Jammin’ the Blues

On this blog we’ve already covered a little bit of Barney Kessel’s work on film music, discussing how he adapted composer Henry Mancini’s score for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” into his own record. However, Kessel’s involvement in film dates back to at least 1944 when, at the age of 21, Kessel played guitar in the Warner Bros musical short “Jammin the Blues,” released May 5 of that year. In the Barney Kessel collection are 2 records with music from the film, as well as a 38-page interview in which Kessel discusses the film, its origins, its impact, and the backstory of many of the artists involved. Kessel was proud of his role in the film – its musical style was close to his own musical roots and playing in it was a big step forward in his own career. The film itself is only 10 minutes long. In 1995, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry because the film is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Turner Movie Classics, which has aired the film as part of a tribute to the National Film Registry, called it “one of the greatest of all jazz films.”

According to a 1982 interview, Kessel explained that the film came about because Jazz producer Norman Granz (right) wanted to recreate on film the jam session music format he had helped popularize in the Los Angeles jazz scene in the 1930s and early ‘40s. Granz selected an impressive roster of musicians for the film. The list of performers included Lester young (Tenor Sax), Red Callender (Bass), Harry Sweets Edison (Trumpet), Marlow Morris (piano), Kessel (guitar),  John Simmons (Double Bass) Illinois Jacquet (Tenor sax) Marie Bryant (vocals) and Sid Catlett and Jo Jones (drums). Kessel recalled that he became involved with the film because he was one of few musicians playing electric guitar in Los Angeles at the time. He had been a regular in many of the local jazz clubs, and already had a strong reputation with Norman Granz.

Granz allowed the musicians to choose their own songs for the film. Kessel recalls that Director Gjon Milli encouraged he and the other musicians to dress and behave as they would if they were going to play a regular show. The way the film was made was by first recording the music to be used in the film, and then filming the musicians playing along to the music as it was played back to them. Years later Kessel chuckled at how the musicians couldn’t always recall exactly what they had played during the recording sessions because it was very improvisational. When it came time to simulate playing along with the recording, the two didn’t always match up.

Most notably, and somewhat controversially, Kessel was the only white musician in the film. Granz was trying to advocate for the end of segregation in music, both for audiences and band members. He took the same approach with Jammin the Blues, to the dismay of Warner Bros mogul Jack Warner, who insisted that a black guitarist be found to make an all-black band, lest the film perform poorly in the segregated South. Granz refused to do so. Kessel described Granz as a real proponent of music as a meritocracy – Granz believed using a black guitarist to keep the film’s band from being integrated was just as racist as any other segregation. Either you could play, or you couldn’t, and Granz would have no one who couldn’t play. The compromise reached was to hide Kessel in the shadows.

Kessel’s entire recollection of the film is a positive one. “Of all the things I’ve done [in film]”, he said, “that was the most relaxed.” He liked how the Gjon Mili and Granz did not manipulate the performance – instead they “captured what’s going on” and presented it naturally. Compared to the music and film of the 1970s and 80s (he was interviewed in 1982) Kessel thought that the artistic value and quality of Jammin the Blues was twice as good. Kessel was a man of strong opinions, and he clearly had a high opinion of the film and his fellow musicians, especially Lester Young. He believed that the film captured a particular moment in music history, one that was driven both by the innovative producers like Granz and performers like Kessel and Lester Young who together made some of the best music of that or any other era, and also defied the racial mores that still hamstrung black men and women in much of America.

Sources

Barney Kessel Collection, MS295, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

 

Breakfast at Barney’s

What do Barney Kessel and Audrey Hepburn have in common? Well, May is a significant month in both of their lives, but for entirely opposite reasons. Hepburn was born May 4, 1929. Kessel passed away after a long battle with brain cancer on May 6, 2004. They are also connected by Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was released in October, 1961, the same month as Kessel’s birthday. Fans of the film’s music may or may not know that in 1961, Reprise Records released Kessel’s own version of Henry Mancini’s iconic score.

The iconic score of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is just one of Henry Mancini’s (above) accomplishments.

It’s not entirely clear how much Kessel was involved in making the original score. However, in the Kessel collection are original orchestra copies of Mancini’s arrangements. These would have been given to the members of the orchestra. Kessel either kept or somehow got these, and then used them to write his own versions of the songs. These items are valuable for music historians and musicians alike first because they are rare, and second because they demonstrate Kessel’s musical genius.

 

 

Mancini original Score

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Here is a brief outline of what Kessel did differently. (Disclaimer: Yours truly is no music expert, and owes thanks to LaBudde Special Collections Graduate Student Assistant and Performance DMA student Anthony LaBat for helping to explain this.) Most noticeably, Kessel changed the instrumentation. He assimilated different parts from the Mancini score into parts for his versions. For example, in “Latin Golightly”, he assimilated the original Alto Sax & Trumpet, and Trombone & Baritone horn parts into a single part, which he played on guitar. Victor Feldman and Bud Shank also played that assimilated part on Vibraphone and Flute, respectively. For the bass, Kessel wrote an entirely new part that may have been modeled from the existing bass track, but was almost completely different in pitch and made rhythmic changes as well. In “Moon River Cha-Cha” Kessel again played the saxophone part on guitar, but he raised the pitch slightly throughout. Kessel was a master at chords, and chord harmonies. He made subtle adjustments like the ones in Moon River Cha-Cha to “revoice” chords. Doing this changed how the different chords in a progression pulled to one-another. In some cases it may have changed the entire progression. He also did this in “Sally’s Tomato” when he combined the trumpet and the alto sax into Bud Shank’s flute part. There was no dedicated flute part in Mancini’s original. Other changes include adding bongos to some of the songs, combining piano and guitar parts into rhythm guitar, using existing trombone fills for guitar fills between choruses, cutting out some bars, and recombining parts of choruses to make his own.

Also in the Barney Kessel collection is an original reference copy of Kessel’s album, which would have been made by the recording studio for band members. The full album was released on vinyl in 1961. Listen to the songs below and see if you can hear the differences, like the flute playing the original trumpet and sax part in Sally’s Tomato.

In Moon River Cha-Cha, compare the guitar, flute, and vibes in Kessel’s version to the saxophone in the original. Also, listen for the guitar playing the trombone fills – it starts at about 1:15 in both videos.

If you want to listen to any of the songs from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we have multiple copies of both the Mancini originals, as well as the Kessel version in the Marr Sound Archives.

Sources:

Barney Kessel Collection, MS295, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Discogs

Where the Magic Started

The lion king? A young Walt Disney sitting atop one of the lion statues in Swope park.

(Written by Helena Collins-Gravitt)

In the summer of 1923, with nothing but an idea and an unfinished project called “Alice’s Wonderland,” Walt Disney left his bankrupt studio in Kansas City and traveled to Los Angeles. Walt Disney has been a household name for decades. His studio revolutionized the world of animation. It’s possible he is the most significant person in the history of American film making. But how did the father of animation get his start? The story of Walt Disney begins in Kansas City, Missouri from 1911 to 1923. In 1920 Disney worked at Kansas City Film Ad Company, but his creative ideas clashed with that of the company’s owner. So, Disney and his co-worker Fred Harman created their own company and named it Laugh-O-Gram Studios after their first short films, “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams”, sold to Newman Theater. This is where he came up with the idea that has been synonymous with Disney ever since: “modernized fairytales done in animation.”

The LaBudde Special Collections is home to several photographs from the early life of Walt Disney and the history of Laugh-o-Gram studios. These photos can be found in the Baron Missakian collection. Missakian was a well know photographer in Kansas City during the 1920s. He photographed many famous personalities, one of whom was Walt Disney. But why did Missakian have so many photos of Disney and the processes at Laugh-O-Gram studios? The reason behind this is that Disney’s studio and Missakian’s photography office were right across the hall from one another and they were close friends. In fact, Missakian ended up marrying Disney’s personal secretary. The set of photos includes a young photo of Disney, many photos from various projects, and even a photo of him at Kansas City Film Ad company.

The story of Disney’s first studio is a rough one, as most stories begin. After some time at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney found that he did not like the cut-out animation style. He preferred classical hand drawn animation, but he could not convince the owner of the company to change styles. So, on May 22, 1923 Disney, along with co-worker Fred Harman, founded Laugh-o-Gram studios at 1127 East 31st Street in Kansas City. Here Disney started working on his animated films. His first twelve films were commissioned by the Newman Theater.

The Newman Theater, owned by Frank Newman where Disney’s early cartoons were shown. (Courtesy, Missouri Valley Special Collections)

His next big project was creating six films for Tennessee-based Pictorial Clubs. This was a big project and Disney was going to be paid eleven thousand dollars for these films when he delivered them. The six films were, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “The Four Musicians of Bremen,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Goldie Locks and the Three Bears,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Cinderella” (1922). Sadly, only months after the contract was signed and the studio began working on these films, Pictorial went bankrupt and Disney was never paid. After all the time and money spent on these films, Disney moved on to find new work because the studio was in desperate need of funds. This led to Disney taking on a project for a local dentist named Thomas B. McCrum.  From this job, the film “Tommy Tucker’s Tooth” was born, and Disney received five hundred dollars. Then instead of using that money to pay off his many debts, Disney started working on his newest idea. A live-action/animation entitled “Alice’s Wonderland”, which would star Virginia Davis, a young local actress. But this work only made the studio’s financial issues worse and after finishing the raw edits for the film the studio filed for bankruptcy in July 1923. As fast as he could Disney bought a ticket to Hollywood, armed with only his ideas and an unfinished reel of “Alice’s Wonderland”. The name is no coincidence: this was the first of a run of Disney-made “Alice” stories, a run that continues to this day. 

The other incredible thing about Laugh-O-Gram studios is that Disney is only one of the animation greats that emerged from it. Hugh Harman (brother of Fred Harman) and Rudolf Ising (a Kansas City native) were animators who worked for Laugh-O-Gram. As a duo they later founded the animation divisions of Warner Brothers and MGM. Another Laugh-O-Gram alum, Fritz Freling, is the man responsible for creating Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam. It’s almost impossible to overstate: the Disney family tree that is Hollywood animated film making can all be traced back to Laugh-O-Gram studios. It is an incredible piece of Kansas City history, and there is a movement underway to preserve it. In 2015 the Thank You Walt Disney Foundation began renovations on the site, and put together a plan for an on-site learning experience. Until then, the photos in LaBudde Special Collections offer a window into one of the most pivotal moments the history of American film making.

Sources

“Baron Missakian Collection”, MS 24, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Timothy S. Susanin, Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

The Association for Recorded Sound Collections Seeks New Members

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Why should you join The Association for Recorded Sound Collections? Subscribe to the ARSC recorded sound discussion list and get your questions answered or check out the ARSC YouTube page for more insights into the organization’s benefits.

While brushing up on editing skills and best practice for video preservation, I had the opportunity to complete a video project for The Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) in conjunction with their 2015 membership recruitment drive.

The videos, now on the ARSC Youtube page, feature ARSC members delivering personal testimonials, encouraging interested parties to join up with the organization. Being an ARSC member myself, I was able to utilize my connections to gain professional experience and enhance my resume.

Joining a professional organization, such as ARSC, can be critical for graduate students and professionals alike. Here is a glimpse into their mission:

The Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of sound recordings – in all genres of music and speech, in all formats, and from all periods.

Founded in 1966, ARSC is unique in bringing together private individuals and institutional professionals. Archivists, librarians, and curators representing many of the world’s leading audiovisual repositories participate in ARSC alongside collectors, dealers, researchers, historians, discographers, musicians, engineers, producers, reviewers, and broadcasters.

Supplementary education for audio-visual specialists and students is key to professional development as well as networking with individuals in one’s field of choice. For instance, The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) may be a good fit for film and video specialists whereas The Society of American Archivists (SAA) would benefit archivists of all kinds.

ARSC, however, is geared toward audiophiles, record collectors, and individuals who work with audio materials. ARSC members receive the ARSC Journal and Newsletter, discounted registration fees for the annual conference, as well as access to past conference recordings via the homepage.Topics from the 2014 conference ranged from southern folk music, to new open source preservation tools, to metadata, metadata, metadata.

Here’s a pitch from LaBudde Special Collections’ Metadata Librarian and Chair of the ARSC Membership Recruitment Task Force, Sandy Rodriguez:

arscjoin_now_redlabel

Sound Archives Expand Services to Video Preservation

alaadeenSeveral months ago, the Marr Sound Archives purchased a shiny new Mac Pro with intentions of preserving the numerous video tapes held in some of our most noteworthy collections. With the assistance of Adobe Production Suite, a Black Magic Studio Pro, and a Panasonic AG-DS850p Video Cassette Recorder, we plan to digitize our degrading VHS and S-VHS collections. Upcoming video preservation and digitization projects include video footage from the Ahmad Alaadeen, Jay McShann, and Ruth Rhoden collections, among others.

Before we proceed, however, there are a number of factors to consider in the realm of video digitization standards as we document our procedures. Some colorfully hypothetical questions arise as a result.

“Frame rates, aspect ratios, bit depth, metadata… Video capture is so much more complicated than audio. Where do I start?”
“What’s the difference between a multimedia container and a codec? I thought they were the same thing!”
“How much digital storage should I procure for my digital video collection? Will it fit on this flash drive?”
“What makes my files lossless? Of course they are! I can see them right here on my desktop!”
“What makes something born-digital? If I was born in the 1960s, does that make me pre-digital?

Of course, the majority of these ridiculous questions may be answered with some simple independent research or even a shallow Google search. Doing so would reveal that best practice for video preservation depends on the quality of the source and the digital needs of the archive.

Marr Sound Archives has begin preserving VHS and SVHS cassettes from the Ahmad Alaadeen Collection.

Marr Sound Archives has begun preserving VHS and SVHS cassettes from the Ahmad Alaadeen Collection.

For example, the uncompressed, non-proprietary audio file format, Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) has become the standard for audio preservation. Video formats, on the other hand, provide evidence of standardizations that are constantly in flux. For instance, while many digital repositories may stick with a Quicktime file format (MOV) for its consumer accessibility in video, others may utilize the Material eXchange Format (MXF) for high definition film preservation. Depending on cost, storage availability, and the quality of analog source tapes, repositories must decide what best fits their needs.
 

Our video collection, for example, consists mostly of NTSC source tapes recorded from television or personal camcorder. Standard definition, interlaced Quicktime files with 24 bit, 48 kHz WAV audio will suffice as perfectly acceptable digital preservation copies.

Last week, The Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) released a study comparing target formats for reformatting videotapes to digital files. In the study, FADGI’s Audio Visual Working Group considered what formats would produce an authentic and complete copy of the source, which formats maximized picture and sound reproduction, and which formats best supported research and access. They consider it a living document as new preservation technologies will continue to emerge.

The Faces of Radio: Behind the KMBC Microphone

In 1935, KMBC was blooming into a Kansas City media empire under the direction of Arthur B. Church. Though a few years before the advent of the Brush Creek Follies–a program that would become one of KMBC’s staple programs–the station was already proving to be a fruitful grounds for talent of all varieties.

Listeners of KMBC mostly knew the voices of the radio talents: the wisdom of Uncle Ezra and the folksy organ-backed tales of Ted Malone; the radio-drama, Life on the Red Horse Ranch, and the songs of Herb Kratoska and Tex Williams. But in 1935 the station produced a film reel to give the public a chance to view the faces behind their favorite programs.

The reel, “Microphone Personalities: Camera Flashes of Program Features that have clicked with millions of Columbia Network Listeners” was a feature designed to sell KMBC programs to other networks. And it appears in the Marr Sound Archives from the Arthur B Church video collection.

Uncle Ezra Butternut of the Happy Hollow program is one of the first personalities to face the camera. He claims to be no actor, just a man with some opinions, and that much is evident from his odd stares into the lens. Similarly, Ted Malone and his organist are backlit silhouettes, not facing the camera for their demonstration.

The musicians, however, seem to have an easier time with the visual medium. Tex Williams appears decked out in cowboy regalia, custom made chaps with “TEX” applique-d on the leg. Herb Kratoska’s easy-going jazz guitar and vocalizations bring more energy, but eye contact still seems to be an issue. If there’s a fourth wall here, no one knows about it.

A young Paul Henning–before he took up the typewriter and moved to Cali-for-ni-ay–sings a saccharine song into the camera, calm and easy, but seeing this makes me glad he pursued television writing instead.

The most natural performances come from the cast of Life on the Red Horse Ranch. Unlike old Uncle Ezra, these are actors, and adapting to the visual medium much better. Even a glimpse at the sound-effect man, turning a wheel to make the prairie wind, rattling metal sheets and shutting small doors is a treat to watch. Following their brief radio-play the band closes with a hoe-down number of banjo, stand-up bass, and accordion solos.

KMBC became most widely known for it’s “country” themed programming that started with the hillbilly antics of Happy Hollow and evolved into Brush Creek Follies, which ran for 20 years. Other very popular programs were western and cowboy-oriented programs like Life on the Red Horse Ranch and The Texas Rangers program. KMBC oversaw national distribution for many of these shows, which led to great success for Arthur B. Church and is a vital facet of the station’s legacy.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop ‎– Doctor Who – The Music

Dr Who CoverThe BBC Radiophonic Workshop in London opened in 1958 to produce music and new effects for radio. Composers for Doctor Who started working here in 1963, under the direction of Ron Grainer. The theme for doctor who was created mostly by Delia Derbyshire in the style of Elektronische Musik—or music created from only electronically produced signals. This term was coined in 1949 by Werner Meyer-Eppler, and rivaled the French style of Musique Concrete, which used sounds recorded from acoustical sources, instead. To use this style of music in television, was new and innovative. It was also groundbreaking, because “televised science fiction was a new concept for the BBC” (factmag). The soundtrack for Doctor Who was comprised almost exclusively of electronic music through 1989, and the composers working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop created most of the incidental music and sound effects.

One of the most famous tracks that was released in the 1970’s for this television show was “Sea Devils,” which was noted for being much more experimental than the usual incidental music of Doctor Who. It was composed by Malcolm Clarke, and used the EMS Synthi 100 of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Output-1-2.mp3|titles=Sea Devils.|artists=Malcolm Clarke]

EMS Synthi 100 – Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Another important track on the LP is “The Leisure Hive,” composed by Peter Howell. By 1980, the workshop was creating music for every episode. By this time, the workshop had gained a lot more synthesizers, which would make the music a lot richer.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/drwhotrack9.mp3|titles=The Leisure Hive.|artists=Peter Howell]

Stevie Wonder’s Psychedelic Botanical Masterpiece

Staff Picks: Stevie Wonder, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1979).

Secret LifeHere’s a formula for a hit record: provide a second-by-second description of an obscure film adaptation of a book about plants to a blind man and ask him to create a mostly instrumental double-album soundtrack.

Well, Motown wasn’t too jazzed about this idea either.

From 1971 to 1976 Stevie Wonder produced a string of six records that were each huge commercial successes and bold artistic leaps forward for R&B and pop music, in general. Following this “classic era,” Stevie took a three year hiatus (the longest of his illustrious career), and by 1979, his fans were clamoring for a follow-up to 1976’s brilliant “Songs in the Key of Life”. In October of 1979, Stevie finally released a double-LP soundtrack titled “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.” Riding the wave of his previous successes and the long wait for a new record, ‘Journey’ debuted at number four on Billboard, but due to the film’s limited release and the initial negative reaction from critics, it quickly plummeted off the charts, making it one of Stevie’s least commercially successful records of his career.

Since that time, however, this surprising and experimental record has gone on to become somewhat of a cult classic among Stevie fans.  In his recent memoir Mo Meta Blues Roots drummer and ubiquitous afro sporter ?uestlove calls ‘Journey’ “[his] Dark Side of the Moon, [his] psychedelic masterpiece.” And, in a 2004 interview, when asked to list the three albums that most represent him, Stevie listed “Songs in the Key of Life,” “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” and a tossup between “Talking Book” and “Innervisions.”

The album begins with an instrumental track Stevietitled ‘Earth’s Creation’, an eerie sonic approximation of primordial earth’s beginnings that sounds like electric clouds circling above a pool of lava. On track two, ‘The First Garden,’ Stevie’s familiar harmonica provides a sweet melodic interpretation of the blooming of the earth’s first plants. And things get weirder from there. In “Venus Fly Trap and the Bug” a slightly terrifying robot voice narrates the perspective of a bug being tricked and devoured by a plant. Other tracks include screaming children, Japanese poetry, thunder claps and rain sounds, random crowd noise, orchestral strings over proto-Prince disco grooves,  and lots of not-quite-placeable synthesizer sounds. Perhaps my favorite track is the sentimental Side 3 closer about being reincarnated as a flower, “Come Back As a Flower” which features lead vocals by Stevie’s one time wife and long time collaborator Syreeta Wright. At Motown’s nervous request, Stevie did end up including more pop friendly songs like the catchy and sweet ballad “Send One Your Love” and the traditional-Stevie-sounding ‘Outside My Window.’

Aside from its experimental edge and poor commercial performance, the album is notable for a few other reasons, as well.  The album’s cover included the title and artist printed in braille along the bottom and in the original pressings, the inside of the cover was sprayed with a flower scented perfume (still faintly detectable in one of the archive’s copies), until it was discovered to be eating away at the vinyl records. Many consider ‘Journey’ to be one of the first New Age albums and truly if Stevie Wonder’s name wasn’t printed at the top, the cover would look right at home next to some crystals and incense at your local New Age gift shop.   ‘Journey’ also features the first use of the Computer Music Melodian, a digital sampling synthesizer, and is one of the earliest known albums recorded entirely digitally.

Here’s the charming music video for the album’s title track:

I’ve loved Stevie Wonder since I was a toddler blaring Oldies 95 on the kitchen radio and  jumping around to ‘Uptight’. And as I’ve been exposed to more and more Stevie over the years, I keep uncovering deeper levels to his genius. Starting with the poppy radio hits and then delving into the classic album cuts from ‘Music of My Mind’ to ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Songs in The Key of Life’, Stevie seems to have an answer for every mood, every passing feeling. At the suggestion of a friend, I only recently discovered this classic weird Stevie album and now, finally, I have Stevie’s answer for when I feel like just another carbon-based, multi-cellular organism.

UMKC students and staff can listen to the entire album for free on the American Song Database. Give it a listen!

The Buddies Who Never Were

The process of organizing and arranging manuscript collections is one of ongoing discovery.  You never know what you will find, as our Graduate Student Assistant Jeff Borowiec was reminded as he works through the Houston Gray Collection:

“Deep in the cold dark recesses of the Collection of Houston Gray, obsessive collector of anything and everything related to the movies and theater, lies an interesting anomaly: Two black and white film stills of child actor Jackie Cooper dreaming of Christmas morning, which are said to be promoting the young star for an upcoming film called Buddies, starring also Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante. The only thing is, this film was never actually made.

From the verso of the photo:  "Christmas Dreams Jackie Cooper, the youngest Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star, enj[oys] the dream on Christmas Ever almost as much as he does the actual happenings the next day. Jackie, who will next be seen in “Buddies” with Buster Keaton and Jimmie Durante, evidently hopes for a boat."

From the verso of the photo: Christmas Dreams–Jackie Cooper, the youngest Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star, enj[oys] the dream on Christmas Ever almost as much as he does the actual happenings the next day. Jackie, who will next be seen in “Buddies” with Buster Keaton and Jimmie Durante, evidently hopes for a boat.”

From the verso of the photo:  The Night Before Christmas-- You can’t tell Jackie Cooper, the young Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star who will next be seen with Buster Keaton and Jimmie Durante in the picture “Buddies,” that there ain’t no Santa Claus because Jackie knows all about Santa in all his moods.

From the verso of the photo: The Night Before Christmas–You can’t tell Jackie Cooper, the young Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star who will next be seen with Buster Keaton and Jimmie Durante in the picture “Buddies,” that there ain’t no Santa Claus because Jackie knows all about Santa in all his moods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keaton, comedy giant of the silent-screen, had been paired up with Durante before on MGM’s The Passionate Plumber (1932), Speak Easily (1932), and What! No Beer? (1933), the last of which was an ironic casting choice given Keaton’s notorious trouble with alcohol, both on and off set. The comedy pair was box office gold, even when Keaton was not all there, as it were. Felicia Feaster writes for Turner Classic Movies about the difficulties of shooting What!… that were caused by Keaton’s alcohol problem (read full post here):

Keaton claimed to finish a bottle of booze a day during the six week shooting schedule. During the production, Keaton disappeared and wound up honeymooning in Mexico City with a nurse named Mae Scriven whom he had married during an alcoholic blackout. In the meantime, the “What! No Beer?” team shot around Buster Keaton.

Though plans for Buddies were already underway, Keaton’s issues with alcohol became too much of a burden for himself and the studio. What! No Beer? ended up being the final film Keaton would make at MGM, and Buddies was to never come to fruition. These two innocent (and rather odd) holiday-themed publicity stills of a young Jackie Cooper (dreaming of receiving a boat, imagining a small army of Santa Clauses for some reason) are examples of what little is left to show for it.”