Writer’s note: there really isn’t a cult of Marty Monk, or anything that could remotely be called that – but it makes a great title, doesn’t it? I promise not to gaslight any further, and intend to tell the truth here.
A while back, when I was still a teenager, I was informed by a well-known 16mm cartoon collector that I really hadn’t correctly considered what was ‘good’ and what wasn’t. My summation of the Famous Studios cartoons as ‘ok’ prompted this criticism. Further, he informed me that only the really cool cartoon fans appreciate how great the Noveltoons and Terrytoons are, and that I’m at least interested in the Scrappy cartoons, so that made me at least a cut above the other ‘average’ cartoon fans. I still know this collector, and I’m glad I’ve kept in touch with him because he’s provided some of the ‘coolest’ things we’ve been able to release… and I won’t hold it against him for setting that 14 year old straight.
I consider myself a latecomer knowledge-wise in some ways; of course I’ve read lots of books on animated films, although had not studied the films by the bigger studios as much as my die-hard friends. Certainly I’ve enjoyed the films, but I really started to know the Warners animators better the last 15 years or so, and well as other areas. My interest in the odd and obscure studios has by far outweighed my interest in the well-known in terms of further knowledge or research. I think this is because I’ve been so interested in finding ways of presenting these rarer films to a bigger audience. All of that said, in my full time job I teach a class in animation history, so key films are often much more considered and discussed. Obscure films do make some appearances throughout the semester as well.
Marty the Monk, however, is something that DOESN’T make an appearance. He’s relegated to a small club of wannabe characters created by small, independent studios that almost all seem to pop up a few years into the dawn of the sound era. His honorary classmates include Buster Bear, Simon the Monk, Goofy Gus (and his Omni-bus), Piccolo Pete (with Tillie Twitch), Pepper the Pup (renamed Hector the Pup), Benny the Bear, Goofy Goat, and Binko the Cub. The small studios that produced these films were often populated with talented artists that went on to bigger, more stable jobs.
Boyd La Vero’s cartoon studio is one of the most obscure- and produced some of the strangest of these often strange early 30s animated films. Their studio’s work was probably seen more in silent 8mm and 16mm home movie versions than in actual theatrical release.
Interestingly, the 1933 Film Daily Yearbook makes a note that Romer Grey’s Studio make ‘Kowboy Kid”’ cartoons as well as Boyd La Vero’s (misspelled Boyd La Werd’s) Marty Monk series. Cal Dalton animated for both series; the reuse of footage from a Marty Monk cartoon in the Binko short ‘Hot Toe Mollie’ now makes a little more sense. Grey’s studio doesn’t seem to have been in business (or at least making films) as late as 1935. Perhaps their appearance in that book is based on a single press release rather than the reality of production.
In terms of the La Vero studio’s work that does exist, Marty the Monk (1931) and it’s retooled follow-up, Mere Maids (1932) exist as a rare and interesting example of the attempt to sell La Vero’s wares. It seems like the first film actually found distribution, likely from more than one company. Perhaps it was difficult to find additional interest in the character without something special or novel about the shorts. A second edition of the film uses much of the footage of the first film, but framing it with the popular silent device of the live action artist drawing his characters- even chiming in to help our hero’s car get across train tracks at a pivotal moment. Boyd’s concentration on drawing in only matched by his fevored smoking.
The first version actually has another title as well – Jungle Holiday, interestingly using Powers’ Cinephone. This is likely the original title of the cartoon. Arch Fritz is credited for the soundtrack. Brilliant film score composer Carl Stalling often used this pseudonym in his scoring of many of these early cartoons by independent producers.
We owe a debt of gratitude once again here to the essential Mark Kausler, who’s efforts in film collecting have an Important preservation aspect. He generously allowed me to borrow these two rare prints for transfer.
There is one other known Marty the Monk short, Mexicali Lilly (1932), spelled ‘Mexically’ on an 8mm silent film version’s box of the short. All three of these films appear on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Cultoons, Volume 3’. We recreated a score for the last film from the two earlier shorts.
It’s hard not to like aspects of both of these films, although they are honestly more a curiosity than completely entertaining. The animation quality varies greatly throughout. From a story and character perspective, the framework seems to exist only to pull off the situations. Still, I’m glad they still exist as interesting footnotes in the history of animation in the 30s. Have a good week everyone!