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Monday, August 26, 2019

30's Cartoon Revue


Looney, Merry, Silly ... But Funny?

How important were cartoons to exhibitors and their audience? I mean before Mickey Mouse made them meaningful. I realize Felix the Cat was popular, but how popular? Did a Felix on the bill tip decisions on which theatre to attend? Mickey certainly did. Cartoons needed star personalities to be something other than faceless fillers. Warner cartoons were no opposition to Disney before Porky Pig arrived with at least potential to challenge the leader. I’d guess Popeye was a first serious threat to Mickey primacy. Saturday clubs for him fazed out many of Mouse clubs long in place. Bugs Bunny evidently led wartime favorite polls. Cartoon characters got less grab at the brass ring than live act strugglers who flamed in, then out. Look at these casualties and try picturing even one of them: Beans, Foxy, Tom and Jerry (the first, and forgotten, not the cat/mouse), Gabby (in fact two, one at WB, the other for Paramount), Scrappy, Buddy … even Disney had duds, or else we’d see Clarabelle Cow action figures at Disney World gift stands. I got out Volume Six of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection to review a disc (of four) devoted to early effort of Warners to crack Disney’s code. Most aren’t great, as known to me since late 50’s teevee, but emeralds are there, if flawed. None are without interest where it’s study of the process you’re after, which was what drew me.




Warners did not start out doing cartoons in-house, farming them out instead to an independent who had an in-law on WB payroll. Leon Schlesinger had also kicked in on completion of The Jazz Singer, so it’s said, that gamble making him a right guy to bookkeepers. For so little as WB was willing to spend for these reels (nickel/dimes for Schlesinger to work with), you wonder if they regarded cartoons more as necessary evil than potential for profit and pleasure. Staff was rife with relatives, as if cartoon shops were dumping ground for family membership that couldn’t pack gear elsewhere. This was true all-round town, Disney not an exception. Freelance animators with workspace more like coat closets were always on alert for major distributor deals that could get their work seen. Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were two who wore down sidewalks before lucking into arrangement with Schlesinger to draw the cartoons he’d supply to Warners. Peddler Leon made no pretense to creative input, but he was wired to the money, and that made him boss over animating talent for fifteen years of WB cartooning before selling out for more cash than combined income of hired talent he underpaid from a start (Schlesinger wouldn’t invite any of help for weekend sails because he didn’t want “poor people on my boat”).




Earliest WB cartoons are mostly of “academic interest,” and best taken in that spirit should you sit for them. Bosko was a first try at star-making, all rubber limbs and impossible gags. He was a blank so far as personality, the humor largely humorless. Still, there was potential to do better. Thing about cartoons was they had to progress. Disney knew this best of anyone, which was why he went to Silly Symphonies in addition to Mickeys, and then embraced Technicolor. Warners and the rest were more-less sweepers behind elephant that was Walt, imitating what he did and hoping some of his reward might splatter their way. You can look at these copy-cats (so many!) and realize what a cynical enterprise animation then was. How could it be otherwise when theatres thought so little of them? Mickey Mouse was the only cartoon name they could display on a marquee. Suppose customers ever asked if there was a new Bosko on the bill? I look at early WB and think filler, chaser, loss leader … and then comes a clever patch as reminder that things would improve. If Disney had a significant rival, it was Max Fleischer, who had wit, fun, and irreverence, plus Betty Boop, and then Popeye. That’s two stars to Walt’s one. Fleischer cartoons were bolder than Disney content-wise, but aped him still with “Color Classics,” a group less committed to originality than keeping pace with picture postcards by the far superior Silly Symphonies.




Warners tried that route too, with Merrie Melodies. These were less beautiful than energetic, which meant they were funny where Symphonies were generally not. MM’s also had songs where Disney emphasized music. Warner asset was hits introduced in their 42nd Street and follow-ups that could migrate to Merrie Melodies and sprite them up, whereas Disney relied, had to rely, on tunes either Public Domain (classical, lullabies), or licensed for cheap. WB's was animation arrival of synergy, as in, for instance, Smile, Darn Ya, Smile, with a title tune spun endlessly for seven minutes. Idea was your stopping by the music store on ways home to buy the song sheet. Such dimes added up, and all of a sudden it looked like cartoons might pay off after all for Warner. They owned a large library of music, and these cheap reels kept them sung and whistled far past play-off of what Golddig chapter had introduced them. It’s the reason we know “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” and “We’re In The Money,” even if not mindful of other popular songs from 1932-33. These and others, were, of course, borrowed hits, none originating in Warner cartoons, to which Disney reasserted his top-of-heap status with the smash heard a first time, but endlessly thereafter, in The Three Little Pigs. The song was Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf, which summed up Depression woe in an upbeat way, plus giving all, as in every listener, a ditty to stick in the unconscious even if you weren’t singing it aloud. Cultural impact had never been so expressed as by this. Response to The Three Little Pigs may have been the moment Disney realized he could make Snow White a go.



To sort of summarize, then: Mickey Mouse, advantage Disney. This was how most people identified cartoons as a whole … Is there a Mickey Mouse today? No other character had meaningful presence, except Betty Boop, then more meaningfully, Popeye. And even highbrows loved Mickey, all of celebrities too, him called a “Best Actor” in Hollywood, and they weren’t kidding. Silly Symphonies, as in High Art that folks also enjoyed, and once Technicolor was applied, nothing else could approach them. Preference was made manifest by Academy Awards going routinely to Disney through the 30’s. Many gave up even trying to compete with him. WB did by being sassier, but Fleischer was there all along, though grit and urbanity of his may have distanced middle America, Warners’ a wider reach at least until Fleischer moved to Florida and saw ragged edge smoothed off (not a good thing, says his latter-day following). Warners to me falls into pre-Porky, post-Porky halves, at least with regard the 30’s. Former has the growth pains, some of it mighty painful, but none less than fascinating. Here is where we mine poor Bosko and hapless Buddy. I actually knew collectors who valued 16mm Buddy above all else. That was because he was so tough to locate. Watch some of his (three included on the Golden Collection --- Volume Six) and you will know why. Maybe three Buddys is enough toward satisfying our curiosities and being done with him. We could wonder how anyone imagined this character would click.




I got a Buddy cartoon in 1975, Viva Buddy, a trade for my black-and-white print of The Three Little Pigs (under heading of taking what you could get in those days). Viva Buddy was unique for pitting him against a Wallace Beery-caricatured Pancho Villa, a nifty notion I miss for not having seen the cartoon since then. There is a horrid transfer on You Tube, but other than that, Viva Buddy is nowhere. It stands as my favorite Buddy cartoon, which doesn’t say a lot, except that any lobster may hide a pearl. It took Porky Pig to make a star for Warners. To lead a cartoon market needed not one, but a stable of faces an audience would know and respond to. Bugs, Daffy, Elmer, numerous others to come, supplied that. Disney in the end had not so rich a group and was anyway focused on features. I can scarcely name a Disney short from 40’s forward to rival the best from Warners. Could these directors have lasted there?: Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones (I understand Jones tried, briefly). Rooting through 60+ cartoons in Volume Six reaffirmed notions from child era … 1. The WB B/W’s are curiosities, some good, all interesting, 2. Clampett, Tashlin, Avery, and Jones are the sure-fire directors for WB, their names assurance that I won’t bail out, and 3. Robert McKimson was a great animator, should have kept doing that instead of directing, because he just isn’t natured funny as the others (his Leghorns fine, largely because Foghorn’s voice works so well). All of foregoing are matters of opinion, of course, and certainly among animation following, can differ wildly. Perhaps I'll go an opposite direction when next I look at these (mood of the moment has much to do with enjoyment of cartoons), but who knows when that might be? 

34 Comments:

Blogger MikeD said...

Thanks for that well written and thoughtful beginning to the work week!

8:29 AM  
Blogger TodBrowning said...

What? No Freleng?

11:42 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

How did WB get away with Foxy ripping off Mickey Mouse so shamelessly?

2:15 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Complaints from mothers forced Disney to castrate Mickey Mouse opening the door for Popeye who got bowdlerized around 1940 opening the door for Bugs Bunny who did what Popeye and Mickey now couldn't and did it longer however Bugs ain't Bugs anymore.

Don't underestimate those early LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES. Sure a lot at once is one too many but in the four hour marathons I programmed in the 1970s and 80s they went over big.

Still do.

Ordinary folks like them. Gag cartoons developed because the directors at Schlesinger lacked the budgets for Disney style films. They Not being able to equal or surpass Disney at animation (in their minds) they opted for laughs and laughs they got and get.

Neat post.

2:58 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

Reading this, I started to wonder why the major studios didn't take more advantage of cartoon characters as identifiers and to put a "face" on the company. At least they wouldn't have to worry about them holding out for more money come contract renewal.

3:17 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

An excuse to Hold Forth on a pet obsession!

In the early 60s there was still a reasonable chance of seeing a cartoon at the movies, although it was likely to be newer Walter Lantz or Terrytoon product. Maybe a Pink Panther or Inspector. My demographic knew theatrical cartoons almost exclusively from television, and B&W hadn't been banished yet.

Yes, the Disneys were less flat-out funny than impressive, but they still entertained. Some played like magic acts or Fred Astaire in showoff mode. The Disney brothers had already been burned when they lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; now they clung to ownership and, I suspect, were already thinking in terms of re-releasability. Yes, there were period references and caricatures, but aside from explicitly WWII-themed shorts most of them could -- and did -- return to theaters and later to television, neatly spliced into present day plots.

Once past the primitive song-plugging, Warner was not only sassy but often served with an expiration date. As boomer kids we got that we were watching gags aimed at a very specific moment in the past. We also got that they were targeting adult audiences, which made them more intriguing (I'd never heard of a "stag reel", but the context and music in "What's Cooking Doc" drops broad hints). In adolescence and even adulthood it was a little thrill to suddenly get a reference (gas ration stickers explained), or to recognize an oft-caricatured personality like Ted Lewis ("Is everybody happy?"). The Warner house style felt quicker and more eccentric than all the Disney chasers, motion blurs and freezes anticipating UPA.

Walter Lantz was usually okay. Turning Andy Panda into an imitation of late-period Mickey Mouse worked better than it should have; softening Woody Woodpecker from a proudly obnoxious troublemaker to a generic Feisty Little Fellow was disappointing.

The Columbias were all over the map. The B&W series were Scrappy and Krazy Kat (the latter officially based on the comic strip but not remotely recognizable as such). They went from early 30s primitive to late 30s slick and dull, with flashes of spirit betwixt. Beyond them were Fox and Crow (pretty close to the decent comic book version), Li'l Abner (which didn't animate well), and lots of weird one-offs. They were only seen on Captain Satellite on KTVU-2 Oakland.

Warner Archive is releasing the Famous/Paramount Popeyes, and even with all the Fleischer hands still on board you can see the drift towards the childishness and tone-deaf violence that marked Casper, Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip, and those goofy singalongs (bought up and rebranded by Harvey, which published the comic book versions). These were cartoons you watched if the only alternative was soap operas.

Terrytoons, old or new, were cartoons you generally didn't want to be caught watching. Exceptions were the crazier Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckyl (sp?) toons, and the very late experiments like John Doormat.

The MGMs, including Tom and Jerry, had a peculiar way of softening the wildest violence with MGM gloss, much as their live action films made slums and battlefields pretty. Here's a symphonic performance of Scott Bradley's music for Tom and Jerry, which gets that flavor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYrUWfLlYI0

4:25 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

How wonderful it must have been to see these WB cartoons on the large screen. As a kid in the 60's, all we had was Deputy Dawg and the Pink Panther in the movie theaters. I was only allowed to watch an hour of Saturday morning cartoons on TV and my hour was the Bugs Bunny Show. Actually, Bugs only had one or two cartoons that hour with the rest filled with worthies such as Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Foghorn Leghorn. In the era I was watching the show, all of the cartoons were the old theatrical releases and not contemporary made for TV WB. Imagine the glee the WB bean counters experienced when they realized they could squeeze more money out of these cartoons by broadcasting them on television.
I found these pen and ink creations funnier and more fascinating than a lot of the human comedians on TV.
"You're gonna hurt someone
With that old shotgun,
Hey what's up Daaaawwwwwwcccc?
We really mean it,
What's
Up
Dawwwccccc"
Imagine showing that bit today.
Imagine the film collector rush when I scored an IB Tech Foghorn Leghorn, and the immense letdown when I realized someone had switched out the IB Tech intro with fading Eastman.
The generation who knew the WB cartoons in theaters are mostly gone now, and the subsequent generation who knew WB cartoons as prime TV entertainment are now taking their places in bingo halls and Golden Corrals.
"Overture, cut the lights
This is it, the night of nights.
No more rehearsing,
Or nursing a part,
We know every part by heart!"
Then there would be a shot of all the WB cartoon characters lined up, in top hats and tails, high kicking to the music. This scene had and unintended gravitas. What a line-up!
WB had more great cartoon characters than Disney ever had. I am almost 60 and I still love WB cartoons. My grandsons love old WB cartoons. These cartoons of the 30's through 50's (as well as all the other cinema at the time) were originally installation art, meant to bring in an audience for a few days and then cosigned to oblivion. The WB cartoons are still with us and have stood the test of time.
"On with the show this is it!"

4:52 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

I always thought the Fleischer "Color Classics" were kind of gross!

6:47 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

Anybody else out there get really frustrated as a kid when grownups thought that Disney made Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck?

6:49 PM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Every once in a while, a director could sneak something through at Disney.

Three later Disney shorts I would recommend would be Hockey Homicide, Duck Pimples and Plutopia. Hockey Homicide is probably the most violent Disney short and the climax is frenetic. It was one of a series of sports parodies starring Goofy and directed by Jack Kinney. Sports were the excuse for broad, violent action that was alien to the Disney sensibility. Duck Pimples is an odd parody of a mystery radio show that contains some great animation. Plutopia has a cat character voiced by Jim Backus that is clearly a masochist and probably gay.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

FYI: When we used Bosko in a "Tiny Toon Adventures" episodes, the brilliant storyboard artist/director Barry Caldwell pointed out that we needed to proceed with caution since Bosko is basically a cartoon character in blackface. It turns out Hugh Harmon registered Bosko with the copyright office on 3 January 1928. In that registration, the character was described as a "Negro boy" under the name of Bosko. For that reason alone, Bosko, who was never a very funny or interesting character, still has the power to offend even to this day.

9:16 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES!! WARNER BROS. CARTOONS! WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK CARTOONS! May they always be shown continuous until the end of time, on a movie screen somewhere in this World, forever! These favorites remain at the top my list as some of the most scripted -funniest, most hilariously animated CARTOONS in the history of the Cinema. .

4:11 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Right from the start censorship has been the bane of theatrical animated cartoons: Columnist Terry Ramsaye reported in the MOTION PICTURE HERALD of February 28, 1931:

"Mickey Mouse, the artistic offspring of Walt Disney, has fallen afoul of the censors in a big way, largely because of his amazing success. Papas and Mamas, especially Mamas, have spoken vigorously to censor boards and elsewhere about what a devilish, naughty little mouse Mickey turned out to be. Now we find that Mickey is not to drink, smoke, or tease the stock in the barnyard. Mickey has been spanked. It is the old, old story. If nobody knows you, you can do anything, and if everybody knows you, you can’t do anything – except what every one approves, which is very little of anything. It has happened often enough among the human stars of the screen and now it gets even the little fellow in black and white who is no thicker than a pencil mark and exists solely in a state of mind."

Charlie Chaplin's success, like Mickey's spawned a lot of imitators. That's the industry. Copy what's hot until it ain't. The illustration on your banner looks what more interesting than anything that we see in Paul Terry's films.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Anyone offended by Bosko needs to get a life. Mae West was the first white woman to kiss a Black man on stage. In New York it had top be a white actor in Black face. In Washington it was a Black actor.

Blackface was a step towards getting Black artists on stage in white theatres.

It was an important step. Harman and Ising retained the rights to Bosko who moved to MGM with them.

The people who follow always lack the boldness of the original creators. The people who follow them are like the pod people in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.There's always a vital spark missing.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The arrival of Tex Avery more than the arrival of Porky Pig is the kick off point for Warner cartoons. He looked at the films done up to then then picked out Porky as the character with most promise. After that Avery gets locked into a gag format that made the most of the small budget he had. The addition of Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones plus Bobo Canon (whom he brought with him from Lantz plus their youth provided the rebel environment required for real creativity to work.

Rebellion, conventionally seen as a sin, is a sign of intelligence and of having a spine.

When Clampett became a director he was put in charge of black and white LOONEY TUNES. In those he developed Porky Pig into the star he became.

Clampett stated he introduced the idea of Porky based on Campbell's Pork And Beans. His story sketch was Clampett's Porky and Beans. Final credit for the birth of Porky rests with Friz Freleng who introduced Porky in two color color in I HAVEN'T GOT A HAT. Freleng, though, never elaborated the character. It was Avery and Clampett who did that with a boost from Chuck Jones and Frank Tashlin.

I like McKimson as a director. His GORILLA MY DREAMS is a big favourite. I have seen audiences laugh themselves silly at his films.

Ironically while Schlesinger and those who followed him allowed each director to do his own thing once Chuck Jones was made unit head he imposed a house style (his style) on the other directors. That did not work to their benefit. It is ironic that an artist robbed them off the freedom the money men gave them.

That freedom was an essential ingredient.

As to revivals of the characters I'd rather that like Cagney and Bogart they be allowed to rest.

Their honour is of a time and place alien to the world we now live in.

That spirit of rebellion so vital to creative success is almost completely lacking today especially in animation.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I suspect that Mickey Mouse made his reputation in the early cartoons, when the character was a little wiseguy with a crude sense of humor, victimizing barnyard animals and laughing to himself. Of course, later he became sweeter and gentler. Which is exactly what happened with Charlie Chaplin — he made his name in the Keystone comedies, where his earthy "tramp" character found low humor in anything he touched — only to become sentimental and sympathetic as the years passed.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Oops! I think I left my comment about old cartoons on the wrong Post/comment page by mistake and I think I'm too tuckered to repeat it! Anyway, I love old theatrical cartoons from all eras and studios. Can't get enough of them!

10:08 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

What an im-bezzle!
I never thought Disney cartoons were funny, save for some Goofy "How to play..." shorts.

When Porky came to WB, WB conquered cartoons. What helped was that money was tight and the bosses didn't give a rat's ass what the directors and animators did.
Boy, when I finally realized why the Loony Tunes dogs went so nuts for a tree....
Was Droopy M-G-M?

"I killed the wabbit..."

10:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Here is Dave K's comment that went to the wrong Post/Comment Page:


Betty Boop, Bosko, Buddy, Tom & Jerry (human), Tom & Jerry (not human), Scrappy, Wiffle Piffle, Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, Little Lulu, Little Audrey, Little Roquefort, Lil' Swee'pea, the Little King, Farmer Al Falfa, Krazy Kat, Felix the Cat, Julius the Cat, Henry the Cat, Katnip, Mickey, Minnie, Flip, Cubby, Foxy, Oswald, Kiko, Puddy, Pudgey, Pooch, Grampy, Gabby (well, maybe not so much Gabby), Goofy, Gandy, Dippy, Droopy, Screwball, Dingbat, Dimwit, Porky, Daffy, Bugs, Beaky, Speedy, Sniffles, Foghorn, Wile E., Pepe, Elmer (as in Fudd), Elmer (as in Elephant), the Road Runner, the Fox, the Crow, the Ant, the Aardvark, Donald (sailor suit, not bone spurs), Daisy, Huey, Dewey, Looie, Mortie, Ferdie, Knothead, Spinter, Pipeye, Peepeye, Poopeye, Pupeye, Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Wally Walrus, Buzz Buzzard, Cuddles, Sugarfoot, Mighty Mouse, Hubie, Bert, Willie Whopper, Yosemite Sam, Sea-Goin' Sam, Sahara Sam, Baron Sam Von Schpamm, the Duke of Yosemite, Tweety and Sylvester, Swifty and Shorty, Heckle and Jeckle, Ickle and Pickle, Hunky and Spunky, George and Junior and so, so, so many more... old time theatrical cartoon characters. I love 'em all!

Black and white or color, 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, even 60's, I love old cartoons and, no, I am not uncritical. I can tell the difference between a Paul Terry Aesop's Fable and a Tex Avery Red Hot Riding hood. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy both. The 16mm features are, for the most part, long gone from my shelves. But the dozens of those little animated gems are still neatly stacked, ready for frequent review in the movie room.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Dave K. The digital restoration cartoons coming out especially from Ray Pointer,Steve Stanchfield's THUNDERBEAN, and Tommy Jose Stathes leave my eyes drooling. We are in a golden era for film preservation and restoration. they all, as the saying goes, do so much with so little.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I will add that gorgeous as this work is nothing comes close to the thrill of ordering a 16mm print of a classic cartoon, taking a chance on the quality of it 'cause sometimes we got burned. Then we waited for it to arrive. When it did we loaded it onto our projectors. At that moment we discovered the print was absolutely wonderful, way better than we dared hope.

Of course we paid more for that single cartoon than people now pay for a DVD or a Blu-ray of an entire feature film with bonus material.

People complain about the price of DVDS and Blu-rays.

We've come a long way from those 16mm prints that got faded color, scratches, splices, vinegar syndrome, warped, and more over time.

It's been a great journey.

Then there was the 16mm Castle grainy Ansco color print I got of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE with Woody Woodpecker. Happy to have a gorgeous DVD of that! Shamus Culhane, the film's director, became a very great friend.

6:18 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

@Kevin K.: This is just speculation, but I can think of two possible reasons why Disney might not have sued WB over Foxy's resemblance to Mickey Mouse:

1. Foxy appeared in only three cartoons, all released within two months of each other, and had no particular cultural impact compared to the much more popular Mickey. Disney might have seen Foxy as no threat to Mickey.

2. Mickey himself bore some resemblance to other previous characters, particularly Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who had been created by Disney himself while working for Universal Studios, but to whom Disney had lost the rights. If Disney had been able to successfully sue Warner Bros. over Foxy, Universal might have been prompted to sue Disney over Mickey's resemblance to Oswald. (Universal's chance of winning the lawsuit might not have been as good, but on the other hand the stakes would have been much higher since Mickey was a much more valuable character.)

As I said, this is all just speculation.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

John... can you clear something up about cartoon distribution?

Did theaters get a cartoon that accompanied a certain feature, and did those then travel around together? or did studios send out the cartoons separately and theaters could play them with whatever they had?

Lastly... was there crossover with other studio features? I.e....would you find a Mickey Mouse cartoon playing with an MGM feature or a WB feature? If you were a Paramount theater, did you ever have the option to show Mickey Mouse or Tom & Jerry?

Sorry for all the questions...just never quite understood how the cartoon distribution worked...

Thanks!

9:08 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Cartoons weren't tied to individual features or particular studio product. They usually rented at a flat rate and could play wherever an exhibitor needed them. Disney cartoons during the 50/60's often ran as part of packages that would include a feature, perhaps a latest True-Life Adventure, and then a cartoon to make an evening of it. I do not think overall cartoon distribution was subject to any set policy, at least during the Studio Era.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

There were many Mickey Mouse rip-offs. It was not until Paul Terry did one that was almost more Mickey than Mickey that Disney sued. And, of course, Disney has been suing ever since.o


Ironically, Disney got into the business by modelling his films on Paul Terry's which were then the hottest.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Disney also sued Van Beuren and Pathe in March 1931, charging the companies with copyright infringement by creating imitations of Mickey and Minnie. Disney was demanding that Ven Beuren's knock-offs be dropped. Also a full accounting of profits from the offending cartoons, which Disney claimed amounted to more than $1,000,000. Who said there was no money to be made in cartoons?

That much I've found in old newspapers online. Haven't been able to find the specifics of who prevailed (presumably Disney) and by how much.

Given my age, the only theatrical cartoons I remember seeing in theaters were Walt Lantz ones at the drive-in. That's aside from the reissue shorts Disney would sometimes tack on to a feature. DePatie-Freleng cartoons were supposedly distributed theatrically in the 1960s and '70s, but I never saw one outside Saturday mornings, so I've never been sure how many theaters actually played the things.

I used to live where there was a theater that ran a "classic film" feature every Sunday afternoon, usually preceded by a Warner Bros. cartoon. It was a wonderful thing to see those cartoons with an appreciative live audience after years of seeing them on TV, just me and my brother.

My grandfather once told me that when going to the movies back in the day, he and many other men used the cartoon as an excuse to head to the lobby for a cigarette. Unless it was Bugs Bunny. My grandfather liked those.

It's true that shorts weren't tied to features. These days people tend to assume that MGM cartoons always played with MGM features, Warner cartoons with Warner features, etc. All you have to do is look at old movie theater ads to see that this wasn't so. It's very typical to find, for example, something like an MGM "A" feature playing on the same bill with a Columbia "B" feature, a Paramount cartoon, and a Fox newsreel.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

I worked at a movie theatre in my hometown for a couple years in the early 90s and when I left, one of the dusty booth items that somehow found its way into my car was an empty single-reel film canister with a handwritten note taped to it reading "Pink Panther Cartoon." Considering it was a shopping center theatre that first opened in 1969, I think it's safe to say at least a small part of the DePatie-Freleng output was screened there at some point. Can't exactly pinpoint when though.

It's pretty amazing that DP-F had so many theatrical cartoon series in the pipeline at various times through about 1976 (Pink Panther, Inspector, Ant & Aardvark, Roland & Ratfink, Blue Racer, Hoot Kloot, etc.), so some demand must've been there. A DP-F episode guide I have notes that a new series of PP cartoons was produced for Saturday morning television in 1978 but each was released theatrically as well, with full credits and MPAA certificate numbers. The last of this series, SUPERMARKET PINK, was released in 1980.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

The Harman-Ising-created character Bosko was a "Negro Boy," according to copyright records. He was a cartoon character in blackface.

Reg Hartt wrote: "Anyone offended by Bosko needs to get a life."

Since Reg Hartt is not black or African-American, I'm pretty sure he doesn't get to decide what is and is not offensive to African Americans when it comes to cartoon characters in blackface.

As for Mr. Hartt's subsequent sentences: "Mae West was the first white woman to kiss a Black man on stage. In New York it had to be a white actor in Black face. In Washington it was a Black actor."

Ummm.....

Random!

Also from Mr. Hartt: "Blackface was a step towards getting Black artists on stage in white theatres."

Arguable. Originally, blackface was a way for white actors to parody black performers. It was not done altruistically to help black performers reach the mainstream stage. It was to make a buck.

If an online article, Mr. Hartt states that his favorite film ever is D.W. Griffith's "Birth Of A Nation." In this film, which was originally called "The Clansman" and portrayed the KKK in a positive light, many of the black characters are portrayed by white actors in blackface.

So maybe before a screening of "Birth of A Nation," Mr. Hartt can schedule a Bosko retrospective. See if anyone gets offended by the shorts or the feature and needs to get a life.

8:12 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A few questions about exhibition:

-- Did studio-owned chains run a serious percentage of competitors' products, or were the vertical monopolies pretty strong?

-- Under block booking, did a block of features include shorts as well as the inevitable Bs? Could block booking effectively turn an exhibitor into a franchisee by pushing a package that filled his schedule?

-- Recall reading that when Columbia distributed Disney cartoons, it used them as loss leaders. That is, exhibitors could get the wildly popular Disneys cheap, but only bundled with less desirable (and less cheap) Columbia product -- neatly skimming the returns. Did other independents, like Hal Roach, have this kind of trouble?

-- How much control did/do studios have over how their films are exhibited? You've written of how Disney, once they distributed their own films, pushed all-Disney programs of feature and shorts after the majors seemingly resigned themselves to double features (unlike Disney, they had enough output to supply both halves of a double bill). Could Disney or anybody else prevent an exhibitor from teaming features with somebody else's toons, or running it on a double bill with somebody else's feature? Exhibitors pushed back on price tags -- did they push back on other conditions?

11:02 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

At least, during the 1960s, when a theatre played a Disney feature, a sparkling brand-new print of a Disney cartoon always came with the Disney feature.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

There are a number of reasons why I like THE BIRTH OF A NATION. The fact that it features the Ku Klux Klan is not one of those reasons.

Folks did not do blackface with the idea it would open the door to Black artists. Yes, they did it to make a living. Some, like Jolson, raised it to an art.

Nonetheless, the fruit of their work for whatever reasons they did it was that it began the process of getting Black artists on stage.

Black artists were kept off stage by the Church and the State. Organized Crime by employing Black artists in bars, clubs and speakeasies did more than all the well wishers to advance Black Art and Culture. Yes, they did it to make a buck. Making a buck they shared those bucks. We owe Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Waller and others to the fact that Dutch Shultz loved whorehouse music which is what Jazz began as. The Church (Black and white) called Jazz "The Devil's music." Thank God for The Devil.

That Mae West was the first white woman to kiss a Black actor on stage is not rumour. It's documented in her many biographies.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION being 3 hours long, the program, with my talk, being close to 5 hours, I'm not going to add an hour of Bosko or any other short films to it. Lest you think folks would not want to listen to me for two hours, take a gander here: https://www.ranker.com/list/famous-male-orators/reference. They have and they do.

THE BIRTH OF NATION is the big bang of the movies. It remains the most important and still, one hundred and more years later, properly presented the most powerful.

We have much to learn from D. W. Griffith. We have much to thank him for. Griffith himself stated for all the film achieved it would have been better in retrospect that it had not been made. I'm with Griffith. It was made, however, and it deserves proper and unbiased study.

It cannot be faulted because its attitudes and ideas are the ideas and attitudes of its day. What it does is allow us to see clearly those attitudes and ideas. Seeing them clearly we know how wrong they were. It is a warning to us in our time to be very careful about the attitudes and ideas our culture holds eye.

In an America that has elected as President a man who wants to build walls THE BIRTH becomes even more important to study and think about.

In my country, Canada, we have a man running for highest office who thinks he can trump our current Prime Minister by offering to build walls.

Griffith was a man far more astute and caring than are his many and vociferous critics.

My two favourite films are Lon Chaney in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) and Charlie Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS (1931), both for their endings.

THE BIRTH I recognize as a great and important film.

It is not, however, a favourite.

The issue in THE BIRTH is not about race. There are no separate races. That idea is a fiction conjured up by lazy scientists. The issue is the old issue of working class and them that puts them to work. It is, as the Brits put it, "Upstairs/downstairs." Always has been. Always will be.

The issue in THE BIRTH is not about race. There are no separate races. That idea is a fiction conjured up by lazy scientists. The issue is the old issue of working class and them that puts them to work. It is, as the Brits put it, "Upstairs/downstairs."

Always has been. Always will be.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

"Since Reg Hartt is not black or African-American, I'm pretty sure he doesn't get to decide what is and is not offensive to African Americans when it comes to cartoon characters in blackface."

But Tom, that's the trouble: when Bosko, the Censored 11 or the like are discussed, rarely if ever do I see negative opinions from African Americans. Rarely do I see their opinions at all. It's always whites getting offended on their behalf, which strikes me as more than a little condescending. Yeah, the NAACP raised a stink around '68, but that was half a century ago. Do African Americans really believe that films made 75-105 years ago that are rarely shown publicly (and when they are, it's always with an apologetic disclaimer) are a problem?

I thought at the time, and still do, that shtick like Jimmie Walker's "Dy-no-MITE!" in every episode of GOOD TIMES was more disparaging and harmful in the long run than anything in a Bosko cartoon.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

African Americans have plenty to deal with on a daily basis without bothering to state that racist cartoons are racists.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Columbia used to include the Three Stooges shorts in block-booking deals -- any exhibitor who wanted them (Columbia's top shorts attraction) had to take Columbia's lesser features as well. Moe Howard found this out from exhibitors when he was touring in the 1960s.

I've said this before, but I can't resist: Columbia reissued Buster Keaton's two-reelers while he was making the "Beach Party" pictures, and I can just imagine some pushy Columbia booker saying, "You can't have GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM unless you take PARDON MY BERTH MARKS!"

1:38 PM  

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