EARLY N.Y. ANIMATORS
March 3, 2014 posted by Charlie Judkins

Early N.Y. Animator Profiles: John C. Terry

Editor’s Note: Today I am happy to introduce a new semi-regular columnist to Cartoon Research, Charlie Judkins, who has a keen interest in the East coast origins of the animation industry and the artists who pioneered it. This is the first of a series, which will add immensely to our knowledge of people whose names we see on the credits, but know too little about. -Jerry Beck


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To most die-hard cartoon fans, the name Paul Terry is well known. But today, his older brother John C. Terry is largely forgotten. If anything, he is usually remembered as the original artist of Scorchy Smith, an aviation adventure strip popularized by Noel Sickles after Terry’s death in 1934. Sickles, who began his run on the strip ghosting for Terry and forced to imitate his drawing style, had only the following to say about his precursor:

“Have you ever seen John Terry’s work?…. I had to forget everything I learned about drawing — absolutely everything — because it was the worst drawing I had ever seen by anybody. Your children do better drawings than John Terry…. But it took time to copy that horrible style, you know.”

By the time he began work on Scorchy Smith in 1930, John Terry was dying of tuberculosis and producing extremely crude drawings. However, in his youth Terry had been a capable and stylish cartoonist, illustrator, animator, and entertainer. He was well known and respected by his peers in the west coast newspaper artist circles, and later by his peers in the early decades of the New York animation scene.

John Coleman Terry was born in 1880 in San Mateo, California to Joseph Tripp Terry and Minnie Perrin, an auctioneer and sculptress respectively. Terry took art classes at the Mark Hopkins Institute throughout 1899, and around June 1900 joined the art staff of the San Francisco Call. At this time, most of the other illustrators and cartoonists in the Call bullpen were Hopkins alumni as well. Here Terry may have been mentored by the Call’s staff cartoonist, Gustavo A. Bronstrup. Bronstrup later animated at John Terry’s San Francisco studio in 1915.

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At this time, Terry produced mostly wrap-around art for the Call‘s book review page, sometimes in collaboration with illustrators Henry Hawxhurst and George Parmenter, who had been Terry’s classmates at the Hopkins Institute. In 1901, they left the Call and formed “Terry, Hawxhurst, and Parmenter”, a short lived art studio. In 1902, Terry moved to Anaconda, Montana and became a Sunday editorial cartoonist for the Anaconda Standard, handling politics and topics of the day. His early work is stiff and shows an unfamiliarity with cartooning, but by 1903 he develops an appealing cartooning style that he would carry with him throughout his entire career and would greatly influence his youngest brother Paul, who at the time was studying illustration and cartooning in San Francisco. Within only a few years, John Terry became head of the Standard’s art department.

figure_2_250On April 18th, 1906, San Francisco was struck by a devastating earthquake that, along with the ensuing fires, totaled most of the city. At the time of the quake, John Terry was on his way to San Francisco to visit his family. Terry later claimed to have taken photographs of the disaster while in town, which were sent back to Montana and distributed to several papers. His younger brother Paul, a refugee from San Francisco who had been on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle, soon relocated to Anaconda and joined him on the staff of The Anaconda Standard. In later years, Paul Terry also claimed to have been the first to photograph the disaster. The Anaconda Standard didn’t credit whoever took the photos they published, but they did mention John Terry communicating via telegram on April 19, 1906:

John Terry, the Standard artist, arrived in San Francisco early yesterday morning shortly after the earthquake. His wife and child are in this city, and Mrs. Terry was anxiously looking for news from her husband during the day. Mr. Terry wired the standard last night that he was all right, and that so far as he could learn, no Montana people had been hurt or injured. Mr. Terry’s father and other relatives live in San Francisco, and his purpose in going to California was merely to make a visit. Mr. Terry’s telegram speaks hopefully of the great disaster.

While in Montana, John Terry began to develop a Lightning Sketch act, or a vaudeville act that involved trick drawing. The earliest report of Terry’s act was in the Standard on Feb 19, 1906, from a review of an Elks’ Club minstrel show:

“The final thing on the programme was a rapid sketch charcoal contest between A. L. Lovey, the Inter Mountain artist, and John Terry, the man who does things for the Standard. The two wagered several thousand dollars in stage money on the outcome of the contest. In a rapid way they struck off familiar faces of men known in and around Butte. When the struggle was over, Alexander Mackel declared the match a draw and pocketed the funds. He said he needed the money.”

figure_3-300Sometime in early 1907, John Terry made an excursion to New York City to work on the NY World, befriending World sports cartoonist Jesse “Vet” Anderson, who would later animate for Paul Terry. He returned to Montana on April 18th, 1907 and resumed work on the Standard.

John and Paul Terry returned to San Francisco in May 1909 to work for the San Francisco Call, with John as the daily political cartoonist and Paul providing illustrations and a comic strip called “Alonzo” for the paper’s weekend editions. Some of John Terry’s daily cartoons from this period caricaturing Theodore Roosevelt were reprinted in “T.R. in Cartoon” (1910), edited by Raymond Gros.

Upon returning to San Francisco, John Terry continued to develop his lightning sketching act, this time with Paul as his partner. The Anaconda Standard reported on Jan 23, 1910: John C. Terry, formerly cartoonist on the Standard, and now employed in a like capacity on the San Francisco Call, is about to go upon the vaudeville stage, together with his brother Paul, also a former member of the Standard’s art department and also an artist on the Call. The brothers do an exceedingly clever 20 minute act, appearing as clowns in pantomime and drawing cartoons fast enough to take the spectators breath away. They have a drop curtain of their own, designed and painted by themselves, representing all the chief characters in current comic art, such as the Katzenjammers, Buster Brown, Muggsy and the like.

figure_4-smallThe Terrys gave a satisfactory tryout a few days ago before a critical audience consisting of the manager of the Orpheum theater, San Francisco, others interested in the Orpheum circuit, and a few newspaper men. The verdict in their favor was unanimous and it was predicted that their act would prove highly popular.

One of Mr. Terry’s stunts consists in drawing the figures “1912” and in them, without erasing the smallest portion, filling in around them so that within a few seconds the face of Roosevelt appears. The first figure “1” os elongated and becomes the cord to the eyeglasses. A few deft turns convert the “9” into an eye and an ear. The second “1” grows into a nose, and the “2” develops into the other eye and ear.

After close to a year drawing “Alonzo”, Paul Terry was replaced by John Terry as the artist of the strip starting May 14th, 1910. John Terry drew the strip for only about two months, leaving the paper in early July to join his brother Paul at the San Francisco Chronicle. All together, seven different artists drew the “Alonzo” strip at various times between 1908 and 1912.

fig5-350smallThe following year, Paul Terry left San Francisco to do advertising work for Baron G. Collier in New York City. John Terry did work for the San Francisco Chronicle and the St. Paul Dispatch, and also continued his lightning sketching act with San Francisco area cartoonist Russ Westover (later of Tillie the Toiler fame). The San Francisco Call mentioned Terry’s act among highlights of a press club variety show on April 18th, 1913:

“One of the most amusing numbers is a drawing contest between John C. Terry and R. Westover, cartoonists, who draw at each other. The matinee performance will begin at 2 : 15 o’clock.”

figure_6smallAround this time, John Terry also began to experiment with animation in collaboration with Hugh M. “Jerry” Shields, a young sports cartoonist from across the bay in Oakland. Shields claimed that he and Terry began experimenting with animation as early as 1911, Terry usually claimed it was in 1912. However, the date may actually have been closer to 1913, when Terry and Shields began working together in The San Francisco Chronicle bullpen. The two artists left the paper late in 1914, and in October of that year the Moving Picture World reported:

The Movca Film Company has been incorporated at San Francisco with a capital stock of $150,000 by J. C. Terry. H. M. Shields, T. Healy, C. D. Longhurst and T. E. J. Gardner. This concern plans to make moving pictures for export to South and Central America and will equip a large studio here for this purpose. A specialty will be made of cartoon pictures, the company controlling an invention that is claimed to be a great improvement over present meth- ods in the manufacture of comic cartoon films. These comic films are all that will be marketed in this country, the others to be made exclusively for export.

Above: an unidentified Movca cartoon animated entirely by John Terry, c.1915

Terry and Shields set to work creating a series of unlicensed Charlie Chaplin cartoons, as well as an unknown number of one shot cartoons. About 9 months later, the cartoons started to see release in local San Francisco theaters. The Oakland Tribune reported on June 27th 1915:

“Charlie Throws the Bull” is the title of the first animated cartoon reel of motion picture comedy in which popular film heroes are caricatured, and is now being shown at the local Orpheum after a successful weeks run at the San Francisco Playhouse. The story running through this reel depicts movie stars in a series of humorous situations that keeps the audience in a continuous roar of laughter throughout its entire length.

This picture is the result of many thousand drawings executed by J. C. Terry and H. M. Shields, well-known cartoonists on both sides of the bay, and is one of a number of cartoon reels they have made for the Movca film service, of which both are directors. Shields was formerly an Oakland Tribune artist.

In January 1916, The Motion Picture News announced that the sales of the “Comedy Cartoons” produced by Movca had been taken over by the Herald Company, a New York City based distributor. S. J. Sangretti, Movca’s producer and east coast representative announced that the studio would soon have twenty subjects ready for release, and that distribution had already been secured on the Pacific Coast and Greater New York Territories on a State’s Rights basis.

At least ten known “Charlie” cartoons, usually starring caricatures of Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Fatty Arbuckle, were released in 1916. It’s likely that Terry did not have permission from Chaplin to produce the films; in May, 1916 Charlie in Carmen was copyrighted plainly as Carmen: a Moving Cartoon by “Movca Film Service, inc., New York”. A 1916 document issued by the state of California includes the Movca Film Service on a list of corporations “forfeiting the right to do business in the state of California by reason of failing to Pay Corporation Taxes Levied by the State Board of Equalization”, perhaps explaining Terry and Shields’ abrupt relocation to New York City.

In November 1916, John Terry’s name was announced in conjunction with a new cartoon studio. Although it was incorporated as early as August, Terry’s name was not mentioned until an article ran in the NY Dramatic Mirror, November 4th 1916:

The Pathe News has recently been publishing some very clever political cartoons which have aroused considerable interest. These cartoons were made under the Bray patents by the Cartoon Film Service, Inc., a new corporation which has in its employ some of the ablest cartoonists in the country. The Pathe news will be regularly supplied with the product of their studios. At a meeting last week Watson D. Robinson was elected president, John C. Terry, secretary, and Henry D. Bailey. treasurer of the new company.

Mr. Terry, who came here from the West to direct and manage Cartoon Film Service, is a “native son”. He has been a newspaper cartoonist for sixteen years, during which time he has seen service on The San Francisco Call, The San Francisco Examiner and the St. Paul Dispatch. As far back as 1912 he was making animated cartoons.

Between October 1916 and March 1917, Pathe released at least 5 animated political cartoons credited to John C. Terry and at least 1 credited to Hugh M. Shields within its newsreels. J.R. Bray may have been involved as a producer. By the end of 1917, the Cartoon Film Service had folded and John Terry was on staff as a full time animator at William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service studio. Here Terry animated cartoons starring many of the same famous Hearst comic characters he’d painted on his vaudeville curtain 7 years earlier.

On July 6th, 1918, the entire staff of Hearst’s animation studio was abruptly laid off when the Hearst corporation decided it was not a profitable venture. It’s not known exactly how long the Hearst animators were laid off, but the fact that IFS stopped releasing weekly cartoons only between October 1918 and January 1919 shows that it was likely a short hiatus. According to Walter Lantz, who worked at all 3 incarnations of the studio between 1917 and 1921, John Terry was soon commissioned by Hearst to put together and manage a new studio to continue producing the films. The staff was rehired and set back to work, this time in a new studio space Terry had located in Greenwitch Village.

In August 1919, Bray studios split with their previous distributor Paramount to sign up with MGM. IFS became a subsidiary of Bray, and for whatever reason John Terry was no longer the studio producer. Fortunately for Terry, Paramount was now hungry for new cartoon product for their newsreel, and soon asked Paul and John Terry to put together a studio. Earl Hurd, Harry Leonard, Harry D. Bailey, and Jerry Shields were hired as animators, and the studio’s product was featured in the Paramount magazine until August 1921.

Although the Paramount studio seems to have lasted about two years, Paul Terry left sometime in 1920 to pursue the development of a new studio under his name and management. Paul Terry’s “Aesops’ Film Fables” began to release weekly in June 1921, with financial backing and heavy promotion supplied by the Keith-Albee vaudeville chain. The series became a big success, and Paul Terry soon became a wealthy and powerful man in the animation business.

Sadly, John Terry never achieved the same level of success, and his activity in the 1920s is much harder to nail down. There is no indication that he was ever involved with Fables studios , but he continued to produce cartoons for Paramount and subcontract cartoons for IFS between 1919 and 1921. He also may have been responsible for the mysterious “Roving Thomas” cartoons of the early 1920s. During this time, John Terry discovered a 16 year old art student by the name of Bill Tytla and gave him a job lettering title cards, his first job in the animation business.

In 1925, John Terry animated a novelty series for Judge magazine titled “Judge’s Crossward Puzzles”, his last credited work in animation. Around this time he also returned to freelance newspaper cartooning, and even experimented with toy design. Larry Silverman claimed that Terry subcontracted Krazy Kat cartoons from his friend Bill Nolan between 1925 and 1927, and produced them with Tytla and Silverman as his assistants. Silverman also claimed that Paul Terry hired Tytla away from John at this time by offering Tytla a higher salary than John could afford to pay.

figure_7-smallAround October 1929, Paul Terry had recently been fired from “Fables” and was struggling to build a new studio with partner Frank Moser, previously the fastest and highest paid animator on the “Fables” payroll. At this time, no distribution had been secured and Terry and Moser could not pay themselves or any other employees until they repaid the investment made by Audio-Cinema Inc., who also supplied their studio space and recording equipment. However, animation needed to start immediately. John Terry, Jerry Shields, Cy Young, and Charles Sarka agreed to work for free at this time, and along with Paul Terry and Moser became the entire animation team of the earliest “Terrytoons”.

John Terry’s animation on these early Terrytoons varies in look from scene to scene. Certain scenes are in Terry’s classic drawing style, while others appear to have been heavily touched up by Frank Moser. Certain scenes even appear to have one character animated by Moser interacting with another handled by John Terry. Terry left the studio in late February 1930, after animating on the 7th Terrytoon, Hawaiian Pineapple. His short stay at Terrytoons makes it seem likely that he was only there to do his younger brother a favor, although Larry Silverman’s claim that the brothers were not getting along at this time may have something to do with it as well.

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Above: John C. Terry animation in “Indian Pudding” (1930)

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Above: John C. Terry animation in “Roman Punch” (1930)

After leaving Terrytoons, Terry produced freelance work for Colliers, and then sold Scorchy Smith, a daily adventure strip, to AP Newsfeatures. The strips are quite crudely drawn, a shocking contrast from the elegant illustration work he was producing in the teens. In 1933, Terry began suffering from a kidney ailment, and was forced to relocate to Coral Gables, Florida. When Terry developed Tuberculosis and became too sick to continue Scorchy, it was handed to Noel Sickles to ghost until Terry was well enough to draw again. Sadly, John Terry never recovered, and died abruptly on Feb 27th 1934.

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Although John Terry was completely eclipsed by his younger brother in terms of fame and fortune, Paul Terry was always well aware of the fact that he never came close to rivaling his beloved older brother’s talent as a cartoonist, illustrator, and animator. “I can’t take credit for anything, because I just followed along behind him.”, Paul Terry claimed in 1970. “He was my idol. Everything he did was right, no matter what he did.”


Special thanks to Tom Stathes, David Gerstein, Thad Komorowski, and Harvey Deneroff.

15 Comments

  • Fascinating research and a fine article.

    A question: “In August 1919, Bray studios split with their previous distributor Paramount to sign up with MGM.” MGM was not formed until 1924. Did Bray perhaps align with Goldwyn or Metro Pictures in ’19?

    • I meant to write Goldwyn, sorry about that!

    • Bray went with Goldwyn Pictures. In a few years, it would be combined with Metro to form MGM, but in the late teens it released short films including the Bray cartoons.

  • Fantastic work, Chas! Our understanding of the Terry clan is a little more complete now.

  • First-rate article. Charles Sarka, working in 1929, could almost be considered the East Coast counterpart of Emil Flohri, who went west and was one of the Disney pioneer crew. Both had been on JUDGE magazine, were SERIOUS illustrators as well as cartoonists — Flohri was painterly; Sarka used incredible linework. Has an article ever been written on the animation pioneers whose first careers were in Puck, Judge, and Life? I have complete runs, if a scholar wants to pick my brain… Again, this is an admirable piece of research. Rick Marschall

    • Hi Rick!

      Glad you enjoyed the post. In a future article, I’ll address some of the artists who started on those magazines and also animated in NY such as Leighton Budd, Frank Nankivell, and Louis Glackens.

  • well done! informative and entertaining; I look forward to future installments!

  • This was absolutely wonderful. The single best thing that could have been posted on the internet today. Thank you.

  • As newspapers fade from the American scene, and cartooning, editorial and otherwise, become quaint reminders in our rear-view mirrors, it’s nice to remember the artists who entertained us, or in this case, to learn about one I’d never heard of. Thank you.

    • And that’s why we come here in the first place!

  • Thank you for the great article about my great uncles. We are currently having a new marker put on the family grave plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma, California, where Uncle John is buried. My Dad, Alex Anderson, creator of Bullwinkle and Rocky, got his animation working for Uncle Paul in New York during his summer vacations in the mid 1930′s.

    • Hi Scott!

      It’s great to hear from you. Pat Terry gave me your father’s telephone number just a few days before he passed, it is my great regret that I never got to interview him. Shoot me an email if you’d be willing to chat!

  • Bonjour !
    Great article ! I’ve written almost the same (but in french) in # 139 of the french printed fanzine HOP !, dated sept. 2013. It was the first chapter of a Scorchy Smith dossier and although it was a little shorter about Terry’s animated films it focused more on his three years on the Scorchy strip.
    Here are the links for the cover & contents:
    http://www.sceneario.com/bande-dessinee/HOP+++140-Nostalgie+BD-20422.html
    http://dumonteil.marc-andre.perso.sfr.fr/numeros-6.htm

  • Thank you so much for the great article. My great aunt was Mrs. Alexa Terry, wife of John Terry. She passed on some of his originals to me and I loved to reading more details of his life.
    Thank you

  • Hello Charlie,
    Wonderful article! I enjoyed learning about John Terry. I look forward to reading this series.
    Best,
    Ellen Vreeland

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