Friday, November 03, 2006

TCM's Short Circuit

Turner Classic Movies is my raison d'etre when it comes to justifying paying for cable TV and TCM shorts are the priceless jewels in their broadcasting crown. Unfortunately, TCM never advertises the who, what and when of these "One Reel Wonders" in their What's Playing program guide or Web site schedules ( Like most people, I usually happened upon them by accident, when they turned up as filler at the end of a movie I taped. Fortunately, a group of short subject die-hards (especially "MGMWBRKO" and "Laughing Gravy") have posted the "Upcoming Shorts on TCM" schedule thread on TCM's "Message Boards" Forum.

Now I use this thread all the time to catch the film curios and oddities that previously fell between the cracks of TCM's programming. Some shorts, like the Tom and Jerry and Merrie Melodies cartoons, are fairly well-known. But for most of the others, there is hardly any information available about them beyond the bare-bones title, date, star, director and running time specs at the Internet Movie DataBase (IMDB). Thankfully, Leonard Maltin helped address this void by writing his valuable (albeit currently out-of-print) guide Selected Short Subjects: From Spanky To the Three Stooges (1983).

(Cable TV viewers lucky enough to have the Odyssey Channel can also check out Leonard Maltin's shorts program there; alas, I don't get this channel, so it's basic cable and TCM for me.)

TCM's film vaults boast countless shorts cover a variety of subjects and to help viewers figure out just what they're watching, the Message Board posters created the following acronym key.

acronym key:
CC=Charley Chase
CDNP=Crime Does Not Pay
EK=Edgar Kennedy
JM=Joe McDoakes
JNPP=John Nesbitt's Passing Parade
LE=Leon Errol
LT=Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies
MC=Musical Comedy
PSS=Pete Smith Specialty
RB=Robert Benchley
RKOS=RKO Screenliner
TJ=Tom & Jerry

A handful of these shorts have started appearing as extras on TCM DVD film releases. For example, there's a "Fitzpatrick Traveltalk" for St. Louis on the Meet Me In St. Louis DVD and a motherload of short subjects on TCM's The Marx Brothers Collection DVD box set: "Fitzpatrick Traveltalk's Los Angeles: Wonder City Of The World", "Sunday Night At The Trocadero", Robert Benchley's Academy Award-Winning "How To Sleep" and "A Night At The Movies", the Pete Smith Specialty "Quicker 'N A Wink", "Flicker Memories", Joe McDoakes's "So You Think You're A Nervous Wreck", and "Fitzpatrick Traveltalk Cavalcade Of San Francisco". And in 2002, TCM produced the feature-length documentary "Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story," which is included on Warner Home Video's TCM Archives - The Laurel and Hardy Collection DVD. The documentary, which was based on Leonard Maltin's Selected Short Subjects book, looks at the world of 1930s and 1940s shorts studio-by-studio; and though it includes clips from all the studios - Hal Roach Studios, Paramount, Columbia, Warner Bros.'s Vitaphone musical series - it focuses heavily on MGM shorts (no doubt because TCM owns the MGM film library). Amazingly enough, it also features commentary from cult filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who weighs in on Pete Smith's Specialties and on James FitzPatrick's "Travel Talks," the latter shorts featuring sumptuous technicolor cinematography (courtesy Virgil Miller) that Anger characterizes as "knock your eyes out" beautiful (one can clearly sense its influence on Anger's own work, which was always visually brilliant).

Kudos also go out to Kino Video for including releasing many of these shorts on their DVD collections, including the Slapstick Symposium series, which includes a celebration of Baltimore-native Charley Chase's work at Hal Roach Studios during the 1920s in The Charley Chase Collection DVD. Chase was a contemporary of silent clowns Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Harry Langdon and Laurel and Hardy (even co-starring in L&H's Sons of the Desert) who started his career behind the camera directing Little Rascals shorts, later stepping in front of the camera to star in one- and two-reelers. Though he successfully made the transition from silents to talkies, he never mastered the feature film format, and is only lately getting the attention his career deserves.

Following is a list of some of the best shorts to look out for on TCM. It includes discussions of the Dogville "Barkies," Joe McDoakes, and Pete Smith's Specialty films for MGM, as well as Ripley's Believe It Or Not series for Vitaphone, Robert Benchley's Paramount shorts, and Virginia O'Brien.


MGM's "Dogville Series" (also known as "Houndies" or "All-Barkie" films - the latter a pun on the "All-Talkie" hype of early synched sound films) featured an all-barking cast of canines in nine films from 1929 to 1931 and laid the groundwork for the all-animal concept that would later evolve into TV's all-chimp classic Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.

Co-directed by future Three Stooges auteur Jules White and Zion Myers (who worked with The Little Rascals), the Dogville shorts parodied popular films of the day, from 1930's The Dogway Melody (a spoof of 1929's popular "All talking! All Singing! All Dancing" early soundie musical The Broadway Melody - and available as an extra feature on the special edition DVD release of this title) to 1931's So Quiet On the Canine Front.

Each film featuring dubbed voice-overs and ran roughly 15 to 17 minutes. And, being the 1930s, no doubt the pups were inhumanely treated for our amusement, as the studio used fishing line, peanut butter, and other such implements of torture to prompt the doggies to act. But if you like seeing dogs wearing clothes, playing instruments, barking "Jingle Bells," or playing poker (and who doesn't?), it's well worth checking these out the next time they run on cable TV's Turner Classic Movies. As one user commented on the Internet Movie DataBase (IMDB): "It's actually rather amusing (in a sick and twisted sort of way) to watch these poor animals being forced to humiliate themselves and, with them, the entire human race." (9 titles, 1929-1931, 15-17 minutes)

Click here to see a great article on these shorts, "More Barks Than There Are in Heaven: The Extremely Bizarre Story of MGM's Dogville Shorts" by Eve Golden (originally printed in Classic Images, "The Film Fan Newspaper”, January 1998)

Dogville Filmography:

1. Hot Dog (1929, 15minutes)
This Dogville short starts in a nightclub. A married dog is out on the town with her lover boyfriend, which has everybody gossiping. The husband shows up, and after a fight between the husband and the boyfriend, the wife kills the husband. She is put on trial for murder. At the end of the trial is a surprising twist. (summary by David Glagovsky)

Watch Hot Dog:

2. College Hounds (1929, 16 minutes)
This Dogville comedy is a spoof of college football movies. A man in debt to a loan shark uses his daughter to stop football hero Red Mange from playing in the big game between Airedale College and Spitz University. Guess who makes a last second score to win the game for Airedale?

3. So Quiet on the Canine Front (1930, 16 minutes)
This is an obvious parody of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was released in 1930 and went on to win the third Academy Award for Best Picture (after Wings and Broadway Melody, which later became anoher Dogville spoof.)

4. The Big Dog House (1930, 17 minutes)
In this dogville spoof, a department store employee is framed for murder by his boss, because he wants the employee's girlfriend for himself. The girlfriend does everything she can to see that the boss gets what he deserves. (summary by David Glagovsky)

5. The Dogway Melody (1930)
In this Dogville spoof of The Broadway Melody (1929), Mr. Cur, a Broadway producer, puts on a show and makes a play for the leading lady.

Watch The Dogville Melody:

6. Who Killed Rover? (1930, 15 minutes)
This Dogville short, also known as The Dogville Murder Case, is a spoof of the popular Philo Vance murder mysteries of the period (which starred human actors William Powell at Paramount & Basil Rathbone at MGM) - one of Philo's cases was even called The Kennel Murders. In this entry a wealthy resident leaves his fortune to his nephew, who is then kidnapped by jealous relatives. Detective Phido Vance tries to find the nephew before any harm can come to him.

7. Love Tales of Morocco (1931, 17 minutes)
This Dogville short takes place at an outpost in the Dogville Foreign Legion. As the story opens, the soldiers watch a newsreel, which includes the opera singer Galli Cur (a spoof of Amelita Galli-Curci) sing an aria. After the show, they go to the local bar and tell each other the stories behind the reason they joined the legion. All the stories are about how women did them wrong in one way or another. They all agree that they are fed up with women, until a certain visitor shows up.

8. The Two Barks Brothers (1931, 17 minutes)
I guess the title is a play on The Marx Brothers. Twin brothers are separated at birth when one is stolen by gypsies. One becomes a district attorney. The other becomes a drifter. Thirty years later, circumstances bring them together again, unbeknownst to them. As donzilla comments on IMDB: " This is a story of multi-breed dogs, in which one brother, a politician, is bent upon leading the community, and the other is "bent". There is a lot about gin-drinking because the year filmed was a prohibition year. And efforts to keep his brother from winning the political office are paramount here. The filming is better than "Lonesome Stranger", filmed with various breeds of monkeys, because the lip movements and gestures are more realistic. They don't contain paint-in teeth and mouth movement. A good animated film for it's time. Nowadays, as in "Babe" the animals move their mouths minimally."

9. Trader Hound (1931, 15 minutes)
The narrator for the film is none other than Pete Smith, the award-winning "Smith named Pete" behind the "Pete Smith Specialty" film unit at MGM. Besides the canine actors in this spoof of Trader Horn, a real monkey plays a monkey and an alligator plays an alligator - there are even real dogs playing wild dogs for the climactic chase at the end of the film.


Actor/director/writer George O'Hanlon is probably best known as being the voice behind George Jetson on TV's cartoon show The Jetsons from 1961 until his death. But before that he starred as "Joe McDoakes" - the hilarious sad sack who always found himself "behind the eightball" in a series of "So You..." film shorts during the 1940s and 1950s. IMDB lists a total of 63 of these little gems, which had titles like So You Wanna Be In Pictures (available from TCM as part of a 45-minute video collection of starstruck movie shorts entitled So You Wanna Be In Pictures?), So Your Wife Wants To Work (included as an extra on the Meet Me In St. Louis DVD), So You Think You Need Glasses (included as an extra on the The Man Who Came To Dinner DVD, which is also part of the Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 DVD box set), and so on. They were usually around 10 minutes long. All were directed and produced by series originator Richard L. Bare who, according to the IMDB, held the record for directing the most successive number of television shows (168 episodes of Green Acres); he was also married at one time to actress Phyllis Coates, who portrayed Lois Lane in the first season of TV's 1950s Superman series - and, not surprisingly, she appears in a number of these shorts, usually as Joe McDoakes wife Alice. Jane Harker and Jane Frazee also played Alice McDoakes in a number of shorts. All of the shorts were written by Richard L. Bare and George O'Hanlon. The series narrator was Art Gilmore (who was also the voice behind TV's Highway Patrol series).

Joe McDoakes filmography:

1. So You Want to Play the Piano (1956)
Alice (Jane Frazee) neglects her housework because she is enthralled with the long-haired piano player, Gregor Flatsorsharpsky (Charlie Hall), next door. Joe (George O'Hanlon) buys a piano, and the accompanying free lessons, and sets out to impress Alice. Alice is vastly unimpressed. (summary by Les Adams)

2. So You Want to Build a Model Railroad (1955)
Alice (Jane Frazee) visits Mr. Agony (Arthur Q. Bryan) with her latest problem with Joe (George O'Hanlon.) They had given Junior a toy railroad for a Christmas present, and Joe had taken it over and become obsessed to the point he has built a railroad empire using all of his time, energy and money. When Alice's mother (Minerva Urecal) comes to dinner, Joe even has a rigged-up train serving as the dumb waiter. Mr. Agony helps Alice solver her problem. (summary by Les Adams)

3. So You Want to Play the Horses (1946)
Joe McDoakes is addicted to betting on horse races. He uses various systems to pick winners, including astrological charts. Unfortunately, his methods never work, until one day when he bets $100 on a 999-to-1 shot with his bookie and wins. When he goes to collect his money, the bookie denies that he ever heard of him... (summary by David Glagovsky) As a reformed galloping gambler, I love this short! I'm a little surprised that they didn't include this an an extra on The Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races DVD, as it seems like an obvious choice.

4. So You Think You're a Nervous Wreck (1946)
White collar worker Joe McDoakes (George O'Hanlon) is full of fears and phobias and his most deeply-rooted psychic disturbance is fear of his boss. He has a dream and sees himself as besting his boss and establishing himself as the boss of his own super-deluxe office. (Available on The Marx Brothers Collection DVD box set.)

5. So You Want to Hold Your Wife (1947)
Joe McDoakes goes on "The Hour of Agony" radio and tells Dr. Agony of his marriage problems. His biggest problem is that his wife, Alice, snores. Joe has even more problems trying to follow Dr. Agony's instructions. (summary by David Glagovsky)

6. So You Want to Be a Detective (1948)
This hard-boiled shamus spoof is one of the best, if not the best, Joe McDoakes shorts. In it, Joe McDoakes imagines himself as private detective Phil Snarlow (an obvious goof on Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe) on a murder case, sparring with series narrator Art Gilmore throughout the film. (Available as an extra on TCM's The Treasure of the High Sierra DVD.)

7. So You Want an Apartment (1948)
Joe McDoakes and his wife, Alice, are at the mercy of their landlord. He has done everything he can think of to get them to move out of their apartment, so he can renovate the place and charge more rent. The McDoakeses are the last ones remaining in the building. They finally start looking for an apartment, but their search search is filled with frustrations. (summary by David Glagovsky)

8. So You Want to Be an Actor (1949)
Joe McDoakes (George O'Hanlon), unemployed thespian, makes all the casting calls,reads all of the trade papers, sees agents and tries out for casting directors and producers, and finally lands a role; the guy behind the 8-ball that is on the title frame of all of the Joe McDoakes shorts. (summary by Les Adams)

9. So You Think You Need Glasses (1942)
Included as an extra on The Man Who Came To Dinner DVD; also part of the The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 DVD box set.

10. So You Want to Keep Your Hair (1946)
A humorous look at how men cope with hair loss. Joe McDoakes starts finding too much hair in his comb. He first asks for advice at the barber-shop. Each barber has a different solution. He reads books on the subject and tries different shampoos, all to no avail. In desperation he visits the 'Mo-Hair Institute', whose motto is "If your hair is unbecoming to you...You should be coming to us." (summary by David Glagovsky)

11. So You Want a Television Set (1953)
Joe (George O'Hanlon) and Alice (Phyllis Coates) buy a television set and, on some excuse or another, the neighbors begin to drop in, stay to watch television and raid Joe's refrigerator. To escape the turmoil, Joe leaves and goes to the movies, where he finds himself sitting between Doris Day and Gordon McRae. (summary by Les Adams)

12. So You Want to Give Up Smoking (1942)
This was the first of many short features that star George O'Hanlon as Joe McDoakes, a typical American, as he deals with various aspects of everyday life. In this one, Joe decides to give up smoking, and tries every possible method, even sending in money for a quick-fix mail order cure. Art Gilmore's narration focuses mostly on the humorous aspects of Joe's generally futile efforts, although there are some serious points too. It's a pretty interesting short film, with some light humor and not without some practical tips for those in Joe's situation. (summary by Snow Leopard)

Trivia: Director Richard L. Bare originally shot his script of this movie to teach his students at the University of Southern California the fundamentals of making a movie. He photographed it (with his own Bell and Howell camera), had George O'Hanlon (then an extra) play the lead, directed and edited the film himself, eventually selling it to Warner Bros. for $2500.

Included as an extra on the Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection, Vol. 2 DVD box set.

13. So You're Going to Be a Father (1947)
McDoakes goes through all the problems and anxieties of becoming a new father. The results aren't exactly what he expected. IMDB user Jbacks3 comments, "This is a terrific Warner's comedy short! Given that it's 1947 you've got the production code dictating Joe's wife looking decidedly un-pregnant (and obviously never mentioned) and twin beds. But leave it to director Richard L. Bare and George O'Hanlon to make this fun (O'Hanlon must've been a real character around the Warner's lot in the 40's, ironically remembered today mostly as being the voice of George Jetson). Joe's a well meaning emotional wreck and rush to the hospital looks like a predecessor to Desi's routine in I Love Lucy 4 years or so later. The sight of O'Hanlon in drag at the end is a hoot. If you want to ease into the long running Joe McDoakes series of comedy shorts, this one's a good place to start. 10/10 as shorts go!."

14. So You Want to Be in Pictures (1947)
This Oscar-nominated short boasts a cast of Ronald Reagan, Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Alexis Smith and Martha Vickers, and other Hollywood luminaries. In it, Joe McDoakes is an aspiring thespian who takes acting lessons by mail order recordings and lands a small part in a movie. The film's director fires Joe when he tries to do the part sounding like Charles Boyer and Ronald Colman. Joe finally gets a job as actor 'George O'Hanlon' 's stand-in. And that's not all he gets.

15. So You Think You're Not Guilty (1950)
Joe McDoakes is passing a traffic light sign, when suddenly the signal seems broke. It's going up and down and up and down. On the crossroad McDoakes is only barely able to prevent an accident. A traffic agent approaches him and asks for his papers. But McDoakes hasn't got them with him and he must pay a fine of two dollars for passing a red light. But Joe McDoakes is a stubborn man. He wants to prove to the whole world that he is not guilty. Instead of paying the fine, he asks for a jury trial. That doesn't seem like a good thing to do however. (summary by Arnoud Tiele)

Nominated for an Oscar (Best Short Subject, One-reel) in 1950. With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes. Included as a bonus feature in Warner Home Video's 2005 DVD release of White Heat (1949).

16. So You Want to Be a Gambler (1948)
A humorous look at the pitfalls of gambling, it follows compulsive gambler Joe McDoakes on a roller-coaster ride of a day playing everything from drug store pinball and slots to back room casino games and poker.

17. So You Want to Build a House (1948)
Joe McDoakes decides to build his own home. As the project progresses, he sees his dream house turn into a nightmare.

18. So You Love Your Dog (1953)
Despite the fact that during the war, Joe McDoake's dog Dusty did everything wrong including giving information to the enemy, Joe brings him home with him. Dusty continues his dumb ways as a civilian with such playful tricks as helping a burglar, derailing trains and bringing strange people into the house. Joe and Dusty are drafted into the Korean War where more adventures await them. (summary by Les Adams)

19. So You Think You Can't Sleep (1953)
With Phyllis Coates as Mrs. McDoakes.

20. So You're Taking in a Roomer (1954)
Joe and Alice McDoakes (Jane Frazee) decide to rent a room in their house to their neighbor Marvin (Rodney Bell), who says he is a potato broker. He sets up an office and talks Joe into being his partner in the "potato" business. Joe thinks business is fine, until Marvin skips town and two bookies (Fred Kelsey and Herb Vigran) show up to collect the 'potatoes" from Joe.

21. So You Want to Be an Heir (1953)
Joe McDoakes receives a wire telling him he will inherit his grandmother's million dollar estate if he reaches her before she dies. He rushes to her home where he is met by some weird relatives (all played by O'Hanlon) and a weird lawyer (Philip Van Zandt). Grandmother informs him the wire is a gag but that the others don't know and will probably try to murder him for the inheritance. (summary by Les Adams)

22. So You Want to Be a Muscle Man (1949)

23. So You Want to Be in Politics (1948)
With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes.

24. So You Want a Raise (1950)
Joe McDoakes asks for a raise and is informed by his boss that the employee selected by him to run the office while he is on vacation will get a raise. Joe works hard and is selected, but manages to get himself unselected when he hears his boss rehearsing for a gangster role in a play and Joe calls the police. (summary by Les Adams)

25. So You Want to Be on the Radio (1948)
Joe McDoakes and his wife (Phyllis Coates) love to participate in radio show contests, but something seems to interfere every time they are lucky enough to be chosen as participants. Nominated for an Oscar in 1949 for Best Short Subject, One-reel.

26. So You Want to Be a Bachelor (1951)
Joe McDoakes and his wife Alice (Phyllis Coates) love to participate in radio show contests, but something seems to interfere every time they are lucky enough to be chosen as participants. Nominated for an Oscar in 1949 for Best Short Subject, One-reel.

27. So You Want to Be on a Jury (1955)
Joe and Homer are both on a jury trying an accident case involving their boss and a gangster. Interference from both sides makes their task difficult. Features an appearance by B-movie blonde bombshell Joi Lansing.

28. So You Want to Be a Cowboy (1951)
Joe McDoakes and his wife Alice (Phyllis Coates)attend a western movie and George soons has himself in the movie shown on the screen as Jump-Along Skip-Along McGurk, western terror pitted against an outlaw and his six henchmen, all of whom are named Tex. Since Warners wasn't making any series westerns at the time and since this short was poking fun at such, the lobby poster at the theater was from a Columbia Durango Kid film. (summary by Les Adams)

29. So You Want to Be Popular (1949)

30. So You Want to Be a Plumber (1951, 10 minutes)
With Phyllis Coates as Mrs. McDoakes.

31. So You Want to Enjoy Life (1952)

32. So You Want to Buy a Used Car (1951)
A professional pianist moves into the house next door to Joe. Seeing the effect the man's music has on his, Joe gets jealous and vows to learn to play the piano too. He buys a piano and gets stuck with a phony piano course from a con artist. (summary by SgtSP) With Phyllis Coates as Mrs. McDoakes.

33. So You Want to Learn to Dance (1953)
Joe McDoakes is invited by his boss to a swanky dance. Joe admits he can't dance and the boss gives him a lesson in the office. At the dance, Joe is a social failure and makes many mistakes while dancing with his boss' wife. Joe goes to a dancing school and becomes a big success.

34. So You Want To Move (1950)
With Phyllis Coates as Mrs. McDoakes.

35. So You Want to Know Your Relatives (1954)
Joe McDoakes is a good-hearted soul, loved and respected by all and the president of the Good-Doers club. As such, he is selected to be the guest on the "Know Your Relatives" radio program. From his past comes an uncle who is an ex-con and reminds Joe of his reform school days; Joe's first wife, a follies dancer; an uncle who tells of the money Joe stole from him; a cousin who talks about Joe's war-time cowardice; and his mother and father make an appearance, straight from the poor-house. (summary by Les Adams)

36. So You Want to Get It Wholesale (1952)
Joe uses his "contacts" to buy a new oven as cheaply as possible. Phyllis Coates plays Joe's wife.

37. So You Want to Wear the Pants (1952)
With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes.

38. So You Want to Throw a Party (1950)
Joe and Alice McDoakes (Phyllis Coates) are planning on throwing a party, but Joe mixes up his list of creditors with the list of names Alice gave him to invite. The creditors have a much better time than Joe does.

39. So You're Going on a Vacation (1947)
Joe McDoakes is informed of his two-week vacation at the last minute and decides to take advantage of a "free" vacation-planning service at a local department store. With his usual low sales resistance, he ends up spending $1,000 on useless equipment and traveling 500 miles. (summary by Les Adams)

40. So You Want to Be a Banker (1954)
Joe McDoakes graduates from Potash University and gets a job in a bank run by Harrington Arrington Farrington Jr, a former classmate. Joe struggles in his menial tasks for years and eventually learns enough to embezzle $1,000,000 and take over the bank. (summary by Les Adams)

41. So You're Going to a Convention (1952)
With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes.

42. So You're Going to Have an Operation (1950)
Joe McDoakes goes to the hospital suffering from acute indigestion, and draws an operation-enthusiast quack for a doctor. Joe is opened up so much that a zipper is installed. Later, he is somewhat surprised when he is mistakenly informed that he has given birth. (summary by Les Adams)

43. So Your Wife Wants to Work (1956)
With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes. Available as an extra on the Warner Home Video DVD The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) and James Stewart - The Signature Collection DVD box set.

44. So You Want to Be a Baby-Sitter (1949)

45. So You're Having In-Law Trouble (1949)
Joe McDoakes'in-laws come to dinner and announce that they intend to spend the rest of the year, and Joe is furious. Then Joe's family arrives, and a battle royal begins between the opposing in-laws.

46. So You Think You're Allergic (1945)

47. So You Want to Hold Your Husband (1950)

48. So You're Having Neighbor Trouble (1954)
With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes.

49. So You Want to Be a Gladiator (1955)
Joe thinks he's back in the gladiator days, and finds himself sentenced to be thrown to the Coliseum lions after breaking a string while playing the lyre for King Nero. His friend Homer says he will disguise himself as a lion, but Homer gets sidetracked and Joe goes out to meet a real lion with his lyre as his only weapon. But he wins out and is awarded a slave girl as his prize, until his wife steps in. (summary by Les Adams)

50. So You Want to Be a Handyman (1951)

51. So You Want to Be a Musician (1953)
Joe McDoakes can't find a job as a bassoonist, so he pawns his instrument. Then a friend gets him a job as a fiddle player in a gypsy tea room, but his playing drives away the diners and he is fired. He finally catches on as a one-man band. (summary by Les Adams)

52. So You Want to Be a Paperhanger (1951)
Joe McDoakes, ever obliging and always helpful, volunteers to hang the new wallpaper for his wife. With the help of his neighbor, Marvin, and despite interruptions and mishaps - lots of mishaps - Joe completes the job. There is a minor problem; Marvin has been papered to the wall. (summary by Les Adams)

53. So You Don't Trust Your Wife (1955)

54. So You Want to Be a Policeman (1955)
Joe McDoakes is a shy, rookie motorcycle cop. The first traffic violator he stops is a tough character (Sandy Sanders) and intimidates Joe out of giving him a ticket, and the next is a beautiful blonde (Joi Lansing) who has no trouble distracting Joe and avoiding a ticket. Joe decides to be tough on the next one he stops, which turns out to be the police commissioner. Joe is removed from the force, and is caught speeding and given a ticket. (summary by Les Adams)

55. So You Want to Go to a Nightclub (1954)
In this Joe McDoakes Comedy, Alice (Jane Frazee) insists they go to a night club, although Joe is both tired and broke. Once there, where they meet Joe's friend Homer (Ralph Brooks) and his girl friend (Joi Lansing), Joe gets into the spirit of things, including ordering champagne for all. He can't pay the large tab and follows a conga line out of the club and winds up in the police station. (summary by Les Adams)

56. So You Never Tell a Lie (1952)

57. So You're Going to the Dentist (1952)

58. So You Want to Be Your Own Boss (1954)
Joe McDoakes, determined to be his own boss in this Joe McDoakes Comedy entry, opens up a new restaurant. Complaining customers and a sanitation inspector who closes the restaurant are just some of Joe's problems. (summary by Les Adams) Note: Lyle Talbot (Plan 9 From Outer Space) appears in this one.

59. So You Want to Be a Salesman (1947)
Joe McDoakes is new at selling vacuum cleaners and, despite using every technique and approach in the manual, he fails to sell even one, as his wife (Jane Harker) also refuses to buy one. He is fired and ends up doing singing commercials on the radio. (summary by Les Adams)

60. So You Think the Grass Is Greener (1956)
When he gets to his office after a usual morning of nagging by his wife, Alice (Jane Frazee), Joe McDoakes starts to daydream about what life would be like married to the beautiful office blonde (Joi Lansing). She, in his dream, turns out to be indolent and parasitical and, when he awakens, life with Alice looks pretty green. (summary by Les Adams)

61. So You Want to Get Rich Quick (1949)
Joe McDoakes stands to inherit $100,000 if he can prove he has a make heir. He adopts a tough kid named Stinky. When the check arrives, it is made out to Stinky, so Joe tries to change his name and cash the check. Par for his usual course, this action does not work out for poor Joe. (summary by Les Adams)

62. So You Want to Be a V.P. (1955)
This one features B-movie blond bombshell Joi Lansing!

63. So You Want to Be Pretty (1956)
With Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes.


These amusing shorts observing American culture bore the tagline "Narrated and produced by a Smith named Pete" and Pete churned out over 100 of them between 1936-1955, ending each with his signature sign-off, "G'buy now!". Pete Smith was actually born Peter Schmidt in 1892 and before he died in 1976 his star had been added to the Hollywood Walk of Stars. In addition to his Specialty series, Pete was responsible for over 300 shorts while at MGM; in fact, he had been making shorts for 5 years at MGM before they officially became known as "Pete Smith Specialties". Overall, his films were nominated for 16 Academy Awards, winning twice (in 1938 for Penny Wisdom and in 1941 for Quicker'n a Wink), and in 1954 his "Pete Smith Specialties" short film series received a Honorary Award for their "witty and pungent observations on the American scene."

Here's what IMDB's bio has to say about the Schmidt named Smith:
Born Peter Schmidt in New York City, Pete Smith got a job after graduating business college with The Player magazine and later with Billboard magazine. That led to his being hired as a publicist for Famous Players-Lasky and Artcraft Pictures, and he was later appointed publicity director at Paramount Pictures. Director Marshall Neilan hired Smith to be the publicist for his own production company, and Smith left New York for Hollywood. After Neilan's company closed, Smith freelanced for a short period before being hired by MGM in 1925 as the head of its publicity department, a position he held until 1930. The job that really brought him recognition, however, was his producing, writing and narrating a series of shorts known as "Pete Smith Specialties" for MGM. The one-reelers covered just about every subject imaginable, from the animal world to the latest technology to how to handle annoying patrons in movie theaters, all delivered with Smith's trademark wry, bemused narration. Many of the later shorts were written and directed by actor Dave O'Brien, using the name David Barclay.

Pete Smith's Specialties were shot silent to save time and money and featured his one-of-a-kind hammy voiceovers. As Richard W. Bann observes, "His unique style, and wry, rasping narration were punctuated by puns, caustic remarks, folksy clichés, and self-deprecating humor. There's been nothing like his Pete Smith Specialties before or since."

But while Pete Smith is best remembered for his comedy shorts, he was also involved in a few serious one-reelers, like 1938's Fred Zinnemann-directed The Story of Doctor Carver. Here's TCM's bio for this specialty:
The Story of Doctor Carver (1938) is a one-reel "Pete Smith Specialty." Here the Smith named Pete tones down his usual comedic delivery to narrate a more serious story – that of George Washington Carver, the African-American botanist and inventor. Zinnemann gets to flex his directing muscles in this short; there is an impressively mounted flashback scene in which Confederate night raiders steal several slaves, including Carver as a baby, to carry them across state lines to re-sell them. Following some effective quick cutting during the chase, slave owner Mr. Carver retrieves the sickly child from the raiders, trading his horse for the "property." Carver sends the boy through school, where he excels in agriculture studies. As an adult, Dr. Carver (Clinton Rosemond) is asked to solve a cotton-growing crisis in Alabama. Carver not only demonstrated how rotating the crops could refertilize the soil, he also worked tirelessly to find new industrial uses and by-products for the alternate crop – peanuts. Zinnemann employs a variety of stock footage in this film, which was a typical cost-saving measure of these low-budget shorts. Dr. Carver was still alive at the time the picture was produced, and we are told that the "humble, kindly Negro" was still active at the age of 78.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Robert Lees, Frederic Rinaldo
Cinematography: Robert Pittack
Music: William Axt
Cast: Clinton Rosemond (George Washington Carver), Jesse Graves (Carver's Father), Bernice Pilot (Carver's Mother), Frank McGlynn, Jr. (Cotton Farmer), Pete Smith (Narrator).

Another serious film Pete was involved in was a wartime educational film for the U.S. Department of Agriculture called The Tree in a Test Tube (1941), which featured Laurel and Hardy demonstrating the importance of wood products. The film's main claim to fame is that it's among the only surviving color footage of the comedy duo. In his essay on this otherwise forgettable film, critic Richard W. Bann had some cogent comments about Pete Smith. I learned, for example, that the wise-cracking guy behind so many comedies committed suicide. Bann recalls that "Pete Smith's familiar sign-off, just as in TREE IN A TEST TUBE, was always "G'bye now." Sadly one can't help wondering if this crossed his mind in 1979 on the day when, at age 86, in failing health, he jumped to his death from atop a convalescent hospital. Pete Smith was one of many important M-G-M names who committed suicide."

Some of Smith's most notable achievements include his popularization of the then still nascent phenomena of 3-D movies. In 1935, he paid $11,000 for some 3-D footage shot by freelancers Jack Noring, Jack Leventhal and Robert Neuscholz, and edited it together as Audioscopiks, which grossed over $300,000 and earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Short Subject in 1936. Smith went on to create a 3-D trilogy, with New Audioscopiks in 1938, and Third Dimensional Murder in 1941. The latter, which was recently shown on TCM as part of their Halloween programming (and is notable for being the first live-action appearance of the Frankenstein Monster as conceived by Jack Pierce for Universal Studios outside of their company), presented a number of challenges to Pete Smith's director George Sidney, who commented that "No one knew how to do 3-D. There was no book from which to get answers and there was no equipment." By trial and error Sidney and cameraman Walter Lundin lined up two Bell and Howell cameras and figured it out as they went along, but it seemed well worth it. With the populariy of 3-D movies in the 50s, MGM subsequently released a composite of Smith's 3-D shorts called Metroscopiks that grossed over a million dollars for the studio.

In other "firsts," Smith was the first producer to photograph radium (at the California Institute of Technology) for 1937's The Romance of Radium. And his 1940 Academy Award-winning short Quickr'n a Wink was notable for being the first use of a stroboscope to film fleeting actions such capturing the split second a bubble bursts.

By 1942, Smith had discovered actor/stuntman Dave O'Brien, and concentrated more on comedy collaborations with him, including a series of "Pest" reels. The first in the series, Movie Pests, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1944. Other entries included Bus Pests (1945), Guest Pests (1945) and Neighbor Pests (1946). Fans of Reefer Madness (1936) will recognize O'Brien as mad music-loving pothead Ralph Wiley ("Faster! Play it faster!") from that cult movie. (Another Reefer Madness star, Dorothy Short, was married to O'Brien and also appeared in a number of PSS shorts; the couple also starred in the 1942 Captain Midnight serial.) O'Brien eventually moved behind the camera to direct (under the name David Barclay) 44 of the PSS shorts. When heart problems led Smith to announce his retirement in 1955, his swan song short was an homage to Dave O'Brien called The Fall Guy (1955) in which he called his longtime collaborator "the number one fall guy of the movies." The short was a veritable highlights reel of O'Brien's haywire stunts and antics from previous PSS films, including Let's Cogitate, You Can't Win, Wrong Way Butch, Pet Peeves, and We Can Dream, Can't We? The Texas-born O'Brien (hence his nickname "Tex") was a jack of all trades who also starred in a number of B-movie Westerns (composing music for many of them) and went on to become an Emmy-winning writer for the Red Skelton TV show; a sailing enthusiast, he died at sea (heart attack) while competing in a yachting race off California's Catalina Island in 1969.

A short-list of other memorable PSS shorts would have to include Fala (1943) starring President Roosevelt's dog; I Love My Husband But! (1946); Seeing Hands (1943), a dramatic story with Little Rascal "Spanky" McFarland; Sure Cures (1946) with Dave O'Brien trying unsuccessfully to suppress hiccoughs; the amazing human and animal tricks on display in Dexterity (1937); Do Someone a Favor (1956); and Modeling For Money(1938) with Hal Roach's daughter, Margaret, acting under her stage name of Diane Rochelle. But there are many more to choose from, as listed in the selected filmography that follows.

Trivia: Even the Avant-Garde film community had to take notice of Pete Smith. The narrative of the 1937 surrealist film spoof Even - As You and I (available on the DVD Avant Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s) was based on a real-life amateur film contest sponsored by Liberty magazine and MGM’s Pete Smith “Specialty Films” unit that the film’s three directors entered (two of the directors, Roger Barlow and Harry Hay, portray themselves in the film).

Selected Pete Smith Filmography

The Fall Guy (1955)
In his final series entry, Pete uses clips from previous shorts to pay homage to his longtime collaborator Dave O'Brien.

Safe At Home (1954)
Pete Smith debunks facts from the past. Includes footage from "John Nesbitt's Passing Parade" shorts.

Historical Oddities (1955)
Pete Smith debunks facts from the past. Includes footage from "John Nesbitt's Passing Parade" shorts.

Do Someone A Favor! (1954)
This Pete Smith Specialty starring frequent collaborator Dave O'Brien proves the adage "no good deed goes unpunished."

Ain't It Aggravatin' (1954)
Common sources of irritation such as inconsiderate drivers and a finicky landlord.

This Is A Living? (1953)
Pete Smith Specialty in which the humdrum life of ordinary people is contrasted with that of acrobats and other daring people.

The Camera Caught It (1953)
Pete Smith comments upon unusual and spectacular archive film footage. Subjects include freak weather conditions, flying machines, the demolition of buildings, car crashes and a massive bridge bending and collapsing in the wind.

Aquatic Kids (1953)
Children on water skis demonstrate their skill.

Sweet Memories (1952)
How to become sentimental with the help of an old family album.

It Could Happen To You (1952)
Dave O'Brien, invited to dinner at a friend's house, behaves appallingly.

Pedestrian Safety (1952)
The evils of jaywalking on crowded streets.

In Case You're Curious (1951)
Pete Smith comedy with Dave O'Brien.

Fixin' Fool (1951)
Broad comedy at the expense of home handymen.

Fishing Feats(1951)
Big game fishing in various locations, for shark, marlin and tune.

Camera Sleuth (1951)
Pete Smith relating incident of how detective with camera proved cripple was able to walk.

Bargain Madness(1951)
Peter Smith comedy illustrating how a woman will do anything for a bargain

A Wife's Life (1951)
The typical daily problems of an American housewife of the 1950s.

That's His Story (1950)

Curious Contests (1950)
This Pete Smith Specialty shows newsreel footage events that live up to the title. They include, among others, a diaper derby (the father who puts a diaper on his child fastest wins), a fireman's ball (two teams of fire fighters use high-pressure water hoses to move a large ball to score goals), and a basket race (men run a footrace while balancing a "tower" of ten baskets on their heads). (summary by David Glagovsky)

Wrong Way Butch (1950)
This Pete Smith Specialty was produced in cooperation with the US Department of Labor. Using humor, it shows what can happen when tools and machinery are misused and safety devices are ignored. (summary by David Glagovsky) It was directed by Dave O'Brien (the crazed dope addict in Reefer Madness), who also starred in many Pete Smith Specialty films. Nominated for an Oscar in 1951 (Best Short Subject, One-reel).

Water Trix (1949)
In this Pete Smith Specialty, cameraman Charles T. Trego films water skiing champion Preston Petersen, as he and two unnamed female skiers perform various tricks and feats of skill in their sport. Nominated for an Oscar in 1950 (Best Short Subject, One-reel).

You Can't Win (1948)
This is another Pete Smith Specialty film directed by frequent PSS collaborator Dave O'Brien that was nominated for an Oscar (1950, Best Short Subject, One-reel). A series of mishaps happening to a homeowner, while he take a relaxing day off from the office. The trouble is about to begin when he starts to rest at home.

Let's Cogitate (1948)
This Pete Smith Specialty pairs Dave O'Brien with his wife (and Reefer Madness co-star) Dorothy Short. It is included as an extra on the Warner Home Video DVD Battleground.

Now You See It (1947).
This Pete Smith Specialty demonstrates the uses of micro- and macrophotography. We see extreme closeups of the mechanical workings of a tiny wristwatch, the surface of a cat's tongue, and several insects. Nominated for the 1948 Oscar as Best Short Subject, One-reel.

Sure Cures (1946)
Nominated for an Oscar in 1947 (Best Short Subject, One-reel). IMDB user Robert Reynolds comments: "This is another of the Pete Smith Specialities, which was co-written and directed by Dave O'Brien, who plays the poor fool with the hiccoughs. He tries various "remedies" to "cure" himself (some of which Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition might have applauded) to no avail. It's all great fun, for everyone but the poor twit. O'Brien frequently played a character not likely to be joining Mensa any time soon in these shorts. This runs on TCM as filler fairly often and virtually every March as part of the "31 Days of Oscar". Most recommended."

Movie Pests (1944)
This Pete Smith Specialty looks at the annoying types of people we have all come into contact with when going to the movies. They include those who sit down, then take off their coats and scarves; people with aisle seats who stick their feet in the aisle; people who put their knees on the back of your seat; and loud snackers. Smith also fantasizes as to how we would punish such movie-goers. (summary by David Glagovsky). I actually own this one on 16mm and it should be required viewing before every film screening everywhere! Nominated for an Oscar in 1945 (Best Short Subject, One-reel).

Seeing Hands (1943)
This serious war effort short, featuring an uncredited George "Spanky" McFarland (Little Rascals), was nominated for a 1944 Oscar in the category of Best Short Subject, One-reel. David Glagovsky's summary: "This serious entry in Pete Smith Specialty series encourages industry to hire people with disabilities to help with the war effort. As a boy, Ben Helwig was blinded in an accident while playing baseball. He eventually acquired a guide dog and now works in a defense plant."

IMDB user Robert Reynolds comments: "Pete Smith did a series of shorts that were primarily comic in nature and rarely were they ever too serious in nature. This excellent short, nominated for an Academy Award, is a rare exception. The subject is Ben Helwig, a man blinded by accident as a child who learned to work with lathes and other equipment by touch and was ultimately hired for work in a defense plant in WWII. This short was made to encourage the hiring of the disabled as an answer to wartime labor shortages. You see Helwig actually at work with machinery of various types. Quite fascinating. Turner Classic Movies runs this between films and generally runs it during March as part of its "31 Days of Oscar" event. Most highly recommended."

Marines in the Making (1942)
Another serious wartime effort, this Pete Smith Specialty shows marines in training at a number of unidentified bases. Hand-to-hand combat is stressed, including new, sneaky techniques used by the Japanese. By using their own tactics against them, we will surely win the war. (summary by David Glagovsy) Nominated for an Oscar as Best Short Subject, One-reel in 1943. Available as an extra on Warner Home Video's Random Harvest DVD.

Army Champions (1941)
This is a rare serious entry in the Pete Smith Specialty series. The film uses the analogy of the speed, accuracy, and teamwork of sports and how these qualities are translated into the weapons training of American soldiers. We watch target practice by US Army personnel with shoulder weapons, mortars, and various artillery pieces. (summary by David Glagovsky) Nominated for an Oscar as Best Short Subject, One-reel in 1942.

The Domineering Male (1940, 10 minutes)
This Pete Smith Specialty looks at the notion that a man chases a woman till he catches her. Who's really chasing whom?

Third Dimensional Murder (1941)
A 3-D short subject in which the narrator goes to a creepy old house in search of his missing aunt. There he encounters the Frankenstein monster, a witch, a wooden Indian who comes to life, and assorted other monsters and frightening characters, all of whom manage to throw something toward the camera. (summary by Jim Beaver) Note: This short is notable for being the first live-action appearance of the Frankenstein Monster as conceived by Jack Pierce for Universal Studios outside of their company. Note 2: Director George Sidney went on to direct a number of Hollywood musical features, including Anchors Aweigh (1945), Annie Got Her Gun (1950), Showboat (1951), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and Viva Las Vegas (1964).

Quicker'n a Wink (1940)
In this 1941 Academy-Award winner (Best Short Subject, One-reel), Dr. Harold E. Edgerton demonstrates stroboscopic photography, which he helped develop. This process allows us to see in slow motion what happens during events that occur too fast to be seen by the naked eye. Examples shown here include a bullet in flight as it shatters a light bulb, the moment of impact when a kicker kicks a football, and a the motion of a hummingbird's wings as it hovers.

This Pete Smith Specialty showcases people with a highly developed sense of balance or timing. They include Harry Jackson, who can handle a whip or an axe with amazing precision; Vyrl Jackson, who can pitch horseshoes blindfolded and get ringers; and Paul Sydell, who trains dogs to do balancing tricks. (summary by David Glagovsky)

Wanted - A Master (1936)
Nominated for an Oscar as Best Short Subject, One-reel in 1937. IMDB user Robert Reynolds comments: "Pete Smith was a master at making shorts-often comical, sometimes serious and usually acerbic and satirical in his running commentary. Some are brilliant, such as Audioscopicks. Some were intensely cute, like this one. They were invariably good and many were nominated for Oscars, as was this one. It's about a stray dog who needs to find himself a master. The narration becomes entirely too cute for my tastes at times, but all in all, this is still a very good piece of work by a man who was very good at his craft."

Audioscopiks (1935)
Nominated for an Oscar in 1936 as Best Short Subject, Novelty. After the audience is instructed how to use the 3-D glasses they received, demonstrations of three-dimensional films are presented. Various objects move towards the camera, including a ladder being shoved out a window, the slide on a trombone, a woman on a swing, and a thrown baseball. (summary by David Glagovsky) Available as an extra on the Warner Home Video DVDs A Tale of Two Cities (1935) and the Motion Picture Masterpieces Collection.

Strikes and Spares (1934)
This Oscar-nominated MGM short (Best Short Subject, One-reel, 1935) features professional bowler Andy Varipapa. He first shows the correct way to grip a bowling ball and the proper form for delivering the ball down the alley. He then performs several trick shots. IMDB user Robert Reynolds adds: This short was nominated for an Oscar as a novelty short. It's basically showing a very good bowler doing the trick shots he was well-known for at the time. Andy Varipapa was a professional bowler who made a decent living doing shows from town to town performing trick shots in front of audiences and this features some of his better ones. Pete Smith's narration is well-suited here. This runs on Turner Classic Movies periodically and almost always in March as filler between movies. Recommended." This short is available as an extra on the following Warner Home Video DVDs: Treasure Island(1934), The Fay Wray Collection (1932), and the Motion Picture Masterpieces Collection.

Menu (1933)
A chef helps a housewife (Una Merkel) cook a duck dinner that will not give her husband indigestion. Also features an uncredited Franklin Panghorn, the legendary Hollywood character actor. Nominated for an Oscar as Best Short Subject, Novelty in 1934. IMDB user Ursula 2.7T comments: "An early technicolor about a man with indigestion, thanks to a wife who's a klutzenheimer in the kitchen. Una Merkel plays the dippy wife -- she utters about 3 words but is told by the unseen narrator that he's the only one allowed to talk! The narrator acts as an omnipotent overseer, putting broken eggs and spilled condiments back together again by the magic of reverse-action filming. He also brings in a chef in a puff of smoke, to come to the housewife's rescue. We are then treated to a mini-cooking show, with instructions on how to prepare stuffed duck and baked apples. It's quite droll, with the narrator getting off such funny zingers as: 'Cook the stuffing for 15 minutes, for that perfect taste that you love to burp up later.' And 'Now clutch the apple firmly so it will realize the futility of any resistance.'"


Robert Ripley hosted a series of two dozen Believe It or Not! theatrical short films in 1930 and 1931 for Warner Brothers Vitaphone. He also appeared in a Vitaphone musical short, Seasons Greetings (1931), with Ruth Etting, Joe Penner, Ted Husing, Thelma White, Ray Collins and others.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not Filmography

Believe It Or Not #1(1930, 9 minutes)
Robert L. Ripley first shows the very first cartoon of his, published in newspapers 8 years earlier. He then proceeds with various oddities, first introducing a woman who can read aloud 8 words a second. He demonstrates this by giving her a 200-word tract she reads in 24 seconds. Next a woman telephones to question his assertion that you can walk through a hole in a cigarette paper, but he demonstrates how when she arrives. Other oddities follow, including a miniature bedroom set built in a bottle; statements that the biblical Abraham wasn't a jew, but a Babylonian and that Einstein once flunked mathematics. He draws a picture of an African with a big projection growing out of his forehead and has a photograph to prove it. An animated sequence demonstrates how a porcupine fish can kill a shark. Finally, he brings out a small Chinese boy who sings "Hello Baby." (summary by Arthur Hausner)

Believe It Or Not #2 (1930, 9 minutes)
The second entry in the Believe It or Not series of shorts begins with Robert Ripley in his office sorting his mail. At the time he received about one million pieces of mail per year, more than any other individual. He shows the audience several of the more oddly addressed envelopes. These include one addressed in Morse code; one in Hebrew, one using the naval flag code; and one with a small tear to the left of a picture of Robert E. Lee (i.e., "Rip + Lee" = Ripley). A U.S. marshal then enters the office and arrests Ripley. He is brought to court to defend several of the claims made in his books and newspaper columns. One claim is that "The Star-Spangled Banner" is not the national anthem of the USA (it wasn't until 1931). Another is that Charles A. Lindbergh was actually the 67th person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. (The first nonstop flight was made in 1919 by a pair of aviators in one plane, and two dirigibles with more than 30 passengers each also made crossings before Lindbergh). (summary by David Glagovsky)

Believe It Or Not #3 (1930, 8 minutes)
In this third entry in the series, we see Mr. Ripley about to disembark from a ship. Reporters greet him on the deck and ask him to describe what he has seen on his travels. Among the fascinating facts he discovered was the it is possible to catch deep sea fish in the Sahara Desert and you can freeze in Africa's Atlas Mountains. He also learned that England's King George I didn't speak a work of English and that rickshaws used in Hong Kong were invented by an American and are built in the state of New Jersey, USA. Lastly, we are introduced to Clarence E. Willard. By using muscular and skeletal coordination and control, he can vary his height by as much as 7 inches. (summary by David Glagovsky)

Believe It Or Not #4 (1930, 8 minutes)
At the request of a television experimenter who needed items to broadcast, Robert L. Ripley states unsubstantiated oddities including that a Spanish lady had her husband's portrait tattooed on her tongue as penance for nagging him to death. He also shows a house and the blind man who built it by himself in Wayne, New Jersey. The longest word in the world (184 letters, from a work by Aristophanes), is written on a blackboard and pronounced and translated by a professor. There are animated sequences of a rifle fish, which shoots at flying insects for food, and how a strange home run was hit in 1890, when the ball bounced off the outfielder's head and over the fence. Ripley demonstrates his skill as an artist by drawing several items, such as a Chinese man who had fingernails 22.75 inches long. Finally, in the most amazing sequence, Ripley introduces Carl Vaughan, who demonstrates how he picks up 12 pocket billiard balls with one hand and without touching the table or the balls with any other part of his body. There are scenes intercut throughout showing a family watching the show on television. (summary by Arthur Hausner)

Believe It Or Not #? (1931, 7 minutes)
(Vitaphone release #1304.) This entry in the series crisscrosses America to find various curiosities. Among them are a church in Nebraska made of bales of hay; a duck with four legs that lives with its owner in Flint, Michigan; a 128-year-old former slave who lives in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with her 100-year-old daughter; and, in a cemetery in Mayfield, Kentucky, a family plot wherein the deceased members are memorialized with life-size statues, including the patriarch's horse and other family pets. (summary by David Glagovsky)

Believe It Or Not #9 (1931, 9 minutes)
Asked to present some oddities to members of the Believe-It-or-Not Club, Robert L. Ripley mentions that German was proposed as the official language of the United States, but was voted down by the Continental Congress by one vote. The largest chair in the world is at Thomasville, North Carolina, and is 13' high and has a 5½' square seat. The tallest building in the world is the recently completed Empire State Building in New York, but a miniature skyscraper in Flint, Michigan stands 6 stories high and is 6 feet wide. There is a skyscraper in Chicago which has a cow stall. Various odd trees are described. Baby Katharine Marilyn Carney had a full set of teeth at age 6 months. Ulysses S. Grant's birth name was Hiram and he was not a general during the Civil War, but was made a general by act of Congress a few months before his death. A man once saved bits of string that measured 139 miles long, but an Indian fakir collected chains instead of string, finally accumulating 670 pounds of chains he wore around is body by adding one link each day. Ripley uses his skill as an artist to draw a picture of the man. Finally, he introduces Henry Scott, who plays a song on the piano while wearing mittens. (summary by Arthur Hausner)

Believe It Or Not #10 (1931, 9 minutes)
This entry in the Believe It or Not series (#10) finds Mr. Ripley aboard a US naval ship speaking to a group of sailors. The film he shows them includes items on a Mr. Curt Thompson, a blind telephone operator, and John R. Voorhees, who, at age 102, has voted 81 times since his 21st birthday. The finale is a demonstration of skill by Otto Reiselt, the three-cushion billiards champion. (summary by David Glagovsky)

Believe It Or Not #11 (1931, 8 minutes)
In this entry, passengers enter a mockup of an airplane. During the flight, Robert Ripley shows the "passengers" several oddities across the United States. They include the town with the smallest population (of one) in the 1930 census, a father and son who can rest their shoulders on their chest, and an armless trombone player who uses his foot to move the instrument's slide. (summary by David Glagovsky)


Humorist Robert Benchley was one of the Knights of the Algonquin (the famed 1920s round table of urbane sophisticates - whose ranks also included his gal pal Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott - who got to together to trade barbs and throw back drinks at New York's Algonquin Hotel) who in the 1920s and 1930s wrote for Vanity Fair and the then-new New Yorker magazine. He also produced a number of dry-witted comedy shorts for Paramount Studios between 1928 and 1942 that purported to be an Everyman's guide to various sociological aspects of American Culture, like The Trouble With Husbands (1940) or The Man's Angle (1942). 14 of these are collected on Kino Video's DVD The Paramount Comedy Shorts 1928-1942: Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Round Table. Of particular interest is 1942's The Witness, which anticipates the Red-baiting McCarthyism of the 1950s and features Benchley (as his frequent character "Joe Doakes" - not to be confused with George O'Hanlon's later character "Joe McDoakes") turning the tables on his congressional interlocutors when they badger him about loyalty and politics. Overall, Benchley appeared in 85 films as an actor or narrator between 1928 and 1946, including roles as Dr. Dudley White in Rene Clair's I Married a Witch (1942), a booze-happy reporter in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940), and as the narrator of the Hope-Crosby comedy Road To Utopia (1946).

Click here to see a great article about Benchley and Kino Video's DVD that was originally wriiten by Samantha Bornemann for Pop Matters (

Watch an excerpt from Robert Benchley's How To Take a Vacation (1941):

Selected Robert Benchley Filmography:

The Trouble With Husbands (1940)
Benchley, in his own unique way, starts to drive his wife crazy. First he waits until just as she is serving dinner before he goes to wash his hands and shave. Then she sends him to the store for some butter, and he comes back with everything - except butter. Finally, he decides to install a small shelf on the wall - and makes a major production out of it. (summary by SgtSP)

How To Be a Detective (1936)
Included on TCM's The Complete Thin Man Collection DVD box set, along with Why Daddy?.

How To Sleep (1935)
In this 1936 Academy Award-winner (Best Short Subject, Comedy), Benchley is a lecturer who promises an informative film about how to sleep; it's a sequel to and inspired by "How to stay awake," which put his audience to sleep. He plans to examine the causes of sleep, the causes of insomnia, and recent research on sleep, including a time-lapse film of a man changing positions 55 times during an 8-hour rest: why exercise, he asks, when you can sleep like a top? The film instructs one on how to get a drink of water during the night without waking completely, and other useful skills for the insomniac. (summary by jhailey)

The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
Dr. Benchley is addressing the Ladies Club on the subject of the reproductive habits of the polyp, a small aquatic organism. Although he is not able to display his live specimens, he has prepared a series of pictures of his subjects. He explains that the subject is made more complicated by the fact that polyps are able to change their sex from time to time. Then he presents some of the pictures of his specimens and the experiments that he has done with them. (summary by Snow Leopard)


A true gem among TCM's musical shorts, this 10-minute curio features ultra-cool chanteusse Virginia O'Brien (AKA "Miss Deadpan"). Her visit to radio personality Martin Block provides the excuse to sing with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Virginia O'Brien had a unique singing style that has to be heard to be believed. In a way, she was the Patty O'Donahue (the deadpan-cool singer of "I Know What Boys Like" for the 1980s New Wave group The Waitresses) of her day. Also check out her sleepyhead number "Take It Easy" from the 1944 Van Johnson musical Two Girls and a Sailor. Here's what her IMDB bio has to say:
Known to classic film fans by various nicknames--including Miss Deadpan, Frozen Face, and Miss Ice Glacier--this statuesque, dark-haired singer/actress carved a unique niche for herself on stage and screen by the hilarious Sphinx-like way she delivered a song. The daughter of the captain of detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department, Virginia Lee O'Brien became interested in music and dance at an early age (it didn't hurt her career chances that her uncle was noted film director Lloyd Bacon). Her big show-business break came in 1939 after she secured a singing role in the L.A. production of the musical/comedy "Meet the People". On opening night, when time came for her solo number, Virginia became so paralyzed with fright that she sang her song with a wide-eyed motionless stare that sent the audience (which thought her performance a gag) into convulsions. Demoralized, Virginia left the stage only to soon find out that she was a sensation.

Signed by MGM in 1940, she deadpanned her way to acclaim and immense popularity with appearances in some of the studio's most memorable musicals including Thousands Cheer (1943), The Harvey Girls (1946), _Till the Clouds Roll by (1946)_ , Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Panama Hattie (1942), Ship Ahoy (1942), Meet the People (1944) and Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), performing inimitable renditions of such classic songs as "The Wild Wild West" (from The Harvey Girls), "A Fine Romance" (from Till the Clouds Roll By), "It's a Great Big World" (from The Harvey Girls), "Poor You" (from Ship Ahoy), and "Say We're Sweethearts Again" (from Meet the People).

Although too often relegated to featured songs and small supporting roles, she still managed to become an audience favorite by the sheer force of her personality, polished vocals and way with a comic quip. The latter ability is especially apparent in one of her last MGM films, Merton of the Movies (1947), in which she co-starred with Red Skelton. In 1948, after 17 memorable screen appearances for MGM, the studio unceremoniously dropped her from its roster. She returned to films only twice more after her termination from MGM, in Universal's Francis in the Navy (1955) and Disney's Gus (1976), preferring to focus her energies on television and the stage, where she delighted audiences for three more decades.

In the 1980s the still youthful beauty toured the country in a one-woman show and recorded a live album at the famed Masquers Club entitled, "A Salute to the Great MGM Musicals". One of her last significant stage appearances came in 1984 as Parthy Ann in the Long Beach Civic Light Opera's production of "Showboat", with Alan Young. She remained in semi-retirement in a large home in Wrightwood, California, for most of her later years until her death at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills in January, 2001.

For more on Miss O'Brien, see "In Loving Memory of Virginia O'Brien (1919-2001)".

Watch Virginia O'Brien sing "Salome" from the MGM musical Du Barry Was a Lady (1943):

Related links:

Upcoming Shorts on TCM
Joe McDoakes Filmography
BFI's Pete Smith Specialty Filmography
More Barks Than There Are In Heaven (Dogville review)
IMDB's Pete Smith Filmography
Vitaphone Web Site
Dave O'Brien Bio (All Movie Guide)
Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story (Stephanie Thames review)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strikes and Spares is great, but it's no Bowling Aces!

1:21 PM  
Blogger Kurt Samuels said...

You wrote, "A handful of these shorts have started appearing as extras on TCM DVD film releases. For example, there's a "Fitzpatrick Traveltalk" for St. Louis on the Meet Me In St. Louis DVD..."

I recently purchased the 2-Disc Special Edition of "Meet Me in St. Louis" and this Traveltalk was not on either of the discs. Is there another version of this DVD that contains the St. Louis Fitzpatrick Traveltalk?

Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
(800) 862-8020, x672

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O'Brien primarily performed in comedic roles during the height of her formal film career. This was in part due to her intentionally humorous singing style, which involved her singing in a deadpan manner, with no facial expressions and very little movement– reportedly she stumbled upon this "gimmick" by accident during a stage show when she became virtually paralyzed with stage fright before singing a number.

Dink Peck
TCM Schools

2:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where do I find the short with a chef demonstrating kitchen hand tools, knives, etc. in B/W

6:58 PM  

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