WHAT ABOUT THAD?
May 11, 2015 posted by

Paramount Sales News #50 – Famous Studios 1944

January-August 1944

The danger signs begin in earnest, with this entry spanning eight months of 1944. The increasing juvenility of the Famous cartoons cost them the widespread market the competition’s had. Kids liked ’em well enough, but did anyone else? Fare like the Little Lulu series and the Raggedy Ann special Suddenly It’s Spring guaranteed an exclusive small-fry engagement. Only the warhorse Popeye continued to maintain general audience appeal thanks to ten years of familiarity.

It’s not like Famous was incapable of making successful cartoons similar to the darkly cynical or risqué ones that were filling the WB and MGM release schedules. See Cilly Goose and We’re On Our Way to Rio for the proof. An indifferent Paramount always threatened to shutter Famous, so it was safety first under that baleful cloud—experimentation and departure from formula were too risky.

01-20-44

01-20-44


03-02-44

03-02-44

03-23-44

03-23-44

03-09-44

03-09-44

04-20-44

04-20-44

05-04-44

05-04-44

05-11-44

05-11-44

05-25-44

05-25-44

08-10-44

08-10-44

08-17-44

08-17-44

16 Comments

  • Whoa! Paramount picks SPINACH PACKIN’ POPEYE to plug… a cheater stitched together with scenes from older Fleischer films? On the other hand, I think WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO RIO is one of the best of the Famous Popeyes. I may be in the minority, but I also think Lulu was the one series Famous produced that actually improved as it went along. Many of the most interesting entries like SUPER LULU and MUSICA-LULU were pretty late in the game.

  • The Lulu efforts where she’s paired against an adult male authority figure — starting with “Hulabalulu” and reaching its height in “Bargain Counter Attack” are the ones that successfully pair the cuteness quotient with the more adult-targeted violent slapstick humor that the West Coast studios had perfected. That series formula was perfect for the Nick Tafuri/Myron Waldman unit in that it mitigated the diabetic-level cuteness that unit focused on in a way Famous’ later series wouldn’t.

    Famous’ problem seemed to be that it couldn’t figure out who it wanted to compete against, Warners, MGM, Disney or its own past Fleischer history. So we ended up by the end of the 40s with cartoons trying to emulate, but rarely matching, any of those studios’ best product.

    • Bargain Counter Attack is my favorite of the series as well. Those ones always seemed to work better with the character unlike some of the other ideas they tried in the rest like “I’m Just Curious” or “Bout with a Trout”.

      Famous’ problem seemed to be that it couldn’t figure out who it wanted to compete against, Warners, MGM, Disney or its own past Fleischer history. So we ended up by the end of the 40s with cartoons trying to emulate, but rarely matching, any of those studios’ best product.

      That is true. It’s like they took bits and pieces of different studios but couldn’t succeed in any of them.

    • More often than not those male authority figures Lulu tilts with were voiced by Jackson Beck, a relatively recent addition to the studio’s roster of voice talent.

  • It’s a funny thing about Famous. I can’t think of any other theatrical cartoon studio of the era whose downward trajectory is far more the object of most animation fans’interest than the cartoons themselves. There’s something about Famous that brings out the “woulda – coulda – shoulda” Monday morning quarterback in animation fandom.

    Which is a shame in the sense that the fact that the studio could and did turn out some nice films tends to get lost in all the obsessing over what they were doing wrong.

  • I am one of those endlessly fascinated with Famous Studios – and its “downward trajectory”. Essentially the studio was the caretaker of the Popeye screen property. Popeye’s popularity in animation is almost hard to fathom today – but he was used as the front man to sell all the Paramount shorts, for all the studio producers, during that era.

    Why the “woulda – coulda – shoulda”? Famous Studios had A-class talent – the best animators in New York. The budgets were high (certainly higher than Terry, Screen Gems and Lantz). The films were top notch in terms of their look and professional technical qualities. Even the voices were first rate. Where they faltered was in story and direction. That’s what triggers my imagination. Why couldn’t the cartoons have been better? You look at the storyboards from Famous and can mentally cut together a great cartoon in your mind. When you compare the boards to the actual produced cartoon – you begin to see the trouble.

    Right from the get-go, Paramount seemed to have no faith in Famous to concoct its own characters – thus buying rights to Superman, Little Lulu and Raggedy Ann – and was given a budget to buy other established properties (Land Of The Lost, Snuffy Smith, The Bored Cuckoo, Gabriel Churchkitten, etc.). When Paramount’s enthusiasm for the studio waned in the mid-to-late 40s, these promo pieces disappear and new characters and studio originals that cost nothing to license, like Audrey and Casper, were somewhat foist upon the film going public. (Was there really a demand for Audrey and Casper? Maybe. It needs to be researched further).

    When their deal with Popeye ended in 1956-57, Famous Studios’ (now Paramount Animation Studios) days were numbered. And yet they lingered as a corporate line-item for ten more years. That period really fascinates me.

    I hope to continue the Famous conversation in a series of regular posts in the Monday morning slot here after Thad concludes this Paramount Sales News series. I’ll attempt to pick up where he leaves off, in the mid-forties, and chronologically follow the studio to its demise in 1967. Should be fun!

    • Looking forward to that!

    • Really, even going into the early 1960s, Famous’ one-shot cartoons (particularly the ones written by Irv Spector) still have a lot going for them. It was the one-shots that were turned into continuing series with only minor variations in the plots that made the early 50s cartoons annoying, while in the late 50s the stories on several of those series improved while at the same time Paramount shredded the animation budgets.

      Even going all the way to the Culhane-Bakshi efforts of 1966-67, there always seemed to be something that made the studio’s product, if not masterpieces, at least films worth caring about. Which is why the under-achievments from the late 40s on were so frustrating.

    • I don’t know what was worse for that studio: the fact that Seymour Kneitel and Isidore Sparber had talent, but squandered it; or Paramount’s questionable demands put on them. However, I did like what Culhane and Bakshi did during the last years of the studio.

    • Famous Studios might have almost been shut down circa 1956-57 instead of transitioning to the lower-budgeted Paramount Cartoon Studios. In Fred Grandinetti’s biography of Jack Mercer is a letter from Virginia Mercer from that era regarding Allen Swift telling people that he was the “real” voice of Popeye. She said that her husband might be having to find employment elsewhere because Famous Studios might be closing, and thus she didn’t want Swift taking possible jobs away from him by claiming that he was the “real” voice of Popeye.

    • Jerry Beck said…

      When their deal with Popeye ended in 1956-57, Famous Studios’ (now Paramount Animation Studios) days were numbered. And yet they lingered as a corporate line-item for ten more years. That period really fascinates me.

      That is an interesting time to talk about, especailly after ’59 when they gave their original characters away to Harvey.

      I hope to continue the Famous conversation in a series of regular posts in the Monday morning slot here after Thad concludes this Paramount Sales News series. I’ll attempt to pick up where he leaves off, in the mid-forties, and chronologically follow the studio to its demise in 1967. Should be fun!

      Love to read those!

      J. Lee said…

      Even going all the way to the Culhane-Bakshi efforts of 1966-67, there always seemed to be something that made the studio’s product, if not masterpieces, at least films worth caring about.

      I think moreso for Culhane, I’m not sure Bakshi really appreciated this point in his career personally.

      Which is why the under-achievments from the late 40s on were so frustrating.

      It is hard to noodle over how things went from Little Audrey to Marvin Digs like that.

      Shane Skekel…

      I don’t know what was worse for that studio: the fact that Seymour Kneitel and Isidore Sparber had talent, but squandered it; or Paramount’s questionable demands put on them. However, I did like what Culhane and Bakshi did during the last years of the studio.

      Culhane and Bakshi certainly had more leeway in doing what they did, course I suppose by that point in time Paramount simply stopped caring until Gulf+Western stepped in to wind things down forever.

  • I wonder if Famous considered bringing back Betty Boop when they saw what Tex Avery was doing with Red Hot Riding Hood over at MGM.

    • Their answer to “Red” was to put Blackie in drag in Sheep Shape (1946).

    • Oh well.

    • Actually, Famous did a knock-off of Avery’s “Red Hot”- somewhat – in We’re On Our Way To Rio (1944), with Señorita Olive as the nightclub singer and Popeye and Bluto as the “wolves”.

  • Maybe Famous just didn’t have an organic reason to be. Fleischer was unique, with periods of sustained genius. (And part of their demise was by trying to copy other studios). Except for mindless violence, Famous didn’t have much going for it. At first they had the Fleischer look, without the Fleischer soul. It really wasn’t until the post 57-58 cartoons that they had an identity of their own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *