Good Humor, Part 4

Now, why would a lovely teenage girl with a delicious Good Humor be staring angrily at her friendly Good Humor Man?

I don’t know. I’m just putting the question out there.

The two of them look like they want to punch each other. And surely fistfights were a rare thing in proximity to Good Humor trucks.

That’s not a movie still. It’s some kind of news or promotional photo. If only we had a caption; something like “Even Juvenile Delinquents love Good Humors” would explain things.

Of course, if this was Glasgow instead of suburban America, and it was the 1980’s instead of the 1940’s, we’d know that the Glasgow Ice Cream Truck Turf Wars were to blame. But this probably does not represent a drug deal gone bad.

More likely, the teen-ager is simply fed up with all the damn advice the Good Humor Man is dispensing with his ice cream.

I’m guessing that The Good Humor Safety Club, which issued the pinbacks at right, was created in response to ice cream truck-related injuries and deaths. It’s a battle that’s still being fought: there’s a vocal group of anti-ice cream truck people out there who want to banish this already-vanishing summer tradition.

And not all of them are concerned about the potential for accidents. Some of them just hate the music, like the grouches in Vancouver, who don’t seem to realize that “…the chimes are the only way we have of knowing that the the [sic] ice cream man is in the neighbourhood.”

The petition suggests that the silent majority have no objection to the chimes and that the bylaw changes suggested by the city council would “…put us out of business!”

Doubtless they are supported in this assertion by industry rags like The National Dipper, the magazine for frozen dessert retailers, and the “strong united voice” of The International Association of Ice Cream Vendors.

But I beg to differ.

Good Humor once provided, to any customer who made a request, a giant placard sporting a huge letter “G.”

All you’d have to do would be to place the placard in the window of your home, and your friendly local Good Humor man would know to stop and stock your home freezer. (Few of these placards have survived, which explains why the IAICV is ignorant of this alternate business model… and why the example shown here looks kinda grungy).

But wait. If we put the industry back on the placard business model, we would lose those lovely chimes!

No.

In fact, if you want to hear ice cream music, you have other options. You can listen to ice cream music 24/7, if that’s your desire, thanks to a couple of CD’s that push the musical genre beyond its traditional limits.

Songs for Ice Cream Trucks is a CD released this year – that would be 2007 – by a very talented guy named Michael Hearst. Here’s the solution for all of those disgruntled people in Vancouver: buy this CD, and then… don’t play it.

I love this CD and highly recommend it, but then again, I’ve been writing about ice cream trucks for four days. But there’s at least one person out there as interested as I am. Check out the trailer for the documentary! (Thanks, MH!)

Actually, make that two, because we’ve also got the incredible music of John Charles Alder, who has released Ice Cream Truckin’, another CD of tunes (many of them using toy piano) that would sound just great anywhere. Even in Vancouver. His band is called Twink, and I also recommend checking out Broken Record, another Twink CD that samples old kiddie records in wonderful and hilarious ways.

You can listen to samples from each CD at the respective sites linked above.

If you want to watch ice cream trucks, rather than just listen, you have to hope that The Good Humor Man is released to DVD sometime soon. It’s a wild live-action cartoon from Frank Tashlin, the man who first won our hearts with his fabulous Porky Pig shorts of the late 1930’s.

Are Good Humor trucks dangerous places? Watch what happens to Jack Carson.

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Good Humor, Part 3

In case you thought product placement was a relatively new phenomenon, check out this Fawcett comic.

In a movie that is itself an eighty-minute paean to Dubl-stix, Humorettes, I-sticks, Regular cups, Large cups, and Sundaes, another sponsor bought in to the proceedings – Fawcett Comics, home of The Big Red Cheese (Captain Marvel to those of you who haven’t had the good sense to follow his adventures).

DC comics had filed a lawsuit against Fawcett in 1941 claiming that Captain Marvel was nothing but a crass rip-off of Superman. This took two tons of chutzpah, because Superman was himself a blatant rip-off of the pulps’ Doc Savage, whose “Man of Bronze” had been transformed into the “Man of Steel.” Savage also had something called a Fortress of Solitude in the arctic, and oh, by the way, Doc’s real first name was Clark. DC eventually prevailed, however, shutting Captain Marvel down in 1953. One can only imagine the collective wail that went up when the Captain suddenly disappeared. (If anybody should have sued Captain Marvel, it was Fred MacMurray, whose face had been appropriated by the Fawcett artists and given to Captain Marvel).

Given the fact that Captain Marvel and Superman were locked in a battle to the death for newsstand survival, some of you may well be aware of perhaps the greatest irony in the history of the cinema, which takes place when when we meet Mr. Nagel, the villain of The Good Humor Man (and the rival for girlfriend Margie’s affections). He’s introduced to us in his office at the Peerless Insurance Company…

The Good Humor Man is so interesting for so many reasons.

For instance, the use of the Three Stooges sound effect library (Good Humor Man was a Columbia picture).

I’m having too much fun to stop… Part Four tomorrow.

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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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