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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Among Cartoon Stars We've Forgot

Columbia's Fox and Crow in Room and Bored (1943)

Columbias were always the rumble seat of cartoon rides. They used to be nowhere, it seemed, but nests are built here and there at You Tube, where better (or worse) ones are accessed, including Room and Bored, a "Fox and Crow" that was among two dozen more/less featuring the mismatched pair that became star attractions, if there was such thing at Columbia during the 40's. Nearest competition there had been "Scrappy," who by 1941 was scrapped. Such vague personages stood as Columbia surrogate for a Bugs or Popeye that ranked higher on marquees and got better rentals. To summarize for many to whom the Fox and Crow are unknown quantity, Fauntleroy Fox was polite, prim, and fussy in oft-role as doormat to brash and streetwise Crawford Crow. The team was minted by Frank Tashlin during his short Columbia stay. Room and Bored has C. Crow as destructive boarder in F. Fox's rooming house. The two were teamed in terms of opposition to each other, and maybe that slowed progress toward a public's embrace, but didn't Tom and Jerry become superstars doing an approximate same thing?

Crawford Crow was new, though familiar somehow, to my cartoon experience, youth exposure having been to Buzzy The Funny Crow of Matty's Funday lineage. All of Columbia we TV-got was Mister Magoo. There were Fox and Crow comic books on spinning racks where I 60's shopped, but these had less lure than even funny bunny stuff that went ignored in favor of Archie, Richie Rich, and eventually Superman/Batman. Come to find lately, however, that Fox and Crow were a comix institution for over twenty years, so someone, many in fact, were loyal. I found Room and Bored fun and would seek more Fox/Crows --- shouldn't Columbia be packaging these for at least On-Demand DVD release? (it could be a two-volume set, in fact) There were lovely IB Technicolor prints made for TV and rental use back in the day. 16mm survivors, splicy/worn as they tend to be, are sought still by collectors loyal to the vanishing format. They'll assure you that Fox/Crows and others bearing Columbia label can only be had on increasingly rare film (this further evidence that digital's takeover is far from complete), and are well worth dedicated search to find them.


Blogger Dave K said...

Yet Columbia cartoon theatrical re-issues were plentiful as late as the 70's. If a theater bothered to show a cartoon back when disco was king it was a Lantz, DePatie-Freleng or a Columbia. Back in the day I saw ROOM AND BORED in a little Minnesota town as an added attraction to THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES .

12:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson looks back at Columbia cartoons on TV:

On KTVU in Oakland, CA we had a long-running kid host, Captain Satellite, who showed Columbias for years: Scrappy, Krazy Kat, Fox & Crow, Li'l Abner, and whatever else was in the pre-UPA package. That was the only place I saw those cartoons until decades later, when a cable network repackaged the color ones.

The Magoos we got on TV weren't the theatricals. That was a syndicated package of cheaper shorts, often focusing on other characters. Frequently they had dim nephew Waldo teamed with a W.C. Fields knockoff named Presley; Bowser the cat (Magoo thought he was a dog) did Tom-and-Jerry schtick with a hamster named Hamlet.

Columbia was evidently making big money with the Stooges shorts, so you'd think the cartoons would coattail onto that success. Since KTVU had a Stooges show immediately after Captain Satellite for many years, it's tempting to think they took the cartoons to get the Stooges. But if that were the case, wouldn't every local station running the Stooges also be running the Columbia cartoons somewhere? Or would it make economic sense to toss those reels in a closet and spend money for the more popular Warner and Famous/Paramount product?

3:50 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I have all these as part of the archive. The prints are decent. The films are better than many lead us to believe. Nice post. Saw them late in life and loved them at once. I have most of the Columbia cartoon output. Definitely worth a look.

4:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer contemplates Frank Tashlin's inspiration for the Fox and Crow cartoons:

Is it possible that Frank Tashlin found his inspiration for Fox and Crow in the teaming of Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante, especially in "Speak Easily!", with Keaton as the shy Professor Post and Durante the street-wise con man leading him astray? Not having seen any of the cartoons, does Crow annoy Fox by constantly pounding him on the arm? Of course, the names "Fauntleroy Fox" and "Crawford Crow" suggest an even odder pairing than Keaton and Durante were, perhaps the crows in "Dumbo" prompting some Jack Benny and Rochester thrown in for flavoring.

To Donald Benson's question about running Fox and Crows with Stooges shorts, that certainly wasn't done in Philadelphia. Local kiddie hostess Sally Starr showed the Stooges on her Channel 6 show and even had Moe make a personal appearance, but if any Fox and Crows accompanied them, they were consigned to a closet. No sense wasting postage, right? Maybe there is some disused storage space at WPVI, the successor to WFIL at Channel 6, with a stack of cannisters waiting for rediscovery.

Either that or a trip to the dumpster.


5:12 PM  
Blogger Britt Reid said...

Besides animated cartoons, Fox and Crow had a long run in comic books, beginning with back-up strips in DC's Real Screen Comics and Comic Cavalcade in 1945 to receiving their own title in 1951 for 108 issues ending in 1968!
Reprints occasionally appear in digests and anthologies.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Those Durante/Keatons never should have been made. Total misuse of Buster.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I've seen maybe 20 pre-UPA Columbia theatricals so I'm not up on the Fox & Crows except for their longevity. Wasn't the initial inspiration the Tashlin short THE FOX AND THE GRAPES?

Columbia was consulting its cartoon backlog as early as 1956, when Screen Gems offered for TV syndication a pre-packaged, hour-long children's show called "Surprise Package" (later "Surprise Party"). Here's the announcement:

A kid program tentatively labeled "Surprise Package" has 75 one-hour programs. These have special openings and closings. The body of each is made up of a two-reel comedy, a cartoon, and a cliffhanger serial. Two-reelers in "Surprise Package" include such all-time comics as Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, and Smith and Dale. Some of the serials included are "Brenda Starr," "Deadwood Dick," "Kit Carson," "Secret of Treasure Island," "The Shadow," and "Son of the Guardsman."

I suspect that Screen Gems didn't care much about Columbia's old cartoons because it was making more money with its current Hanna-Barbera cartoons made for television, and sold those more vigorously than the old theatricals.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Regarding Dan Mercer's speculation, it's entirely possible. Tashlin was alleged to have gone to various comedy movies with a notebook to write down gags that appealed to him. I know of one tangible example: in PLANE DAFFY (1944), Homer Pigeon is handed a pistol and told to commit suicide outside the house. The door shuts, we hear the gun go off, and after a pause, Homer pokes his head in and says, "Eh, I missed." That gag was first used in SEE AMERICA THIRST (1930) with Harry Langdon and Slim Summerville.

9:19 AM  

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