This week, we’re going to the moon (made of green cheese) with Little Cheeser!
In books, newspaper comics and pulp magazines, science-fiction heroes John Carter of Mars and Flash Gordon engaged in swashbuckling adventures set in outer space. Phillip Nowlan’s Buck Rogers made his debut in an August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, first named Anthony Rogers. On January 7, 1929, the character transferred to a syndicated comic strip. Buck Rogers’ success warranted a radio program in 1932, promotional films for the 1933-1934 World’s Fair in Chicago and department stores selling Buck Rogers merchandise around 1936. The phenomenon introduced Americans to the notion of developing space technology and exploration throughout the 20th century. In that regard, it was compelling to 1937 audiences to see Little Cheeser and his friends construct a spaceship after reading the Buck Rogers strip.
Little Buck Cheeser was rushed into the production pipeline by April 19, 1937, as Boxoffice magazine reported. Scheduled in between MGM’s February termination of their agreement with producers Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising and forming their own animation department in March, the cartoon isn’t under the “Happy Harmonies” banner but instead “Harman-Ising,” a serendipitous off-shoot name. The cartoon was released exactly eight months later, on December 19.
The animation in Little Buck Cheeser is certainly polished, and less compressed than its predecessor. Animators Bob Allen, Carl Urbano, Pete Burness, George Grandpre and Jim Pabian are credited in the draft, as they were previously. Burness’ animation in Little Cheeser is more pose-oriented; his animation here has a more ‘bouncy’ approach, more familiar in the Tom and Jerry and Warners cartoons he animated. Ancillary animators here include Merle Gilson, Dick Marion (credited with only one shot) and Rollin Hamilton. Hamilton animates most of the scenes with the tough Bowery mouse in the cartoon, with one sequence credited to Bob Allen.
All three previously worked at the Disney studios; Rollin Hamilton, hired in February 1924, was the first employee in his new Hollywood studio. He animated on the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons before he left in May 1928; Merle Gilson started as an assistant animator around 1929. Dick Marion (known later as Dick Hall) was an in-betweener for animator Jack King, but was fired around the end of 1931 when it was revealed he was looking for another job. Fascinatingly, each was involved with Ub Iwerks; Hamilton animated alongside him at Disney’s in the ‘20s. Gilson (along with Jim Pabian) was an in-betweener at Iwerks’ animation studio, assisting him on the early Flip the Frog cartoons. Marion worked for Iwerks much later, around 1935, indicated by a staff photograph.
The three animators also associated with Walter Lantz. Hamilton left Disney for Winkler Pictures, animating on more Oswald entries until Lantz gained the rights to the character. He left to work on Lantz’s early sound Oswalds until around early 1930. Gilson arrived at Lantz for two brief stints, as an animator around 1933-34 (with credits released between February to July 1934), and again in 1937-38 (with releases between May 1938 to January 1939). Marion animated for Lantz around 1937, credited on titles released December 1937 through May 1939. When Marion drifted into Dell Comics, he mostly drew funny animal stories for Lantz’s characters — including Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda — from roughly 1947 to 1955. Marion briefly wrote the comics, but gravitated to only the drawing duties for a higher salary. (Harvey Deneroff’s column and interview with Dick Marion can be seen here.)
The belief of the Moon being composed of green cheese is, of course, contrary to scientific knowledge, but the hypothesis has its roots in ancient history and folklore. Another assumption occurred in Van Beuren’s Silvery Moon (1933) where the moon consisted of various sweets and desserts. It’s unclear but possible that Little Buck Cheeser influenced stop-motion animator/director Nick Park for his first Wallace and Gromit film A Grand Day Out (1989). In Park’s film, the two construct their own rocket in order to acquire cheese from the moon.
Will Little Cheeser and his pals taste cheese from the moon? Watch the breakdown video and find out!
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Yowp, Jerry Beck and Frank Young for their help.)