Sunday, April 17, 2016

Merrie Melodies Short: Hollywood Steps Out (1941)

Directed by Tex Avery
Music by Carl Stalling
Original Release Date: May 24, 1941
Voices by Kent Rogers, Dave Barry, Mel Blanc, Sara Berner

There is nothing quite so nostalgic for me as watching Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts and fondly remembering Saturday mornings with the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner show.


I recently acquired the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection DVDs and found that these were not the cartoons I remembered watching 30+ years ago. These cartoons had beautiful, vibrant color and far more gun suicides, drinking, smoking and racial and ethnic caricatures than I recalled. I discovered that what I had always thought of as my Saturday morning childhood routine had once been the added attraction at the movie theater in the 1930s through 1960s, and were initially intended for adult viewing.

"Hollywood Steps Out" is an amusing cartoon that pokes fun at the celebrities of the day, and is entertaining for the classic movie fan to try to identify the stars and understand the subtle jokes. Watch this cartoon here and see how many famous folks you can name before reading further.

The cartoon begins high above the city with searchlights strobing to a conga beat and zooms in on Ciro's, which opened on the Sunset Strip as a celebrities only club in 1940.

The sign above Ciro's lets us know that this is not a place for family dining. Using this inflation calculator, we can determine the present day value of dinner at Ciro's to be $844.73. That's got to be quite a De Luxe Dinner meal!

As we enter the nightclub, we see Claudette Colbert seated at a table with Don Ameche. Colbert won an Academy Award for the popular 1934 film, It Happened One Night. Ameche was well known for playing the title role in the 1939 film, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, so much so that the telephone was often referred to as the "Ameche" in the 1930s and '40s.

We get a brief glimpse of Adolphe Menjou sitting with Norma Shearer at the table behind, both of whom had careers that began in silent films. Cary Grant is seated alone and making comments that reference some of his films. Greta Garbo comes along to sell him cigarettes and lifts her oversized foot to the table to strike a match on her shoe to light his cigarette. Garbo had normal sized feet, though it was believed the rumor that her feet were large began when a Broadway columnist ridiculed her feet and gait in retribution for not granting him an interview.

Edward G. Robinson asks Ann Sheridan, "How's the Oomph Girl tonight," and she responds by repeatedly saying, "Oomph!" Ann was a popular pinup girl in the 1940s.

The Merrie Melodies theme plays as the camera tracks past Henry Binder, assistant to Leon Schlesinger, the producer of Looney Tunes cartoons, who is seated on the right.

Johnny Weismuller, whose Tarzan is best known out of all others, checks his overcoat with Paulette Goddard, acting as hatcheck girl. Afterward, we see hands belonging to Sally Rand handing Paulette her feather fans. Sally performed her well known fan dance in the 1934 film, Bolero. She was also known for her balloon bubble dance, which we'll get to see later in the show.

Tough guys, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and George Raft, are hatching a plan together, which turns out to be pitching pennies. Raft's coin flipping is a reference to his character, Guino, in Scarface.

Harpo Marx pranks Greta Garbo by sticking matches under her feet and lighting them. She reacts slowly with a reserved and drawn out, "Ouch." I don't quite understand the unflattering caricature she is given in this short. It could be due to her reclusive nature and refusal to sign autographs, give interviews or appear at Oscar ceremonies, even when she was nominated.

Bing Crosby comes out to introduce the first musical number, and is interrupted by a jockey on a horse in reference to Crosby's penchant for horse racing. The conductor comes out and begins to conduct a conga song while moving his hips to the beat.

Dorothy Lamour feels that conga rhythm and begs Jimmy Stewart to dance with her, but when he sees her booty bumping from behind, he freaks out and takes off, leaving a sign on the table with the title of his 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Dorothy was known best for the Road to... series of films she made with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Meanwhile, handsome Clark Gable is dancing the conga as he pursues a hot blonde.

Tyrone Power dances with Sonja Henie, who was known for her roles in ice skating movies. Tyrone became known for his role as Zorro in The Mark of Zorro.

Even Frankenstein can't help himself from digging that crazy, conga beat.

Three Stooges, Curly, Larry and Moe are also feeling the rhythm as they poke and smack each other in keeping with the beat.

Oliver Hardy is seen dancing with his back to the camera, but turns to reveal he's dancing with two ladies. Lucky guy!

Cesar Romero and Rita Hayworth are dancing awkwardly together with legs akimbo. Both Cesar and Rita were well known for their dancing and each performed dance sequences in their films.


Mickey Rooney is having dinner with Judy Garland, who was his girlfriend in the Andy Hardy film series, in which his character often found himself in trouble. Apparently, he had not seen the sign out front, as he's surprised by the dinner bill.

He turns to Lewis Stone, who played his father in the Andy Hardy movies, to ask for help.

Looks like unhappy Dad couldn't foot the bill for Andy and Judy's dinner and they end up washing piles of dishes to the conga rhythm.

Bing comes out to introduce the next act, which is Sally Rand's famous balloon bubble dance that makes most of the male patrons go a little bonkers.

The professor is Kay Kyser, big band leader from the 1930s and 1940s, who turns and shouts his catchphrase, "Students!" to the following group behind him. His band toured restaurants and nightclubs with an act that combined a quiz with music and was known as the "Kollege of Musical Knowledge," led by Kyser as "The Ol' Perfessor." His band had some of the most popular songs of the time.

Simultaneously giving a wolf whistle are well known actors, William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Ronald Colman, and Errol Flynn, with Wallace Beery and C. Aubrey Smith seated in front.

Peter Lorre says, "I haven't seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child" in a way that only he could.

Henry Fonda is led away by his mother who pulls him by the ear. Fonda was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath.

J. Edgar Hoover, first director of the FBI says, "Gee!" quite a few times. Good thing he's not seated with the Oomph Girl.

Boris Karloff, Arthur Treacher and Buster Keaton do not have the same level of enthusiasm as the other customers for the bubble girl, alluding to the grim, expressionless characters they were known to portray.

Mischa Auer is seated with them in a likewise manner, and when grumpy cigar chomping Ned Sparks asks if they are having a good time, they all respond with a sober, "Yes."

I thought this was The Invisible Man seated with Jerry Colonna, but he calls his invisible partner Yehudi, referring to a running gag on the Bob Hope show about the violinist, Yehudi, he was searching for and could not find.

Whoa! The bubble is aloft, but what lies below?

We can count on Harpo Marx to pull out a slingshot and reveal to all what's hidden behind the bubble.

We are just as surprised as Miss Rand to find her barrel exposed.

Clark Gable at last catches up to the beautiful dame...

...only to find that it's Groucho Marx in drag, who says, "Well, fancy meeting you here!" to a shocked Gable.


iam mok said...

I watched these cartoons on TV when I was a boy. No way they would show them now. Some of the characters I recognize so well but am thankful for your site and filling in the ones I couldn't name straight off. Many thanks for your work.

Christine said...

Thanks for your kind comment. This is one of my favorite cartoon shorts. It must have been quite a hoot to see in the theater back in the day.