Frank Tashlin: Live Action Cartoonist

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Today is the birthday of the great, highly unique comedy director Frank Tashlin (1913-1972). His career trajectory was perfect, starting out in the 1930s as an animator working at various cartoon studios, notably Warner Brothers (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig etc). Along the way he also got experience working as a gagwriter for Hal Roach (Laurel and Hardy) and the Marx Brothers and in the story department at Walt Disney. By the late 40s he was contributing substantially to screenplays for the likes of Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, and by the 1950s he was directing live action comedies, where he truly made his distinctive mark.

Tashlin’s comedies are distinguished by boldly imaginative gags, unrestrained by the laws of plausibility, a result of his long conditioning in the cartoon field. He also had a weakness for blindingly bright colors — his films of the 50s literally dazzle with their excess of visual stimulation.

While Tashlin worked regularly with many comedians (principally, Hope), I think of his two principal muses and stars as two grotesque cinematic living cartoons. The female one was Jayne Mansfield,  star of The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957). It’s too bad Mansfield didn’t get paired with Tashlin after this, for he was the director who brought her to the acme of her cinematic potential as a comedienne. Tashlin’s male muse (and pupil, as it turned out) was Jerry Lewis, who starred or co-starred in eight of his features, Artists and Models, Hollywood or Bust, Rock-a-Bye Baby, The Geisha Boy, Cinderfella, It’s Only Money, Who’s Minding the Store? and The Disorderly Orderly. After the latter film, Tashlin seemed to want to branch out and become a little more sophisticated, directing Agatha Christie’s The Alphabet Murders, and two Doris Day comedies The Glass Bottom Boat and Caprice. When these weren’t hits, he reverted to type with his swan song the late Bob Hope vehicle The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (1968).

Here is everything you need to know — and everything need to get through the rest of this day:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn more about show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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