Hollywood Steps Out

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Hollywood Steps Out
Merrie Melodies series
Hollywood steps out (01).png
Title card from the Blue Ribbon reissue.
Directed by Tex Avery
Story by possibly Dave Monahan
Voices by Kent Rogers (uncredited)
Mel Blanc (uncredited)
Sara Berner (uncredited)
Music by Carl W. Stalling
Animation by possibly Rod Scribner
Studio Warner Bros. Cartoons
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) May 25, 1941
Color process Technicolor
Language English

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

Plot[edit]

A large bird's-eye view of Los Angeles 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 ($801.7 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 ($4.01 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 strip (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, a parallel 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 Latin lover, dances with Rita Hayworth in another sendup or tease. The two are shown in the long shot to be dancing clumsily with almost no coordination. In reality, Hayworth and Romero were considered to be two of Hollywood's finest 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, giving an aside to the audience: "Don't go away folks, this oughta be good!". 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 to "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" in complete nudity, which is never seen although areas of her body get revealed. Strand is shown standing with a large bright white bubble (it is never revealed how she got a bubble like that) held in front of her nude body center stage in a dim place, with a bright light shining on her to signal the start of the dance

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, Ronald Colman 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 in unison with a terse and dry: “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!” (“Where'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!"

Censorship[edit]

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]

Cast[edit]

  • Kent Rogers - Cary Grant, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Clark Gable, Kay Kiser, J. Edgar Hoover, Peter Lorre and Groucho Marx
  • Mel Blanc - Jerry Colonna
  • Sara Berner - Greta Garbo, Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour

Production notes[edit]

  • 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.
  • Out of the 46 stars that were caricatured, Mickey Rooney was the last survivor until his death on April 6, 2014.
  • 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]