Tubby awakens, and trues to escape the promise of marriage Lulu is forcing him to carve on a tree, but Lulu finally figures the way to a man’s heart – through his stomach, especially a big one like Tubby’s. After a few doses of cakes and pies, Tubby adds to the carved promise, “Positively.” A surprisingly adult concept for a kid’s cartoon series (perhaps more akin to a Popeye script). Song: “Just One More Chance” (heard when Tubby is trying to get Lulu to forgive his indiscretion), a 1931 pop song which was under recent reissue by Decca in a special collector’s series album set of Bing Crosby’s Brunswick recordings. The Crosby Brunswick had dance competition by Abe Lyman on Brunswick, Gus Arnheim on Victor, and Ben Selvin on Columbia. The tune was revived in the 1950’s by Les Paul and Mary Ford on Capitol. A special LP of historical reissues released in the “Vintage Series” by RCA in the late 1970’s unearthed an aircheck performance of the song by Crosby from his first broadcast on CBS, taken from a feed over radio station KHJ.

Musica-Lulu (1/24/47) – Lulu wants to play baseball with her buddies out in the yard, but her father insists she practice violin (the old Kreutzer etude) for another half-hour. Lulu pulls a fast one, using her dog’s wagging tail to power the violin bow, while she sneaks out to the game. But a long fly ball conks Lulu on the head, and she has a nightmare about being tried before a court of musical instruments for desertion of her violin. Jackson Beck gets some good voice work as the Judge. Though Lulu flirts with the jury by showing them a sizeable amount of rubber-hose leg, they unanimously find her “Guilty”. She is jailed inside a giant guitar, but sneaks through the strings in a prison break. She is pursued by a quartet of singing music notes, and by every instrument in the land, including giant cymbals, accordions that move like snakes, etc. She is finally netted in a web of harp strings, but returns to reality with the team. A compromise is reached to keep the dream from coming true, as Lulu continues to play ball, but uses her violin as the bat, practicing between at bats while she sits on base. Song: “You Gotta Have Music”, an original, penned by Mack David and Winston Sharples. See the cue sheet below. The trial is also set to musical couplets, also originally penned for the film.


A Scout With the Gout (7/24/47) – Lulu’s father sees her engaging in a craft she is trying to learn for a scout troop, sending smoke signals via stencils. This brings back memories of his childhood, which was a long, LONG time ago. Her father decides that they should go into the forest primeval to get a taste of what nature is really like. Lulu does get the hang of producing fire by rubbing sticks together, but their fish dinner gets stolen by a raccoon. Father tracks the raccoon to a cave, but Lulu seals them both in by rolling a boulder into the cave’s mouth. A fire develops in the cave, which Lulu quenches by diverting a stream into a hole in the cave’s roof – causing Dad to swallow the entire cave full of water. Lulu eventually extricates him through the impossibly small hole by means of a snare trap tied to a springy sapling, and they head home musically, with Lulu adding “straight home to the doctor”, as Dad follows on crutches, while the Raccoon enjoys one of Lulu’s lollipops in her backpack. Song: “We’re Going To Go Camping”, an original song sung by Daddy (Jackson Beck), then reprised by Lulu at the ending with different lyrics.

A Bout With a Trout (10/30/47) – Lulu is more interested in playing hookey than going to school. She even has her fishing gear at the ready, concealed in one of the steps of the schoolhouse. Lulu gets a bump on the noggin, and winds up in a surreal dream sequence about education, which amounts to a music video on the current Bing Crosby hit, “Swingin’ On a Star”, an Oscar winner from the feature, Going My Way. Bing recorded it on Decca, and Gray Rains and his Orchestra on the Hit Label. I believe the Rains band was formerly the band of Jan Garber during a brief period when he attempted to abandon the Lombardo sound in favor of Swing, Gray being an arranger who took over fronting the aggregation. The Rains version charted for one week. Also recording the number was Freddie Slack on Capitol. Geraldo would get the number for the British Isles on Parlophone, and Carroll Gibbons likewise performed it for Columbia. Bill Snyder would perform it as a piano solo in a 50’s revival on Decca. Big Dee Irwin would also rock it up on the Dimension label in 1962.

Next Time: More Noveltoons.