Animation History
June 8, 2015 posted by

Famous Studios 1945-46

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Introductory Note: Welcome of the first of new series of posts devoted to Paramount’s Famous Studios. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be posting here each week – or how long it’ll run – but I hope to put a spotlight on the qualities – the highs and lows – of their films and filmmakers, and to shed some new insight on this oft-dismissed studio. Inspired by Thad Komorowski’s year long series of posts chronicling Fleischer/Famous from the mid-1930s to mid-1945, I’d like to continue from that point on. Will I maintain the strict chronologic order? Will I have enough items to posts? Will it get tiring (or Tyer-ing) after a few weeks? Let’s find out. And I invite those with further knowledge, or rare Paramount cartoon visuals, to join the conversation and share materials in the comments section below. – Jerry Beck

It’s easy to dismiss the 25 year output of Paramount/Famous Studios. Many critics have. They weren’t Fleischer. They weren’t Disney. But I won’t dwell on what they weren’t – I’d prefer to enjoy what they were.

Famous produced slick, professional “Hollywood” cartoons from offices in New York City. Though they were never recognized by the Academy or beloved by “fans”, they created a solid product that served a commercial purpose for their parent company – and entertained an audience underserved by the other cartoon makers in its time. They adapted comic strip and radio characters (Superman, Little Lulu, Land Of The Lost, etc.), created a stable of popular characters still remembered today (Baby Huey, Herman & Katnip, Little Audrey, etc.), specialized in cute children’s fantasy (Raggedy Ann, Casper) and – perhaps most importantly – maintained the popularity of their biggest star, Popeye.

We begin our first post where Thad left off two weeks ago – a look at the 1945-46 season. Though Paramount stopped soliciting cartoon promotional art from Famous in its in-house Paramount Sales News, the studio produced this illustrated brochure (below) which was distributed to theatre owners in late 1945 through an insert in movie industry trade magazines (like Motion Picture Herald, etc.).

Here you get a look at the offices and key personnel (including a rare shot of Kneitel, Sparber and Tytla lecturing Little Lulu – one wonders what Walt Disney or Max Fleischer thought of this photograph!). The brochure was a fold-out triptych (with a cover) that was impossible to scan in one piece – so I present it to you in various ways: in three parts (click each to enlarge), or as a long pieced-together-in-photoshop image below that. Enjoy!

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1945-46 CONTRACT

Here is the agreement between Famous Studios and Paramount concerning the production of its 1945-46 season (click to enlarge). It is an extension of the May 25th 1942 contract that first established Famous Studios and its relationship with Paramount.

Interesting to note that Paramount is now requesting less cartoons than its previous agreement with the studio. Screen Songs were now an established sub-series within the “Noveltoons” releases. Screen Songs, it seems, were considered cheaper to produce (less animation) and Paramount was aware that making them was a way for Famous to stretch its budget dollars.

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Sheep Shape (released 6/28/46)

Each week I hope to spotlight one or two cartoons (or more?) from a particular season as we move along in chronologic order. Today a look at a real fan favorite – heck, it’s my favorite of the “Blackie Sheep” cartoons, a perfect combination of 1940s attitudes and slick cartooning. Sex, violence and greed, a wise-guy trickster versus a big dumb adversary. Dave Tendlar’s sharp timing, Johnny Gent’s clever animation. Stang and Raymond. Famous Studios at its best? It’s a close call…

Blackie in drag Rare animation drawings from one o

Too bad all the prints around are faded red-as-a-beet – I had the privilege of borrowing a 35mm nitrate Technicolor print from the UCLA Archive for my Museum of Modern Art tribute to Famous Studios in 1995. It was jaw-dropping.

Here’s the cue sheet from Sheep Shape

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CUE SHEETS

I have the musical cue sheets from many (not all) Famous Studios cartoons. Are these of interest to you? I don’t find them as exciting as ones I’ve seen from Warner Bros. and MGM. Here are two more from the studio in its prime, late 1945: The Friendly Ghost and Mess Production (click to enlarge) – The Popeye cartoon’s sheet came with an additional page of dialogue – the entire “script”! Not sure why that was attached… but here it is.

Mess Production (released August 24th 1945) is a remake/mash-up of Fleisher’s A Dream Walking (1934) and Lost And Foundry (1937) with a wartime factory backdrop. Of note, two rarities of this period: Jack Mercer returning as Popeye’s voice – and that Olive is given breasts in a sexy close up.

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The Friendly Ghost (releasedNovember 16th, 1945) was an excellent entry in the “Noveltoon” series – introducing, what we all know now, a significant new character for the studio, one that would shape its direction in the years to come.

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That’s it this week from the Famous Studio Archive. Check in next Monday – who knows what I’ll post then!

43 Comments

  • “Don’t worry Olive, I’ll save ya.”
    “I’ll save her, runt.”
    “I gotcha, Olive.”
    “Sez who?”
    That’s pretty much how it went from then on.

  • It’s interesting to read in the 1945-46 contract that Paramount was pretty focused on their not being a bunch of Screen Songs in the Noveltoon package. Obviously, that position changed just a few years later when the Screen Songs returned for their own series — which wasn’t a change for the better for the studio, since it allowed for a return to the non-character focused spot-gag style of cartoon most other studios had abandoned by the early 1940s, wrapped around the (mostly public domain) songs, as opposed to the more current music the Fleischer efforts had used.

  • Famous Studios also had an enormous impact on the comic book line of the Harvey brothers. As we moved through the 1950’s into the 60’s, more and more of the Harvey comics line centered around Casper and the various spin-off from that character. Even the properties Harvey developed on their own (Little Dot, Richie Rich, etc.) were modeled after the template established by Casper and Little Audrey.

    As we know, Harvey eventually bought the surviving Famous characters and made them their own.

    • Richie Rich was animated twice for television: First, Hanna-Barbera in the 1980’s as a filler for the Scooby & Scrappy Doo show (where Shaggy, Scooby & Scrappy set out on their own without Fred, Daphne and Velma) [Hanna-Barbera made Richie Rich look like a tweenager in the series]; and later had his own HB show.

      Second, in the 1990s by Film Roman, who brought us the classic Richie Rich – and in the “going into commercial break” segments (Baby Huey in a cameo)!

      What I didn’t like of Hanna-Barbera version of Richie Rich was they use the titles of several Richie Rich comic books such as “Gems” and “Zillion Dollar Adventures” instead of name of the episodes itself.

    • At least Baby Huey got a revival series for two years as well in the 90’s.

      What I didn’t like of Hanna-Barbera version of Richie Rich was they use the titles of several Richie Rich comic books such as “Gems” and “Zillion Dollar Adventures” instead of name of the episodes itself.

      That was kinda odd H-B would do that, if you had to remember what happened in which episode.

    • Also Harvey put THEIR version of the Noveltoons clown jack in a box, so several generations of youths would grow up thinking that Havrey produced these.

    • Sure did. Confused all of us!

  • I love this!

  • I remember seeing “The Friendly Ghost” which marked Casper’s debut for Paramount/Famous Studios. And sadly I didn’t like it due to Casper obese look, and his acting like a whiny crybaby through out the cartoon (but that’s just my opinion).

    I heard once that legendary animator Chuck Jones animated for Warner Bros. Ghost Wanted (1940), about a little ghost with a cowlick wanting to work at a haunted house, that this film inspired Famous Studios to change Casper’s look from the obese, whiny ghost that acted like a crybaby – to the ghost that we all know and love today.

    Also, within five years Famous Studios changed the look on four major characters on Popeye: (1 & 2) Popeye & Bluto kept the white United States Navy issued sailor uniforms that they wore in WWII (3) Olive Oyl was given a new look, by giving her a total makeover, giving her a “new face” and a new outfit to boot (even though the comic strip still maintained the classic Olive Oyl) and (4) Swee’Pea was given a new “look” by having him now wear a two tone pink outfit with a baby bonnet to match! OMG, it look horrid!! Luckily the comic strip still had the classic Swee’Pea in his original blue outfit with the fisherman’s cap.

    • I doubt Paramount wanted to make Casper a permanent sad sack over several cartoons. He only was in this one because that’s how he was in the original (unreleased) story that Paramount bought off of Seymour Reit.

      I also seriously doubt “Ghost Wanted” had any effect on this. It came out 5 years prior and was never given a blue ribbon reissue. I doubt anyone in America remembered that cartoon by 1945 aside from Chuck Jones. Most likely they were just streamlining the character to make him more appealing, which is very common when a one-shot character becomes a recurring star character.

    • Also, within five years Famous Studios changed the look on four major characters on Popeye: (1 & 2) Popeye & Bluto kept the white United States Navy issued sailor uniforms that they wore in WWII (3) Olive Oyl was given a new look, by giving her a total makeover, giving her a “new face” and a new outfit to boot (even though the comic strip still maintained the classic Olive Oyl) and (4) Swee’Pea was given a new “look” by having him now wear a two tone pink outfit with a baby bonnet to match! OMG, it look horrid!! Luckily the comic strip still had the classic Swee’Pea in his original blue outfit with the fisherman’s cap.

      It is interesting how many liberties they took in designing their Popeye away from the established look in the funny pages. As a kid, I thought that was how the characters normally looked until I started to notice the look of Popeye in other medias like print.

      I doubt Paramount wanted to make Casper a permanent sad sack over several cartoons. He only was in this one because that’s how he was in the original (unreleased) story that Paramount bought off of Seymour Reit.

      I’m sure it took some time before they landed on the Casper we would know from the 50’s onward. There would only be two more shorts produced in the 40’s with the obese Casper for the meanwhile, and even then, those two tend to stay pretty close to what this first cartoon did such as with the Frank Gallop narration.

      I also seriously doubt “Ghost Wanted” had any effect on this. It came out 5 years prior and was never given a blue ribbon reissue. I doubt anyone in America remembered that cartoon by 1945 aside from Chuck Jones. Most likely they were just streamlining the character to make him more appealing, which is very common when a one-shot character becomes a recurring star character.

      Wouldn’t doubt that. Of course Paramount also was merely adapting someone else’s story to make “The Friendly Ghost” anyway.

    • I’m requoting a previous post here because I’m replying to the same issues from the same poster (!)

      I wouldn’t describe the early Casper as obese looking so much as looking like a little boy under an old bed sheet playing a ghost on Halloween, which I think was intentional in those early entries. (The first “Casper” cartoon was based on a children’s book (unsold?) that Joe Oriolo had co-written.) I also doubt that Jones’s “Ghost Wanted,” having been made half a dozen years before the first Casper (and co-incidentally featuring Tex Avery’s voice as the “boss ghost”) had much if any influence on Paramount’s animators so long afterward. Casper’s new look fit in with the general trend toward more streamlined designs at Famous thru the 40′s, trying to get away from the clunky Fleischer-style character designing

    • Actually, Swee’pea was redesigned in the comic strip in the 1950’s as well, while Bela Zaboly was drawing it. The “new” Swee’pea wore a sailor suit instead of a nightshirt, and could walk instead of crawling. It basically looked like Swee’pea’s head on someone else’s body. When Bud Sagendorf took over the strip in the late 1950’s, Swee’pea went back to his original design.

  • Perhaps the cue sheets for Famous cartoons aren’t as exciting as MGM and Warners because they’re full of little cues by Sharples himself. The other two studios had popular, recognisable songs that are fun to spot.

    • The cue sheets would be most valuable for identifying cues which later became part of the stock music packages Sharples and Hal Seeger put together.

  • What are the rules regarding UCLA’s film archives? You mentioned that they have the prints that aren’t “red as a beet”. What has to be done to get those versions released to the general public? Is it Paramount’s deal or someone else?

    • The “rules” are that UCLA’s Film and Television Archive holds (in this case) nitrate film elements (negs, prints, tracks, etc.) put on deposit there by the material’s owner. In this case that material is owned by Paramount Pictures. No one can do anything with those materials without permission of Paramount Pictures. If Paramount wanted to restored and release them – they could.

      If an established archive, museum or theatrical venue (one already vetted by UCLA Archives) wanted to screen a print in UCLA’s holdings, the archive or the venue would have to get permission from the owner of the material (that’s what I did in 1995 to show SHEEP SHAPE and others). Paramount and UCLA trusted MoMA to treat the material with care – which they did.

      Established credentialed researchers, authors, and historians could make an appointment with the Archive to screen a rare title (for a book project – I did this years ago, in the days before DVD, VHS and You Tube, for my original Warner Bros. Cartoons book) at the archive. They screen the film on a Steenbeck flatbed film editor – IF the film is in good enough condition to run through the machine. Some materials held at UCLA are now fragile and are kept in hopes of preserving the images digitally at some future date.

    • At this point, I think we should cross our fingers and hope Thunderbean manages to snag rights to the licensed Paramount cartoons at some future date. Because Paramount won’t do it. And Olive won’t do it (at least to the extent of locating the best existing prints).

      I could also recommend going to UCLA and making an appointment to watch it, but only if absolutely necessary. We don’t want to abuse the privilege and risk more wear and tear on their prints.

    • I could also recommend going to UCLA and making an appointment to watch it, but only if absolutely necessary. We don’t want to abuse the privilege and risk more wear and tear on their prints.

      There are times when I think this way too, and I’m sure it’s in the back of all our minds about this issue. It’s really tricky.

  • Amusing, on that contract, that Sparber signed on Kneitel’s line, and vice-versa. Unintended irony, anyone?

  • Great article!!! I especially love the rare brochure with Little Lulu and Popeye- who did the drawings of them on the brochure?!

  • Even though that Blackie cartoon is pretty derivative of Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood (and Bugs Bunny’s disguised in drag acts) it was actually pretty enjoyable. You’ve got to love all of the innuendoes all the animators snuck in like “The No Cover, No Tax, No Nothing” sign on the night club and the fireworks gag at 4:55.

  • You guys are too easy on the UCLA Archives. The Archive collection is in the hands of people who refuse to run any print made before 1935, on the grounds that it has “shrunken”, and won’t pass through a sprocketed film drive like on the Steenbeck editor. There are many sprocketless film viewers that could be used to see these prints, such as the ones used in the Library of Congress. UCLA won’t even maintain their existing Steenbecks, much less get newer editors or viewing machines that don’t have sprockets. They no longer serve researchers, but just hold on to the materials, not showing them to anybody. Eventually these nitrate elements will no longer be usable, and we’ll all be the losers.

    Too bad multimillion dollar corporations, like Viacom, can’t spend a few thousand to preserve the Terrytoons, for instance, for which UCLA Archives has the original materials. They probably feel that the Terrytoons are not worth preserving. We need a new copyright law, which makes it a REQUIREMENT that a corporation or copyright owner cannot renew the copyright, unless the original materials are preserved. Make sure you telephone your representatives about not fast-tracking the TPP, currently due for a House vote. It contains new copyright laws that give just about perpetual rights to corporations, with not one stipulation for preservation included!

    • “They no longer serve researchers, but just hold on to the materials, not showing them to anybody. Eventually these nitrate elements will no longer be usable, and we’ll all be the losers.”

      Wait, so they aren’t actually doing anything to keep the material from deteriorating?

    • Mark – Boy, I second your suggestion about needing a new copyright law which “makes it a REQUIREMENT that a corporation or copyright owner cannot renew the copyright, unless the original materials are preserved”. That’s exactly as it should be.

      David – UCLA is doing everything it can to keep the materials from deteriorating any further. Nitrate film, even in the most protective environments, can (and most likely will) deteriorate. It’s all a matter of time.

    • You guys are too easy on the UCLA Archives. The Archive collection is in the hands of people who refuse to run any print made before 1935, on the grounds that it has “shrunken”, and won’t pass through a sprocketed film drive like on the Steenbeck editor. There are many sprocketless film viewers that could be used to see these prints, such as the ones used in the Library of Congress. UCLA won’t even maintain their existing Steenbecks, much less get newer editors or viewing machines that don’t have sprockets. They no longer serve researchers, but just hold on to the materials, not showing them to anybody. Eventually these nitrate elements will no longer be usable, and we’ll all be the losers.

      Sounds like bureaucratic BS to me (also sounds a lot like a certain university I once went to).

    • I don’t doubt that. The big companies essentially control the holdings in most of these institutions, and the job of UCLA and others like it is curating. Some companies put more effort in preserving these holdings more than others, and Viacom may be the most negligent in this regard.

      Our best bet at times like this is to hope that 3rd party companies can wrangle a license from the copyright holder to access these materials. Really, there’s not much else that can be done outside of the studios or copyright laws to miraculously change.

      Sadly, I have little faith such copyright laws will be changed anytime soon. Too much big money riding those renewal bills through.

    • Terrific concept to enforce preservation, Mark. Agreed, it’s really a problem when corporate rights-holdings (perhaps unintentionally) gives these archival prints a “jail sentence” so, yeah, clever legislation is an appropriate counterweight.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWdfRRtAs3o

    • Thank you for bringing up the TPP and how it relates to this very important issue, and by extension to other matters in our lives. We, here in Canada, are being railroaded into this investment agreement that has virtually nothing to do with “trade”. I find it amazing that all these gigantic corporations apparently off-load all their pesky original materials to other organizations to hold for them, paying little to no money to do so, and then have full access to the materials whenever they want and for whatever they want to infinity and beyond. They apparently have no other allegiance but to themselves and their shareholders, not the citizenry for as long as those corporations exist! I have no idea which parties fund UCLA’s operations, but I bet it boils down to the public doing so.

  • Judging from the direction of the Ink & Paint girls’ gaze, it appears Popeye forgot to “hoist the mainsail”.

    “Goshk! This is embarrasskin’!”

  • Excellent article, Jerry! And Mark, you are preaching to the choir here.

  • Jerry- great brochure and article, thanks for posting!– So glad you’re taking this project on!

  • Great article!

  • Trivial question, Jerry. Am I correct in presuming that the ghosts in the Casper cartoons were transparent via double exposure?

    • No – the ghosts in Famous cartoons were due to a “transparent paint” they developed. I’ve seen the cels!

    • No – the ghosts in Famous cartoons were due to a “transparent paint” they developed. I’ve seen the cels!

      I’m impressed they did that at all. It’s too easy to fall back of cinematic tricks like that.

    • I visited an animation art dealer’s web page and found out how the “translucent paint” effect worked.

      They actually traced and cut a stencil mask for each cel of Casper, and applied the paint with an airbrush. On the other side, Casper’s features were inked in black per usual, but his body outlines were inked in light blue

      Amazing, ain’t it?

    • It is amazing how they did that, but it was practical. Double exposing Casper cartoons would have cost a lot of money and caused endless problems. The effect was so well done, that I must admit over the years that I thought they may have actually done it by double exposure. I am sure they had the technique down pat, but airbrushing on cels is not easy.

  • I’m one of those folks who think that Famous Studios really got off to a flying start. Several of their early Popeyes and Noveltoons had a lot more juice going through them than the wheezing final Fleischer efforts. One of the reasons Famous has such a lousy rep is that they didn’t firmly establish their house style and familiar character roster until the fifties when their quality was on auto-pilot. The vapid 50’s toons were the only ones they seemed to show on The Casper Show, which admittedly, I saw very little of because I couldn’t stand the main character. If only more of the color Popeyes had the spark of “Rocket To Mars” and “We’re on Our Way to Rio”.

  • Great piece, Jerry. And Mark Kausler is right about TPP. Call your representatives in Congress.

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