Animation History
March 9, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

The Last Days of “Looney Tunes”

It was an odd, confusing time for Hollywood studio theatrical cartoon shorts in the 1960s. The world had completely changed and though the traditional animated short (popular with movie goers since the 1910s) were still welcomed – production costs had gone up, film rentals had gone down and competition from television had eroded the overall quality of the finished work.

Independent and foreign animated films were challenging and progressive in ways the now old-fashioned Hollywood cartoons couldn’t be. Most studios began dismantling their cartoon studios – at the same time continuing to release the last of their films. As a child of the 1960s, I still recall seeing Pink Panther and other DePatie Freleng cartoons at my local theatre. Those seemed so sophisticated compared to the cornball Walter Lantz Beary Family, Chilly Willy and Woody Woodpecker shorts.

Warner Bros. actually closed their cartoon studio in 1962, but continued to release its last shorts into 1964 – and kept Bugs Bunny alive in the 1960s through reissues of his classic films. By 1964, the studio began outsourcing production of new Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner cartoons from DePatie Freleng at half the cost.

In 1967, Warners decided to reopen their in-house cartoon department under producer Bill Hendricks, apparently with the mandate to create new characters. This trade ad explains the new thinking:

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Merlin the Magic Mouse had all the earmarks of a rejected Hanna Barbera TV cartoon. Originally voiced by Daws Butler (then replaced by Larry Storch), this W.C. Fields rodent prestidigitator was a sad come down for the studio who once produced the greatest cartoons ever made. At least I could understand the rationale for Cool Cat. He’s a beatnik tiger (though by ’67 hippies had replaced beatniks as the non-comformist youth culture) created to rival the uber-cool Pink Panther.

These studio release charts below – issued at various times and updated throughout the year – will give you an idea of Warner shorts activity during the last days of such distribution.

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Notice the discrepancies in release dates on these charts. Accurate release dates are always hard to determine – and should really be considered a “rough idea” of when a film was released.

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This was the last Warner Bros. cartoon theatrical from 1969. Since it poked fun at native Americans, it hasn’t been released on DVD or shown on TV. Believe me, it’s Cool Cat at his best.

34 Comments

  • Yeah, I thought the last cartoons as directed by McKimpson, were mostly decent. At least he had a sense of direction, unlike someone at another studio.

    • You wouldn’t be referring to Paul Smith at Walter Lantz, wouldn’t you? :-)

  • In the last five years or so, Canada’s Teletoon Retro cable network has aired the early-70s “Merrie Melodies Show”, which includes “Injun Trouble” in one of the episodes. In fact the entire series is post-64 shorts. Jerry, do you know if that series ever aired in the US or just in foreign markets?

  • I love how that ad tries to make it look like they were still making Bugs Bunny cartoons at that time. I also love how silly the classic Bugs looks next to the late ’60s drawings of Speedy, the Roadrunner and Negadaffy.

  • Warners was playing it incredibly safe by the mid-60s, targeting their cartoon to be shown on Saturday mornings and going with characters that were just copies of what Hanna-Barbera already had on Saturday mornings (the one break with that, “Norman Normal” ended up with the “Cartoon Special” moniker, apparently to warn people off from expecting what they had come to expect from your average 1960s Looney Tune or Merrie Melodie). The contemporary shorts in the final days of Paramount by Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi are wildly hit-and-miss, but at least they were trying at times to do something different under the constrains of a limited budget.

    (Also, looking at the release schedules from 1969, they seem to stop at “Bugged by A Bee”. Are there any sheets that have “Injun Trouble” on there, or did the short just never make it onto any release schedule because W7 had lost interest in short subject releases?)

    • “Injun Trouble’s” release date is most often given as September 20, 1969.

  • Open question: when INJUN TROUBLE began development, I find it hard to believe that the staff already knew it was their last cartoon. Thus, it’s easy to imagine they had further cartoons planned and in the pipeline; Keystone Kops shorts had been announced, for instance, and I’m presuming there was intended to be more of Cool Cat, Merlin, and Bunny and Claude.

    What I wonder is—has a list of planned or shelved cartoon titles survived from “the end”? Were any actual titles announced for release before being put on the shelf? Not being into this period of the studio’s history, I have no idea.

    • I don’t have a definitive answer, but I would assume some springboards for further Merlin and Cool Cat cartoons were created. They may not have expected the studio to close, but it IS possible they knew Injun Trouble would be the last Cool Cat (for now). Based on contracts I’ve seen from other studios, shorts were usually contracted to the animation units (or studios) on an annual basis, for a specific number of cartoons. The last ten cartoons (the 1968-69 season) – if you isolate them out – are an interesting batch consisting of 3 Cool Cat, 2 Merlin, 2 Bunny and Claude, and 3 Misc. (Chimp and Zee, Flying Circus and Rapid Rabbit). Producer Hendricks was most-likely informed mid-way through production of these cartoons that the studio close after the completion of this contract.

    • @David , Some Warner-Seven Arts artwork from some unproduced shorts turned up on the Van Eaton site months and months ago. Model sheets, drawn by Jaime Diaz, of “SUPER SNOOPER” and “JOLLY ROGER”. We did a Misce-Looney-ous posting with the artwork (http://toolooney.blogspot.com/2011/08/super-snooper-and-jolly-roger.html). They join the Keystone Kops and the Lil’ Abner TV series as WB-7Arts cartoons that never were…

  • Guess I’m a bit slow, but that’s the first time I saw “Injun Trouble” without a time-code. This one in particular seemed to be the most plotless of them all. A real spot-gag cartoon, except this one’s premise was a lot more bare in comparison–he’s driving someplace, gets there, enters a bar, and leaves. Cool Cat usually works better when he has a foil like Colonel Rimfire to play off of.

    Out of all the Seven-Arts characters, I thought Cool Cat was the only passably entertaining one even though he seems more of a rip-off of both Sugar Bear and the Pink Panther. Depatie-Freling seemed to go full circle by taking a few pages from Cool Cat’s playbook when coming out with The Ant and the Aardvark cartoons

  • I do remember seeing toys of Merlin and his sidekick, but not the cartoons themselves until decades after the fact. A tad ironic that Warner revived their studio to market a Pink Panther knockoff after outsourcing to to the creators of Pink Panther — who happened to be Looney Tunes alumni.

    Remember reading in TV Guide eons ago that Warner & Arts planned an animated “Li’l Abner” series. This would have been in the mid-60s, and as a comics-reading kid I watched the listings in vain. A quick search turns up a live-action sitcom pilot (script credited to Al Capp), but no animated version.

  • Jerry,from my view,the entire output of theatrcal cartoons in the sixties,especially toward the end,(including Warners,Walter Lantz,et.al.),seemed to me to come from an alternate universe,much like the Columbia Screen gem shorts from the forties.To a lot of people they may not have been top-notch,but I feel that when you were bascially competing for screen time with other items on the theatrcal bill (at that place ijn time) I tend to try to learn to appreciate what the minor studios,(i.e.Screen Gems) were attempting to do,and even the hits and missses that Warners and the other majors had put out.I personally may not be discriminating enough,(as far as quality goes with the studio’s (especially Warners) finished product) I do feel I have more than enough room in my toon psyche to appreciate the effort given by everybody involved in the making of what we all have a love for….TOONS!

  • Those last characters have more appeal than today sophisticate designed characters.
    and I prefer more a few ‘Merlin the Magic Mouse’ cartoons than all ‘halfthecost Road Runner’ cartoons.

  • I think this is the only “Cool Cat” I’ve ever seen. Great post Jerry!

  • Weren’t many of those 1965-66 Roadrunner cartoons sub-outsourced to Format Films?

  • I found it interesting that in the list of “Blue Ribbon Hit Parade” re-issues that none of the cartoons received actual “Blue Ribbon” re-issue titles. All the cartoons listed retain their original titles.

    Another cool find, Jerry!

  • The other shorts are equally interesting. I didn’t think Warners was producing travelogues that late. I’m presuming “Gorgeous Color” wasn’t a process; did they use Eastman Color on them?
    Here’s Hendricks’ obit. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920401&slug=1484128

  • Interesting that they were re-releasing older, better cartoons alongside new stuff. That must have looked as odd to moviegoers as it did to TV viewers. Still, I don’t think the 60′s cartoons are that bad. I think some of them are funny and delightfully weird, and somebody managed to trick Bill Lava into making catchy, hummable scores.

  • Best gag-the “smoke signal” typewriter-other than that, meh. Interesting that it is in the old Academy ratio of 1.33:1 rather than 1.66:1-looks like it was made to go directly to TV.

  • In my opinion, I find Alex Lovy’s shorts to be the worst ever made (except Mckimsons). Daffy & Speedy have jumped the shark making them idiotic morons in Lovy’s versions, Cool Cat is a rip-off of the Pink Panther cartoons and they’re bad!, Merlin’s cartoons are awful since Merlin just goes around the world and goes against his foes none of the jokes and humor are funny!, and the one-shots he made feel like poor man versions of Fractured Fairy Tales segments from Rocky & Bullwinkle and they suck too! Mckimson’s were improvements over Lovy’s cartoons, but are not as good as the classics. Like I know alot of fand like “Rabbits Stew & Rabbits Too!” but I don’t find it to be memorable inlike the classics. This is my opinion, I prefer DePatie Freleng’s Looney Tunes cartoons since they’re not as bad as the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Looney Tunes cartoons since they’re a mix bad. But the 3 Daffy & Speedy’s cartoons from 1967 made at Format Films have terrible animation, but they have some decent humor and reminds me of the humor from Rocky & Bullwinkle but in a mix bad way.

  • That Cool Cat cartoon is straight out of LAUGH-IN .. all it lacks is an organ underscore and a laugh track.

  • When judging cartoons of almost any period, one should go first to any one shots that the animators were allowed to do, because those would have been efforts that the director in question really wanted to make (i.e. “THE DOT AND THE LINE” from Chuck Jones’ years at MGM). So it might be nice to see a late Warners one shot, perhaps made around the same time as the COOL CAT or “NOW HEAR THIS” cartoon showing up on future LOONEY TUNES releases. Having said that, I’m interested to take a listen to some of the 1960′s material from Termite Terrace; no, I wouldn’t consider it alongside those brilliant cartoons of the 1930′s, 1940′s and 1950′s, but there are always one or two gems among the least considered stuff. Great example, here, though, Jerry, as always. I wonder if the new animation studio at Warners would ever again consider creating short films for theaters. Is it really that far out of the question? Think of the parodies of recent films that they could do!

  • It was such a shame that WB could not adapt to the television based market and some of their cartoons went out on such a low note.

  • I don’t know why they couldn’t both continue the classic characters, at the same time as reissue their old films and/or air them on TV. Why did being on TV mean they couldn’t have new releases?
    The hollow logic of corporate decisions!

    Also, how come Injun trouble is left off of those lists? It was something tacked on at the last minute?

  • I remember from the early to mid 1960′s seeing in various Northern California theaters quite a few classic WB cartoons with most of the titles & credits spliced off. They would start with just the title card and end abruptly with the final sight gag circle closing, no “that’s all folks” or any other end title at all. Anybody else recall these and know what the story behind them was? Did Warners release them themselves or were they licensed to an independent distributor for re-release? I was always glad to see them on the program as the alternative new cartoon releases from most of the major distributors was by that time getting pretty dismal to say the least.

  • A question:
    If WB/Seven Arts was already outsourcing cartoons at half the cost to DePatie Freleng for 3 years, why did they shift to creating new characters in-house ?

  • Wasn’t Jack Warner throwing a fit because DePatie-Freleng make Pink Panther cartoons that were released by United Artists on the Warners’ lot?

    • I meant made, not Make.

  • None of the characters were around long enough to really develop. Merlin’s magic powers don’t just vary from cartoon to cartoon, but from scene to scene. I do like the Merlin vs. the hillbillies toon, though, and isolated gags in Cool Cat shorts.

    I wonder if the end of the cartoon dept lines up with the sale of W7 to Kinney in 1969?

  • I grew up with the “Merrie Melodies Show” in the 1970′s. It was a treat getting to see at least a few of the original episodes on Teletoon Retro a few years ago (sadly, they only had a handful of the original show-mixed in with the newer syndicated program wit the same name with the slightly censored cartoons.

    I’ll start off by saying that I’m legally blind-although I am sighted enough to watch TV – sound plays a much more important role in my TV experience as a result.

    I always really liked the Cool Cat, Bunny and Claude and especially the one Rapid Rabbit short. The reason being was the music and sound effects. The animation was always great with WBs. Sure, it was a little weaker in the late 1960s, but it was still good overall. Although the music changed from the days of Stalling & Franklyn – Lava & Greene made it hip & catchy as all hell. I didn’t see “Rabbit Stew-And Rabbits Too” or the Cool Cat shorts for decades, but the music stuck in my head all that time. The sound FX was also something that made a WB cartoon what it was. This is one of the reasons I’m having trouble liking the new “Looney Tunes Show” – The music just kinda lays there and the classic WB sound FX are AWOL. They had the right mix with Tiny Toons & Animaniacs. Sometimes you don’t mess with a good thing.

  • Warner Bros. Animation went through a second era of sorts when Sander Schwartz was running shop from 2002 to 2007 (he was so cruel to the company!) Though the only output from the cartoon department during that time that actually resembled these Warner/Seven Arts cartoons was “What’s New Scooby-Doo,” complete with cheesy music, out-of-place sound effects (ironically, while the real 1967-1969 cartoons had H-B sound effects used with WB characters, “What’s New” had WB sound effects, including newly-created ones just for the show, with H-B characters, while the H-B SFX were mostly AWOL.)

  • Living in the USA, the only one-shot from that time shown was 1969′s “Rabbit Stew & Rabbits Too”, the final one done (a pantomime Roadrunnner/Coyote rip off-the Coyote replaced with a fox and the big bird replaced with the Nestle Quik Bunny.) I enjoyed hearing the HB sound FX something that Dave S. didn’t comment on regarding the late 60s ones one way ot the other despite his praising the late 60s music, something that I enjoyed as well, on the newer character cartoons. This is in reference to the late 1970s-late 1980s on Sat.AM USA on various TV shows first with the two Daffy Duck NBC shows with those awful Speedy Gonzales teamups, with Bunny and Claude’s second film “The Great Carrot Train Robbery” and an edited clip of Cool Cat’s “Bugged by a Bee” showed as bumpers. Nickelodeon, by the late 1980s, started showing almost all of the lae 1960s ones including Cool Cat and Merlin (except shorts like “Bugged by a Bee” and the subcontracted “The Door”)-even “Norman Normal”, the odd one shot, made it. And of cours emore of “Rabbit Stew and Rabbits Too”. But now even better. We got to see the credits.And later the open and closes. Terrytoons went even further to copy Hanna-Barbera (“Ruby Eye”, “Sally Sargent”, using the adventure-style).

    • Re: I meant except Injun Trouble with Cool Cat & Hocus Pocus Pow Wow by Merlin the Magic Mouse and Second Banana, due to racial overtones (Honest Native American.:))

  • Also WB closed the animation studio in 1963, not in 1962. C.M.Jones had spread that slightly inaccurate rumor due to his TENURE at WB ending in 1962 (over moonlighting at UPA for “Gay Puree” which ironically Warner Bros.distributed-actually a decent movie but done with moonlighting).

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