Animation History
April 1, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

Fleischer’s “Stone Age” Cartoons

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With Dreamworks’ The Croods topping the box office, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the original “modern stone-age” cartoons. No, not The Flintstones. Twenty years before that – Max Fleischer’s Stone Age Cartoons.

Never heard of them? You’re not alone. The clipping above is from The Miami News on June 9th 1939. I don’t think the series received much more publicity than this. I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate a bit about the circumstances of this obscure group of cartoons which came-and-went during the calendar year 1940.

The Fleischer’s had moved to Miami. The Betty Boop cartoons were losing favor. Mae Questel (Betty’s voice) decided to remain in New York. My guess is that the exhibitors didn’t want the Boop’s anymore. They ran their course. By 1939 Betty represented another era. Betty’s final “season” included cartoons in which she played second fiddle to monkeys, hillbillies, Pudgy and Sally Swing. To fulfill their contract, the Fleischer’s actually released a Betty Boop cartoon without Betty Boop (Yip, Yip, Yippee). And no one noticed!

stoneage_logo175I believe that wherever the idea for this Stone Age series came from, it as decided in haste to make it a series. I believe the first one was intended as a one-shot (like Yip Yip Yippee) and it was decided afterward to keep making ones like it – hence no regular starring character. The production numbers for the Stone Age series carried the “B” designation, held over from the Betty Boop productions. (Popeye’s were “P”, Color Classics were “C”, Superman were “S” and so on).

The Fleischer’s had a 1939-40 contract for 12 Boop’s Stone Age films to be delivered before September 1940. Because of the last minute switch from Betty to the Stone Age cartoons, the first one debut in February 1940 – and the last one reached the screen in late September 1940.

They didn’t catch on, they never had a chance. The following season (1940-41) the black and white series became the generic Animated Antics. In addition to several lackluster original cartoons, Fleischer used that series to give solo shots to some the Gulliver’s Travels cast – Twinkletoes (the pigeon) and Snoop, Sneak and Snitch (the spies). Max even made for lost time by picking up a bizarre Charley Bowers short (Pop and Mom in Wild Oysters) and I believe the first “Speaking Of Animals” (Down On The Farm) was released under this series umbrella.

Back to the Stone Age: These were produced when Charles Thorson was in house, and you can see his circle based character designs all over the production. (You can see some of his Stone Age model sheets at Michael Sporn’s Splog). Dan Gordon, who animated on several of these pictures, would recall them twenty years later to help concoct The Flintstones for Hanna-Barbera.

Below is one of those storyboards (or beat sheets or “director’s rough layout”) for the last Stone Age short, Way Back When Women Had Their Weigh (9/26/40). You’ll note the original title was the punny, “Man About Ton”. The film was directed by Tom Johnson and among the animators in his unit were Harold Walker, Ben Solomon, Jack Ozark, Frank Endres and Graham Place. If you look close (click on each to enlarge image) you can see which animator animated which scene. Below the boards is the final cartoon for comparison. Margie Hines is the cave girl, Pinto Colvig voices the heavy set man.

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19 Comments

  • Really, the period from 1940 to mid-’41 was not good all around for the Fleischer’s short subjects — even the Popeye series struggled after the first year in Miami, as the studio seemed to be adrift in attempting to keep their bread-and-butter series from becoming too formulistic, while at the same time going through the pains of trying to adopt more west coast animation tools (via the Disney returnees) and lighter, faster-paced stories (via writers like Tedd Pierce, George Manuel and Cal Howard from Warners). Whether it was a rushed-into-production Stone Age series or the decision to put Bluto on hiatus for a year-and-a-half in order to try and make a star out of Poopdeck :P appy, none of the studio’s 1940 and early ’41 moves worked out very well.

    It may have just been that the emphasis at the time was too much on the features, first with “Gulliver’s Travels” and then with “Mr. Bug Goes to Town” to fully focus on the shorts.. The Popeye series has a strong enough foundation to make it through the weak 1940-41 period, but the Stone Age cartoons and the Animated Antics shorts never really had a chance. It was probably as good a time as any for Paramount to force the Superman series on the Fleischers, while it took the looming outbreak of World War II to free up the Popeyes to new story ideas that revitalized the series.

    • The reasons for the various cartoons with POOPDECK PAPPY are varied. While the difficulty of recasting a voice for BLUTO was a challenge, the use of PAPPY offered new territory to explore for more comedic opportunities. Considering the “Bluto Hiatus,” it’s odd that a more concentrated effort wasn’t made to find a comparable replacement voice. While all agree that Jackson Beck was the best replacement, it’s unfortunate that four years were wasted on miscasting when Beck was definitely working in radio then.

    • I’m not clear about the sense that STONE AGE was “rushed” into production. Perhaps enhancement in the stories by the directors may have been an issue. But the main problems were with the characters. Not only are they ugly, but they had no identifiable personalities and uninteresting voices. While the Press Release suggests that there was an anticipation from audiences to find a star character, their just wasn’t one there that was a standout of any sort.

    • Bill Nolan’s two Pappy cartoons are probably the best of the bunch. Whether or not he had any hand in it I don’t know, but “With Poopdeck Pappy” and “Child Psycologiky” are smart enough to focus the stories either on Pappy annoying other people besides his son, or going up against a character (Swe’Pea) who can come out on top in the end.

      The problem in part with the other Pappys and the 1940-41 Popeyes in general is that in an effort to stay away from the Popeye-Olive-Bluto formula, they came up with story lines where the sailor man ends up defeated at the iris out — by his dad, the Jeep, Rip van Winkle, a bunch of flies (a bunch of flies? Jeez…). The results were mostly annoying, as were most of the characters the studio came up with for the Stone Age, Gabby and Animated Antics efforts of the same period.

      The shorts got back on track by the fall of ’41, but that wasn’t enough to save the studio.

  • Interesting how, by this point, the Miami gang was barely going through the motions with any actual ‘prehistoric’ jokes. Aside from the occasional turtle or mastodon gag, most of the Fleischer crazy invention stuff could have been worked out in a contemporary setting. And, of course, the wrap around is simply a reworking of A CLEAN SHAVEN MAN. Still, not without some charm. Keep up the good work, Jerry!

  • There is no indication that SPEAKING OF ANIMALS was an entry in the ANIMATED ANTICS series, but was granted its own series by Paramount. After the poor performance in 1940, Paramount went elsewhere to fill its short subject interests, which also opened the door for the George Pal PUPPETOONS. Regardless of the perceived and slight decline of POPEYE at this time, POPEYE was the only cartoon of value that Paramount had. Due to block booking, exhibitors were paid a “bonus” to accept the entire package just to run the POPEYES. That meant that they had to accept the less popular cartoons that included STONE AGE, ANIMATED ANTICS, and GABBY.

    There was an inconsistency in the story quality of the ANIMATED ANTICS, where some were actually good cartoons with great animation that were ruined by bad musicianship and poor scores. These were not among Sammy Timberg’s best efforts and its obvious. But Max and Dave were so enamored with Timberg that they left everything in his hands without question. Adding to this the hostility between the brothers, there was a lot going on unattended and left for granted. Adding to the problem was that these series were produced in black and white, which added to their devaluation.

    Another problem with these cartoons was character design. The STONE AGE series in particular was ugly and old fashioned looking. Appealing character design was a major flaw of Fleischer Studios in its attempt to move into the 1940s. Oddly this problem was quickly overcome following the official change to Famous Studios. The oddity is that the same crew that was responsible for the major turnaround was at Fleischer. So the question is why didn’t they come up with these things sooner?

    • Hi Ray, According to the “Final Short Feature Release Schedule of Paramount Pictures”, 3rd Quarter, 1940-41, there was an Animated Antics (Special) released April 18th, Prod. # HO-7,: “Speaking of Animals (Down On The Farm)”. So there is your “indication”.

    • Just a guess, but seeing your bosses get fired might be a pretty good motivator to get off your butt and get stuff organized. If you don’t, you know it’ll be you next.

  • Was this NTA print masking Paramount Titles at the beginning? It seems we look at the name of the cartoon for a very long period over music before it gives the animator credits. It’s a bit depressing to think that this was the best they could come up with. Maybe it’s a reflection of the personal and professional turmoil going on behind the scenes at the Fleischer studio.

    • That appears to be due to the retitling by U.M.&M. It no doubt would’ve originally opened with the Paramount logo and then the “Paramount presents A Max Fleischer Stone Age Cartoon” card, seen with a black bar covering up the “Paramount presents” text above in the article and in this NTA print of Way Back when a Raspberry Was a Fruit: [link].

  • I’d never seen this before. I agree — not great, but with moments of charm. I do think that the turtle-as-waffle iron scene is very clever.

    Sad to say it, but I get tired of hearing what are basically the same voice characterizations on almost all Fleischer cartoons of this period — Mae Questel, Jack Mercer and Pinto Colvig, altering their voice talents slightly (or not) from cartoon to cartoon. Mercer and Colvig didn’t even begin to have the range of Mel Blanc, and Questel was no Bea Benaderet. They needed more people to augment them. Just my opinion . . .

    • It’s actually Margie Hines instead of Mae here — Margie took over as the studio’s main female voice just before the move to Miami and held it until Questel returned when Famous moved back to Times Square.

    • Mercer had quite a vocal range. I think you under rate him. But even Blanc had his limitations, too. I totally agree that the voice talent pool was too limited, and the people they had were used up. Once of the first smart things that Famous did was to expand its talent pool, which improved things greatly.

  • Wow. I wouldn’t have recognized that voice as Margie Hines’. Margie was wonderful during the brief time that she voiced Olive Oyl; she brought out the more annoying (and hilarious) aspects of Olive’s personality in a way that Mae didn’t. I have a feeling that the Fleischers capitalized on that, too — during the early ’40s, Olive had a certain insanity to her that had been seen before only in the earliest Popeye shorts, and which was never seen again after the mid- ’40s.

    • “Bulldozing the Bull” is Margie’s first voice work as Olive, and the Fleischers started phasing her in as Betty about the same time, though Mae still did a couple more shorts before the studio’s movie south. Hines’ last voicework as Ms. Oyl was “The Marry-Go-Round” at the end of 1943, and Mae comes back two cartoons later (who voiced Samba-singing Olive in “W’ere On Our Way to Rio” remains one of history’s great unanswered questions….)

  • Is in’t Way Back When A Triangle Had Its Points (1940) considered a lost cartoon?

  • J Lee, I think you forgot that Margie Hines was BETTY’S Voice before Mae Questel assumed the role. There was no “phasing her in” so much as her being the replacement when Mae was no longer available.

  • Belatedly Hi back, Mark,

    You wrote: According to the “Final Short Feature Release Schedule of Paramount Pictures”, 3rd Quarter, 1940-41, there was an Animated Antics (Special) released April 18th, Prod. # HO-7,: “Speaking of Animals (Down On The Farm)”. So there is your “indication”.

    This is interesting because the Copyright registration lists SPEAKING OF ANIMALS #1 “Down on the Farm MP11070, (c) 18Aug41 under the series titles released from 1941 to 1949. Perhaps that “Special Release” led to the series independent of the ANIMATED ANTICS series. “Indications” again are that this was another film Paramount bought to flesh out the Fleischer series, just as they bought MOM AND POP IN WILD OYSTERS, which had nothing to do with productions from Fleischer Studios, as you know.

  • Regarding the “going through the motions” and the bad cartoons of 1940, the answer is found in Dave Fleischer, who took complete control of production by this time. Look at the approval signature on Model Sheets by this time. Only his name appears. The SUPERMAN models show only Dave’s signature on them.

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