Editor’s Note: Today starts a new series of weekly posts that are sure to excite long time readers of this blog and fans of Fleischer and Famous Studios in particular. Thirty five years ago, when I was doing research for Leonard Maltin’s “Of Mice And Magic” at the Lincoln Center Library, I came across a set of bound volumes of in-house newsletters from Paramount Pictures of the 1930s – each issue featuring unique sales art featuring Betty Boop and Popeye. Back then, making copies of this material was cost prohibitive, and photographing these images required large cameras and set ups that were simply out of the question. But I never forgot about those rare Fleischer print cartoons.
When Thad Komorowski recently began doing research at the same New York public library, I asked him to check to see if these volumes were still there. He found the 1930s volumes – and more. So beginning this week, Thad will present these wonderful forgotten Fleischer (and later, Famous) pieces in chronologic order – annotated and embellished with corresponding Paramount cartoons. I want to especially thank Thad for compiling these posts for me and the readers of Cartoon Research. It’s going to be a quite a weekly treat. - Jerry Beck
Above: Front and back of a promotional postcard sent to Paramount salesmen in 1945.
One of the best/worst parts about working on a new book is gathering all kinds of things you’ve never seen before that you probably won’t get to share. Publishing is dead, and heavily illustrated tomes that don’t fall under the category of “Disney” or “CGI” are unlikely to happen. Thankfully the Internet has changed that, with tons of artwork and documentation that had no chance of seeing print now available at the click of a button.
An attractive art book could probably be made out of the cartoons drawn by Fleischer artists that appeared in Paramount Sales News, the weekly trade sent out to theaters and exhibitors telling them what was new and forthcoming from Paramount Pictures. Almost every week, starting in 1934, a fresh cartoon would appear featuring either Betty Boop or Popeye plugging their respective series. These went on from 1934 to 1945, ending, fittingly, right around the time Paramount stopped caring about the cartoons it was distributing.
Such was not true in 1934, when the Fleischers’ cartoons were the only ones to truly rival Walt Disney’s in popularity. Betty Boop was at her peak (right before Joseph Breen told her and Jean Harlow to put some clothes on) and the adaptation of Elzie Segar’s eccentric comic strip was a smash hit.
As Bill Lorenzo reminded me when I saw him recently, Hal Seeger claimed to have drawn any number of these when he was a very young man while working at the Fleischer studio. (According to Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald’s interview with Seeger, he was first an opaquer, then the writer of the Betty Boop comic strip.) I can’t ID many of these with absolute certainty, but the lettering certainly matches Seeger’s.
Forgive the varying, uneven quality, for these are in bound volumes and not easy to scan. Rest assured they are well preserved, though.
For the first few weeks, the cartoons’ prominence was ambitious, with two appearing weekly.
January 17, 1934
Before we go, let’s have a look at some of the cartoons Paramount was shilling to exhibitors during the weeks when these ads ran.
Keep an eye out every week for a fresh batch of these!