Animation History
June 26, 2017 posted by Jerry Beck

Cartoons Considered For An Academy Award – 1958

I’ve read hundreds of Terrytoon comic books in my life – but it never occurred to me that any of them were drawn by an Academy Award nominee! But yes, this year director Art Bartsch received his one and only nomination for a Silly Sidney cartoon. Now that I think about it, Gene Deitch drew several Tom Terrific comics himself – and he actually won an Oscar! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This week: 1958

In 1958 we had three nominees, all from well-established Hollywood studios: A Walt Disney two-reel cartoon, a Gene Deitch CinemaScope Terrytoon, and a Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The actual nominees were:

PAUL BUNYAN (Walt Disney) Les Clark
SIDNEY’S FAMILY TREE (Terrytoons) Art Bartsch

And the Oscar went to:

KNIGHTY KNIGHT BUGS (Warner Bros.) Friz Freleng, director.

BELOW: You can see Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh give the award to producer John Burton – and watch him thank Friz, Mel Blanc, Milt Franklyn, Warren Foster and just about the whole crew – here:


However – submitted, screened, but NOT nominated were:

Academy_Award_trophy175ROBIN HOODWINKED (MGM) William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
SAILING AND VILLAGE BAND (UPA) Lew Keller, Fred Crippen
LITTLE TELEVILLIAN (Walter Lantz/Universal) Alex Lovy
SURPRISE BOOGIE (France) Albert Pierru
THE MOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (Warner Bros.) Robert McKimson
THE LITTLE ISLAND (BFI) Richard Willams
MAGOO’S 3-POINT LANDING (UPA) Pete Burness
JITTERY JESTER (Walter Lantz/Universal) Paul J. Smith
FINNEGAN’S FLEA (Paramount) I. Sparber

Here’s the documentation:

And so we continue our research into what other cartoons were submitted to the Academy for Oscar consideration but failed to make the cut.

This is the last year that the Academy Shorts committee really played it safe. Its 16-year run of awarding a submission from Hollywood studio fellow-members comes to an end with this year’s winner. Recognition that the traditional theatrical cartoon was on its last legs was all but confirmed, with many staff cut backs or studio lay-offs being felt by long-standing Academy members – the lure of the emerging television market growing stronger every day.

But no year that sees submissions of films directed by the likes of Paul J. Smith, Robert McKimson, Isadore Sparber and Alex Lovy can be all bad… can it? No indeed. Richard Williams first submission was “snubbed”, along with energetic entries from Lew Keller, Fred Crippen, Pete Burness and Hanna-Barbera. Note the disqualification of Energetically Yours – omitted perhaps due to rules changes, this being a sponsored industrial film (a co-production of Quartet Films and Playhouse Pictures) directed by Dave Hilberman.

With these posts we ask that you put yourself in the Shorts committee’s place – which films would you have nominated? Which cartoon should have won? For your edification and viewing pleasure, here once again are the cartoons that didn’t make the cut. Enjoy the show!


ROBIN HOODWINKED (MGM) William Hanna and Joseph Barbera

One last costume picture for Bill & Joe: ‘Merry Men’ (or “Merry Mice”?) Jerry and little Tuffy (voiced by Lucille Bliss) attempt to rescue human Robin Hood from a castle dungeon by getting a key away from guard cat Tom. An funny extended sequence has Tuffy (or is it Nibbles?) trying to retrieve the key from Tom’s throat, with the mouse getting sloshed after the cat downs a flagon of wine. The production is up to MGM’s usual high standards, with a sumptuous musical score from the studio orchestra – and lush CinemaScope backgrounds – you’d never know this is one of the last cartoons from the closing studio.


SAILING AND VILLAGE BAND (UPA) Lew Keller and Fred Crippen

I’m not sure why Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute the Ham and Hattie series along with the popular Mr. Magoo cartoons in the waning days of UPA, but I can certainly understand why UPA produced them. They were cheap – and they most likely fulfilled some contractual obligation for shorts. Clearly these were born out of left-over concepts developed for The Boing Boing Show, which came and went in 1956. Lew Keller directed four 3-minute “Hattie” cartoons which were based around songs written and sung by Mel Levin (later of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians). Fred Crippen had the opportunity to do some different bits for the “Ham” segments – Ham being a magician who could disguise or shape-shift himself into different characters as needed for the second skit.

“Two-In-One Cartoons” is how the series was advertised. I’ll say this, at least they were different. I love the look of these films – in the same way I love the funky early Hanna Barbera and Jay Ward TV cartoons. Only difference here is these aren’t funny, and they’re easily forgettable. Hattie sails her little toy boat in the park’s fountain, Ham is part of an animal marching band. Cute but bland limited animation. The first one (Trees and Jamaica Daddy) was more fun – and was nominated last year (in 1957) as a novelty. The novelty quickly wore off.


LITTLE TELEVILLIAN (Walter Lantz/Universal) Alex Lovy

Homer Brightman concocts a mash-up of ideas previously used in several Tex Avery cartoons (Cellbound, Rock-A-Bye Bear, etc.), and the resulting hybrid is surprisingly satisfactory. Especially, under the sure hand and pleasant stylings of Alex Lovy. A TV exec needs to read scripts and doesn’t want to be disturbed. It’s up to Smedley the Bear Dog to keep Chilly Willy (intent on auditioning) out of his office or risk a pink slip. Lots of good bits here – I like the sequence where Chilly uses a TV camera as a weapon – the Split Screen slices Smedley in two, the Distortion Lens and Close Up buttons warp Smedley in Duck Amuck-like ways. The characters make fun of television commercials and break the fourth wall – and several TV screens. Funny animation too.


SURPRISE BOOGIE (France) Albert Pierru

Scratched emulsion, painting on raw stock and drawing on film – Albert Pierru’s Surprise Boogie was obviously inspired by Norman McLaren. Like McLaren’s best work, it works as both art and entertainment. The jazz is cool and images represent the music in satisfying visceral ways. I love the little stick figures playing piano, flute, bass and slide-trombone.

Pierru said in 1956, about his films: “There is an immediate meeting point between jazz music and cinema as I conceived it in my abstract films. This meeting point is rhythm. In the cinema, rhythm plays an extremely important role, it is primordial in jazz. Jazz evokes in us a whole lot of sensations, sensations direct, pure, immediate. I would like to find in my films the same impression, this dynamism, this craze, this joie de vivre that one feels in jazz.”

He succeeded – but in 1958, pitted against Bugs Bunny and Silly Sidney, this film never had a chance for a nomination.


THE MOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (Warner Bros.) Robert McKimson

Most readers here know the back story of The Mouse That Jack Built – a Warner cartoon tribute to the studio’s favorite radio/TV show (one with a valuable shared element: Mel Blanc). Warner’s had spoofed Benny several times over the years – Jones’ “Casper Caveman” in Daffy Duck and The Dinosaur (1939), Freleng’s Hollywood caricature film Malibu Beach Party (1940) – now it was McKimson’s turn, long overdue, with a novel twist. The voice cast is actually Benny and his radio crew – Mary Livingston, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Don Wilson – and of course Blanc (as the Maxwell- and vault keeper “Ed Blanc”). The story itself is rather pedestrian – its essentially the gimmick of using the actual actors, and the wonderful live action payoff at the end, that make it work. I think if the mid-section were a little stronger it might have had an Oscar chance. Nonetheless, supposedly Benny loved the idea so much, he wanted nothing more than a print of the film as payment!


THE LITTLE ISLAND Richard Willams

This is the film that put Richard Williams on the map. Working three years in the evenings (while animating for George Dunning’s TV Cartoons studio during the day) to complete it – it emerged in 1958 and won the BAFTA (England’s Oscar), establishing Williams as a high quality craftsman with a personal, modern style and commercially pleasing.

The 33-minute The Little Island seems a bit pretentious when viewed today – Williams was trying hard to make a political statement – as well as impress his industry peers. Its an allegory using three abstract characters representing Truth, Beauty and Goodness – which they are anything but – who ultimately go to war. Visually he throws everything at us (except the kitchen sink) – for a debut, its spectacular.

Again, this film may have been ahead of the curve for the Academy – but the curve was coming.


MAGOO’S 3-POINT LANDING (UPA) Pete Burness

Makes sense UPA would submit this to Academy – it combines thematic elements of Magoo’s two previous Oscar winners: his car (Magoo’s Puddle Jumper) and airplanes (When Magoo Flew)! It’s also Pete Burness final directing job on the Mr. Magoo shorts – this time concerning Magoo bringing his jalopy to a mechanic for a check-up. Unfortunately he mistakes the local airport for his auto repair shop. He spends half the cartoon trying to hitch-hike a ride while standing on the runway (that sounds way funnier than it is). Sadly this cartoon is built on a wisp of an idea – a far cry from the series best. Daws Butler is funny as the co-pilot; and note the pilot who makes the 3-point landing is named “Sully”! A topical reference decades before it was topical!

Steve Bosustow promoted Burness out of the shorts unit, assigning him to helm the looming feature (1001 Arabian Nights). Burness quit the studio within a year due to ulcers caused by the stress of trying to craft a proper storyline for a Magoo movie. He spent the next ten years in a saner atmosphere – making funny stuff at Jay Ward.


JITTERY JESTER (Walter Lantz/Universal) Paul J. Smith

Dooley (surely a candidate for ugliest regular character in cartoons) is a jester and the King is not laughing (and neither is the Academy). Not even juggling balls with his ass impresses the king – who decides not to pick up his option (Dal McKennon is hilarious as the King). Woody tries to become the new Jester and it sets off a competition (ala Spike and Droopy at MGM) for the job. The gags may be violent, and some of the artwork is painful to watch, but like any train wreck, I couldn’t divert my eyes. Lots of gags about raising and lowering the draw bridge, beheading by axe and arrows, crushing feet with a screw press – you know, good clean fun! Up against Knighty Knight Bugs, this film had no chance.


FINNEGAN’S FLEA (Paramount) I. Sparber

Another swing and miss by Famous… err, Paramount Cartoon Studios. Interesting that this film was selected to submit. Forget the series pictures (Little Audrey, Herman and Katnip, Baby Huey) but why not Dante Dreamer, or Chew Chew Baby? The one-shots were clearly the direction the studio was going. The handwriting was on the wall about Harvey Comics picking up Casper and the rest.

Here, a bartender recounts the story of Finnegan and his singing flea, “Charlie” – a story that echos Chuck Jones’ One Froggy Evening. I love how the flea sings only songs owned by Famous Music – including Louise, Please and It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day. Not crazy about the limited animation, but the art direction and color design are good. Not sure if Irv Spector (who gets story credit) designed all the characters but a few look like his work. The film is good for a laugh – one laugh in particular – and I’m sure the Academy got it. Paramount, however, did not (get nominated, that is).


The earlier posts in this series: 1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957.

(Thanks to Devon Baxter for special contributions to this post)

25 Comments

  • The very limited backgrounds and Tuffy/Nibbles design in the stomach scene does make it feel like a preview of a Hanna-Barbera Pixie and Dixie short, albeit with much fuller animation.

    Aside from Mel, the Benny show up until the early 50s also shared Bea Benadaret with Warners’ cartoon studio, before Bea became too busy doing Burns & Allen for the other two jobs (she did return for the TV show in 1955, where Bea was Jack’s date and Mel got to trot out his Pepe LePew accent).

    Famous’ one-shots, especially the ones written by Irv Spector, are pretty good in the 1956-59 period. But the cutbacks in animation did hurt by ’58 (Spector’s “La Petite Parade” from 1959 would manage to put enough story in to work around that handicap).

  • Both Knighty Knight Bugs and Sidney’s Family Tree were truly exceptional cartoons.

    38 years later, Sidney (and this Oscar race) inspired the Tiny Toons Episode Who Bopped Bugs Bunny – where Buster and Babs (dressed like iconic tv detective Colombo) are investigating the mysterious disappearance of Bugs Bunny, and the prime suspect was a rival Toon named Sappy “Slaphappy” Stanley (based on Terrytoons Sidney) who was extremely bitter about losing to Bugs at the 1958 “Schoscars” – and secretly vowed to get revenge and to steal the Schoscar which he believed that it was rightfully his in the first place.

  • Could it be that “Energetically Yours” was disqualified because it appeared on TV first (on Standard Oil’s anniversary special on NBC in Oct. 1957)? It later played at festivals in Edinburgh, Brussels and Venice and was translated into seven languages. The film even got a write-up in Life magazine.

    • While I am still in the midst of my research on this, I do not believe Energetically Yours was disqualified because of TV broadcast. That issue – and a rules change regarding this matter – didn’t take effect until after 1972 (when Richard Williams won his Oscar for The Christmas Carol).

      I will update this post (and this comments thread) when I have a definitive answer.

  • Dooley is one of the best characters. Great design and a perfect foil for Woody. JITTERY JESTER is a well directed cartoon loaded with terrific slapstick gags with fantastic timing and overall good background art direction, color and excellent layout composition. Real all-out funny cartoon. One of the funniest of the later 50’s.

    • Pat, I’ve loved you work since I was a kid, but I couldn’t put my finger on some of your influences for a long time… Thanks to your past few comments here, I now can see that it was ’50s Woody Woodpecker! Keep drawing, sir, we need all the laughs we can get.

  • This has nothing to do with cartoons, but…

    How gorgeous is Janet Leigh?

    I believe Pepe Le Pew said it best: “ROWRRRR”

  • Smedley is a dog. Not a bear!

    • I stand corrected! Duly noted.

    • Leonard Maltin made the same error – several times – in Of Mice and Magic.
      A bear? With a long tail and dog collar?

    • LOL, I usually assume people are joking when they refer to Smedley as a bear, like just some good natured ribbing on Maltin.

  • There were DOZENS of Bugs Bunnys more deserving of an Oscar, but given how long he had been passed over even for a nomination, there is no question that the appropriate winner was selected for this round.

    As for the not-nominees, Sailing and Village Band was evident that UPA lost steam by this point. No longer doing the miscellaneous experiments that was actually their strength, but the art here resembled what would become standard for television animation during the 1960s.

  • Also, I don’t understand the popularity or longevity of Mister Magoo. “Ragtime Bear”, “When Magoo Flew” and “Private War” are pretty funny, and his later casting as Scrooge in the Christmas tv special was inspired. But beyond that, in my opinion Mr. Magoo cartoons seem like an excuse to reuse the “sleepwalking on a construction site” cliche over and over again. He can’t see where he’s going, he wanders into dangerous situations, but dumb luck and cartoon logic ensure he never gets hurt, but those trying to protect him do.

    It amazes me how much the concept had been done before Magoo: “A Dream Walking” with Popeye and Olive Oyl, several cartoons with Popeye and Swee’pea, “Cat Feud” with Pussyfoot, “Tot Watchers” with Tom and Jerry. Later on it showed up in a Yogi Bear cartoon, then “Skyscraper Caper” with Speedy Gonzales. It STILL wouldn’t die well into the 90’s, when “Animaniacs” did the Mindy and Buttons cartoons.

    • To be fair to the crew at Anamaniacs, they did give a wink-and-nod to both :”A Dream Walking” and “Tot Watchers” in the middle of the Mindy and Buttons cartoon, just to let everyone know they knew who they were stealing from.

    • “Tot Watchers” in particular reminded me of similar “mind the baby” formulas I’ve seen in cartoons as well (the Roger Rabbit shorts are a good example).

    • And there was even a live action feature, “Baby’s Day Out” (1994).

  • I think Sidney’s Family Tree should have won. A very funny cartoon… If only Gene Deitch could have stayed at Terrytoons longer

  • Here are some great animated shorts that weren’t even submitted for Oscar nomination in 1958:

    Chew Chew Baby (Paramount) one of the most controversial Noveltoons ever made

    Okey Dokey Donkey (Paramount) the final appearance of Spunky the Donkey

    Boo Bop (Paramount) where Casper helps out Franz Schubert finish The Unfinished Symphony

    And

    Robin Hood Daffy (Warner Brothers) starring Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in a parody of the legendary Adventures of Robin Hood.

  • Fred Crippen had the opportunity to do some different bits for the Ham segments Ham being a magician who could disguise or shape-shift himself into different characters as needed for the second skit.

    Which I’m sure gave Fred that sort of freedom where he didn’t have to adhere to the guy appearing the same each time (hence why Ham’s a “dog” in this cartoon).

    Only difference here is these aren’t funny, and they’re easily forgettable. Hattie sails her little toy boat in the park’s fountain, Ham is part of an animal marching band. Cute but bland limited animation. The first one (Trees and Jamaica Daddy) was more fun – and was nominated last year (in 1957) as a novelty. The novelty quickly wore off.

    I suppose it was a hard concept to get behind, especially for a theatrical short. This (especially “Village Band”) certainly felt like Boing-Boing Show filler but since they didn’t have a TV show at the time, I can see why they were stuck.

    Again, this film may have been ahead of the curve for the Academy – but the curve was coming.

    Someone had to make noise somehow!

  • I would have given the nod to “THE MOUSE THAT JACK BUILT”. I like this cartoon, and I believe it was only aired on TV one time, locally, but it’s very entertaining. I guess I forget the look of the cartoon, but I was never a big fan of “KNIGHTY-KNIGHT BUGS”, and I thought it was more formulaic than the Jack Benny cartoon, perhaps the only time that Warner Brothers used the actal voices of the celebrities that it caricatured. Good point about “DANTE THE DREAMER”. It has always been a favorite of mine, and I also like “CHEW CHEW BABY”, although perhaps some members of the Academy wouldn’t have liked the humor. It had a great closing gag.

    • Technically “The Mouse That Jack Built” was part of Warner’s syndication package of cartoons that TV stations used to air during the 70’s and 80’s, I used to see it a lot on weekday afternoon blocks.

    • Before the sixties, this was one of very few WB cartoons where ANYONE other than Mel Blanc got voice credit…I only regularly started seeing in the nineties, on Nickelodeon. “Three Little Bops’ (1956) with a credited Stan Freberg was the only WB cartoon with anyone else credited shown off network, with its open (reading in 1995 from one of Dave Mackey’s CompuServe lists, the military-only “Drafty Isn’t It” credited Daws Butler before any other cartoon from Warner Bros.credited non-Mel Blanc voices.)SC

  • In terms of Bugs Bunny cartoons in 1958, I always preferred “Hare-Less Wolf” to “Knighty Knight Bugs”.

    How was “The Mouse that Jack Built” nominated for the 1959 Oscars? It came out on April 4th, 1959, and the ceremony was only two days later!

    • The studios qualify the films they want to enter in the Oscar race regardless of the actual national release date. Most likely The Mouse That Jack Built, which was made in 1958 (see the copyright date), was shown in an special engagement in Los Angeles for a week to qualify. This policy happens all the time, every year, even now.

  • I like KNIGHTY, but the problem is that it’s essentially the same joke as the much superior SAHARA HARE: Bugs in the castle/fortress, Sam trying to get into it. I think they even repeated a couple of gags. I understand the need to give Bugs an Oscar, especially after the shameful neglect of WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? the previous year, but ROBIN HOOD DAFFY is clearly the best cartoon that year.

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