Today, we look into a Terrytoon featuring Farmer Al Falfa!
Paul Terry began his career in animation when he had two animated films released through the Thanhouser Film Corporation in 1915. His first, Little Herman, remains a lost film. Down on the Phoney Farm has resurfaced in recent years (thanks to Dave Gerstein and Tom Stathes, naturally). The latter production was the first to feature an old hayseed farmer character later christened Farmer Al Falfa. Terry worked for a brief period in 1916 at the Bray Studios, where he directed 11 Al Falfa cartoons. After he left Bray, he produced a few titles under Paramount Magazine before he formed Fables Pictures in 1921. Terry and his staff produced a great amount of Aesop’s Fables, released once every week that often featured the character.
After producer Amadee Van Beuren fired Terry from Fables Pictures, shortly after their pioneering synchronized-sound cartoon, Dinner Time (1928), he continued to use Farmer Al Falfa in several sound entries — including Summertime (1929), Custard Pies (1929) and The Iron Man (1930) -– before Terry took the character with him at his new studio. His first official Terry-toon, French Fried (released September 1930) wasn’t part of the television package in the 1950s; hence, the title hasn’t been shown since its theatrical release. The Explorer became part of the library, but this television copy is missing a key component in which Farmer Al Falfa negotiates to buy the North Pole; scenes 1, 2 and 4 are repeated at the end of the cartoon instead. Viewers may want to notice Al Falfa’s new purchase, which is placed behind his plane in the background. The draft makes light of what the network excised, but this abrupt change in scenery, without any indication, makes the cartoon seem bewildering upon viewing.
Frank Moser, Jerry Shields, Bill Tytla and Art Babbitt are the main animators of this cartoon, with assistant artists “Sarka” (still unidentified as of this post), Connie Rasinski, Jose Carreon, Jay Allen Klein, George Gordon, and another unidentified artist credited as “King.”
Born in Nebraska, Klein was an assistant at Terry-toons in the early ‘30s and later became a print cartoonist, credited as “Alan Klein” (his WWII-related illustrations are at this link). It’s unclear who “King” is; it couldn’t be Jack King, since he migrated to the West Coast at Disney’s by 1929. Could it be someone related to him? Many animators had siblings who were in the business on the same or opposite coasts — for example, Art and Mannie Davis — but “King” is a difficult surname to distinguish, so it might be too ambiguous to solve.
Tytla’s scenes in The Explorer have an appealing pliability — one of the few dynamics kept alive by the studio, and used by future full-fledged animators there. These reflect a small progression from Tytla’s fine arts training during his trip to Europe from 1929-30. Scenes 5-7 are fluid and graceful, in contrast to Moser’s angular drawing style and Shields’ vestigial movement.
George Gordon, known for his work as an animator/director for MGM, started at Terry-toons in 1930 and later became a director at the studio by the mid-30s; he left in 1937. Scene 23 is a standout in the cartoon, where Gordon assists Frank Moser on amusing depth effects when a bear ice skates, using bars of soap, far away into the horizon and back again.
Enjoy this week’s breakdown video!
(Thanks to Mark Kausler and Charlie Judkins for their help.)