Christopher P. Lehman
May 6, 2017 posted by

The Paramount Cartoon Studio and the Press, 1968

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.

7 Comments

  • Just reread the article linked by Jerry. Honey Halfwitch plus the studio’s own Rosemary’s Baby…not a good fit..Honey Halfwitch was a typical kids cartoon while Rosemary’s Baby was an adult cartoon…(not counting the witch and devil themes..:

    • I suppose it shows how much Paramount ‘cared’ for these.

      The ending of “High But Not Dry” does give us the silly disclaimer by the producers who state this film is not an endorsement of flying saucers, I suppose the same could be said for the contents of Rosemary’s Baby on the side, after all that!

  • Story-wise, of the studios that were left distributing cartoons in 1967, Paramount with Shamus Culhane and then Ralph Bakshi, had the most interesting story lines in their one-shot efforts, even if all of them were not successful. At least the studio went out on something of a high note, compared to how some of the other Golden Age animation departments finished up their runs in the late ’60s and early 70s.

    • Seem like it, unlike what was going on back in Hollywood with the other stragglers. It was certainly trying for something perhaps on the level of what was being done in the indie/foreign market, like at the National Film Board of Canada or Zagreb Film. Of course films of that sort kinda took over, even though American cinemas didn’t see a need to run NFB stuff on a daily basis I’m sure.

  • Gulf + Western head Charlie Bluhdorn was interested in Paramount’s live action films. After Gulf + Western bought Paramount, Bluhdorn reportedly went to the cartoon studio and took an instant dislike of what he saw. Apparently, he didn’t know what a cartoon studio looked like and that Paramount actually owned one. Afterwards, the studio’s days were numbered.

    • Oh that’s REALLY low, but I suppose that’s to be expected from those who aren’t creatives anyway. I’m sure he died a rich man, too.

  • HONEY HALF WITCH was created by Howard Post, who inherited the position of Director at Paramount Cartoon Studios after the passing of Seymour Kneitel in 1964. Ralph Bakshi did not come to Paramount after working for Max Fleischer Productions in 1967 since Max’s revitalized company was dissolved in 1964, and he was in ill health and making the transition from living in New York to The Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California at this time. In fact this was the time I met him.

    I believe what was meant was that Bakshi came to Paramount after working briefly at Shamus Culhane Productions. Culhane was also producing and directing cartoons for Paramount, some of the more innovative that followed the Howard Post period, and managed to succeed on their small budgets. MY DADDY THE ASTRONAUT was among these.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *