Monday, March 12, 2012


Another cartoon with movie star characters. Oliver Hardy appears again, as does Groucho Marx, Buster Keaton, and the Three Stooges.

Hollywood Steps Out is a 1941 short Merrie Melodies cartoon by Warner Brothers, directed by Tex Avery. The cartoon features caricatures of Hollywood celebrities from the 1930s and early 1940s.



[edit] Plot

A large bird's-eye view of a city is shown with beams of light moving to a conga beat. The action takes place in the famed Ciro's nightclub, where the Hollywood stars are having dinner - at $50 ($790.05 today) a plate and "easy terms". The first stars seen are Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and, at a table behind them, Adolphe Menjou and Norma Shearer, followed by Cary Grant, seated alone. Grant talks to himself: “What a place! What a place! It’s as pretty as a picture. But if I ever told my favorite wife the awful truth I'd land right on the front page. Yessireee Bobby.” (All these jokes are references to some of his films, except The Front Page which does not star Grant, but was remade as His Girl Friday in 1940, a film that does star him).
Then Greta Garbo comes along selling "cigars, cigarettes, butts." Grant buys some, tossing a quarter ($3.95 today) into her tray and asks her for a light. Garbo lifts her enormous foot on the table and strikes a match on the shoe, then lights Grant’s cigarette. Garbo is considered even today to have been an extremely beautiful woman, but she did have very large feet, and this was caricatured repeatedly in Warner Brothers cartoons of the era.
In the next scene Edward G. Robinson asks Ann Sheridan: "How’s the Oomph girl tonight?" Sheridan responds by uttering the word "Oomph" several times. Her final "Oomph" surprises Robinson. (Sheridan was a sex symbol known as the "Oomph" girl in those years.)
The camera then tracks past some tables: the first one has Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger sitting there as an in-joke, while the soundtrack quotes "Merrily We Roll Along" - the theme to the Merrie Melodies series. (Schlesinger was producer for the Looney Tunes cartoons and Binder was his assistant.) The camera shows some other tables which are reserved for people: Bette Davis, a large sofa for Kate Smith (a well known singer at the time, noted for her ample girth), and the last table isn't reserved for movie actors at all, but for comic (and movie and radio) characters: Blondie, Dagwood, and Baby Dumpling, with a fire hydrant for Daisy the dog.
Meanwhile, in the cloakroom Johnny Weissmuller has arrived. He leaves his overcoat behind to reveal his Tarzan outfit - with the single addition of tuxedo collar and black tie. Sally Rand (famous for her striptease acts and fan dance), leaves her trademark feather "fans" behind and leaves presumably naked, as only her hands are seen and not her entire self-figure.The hatcheck girl is Paulette Goddard.
In the next scene James Cagney informs Humphrey Bogart and George Raft that they must prepare to do something risky. The trio, all known for their “tough guy” roles, get ready, turn, and start pitching pennies. Harpo Marx, usually the prankster in the Marx Brothers films, sticks some matches under Garbo's foot, then lights it. Garbo reacts very slowly and coolly to the pain, in contrast to her serene and cool acting style by slowly saying, "Ouuchhh." Then Clark Gable spots a girl, whom he follows with his head turning around 180 degrees (Gable was known for his womanizing).
After this, Bing Crosby announces the first act that evening. During his speech he is interrupted by a jockey on a race horse (a reference to Crosby’s fondness for horse racing - he owned several race horses - and his lack of luck in that sport. Jokes about Crosby's horse racing passion would be referred to in other Warner Brothers cartoons as well, such as The Old Grey Hare). Crosby then introduces the first musical number by conductor Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski, seen with a snood containing his long hair, prepares himself dramatically and seriously to conducting what looks to be a classical orchestral arrangement. However, it’s the conga "Ahí, viene la conga" that he conducts, moving rhythmically to the beat as he does so.
The beat “does something” to Dorothy Lamour, who is seen sitting at a table with James Stewart. She begs him to go dancing with her. Stewart starts stuttering and hesitating, but in the end agrees to follow her to the dance floor. (Stewart was known for his "shy guy" type roles.) When she moves her body to the beat he gets scared and runs away, leaving a sign reading Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the title of one of his best-known films at that time.
The next shot shows Gable again, moving to the beat and at the same time following the girl he saw earlier.
Tyrone Power dances with Sonja Henie (known for her ice skating movies), who is still wearing her ice skates. Frankenstein's monster is dancing very stiffly and woodenly. The Three Stooges poke and smash each other in rhythm to the beat, a reference to their famous “poke in the eye” slapstick films. Oliver Hardy dances with someone as well and is shown from the back. When he turns his face to the camera he is revealed to be dancing with two girls at the same time; a double reference to Hardy's "ladies man" routine within the Laurel and Hardy series and also to his obesity. Cesar Romero, known for his roles as a Latino lover, dances with Rita Hayworth in another sendup or tease. The two are shown in the long shot to be dancing with almost spastic in-coordination. In reality, Hayworth and Romero were both considered to be excellent dancers.
The camera then cuts to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland sitting at a table. The waiter brings an expensive bill, which shocks Rooney. He asks his “father”, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone), for a favor. In the next scene both are seen washing the dishes to the conga beat (this is a reference to the Andy Hardy film series in which Rooney played the small town boy who always got into trouble with money and girls. Lewis Stone played the part of Andy’s father: Judge Hardy; Judy played Andy's girlfriend).
Gable is shown still following the girl. Then Crosby introduces the final act, again interrupted by the same jockey on his race horse. Sally Rand (identified as "Sally Strand") performs the bubble dance (it is never shown how she got a bubble in the first place, although it is impossible to get a bubble like the one shown in the short) to "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", a famous scene from her film Bolero, in complete nudity, which is never seen although parts of her body get revealed.
Kay Kyser (a well-known band leader at the time, nicknamed “The Professor” because he and his band were featured on radio's "The Kollege Of Musical Knowledge") is shown dressed in his "Professor" Square academic cap. He is excited by the act and shouts out: “Students!” (his catchphrase on the radio show; whenever a contestant missed an answer, he called out to his audience for the correct answer) A group of people look, whistle in unison and exclaim: “Baby!” They are William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Gilbert Roland and Errol Flynn. Sitting down are Wallace Beery and C. Aubrey Smith. Peter Lorre, known for his portrayal of sinister and weird characters, says dreamingly: “I haven't seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child.” This is a possible reference to Lorre's breakthrough film role in Europe, a movie titled "M", in which Lorre played a murderous child molester. Henry Fonda enjoys the act too, but is pulled away by his mother. This is a reference to the popular radio show The Aldrich Family which always opened with the cry: "Hen-RYYYYY! Henry Aldrich!" by the mother of the teenage title character, Henry Aldrich, who always replied, "Coming, Mother!" J. Edgar Hoover says “Gee!” several times as a pun to his function as G-man. Boris Karloff, Arthur Treacher, Buster Keaton and Mischa Auer watch the spectacle without any emotion (typical for their film roles; all were known for playing dour, deadpan roles). Ned Sparks, another famous movie "grouch" asks them if they are having a good time. They all respond dryly: “Yes.” Jerry Colonna reacts in excitement to the act and utters his catchphrases “Guess who?”, and the camera reveals an invisible character next to him: “Yehudi!” (“Who’s Yehudi?” was a catch phrase Colonna was famous for, referring to a violinist he could never find, hence an "invisible man".) The camera zooms back to Strand lifting up her bubble, whereupon the camera follows the bubble with Sally out of sight, thus never revealing the nude dancer, and the bubble comes back down again and Sally catches it and she is once again holding the bubble in front of her.
Finally Harpo Marx shoots the bubble with a slingshot. The bubble explodes and Sally Rand is shown wearing a barrel underneath. She reacts with shock, and the curtains close to signify the end of the dance. The conga stops and the cartoon cuts to Gable who has finally caught the girl he was chasing, insisting she kiss him. "She" turns out to be Groucho Marx in drag -- "Well, fancy meeting you here!"

[edit] Censorship

When aired on The WB!, two scenes are cut: one where Greta Garbo (as a cigarette girl) offers Cary Grant a cigarette and lights it with the sole of her large high heeled shoe and another where Harpo Marx puts a row of matches under Garbo's shoe and lights them, giving her a hotfoot, only to have her slowly react to the pain. [1]

[edit] Production notes

  • When announced for the bubble dance Rand is called “Strand” by Crosby, presumably to avoid infringement. Rand refused permission to copy her dance act.
  • In one showing of the short, there are actually variants as to how the cartoons runs. In some versions[citation needed], Cary Grant would say "...I'd land it," but in other versions he would say "...I'd land right on the front page." In the latter version, this is also the version where it shows a more revealing, erotic bubble dance by Sally Strand. If one slows the part where she lifts her bubble up, one can see much more of her nudity than is shown in the former case. The bubble also immediately comes down after going up a certain distance rather than to the left first before coming down. The short is also in high-quality definition as well in this case.
  • This is one of the few Warner Bros. cartoons featuring an all human cast, apart from the horse.
  • Mickey Rooney (age 90) is the only one of the forty-six stars caricatured still living. To most modern day viewers, quite a lot of stars caricatured in the cartoon are quite obscure now. Even with the more recognizable faces the jokes aren't always that clear now as they were in 1941.
  • Kent Rogers voiced all of the male celebrities except for Jerry Colonna who was performed by Mel Blanc. Rogers was a gifted impressionist, and only 19 years old when the cartoon was made. In July 1944, he was killed in Pensacola, Florida, during a Navy training flight.

[edit] See also


 External links

"Cigars, cigarettes, butts!"

"Oomph! Oomph!Oomph!"

Wikipedia identifies the hat-check girl as Paulette Goddard.

I don't know how many times they put Dorothy Lamour in a cartoon, but "Krakatoa Katie" in the Mighty Mouse cartoon appears to be a Dorothy Lamour character.

Sonja Heinie was depicted in several cartoons.

So were the Three Stooges.

Ollie double-dating.

Caesar Romero back before he played "The Joker". He still looks like a joker to me.

This cartoon came out the year after THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Her fans seemed to like Sally's bubble as well as her fans.

Kay Kyser was better known for his radio show than for his movies, although he made some.

What did I tell you about her fans liking the bubble?

More bubble fans. By this time, Buster Keaton was no longer a major star.

Jerry Colona was very popular, but wasn't a big star in the movies.

Clark Gable is disappointed that the girl he's been chasing is actually Groucho Marx in disguise. Paulette Goddard didn't get that part, either. And right after losing the part of "Scarlett O'hara" to Vivien Leigh!

*              *             *

So, where DID Sally's bubble come from?

She blew up a balloon, of course.

Sally looks like she's having a ball!

Sally doing her bubble dance.

And, who were the two blondes dancing with Oliver Hardy?

I would guess that they were either

Alice Faye and Betty Grable, who worked together in 1940's TIN PAN ALLEY

Or Betty Grable and Carole Landis, who worked together in MOON OVER MIAMI and I WAKE UP SCREAMING, 1941.

Of course, they could have been two other blondes. But Alice Faye, Betty Grable, and Carole Landis were amoung the most popular blondes in that period.


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