"Fractured Flickers" premiered at a time when Mad magazine flourished and novelty books by Shel Silverstein and Gerald Gardner (among many others) offered “zany” captions to movie stills. There were all kinds of fly-by-night publications, notably “Help,” that made fun of old movies. But to do a half-hour TV show mating insane dialogue and sound effects to actual flickering silent films? That was damn ambitious.
Jay Ward, who produced the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, set his creative staff free. It included wild writers (Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, George Atkins, Bill Scott) and genius voiceover stars (Paul Frees, June Foray and Bill Scott again). They created some very memorable bits of insanity. Probably the most famous was a reworking of “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” in which Lon Chaney’s Quasimodo was re-envisioned as “Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader,” (with Bill Scott squealing ‘Yeah, team!”). Lon Chaney Jr. raged about this sacrilege, but it did no good for him, or for the show, which disappeared after one season (26 episodes).
The writers went on to other things. Hayward and Burns are best known for writing “The Munsters,” but worked on a variety of kiddie shows (“Crusader Rabbit”) and sitcoms (“He and She,” “Get Smart” etc.) George Atkins worked on various cartoon shows, and vinyl fans might know his name from the topical album “Washington is for the Birds” which was done for Reprise and parodied Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. Bill Scott would be the voice of Bullwinkle for decades.
The series creatively sliced up "flickiz" (as acerbic satiric host Hans Conreid prounced them) for mock commercials and documentaries, as well as fake mini-movies. Conreid opened and closed the show with self-deprecating remarks, and in a brief star interview segment each week, seemed to always have to explain why the star wasn’t being paid, and beg him/her not to walk out. The guests include Allan Sherman, Rod Serling, Diana Dors, Paul Lynde and Ursula Andress, which is another good reason to go buy the re-issue DVD set.
Conreid's hosting held it all together, but so did the wacky glue soundtrack music. Silent films always need effective music and so did the parodies on “Fractured Flickers.” One of the greats who worked on this stuff was Fred Steiner (February 24, 1923 – June 23, 2011). If the name seems familiar, it’s because it was mentioned here a while ago, in connection with the theme song for “Perry Mason.” Originally bearing the slightly salacious title “Park Avenue Beat,” the instrumental was intended to convey the decadent world of sexy nightclubs and cool, confident ladies of the night. Somehow it was acquired as the theme to the lawyer show, and it worked, mostly due to the stabbing violins of the opening chords, which suggested violent crime. The hip-swinging melody that followed somehow became a metaphor for the task of assembling evidence for the defense.
Quite the opposite of Perry Mason's music is Fred’s quirky theme for “Fractured Flickers.” Insanity requires serious dedication and the 60 second tune was methodically stitched up to include a variety of sound effects and squeamy instruments. Dennis Farnon, a composer and arranger worked on “Fractured Flickers,” and his strange sensibilities made every oddball melody in every sequence come alive.
Although fans of demented music revere Steiner for “Fractured Flickers,” most of his credits veer in the “Perry Mason” direction, and his film scores aren't known for being comical or sexual. They include “Man from Del Rio” in the 50’s, “Della,” and “First to Fight” in the 60’s, and “Carters Army” and “Heatwave” in the 70’s. In the 80’s he was nominated for an Oscar for his work on “The Color Purple.” For anyone who is a fan of singer-songwriters, here’s a bit of trivia: Fred’s daughter is Wendy Waldbaum, who has put out many a fine album, and was one fourth of Bryndle, the quartet that included the great Karla Bonoff, the late Kenny Edwards, and Andrew Gold.
Dennis Farnon is still with us at 92. Aside from his memorable work for Jay Ward (which also included the “Hoppity Hooper” series in 1964), Farnon scored the film “Arrivederci, Baby” (1966) which was released in soundtrack form under both that title and “Drop Dead Darling.” He contributed to the BBC’s music library and some of that material has turned up on vinyl via “for the trade” albums like “Sounds Humorous” (oddball music published by Boosey & Hawkes). Farnon and his orchestra backed a peculiar variety of singers, including Gogi Grant and James Jimmy Komack (who sang under that name, but issued a comedy album as James Komack...a sample here on the blog somewhere). Farnon scored a number of Mr. Magoo cartoons (and the “Mr. Magoo in Hi Fi” RCA album). Fans of lounge and space age pop probably have some of his other RCA vinyl treasures, “The Enchanted Woods” and “Caution: Men Swinging!”
The Original Fractured Flickers Theme