NEEDLE DROP NOTES
July 29, 2018 posted by James Parten

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This week’s column is sort of an addendum to my essay last week. More on the singers I’ve dubbed “The Terrytones”…

Now, back in the’Thirties, there were cartoons that used vocal groups as a sort of Greek Chorus, giving exposition to the viewer.

From The Lincoln Star, April 18, 1948

At that time, it was more typical that the vocal group would be a twee-sounding trio of females. (As an example, the 1936 Warner Bros.short, The Cat Came Back.)

But this practice had pretty much been abandoned at most cartoon studios, whether on the East Coast or out in California. Not so at Terrytoons, however.

As it had been with sound. . . and with color. . . and as it would be with wide-screen processes. . . so Terrytoons would fall back on this trope, as late as 1957 releases. The practice finally ended with the rise of Gene Deitch and his avant-garde style of cartoons.

Not all Terrytoons use this device. Some have narration by Tommy Morrison, or by another announcer. Others just get going, without recourse to such an old-fashioned practice.

And not all of the ones that do use this practice use the vocal group identified by Chuckles Gardner and myself as being Helen Carroll and the Satisfiers (or whatever name they might have been using after the end of their gig on the “Chesterfield Supper Club”).

Some use a male quartet, which might well include both Roy Halee (singing voice of Mighty Mouse, and also heard on some “Heckle and Jeckle” cartoons where they did not use Dayton Allen), and Tommy Morrison. Others take this quartet and add the soprano who usually assayed the role of Pearl Pureheart in the “Mighty Mouse’ cartoons that involved her and Oil Can Harry.

However, more than a score of cartoons have been aurally identified, either by myself, by Chuckles, or by the both of us, as having Helen Carroll groups.

“Mother Goose Nightmare’ (May 4, 1945, Gandy Goose)
“Mighty Mouse In Krakatoa” (December 4, 1945)
“The Wolf’s Pardon” (December 5, 1947)
“Magic Slipper” (December, 1948, Mighty Mouse)
“The Dog Show” (August, 1950)
“Mother Goose’s Birthday Party” (December, 1950, Mighty Mouse)
“Flat Foot Fledgling” (April, 1952, Dinky Duck)
“Foolish Duckling” (August, 1952, Dinky Duck)
“Sink Or Swim” (November, 1952, Dinky Duck)
“Wise Quacks” (February, 1953, Dinky Duck)
“Featherweight Champ” (May, 1953, Dinky Duck)
“The Orphan Egg” (July, 1953, Dinky Duck)
“Sparky, The Firefly” (September, 1953, Aesop’s Fables)
“The Timid Scarecrow” (November, 1953, Dinky Duck)
“A Yokohama Yankee’ (January, 1955)
“The First Flying Fish” (February 1955, Aesop’s Fables)
“An Igloo For Two” (March, 1955, Willie the Walrus)
“Little Red Hen” (July, 1955)
“Hep Mother Hubbard” (March, 1956)
“Love Is Blind” (May, 1957)

We know that Helen Carroll continued to work with groups similar to (when not identical with) the Satisfiers after the gig for Chesterfield ended. In 1949, her group was called the Carolers, backing her up on a Mercury records’ cover of “Cruising Down the River”, which had a cup of coffee on the Bilboard magazine’s Top Thirty, but whose sales paled in comparison with other versions, such as that of Russ Morgan.

And in 1950, Helen and a group called the Swantones backed up Frank Sinatra on a cover of “Life Is So Peculiar”, a disc that did not make any of the charts. Eventually, she regained the rights to the name “The Satisfies”. The group cut an album for Columbia in or around 1957.

Most of the above cartoons are easily accessible. So, go ahead and listen for yourself–and hear a pretty good mixed vocal group, led by a woman with a talented and flexible voice.

5 Comments

  • The use of vocal groups “moving the cartoon along” with harmonic vocalizing of storytelling was used so much at MGM. I could be wrong, but I think this was used at MGM even more than it was at Disney. You can hear such vocalizers, mostly female, on cartoons like “THE LITTLE GOLDFISH” and “MRS. LADYBUG” and, as with the Terrytoons cartoons, perhaps one of the female vocals played a character in the cartoon. In “MRS. LADYBUG”, for example, one or more could have voiced the title character or one or more of the wild little offsprings. Yet, when Terrytoons did this, there was more a jazz vocal sensibility to them, but of course, you’re talking about a vocal group, as you pointed out, that even backed Frank Sinatra on occasion. I don’t know if that afore-mentioned vocal group at MGM ever had any gigs that would be more recognizable to the general audiences through radio broadcasts or recorded “hits” of the day. Is it possible that the vocal group on hand for Warner Brothers cartoons like “THE CAT CAME BACK” and incidental performances throughout the PORKY PIG black and white classics was also the same vocal group that highlighted plot points in those classic MGM cartoons?

    • “The use of vocal groups “moving the cartoon along” with harmonic vocalizing of storytelling was used so much at MGM. ”
      And Warner Brothers,too.

  • ?? I was waiting for the reference to Helen Carroll and her group the Carolers on Cruising down the river and others (great song. Blue Barron had the other #1 besides Russ Morgan, both very sadly underated and forgotten.:( )

    Ken, you may be correct about the femle groups being the same on WB and MGM..

    • I mean, KEVIN.. (and again, both Morgan and Barron are forgotten ?? …great song.,..

  • Great research, James. I’d love to see you do some detective work into the singers/vocal groups used in early/mid 30s Terrytoons as well, certain performers such as Roy Halee went back that far with Terry I believe.

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