“PM is pleasing millions with it’s clear, clean taste.”
I had a post a while back that was about Alcohol in cartoons- I should have included this back then, but here it is…
PM Picnic was one of the first ‘oddball’ cartoons that I bought a print of. I got it from a film collector friend who knew I was thinking about putting together VHS collections of cartoons. It was originally on Cultoons, Volume 2, on VHS, released in 1989. These days it appears on ‘Cultoons, volume 1‘ from Thunderbean. My print is missing the last few seconds, having suffered from curling…
The film was made for National Distillers Products Company, who owned a large share of the Whiskey business though the 30s and 40s. The company had been around well before that, dating back to the 1800s (and surviving though the prohibition by producing products for other countries, funny enough). National Distillers acquired many small companies through the 20s, including PM and Old Crow Brands, who went bankrupt during prohibition.
I think the idea of a Whisky having ‘Clear, Clean Taste’ is ridiculous in the first place. It seems even stranger to me that the the agency that came up with the ad campaign would ever have considered featuring cute little animals to sell
what was (even then) one of the least expensive Whisky brands on the market. The animation was produced in 1948, made in a two or three week period.
Al Stahl (who did the animation for this film) explained to me that the product was ‘Just awful’ when I talked to him on the phone a few years after seeing this film. Stahl ran a little shop called ‘Al Stahl Animated’ at 1600 Broadway in New York, the same building that housed the first Fleischer Studios. Al seemed like a really nice guy. As so many people of his generation, his life and career had been put on hold by WW2, being drafted and serving as a private in the early 40s.
Stahl was, not surprisingly, taken a little aback being asked questions over the phone about his early career, especially coming from a clearly very young person. After a few minutes, I think he realized I truly was curious and
interested, and opened up. He went on to explain that he had been working on comics at the time when this little job was brought in by Chad Grothkoph, a fairly busy comic artist who Stahl had worked with on various comics. He
credited himself as producing the first animated film for Television in a section of the ‘Famous Artist’s’ correspondence school course, though sadly the name of the film isn’t listed. ‘Chad’ (as he often abbreviated his name) would later draw the Howdy Doody comic strip as well as animate and design many television spots.
As for PM Picnic, Stahl said Chad had done some storyboards for a small ad agency that were used to pitch the idea for this low budget advertising film (to be shown at conventions or as a sales tool). Even though it was a tiny agency, they managed to get some good talent on the track, with both Ted Husing and a not-so-famous yet Art Carney.
When Chad was too busy to follow through with animating the job himself, he asked Stahl if he could do it, though he remained the director on the credits. Stahl said he really directed it, strapping together a camera setup with tape
and pipes, doing ‘nearly everything’ on the film. It was shot on a Bolex camera, in 16mm Kodachrome. He said that it was this film that really launched his career and was the first production he produced as a studio. He said he wished it had turned out better, but said with a laugh that he was happy the camera held in place!
Besides being quite a good comic artist, Stahl ran his small studio from the early 50s well into the 90s. Some of the more famous things he produced includes title animation for You Bet Your Life (I wonder if he really had done ‘The Best of Groucho‘ version), The Honeymooners, The Electric Company and sequences for Sesame Street and other shows. I asked Stahl if he had previous animation experience, and he said he had- working at both Famous and Terrytoons at different times. I wish I had asked him for more specific years on those stints. In later years, Al was producing ‘Animation in ONE DAY!’ for Ad animatics and low budget spots. I’d love to hear about other people’s experience with him.
A handful of years later, I was lucky enough to spend a little time with animator/ director Myron Waldman. I asked him about Stahl, and a slight smile crept over his face. “Cheapest game in town”, he said though the smile. I was a little scared to ask him much further. I did give Waldman a copy of ‘Cultoons, Volume 2‘ that had PM Picnic on it back then. Waldman was familiar with producing things on low budgets of course, and when I told him about PM Picnic, I was perhaps a little harsh in my evaluation. Waldman was somewhat sympathetic to Stahl, saying that I shouldn’t be so critical since it was clearly a quick job, and I didn’t know all the circumstances. It’s something I’ve kept in mind all these years.