Cartoon Campaigns For Theatres and TV
1957-58 was a watershed season for theatrical cartoons. They were still out there, and did remain popular, but now kids at home were seeing the really good ones on television, and they were free. Instead of fossilized Van Buren and Farmer Alfalfa on the home screen, we had Popeye and Bugs Bunny, thanks to the massive sale of theatrical cartoons to Associated Artists Productions in 1956. That seismic event would change the Saturday morning viewing habits for kids nationwide. Whereas theatres had once enjoyed the undivided loyalty of their juve audience, they were now engaged in a grim, ongoing competition with the box at home. Local houses often programmed hour long cartoon shows as companions for features, and used them as well for Saturday morning kiddie fodder where a dime could get you in from 9:00 to 10:00, before the westerns and serial got underway. It was great while it lasted, and it did last right through the fifties in many situations, before TV finally brought the theatrical cartoon to its knees. Note this ad from the Allen Theatre in April 1953. The Bugs Bunny Revue is part of a "double feature" and a distinct attraction in its own right. Warners supplied the "paintbrush" ad with Bugs in a special umbrella pressbook that covered most of their cartoon programs during that period. Since these were an ongoing staple in many theatres, it was deemed necessary for management to emphasize that each show would be a different one, with fresh cartoons in every serving. MGM was packaging their cartoons in much the same way with the Tom and Jerry Festival Of Fun, which was generally ten or so shorts combining the cat and mouse team with such other Metro character favorites as Droopy and Barney Bear. By 1953, MGM was spending an average of $28,728 to produce their cartoons, while a more frugal Warner Bros. held the line at $22,972. The average rental that Metro could generate for a cartoon during the 1953-54 season was $3.43, not a lot on its face, but the combined average rental on an individual MGM cartoon by this time was $78,379, so there were a lot of bookings, and a lot of profits being made, on these shorts.
Associated Artists really went out with the big guns to publicize their acquisition of the fabled Warner and Popeye cartoons for TV, but honestly, these things sold themselves. Local stations were starved for product, and these packages (337 WB and 234 Popeyes) were an immediate sensation in every viewing market they played. Check out these colorful pages from the AAP sales manual, and you’ll appreciate why theatre exhibitors went to war with the TV-enabling studios during the fifties.
More on this subject tomorrow. We just keep running into these neat trade ads, and can’t resist scanning them! There’ll be lots of color from the AAP television campaign, so keep watching.