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December 23

December 23, 1938 – The Silly Symphony Mother Goose Goes Hollywood is Released to Theaters


“Any resemblance of characters herein portrayed to persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

On December 23, 1938, the Silly Symphony Mother Goose Goes Hollywood was released to theaters. The film takes many of the popular actors of the time and caricatures them as characters in Mother Goose stories. The film was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Disney’s Ferdinand the Bull. The short was directed by Wilfred Jackson.

The short is presented in book form, going through the pages of a collection of Mother Goose’s stories. The first page opens the short with a parody of the MGM logo, using a goose rather than a lion. The page then flips to the first tale of Little Bo Peep, with Bo Peep being portrayed by Katherine Hepburn. She bemoans the loss of her sheep, then turns the page to reveal Old King Cole (Hugh Herbert) and his court jester, Ned Sparks. His fiddlers are called in, with the fiddlers being none other than the Marx Brothers. Herbert enjoys the show, but Sparks is obviously less than thrilled. Joe Penner, playing a servant, brings in a big bowl, asking if the king wants to buy a duck, with Donald Duck popping out of the bowl and repeating the question. When Herbert quickly closes the bowl, Donald throws a fit.

Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy, and Freddie Bartholomew sit in a tub as they perform the nursery rhyme

Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy, and Freddie Bartholomew sit in a tub as they perform the nursery rhyme

The page turns to the nursery rhyme, “Rub-a-Dub Dub,” with the three men played by Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy, and Freddie Bartholomew. Bartholomew falls overboard, and Laughton remarks on this drolly. Tracy quickly retrieves Bartholomew, and Bartholomew gives his thanks before they are all alerted to Katherine Hepburn in a motorized contraption, still searching for her sheep. The three men try to hitch a ride, but are swept overboard as the page turns to Humpty Dumpty, played by W.C. Fields. He pulls down a nearby birds nest, thinking a tiny chickadee is inside, only to find that the nest is occupied by Charlie McCarthy. Charlie continues to taunt Fields, with Fields falling off the wall and into a mushroom, made to resemble an egg cup. The next story is Simple Simon, played by Stan Laurel, who is fishing in an old tin can, using a fish as bait to catch worms. The pieman, played by Oliver Hardy, is whistling nearby, and presents a a pie to Laurel, who refuses it to grab a different one. As Hardy tries the same trick Laurel performed, he ends up destroying all but one pie. When Laurel points this out, Hardy throws the pie at him, missing Laurel, but hitting Hepburn, still searching for her sheep.

See-Saw Margery Daw is the next tale, portrayed by Edward G. Robinson and Greta Garbo. Garbo asks to be alone, with Robinson replying that she asked for it. He steps away from the see-saw, letting Garbo crash to the ground as the page turns to Little Jack Horner. Eddie Cantor, playing Jack, beings singing “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” Several African-American stars begin to poke their heads out of the pie, including Cab Calloway, who leads the others in song as he asks Little Boy Blue (Wallace Beery) to blow his horn. Fats Waller and Stepin Fetchit remark about the boy, until Beery blows it until his face turns purple. The page then turns to reveal a pop-up of the old woman’s shoe, with every Hollwood star in attendance for a big old bash. A few more people show up, including Clark Gable, Edna May Oliver, ZaSu Pitts, Joan Blondell, and George Arliss. Fats Waller plays the piano, with some unnecessary help from the Marx Brothers. Fred Astaire begins to tap dance, inviting Stepin Fetchit to dance. The short ends with Katherine Hepburn still on the search.


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