Jerry Beck: producer, writer, webmaster, and sprocket head. "Yes. I ran the projector in high school and saved my money and bought a 16mm projector of my own in my senior year. This was the era before YouTube, before cable channels dedicated to cartoons, before home video tape recording. You know - the stone age." Groovy, '72 Jerry never dreamt that this simple purchase would lead to a life in vaudeville. Sort of.
Jerry provides the opening act for Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys, a unique musical show featuring, as her website says, "lovely, naughty, and obscure music of the 1910's, 20's and 30's." Jerry explains, "Janet Klein is a poet and singer - her dad was a magician and animator(!). She has assembled an incredible group of musicians who are her 'Parlor Boys', and they play authentic 1920s jazz music and obscure songs of the early 30s. Some of Parlor Boys include Tom Marion (of R. Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders), Ian Whitcomb (an ex-British rock & roller of some reknown from the 60s) and Brad Kay (one of the original Mystic Knights of Oingo Boing). The first Thursday of every month the band performs at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood and it's an incredible time trip to hear them play. It's 1930s cartoon music performed live. It was through his wife, Marea Boylan, that Jerry was introduced Janet Klein. "I met my wife in 2001 and fell in with her musician friends and the whole 20s jazz music community in Los Angeles, which Janet, Brad, and Tom are part of. "
Janet Klein described the show, "The evenings begin with 45 minutes of Jerry's rare selections of musical and/or animated film shorts of the 1920s and '30s. I suppose it isn't common to get cartoons before a concert, but it sure works for me. It transforms the evening into something more akin to a night out at an old time movie house, complete with singalong to the bouncing ball segments.
Jerry said, "I've collected 16mm film prints for over 30 years (since my high school days). I used to run film shows at New York comic book conventions in the 1970s and early 80s. Janet wanted her monthly show to have an opening part that would put the audience in the right mood for the kind of music they will be hearing. We originally talked about showing films in-between some songs, but we settled on just doing a 45-minute pre-show."
Jerry Beck showing no signs of stigmata.
His act usually consists of five short films. "Two 1930s vintage cartoons, things like Page Miss Glory, Merry Mannequins, anything from Bosko to Krazy Kat to Betty Boop; two live action shorts, usually music or vaudeville related - Ethel Merman shorts seem to be a big hit with this crowd; and usually one Max Fleischer bouncing ball sing-along. Most of the cartoons are mine, some I borrow from Mark Kausler, but I usually rely on a group of film collector buddies to loan me the live action shorts. Luckily I have a lot of friends. It's been over two years now and I haven't repeated anything yet."
With such a love of old-time character animation, Jerry says, "The one thing I wish is that hand drawn animation was still being done in the U.S. I'd like to see the next generation of Ward Kimball's, Rod Scribner's, Jim Tyer's, Irv Spence's and on and on. There is no outlet today for the kind of work they did. I'd like to see that come back somehow."
And now, a web simulation of the show.....
On Aging Parents
It's been hard for me to address my mother's aging and dementia. She'd always been imperious & idiosyncratic and my sister & I tended to look past her oddball behavior and let her live as she wanted like an Asian Edith Bouvier Beale in her Grey Gardens at Morro Bay. Transitioning to become parents to our parent has been slow and hard.
Having lived during the Depression, my mom's always been a pack rat and I didn't spot an early warning sign: check up on the elderly's mail & correspondence. There were string balls, recycled foil, years of daily newspapers piling up in her living room. She had a room full of tchotchkes acquired through her addiction to USPE (the evil United States Purchasing Exchange Sweepstakes) but all this was part of her 'normal' behavior. However, when her health care provider cancelled her insurance I drove up to check on her and found many unopened bills under stacks of unopened magazines and unread newspapers still in plastic. She bristled at my nosiness & intervention. I saw she had a really large dent on her front fender but she defensively explained that 'something' had leapt out at her car one night and hit her. When her neighbor told me that my mother was using her cane as an aid to brake & accelerate we took away her keys. I'd noted her kitchen now had far more pans with burnt bottoms and we discontinued her gas and hired caregivers to prepare meals & aid her with transportation. Things escalated. Her neighbor found her wandering 'lost' in the garden and my mother's caregiver found her sipping mayonnaise from the jar with a straw thinking it was juice. When she suffered a t.i.a. (transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke) she no longer had control of her memory and we brought her from Morro Bay to live near us in LA and placed her in a 'reminiscence' nursing home. She'd been at her angriest just before her t.i.a. stroke. Going through the papers on her bed and in her purse I sadly found her scrawled reminder notes to herself, Memento -like grasps and attempts to maintain control of her faculties.
She seems so happy these days and relaxed in our visits and I usually find her gazing at the trees, or sometimes watching TV at the nursing home. Recently, when I was running behind getting the Thanksgiving dinner for her to the table I put the Shrek DVD on to help while away the time and I could see that it perplexed her. She asked me about the funny green man, how he got on the TV and I saw she thought Shrek was 'real' and realized this was her first encounter with CG animation. She'd watched plenty of 2D animation with my family and some of it after the onset of dementia but she'd never been so uncertain about what was real before. She loves animation now (she never watched with me when we were little) and she laughs most at cute characters and sight gags. I showed her one of the shows I'd been working on and was glad she giggled at the cute puppies and clearly loved it as much as the little kids had at our screenings.
With her dementia, my mom cannot remember me, or my sister's names, or ID our pix but curiously she's retained her sense of design and style. My mother had been an amazing seamstress and designer of her own suits & dresses, & my sisters' as well as my clothes when we were little. My father never wanted her to work but she briefly did piece work during the 1940's for Adrian and made beautiful gowns for Betty Hutton's and Loretta Young's wedding trousseaus. She still has an attention for details and can tell me if my sweater's chartreuse or navy blue and the cloth of my outfits. She recently remarked that my jacket looked 'snappy' and grabbed my sleeve to feel & say, "nice wool" or told me, "that's a nice silk scarf." She'd be happy to see my daughters still loving and wearing things she'd made for herself 60 years ago.
I'd learned dementia patients often have very good long-term not short-term memory and saw it in action. Last year I brought out for her, her own 1934 high school annual and she stopped on one of the pages. "I know this," she said with uncharacteristic certainty. It was an article she'd written as the high school girl reporter. That she could tell me this statement with gravity, even though she's forgotten how to use a telephone and doesn't know my name or recognize my family was so gladdening. She is still herself with her dignity intact and I love who she is but miss who she was.
Carolyn Bates is a 2D / 3D animation producer who lives and works in Los Angeles, Calfornia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org