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“Yip” Harburg at Fleischer

Did you know songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (lyricist of The Wizard of Oz, Gay Purr-ee and much else) wrote material for the Max Fleischer studio?

Neither did I.

Harburg historian Nick Markovich of The Yip Harburg Foundation has recently discovered evidence that Harburg lyrics were written for at least three Fleischer cartoons from the 1929-30 period — when Harburg was writing for Paramount-Astoria Studios on Long Island. Markovich wrote us, looking for early Fleischer films for research. He says:

“Harburg was employed by Paramount’s Astoria, Long Island studio for a few years starting in 1929 — hence the Fleischer connection. For Paramount he wrote lyrics with such composers as Vernon Duke (with whom he later wrote April in Paris for a Broadway revue) and Jay Gorney (with whom he wrote Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? for another Broadway revue). It’s possible that other lyrics or verses he wrote ended up uncredited in other Fleischer cartoons. The only way to tell definitively would be to watch every single one of them, listen carefully and compare to the dozens of obscure lyric sheets in Harburg’s collection. In the last two years alone I have discovered that several Gorney-Harburg songs were performed in two features, one featurette, and one cartoon from that era, all uncredited. So who knows what’s out there — either in animated shorts or live action features and featurettes?

In The Shade Of the Old Apple Tree — A blurb in the January 19, 1930 Film Daily states: “E.Y. Harburg…composes those captivating lines which make you want to join in with the crowd on Paramount’s Fleischer cartoon singing reels. His ‘Old Apple Tree’ number is a darb.”

Harburg also apparently provided material to the Screen Song short, The Prisoner’s Song. Also, there is a typewritten lyric sheet by Harburg entitled “Bedtime Story” — a satire of Grimm-type fairy stories that frighten children. A handwritten note at the top of this sheet says “Verse for Fleischer picture.”

The “Bedtime Story” piece, reprinted below, is obviously a first draft for the Bedtime Story broadcast at the end of Radio Riot (1930), one of Fleischer’s earliest Talkartoons. Compare the draft below with the finished film (below it). It wouldn’t surprise me if Harburg wrote all the dialogue in the film — it’s quite clever.


Announcer: Good evening, children. This is station GORe. Tonight you shall have the extreme pleasure of listening to Uncle Grim, the author of Grim=E 2s Fairy Tales, who has a very interesting Bed Time story for you. Children, meet uncle Grim.

Uncle Grim:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of a child named Goldy-Locks Schnitzelbeer;
Who always wore
Medals galore
For conduct, and virtues that folks all adore.

As she strolled thru the woods in her little red cape,
The clink of her medals attracted an APE!

The Apiest Ape
With unbearable hands,
With horrible ears,
And terrible glands!
His breath was fire.
His eyes were green
His claws were wire
And his GROWL WAS M-E-A-N !X!X!

And Goldylocks Schnitzelbeer said with a laugh,
“Oh Grandpa,
Vas loffly fillings your back teeth haff!”

Then the Ape he tore her from limb to limb…
‘Cause there was no monkeying ‘round with him.

He cracked her ribs
With a thunderous thud,
And crunched her skull
In a pool of blood,
And there he wallowed
In spleen and gall
Until he swallowed
Her, medals and all.

Till all that remained of Goldylocks
Was a wish bone wrapped in one of her socks.

Now dear children, go to bed. Sleep tight.
Be kind. Be sweet. Happy dreams. Good night!

Announcer: You have just listened to a bed time story by Uncle Grim, President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He comes to you every Doomsday evening thru the courtesy of the Sheepshead Bay Fur Co., manufacturers of Mice Skin Rugs, Bear Skin Coats and Cat Guts for Tennis Rackets.

(Thanks, for numerous reasons, to Mark Kausler)

  • Priceless—both versions.

  • Synthetic Flesh

    Who really cares about all this obscure old stuff. Wait-a-minute, I do. Tell me MORE!

  • I love this kinda stuff! The best bit is the birds on the telephone wire…

  • Zog

    This ‘old obscure stuff’ is light years better than anything being done today, especially Harburg’s first lyrics. Adult Swim’s ‘edge’ got nothing on this dead genius.

  • Oh yes, this is amazing stuff! How can we wrestle the entire output of the Fleischer/Famous Studios out of the grasp of its current copyright holders for full and complete restoration? It’s just gotta be done in our lifetime, for the people who would care!!

  • Jeff Overturf

    This is the stuff I live for…and YES the Fleischer library really should be cleaned up and reissued, from the silents on! I’m proud to say that I saw a post from Mr. Markovich on the BCDB message board and helped with what I could then steered him to Jerry…It’s great to see the cartoon research lab in action!

  • David Breneman

    Hi, Benjamin – The “telephone wire” is actually a directional radio antenna of the type common in the 1920s. My grandfather told me about building one himself – on my grandmother’s clothesline!


    obviously….Yip went on to bigger and better things… still it’s great to know that his earlier days were both interesting and fun. But I’m sure he looked on it as a minor inconvenience. The 1920’s and early thirties were tough times and artists of all sorts were very creative and eager to move up and on to bigger and better projects. Yips roots at the Fleischer studios must have been a lesson in pop culture which helped him in his later triumphs. Great article and clips represent his early days. Thanks for posting.

  • Major Pepperidge

    I am disappointed to see that the Harburg stamp uses a photograph instead of an illustration by an artist (like Thomas Blackshear, Drew Struzan, or Michael Deas, to name a few). Stamps are going the way of movie posters I suppose…

  • What a clever cartoon. So many great little things in this, starting with the Happiness Boys parody at the start.
    I see the line “This is station GORe” didn’t make the final cartoon. The intent was to make a pun on WOR; I wonder if someone got worried they’d affend someone at the radio station.
    Anyone know who’s doing the voice of the host of the ubiquitous exercise programme? He sounds familiar.

    • Rod Araya (formerly Anonymous 000001)

      Probably the story was changed not to avoid any offense, but to avoid complaints from parents instead (Somewhat ironic, as practically all cartoons from the 1929-30 period -except for Disney- were produced “strictly” for patrons over 16 years old).

  • Anonymous 000001

    It’s me, or nearly the whole cartoon lacks of picture/sound synchronization?