People always tell me that inanimate objects
that come to life are never going to last, but look at me,
still going strong. Especially ‘cause I’m a kettle. We have longevity.
Who else is going to blow steam for “Teatime!” on the radio?
When Mickey needs to save the day how else can he create
a contraption that helps him escape, except one that uses steam?
And where does he get that steam? From a kettle! That’s me!
I’m telling you it’s a great world. Too many people see the down side.
I could focus on how my backside is all burnt and black from
too many years sitting on the hot seat but that would be missing
this fine chrome shine that is a result of careful polishing from many
a tender young spoon, or the rarest of candelabras. I’m not picky.
You have to remember to sample life’s finer moments.
Everything’s not just things.

How I got the name is an interesting story. I’m sure you’d love
me to tell you. Well, I grew up in a tough neighbourhood in New York,
Hell’s Kitchen, perhaps you heard of it? Yeah, well, all us young bucks …
we were called bucks as that was how much we cost — you see? I’m
expensive! … anyway, things were hot in the kitchen and tempers
were always flaring—fights all the time, forks and knives—you know,
gang stuff. Any rate, one night, this knife gang decides it’s time for me
to go down. Literally, go down. They’re trying to force me off the counter
onto the floor where they can go to town on me. I’m over the edge, I’m done,
no one’s coming to help me. I see this mop handle. This is no puny wooden
mop handle; it’s industrial grade steel, baby. I grab that thing, and I … well,
I guess it was me who went to town. Afterwards, a couple of knives can’t
be straightened out, they’re tossed; a whole bunch have lost their edge.
No one says anything about it. After that, everyone calls me Mop Handle.
No one gives me any trouble, and that’s when I think, luck like that,
I should be in the movies.

Yeah, it’s surprising you haven’t mentioned the difference in my name.
You know, most of us have the same letters to start our names, it’s that
illiteration thing, but not me! when I come out here I introduce myself
as Mop Handle, that’s what I call myself. It makes me stand out.
People love it. I tell some jokes, they remember me, “I’m Mop Handle!”
My agent tells me not to change a thing. It’s my stage name as well.
Not many people can brag about that, I tell you! See, you’re laughing!
That’s my trick, I make people laugh and they like me. Unforgettable!
That’s me!
<Mop Handle’s portrait copyright Lianne Côté. You can visit Lianne at Thank you Lianne! Thank you Mop Handle for sitting still! wm>

Will Rogers is a low down, no good, back stabbin’
skunk in the grass! Those weren’t his rope tricks,
that was me! I taught that man everything he knew
about what rope is about and then some! Not only that,
he robbed me of some of my trademark statements.
Oh, he changed ‘em enough to fool people, but not me!
Boy oh boy, not me, I’m not one to forget a good turn
paid back with a dirty trick. Oh, everyone thinks he’s
some kind of American saint but I know better.
“A well applied rope can make people cry, but there’s
never been a rope invented that will tickle them.”
There, that’s one of them! He just mixed it up a little!
Well forget about that — like I have always said
too much time is spent living in the past, and yes
he stole that one from me too. So what. I guess
I had it coming. I was working carny at the time,
Will was riding in the Wild West show and I said,
“you need a livewire of a rope to really make your act,”
or something like that, and despite an initial reluctance
mainly concern for his pony trampling on me, my reply
being, “you should worry more about your horse.”
We clicked. I’ll admit he was a charmer, no denying
that, plus how many lariats got to work with a true half
Cherokee Indian? Yeah, it didn’t impress many agents either.
But I respected where Will came from; except him stealing
my act. In the end, I realized, the rope is either around his
neck, or it’s yours. I had to cut loose. So I did. I never thought
about cartoons before. Everything Will and I did was live.
The man was funny, I have to admit. Once I said to him,
you know why the sky’s blue? and without missing a beat
he replied, because it would look foolish any other way.
We riffed off each other. That’s what I missed in ‘toons.
Everything was scripted. There was no element of surprise.
I wanted four sheets to the wind. I wish I had shut up
but I was so damn excited to work solo. I had to tell
everyone, I worked with Will Rogers. What can I say?
The young characters, they’d never heard of Will, and I was
What? Still, I landed jobs. A magic rope for Aladdin. A daring
escape. There was always cowboy work. All the big guys
loved to dress up as tough guy rough riders. Well, to do that,
you gotta twirl rope. Where you gonna get that? I’m still the
go to guy. I was auditioned recently for another live film.
Some cop needs to jump out a window holding on to a rope
so he can swing in some other window. Piece of cake for me.
Film’s called Die Hard. We’ll see if I make it past editing.
But it’s a good title for me. Fits my lifestyle.
<Larry Lariat portrait copyright Curtis Walker. You can find more about Curtis at Thank you Curtis! wm>

I arrived in town, a fresh ingénue, written
into a script, a bit part, by a friend who told me,
“Hollywood is where you want to be Glowworm.”
It was a romantic scene between Popeye
and Olive Oyl. They’re sitting on the sofa, he
turns off the light, she turns on the glow worm.
A standard gag I admit, but that was all it took.
I was bit by the same bug all the characters in this
account share. I would have gladly given a leg
to be Minnie or Daisy when I came to Hollywood.
Now I know the price that’s paid, the stars,
the dreamers, everyone who agreed to be part
of these portraits, now I’ve heard their stories,
I realize, I’m not so sure; perhaps dreams denied
are denied for the best reasons. If I’ve exposed
a culture of stardom no one knew, that’s because
I wanted everyone to know the lives that animated
these characters; in other words, what are the thoughts
and feelings of the faces we know so well? Once, I began
this project, I realized, how many voices, ambitions,
wait to be recorded, other than the stories of the stars,
the characters we feel are part of our families. Strands of
gossamer and fairy dust — failed dreams — led me to
the land of fame denied. The characters that chased
the will ‘o the wisp, and were ignored, perhaps looked over,
required equal time, if not more. Because they’re all stars,
cartoon characters in their own right, each with a compelling
story, great jokes, open hearts and the fellowship every
thespian dreams of finding in the theatre. That they took me
into their confidence means more to me than I can describe.

I was never meant to be part of this; I wanted
to create snapshots of the famous juxtaposed against
those who were not. I had no idea I would become
part of the story. All I can say is the record
of these interviews, the players and subsequent events
will hopefully say more than I ever could in my defence.

<Glamorous’ portrait copyright Lianne Côté. You can visit Lianne at Thank you Lianne! Who knew Glamorous smoked a cheroot? wm>

No one ever asked if a blue dog can sing the blues,
but if the name on my collar is any indication
I’m you’re Huckleberry.
That’s my intro for the band these days, except I croon
it a lot like Bing would. He’s my hero and why I quit the biz.
I was tired of being one of a band of clowns, explaining
defending, defining, listening to endless whining, all
the while pretending to be some kind of leader. I thought
if I have to put up with that kind of behavior, musicians
do it much better, plus you actually get to make music!
So, that’s what it is now, except these clowns swing, man
they can play and there’s no need for me to explain,
only croon the blues so the squares can let it all hang out.
I’ve got The Squirrely Brothers on doghouse guitar, Squink,
Squeek and Chatter, they stand on each other’s shoulders,
four paws on the fretboard, two slapping the box,
another four paws on the strings , I don’t ask where
the other two are. I don’t want to know. (Grins and winks.)
Ollie Octopus is on kit, he brings eight drumsticks and a whole
new meaning to Beat me Daddy Eight to the Bar. To round
it all out Chuck Caterpillar’s on keys, the way he runs up
and down that Rocket 88 is going to send a shiver up and
down your spine. Forever Young’s our signature tune.

As I look back on it, it’s hard for me to put it all together.
Part of it seems real, the other, only what wants to be real.
Everything is as much about how people want cartoon
characters to be what they believe those characters to be,
as it is about the quality of the acting. There’s a lot of folks
that want those characters to be like them, which in turn
consumes them, and that’s when it begins to consume you.
A lot of ‘toons spend a lot of time putting a wall between
them and whoever they are on the big screen. Really,
it’s all about appearance, getting the right accent, hitting
your marks, remember your lines, as few takes as possible
and laugh all the way to the bank. It never seemed to matter.

I realized I was in the wrong business. I had to follow
my heart. Give up fame, very little fortune and believe
in my music. I know on film I’m a tenor but my singing voice
drops an octave. When I mention Bing, that’s no mistake.
He’s my idol, that mellow tone, that self-assurance; it’s funny,
I always had that in film, I didn’t even realize I had it.
I never tried, never rehearsed, was always at work on time,
checked out at end of day without a thought for tomorrow.
I should have realized my heart wasn’t in it, but you know
how it is, the attention, the glamour, if someone tells you
that wasn’t part of it for them, that thrill, they’re lying.
Even then, it wasn’t enough. What I got now is for real,
if feeling great about what you do makes something real.
I’m no fool. I’m trading on the name. Huckleberry Hound
and his Firehouse Four, it gets us noticed. We’re growing our audience,
a record deal in the wings, and who knows? Maybe I’ll be the first
to have a live show on TV. Anything can happen in Hollywood.

I’ll tell you something, something I think about a lot.
When Bing was done singing he went and played golf.
You know why? Because once he was done doing what
he loved, he went out and relaxed. I used to go home,
stare at the wall and wait for another day. That’s why now,
Bing’s my ambition — do what I love, then go play golf.

(The loveable blue hound got his first big break in 1958, and continued to charm audiences throughout his cartoon career.
It is at this point that Cartoon Vérité will take a short hiatus before returning with Part 2, the Characters, the Background Players. GG)

I had a quick kick at the can.
Nothing like the big guys,
but, then again, my heart wasn’t in it.
I wasn’t meant to be a cartoon sheriff.
I wanted to be the real thing.
It’s funny, a lot of us need to know
which side we fall on, whether we
really know what’s right from wrong.
I mean consider it, there’s very little
we’re not allowed to do; it all comes down
to: what are you willing to do? When you
think like that, either everything falls
into place, or you don’t get it at all.

I got it.

It was fun while it lasted, and I can’t tell
you how many times I say to myself “Kaboooong!”
when I put some lowlife behind bars,
but that’s it; entertainment is fun, but it’s not
real life. If you look very closely when you rub
up against the world, it’s no longer all colour
and oh so wonderful. It’s a little more grainy,
no longer fair or just.

That’s when you have to choose, is being a cartoon
enough, or do you want to make a difference?

I made my choice.

(The lawman horse first appeared in 1959 and won his first Emmy in 1960. On a personal note, having now finished a number of these interviews, some of which, as you may have read, veered at times to the personal, some that seemed possibly dangerous, I never felt safer than when I was in Mr. McGraw’s presence. His is a deeply calming presence. GG)

Here’s an interesting fact for you: my original name
is Archibald. I told my agent Archie is a natural name
for cartoons, but you know how it is with alliteration
in this industry, so Woody I became and Woody I am.
I loved the theatre from the start. It’s taken me
a lot of time and therapy to realize that was to replace
the love I never received at home. I hear some
woodpeckers have a normal home life, you know,
loving mother, sober Dad. I wouldn’t know.
It’s not something I care to talk about, but that’s
because I am a shallow boor with all kind of
defences, hypocrisy and vanity that I am trying to
finally accept, and by doing so, start again.
That I had a difficult childhood is something
I have to acknowledge. All I know is when I was
that age the theatre loved me and I loved it.

I broke into vaudeville as a member of a troupe
called The Peckers. I was a stilt walker attacked
by a group of malicious woodpeckers. You can see
where this is going, can’t you? The “woodpeckers”
were really clowns dressed as woodpeckers,
and as they chewed away at my stilts, I kept
getting closer and closer to them, until finally
I’d jump off the stilts, a real woodpecker
and chase them all off the stage. Audiences
loved it. It’s how I made it to Broadway,
and that’s what led to Hollywood.

I appreciate this isn’t what you had in mind
when you said you wanted to understand me.
I have to admit your request is what led me to agree
to this, because I need to know, more than you,
who am I? Am I the unloved child, lost,
or am I the movie star, found? I don’t have
that answer, nor do you. Isn’t that it? The answer
escapes us. You can pound your head all you like
against that truth but it just doesn’t crack, does it?
I’ve had to learn to accept who I am, that where
I came from had its hand in determining who
I am today, but I can change. I can be more
that I was taught to expect. There’s no reason
for me to live in the past. After all, today’s
a beautiful day isn’t it?
(The hardest head in Hollywood got his start with Walter Lanz in 1940. GG)

My father was a German Jew and a communist,
my mother a Spanish anti-Fascist resistance fighter.
They met on a boat fleeing the Nazis to Mexico,
seeking freedom and a chance to build a life.
Not only for themselves but for me, my brothers
my sisters, of whom there are many. We are mice,

we know a common bond built on pain and sacrifice;
life is short is our cultural norm; but my father taught me
“if life is short, then move fast.” I am belief in action.
Speedy is not a character; he is my manifesto to all oppressed
people; no one catches the quick; Speedy always beats the cats.
When I say cats, I mean the invested forces of capitalism
that profit from the unpaid labour of the people and the
destruction of their dreams of prosperity and equality.

My father taught me to run.
He told me, “Might weighs too much,
strength without laughter is weak,
those who are light on their feet
will always confound those who
would put their paws on our necks;
now, run like your life depends on it.”

So I run. I run for the revolution.
If you were me, would you do anything differently?

(Speedy first premiered in 1953, and the world has been trying to keep up since. Run, Speedy, Run! GG)

I don’t know about the old guys, I heard
they could be kind of serious on set. All
we did was have a ball. I wish Boo-boo
was here to tell his side of it. That was a
sad day when we lost Boo-boo. Cancer.
Off camera, you never saw him without
a cigarette. That came from his Army days.
When? He served in Korea. I have no idea what
he did. I thought there was a height restriction
but if there was it didn’t apply to him. I’ll tell
you, he could scare the hell out of you if he
wanted to. One very ferocious little bear was
our Boo-boo. But oh the sense of humour!
Poop jokes were his favourite. More than once
when Ranger Smith found the pickanick basket
there was a ripe Boo-boo turd in it. Some of
those shots where we’re laughing together,
they were completely unrehearsed. Camera
would catch us watching Ranger Smith open
a basket full of crap, and we’d just lose it. Smith
was an OK guy for a hooman, but he couldn’t take
a joke. I guess he just didn’t get bear humour.
With Boo-boo gone and Ranger Smith left,
it seems like a joke gone wrong. If we have to
do a show now, we can always find some bruin
who can stand in for Boo-boo but it’s not the same.
OK, let’s not us dwell ‘pon the painful stuff.
Here’s something. You know the running sounds
they used for us? That was all Speedy Gonzalez.
He has these Mexican drums, congas, timbales,
all kinds of things and he gets on those with his big
feet and man it sounds like Gene Krupa had babies!
He’s an amazing musician, which, a lot of people don’t know.

The strangest time was the late Sixties, early
Seventies. For some reason, all these hippies
decided, because of the name, I was enlightened.
They’d camp out on my front lawn, hoping
to meditate with me, nonsense like that.
I have an old scattergun I keep as a memento
of how hoomans have hunted us since time
began. It was loaded with buckshot, ready to go,
I mean I was ready to go out and enlighten them
with a load in the butt. I had no time for that hippie
crap. Fortunately, my agent was there. He talked
me out it. That’s how the press got that big story
about me talking to the hippies on my front lawn.
My agent called them! Told me to go out and get
some good publicity. You never heard of it?
It was big news in all of L.A. for Pete’s sake!
You sure you never heard of it? OK, I went out
on the lawn all steamed about these hippies
camping there, leaving all their shit everywhere.
I called them all into a circle. Once I did that the
press crowded around, which really turned the hippies
on, as all they really wanted was attention, then
I told them I was going to enlighten them but only
once so they had to pay attention, and if I did they were
all going to pack up and go. I made them all solemnly
promise. All the cameras went click clickety click
and I gave them a speech which became kind of famous
for awhile; I’m surprised you never heard of it.
“America is built on a tripod of a strong work ethic,
good fun, and healthy nutrition. You want enlightenment?
Go home. Clean up. Cut your hair. Get a job. Three squares
a day. Roof over your head. Upstanding member of the
community. Regular Jack or Jill. That’s it. Now split!”
I would have added “like a banana” but that might
have made them think I wanted them to stick around.

Yeah, I’ve totally gotten into skating.
Ever since the Ice Capades. Gives you this sense
of freedom that’s even better than running naked
in the woods. That’s a joke sweetheart. I do wear
the hat and tie. Got to rise above the animal, you
know. Where was I? Yeah, Skating. I’m thinking
of getting into hockey. I heard there’s this kid,
Charlie Brown, putting together a team of cartoony folk
to play some movie stars and NHL vets for charity.
I’m going to check into that. What position?
Center, baby, center. When I get that puck, it’s mine.
You want it, you gotta take it away from me.

(The big friendly bear first premiered in 1958 as a secondary character on the Huckleberry Hound Show, but once he hit the big time he never looked back. GG)

If I had a mouth I would tell you,
Felix is gone. No one has seen him in a while.
He jumped inside me. No one’s ever done that before.
Usually, Felix reaches in and pulls stuff out, tells
me to change myself into whatever, not
the other way around. But no one is asking; I’m
stuck here in his closet, in the dark, both literally
and figuratively. I have no eyes, ears, fingers, tongue
any of that stuff, except you did the smart thing,
you asked me, what I can tell you is I can’t tell you
what he‘s doing in there, and unless you want to dive in,
no one else will know either. Even then, you’ll have to
want to pull Felix out. You know, if you ask for it,
I’ll bring you the Holy Grail, but after that long inside,
I wouldn’t advise pulling out the Cat. One thing for sure,
he won’t be just Felix no more.
(Bag of Tricks was one of the first to take advantage of the new medium, television. Introduced in 1953. It brought a new wrinkle to an old character, helping resurrect the famous cat’s career. GG)

You know you’re a fraud, don’t you?
Your license expired, you haven’t paid
your insurance since God knows when,
it’s just a nickname now isn’t it?
The fact you dispense medical advice,
minor first aid, isn’t really a crime,
but that scrip you write each week
for Dopey sure as hell is. You do
remember your oath, don’t you?
No, don’t tell me about a higher power.
Yes, I know about your diamonds,
you can’t bribe me, they’re mine too.
Besides, I’m a poet, not a cop.
No, I’m not going to call the AMA.

You are so visible it is risible you fool anyone.
Why are your sleeves so long? Sure as Hell not
so you can stumble over them, that shtick is older
than the diamond mine. No, you wouldn’t want
anyone to see those arms. Something hidden
under the skirt? Oh, how that smile says search me,
with at least three meanings that I can think of,
and at least one that must be ignored. One
smile says I forgot about the mechanism taped
to my thigh, the one that ends in a syringe,
alongside the glassine packet of white powder.
Who the fuck cares? That’s America’s favourite
past time, and you’re their poster boy.

I’m the poet. It suits me to tell the story
in verse. The guy next door started cutting
down trees at 6 am using a chainsaw.
Dropped a couple into our yard, trimmed them
there, left the slash. He has this yappy little dog
that runs into the yard and craps everywhere.
I lose it. I yell at him to get his crap and
his dog’s crap outta my yard. He says Fuck you
midget! That’s when the fireworks started.
Let me sum it up this way: never mess with
a dwarf named Grumpy. Bad things happen.
Except I stop myself from bashing his brains
in with a pickax and stomping on his little dog.
I tell myself, the guy ain’t worth it. Let Dopey
and Happy clean this up. Why do you think
they’re named that way? They’ll whistle
while they do it. I tell myself, the best part of
revenge is served cold. I write a poem about
what an inbred, knuckle dragging, snot nosed punk
the bastard is. And that little dog, the bitch he owns?
She sure walks funny, like her ass is being pushed
into next week far too often. I send the poem out.
It gets published. The guy next door shows
up a week later and threatens to sue.
Who knew the idiot read poetry?

Bashful was a dog in a previous life.
He told us about it.
Life was better then.
All he knew was big eyes,
not saying much,
belly rubs and warm fires.
Then he tells us he wants to eat out of a bowl,
on the floor. We say he can eat outside if he does that.
We say he can forget the belly rubs
but we’ll get him a dog tag if it makes him feel better.
Because we live outside city limits
a license wasn’t required, so we couldn’t get one.
When we said that was all we were
going to do for him, he said
“I feel like you were my friends once.”
He doesn’t say much anymore.
He never looks into our eyes like he used to.

Happy should be miserable,
like a guy named Curly has to be bald,
or a guy named Tiny is the biggest man you’ve ever met.
But not Happy, he is what the name says.
You’d think a guy named Happy should be as dumb
as a post just to balance out Nature,
but our Happy is the smartest, no argument.
He’s probably the only reason Doc hasn’t killed Dopey yet.
He’s the one who figured out the shoring in the mine,
which is probably the only reason we’re all alive.
He’s the one who always starts whistling, so,
aside from the fact I’d like to strangulate the guy,
he’s got something I just can’t figure out.
It’s a good thing I love him like a brother
otherwise, I’d have to hate him because
he’s so goddamn happy all the time
and I can’t figure it out to save my life.

Let’s see, you slept through Reagan busting the unions.
Thatcher busting the unions. The end of the mines,
the factories, the slow death of the working class,
yet you shuffle along with the rest of us
pickax, shovel in hand, asleep on your feet
oblivious to everything happening around you
pretending you’re still one of us.
Do I need to remind you who your shop steward is?
God, it’s like talking to a wall with you,
you just stand there with that vacant stare.
Between you, Dopey and Bashful I just want
to look into someone’s eyes that look back,
you know lights on, somebody home.
Let’s consider the evidence: despite the diamonds,
you still buy a lottery ticket every week,
you voted for Trump and you don’t hear
a single thing I’m saying, do you?
You fucking class traitor.

God I love Sneezy. That dwarf is dedicated to everyone
who blurts out something they really shouldn’t have said, but did,
something they really would like to take back, but couldn’t.
He is the muse of those who fart at dinner tables,
crinkle candy wrappers during the opera,
the guy who laughs out loud when someone trips and falls.
There is no occasion he cannot change abruptly
with nothing but the loudest blast of spit, snot and noise
possibly imaginable. The man is a genius of disruption.
Seriously, he should have his own TV show.
People would pay to watch him interview movie stars,
the high and mighty, and coat each one
in his vital bodily fluids as ejected through that grotesque
mouth and nose permanently attached to his face, which
by all rights should have been blown clear off by now.
I’m telling you, the guy cracks me up on a daily basis.

(I present the manuscript with no comments. It arrived on my doorstep with the enigmatic note, ”You’re not the only poet”. The always loveable dwarves first appeared in the smash hit Snow White in 1937, marking them as true pioneers, survivors, legends. GG)

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