The Last <em>Screen Song</em> The Last <em>Screen Song</em>

The Last Screen Song

The cartoon below isn’t very good, but it’s been rarely seen — and that’s usually good enough for me. And it’s somewhat historically important, as it represents the last of a series of animated shorts that began in 1924 by Max Fleischer.

Fleischer began sing-along Song Cartunes in 1924 and it was an immediate success. His gimmick was a bouncing ball atop the lyrics on screen, to help audiences keep up with the song. In the sound era, Fleischer added popular singers and big bands (in live action). The original run ended in 1938. Famous Studios, Paramount’s successor to the Fleischer operation, revived the bouncing ball series in color, in a Noveltoon When G.I. Johnny Comes Marching Home in 1945. Paramount released bouncing ball cartoons through various Noveltoons, Kartunes and Screen Songs series for the next nine years (Candy Cabaret (1954) was the last).

In the 1960s, with Paramount having sold off their most well known creations to Harvey Comics, the studio was desperate for ideas. They began remaking earlier shorts; they tried adapting comedy records (“Abner The Baseball”), they even reinvented Casper as “Goodie The Gremlin”. Nothing caught on. The only thing they owned with audience recognition was “sing-along with the bouncing ball”.

Hobo’s Holiday (1963) was the last Paramount Bouncing Ball cartoon short. It was released in 1963 and hasn’t been seen since. Morey Reden, a Fleischer/Famous veteran animator, wrote and animated the film. He used The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a public domain song from the (1930s) Depression era, arranged here with a 1950s rock beat. It’s pretty lame. With references to “streams of alcohol” and “cigarette trees” the cartoon was naturally omitted from showing on Nickelodeon when the rest of the 1960s Paramount cartoons were shown on that network from 1989 through 1992.

So here it is. If you ever wanted to know what a Screen Song short might look like if they kept the series going into the TV era, here’s your answer:

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Random thoughts:

    This thing looked “cheap” in every sense of the word. But I found myself wondering whether it wasn’t also anachronistic. Sure, there was a hobo culture during the Depression, though panhandling by “tramps” dates back to at least the Gilded Age. But was there anything left of the hobo life in 1963?

    The song was featured as part of the soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou?”. It’s like a parody of “sweet bye-and-bye” hymns and revival music, though it also reminds me of the treatment of Heaven in “The Green Pastures.”

  • These Song Car-Tunes were also the first sync-sound animation, predating “Steamboat Willie” by two years.

  • As always Jerry thanks for the jollity rarity !!

    Great to see!! I love the old follow the bouncing ball toons !

    We play Big Rock Candy Mountain at our weekly Wednesday Uke Camp at Robot Chicken… looking forward to sharing this with the gang – we can uke along with the bouncing ball !

  • Jackson

    I like the clean-scrubbed singers crooning about “Railroad Bulls” like they actually rode the rails in their pressed wool and ThomMcAn Cordovans.

  • Brian

    Interesting that they made a cartoon with such a dark subtext … I always took this song to mean that the hobo was dying and anticipating heaven.

  • Doug Drown

    Daniel and Brian are both right. I remember Burl Ives singing this song, and even though I was a little kid at the time and didn’t comprehend all the imagery, I thought it was charming. I still do. I have no idea who wrote it, but it clearly is a parody of old gospel songs like “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”, which anticipate the glories of heaven by employing a lot of the apocalyptic symbols from, for example, the Book of Revelation.

    That having been said, I think this cartoon’s presentation of the song is WAY too clean-cut. It just doesn’t work. It sounds like The Lennon Sisters and The Beach Boys singing together — typically cutesie-pie
    late Famous Studios. Yuck.

  • Ron

    Just a thought…I wonder how many months it took to make this short, even with all its short cuts and cheap animation. I bet now,one person could replicate the entire thing in flash in a week and a half.

  • joe horne

    That theme song for the generic cartoons has haunted me. That xylophone ending always felt like someone was waking up after being ran over by a mob of zany cartoon characters. It’s the sort of theme you’d hear if you were mugged in toon town.
    As for the cartoon…perfect for the current state of affairs.

  • Angry Anim

    It suuure screamed what studio produced it. If the titles were missing, you’d still know it was the same place that did those limited Popeye’s and Felix the Cat shorts. It seems strange that they would spend money to have an original score through that entire begining before the sing-a-long starts… they could of easily gotten away with using stock music.

  • Daniel Goldmark

    Something else to keep in mind is that this cartoon wasn’t the only example of a sing-along in the early 1960s- “Sing Along With Mitch” was on television at this time, which featured many songs per show with words along the bottom of the screen (no bouncing ball, though). And this show was very, very popular during its run.

  • I grew up watching those Fleischer sing-along shorts on VHS tapes my mom made for us kiddies. The tape I remember most featured “The Stork Market”, along with a “Pretty Baby” sing-along.

    Does anyone know if older sing-alongs and Fleischer shorts were ever collected on DVD?

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Emily reminded me of another sing-along; it had a Noah’s Ark plot and the stand-in for Mt. Ararat where the Ark settles in was of course the mountain used in the Paramount logo.

    Odd thing: when it showed on TV in Chicago the song, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” got cut out. Don’t know if it had anything to do with the anthropomorphic Sun doing the lead-in to the song speaking with (what I realized only years later) a Central Casting Yiddish accent. I’m sure there’s a joke about his being named “Sol” in there somewhere.

  • uncle wayne

    Hooooooooooly poot! I had NO clue that they made them as late as THAT! Thank yoo! Great song, too! I pray that all the “present-day” “hobo”s won’t take this “politically incorrect!”

  • Randy

    Those Screen Songs probably caused more fights between me and my brother when we were kids. He hated the things (along with pretty much every cartoon that didn’t look like it promised a reasonable amount of violence) and always wanted to switch channels and watch ten minutes of THE MUNSTERS or something. Me, if it was old and animated, I wanted to watch it!

  • s porridge

    Wonder when the last pie was left to cool on the last open windowsill? Another frequent crime of opportunity in ye olde cartoons.

    The chorus sounds like the same warblers who did the early 60s Winston commercials.

    And indeed, the Noveltoon theme sounds like Nina Rota on Thunderbird.

  • As lame as the cartoon might seem now, I don’t think it would have seemed lame back then for most moviegoers. There wasn’t a lot of wild music on the radio in those days. Remember, in 1963 the first Beatles songs were coming out with nearly barbershop quartet style singing, and they were considered wild, even though they wore matching suits! Things were pretty calm in the mass media in those days.

  • Mike Kazaleh

    Really interesting film. I don’t think I remember this one.

    It’s appropriate that Morey Reden’s Auteur film should be about a hobo. By the early sixties he had become Paramount’s laziest animator, and he had carefully conceived this film to save himself work. There are several scenes that would’ve been a lot more work for the camera man than the animator. The ink and paint budget would have been very low for this one, and that probably went down very well with Reden’s budget minded superiors.

    They may have used “Big Rock Candy Mountain” not only because it was in public domain, but it would have been in production right around the time of the folk singing craze.

    More cartoon rarities, please!

  • Chris Sobieniak

    At least Mike digs it!

    I can say it has a weak premise (hobo gets off train, gets chanced by The Man, steals pie while dodging bulldog), but it’s got a pretty jaunting tune I can’t get out of my head right now! It’s like something I expect to hear in a car on a long, winding road to wherever back in the day, though my family was never one to burst into “99 Bottles of Beer” like that.

    I’m sure Morey Reden did his best here, the writing/animation at the beginning is nothing special at all, and the song takes up the last half of the picture itself, but it was a nice try at something they were good at a decade before. Perhaps an inclusion of a byline under the Noveltoon banner stating “Featuring the Famous Bouncing Ball” would’ve prepared the audience beforehand in case some may think back to those previous cartoons than to be surprised later by the sudden shift into the sing-a-long (narration could’ve helped too).

  • Quote: “It suuure screamed what studio produced it. If the titles were missing, you’d still know it was the same place that did those limited Popeye’s and Felix the Cat shorts. ”

    The fact of that statement may be as misguided as the opinion.

    Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer produced Felix the Cat, not the Fleischers nor Famous.

    The early Felix’s were distributed by Paramount, though.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    That’s correct Richard, though to clarify this further, the previous guy probably was thinking of the Joe Oriolo Felix cartoons produced during that time in the late 50’s/early 60’s, which was a different studio from Famous but had many of the same guys anyway.

  • Also, the made-for-TV Felixes was made at Joe Oriolo’s studio, not Paramount. Can’t blame for the confusion, though, since just about all of the artists who worked on it were originally from Famous at one point or another.

    This was an interesting find, though. I’d guess this is Reden’s only screen credit for writing?

  • J Lee

    Aside from Mitch Millerand his sing-a-longs on NBC, the Screen Songs were in fairly heavy rotation of syndicated TV in the early 1960s, as part of both the UM&M/NTA and the Harveytoon package. Combine that with the limited need for animation, almost no dialogue other than the singers (who remind me of dozens of early 60s NYC radio ad jingle singers), and the heavy workload at the time, with the ABC Caspers and the KFS Snuffy Smith and Beetle Bailey cartoons also in production, and you can see why Knietel, Reden & Co. would try to get away with a cheater like this.

  • Bobby Bickert

    It’s strange seeing original Paramount titles without the Technicolor credit. (And yes, I know why it isn’t there.)

  • A very cheap cartoon with an outdated concept.

    Even if this wasn’t part of the Cartoon Kablooey package, I still wish I had tuned into Nickelodeon sooner. :(

  • Marin Pažanin

    The Famous Bouncing Ball appeared in these series:
    Ko-Ko Song Car-Tunes(1924-1927)
    Screen Songs(1929-1938, 1947-1951)
    NOTE: Screen Songs first ended in mid-1934, not 1938, and between mid-1934 and late-1935 only two cartoons were produced.

    Credited Director: Seymour Kneitel
    Written and directed by: Morey Reden
    Scenics: Bob Little
    Music: Winston Sharples

    Originally released in October of 1963

  • Shawn Thompson

    I’m certain ALL the old screen songs still exist. There were multitudes of home films made. UCLA library also has ALL of them in their vaults even though they don’t admit it. Can’t wait till I get my hands on “Old Black Joe”!