Good Humor, Part 2: Oh, Those Bells!

First, watch the clip… the opening scene from The Good Humor Man (1950).

The unusual sound was created by Sonovox, a device invented in January 1939 by Gilbert Wright, an engineer and radio operator. Wright hadn’t shaved that particular day and was idly scratching the coarse stubble around his adam’s apple. He noticed that the sound of this action traveled through his neck and emerged from his mouth as a buzzing. Intrigued, he tried silently forming words with his mouth, lips, and tongue… and was surprised and amused to find that the words were intelligible using this odd alternate source of sound.

Ultimately, the Sonovox (essentially a set of small speakers which pumped a tone into the the neck) became a medical device. It served as an artificial larynx that restored speech to people who had undergone laryngectomies. Since the Sonovox created no variation in pitch, the resulting speech emerged in a somewhat robotic-sounding monotone. Today, there are artificial larynges small enough to be hidden in dental work which can vary pitch in response to user movements, creating much more natural-sounding speech.

All that came later, though. Initially, the Sonovox was used as a gimmick for the movies. Because you could send anything through those speakers, vocal shaping could now create words “inside” music, sound effects… you name it.

Disney, whose exclusive deal with Technicolor had served him well just six years earlier, made an offer for exclusive cartoon rights to Sonovox. The first feature to use the device was Dumbo, released in October of 1941, but a demonstration of Sonovox is part of Robert Benchley’s tour of the Disney Studio, released as The Reluctant Dragon in June of that same year (Sonovox creates Casey Junior’s “I think I can/I thought I could” dialog, in the finished film).

By 1950, Sonovox was pretty much “old hat,” but Frank Tashlin, who moved into live-action features after directing cartoons for Warner Brothers, found a very clever and appropriate use for it to open The Good Humor Man.

More about Tashlin, more about Good Humor, and more about a very funny picture titled The Good Humor Man… in Part 3.

Link to a “Kiddie Record” that uses Sonovox.
Link to a YouTube video of the Kay Kaiser Band showing the Sonovox in use.

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Early Disney Movie Music – with a British Flair

The famous march that opened TV’s “Mickey Mouse Club” had a great ‘hook’… “Mic-key-Mouse-Club, Mic-Key-Mouse-Club…” as identifiable as it is unforgettable. Written by Jimmie Dodd especially for the TV show, one would hardly expect to hear that very same ‘hook’ in a recording from 1933. But here it is.

Listen to the first few seconds of “Silly Symphony Selection,” and you will hear “Mic-key-Mouse-Club, Mic-Key-Mouse-Club…” I guess we will have to call this sheer musical coincidence. Or maybe that little musical ‘hook’ is somehow inherent in the Mickey Mouse theme song, “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo.”

Walt Disney had always refused to allow permission for records to be made from songs featured in his cartoons, but in 1933, he gave permission for a recording to be made by George Scott Wood, a British arranger and orchestra leader whose work Disney had heard and admired. Wood did an admirable job of capturing not only the Mickey Mouse theme but also a “Silly Symphony Selection” featuring music from “Funny Little Bunnies,” “Peculiar Penguins,” “The Pied Piper,” “The Grasshopper and the Ants,” “Lullabye Land,” and “The Wise Little Hen,” all “Symphonies” released in 1933 and 1934.

These British Dance Orchestras were mostly “sweet” bands, and listening to these tracks, you can easily imagine couples gliding across the polished floors of English hotels. Exceptions: the Dixieland-style treatment of “Turn on the Old Music Box,” from Pinocchio… and the jazzy treatment given to “When I See An Elephant Fly,” from Dumbo.

For your listening and downloading pleasure (All tracks 3-4m except for “Silly Symphony Selection,” 8m):

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Silly Symphony Selection – Silly Symphonic Orchestra
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf – The BBC Dance Orchestra
Ferdinand The Bull – Joe Loss and his Band
Heigh-Ho – Henry Hall and his Orchestra
With A Smile and a Song – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (not a typo)
I’m Wishing – Henry Hall and his Orchestra
One Song – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Whistle While You Work – Harry Roy and his Orchestra
Some Day My Prince Will Come – Jack Harris and his Orchestra
Give A Little Whistle – Joe Loss and his Band
Little Wooden Head – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
When You Wish Upon A Star – Joe Loss and his Band
Turn On The Old Music Box – George Scott Wood and the Six Swingers
When I See An Elephant Fly – Joe Loss and his Band
Love Is A Song – The RAOC Blue Rockets

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The Magnificent Seven Do Dumbo

The 1990 album The Best of the Worst by The Magnificent Seven was re-released on CD a few years ago by Basta Records. You could be forgiven for flipping by it, should you chance upon it in a store or on the web, for neither the title nor the cover nor the group’s confusing name gives any hint of just what kind of magnificence we’re talking about. This Magnificent Seven is a Dutch musical group, not a western movie. Basta simply says that they provide “a humorous interpretation of film-music.” But what music! What interpretations! Great takes on TV themes (Thunderbirds, Star Trek, The Avengers, Mission Impossible, Hawaii 5-0) and movie themes, including some Disney covers you wouldn‘t expect to encounter (Trust In Me, from The Jungle Book?) But don’t simply trust in me – listen to these splendid covers of Dumbo (3m) and Casey Junior (3m), then go get a copy at Amazon or Basta Records.

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