October is one of my favorite months of the year. I love the cooling weather, the beautiful changing colors of the leaves, and the little monsters roaming the streets. I remember being one of those little monsters myself. Well, really, Mom never let my sister and me wear spooky costumes. We were usually dressed as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. When we were young, Mom and Aunt E always went trick-or-treating with us. But as we got older, we were allowed to go out by ourselves. We would stay out later and it would get darker and we would have all kinds of spooky fun. There were always a few households that had set up small Haunted Houses in their yards or on their porches. I remember the thrill of daring to run the gauntlet of those shadowy and eerie decorations to get to the candy prize.
I still love Halloween and I still love dressing up even if I am just handing out candy to the little monsters. And I have my cats that I can dress up. Sugar is a good sport about it and has let me deck her out in all sorts of costumes. She has been a jester, a flower, and a witch. I have devil horns for this year. Even my diva cat, Nixie, will occasionally deign to wear a decorated collar. This year we also have our re-homed new cat, Lucky. But she has some feral in her and is still a bit skittish so I think I will wait until next year before trying to tempt her into a costume. Meanwhile, while counting down the days until All Hallows’ Eve, I found a few fun Halloween cartons and a hilarious classic Abbott and Costello skit. They are all FREE in the Public Domain and perfect for evoking that spirit of bygone trick-or-treating adventures or entertaining this year’s crop of little monsters (and princesses, knights, witches, ghosts, skeletons, doctors, firefighters, and astronauts).
Our first cartoon is from 1939 and stars Porky Pig. Porky is an “animated cartoon character in the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons“. Warner first introduced Porky in 1935 and quickly realized they had a new star. Audiences loved the chubby porkchop and they loved his trademark stutter. Porky’s original voice actor, Joe Dougherty, had a severe stutter in real life. But he had trouble controlling it and his recording sessions took hours and productions costs escalated. In 1937, Joe was replaced by legendary Mel Blanc. Mel kept Porky’s stutter but “harnessed (it) for a more precise comedic effect“. Mel was Porky Pig’s voice until his death in 1989 when Bob Bergen took over.
Jeepers Creepers stars Porky Pig as a police officer who gets the call to investigate spooky goings-on at a haunted house and runs into all kinds of hilarious trouble. Directed by Bob Clampett and produced by Leon Schlesinger, this animated short also features the song Jeepers Creepers, a song made popular in a 1938 movie, with special lyrics to fit the story. The prankster ghost who joyfully scares poor Porky sings “Jeepers Creepers, I love to haunt those sleepers. Jeepers Creepers, it’s a lot of fun! Taunting, jaunting, All around I’m haunting. Clearing, scaring, till the night is done.” This ghost also has a scene where he smokes a cigar, blows smoke rings, and uses some like donuts to dunk in his coffee (non-smokers beware).
Fans of old cartoons may remember that this 1939 animated short originally had a racist ending with the ghost in blackface doing a Rochester imitation. But Jeepers Creepers was edited in at least four different ways that altered the ending for TV syndication. The original black and white cartoon was also colorized twice, once in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. The version available at the Internet Archive is an altered and colorized version. The blackface ending is completely cut off. Jeepers Creepers runs seven minutes 38 seconds.
Our second spookily fun cartoon is Ghost Wanted, a Merrie Melodies short released in 1940. Directed by Chuck Jones and produced by Leon Schlesinger, Ghost Wanted is about a little ghost who is woefully inexperienced at haunting. Our ghost is never named and never talks but he is designed to bare a strong resemblance to a loveable and much more well known ghost, Casper the Friendly Ghost. Our little ghost studies a book on How to Haunt Houses and practices some of the haunting moves illustrated. Then he goes off to apply for a job at 1313 Dracula Drive. But there is a big ghost waiting at the haunted house and he has a cabinet of “Scare Devices” and he is up to no good.
Ghost Wanted is in Technicolor and runs seven minutes twelve seconds. While the cute little ghost b=never speaks, the big ghost does (although he mainly says BOO!) and he is voiced by Tex Avery. There are some cute fun scenes with the little ghost, especially when he changes his “suit / sheets” but there is also a scene of the big ghost smoking and blowing smoke rings (even one that says BOO!). This is a quick little animated short. The poor little ghost is scared all around the house but, in the end, the big ghost’s spooky game backfires on him.
Next up is Seeing Ghosts, an animated short produced by Terrytoons. Terrytoons was an animation studio located in New Rochelle, New York that produced theatrical cartoons from 1929 to 1968. Terrytoons was founded by Paul Terry. Terry started his career in animation in 1916. In 1921, Terry and Amadee J. Van Beuren founded Fables Animation Studio. But they parted ways in 1929 when Van Beuren wanted to convert to doing talking cartoons and Terry refused. Terry immediately founded Terrytoons Studio and quickly became known as “one of the lowest-quality houses in the field”. Terrytoons had the lowest budgets and was among the slowest to adapt to new technology (Terry refused to make a talking cartoon until 1930). Despite that, Terrytoons still manged to create some memorable characters such as Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, and Deputy Dawg.
Seeing Ghosts is a Terrytoon cartoon from June 1948. A group of ghosts and skeletons are having a great time at their slightly haunted party house and are not too happy to discover their house has been sold and is about to be remodeled. When the decorator Pig (who looks an awful lot like the Three Little Pig who built his house of bricks) shows up with his supplies and his dog to start remodeling, the haunts decide to scare him away. The ghosts and skeletons play all kinds of pranks on the poor Pig and his dog. The Pig gamely tries to carry on with his job but is basically scared all around the house. Unfortunately for the residents haunts, their spooky plan backfires on them in the end. Seeing Ghosts is in Technicolor and runs just short of seven minutes long.
Popeye: Fright to the Finish
Our fourth animated short is a Popeye cartoon from August 27, 1954. Popeye is a fictional character who was created by cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar. Segar had created a popular daily comic strip titled Thimble Theater for King Features. Thimble Theater was already in its tenth year when the Popeye character made his debut in 1929. Popeye was hugely popular and quickly became the focus of the comic strip. In 1933, King Features made an agreement with Fleischer Studios to turn Popeye and other Thimble Theater characters into animated shorts. The first Popeye cartoon hit the big screen in 1933. By 1938, “polls showed that the sailor was Hollywood’s most popular cartoon character“. In 1943, Popeye cartoons moved from black and white to technicolor.
Fright to the Finish (1954) gives the long running rivalry between Popeye and Bluto over Olive Oyl a Halloween twist. Olive has both boys over to her house and is reading Halloween Ghost Stories to them. Neither Popeye nor Bluto are really paying attention to Olive. Instead they are both busy scheming up ways to get rid of their rival and get Olive alone. Finally Popeye interrupts the ghost tales and declares, “Olive, there ain’t no such things. They’re just figa-mentations of your imagine-agativeations.” And that gives Bluto an idea. He pretends to be sleepy and leaves then sneaks back to play all sorts of spooky pranks and scare Olive right out of her stockings. Bluto also makes Popeye look like the guilty prankster and Olive throws him out just in time for Bluto to innocently show up to comfort poor scared Olive. But Popeye is not about t give up his gal friend to his rival and sneaks back to turn the tables. Fright to the Finish is in Technicolor and runs six minutes and 21 seconds. This is also one of the few Popeye cartoons where Popeye does not have to dip into his spinach stash.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon
Our final bit of spooky fun is not a cartoon but a live action skit from February 21, 1954. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are hands down my favorite comedy duo. They got their start in vaudeville but went on to star on stage, radio, film, and television. They were the “most popular comedy team during the 1940s and early 1950s“. In 1951, Abbott and Costello joined The Colgate Comedy Hour on TV as part of their rotating series of hosts (other hosts included Eddie Cantor and Martin and Lewis. By late 1952, Abbott and Costello had their own half hour TV series, The Abbott and Costello Show.
The skit, Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon, is from a 1954 episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour. Bud and Lou were not the hosts for this particular episode, actor Gene Wesson was and Bud and Lou were his guest stars. The skit as just a small part of the entire hour long show and was capitalizing on two famous movies. In 1948, Bud and Lou starred in the hilarious (and in my humble opinion, their best) movie, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This movie was the first of a series of films “where the comedy duo meets classic characters from Universal’s horror film stable” including Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula (yes, Bela Lugosi himself!), the Wolfman, The Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Invisible Man. On February 12, 1954, Universal Studios added the Gill-man to its stable of horror creatures with the debut of the film Creature from the Black Lagoon. And just a little over a week later, Abbott and Costello met the Gill-man in The Colgate Comedy Hour skit.
The Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon skit runs just a little over fifteen minutes and is in black and white. Bud and Lou go to Universal Studios to pick out some props to use on The Colgate Comedy Hour. Of course, the Prop Guy is a bit crazy and Bud and the Prop Guy have all sorts of errands that leave poor Lou all alone in a room filled with monsters. And, of course, Lou gets repeatedly scared out of his mind. There are all kinds of classic comedy bits in this short skit: the ink jar and other assorted objects that move around on their own – but only when Lou is looking, the scary sounds that only Lou can hear, the creepily creaking crate, and the monster looming behind an oblivious Lou. It all may have been used before but it is still all absolutely hilarious. Lou Costello is just an absolute master at playing the quivering cowardly hero.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black lagoon and our four spookily fun cartoons are all FREE in the Public Domain and available to be watched online or downloaded at te Internet Archive. Jeepers Creepers is the colorized version of the originally black and white cartoon and has a very abrupt beginning (no opening credits) but the troubling racist ending is cut off. Ghost Wanted stars a cute little ghost in trapdoor footy pajamas and is in color. Seeing Ghosts, also in color, features a host of haunts out to save their haunted house. Popeye Fright to the Finish is in color and shows Popeye and Bluto playing various spooky pranks on each other and on Olive. All four cartoons have excellent audio and video. On the other hand, Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon is in black and white and is very fuzzy and blurry but the audio is excellent. There is also one instant of static interruption that almost ruins the very end. All five shorts are hilarious and entertaining and perfect for bringing a fun and spooky Halloween mood to the month of October.