WHAT ABOUT THAD?
April 27, 2015 posted by

Paramount Sales News #48: “Popeye Makes Room For Lulu”

July-September 1943

The transition continues as the Paramount animation staff continue to move back to New York. The Superman series comes to a lackluster end with Secret Agent (released July 30th), while Popeye ends his black and white career with the lightning-paced Cartoons Ain’t Human (released September 3rd). Both are embed below.

On the pages of Paramount Sales News, the studio’s predictions on which new series would be the latest sensation had proven unreliable before, and they proved unreliable again. Little Lulu was successful enough for four seasons worth of cartoons, but the plans for “Spunky” to be the next Pluto tanked.

The reboot, Yankee Doodle Donkey, was the premiere entry of the Noveltoon series a year down the road, the 1944-45 season, and was rightfully buried and forgotten upon release. Even by Famous’s increasingly mixed quality, it feels like a lackluster Fleischer Color Classic, but with ’40s animation. (Also: why a donkey? Why couldn’t the cartoon just be about a misfit dog? The story and gags just stink.)

July 15’s promotional panel mixing Popeye’s cast with Lulu is a great example of the simpler creative era those characters originally existed in. How many form letters would have to be written to have all of them appear in the same frame today, I wonder?

August 12’s photo-op gives us a peek at the “creative process”: Lulu creator Marjorie Buell (who was paid $500 per Lulu cartoon), Famous production manager Sam Buchwald, and a few Paramount suits. If John Stanley had never lived, would anyone honestly remember Marge’s vapid creation with any fondness?

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12 Comments

  • I wonder how much of the promotion of Spunky was a demand by Paramount’s sales department that the new Noveltoons series had to have a ‘name’ character to hype, and the studio simply dug out the name more available that wasn’t associated with the Fleischer’s Gulliver movie — i.e., You’d think if the Famous writers and artists actually had any faith in Spunky, they would have at least tried to force him down people’s throats for 8-10 months, as the studio tried to do with the Stone Age and Gabby shorts.

    The Famous Studios of the 1943-46 period seemed far more interested in trying to create West Coast wise-guy characters like Herman and Blackie than revive the Myron Waldmaesque cuteness of Spunky, especially with Waldman off in the military (Nick Tafuri may have been assigned to be the studio’s ‘cute’ director while Waldman was away, but any guy who talks to Shamus Culhane about that Disney “space and volume s–t” probably isn’t all that committed to Myron’s “Ooh Ahh” style, and from an overall comedy standpoint, the studio was the better for it)..

  • Seeing Little Lulu’s face plastered between Bob Hope and Bing Crosby is a bit…disturbing, lol… But I guess Famous had very high hopes for that character. I also remember the irony of all those Bob Hope comics published in the 40s and the many Bing caricatures in animated cartoons for so many years.

    • Little Lulu could have easily been quantified as a success for Famous Studios. The only reason they stopped making them was for legal/licensing issues.

      Also, the timing was good. The Superman series was considered a failure (partly because it was an expensive acquisition) and Little Lulu was clearly a news strip replacement. She had an existing fanbase, a distinct design, had an Our Gang premise that no other cartoon studios were taking advantage of, and came about at the right time when John Stanley was about to make the comic character into world fame through his superior writing/formula for the character.

  • I’d rather be married to Little Lulu than watch another Hunky and/or Spunky cartoon.

    DEATH TO SPUNKY ! ! !

  • Anyone know the back story of Hunky and Spunky? Were they a Fleischer Studios creation, or did they come from other source material? It seems like that could have caused legal complications, unless Fleischer had an agreement that created characters during a specific time period were Paramount property.

    • I haven’t heard about another source for Hunky & Spunky, but they sound like some kind of boring children’s book series.

  • “Secret Agent” was interesting for how it deleted Lois Lane and reduced Clark Kent’s reporting job to a phone call. Superman himself was minimized until the end. A bit before this was “Underground World,” which mostly ditched comparatively real settings for a fantasy/scifi world.

    It’s tempting to think they were toying with the idea of adventure cartoons without the presumably expensive Superman character. Would a wholly-owned hero have made the budgets workable?

  • There’s a pretty noticeable goof on the last Spunky promo in which the artist forgot to color in Hitler’s left sleeve.

  • The promotional cartoon with Swee-pea at the table with the four nephews makes me wonder… did Swee’pea and the nephews ever appear in the same animated cartoon? I notice Swee’pea isn’t in the “Cartoons Ain’t Human” cartoon even though it’s set in a family gathering where you might expect to see him if he’s still a member of the household.

    • Perhaps we should invent a word for occasions like this where characters, settings or events that have appeared with the continuing series star or stars are ignored over time. Like Richie Cunningham’s brother on HAPPY DAYS. Hmmm. Instead of continuity, this would be a case of CANTinuity? Swee’pea and the nephews CAN’T appear in the same cartoon? Would the universe collapse on itself should such a thing take place?

    • Well, Popeye’s nephews prayed for Swee’pea in ME MUSICAL NEPHEWS…

  • Even if John Stanley hadn’t created those terrific Little Lulu comics, I’m sure someone today would still fondly remember the character; every fictional creation is fondly remembered by someone. Heck, find the worst dreck of Filmation and Hanna-Barbera from the ’70s, and you’ll find dozens of fans for it.

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