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September 8, 2016 posted by Jerry Beck

Hirschfeld Meets Harman/Ising

good-little-monkeys3This past weekend I attended Cinecon, an annual classic movie film festival and collectors convention in Hollywood. While perusing the dealers room, I came across a fellow selling press books from obscure films. Since I love looking at vintage movie advertising and have quite a collection of press books myself, I took a look at his material for sale.

I came across several press sheets for MGM short subjects, which I knew were rare – but even rarer were press sheets for MGM cartoons. One of my prize possessions is the press sheet for Harman-Ising’s The Old Mill Pond (which I posted here back in 2013). How many cartoon shorts did MGM market to exhibitors with individual press sheets? We know Disney did this for each and every Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony short in the 1930s. Beyond The Old Mill Pond, I had only previously found MGM press sheets for the Willie Whopper and Happy Harmonies series (promoting the series itself, not individual cartoons).

As I went through the pile I kept my eyes open – and soon found this sheet (the complete sheet, back and front, is embed below) for the MGM Happy Harmonies cartoon, Good Little Monkeys (1935). What struck me as odd was that the artwork to promote the cartoon was “off-model” (to say the least). Not Bela Reiger bad, but stylized as to mislead the viewer as to the style of the cartoon. Previous MGM press sheets were accurate to the style of cartoon art in the film.

Despite these unusual graphics, I purchased the press sheet (for a very reasonable low-ish price) – and later on took another look at it. And then it hit me. This stylized art was by famed caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. It wasn’t signed – and no “Nina’s” in sight – but I remembered that Hirschfeld had done the MGM Marx Bros. posters for A Night At The Opera and A Day At the Races, for the short Plane Nuts starring Ted Healy and The Three Stooges, and numerous other MGM marketing art for everyone from Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy to Our Gang.

good-little-monkeys-standeeHirschfeld started his career drawing caricatures for Hollywood studios in 1925. In 1927 he began a long-term association with MGM. Good Little Monkeys was simply one small assignment for him amongst dozens in 1935, but its as brilliant as any of his work – in fact, its a rare example of his art suggested by the subject, not a caricature of the subject.

As for the marketing itself – MGM was positioning Good Little Monkeys as the “1935 successor to Three Little Pigs“. That may say more about the popularity of the Disney short than it does about the qualities of the Harman-Ising cartoon.

The publicity department urges the exhibitors to feature the short in their ads, “Put it in lights! Sell it hard!” Not only were the three monkeys the new pigs, but “The Devil” was apparently the new “Big Bad Wolf”!

In the press sheet the monkeys are referred to as their Buddist names – “Iwazaru” (Speak No Evil), Krkuzaru (See No Evil) and Mizaru (Hear No Evil) – and the publicity stories contain several “news” items about how hard it is to create an animated cartoon. There are also “quotes” here from Rudolf Ising and Scott Bradley – and the publicity boasts “Ninety Laughs in Nine Minutes!”. Apparently a 52-inch lobby standee using the Hirschfeld art was also made available to theaters to use! (How’d you like to find one of those?).

Here is the complete press sheet – click on it to enlarge. Enjoy!

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For the record – here’s a bad dub of Good Little Monkeys (off Daily Motion by way of Boomerang). I’ll leave it to you to decide if this was the successor to Three Little Pigs:

13 Comments

  • Good Little Monkeys is one of my favorite cartoons. It reminded me of later versions of the Warner Bros. Looney Toon/Merrie Melodies cartoons including Have You Got Any Castles and Speaking of the Weather.

    My favorite moment of the cartoon is when The Devil (from Dante’s Inferno) was trying to lead The Good Little Monkeys by giving them peanuts and singing “The Peanut Vendor”. (El Manisero) while using a peanut as a rattle and playing a Middle Eastern flute summon a Beautiful Belly Dancer to entrance the GLMs but they ran away wailing “NOOOOOOOO!” and started to sing The Good Little Monkeys song before being entrapped by the clutches of the Devil. I’m curious of what the instrumental song that was preformed in the Belly Dancer sequence in Good Little Monkeys?

    Later on about nearly 35 years later Al Hirschfield did a uncredited cameo in Rankin Bass’s The Daydremer showing the Caricatures of the main cast of the film both in their live action character or animated characters like Hayley Mills, Burl Ives, Ed Winn, Boris Karloff, Margret Hamilton, Patty Duke and Ray Bolger (both in his live action and animated roles).

  • Beautiful poster art. If only all cartoon posters were that stylish.
    It’s a pity that Hirschfeld’s artwork was never put into animation until the 1990s. His flowing lines and expressive designs seem a natural for animation, although the 1930s animators would probably have a hard time translating his work into motion.

    • Disney celebrated Al Hirschfield’s work and style in the animated segment of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for the sequel of Fantasia,Fantasia 2000.

  • It’s a bit puzzling as to why Harman and Ising would call one of their cartoons a “successor” to that of their former boss, but then, I’m never sure of just how they severed their ties to Walt Disney. I would have thought that they considered Disney now their competitor and, although this is a story of the ultimate fight against good and evil, I don’t see it in the same vain as “THE THREE LITTLE PIGS”. However, Harman or Ising had not been nominated or won their first Academy Award, so I guess that they figured that Disney would have been the template to which all studios’ cartoons and art should be compared.

    Oops, my mistake, they were nominated for “IT’S GOT ME AGAIN”, one of their MERRIE MELODIES from Warner Brothers. I agree that “THE GOOD LITTLE MONKEYS” reminds me more of the inanimate objects come to life” cartoons that Warner Brothers’ animators did so well up through this particular period. That particular advertisement poster was indeed a find, because you don’t often find anything celebrating the release of any of the MGM cartoons. It’s the kind of art work that could adorn an official DVD release of the complete series. I wonder if there are any bits of art advertising the release of any of the MGM Bosko cartoons which were a small part of the HAPPY HARMONIES series (only 9 cartoons), and did their cartoons continue to be compared to those of Walt Disney?

    • Wouldn’t all the press sheet’s ballyhoo, including the “Three Little Pigs” reference, have come straight out of the same publicity arm of MGM that produced all their other press books and sheets, not from Harman & Ising?

    • Disney actually released a cartoon made by the Harman-Ising studio, “Merbabies” as a Silly Symphony, and also “outsourced” some ink and paint work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the Harman-Ising studio, so they must not have been bitter enemies. (Though back in the WB days, I think Harman and Ising did get a phone call from Walt Disney telling them not to make any more Foxy cartoons.)

  • I love Harman & Ising cartoons visually. Sometimes they outdo Disney. I’m still waiting for my 90 laughs in 9 minutes. It was a terrible idea to compare them to the Three Little Pigs. There’s no character development of the monkeys, nothing to differentiate the three of them. This one had potential but then falls back on the hackneyed ‘everything comes to life and beats the villain’. And what’s with the devil’s bod? The devil in cartoons always has a smashing physique. If God is portrayed he’s some old guy in a beard and sandals covering up his girth with a white mumu. Thanks for posting. I’d love to have a Harman Ising DVD collection, but I guess we’ll never have another decent collection of golden age animation unless Thunderbean does it.

    • God wears a Muumuu?? I thought it was a type of Toga that God wore or either a Ezor or a Kethōneth or a Simlāh.

  • Thanks Jerry!

    The Hirschfeld touch makes a good thing better.

    I’d never seen this one before. A typically decent HH entry, lavishly animated and mostly unfunny; still great to see though. The only comparison to 3 Little Pigs is that the lead characters are a trio.

    Since I don’t believe in the devil, his depiction here as being dickless seems entirely appropriate, haha.

  • Not that it’s really important, but the names of the three monkeys should have been Iwazaru (don’t speak), Kikazaru (don’t hear) and Mizaru (don’t see). Apparently the copy editor’s name was Shirazaru (don’t know).

  • Seems like MGM’s publicity crew was downright desperate here; trying to tie the cartoon not only to Disney’s “Three Little Pigs” but also to RKO’s two-reeler musical “La Cucaracha,” made to show off the new 3-color Technicolor process in live action. I’m not sure if this campaign was intended more to attract the audience or appease the exhibitors. (The less said about those cardboard monkeys, the better…)

  • I have a 16mm print of this. It’s missing the “Black Beauty” gag, but otherwise is very nice.

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