Animation History
August 29, 2016 posted by

Cartoons Considered For An Academy Award – 1948

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a new series articles I plan to regularly post that dives a little deeper into the history of the Academy Award For Best Animated Short Subject. I am still in the process of researching the earliest years of this particular Oscar category, so please bear with me as I am not presenting these posts in chronologic order. – Jerry Beck


Academy_Award_trophy175We all know which short cartoons have won the Oscars since the category was established by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1931-32. We also have easy access to find which films were the nominees in this category.

But have you ever wondered why One Froggy Evening or King Size Canary were never nominated? How could What’s Opera Doc? not win – or even be nominated? I’ve wondered about this too. A few years ago at a Chuck Jones exhibition in the Academy lobby there was an interesting piece of paperwork framed on the wall – a 1950s-era memo to the Shorts Branch indicating which films the committee members would consider of that year.

It indicated some unusual animated films I’d never heard of – as well as cartoons from Terrytoons, Famous Studios and Universal that clearly had no chance against the Hollywood giants. This has intrigued me for years. What other films did the committee screen for consideration? Which cartoons did Seymour Kneitel, Paul Terry, Walt Disney, Steve Bosustow, Fred Quimby, Walter Lantz and others even deem worthy for submitting to the Academy? What were some of the independent and foreign films submitted, if any, and where are they?

It took me a while to get around to looking into this, but I finally have. And thanks to librarian Libby Wertin (at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library) we have tracked down many of these internal memos (they were not easy to locate – even within Academy walls – and the hunt is still ongoing). What they reveal needs to be shared and discussed with readers of this blog.


The_Little_Orphan-150H1948

And the nominees were…

MICKEY AND THE SEAL (Disney) Charles Nichols
MOUSE WRECKERS (Warner Bros.) Chuck Jones
ROBIN HOODLUM (UPA) John Hubley
TEA FOR TWO HUNDRED (Disney) Jack Hannah

And the Oscar went to…

THE LITTLE ORPHAN (MGM), Fred Quimby Producer – Bill Hanna & Joseph Barbera, directors.


Submitted, screened, but NOT nominated were:

BASE BRAWL (Famous Studios)
HEP CAT SYMPHONY (Famous Studios)
TAMING THE CAT (Terrytoons)
THE 3 MINNIES (Impossible Pictures/Republic)
WAGS TO RICHES (MGM) Tex Avery
WILD AND WOODY (Walter Lantz)

Here’s the documentation:

Academy-Cartoons-1948

I do not know the names of all the members of the Academy’s shorts branch in 1948 – but can you picture MGM’s Fred Quimby, Universal cartoon producer Walter Lantz, veteran Warner Bros. (live) shorts producer Gordon Hollingshead (“Joe McDoakes” among much else), RKO Shorts producer Cedric Francis, and documentary shorts producer George Bilson – can you imagine them screening Famous Studios’ Base Brawl or Heckle and Jeckle in Taming The Cat? I can’t. Or at least not without imagining them turning those cartoons off after two minutes.

Eleven films were submitted. Five made the cut. Let’s take a look at the films didn’t make it…

BASE BRAWL

I always wondered why Paramount took a full page advertisement in the Hollywood trades for this cartoon, and now we know why – they were running a campaign to win an Oscar (well, that and trying to establish their new Screen Song series – and I’d have to suppose Seymour Kneitel thought this one was a laugh riot).

Base-Brawl-600

A very generic cartoon, with many old “pun” gags (the bat boy is a “bat”; a high-ball is pitched as a cocktail, etc.), even Jackson Beck’s narration seems lackluster. While the animation of the ball players is spirited, overall its not quite an Oscar worthy cartoon… 1948’s The Land of The Lost was more ambitious, Butterscotch and Soda was more elaborate and Symphony In Spinach were much funnier films from Famous that year – but this is what they submitted. So go figure.


hep-cat-symphony-titleHEP CAT SYMPHONY

One of those “musical competition” cartoons Famous did so well – over and over again, here and at every studio in Hollywood – this one being a template for the forthcoming Herman & Katnip series – despite the fact that, while both characters were already established, are not used here. The Dave Tendlar timing and Marty Taras animation is superb. Love the timing of the piano falling through the floor; the cat’s emergence and the reveal of the 88 keys in his mouth. This was certainly a logical choice to submit to the Academy, and it would have been nice to see a Famous get some industry recognition – but it was not to be.


TAMING THE CAT

It’s debatable if this was the best Terrytoon of 1948 – but its certainly a good one (by Terrytoon standards). With a story by John Foster(!), direction by Connie Rasinski (!!), with animation by Jim Tyer (2:40-3:18) and Carlo Vinci animating that catchy Durante-esque song (“Get A Couple Of Song Birds Today!” by Phil Schieb), sung with proper enthusiasm by Dayton Allen – what could go wrong? Thanks for the submission, Mr. Terry, but not today.


WAGS TO RICHES

This is clearly the best cartoon that was NOT nominated (of those submitted). A prime MGM Tex Avery Droopy (one of my favorite ones, in fact) – but it was produced during the same eligibility period that included Little Tinker, Lucky Ducky, and Bad Luck Blackie, all of them classics – so why not submit one of them? And among the nominees: is there anyone here who thinks Tea For Two Hundred, or even Mickey and The Seal, are better cartoons than this?


WILD AND WOODY

Another great one overlooked. One of the Dick Lundy Woody cartoons with funny animation by Freddy Moore, Pat Matthews, Ed Love, Ken O’Brien, LaVerne Harding and Les Kline. For more information about the animation on this film – via Devon Baxter – click here.

This was one of Walter Lantz’ independent United Artists releases, submitted during his studio closure. He could have used the nomination just now… and as part of the Shorts Branch executive committee, the rejection must have hurt.


And finally…

impossible_pictures_logo-600

THE THREE MINNIES

In the 1948-49 season, Republic Pictures released a quartet of cartoons under the banner “Jerky Journeys”. Low budget satires of travelogues, written and produced by radio comedy-writer Leonard Lewis Levinson, and narrated by Frank Nelson (“Yeeeeesss”). Levinson wrote the films in such a way as to have as little animation as possible, and convinced Republic that this would be a perfect showcase for their cut-rate “TruColor” (red & green) film process.

An early example of what Chuck Jones might term “illustrated radio”, background painters and designers such as Art Heinemann, Pete Alvarado, Bob Gribbroek, Paul Julian and effects animator Miles Pike helped bring these “cartoons” to life. Our colleague Don Yowp posted several clippings about the Impossible Pictures Jerky Journies on his TRALFAZ blog.

One of the films, The 3 Minnies: Sota, Tonka and Ha-Ha, was submitted for an Academy Award. Here is a rare copy of this cartoon (thank you, Mark Kausler):

36 Comments

  • The “Jerky Journey” was worth this post alone. I can really see why Jones would call it “illustrated radio”!
    PS: In no way can I see a Screen Song winning an Oscar.

    • I have to admit I enjoyed it as well. It plays like a classroom educational film that went gloriously off the rails. Favorite detail, totally unstressed: The paleface statue outside the tobacco shop.

      Very curious about others in the series. Could they find enough material too make the format worth?

  • A fantastic read indeed, please keep these coming Jerry!

    I sure would love to find out which unlucky shorts didn’t make it to the 1941 nominations, and why the Academy thought Lend a Paw deserved the award more than any of these besides classics like Rhapsody in Rivets or Fleischer Studio’s Superman

  • Thanks, Jerry!
    Magnificent post! Hope other ones like this will follow. I always wanted to know more about this!

  • Ouch! You had to drag my favorite animation studio into this post about being nominated. I thought “Mickey and the Seal” was the last good cartoon with Mickey (or at least with him having a memorable scene). Yes, “Wags to Riches” was very good (MGM ended up remaking it in Cinemascope form ten year later), and should’ve been nominated, but I found “Seal” nice as well even if it isn’t frantic.

    As for “Tea for Two Hundred”, I like this Donald short and find it memorable but maybe “Wags to Riches” could’ve gone into it’s place. And yes, I’m going to be biased for Disney in this series of articles.

    • At least Mickey and the Seal got to the nominee section at all. Of course Disney doesn’t need to win everytime but the Academy still gave them a nod year after year.

    • I know that. And for the record, I thought “The Little Orphan” was a good choice to win the Oscar.

    • It was either that or the brief few frames of Mickey’s southern exposure!
      http://i.imgur.com/rTvT2JF.jpg

  • “Tea for Two Hundred” is one of my favorite Donald Duck cartoons. I’m glad that it got nominated, but “Wags to Riches” should have also gotten nominated. As for “The Three Minnies,” I thought that “It’s a Grand Old Nag” was the only cartoon made for Republic Picture.

  • One has to wonder just how the cartoons were actually judged. Did the voters really judge every animation studio by the Disney template? Or did they just nominate Disney because he was Disney and the rest be damned? I, too, like “WAGS TO RICHES” and I also like “WILD AND WOODY”. It is ironic that you uploaded the “WOODY WOODPECKER SHOW” copy of this cartoon as opposed to its original theatrical version. I remember recording the audio portion of this cartoon from that very show onto reel-to-reel tape and playing it often, but I didn’t realize that this was an Academy Awards nominee. This has got some great dialogue throughout, but I’d love to slow down that version of “Oh Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie”, just to listen to the words that Woody is singing. Perhaps a future installment here would be to take animation fans’ votes for each year as to what they would have chosen if they actually had a say. Yeah, I know–the “greatest hits” would probably still remain the greatest hits.

  • If it exists, I would absolutely love to see those that the Academy considered in 1943! If they didn’t even consider Red Hot Riding Hood, then something’s up.

  • Regarding why certain Famous Studios cartoons were presented for consideration over others, it was Paramount management and Sam Buchwald who were largely responsible here. Surely cartoons like WEE MEN and the others mentioned were more inspired and outstanding. The same can be said when the Fleischer cartoons were offered for Oscar competition starting in 1936. This was by Paramount, who entirely missed it opportunity to petition for a “Special Achievement” Oscar for POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR in its pioneering effort in its expanded length, or two-reeler format that preceeded Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated film SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. While SINDBAD was nominated, it had no chance against the Disney submission, THE COUNTRY COUSIN. Yet in 1938, SNOW WHITE was given the “Special Achivement” Award. This is just another example of the irony of the industry both in perception and promotion.

  • Great new series, Jerry. One thing I don’t know, does it cost money (other than possible advertising) to submit a film for nomination to the Academy?

    • I don’t have a finite answer – and rules for Academy film submissions change every year – but in general, back in 1948, it probably wouldn’t have cost member studios an extra fee to submit a short for consideration. All the studios paid huge annual membership dues to the Academy which included the rights to submit films in every category.

      I’m not sure if Republic Pictures was a dues paying member of the Academy (though I think they were); Impossible Pictures was probably not. I have a feeling Levinson himself did whatever was required to qualify his film for consideration.

      These days, I do not believe there is a fee to the Academy to submit a film, but there are many rules – and costs required to meet them (from getting the short screened in New York and L.A., advertising the screenings, and various shipping and publicity costs).

  • Great idea for a series, Jerry! Thanx!

    Mostly because I’m old and grumpy, I’m cynical of the Academy Awards in general. I can’t be dissuaded from thinking that palms are routinely greased, and that some films are never even viewed simply for lack of PR muscle. And this has probably gone on forever. I presume Disney got a ‘gimme’ nomination every year.

    Oh yeah, Wags is the class of this list, hands down. But 1948 was such a rich year. I wonder what the process was; did studios submit what they thought was their best, or at least what they thought had a chance to win?

    Thanks for the Republic short; I had no idea these existed. They spared no expense for their opening title footage, huh? Ha ha. Other than that, this is an awful cartoon. Again, I wonder how the nominees are generated to begin with.

    It’s always easy to assume Terry was The Worst Cartoon Studio Ever, because the suggestion is repeated constantly. Upon further review there were more than a few gems, and Taming is one of them. Certainly light-years better than the Disney, Paramount and Republic entries. Nice print, by the way.

    Keep ’em comin’!

  • Thanks for this series, Jerry. From what little I’ve seen of these documents in the past, it’s obvious that the lack of Oscar recognition for the Warner Bros. cartoons wasn’t due to the Academy ignoring them, but Warners, Schlesinger, and Selzer’s poor promotion. Does anyone honestly think the average Warner cartoon screened in a block of all the studios’ shorts would not get enough votes for a nomination? Clearly Bugs Bunny, the most popular cartoon star of all-time, took almost twenty years to become “that Oscar-winning rabbit” because the cartoons were just about never even submitted.

    • One thing I have noticed is how many Oscar awards and nominations that Warner Brothers received for its live action shorts and, to be fair, it was the most prolific and arguably the best in the business there. Sure, Columbia had the Three Stooges and MGM had Pete Smith and “Crime Does Not Pay”. Yet more Warner shorts were in Technicolor than any other studio. Also their black and white, but very creative, jazzy “Melody Masters” and Joe McDoakes comedies still hold up surprisingly well today even against the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies.

      With this logic, I think the cartoons were sometimes ignored because so many of the studio’s other shorts were getting included in the other categories, including the One Reel, Two Reel and Documentary Short categories. In the fifties, Robert Youngson’s documentary shorts for the studio were doing almost as well as Disney’s “True Life Adventures” and UPA’s “Jolly Frolics” and Mr. Magoo, which meant that ONE FROGGY EVENING likely got passed in favor of GADGETS GALORE.

    • Then again, SPEEDY GONZALES did win that year.

  • I can see why the others failed to impress. Most are hack, with The Three Minnies barely over Clutch Cargo level. The Hep Cat Symphony is the only one with promise, especially considering the uninspired work of Famous Studios by then. However, you can see immediately the problem. There’s no detail in the drawing of the clarinet the cat is playing. Disney and MGM were quite detailed at the time and that might have been the secret to them being considered on a higher plane.

  • This is a great idea for a continuing series. The yearly lists of cartoon shorts nominated for the Oscar have so often been a puzzlement. How could the greatest Avery, Jones and Freleng pictures not receive this recognition? This is excellent historical scholarship, Jerry. I look forward to future installments.

    So help me, I fell a little thrill when I noticed that my favorite Heckle & Jeckle short, TAMING THE CAT, was on the shortlist memo. A question I’ve long had regarding this short: Was “A Couple of Songbirds” an original Schieb composition written for the cartoon, or was it a existing song?

    • Unless it was public domain, it was an original–Terry made it clear to Phil Scheib that he didn’t want any music that he would have to clear and pay for.

  • I love this idea for a series of posts. And I love the fact that a Tex Avery cartoon was submitted, let alone one of my favorites. At least, he’ll always have “Blitz Wolf” and “Little Johnny Jet” to his credit. Out of the ones that were nominated but didn’t win, I easily like “Robin Hoodlum” (UPA) the best. It’s my favorite UPA cartoon; if it had won, it would tie with DePatie-Freleng as the only cartoon to win an Oscar with its’ first cartoon short. But enough alternate history…..

    • UPA’s entry certainly stuck out like a sore thumb next to the other guys that year. Glad the studio’s first short for Columbia managed to get a spot for the Oscars at all given the competition.

  • “Base Brawl” being one of the initial ‘official’ revivals of the Screen Songs (as opposed to the test efforts in the Noveltoons series), Paramount may have been hoping some sort of nostalgia factor would sway the nominating committee. Waste of money and effort, especially since the studio had several other cartoons (including “Hep Cat Symphony”) that were so much better.

    (It’s also interesting to ponder if being on the East Coast was another negative factor for both Famous and Terrytoons, as far as the nomination process goes. Neither “HCS” nor “Taming the Cat” might have been worth of the Oscar, but as noted above, seen in almost 70 years hindsight, they’re funnier and less cloying than either of the two Disney nominees for the year.

  • Makes you wonder why Olive Oyl for President,Back Alley Uproar,The Cat That Hated People,Gorilla My Dreams,The Mad Hater, Buccaneer Bunny and Banquet Busters were “snubbed” by The Oscars for consideration for the 1948 Oscar for Best Animated Short.

  • After watching that video, Jerky Journeys sounded like a decent opportunity. At least it got four cartoons made unlike Bob Clampett’s supposed cartoon series under the same company, which only got one cartoon out. About 16 years earlier, Romer Grey’s cartoon series (Binko the Bear Cub) suffered the same fate as Bob Clampett’s too, although no cartoon was released at all and two were ready for duping. A bear cub would not star as a main character until three years later when Cubby the Bear showed up in R.K.O. theaters.

    Lurking around with DuckDuckGo search, some online info and a picture refers to one other Jerky Journey, Romantic Rumbolia having a existing 35mm element, yet it’s more faded than this 16mm one. Jerry’s previous article (on another site he used to write) said that other two that made it don’t have any existing prints, but that could have changed by now within the recent years. It’s good to know that there’s one copy of a Jerky Journey in the public at all.

  • The script for “The Three Minnies” is based upon “The Three Trees”, a recitation-with-orchestra made famous by Tom McNaughton, who recorded it for the Victor in 1911.

    It was re-recorded electrically for the Victor in 1928 by Frank Crumit.

    It was even revived around 1948 by the King Cole Trio, of all people!

    McNaughton’s version is on YT as is e King Cole Trio version. Crumit’s is not, nor is it a particularly common record.

    Actually, in 1942 and 1943, there seems to have been no “vetting” of studio submissions–all were nominated. This explains why “All Out For ‘V'” got a nomination in 1942: it was Terrytoons’ submission.

    The same procedure was used for “Best Song” in 1944 and 1945–which explains how songs from two PRC pictures got Oscar nods in those years.

  • This may be a silly tidbit to add here, but while those “Screen Songs” of Famous/Paramount may not be favorites of today’s animation geeks, they still blended in well with all of the other vintage shorts of the later forties. Most of these tended to be in live-action with only minimum animation used on occasion. Apparently several studios had their own variation of the “follow the dancing ball” singalong. Columbia’s “Community Sing” series stretched back to January 1937 and continued chugging away through the summer of 1949. These differ somewhat from the cartoons as you can see in this 1939 entry, which lacks lyrics on screen as some of the later entries had: https://media.dlib.indiana.edu/media_objects/avalon:14307

    Warner Brothers followed their “Melody Masters” in 1947 with a “Memories from Melody Lane” that were roughly one half behind-the-music documentary (with delightfully gusto narration by Art Gilmore) and one half sing-along with lyrics on screen (rarely a bouncing ball). Although Warner only made a small cluster of these, they all get shown on Turner Classic Movies today (i.e. titles like LET’S SING A SONG FROM THE MOVIES). Even Dave Fleischer, who helped pioneer the gimmick back in the twenties with Max, added animation to Universal’s “Sing and Be Happy” (and “Merrily We Sing”) series, which initially began exclusively in live-action in January 1946, but he added some animation to these. Maybe Jerry Beck will dig into these in a future post, only I am not sure how many are available for viewing online.

  • I enjoyed “Three Minnies,” and not just because of its rarity. Of course the humor has a radio influence, Leonard Levinson was a RADIO comedy writer! It seemed to me like an early attempt at the Jay Ward “Fractured Fairy Tales” style of story telling, though styled as a typical pre-UPA theatrical cartoon. Frank Nelson’s narration was of immeasurable help in putting the gags across. Art Heinemann’s influence was evident in the lovely “three twin daughters” (is that like the “third half of Car Talk”?); they would have looked right at home in any Heinemann-styled Walter Lantz cartoon of only a few years earlier.
    Of course, Republic’s red-and-green Trucolor could put across the Red river and the Green river, and to some extent the “rainbow river,” but ain’t no way you could get it to deliver sky-blue skies… (Land of sky blue daughters?? …oof…)

  • Thanks for starting this series, Jerry! Glad you had the idea to retrieve and reproduce the old archives.

  • Great series Jerry! Looking forward to future posts about this. By the way, I would love to have seen the looks on the members faces after watching that “Jerky Journey”…

  • I guess Hiawatha had Minnie Rivers to cross… (Yeah, I couldn’t resist that pun, but what the hell, maybe it should’ve been in the script?)

  • I wonder if the nomination committees were about politics? Always voting for your studio? And this could happen again when the branch would vote for the nominated films.

    Perhaps this worked in Disney’s favor because of all of the employees they had; that is until they had more fired employees than current employees?

    It seems to me that the best of any category did not really predominate until decades into the process. What happened in animation also happened in live action. Too many classics did not win Oscars. For decades the Oscars were not a barometer of the best in any category. But today they are (and now fewer viewers watch the telecast because it’s all the small, good unknown films that win).

  • According to the first video, “Base Brawl” a “Screen Song” does have the 1970’s NTA logo which was frozen, not the moving animation and the logo zoomed out, and of course, the jingle was originally used for Commonwealth United was absent. I prefer the real NTA from the 1970’s where it had animation and the groovy music which was nicely done. Some of the Paramount cartoons had the 1970’s still NTA logo, not the moving graphic animation.

  • What a great series of articles. I would love to have this in book format when you finish. Great reference work.

    • Thank you! I am indeed planning a book on ‘Animation and the Academy Awards’. This series of posts are just the beginning of the research going into it – but I might just compile these into a mini-book at some point when I’m done.

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