Animation History
March 12, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

The Lion’s Roar for MGM Cartoons

shorts_storylions_roarFrom October 1937 until August 1941 MGM published a magazine (MGM Short Story, at left) – exclusively distributed to its exhibitors – devoted to its live action and animated short subjects. From Sept. 1941 until the Spring of 1947, MGM continued to promote its shorts inside their more lavish Lion’s Roar magazine (at right).

Back issues of MGM Short Story and Lion’s Roar are highly sought after collectibles. They not only describe each and every cartoon, but occasionally printed a story about producing the cartoons. I have several random pages from various Lion’s Roar magazines spanning 1940 and 1945. Here are two of those behind-the scenes pieces.

The first (below left, click to enlarge) was written when Tex Avery had just joined the staff – replacing Hugh Harman’s unit. MGM is boasting in this article, of being “the first major motion picture studio to establish its own cartoon studio” – and I suppose that could be true (however, my spider-sense thinks Columbia’s Screen Gems beat them to it by a year, and didn’t Universal initially run its studio before selling it to Walter Lantz?).

The second page (below right, click to enlarge) is the first of a double page spread (alas I don’t have the other half). It starts off with a great posed photograph of a “story conference” that never was – with Quimby in the middle, surrounded by a laughing Hanna and Barbera, Tex Avery, Scott Bradley, Carmen Maxwell, Harvey Eisenberg and others. Great stuff… (I apologize for the moray pattern on the images due to my scanner).

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Here’s one of the pages that describe individual cartoons from a given month. Note Barney Bear is still referred to as “Mr. Bear” and Hanna Barbera’s latest creation Officer Pooch is touted as their next big hit.

lions-roar5_500

If you’d like to see more pages from The Lion’s Roar, like the one directly above, let me know – I have about a dozen others.

17 Comments

  • MGM really had a split personality in the early 40s, as the Harman-Ising style first was eclipsed by Hanna-Barbera’s new creations, and Avery then dragged the studio kicking and screaming towards Fred Quimby’s dread Warner Bros. rowdyism (on screen, if not in the hallways at Culver City).

  • Jerry, are you kidding?? More, please! And Cartoon Resaerch is awesome, thank you for all the amazing posts!

  • Why don’t you do issues of “The Lion’s Roar” that have synopsies for “Cassanova Cat” and “Mouse Cleaning” due to the recent censorship of those two cartoons on “Tom and Jerry golden collection vol. 2″, as your protest to WB/Turner for not putting those out!

  • I suppose a case could be made that Disney was a major studio, since a few years earlier they released the highest grossing film of all time. Since MGM built their own studio right around the time of Snow White, it seems logical that they would have an interest in creating features, they certainly had some great artists there. Anybody know if that’s the case? This is great stuff, thanks for posting.

  • Very fascinating stuff! That piece on Avery makes much of his time at Warner Bros. (though of course not mentioning the rival studio by name). However, I thought it was Chuck Jones that first commissioned oil-painted backgrounds for ‘Mighty Hunters’?

    I for one would love to see some more of these glimpses into the past.

  • About that new character the article said Avery was supposed to be developing for MGM… that wouldn’t have been Screwy Squirrel, would it?

  • Sorry I can’t appreciate this incredible bit of history, but I’d be very curious as to how they promoted or *IF* they promoted Bosko. For example, how was “CIRCUS DAZE” advertised? Better yet, since you’ve spoken in depth about the cartoon here, I wonder how they promoted “SWING WEDDING”? I would have asked about “OLD MILL POND”, but that cartoon was created before this magazine was ever published. Oh, and I noted, as part of a recent WARNER ARCHIVES ad, that there are screenings around the country for some rare and newly restored films. Well, here is a chance for Warner Brothers to push and restore those 1930′s cartoons, from LOONEY TUNES Bosko to MGM Bosko…perhaps even a full festival of the entire series; an acquired taste, I realize, but hey, I know I’d enjoy it.

    • Why would MGM be pushing Bosko in publications that began after it opened its own cartoon studio which never made Bosko cartoons?

  • More, please. There is nothing like this original material to evoke the era and the studio ambience. Only mistake was the writer saying Avery created Porky Pig (Tex certainly was the first to really develop the Porky character). Also, even though PINGO PONGO was the first Avery travelogue / spot gagger, he had experimented with off-screen narration earlier in PORKY THE RAINMAKER and, importantly, THE VILLAGE SMITHY. SMITHY was the one he believed directly influenced Disney to use off-screen narration in LITTLE HIAWATHA. But the article is valuable in indicating Avery’s high reputation at that time.

  • How could they possibly think Officer Pooch would be a hit? The bulk of the cartoon has him (a humanized dog) fighting with a puppy (non-anthropamorhic). Just weird!

    • Hanna Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound was a success for tv, which had episodes with similar premises with the humanized hound dealing with non-anthropomorphic dogs.

  • I would love to see more !

  • More, I say, more of this stuff! The “Funny Business” page even ends in the middle of a sentence… I want the rest of the article. In short: Give us all you’ve got! :D

    • Rereading this article in more detail, I noticed that you’re actually saying you don’t have the second half of that double page spread. Woops. Anyway, please post whatever you have from the Lion’s Roar… these glimpses into the vintage promotion of Hollywood cartoons are extremely fascinating! :) How about making it a weekly event, like the Fleischer Animated News issues?

  • 1937-1941 also coincides with a major publicity blitz by MGM at roughly this time period. MGM was always one to toot its own horn, but around the time it opened its British branch, MGM went crazy with pompous advertising galore. The opening of a cartoon studio within MGM was certainly an attempt to both garner prestige and use MGM’s financial muscle to establish a high quality cartoon product.

    The article is interesting because 1941 marked the beginning of the end of Harman and Ising as the “hitmakers” of MGM’s cartoon unit. They had just earned the studio an academy award the year prior and their cartoon budgets appeared to be at their highest yet, clearly reaching for the accolades Disney had earned years prior. Yet that same year both Tex Avery and Hanna & Barbera would both reign supreme at the studio simultaneously rivaling the Warner Brothers and Disney cartoon short product respectively. Likewise those early 40s budgets were very lavish compared to MGM’s competitors (aside from Disney).

  • I have always wondered was MGM making any comedy shorts like the three stooges?

  • Between 1927 and 1938 MGM released one, two and three reel comedy shorts produced by Hal Roach. (Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts/Patsy Kelly, and others.) They produced their own series of inferior Our Gang one reelers between 1938 and 1944. They also made comedy shorts starring Robert Benchley (a popular monologist and author of short humor pieces for magazines like The New Yorker). The studio also released a long string of shorts narrated by Pete Smith, which were often comic in nature. But no, the studio never really made slapstick comedy shorts like those starring The Three Stooges. MGM wasn’t a studio that understood that kind of broad comedy.

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