Christopher P. Lehman
March 11, 2017 posted by

The Final Days of The Theatrical Cartoon Short

cartoon-mmatineeWatching a Walter Lantz “Woody Woodpecker” cartoon from the early 1970s feels like a bittersweet experience. After the logo for Universal Pictures fades to black in the opening sequence, Woody pops his head out to the audience, pecks his name on some wood, and hops around maniacally. The animation is fluid, and Woody’s face is expressive. However, that sequence reuses animation from the 1950s, and there’s sadness in knowing that the animation of Woody in the five-minute cartoon to follow will not be nearly as polished as those few seconds of the bird’s former self because of slimmer budgets in the intervening years.

I often wondered if people documented their experiences of watching late-era theatrical cartoon shorts, but recently I found some primary sources that seem to answer my question. Jim Korkis noted in his “Animation Anecdotes #134” for Cartoon Research that Lantz held a farewell luncheon for his employees on March 10, 1972, as his studio closed. March 2017 is the forty-fifth anniversary of that event, and my column for this month is about how the press covered the last years of theatrical cartoon shorts.

In the “Golden Age” of the 1930s and ’40s, motion picture companies sponsored animation studios and in return received cartoon stars and popular short films. However, budget reductions from movie companies, over-stylization of characters and backgrounds, excessive dialogue in the films, and technological gimmicks like 3-D and CinemaScope damaged the cartoon short in the years afterward. A “Silver Age” began by 1953, and a “Bronze Age” succeeded it in the ’70s. During those two eras, fewer theaters advertised individual shorts by name in newspapers, and even the trade journals stopped reviewing new releases. When reporters covered all-cartoon “kiddie matinees” just for “special interest” stories, only then would discussions of animated shorts appear.

A 1972 Woody Woodpecker cartoon rates billing in this newspaper ad  - from The Detroit Free Press, 10/24/73 - on a triple bill of R-rated action pictures.

A 1972 Woody Woodpecker cartoon rates billing in this newspaper ad – from The Detroit Free Press, 10/24/73 – on a triple bill of R-rated action pictures.

In the Silver Age few new stars emerged, and old stars appeared in cheaply animated pictures. “White flight” from desegregated theaters and strong competition from television programming led to declining ticket sales, which forced further budget restraints from film distributors. All of the remaining animation studios from the Golden Age eventually closed during the Silver Age. Journalist Kenneth Best wrote about a 15-cartoon matinee in New Jersey for his article “An Afternoon with Cartoon Friends” in Bridgewater’s Courier-News of November 21, 1973, and it encapsulates the cartoon stars of the era. The show had taken place four days earlier, and among the cartoons exhibited were DePatie-Freleng’s Scratch a Tiger, Croakus Pocus, and Blue Racer Blues and Walter Lantz’s Sleepy Time Bear. Best identified the program’s “featured characters” as “Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy, the Tijuana Toads, as well as the Aardvark and the Ant (sic).”

The reporter expressed nostalgia for the cartoons of old but did not entirely dismiss the new short stars. He wrote that the show’s “modern day Woody Woodpecker stories … are not as funny as the original ones made in the days of original Popeye and Mickey Mouse cartoons.” On the other hand, he called the Blue Racer “one of the more interesting characters.” Still, errors in the article reflect the minor star-power of shorts stars of the early ’70s. The writer misidentified the cartoon series title “The Ant and the Aardvark” by reversing the billing order of the stars. The “Blue Racer” series fared worse. The author misidentified the title-character as “a big blue worm” instead of a snake, and he wrongly called the snake’s adversary an “oriental looking bee” instead of a Japanese Beetle.

last-cartoons-70-600

Best may or may not have known that he covered one of the last matinees of theatrical animation’s Silver Age. Lantz’s final new cartoons were released by the time the reporter attended the show. For the rest of the 1970s, DePatie-Freleng produced the only new shorts series, and Walt Disney Productions released just two shorts–Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too in 1974 and The Small One in 1978. A Bronze Age had begun.

In the White Plains Journal News of June 1, 1975, reporter Linda Peterson’s article “Where Are the Cartoons” provided some insight as to how this new era arrived. She acknowledged DePatie-Freleng as the lone regular supplier of new shorts and that the popularity of the studio’s Pink Panther on television kept the character in theaters. Arthur Reiman–sales manager of shorts for the studio’s distributor United Artists–told her, “If we were depending on theatre rentals alone now, we’d never break even.” He then explained, “In 1970 we were shipping these shorts to 3,000 theaters each week. Because of the economy, we’re down to 750 theaters now, and the average rental price is $8.” And at the time each film cost $30,000 to produce.

dogfather-titlePeterson neglected to mention DePatie-Freleng’s other Bronze star: the Dogfather. As a canine caricature of Marlon Brando from the recent feature film The Godfather, the character had some cultural relevance. However, the Dogfather’s topicality did not attract press attention, and one of the rare newspaper references to the star did him no favors. In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of December 27, 1976, entertainment columnist George Anderson offered a damning two-sentence dismissal. “Have there ever been duller cartoons than those ‘Dogfather’ cartoons from DePatie-Freleng?” he complained. “I’ve had to sit through three of them lately, and they’re even duller than the scratchy tapes of Percy Faith Goes Latin American you usually have to sit through between features.”

When United Artists ran out of new Pink Panther cartoons to release to theaters in 1981, the Bronze Age of animation came to an end. For the first time since the Silent Era, the major Hollywood distributors essentially ceased releasing new animated shorts (Disney continued to limp along with its periodic shorts program, which included such films as Tim Burton’s Vincent in 1982, and Winnie The Pooh and a Day For Eeyore in 1983). Even that development, however, went largely unnoticed by the media, too. Whether the theatrical era ended with a bang or a whimper, no one expressed enough interest to write which sound it made.

39 Comments

  • Didn’t DePatie-Freleng’s longevity in the theatrical shorts game have more to do with their original contract with UA to produce x-number of shorts over a period of years (based on their success much, much earlier with the Pink Panther)? I have a soft spot for those 70s DFE shorts, but I thought I read somewhere that they existed for contractual reasons more than for their popularity.

    Also, how would you classify the modern practice of shorts quite often being included before a feature-length animated film (Pixar comes to mind first)? Has this been enough of a push to warrant consideration of a new “age” for short subjects, in your opinion?

    Great post, as usual! I always look forward to your articles…

    • Yes – it’s true the original contract by UA called for hundreds of DePatie-Feleng cartoons that took UA 17 years to release. It’s not unlike today’s Netflix business model that has them committed to making 10-13 episodes of a series in advance of premiering it (or the Netflix deal with Dreamworks for 300 hours of animated series).

      I wouldn’t exactly call the new policy of Disney and Pixar (and occasionally Sony, Illumination, Blue Sky and Dreamworks) releasing a short with their animated features a new “age” (at least not yet). One thing it HAS brought back is consideration by the Academy to nominate (and occasionally award) traditional studio animated shorts after decades dominance by independent animators, foreign studios and the National Film Board of Canada.

  • What I don’t understand is why Lantz himself didn’t direct the final cartunes himself? Not only do I think he was a better director than Smith, but Lantz would’ve save money on director costs.

    • Most likely Lantz was too busy with the day-to-day work of running the studio to direct. Plus he never thought of himself as an artist (despite evidence to the contrary) and was probably more concerned with keeping his staff employed than making art.

    • Nic, I posted a longer answer further below down this thread.

  • I remember seeing Lantz cartoons at a drive-in we used to go to when I was a kid, though I don’t recall paying much attention to them. Never saw a DFE cartoon theatrically, and I remember being surprised to learn, via Leonard Maltin’s OF MICE AND MAGIC, that those cartoons had been released theatrically at all. Disney would occasionally append a vintage cartoon to one of their “family-oriented” features, and a local theater had a couple of kiddie matinees every year, which always consisted of a feature preceded by three or four Warner Bros. cartoons. I remember my brother always complaining that he’d already seen the Warner cartoons on television.

    The problem with trying to sell new short subjects is that too many people have the mindset that cartoons are only appropriate to pair with “family features.” That, and theater owners are, frankly, not interested in them. They’d rather fill the time between feature showings with paid advertising than with a cartoon.

  • During the 70’s, old theatrical cartoon shorts were still being recycled for use before the main feature. Disney particularly reran several of their classic shorts. I recall seeing Pluto, Donald Duck, or Goofy shorts before a Disney feature film. So the idea of a short cartoon before a long feature did not entirely go away–but I’m guessing a lot of audiences may not have been much aware if a short was new or old, especially as there was such a backlog of theatrical short cartoons by that time. It’s been well-documented that the studios preferred the economy of re-releasing old shorts rather than creating new product. This may help to explain why there wasn’t much fanfare over the demise of new theatrical cartoons.

    These latter-day theatrical cartoons are a fascinating study, as well as the decline and fall of the great animation studios.

    Thanks for putting this together. I’ve often had a lot of curiosity about the later years of theatrical cartoon production.

  • My local Santa Barbara theatre still ran the occasional DFE or Lantz cartoon into the 1980s—at least before G- and PG-rated shows (at the time, I was too young to attend anything else).

    How long were the distributors making these cartoons available? At one point around 1985 I saw a 1960s Inspector Willoughby short; would such older titles have still been part of a formal distribution package, or would this more likely have simply been a random reel my theatre had lying around?

    • I worked for United Artists from 1978 through 1984. I was in distribution, and met and spoke with UA’s shorts manager Arthur Reiman (mentioned above) several times. Based on what I know and saw then, the shorts sat in the local film depots and were still regularly booked until the prints literally fell apart – years after their initial release – well into the 1980s. There was no formal rhyme or reasons to distributing short cartoons back then – it was mostly left to the clerk at the depot to simply keep track of which title they already sent a individual theater – and to make sure they didn’t send one the theatre already played.

      From my own experience, the random catching of a cartoon short in a theatre ended just around the same time (1987) when Warner Bros. made a big deal about releasing THE DUXORCIST as a stand-alone short. That’s the true dividing line. Since 1987, most animated shorts are physically paired with a feature film, usually from the same producing studio.

  • A Paul Smith Woody Woodpecker played in front of DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID when I saw it in first run. The theater sat 2,000. It was packed. Every one of those 2000 people except myself cheered. I knew what was coming. Half way through people screamed, “TAKE IT OFF!”

    Word from the theater owner to Universal after that screening would have been, “Send no more cartoons. The audience does not like them.”

    The industry today likes to refer to films as product. That is because anyone can create product. Not everyone can create great films be they short cartoons or full length feature films.

    Had that Woody been any one of the Woody Woodpecker films from the 1940s the audience would have gone nuts. Had it been Shamus Culhane’s brilliant THE BARBER OF SEVILLE that audience would have been rendered delirious.

    Going back to STEAMBOAT WILLIE theater owners have said the public does not come out for shorts. Luckily for Walt Disney one theater man, Samuel Rothafel (“Roxy”) said, “I can fill my theater with your cartoon.”

    Rothafel debuted STEAMBOAT WILLIE at his Colony Theater putting a major ad campaign behind it. Not only did he pack his near 1,800 seat theater repeatedly he made all of America aware of who Walt Disney was, who Mickey Mouse was and hungry to see the film.

    That is what made Disney.

    I realize long ago when I first met John Kricfalusi that success for his generation and the ones that followed is to have something they made on view on TV in their parents’ living room.

    Television is a one night stand. For myself theaters have always been where the real magic is at. I love the sound of thousands of people going batshit crazy laughing themselves silly.

    Unfortunately people like “Roxy” are few and far between. Showing classic films in cinematheques, museums, etc. is close but no cigar. They need to be seem where ordinary people go. At one time 65% of the public went to the movies on a regular basis. Today that figure is, according to THE CINEMA YEAR BY YEAR, less than 15%. At one time we saw short films designed to whet our appetites. Today we see commercials designed to pick our pocket. I, for one, would gladly pay NOT to see them.

    Is there a market for short cartoons in today’s movie theaters? Hell, yes. Too bad show-business has so few show men in it. Imagine Tex Avery’s RED HOT RIDING HOOD on screen in front of anything. Wowsa!

    • Hmm. That same year – 1982 – I saw a Woody cartoon from ’69, “Phoney Pony” precede a showing of Rankin / Bass’ The Last Unicorn.

  • In Michigan in the ’60s, ’70s and even into the ’80s, neighborhood theatres continued to run cartoon shorts. Local houses showed Lantz Woody and Beary Family shorts — and, yes, audiences despised them. I appreciated Universal’s apparent desire to amortize their investment in the latter-day Lantz cartoons, but being forced to sit through them was often a painful experience and did Lantz’ reputation no service. Reg Hartt is right; something like BARBER OF SEVILLE or LEGEND OF ROCKABYE POINT would have put the crowd in stitches. I saw a great many of the ’70s DFE cartoons first-run. [For the record, the Hoot Kloot shorts were a tad more tolerable than The Dogfather ‘toons; I thought John Byner’s voice work on The Ant and the Aardvark shorts was actually pretty good.] In 1975, I saw one of Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Heroes shorts in a moviehouse; I was surprised to see a late ’60s Terrytoon TV cartoon in theatrical distribution. As late as the mid-’80s, I’d even sometimes see a few Columbia-distributed HB Hokey Wolf shorts in theatres. Fortunately, “Cartoon Carnivals” at drive-ins (and occasionally at kiddie matinees at theatres) still usually featured good Warner shorts from the ’50s.

    The serious and dark tone of many notable movies of the ’70s made for uncomfortable or inappropriate pairing with cartoon shorts. In 1972 at a theatre in Detroit, I saw one of the greatest of all Mouse shorts — either THE BAND CONCERT or THRU THE MIRROR — play immediately before Frank Perry’s thoroughly depressing PLAY IT AS IT LAYS.

    Incidentally, the little Colonial Theatre ad featured in Christopher P. Lehman’s article includes a reference to something called SOUTH MAID MAIDS. After thinking about this — and bearing in mind that the Colonial would sometimes play old theatrical shorts — I believe this is actually the 1950 Three Stooges short SELF MADE MAIDS, the one in which Moe, Larry and Shemp play artists who want to marry their female models… also played by Moe, Larry and Shemp.

    • “As late as the mid-’80s, I’d even sometimes see a few Columbia-distributed HB Hokey Wolf shorts in theatres”
      Hokey Wolf? Aren’t you sure it was Loopy the Lopp?

  • I remember seeing a WOODY WOODPECKER cartoon shown before Woody Allen’s “ANNIE HALL” when I saw it in theaters. At the time, I thought that was terrific, because I’d heard an interview with Woody Allen where he mentioned that some of the telling of incidents in his life during his comedy monologues were based partially on cartoonish embellishments.

    I’m sure the young Woody Allen would have loved some of the same classic cartoons that we all cherish, especially those of the Max Fleischer Studios. I often wondered why he never insisted on a classic cartoon preceeding even his more artistic films, but I don’t know how much power a director has in choosing what films his or her films are shown alongside; that would be a nice touch, though.

    Indeed, I was not impressed with the WOODY WOODPECKER short that was shown, but it just felt nice to have a cartoon in theaters at all, even if it isn’t what we would call classic. Now, seeing a movie in a theater is like sitting in some kind of public living room where the big screen TV is constantly going and we get “treated” to advertisements; I hate to be so reactionary about it, but no one in the industry is truly being progressive anymore. It’s nice to have the occasional animation festival, but that is like just preaching to the choir.

    The idea is to get the cartoons circulating again in theaters so that the public at large is seeing them. That is partially how fans of so many generations got to see the stuff, and truly appreciate it. Television viewings were convenient, but seeing the same thing in a theater is a totally different experience, even now when we have quality copies of some of our favorite toons to watch again and again in our own living rooms where the TV is always on. I still hope for the day when animation is more than a tool for kids’ entertainment alone or semi-pornographic or sophomoric humor. Let those things exist, but at least show some artistic integrity. Even the dullest 1930’s cartoon looks and sounds amazing next to *SOME* of the current crop. I know that there are people in the industry who want to make a difference. I just scoff at those who won’t let that difference happen.

    • The only instance of a director having the power to insist a cartoon be played in front of his film was George Lucas, whom I believe cajoled a few theaters into playing DUCK DODGERS (1953) in front of STAR WARS back in 1977.

      As for Woody Allen – as a huge fan of his for decades, I’ve never read any interviews with him referencing cartoons of any kind, ever. That said, he did include a brief animation sequence in ANNIE HALL – and used Jackson Beck as a narrator in both TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and RADIO DAYS. Mae Questel, of course, appears on camera as Woody’s mother in NEW YORK STORIES.

    • Jerry – there’s a scene in Manhattan where Woody informs Mariel Hemingway she talks “like the mouse in the ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons”. I’ve always wondered if perhaps he was thinking of Jerry’s dialogue-heavy sequence in Anchors Aweigh, instead of any of the individual shorts.

    • Not to get too deep in the weeds, but frequent Woody Allen co-star Tony Roberts (Play It Again Sam, Annie Hall, Manhattan, etc.) is the son of Famous Studios narrator Ken Roberts and Famous Studios inker/painter Norma Finkelstein.

  • Yikes! In my previous post, I wrote that I recalled seeing “Columbia-distributed HB Hokey Wolf shorts in theatres.” I meant to write “Columbia-distributed HB Loopy de Loop shorts in theatres.” Sorry for my confusion.

  • A while back I asked my grandma, who’s going to be 92 this year, if she recalls seeing any of the ’50s or ’60s Looney Tunes in theaters when they were new. She did, but couldn’t remember specifics.

  • I wonder what “South Maid Maids” could have been – perhaps the Three Stooges short “Self-Made Maids”? The theater ad boasted an “All Color” program, though.

    • Everyone is trying to figure out the reference to South Maid Maids… My guess is it is an unrated “girlie” film – not an old Three Stooges short. It’s playing on a triple bill of R-Rated urban action films. The Woody cartoon was probably a “chaser”.

    • BTW, I posted that before B.Baker’s post asking the same question appeared. I remember that short, where the Stooges played themselves and their female alter-egos – and Moe also played the father of the “girls.”

    • And I remember seeing a Three Stooges short in a theater (at one of those “drafthouse cinemas”) in the early ’80s, before the feature – it was “Men in Black” (the Stooge short, not the feature).

  • I saw probably two DFE cartoons theatrically: Dune Bug, in first run with a 1970 showing of The Wizard of Oz, and Heist & Seek, at a second-run house in Ocean Grove, NJ, where they always had at least one cartoon before the feature before the theatre closed in the late 70’s.

  • I recall that the AMC theatre circuit made some deal with Warner Bros. in the 1980’s where WB supplied them with new prints of 100 of their 1950’s cartoons to be rotated in their theatres as added attractions, and the whole thing blew up in their faces. Audiences told managers they resented “having to sit through” a cartoon before the feature. Of course, most if not all of these cartoons had been run to death on Saturday morning TV shows for years.

    DePatie-Freleng, at least in its later years, was somewhat like Terrytoons under CBS in practicing what might be called dual-purpose production; with TV first in mind and theatrical release being just a brief stop along the way. Walter Lantz was apparently still making his cartoons primarily for theatrical release, with TV as a later afterthought.

    I recall reprints of MGM Tom & Jerry cartoons from the 40’s (and some of the Gene Deitch episodes from the 60’s) running in local theatres in the late 70’s/early 80’s; and for that matter, Columbia’s Three Stooges comedies as well (usually the later ones with Joe Besser.) There were even some Janus Films reissues of Laurel and Hardy.

    • I recall that the AMC theatre circuit made some deal with Warner Bros. in the 1980′s where WB supplied them with new prints of 100 of their 1950′s cartoons to be rotated in their theatres as added attractions, and the whole thing blew up in their faces. Audiences told managers they resented “having to sit through” a cartoon before the feature. Of course, most if not all of these cartoons had been run to death on Saturday morning TV shows for years.

      I wonder if that was similar to the deal they had around Bugs’ 50th birthday, that’s how I saw classics like “Baton Bunny” and “Big House Bunny” on the big screen around 1990. I never thought there was anything wrong with that at all, but then I guess I wasn’t the majority who complained.

      And while I don’t remember that era of the early 80’s and seeing any Universal cartoons before a film in a theater, I do remember “Smoked Hams” being played before the sequel to Problem Child in the early 90’s.

  • I recall seeing a late Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker in the early 1970s at a drive in where the projectionist didn’t bother to change the anamorphic lens that was being used to project that night’s double feature live action films during the 7 or so minutes that the non-anamorphic 35mm short was running. The cheap, low production values of that cartoon, shown with the improper lens yielded an absurd stretched-out appearance, letterboxing a print that was never intended to be so shown, though adding a general weirdness that, in retrospect, almost filled in for the overall lack of creativity or humor.

  • To Chris Sobieniak: I do remember cartoons before the feature at local theatres; these were single-screen downtown theatres before the mall multiplexes drove them out of business. (The multiplex here is gone too now; the owners were unable or unwilling to bear the cost of switching to digital.) We usually saw very beat-up prints, sometimes even incomplete with a generic end title spliced onto what there was. The manager said they paid a dollar-a-day rental for them and thought they weren’t even worth that much.

    I understand the recent Warner cartoon shorts are only three minutes each, at least partly because they don’t believe audiences will sit through anything longer. Guess that’s why they appear to have concentrated on the Road Runner; they’re all “blackout” gags and they can later take two and knock them together to make a new 6-minute short for their TV package.

    Another factor has to be that features have grown (more like bloated) in running time. So many features now run 2 1/4 hours or more, without trailers, shorts, ads or anything else. I wonder if digital will only make this worse now that film makers are no longer limited even by how much footage will fit on the projector’s platter.

    • To Chris Sobieniak: I do remember cartoons before the feature at local theatres; these were single-screen downtown theatres before the mall multiplexes drove them out of business.

      Then I guess I never known that experience since hardly any of those downtown palaces lasted past the 70’s, so I was more used to mall cinemas and dinky one or two screen outlets in the suburbs.

      (The multiplex here is gone too now; the owners were unable or unwilling to bear the cost of switching to digital.) We usually saw very beat-up prints, sometimes even incomplete with a generic end title spliced onto what there was. The manager said they paid a dollar-a-day rental for them and thought they weren’t even worth that much.

      Nice bit of irony there! I still have a drive-in theater on the east side that has gone digital without closing!

      I understand the recent Warner cartoon shorts are only three minutes each, at least partly because they don’t believe audiences will sit through anything longer. Guess that’s why they appear to have concentrated on the Road Runner; they’re all “blackout” gags and they can later take two and knock them together to make a new 6-minute short for their TV package.

      It is a shame they can’t go 7 minutes at all. Better than sitting through 7 minutes of infotainment crap my Cinemark theater shows.

      Another factor has to be that features have grown (more like bloated) in running time. So many features now run 2 1/4 hours or more, without trailers, shorts, ads or anything else. I wonder if digital will only make this worse now that film makers are no longer limited even by how much footage will fit on the projector’s platter.

      Who knows, I still can’t get over why every film now has to have bloated end credit sequences that would’ve looked better at the start of the film.

  • Christopher, your columns have really been insightful: I can’t thank you enough for offering your posts and the interesting discussion boards they invite. With this one in particular, you’ve also really pointed a lens at a part of the Lantz history that isn’t much discussed, that extended ‘bronze age’ that had the effect of really damaging the studio’s legacy, as witnessed by Reg Hartt’s comment that he saw people in the 1980s yelling “Take it off” to a projectionist running a late-era Woody cartoon. I’ve seen photos of that 1972 Lantz farewell luncheon you mention. Because everyone in the studio was so old, it was basically a retirement luncheon for everybody present. And I also wanted to answer Nic’s question about why Lantz wasn’t directing the cartoons anymore, having abdicated his studio director’s chair for more than two decades. The answer is really that Walter had morphed into a businessman and his passion lay there. I think that after his studio move to the Seward Street location, and during the great personal/financial success he achieved in the 1950s, his outlook became more ‘executive class’ and he lost that hunger he previously had, when he was constantly on the hustle to just make it and survive. Then, in the 50s he thrived, he got himself a yacht and he spent a lot of time golfing. Let me share something from a letter I got from Richard Williams in May 2000. I had just taken Williams’ brilliant animation master-class the month before, and afterwards I was in brief correspondence with him because I found out in chatting with him that he’d known Lantz and here’s what he wrote me: “I met Walter Lantz a few times, when Abe Levitow rented space from him on Seward Street. Abe had his own commercial company. I thought Lantz had a condescending attitude to animators, tho’ friendly. He talked to me as ‘boss to boss’ and mostly about money. Boring…” And that, I think, pretty well describes why Lantz/producer had long since given up being Lantz/director. It just wasn’t his bliss anymore to work down in the trenches making cartoons. In a way, it happened to Disney in the 50s, too. They became bosses of their industry, appearing on television as the face of their respective studio brand and overseeing lucrative new endeavors.

    • Thank you, Tom. I appreciate your kind words, and I enjoy your writings, too. Do you have any idea about what Lantz thought of his final music directors Clarence Wheeler and Walter Greene?

  • Here’s an oddball example: I remember going with my sister to see Barbra Streisand in “For Pete’s Sake” on Fordham Rd. in The Bronx. When we came in, they were running a color Van Beuren Felix The Cat cartoon. Because we missed the front I can’t tell you the title.

    • I’ve never seen a Van Beuren cartoon in a theatrical setting, but Charles I.’s comment reminded me that I did see a number of ’30s Columbia cartoons in moviehouses back in the ’70s. A few were ineptly re-drawn and garishly colored Krazy Kat shorts (THE BROADWAY MALADY was one of these); I couldn’t believe that Col had actually struck 35mm prints of these things. I saw the Color Rhapsody SPRING several times at different theatres; it seemed as though the print was being bicycled from house to house!

  • That’s a good question, though I really don’t know what he thought of Clarence Wheeler (silver age) or Walter Greene (bronze age) beyond the pleasantries he extended to his later studio employees. Mostly it’s my fault because in the conversations/interviews I had with Walter in the early 1990s I nearly always asked him about the ‘golden age’ (that’s what I wanted to know about) and he really lit up talking about the 20s, 30s, 40s. Also, he was more forthcoming talking about the long-ago past. When he volunteered things on his own, just chatting, those times he brought up more recent stuff, it tended to be about his beloved Gracie whom he missed, his Happy Art line, and (at that time especially) the booming new market for cel art and animation collectibles. I think even he kind of dismissed his ‘bronze age’-era cartoons a bit. He was loyal to his aging staff and he was generous for employing them past their primes when all the rest of the studio shorts divisions had folded. He must have been aware that most everyone there was phoning it then, but he also was not incentivizing anyone to push and do better work. He was ok with it: just keep on-time, on-budget. That’s sort of where he settled, but it made sense to keep making theatrical cartoons to fill out new episodes of the WW Show for tv syndication. However, I’m sure he was pleased with both composers considering their long runs at his studio. Wish I had more to share.

    • Well, many thanks for presenting this insightful and revealing information about Lantz during his TV celebrity days. I remember seeing a post-1964 Lantz Woody at a drive-in as an opener for AIP’s The Doberman Gang. The audience didn’t boo this Woody. There were some audience members actually chuckling at it. I was with my parents and we found it amusing, but it wasn’t as funny as the Woodys from the ’40s & ’50s.

  • In the late 1970s, Walter Lantz briefly visited Filmation, the studio that won the bid to animate a brief animated segment showcasing Woody Woodpecker for the upcoming Oscar telecast. Lantz was shown Virgil Ross’s just-completed Woody pencil animation on the then-new Lyon-Lamb videotape animation pencil test unit. Lantz, who came in wearing a then-stylish 1970s doubleknit sky blue jumpsuit, was delighted to behold a technological leap allowing the instantaneous viewing of pencil tests but his first verbal insight to spill forth, thinking like the producer he was, was that this invention was going save a lot of money. This points up Mr. Klein’s insight as to where Lantz’s concerns gravitated toward the end of his career.

    • I remember seeing that 1979 Oscar broadcast featuring Robin Williams presenting the special Oscar Lifetime Achievement award to Lantz. Thanks for sharing this for I always wondered what Lantz thought of Ross’ animation of Woody during that sequence.

  • As a kid in the early 1970s, I saw a handful of DFE Pink Panthers at the Broadmoor Theatre in Baton Rouge. Louisiana. Unless I’m mistaken, I believe one of them had the TV laugh track, which struck everyone as really weird!!

    Ironically, the Broadmoor was the “exclusive Disney” house for decades. The Pink Panthers were never shown before Disney features, though.

    The beautiful space-age mid-century mod Broadmoor was bulldozed over a year ago. The star of The Dukes of Hazzard, John Schneider, who now lives in Amite, Louisiana, just short distance east of Baton Rouge, managed to salvage the enormous iconic Broadmoor marquee, and installed it at his woodland production studio. Here’s a link.

  • I’m surprised we’re even talking about the 70s. I remember as a kid in the early 60s at the drive-in walking back to the family car from the snack bar as dusk settled in and the program began. It was a road runner cartoon and they were very popular on TV. I expected much from this one but it had a tinny sounding, thin music background and the animation wasn’t quite there. It only got worse.

Leave a Reply to Ian L. Cancel reply

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