Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bridging a Post Gap

Phil Harris

Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman

Today I'm bridging a gap in posts. There is nothing much to report here from "Uncle Jeffy's Big Almanac of Cool Stuff" for June 25th, so today I'll mention Phil Harris' birthday on June 24th 1904 and Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman's birthday on June 26th 1909 and briefly explain how these two diverse talents from different fields crossed paths in the 1960's.

Phil Harris was a singer and bandleader who came to prominence on The Jack Benny radio show in the 1930's. He came across with a realy original persona of a cross between a streetwise urban hipster and an everyman proud of his southern and rural heritage. He would come on the show and flippantly call Jack Benny "Jackson", flirt with Mary Livingstone (Jack Benny's on air girlfriend and real life wife) then turn and cue his drunken and sloven band to break into "That's What I Like About the South", a song hailing the virtues of butter-beans and black eyed peas.
He eventually spun off into his own radio show with his real-life wife Alice Faye and also had a respectable recording career, including a monster novelty hit with "The Thing". Then he broke into the big screen and met with Woolie Reitherman.

Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman was an animator who began with the Walt Disney company in 1934. Woolie was one of the key innovative people there who helped the Disney company grow artistically as they moved from animated shorts through their culmination in the first animated feature "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", the key people Walt Disney refereed to as his "Nine Old Men". The "Nine Old Men" moniker was a goof on how FDR referred to his sitting Supreme Court Justices at the time, though all of Disney's "Men" were very young at the time. Woolie became Disney's chief animation director in 1961 beginning with "101 Dalmatians", and in 1966 when Walt passed away, Woolie was a key figure in unifying the in-turmoil studio and helped organize what was to come "After-Walt". As an example of how the Disney folks were really one extended family and gave their all to their films, over the years all 3 of Reitherman's sons did voices for Walt Disney. Bruce was Mowgli in "The Jungle Book", Richard was Christopher Robin in the "Winnie-the-Pooh" featurettes and Robert was Wart in "The Sword in the Stone". Woolie himself even appeared as himself in the 1941 feature "The Reluctant Dragon".

Bridge?: They came together when Woolie directed Phil as Baloo in "The Jungle Book"...and as Thomas O'Malley in "The Aristocats"...and as Little John in "Robin Hood".

Check out this documentary of Woolie discussing his career...

Here's Phil Harris in a cheesy 70's special, reminiscing with Scatman Carothers about "The Aristocats"...he sneaks in some Baloo too...

And an earlier Phil showing his "slick/hick" persona and musical interpretation...

Two greats crossing paths and birthdays just 2 days apart.

In Closing: Remember that this blog is about people who have done stuff that was worth doing. I see lots of folks (tele-journalists, bloggers, etc.,) who report on what is the "flava-of-the-day" or mainstream personalities (i.e. those who appeal to the lowest common denominator) and I feel those folks who deserve the least attention, receive far too much of the attention. You won't see much focus to those "non-celebrities/entities" here as I try and do what I can to re-calibrate the balance of the universe and give those who earned our admiration what's due them.

p.s.: Michael Whojacallit died today I guess. You know...the guy who's hair caught fire in the Pepsi commercial in the 80's and was in that "Captain Eo" 3D thingie at Disneyland? oh well...sorry, I couldn't find any pics of him on the net. Sha-mon!

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