According to Leonard Maltin’s book Of Mice and Magic, animation director Ralph Bakshi came to Paramount Cartoon Studio–formerly Famous Studios and, before that, Max Fleischer Productions–in May 1967. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival there, I am writing this month’s column about press coverage of the studio’s cartoons of 1967.
I previously discussed Paramount under Bakshi’s tenure in my book American Animated Cartoons of the Vietnam Era, but I had not found articles from periodicals about any of the films at the time I wrote the book. The articles I discuss will show that although the studio was winding down, its films could still inspire reactions from audiences after they left the theaters showing the films.
Paramount Pictures closed its cartoon studio in December 1967, because the company Gulf + Western had just purchased the distributor and decided to terminate animation production. The studio’s last cartoons were distributed well into 1968, and most of them came and went in theaters without public attention beyond movie listings in newspapers. Unlike the popular Betty Boop Clubs and Popeye Clubs of years gone by, no theaters attracted children with Geronimo and Son Clubs or Honey Halfwitch Clubs in the 1960s. On the other hand, two cartoons of the studio’s final year caught the eyes of reporters because of live-action events that mirrored the cartoons’ content. One was a cartoon with a rare rock music score from a band giving a concert soon after the film’s release, and the other was a “Honey Halfwitch” cartoon exhibited with a movie about demon possession.
In March 1968, the Paramount “Go-Go Toon” episode Marvin Digs–a cartoon about a hairy, artistic hippie–received press coverage because of its music. Winston Sharples was exclusively credited for most of Paramount’s cartoons after 1943, but the people with whom he shared the credit for Marvin Digs–the rock group The Life Cycle–won the spotlight for this particular article. Jersey City, New Jersey’s Journal of March 14 announced that a church would hold a benefit concert for mentally challenged children. The promotion noted that the event would “feature the Life Cycle, a local modern musical combo whose tempos were heard in a Paramount cartoon, Marvin Digs, now showing in local theaters.” Incidentally, Vicki Gailzaid, who headed the studio’s ink-and-paint department, composed lyrics for the cartoon’s theme song.
Three months later the Capitol Court Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin showed Paramount’s “Honey Halfwitch” episode High But Not Dry directly after a screening of the distributor’s Rosemary’s Baby–a feature about a pregnant woman carrying a possessed baby. The exhibition of the cartoon was a delay tactic. A thunderstorm had begun outside the theater, but too many people were inside the building waiting to enter the auditorium. The manager hoped that the cartoon, which was about a juvenile witch trying to stop a rainstorm, would run long enough to ride out the real storm. It did not. Reporter Bruce E. Thorp wryly commented in the June 25 issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “It was all an appropriate ending to a strange motion picture about witches and the devil.”
And with that, Paramount’s cartoons faded into history. Another generation would pass before the studio’s cartoons of the 1960s were circulated for mass viewership; the television cable channel Nickelodeon slotted the films for their series Cartoon Kablooey and Wienerville in the 1990s. Today, some private submissions to YouTube and other video-based websites consist of these cartoons, and the “comments” sections of these websites continue the discussions about cartoons that the newspapers had started five decades earlier. They came, they went, they were barely ever acknowledged.
Our own Jerry Beck wrote a series of posts about these films here.