THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
May 1, 2014 posted by Steve Stanchfield

“The Kool Penguins” (1935) and Other Smoking Hot Cartoons

Just a quick note: I think it’s important to share the history of animated films if you’re lucky enough to be able to. It seems a huge shame to me that so many films exist and are so hard to see. One of the continuing missions of Thunderbean Thursday (and Thunderbean as a tiny company for that matter!) is to at least make many of these rare films available. I’ll never be under the assumption that this somehow makes the world a better place or anything, but it does allow many things to at least be seen – and for history to be more accessible. If you had worked on one of these films more than half a century ago, I think you’d smile hearing that someone enjoyed your work all this time later.


One of the oddest animated short advertising films ever made is the 1935 Kool Penguins cartoon, produced for Brown and Williamson, a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco Company. The film was made by Audio Productions in New York, who also made the wonderfully bizarre Once Upon a Time (1936). Never has a cartoon made smoking look so appealing and friendly.

kool-cigsKool was the first American Menthol brand. The penguin cartoon mascot of course (‘Willie’) is representing the ‘arctic menthol coolness’ . It’s the first character to be directly associated with a smoking brand, but far from the last. It’s hard to say if cartoon characters have a big impact on people smoking. I did smoke briefly in High School myself, but I could never attribute that to my great love of Popeye.

The film tells the story of refugee penguins leaving their home under threat of being skinned to go work in the Kool Cigarette factory in Louisville, Kentucky. They almost instantly adapt to their new factory jobs; one wonders how the company operated before they arrived. On their way across the ocean to the states, they notice that New York is feeling down in the dumps under a very ‘happy’ sun. Note taken.

By the end of the cartoon, New York is a happy place to be once again, and to top off the evening’s events, the statue of liberty even gets a lesson in coolness.

It’s difficult to watch the cute little penguins literally snow cover the city with cigarettes. In a more informed time, there are things about this film that are both completely charming and sad all at once. Having lost my mother this year largely due to smoking, it is especially sad to think that children were led to believe the casual enjoyment of cigarettes was an experience similar to delicious candy.

I do wish I had a 100% complete copy. This version appears on Cultoons, Volume 1, and was available though the generosity of the continually essential Mark Kausler. I’m aware of at least one more print that is more complete with titles, but I have yet to see it. It resides in New York, and I hope to someday find something so ‘cool’ to trade that the longtime collector who has it will finally let me borrow it. What I do know is that former (and later) Fleischer animator John Walworth directed the film. It looks to me like a mix of experienced and much less experienced animators on the picture, with some shots timed very well, while others are bizarre at best.



Here’s an early 50s Kool spot. I think a still from this spot appears in the Famous Cartoonists’ Course.



Of course, Disney’s Pecos Bill has our hero very much enjoying his cigarettes. On some later home video releases, Disney would remove his smoking all together, leaving a few scenes looking particularly bizarre.



Speaking of Walt Disney (a chain-smoker himself) – here’s Goofy, aka George Geef, a smoking addict. You won’t see this one broadcast on the Disney Channel anytime soon.



On other smoking notes, Fred and Barney of course enjoyed their Winstons, as Winston was the first sponsor of The Flintstones:



There aren’t too many ANTI smoking cartoons, but at Famous Studios there was at least this film from 1954. One has to wonder how many people smoked that worked on it. It’s neat to see this transfer I did many years back still show up on the internet, with it’s original ending intact, from a well used 35mm Technicolor print:



Another smokers nightmare appeared from Paramount in 1961.



The educational market takes note. From the mid-60s, The Huffless, Puffless Dragon, produced by Ernest Pintoff:



Halas and Batchelor produced this educational short in 1967; it’s one I had never seen before. Here in a fairly nice copy:



In later years of course, Joe Camel set off a new argument about cartoon characters appealing to children in advertisements. It was even said that the camels nose was designed to resemble male genitals.

Joe was spoofed by the Dartmouth College-produced short Falldown Brown in Smokey Lies in 2000. Here is a link for the trailer of this short, produced in earlier days before more assessable CG animation software and rigs.

As for Joe Camel himself – We’ll give him the last word:

31 Comments

  • Kool was my mother’s brand of cigarettes, before she quit smoking. BTW, there was also a “Willie the Penguin” comic book, published by Standard, which ran for six issues in 1951.

  • Wow….a parade of smoking and anti-smoking films, most of the clips I have seen already…….what made you jump to do this?

    • Mom’s birthday was just a few days ago. She would have been 70.

  • You can tell a Fleischerite made that film, albeit rather ineptly. Maybe the timing department wasn’t so bad after all.

  • There were some anti-smoking commercials with Yogi Bear around the late 60′s/early 70′s. I remember one of them that ended with Yogi saying that smoking makes you “cough your head off” followed by a shot of a Jellystone tourist, cigarette in hand, coughing until his head bounced off of his body and onto the road. Bizarre, but effective.

  • This is quite fascinating. I had always HEARD of the Pecos-prunings….but i never knew HOW….or what those scenes looked like “edited”! Where/ how would we find that. What a riot to redo such great animation!

    • It was a shame, though that was only in the North American release I recall (at least I know the European releases keep the cigarette in).

    • Here’s a fairly modern Disney children’s sing-along that uses the retouched footage. To avoid actually mentioning smoking, the song cuts the verse about Pecos taming the cyclone, thus jumping straight from one chorus to the next (we do still see a bit of the cyclone).

  • No Ifs Ands or Butts is one of my favorites; it’s a darn shame you can’t see this one as much anymore due to we can’t show kids such a cartoon, and then, here we go again, cartoons are for kids.

    • The cartoon was released on a 1986 Wordvision Harveytoons tape that featured every Buzzy cartoons which I have.

  • “Speaking of Walt Disney (a chain-smoker himself) – here’s Goofy, aka George Geef, a smoking addict. You won’t see this one broadcast on the Disney Channel anytime soon.”

    Well it use to.

    “In later years of course, Joe Camel set off a new argument about cartoon characters appealing to children in advertisements. It was even said that the camels nose was designed to resemble male genitals.”

    First time I ever heard of that was from a college art teacher 17 years ago. It never occurred to me though I suppose it’s hard not to see in camel faces in real life.

    “Joe was spoofed by the Dartmouth College-produced short Falldown Brown in Smokey Lies in 2000. Here is a link for the trailer of this short, produced in earlier days before more assessable CG animation software and rigs.”

    One I remember quite well was an episode of Comedy Central’s “TV Funhouse” series that combined Joe Camel with Pokemon. Albeit crude, they certainly played the genitalia route pretty well here.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fe48nyhFGPQ

    Looking elsewhere in the world, Germany had a long-running campaign for roughly a quarter century of a cartoon man who constantly got himself into all sorts of fixes only to have things set right from smoking a brand called “HB” (Haus Bergmann). Originally began in 1958, these ads continued on TV until 1972 and in cinemas until ’84. Here’s some examples.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfMj8vY73_c
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR9kno5powU
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTXrS6yzYHc

    There’s been DVD releases of these in recent years though they tend to remove references to the brands and/or cigarettes used, keeping only the main sections concerning the guy’s troubles in doing everyday things.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4I8NZhIVdE0
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6ayhb6RCmo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD_qkXO1Ngo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HkLb12iTXM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t01x4LOF1GA

    • Thanks for the links on the German ads. A handful of them appeared on Absolut Medien’s History of German Animation DVD set and I was wondering what the deal was with the odd edits (You would think Absolut Medien would at least, for a set surveying films in historical context, license uncut versions of these ads).

  • Oh I just thought of a anti-smoking PSA of note to mention, here’s one from the 70′s featuring the Big Bad Wolf trying to blow down the Three Little Pigs’ house.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yI87wNolpY

  • but i’m sure NO one forgot the grandaddy of them all ! : http://www.trilulilu.ro/video-animatie/14-wholly-smoke

    • I was also surprised Wholly Smoke was not mentioned. Nickelodeon even went through the trouble of editing large portions of the cartoon (mostly the song sequence) in the 90s and this one was on pretty often. It’s also one of the earliest anti-smoking cartoons I know of.

  • This one is fun too : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMSZp7YkVQg

  • Great stuff. Will have to watch all tonight.
    One of the first things I did in Flash:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmb_D-PbpH4&list=UUgdXrKlYK0APkedsVL1zIOg

  • My father smoked cigars when he was alive, but I’d always seen the cigar-smoker in cartoons as ugly or troubled–take note of the cigar-puffing coach in “ALONG FLIRTATION WALK” or the fact that Ivan Skavinsky Skavar spits back a puff of cigar smoke as an ugly challenge to fight in “ABDUL THE BULBUL AMEER”, and most big bullies or criminal elements in older cartoons were also heavy breathers and heavy smokers.

  • The Kool Penguins also make an appearance in Friz Freleng’s “Billboard Frolics” (late 1935 or early ’36, depending on your reference guide of choice)

  • 1991

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rHHEKj8DEc

  • The creepy smoking actor was featured in the ‘Get Stupid’ intermission video piece from Madonna’s ‘Sticky and Sweet’ tour. Get Stupid Video

  • Did anyone ever seriously question Popeye’s pipe? Granted, I’m not sure he lighted it much (if ever) , and he seemed to use it almost exclusively as a steam whistle.

    • I recall reading that H-B made a note of that during one of thier infamous PSA spots from their late ’70′s Popeye show (again, why did the parent code had to happen?).

    • I recall reading that H-B made a note of that during one of thier infamous PSA spots from their late ’70′s Popeye show (again, why did the parent code had to happen?).

      Some parents felt telling their kids wasn’t enough.

    • There was a Popeye cartoon that ended with his father spanking him for smoking. Popeye sings [to the tune of his theme song] “He really ain’t jokin’, I shouldn’t be smokin’, says Popeye the Sailor Man.” I don’t remember the name of this toon, but I’m sure someone here will.

    • There was an interstitial of the HB Popeyes in which he and Bluto are having a running race and it is explained Popeye’s pipe is for tooting, not smoking. Bluto is smoking a cigar and of course loses.

  • Speaking of Joe Camel (though not really animated here, but still amusing)….
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fhyLcsH7nU

  • According to several trade ads, the 1935 “Kool Penguins” cartoon was directed by Frank Lyle Goldman and Bob Roberts. Goldman worked on another film for Audio, ‘Rhapsody in Steel’ (1934) (ONE OF MY FAVORITES!) which features an elaborate stop motion and cartoon animation segment at the end of the film. The music to “Kool Penguins” may have been done by Edwin Ludig who did the music to other films made by Audio Productions, Metropolitan’s “Once Upon A Time”, and Ford’s “Rhapsody in Steel” and “Symphony in F”; several trade ads state that Ludig was the musical director at Audio Productions.

  • Has anyone yet posted “A Time For Decision” on You Tube or any of the other video services? It’s a 15-minute anti-smoking cartoon made by Hanna-Barbera for the American Cancer Society circa 1968. It features Don Messick and other H-B voice regulars, with music by Dean Elliott, and has funny spoofs of 60′s cigarette ads for brands like “Hazard” and “Taps”! (Steve, do you know if the copyright on it was renewed?)

    • If not, than it should be OK to post someplace if someone has it. Speaking of Hanna-Barbera, I see the National Archives uploaded this gem.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNsKGx94_KE

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