Cartoons On TV --- Part 2
The sale of the Warner Bros. pre-49 library to Associated Artists included 850 features, plus 1,500 shorts and cartoons, and the price was $21 million. That may have seemed like a lot in those days, and God knows they needed the money, but in hindsight, this was an act of pure lunacy on Warner’s part. The cartoons alone were worth many times the total price, as it turned out. We're too young to recall the initial launch of these packages, but by the late fifties, the Greenbriar was on board for Popeye’s every sailing, and those WB cartoons, with their distinctive AAP openings (where you’d get to hear the opening fanfare twice), were ubiquitous on every channel hauled in on our "tenna roter". We particularly recall a daily ritual out of WLOS in Asheville, NC, which began at 7:00 AM, and continued with two solid hours of non-stop WB’s and Popeyes, interrupted only by the weather reports. It didn’t take long to become cartoon literate, as we learned to recognize the pedigree of each short by their opening titles. The good Popeyes were the ones with the ship’s doors, opening and closing to reveal the credits (we always liked that sound they made … still do). The Warner groups were less predictable, as there were certain rogue distributors out there (at least they seemed roguish then) who would remove the studio openings altogether and replace them with ugly cards crediting "Sunset", or "Guild" Films. We’d never heard of those guys, and we could tell they’d not really made these cartoons. Those drawings of Porky holding a rifle, that peculiar dog, and a weirdly distorted Daffy Duck were a stench in the nostrils of many young viewers, including myself, but the cartoons were good, as they were actually the B/W Warner titles not included in the AAP group. It seemed every station had a Popeye show. That sailor man was an absolute sensation when he first hit the airwaves. We had kid shows down here that would sandwich him in between the live studio spots with a kid host and his studio full of moppets (invariably Cub Scout or Brownie troops --- I was briefly a Cub myself, but was drummed out for cowardice). Those Popeyes, even the Fleischers, could get a little tedious when you were seeing six or seven in a row, eventually reaching a point where you’d look at a minute or so, then yell, "Just eat the damn spinach and get on with it!" At some point during every broadcast, those kids in the studio would get their treat bags, then you’d sit for an interminable recitation of every merchant’s name who’d "donated" the useless, and/or tooth-rotting, bric-a-brac within those sacks. One thing about these pages from AAP’s campaign manual --- the emphasis on color cartoons. How many households even had color sets then? I know my family didn’t, and wouldn’t, until 1966. In the meantime, I wonder how many stations broadcast these cartoons in color. It was cheaper for the locals to use B/W prints, and I’d guess that’s what most of them did. Of course, the station managers eventually went looking for "fresh" cartoons, and that’s when we got those dreadful Dick Tracy and made-for-TV Mr. Magoos. They were five minutes long (to the second!) and really sucked, if you’ll excuse the vulgarism. They were an insult to every thinking child in the audience. The offense inflicted by their presence on the airwaves could only be surpassed by the arrival of Astro Boy around 1964. One station manager even acknowledged the unworthiness of that character in a reply to one of my indignant letters sent back in the late sixties (my first letter, at the age of six, included detailed suggestions for a revamping of the Saturday morning schedule, and I’m still waiting for a reply to that one). All this action on TV screens made theatrical cartoons seem superfluous, of course, and that's where the theatre exhibitors got up in arms. In tomorrow’s entry, they fight back!
One housekeeping note. A Greenbriar correspondent has advised us that we need to change our settings, as the "comments" option presently requires some sort of draconian registration process before anyone can actually leave a comment! We've resolved that (hopefully), and invite readers to leave feedback on any posting.