Rus Wornom on his blog "Take Another Road To Another Time" has a link to "News From Me," a blog by Los Angeles writer and producer Mark Evanier, which I check regularly. Not that I need to be in the show biz loop, but Mark is a very intelligent commentator, has been around a while and knows everyone, especially those in the comic book and comedy world. What I find especially interesting is learning about all those people we civilians never heard of who have worked in these fields, have produced original, quality creative work and seemed to have in general had a great time doing it. He's also a huge fan of June Foray, the one and only voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, so he had me right there.
I ran across a Evanier-type story today from NPR commentator Tim Brookes and I've got to share it:
Singing cowboys in movies, it seems, were thought up first as a cost-saving measure -- Gene Autry or one of his contemporaries leaning up against a tree and singing three songs filled up a whole reel with little expenditure (no blank ammo, horses, costumed riders, dust in the camera's film gate, etc.). This device caught on and was endlessly repeated because it easily satisfied a Depression and war years fantasy -- "troubles and problems could be dispelled with songs, good cheer and innocent honesty." Altogether more wholesome, and cheaper at a 5- to 25-cent admission, than today's mystery and romance novels...
In 1935, Autry starred in a 12-part movie series, The Phantom Empire, which has to be one of the strangest mash-up of genres (western, sci-fi, movie musical) ever attempted. The story goes thus: Gene and his pals live at Radio Ranch, from which they merrily engage in a daily musical radio show broadcast (this back when less than 10% of rural areas had electricity). One day a sidekick, rodeoing Betsy Ross King, spies a figure out of the range in a space suit entering an elevator hidden behind rocks (sounds like something R. Crumb would have dreamed up 30 years later in a cloud of blue smoke). Our heroes of course must investigate, and find an underground "science city," Murana, ruled by feisty Queen Tika, who definitely believes that girls rule! Especially over her robot people, who are quickly dispatched if they fail to mind the rules -- powerful ray guns and all that. Each week after escaping back to the surface, Gene's gang then put on their show, happily singing about sage brush and livestock.
You can get this classic on DVD from Amazon.com. And you should.