Book Review: Tashlinesque: The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin
Only these first two chapters, pages 16 to 68, concentrate on Tashlin’s stint in the animation industry. But the rest of the book should also be of interest to animation fans. It will be a revelation to today’s devotees of animation who have extensive collections of remastered cartoons on DVDs, but who are ignorant of Road to Rio (Bing Crosby and Bob Hope), Son of Paleface (Bob Hope and Roy Rogers – Hope gets into bed with Trigger, Roy’s horse), Cinderfella (Jerry Lewis), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Jayne Mansfield and Tony Randall), or the many other features that Tashlin directed.
Chapters 3 through 8, pages 69 through 210, focus upon Tashlin’s live-action features. Even here there are many references to his pre-live-action animation. De Seife makes a straight-faced comparison between Porky Pig and “bombshell” actress Jayne Mansfield; both were nonentities pre-Tashlin, and he created their screen personas. The book focuses upon both Tashlin’s features, and his constant behind-the-camera battles with studio management, the censors, and other forces that tried to control his struggles to make his features the way that he wanted to make them. The final chapter analyzes the influence that Tashlin has had on later directors, notably Jean-Luc Godard and Joe Dante. As is usual with scholarly books, there are an extensive filmography, Notes, and index.
Tashlinesque is not complete. From 1934 to 1936, Tashlin wrote and drew a single-panel pantomime newspaper cartoon, Van Boring (He Never Says a Word), under the name “Tish-Tash”. Tashlinesque dismisses Van Boring in seven lines, without any sample illustration. There are several animation and cartoon websites that have posted one or more Van Boring cartoons, which de Seife acknowledges in his Notes; it would have been easy for Tashlinesque to include a sample of this ‘pure’ example of both Tashlin’s writing and his art. This book covers the live-action features that Tashlin directed in detail, but barely mentions those that he wrote but did not direct. For example, Kill the Umpire, a 1950 Columbia baseball comedy starring William Bendix and Una Merkel (with a large pre-I Love Lucy supporting role by William Frawley), directed by Lloyd Bacon and written by Tashlin, is totally ignored except for a one-line entry in the filmography. Yet Kill the Umpire contains several scenes of the “impossible” animation-style comedy live-action that were Tashlin’s trademark, notably the climax where Bendix, in an ambulance, tries to escape from gangsters who want to fix a ball game, in an extended, exaggerated chase very like one of the Road Runner & Coyote’s. Tashlin wrote & illustrated three short picture books, The Bear That Wasn’t (1946), The ‘Possum That Didn’t (1950), and The World That Isn’t (1951). These are, obviously to anyone who reads them, social satires for all ages but primarily adults, similar to Jules Feiffer’s Munro or Walt Kelly’s Pogo newspaper strip. Nevertheless, because they are largely pictorial, de Andrade describes the first and third in one line each as “his putative children’s books” – The ‘Possum That Didn’t is not even mentioned.
Possibly these are partially unfair criticisms. Tashlinesque is subtitled “The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin”, and except for ignoring his non-directorial features, the book does cover his Hollywood comedies thoroughly. But it could have been so much more if it had just devoted a few extra pages to his outside-Hollywood work as well.
Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945). He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom. He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996. A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at email@example.com.