Michigan J. Frog's memorable tune was the first popular song about calling your sweetie on the telephone

"Hello! Ma Baby" is all about the utter joy of reaching out and touching someone.

There are plenty of memorable songs from practically every decade about the special feeling of picking up your phone to call a loved one.

Whether it's Tommy Tutone dialing up Jenny at "867-5309" or the Big Bopper calling up the "big-eyed girl" who makes him "feel so funny" that he wants to spend his money, the telephone has served as a muse for many songwriters through time.

But did you know that the first popular song written about reaching out to touch your sweetheart across the airwaves is a song best remembered for being unexpectedly delivered by a cartoon frog?

In the 1955 cartoon "One Froggy Evening," the world met Michigan J. Frog, when he transformed from a normal, croaking amphibian into a singing, dancing sensation, with a top hat and cane to match his booming voice and high kicks.

Animator Chuck Jones called "One Froggy Evening" the best cartoon he ever did, and Steven Spielberg once called it the Citizen Kane of cartoons. 

"Probably, of all my pictures, I like that one best," Jones said in his 2005 memoir Chuck Jones: Conversations. "Strangely enough, it was one of the most difficult."

That challenge might explain why Michigan J. Frog is such a rare sighting. Michigan appeared in just one original Merrie Melodies / Looney Tunes cartoon in the golden era, that 1955 gem. He would not resurface for another 40 years, until 1995, when he became the face of the upstart television network The WB.

Jones' struggle to make "One Froggy Evening" funny was in trying to convince the audience a real frog was singing. To do that, he studied how real frogs move. He wanted to nail the contrast between the resting Michigan J.Frog, who was "built like a real frog" (which Jones described as "just a bony blob") and the anthropomorphic version deftly doing the cakewalk on his hind legs.

The explosive quality of the cartoon came from the build-up of tension between these two different frog-types — because audiences never knew when to expect the ordinary-looking frog to suddenly break into song.

Explosive it was. Audiences never forgot. And the song the frog crooned ever is the one that's stuck with cartoon fans forever.

"Hello! Ma baby! Hello! My honey…" have been words sung in the style of Michigan J. Frog since that cartoon debuted more than 60 years ago. You may not realize that these lyrics were written 60 years prior to that, in 1899.

Similar to the relationship Barney Fife shared with the unseen Juanita on The Andy Griffith Show, "Hello! Ma Baby" is about a lovesick guy who only knows the woman who holds his heart through their conversations on the telephone.

When this song was written, only 10% of Americans even owned a phone to know what that feeling felt like.

Now, of course, we all know intimately how it feels to have our hearts tugged by a voice we hear only through our devices, whether it's a sweetheart, family or an old friend.

But in 1899, the telephone was so obscure that the standard greeting of "hello" wasn't even an established thing. Later on, during World War I, telephone operators started saying "hello" to begin their phone calls and got nicknamed "Hello Girls” in 1917. Then, we all started doing it.

So next time you answer your phone with a forgettable-feeling "Hello," maybe consider going really old school and jazzing it up — it's a way to pick up your loved ones a little bit, too! Show some enthusiasm and sing out "Hello, Ma Baby!" in the style of Michigan J. Frog instead?

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Wiseguy 39 months ago
"Animator Chuck Jones called "One Froggy Evening" the best cartoon he ever did, and Steven Spielberg once called it the Citizen Kane of cartoons."

Is that why it is the only cartoon MeTV has shown three times already so far?
LittleMissNoName 39 months ago
Surprise they didn't make a few more cartoon shorts with the frog character.
justjeff 39 months ago
Another mistake in an otherwise entertaining story:

"But did you know that the first popular song written about reaching out to touch your sweetheart across the airwaves is a song best remembered for being unexpectedly delivered by a cartoon frog?"

There were *no* cellular phones in 1899. All calls were transmitted electrically through hard telephone wires from destination to destination. Nothing was broadcast via "wireless" and (of course) there were no satelites up in space...

HerbF justjeff 39 months ago
Telegraphs were starting to use "wireless" at this point - voice wireless was still several years away.
justjeff HerbF 39 months ago
That would take some looking into, but basically most all communications in 1899 were "hard wired"...
Stoney 39 months ago
This cartoon is absolutely classic!
Dario 39 months ago
If the cartoon came out in 1955 and the song in 1899, then that would make it a 56 year gap, NOT 60!!!!! 😠😠😠😠😠
Wiseguy Dario 39 months ago
Ever hear of rounding off?
Dario Wiseguy 39 months ago
If you're gonna tell a story about someone or something historical...GET THE FACTS CORRECT!!!!! You should see YouTube, where there are so many mistakes on historical stuff that it boggles the mind with all the stupidity that permeates there. Good gravy! 😣
RedjacArbez 39 months ago
Total Bullshit
the frog was based on A mashup of Al Jolson for the singing and Fred Astaire for the dancing.
Moody RedjacArbez 39 months ago
I can't find any mention of that on the internet. Here's what I did find: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Froggy_Evening

If you have another source to corroborate your claim please share it.
cperrynaples 39 months ago
Well, at least that explains the line "send me a kiss by wire"...LOL! One thing that's still a mystery: the song was written in 1899, but the cornerstone is dated 1892! And then when the building is redestroyed in the 21st century, Michigan is still alive after over 150 years!
justjeff cperrynaples 39 months ago
The joke is that the frog was sealed into the cornerstone - supposedly in a state of suspended animation - as he was first found in 1955. Did you notice the inscription on the cornerstone as the building being vaporized in the 21st Century? It's the Tregoweth Brown Building.

Treg Brown was the film editor who was responsible for some of the insane and enjoyable sound effects for the WB cartoons!
cperrynaples justjeff 39 months ago
OK. and having thought about it, there is only way to explain this cartoon! Notice that only the construction worker hears the frog! I believe he had a mental breakdown and it's all in his head! Consider the scene where the officer arrests him for disturbing the peace and he points to the frog! THE FROG ISN'T REAL!
justjeff cperrynaples 39 months ago
You have just entered..........the Twilight Zone!
musicman37 cperrynaples 32 months ago
What about the futuristic worker lasering the building who finds Michigan in the cornerstone at the end of the cartoon? Did he also have a mental breakdown? Is it all in his head?
Pacificsun 39 months ago
I didn't think it was going to happen when somebody else suggested this. But it's really true. Cartoons really are taking over.
Andybandit 39 months ago
Cute story, I love Looney Tunes.
Jeffrey 39 months ago
Wow! I'm the first one to make and leave a comment? I never knew those things about Michigan J. Frog before. Thanks MeTV!!
justjeff Jeffrey 39 months ago
At least a "Jeffrey" had the first comment!
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