THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
July 11, 2019 posted by Steve Stanchfield

The Usual TB rant and Terrytoons “It’s a Living” (1957)

As I lick my wounds from furious debates over slight color variances on menu screens on different LCD Televisions, I’m finding comfort in attempting to make complete Noveltoons titles out on many prints with splices in different places. This isn’t new ground on either of these fronts, in fact, it’s almost identical grounds from about nine and ten years back, doing the first version of Grotesqueries and working on the Noveltoons DVD. Heck. There are weeks where I think I should just buy a boat and feed birds instead of all this…..

It’s all minutiae in the bigger picture, and by the end no one should even be thinking about about the struggles of trying to put one of these kinds of projects together; it should just look good by the end, and all the issues related to getting it where it needs to be never entering in the viewing experience. Just like animation.

There’s a scene in Dick William’s Thief and the Cobbler that didn’t make it into the ‘final’ release. It’s at the end of a sequence where the Grand Vizier (voiced by Vincent Price) goes down the stairs inside a Turret. The camera pulls back as the walk down the stairs, hand drawn bricks turning in perspective. It’s an amazing pencil test. If I’m feeling down about working on one of these things I’ll watch something beautiful to remind myself that the tasks on these old film things are not so hard comparatively! I’ve been working on my own short here for years and look forward to that particular work to balance out some of these labor intensive detailed tasks.

This week’s tasks here at Thunderbean include still trying to get the master done on Grotesqueries, working on getting the rest of the title animation coordinated for the Rainbow Parades, doing the digital ‘final’ on many of the Puppetoons, Noveltoons and Flips as can be done, and giving the go ahead for scanning various materials. The little staff is also busy still trying to catch up orders and pre-orders, the hardest task of all. That’s going well, although still not caught up entirely.


But, the heck with all of that for a minute, instead, let’s look at a Dinky Duck cartoon!

I thought I’d jump back into some of the archive discs and pull out something unusual. It’s a Living (1957) is one of the most unusual Terrytoons, from a time period of unusual Terrytoons. This self referential short, directed by Win Hoskins and Gene Deitch, unapologetically enjoys the brightly colored wide-screen universe it proposes as being ‘real life’ as opposed to the square screened past presented in the film’s Terrytoon featuring Dinky being chased by sharks. It’s an amazingly accurate and biting portrayal of what Terrytoons were actually like, and when Dinky steps out of the screen in disgust, one had to wonder if, as in Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood if the filmmakers are wanting the audience to feel the same way about the previous direction and limited subject matter of cartoons in general.

I especially enjoy Allen Swift’s performances in this film, sped up or not….

Dinky, sadly, retired after this picture, and after being put though the ringer both in front of and off the camera in this short, it’s not a surprise. Dietch would present many other ideas at Terrytoons with varied success, but this is perhaps the only short to so biting attack the limited brains of executives at large media corporations. Art Bartsch gets the main credit for layout and design, and it’s a highlight of the film. Poor Dinky seems astonished at the inner workings as we are watching it, and at least they gave him a good going away party with this film.

I especially love the complete list of people that worked on the short in the titles.

This version is scanned from a 35mm IB technicolor/scope print *and* a 16mm IB Technicolor/scope print to fix some footage missing from the ending, both prints courtesy of the collection of our own Jerry Beck.

I would love to hear people’s thoughts about this particular short. What did you like? Thoughts on the animation and design? Story? Thoughts on the industry in general at the time, or on Terrytoons/ CBS?

The most important thing is that it plays wonderfully for an audience. I run this short in my animation history class every year; Jerry runs it in his class at Cal Arts as well. We showed it one year at the Redford Cartoon Festival here in Michigan, and the gags all got the laughs in the right places. What could be better than that?

Have a great week everyone!

19 Comments

  • Is this the only short to have a theme song for Dinky?

  • Thanks Steve.

    Easily Dinky’s finest moment. Deitch is so underappreciated.

    When oh when will there be a proper Terry home video release?

    It’s pretty easy to give Terry (and Noveltoons) short shrift; let’s face it, there’s a large percentage of clunkers in either studio’s catalog. And that impression was made a long time ago when I was a kid watching these on TV in the 50s – 60s. Rightly or wrongly, the Warner toons seemed consistently great, while I had to patiently wait for a good Terry to show up. But when one did (ie, Tyer) it was striking enough to keep my attention on this studio.

    And doubly so, when something like It’s A Living happens. Their least interesting character shines in an inspired short.

    So of course they promptly gave Dinky the boot afterwards. Life imitates art.

  • One of my favorites from this era of Terrytoons. They utilized Dinky well for this, since this was the only time they used a “classic” Terry character during Deitch’s reign.

    Didn’t the animation of Dinky running away from the fox in the beginning came from an earlier short?

  • Such an oddball cartoon. The meta humor is not what one often associates with Terrytoons.

    One of the bootleg Roku cartoon channels for a while had this one in their lineup, presented in a fake Cinerama “smilebox” aspect ratio for some reason.

  • I’m reminded of UPA being required to make Fox & Crow shorts when they signed with Columbia; here, Gene is taking the blandest Terry character and showcasing his visual sense around him. I can’t help but wonder what a Mighty Mouse or Heckle & Jeckle short done a la Deitch might have looked like.

  • I loved seeing “It’s a Living” on the big screen at the Redford last November! It makes me wish that the Redford Classic Cartoon Festival came more than once a year.

    I keep checking the mailbox daily in hopes to get the discs I ordered a while ago. I appreciate all the work you and your staff are doing. Let me know if I can help out!

  • What more can I say except that the more I am reacquainted with these Terrytoons, the more I like them, and I only can mirror what another comment said in that these need a proper DVD/blu-ray release, with this one in its original cinemascope screen ratio. It is possible that, whenever this was shown on T V, it was panned and scanned which, in the case of cinemascope cartoons can be rather distracting. It is bad enough when they do it because they want to allow the viewer to follow everything on a rather busy moment in a film or so that all corners of a cinemascope picture are represented, especially in a busy scene. But I liked this era of Terrytoons, especially when Gene Deitch was in control. There are times when I feel that the simplicity of design, for drawings and backgrounds is all that the Terrytoons needed. Even the simplicity of the scoring works for these cartoons.

    Each series of cartoons began to attain its own personality, from the characters to the scores behind those characters. Oh, and I wish you more good luck in finding all the missing pieces to the cartoons you are striving so hard to restoere. It must be tiring to go through print after print of one cartoon to ensure that you have all the frames represented without splice, but don’t stress so hard over the colors. You know how a two strip technicolor print is supposed to look, so I guess that all frames of a given scene should look like the best frame you can find out of that print. I realize that there are shadings and changes as the film rolls. I remember when I could see a cartoon on the big screen and I sometimes marveled at how shadings change from time to time as you watch a scene–sometimes the grass is a light green and other times you see a blue or turquoise creep in there or a brownish tint. The end result should look like film but not sadly faded film.

    Keep up the good work and know that we appreciate the end results. Can’t wait to check out all these projects, and I get the updates on progress in the PUPPETOONS collection forthcoming. I only wish it was the entire series in one fell swoop!

  • Boy, this was a FINE cartoon. I will have to reluctantly admit that I’ve never beheld it before. The graphics were AMAZING. The colors, the textures! WOW! What a GEM!

  • One tiny nitpick: The croc’s mouth sounds like a car door slamming, which is pretty funny. But I remember the old Terrytoons having a weird, distinctive effect for crocs and such trying to clamp their jaws on Mighty Mouse. It sounded somebody whispering “Doysa! Doysa!”

  • Love the GO-GO TV sleepy eye logo in joke. It would be nearly 40 years before the W-B would let cartoons get away with that again.

  • I recognize the old Terrytoons music. But who did the score for the rest of the short?

    • I’m sure it was all Phil Schieb’s work!

  • I’m lucky enough to own a technicolor CinemaScope 16mm print of this cartoon in my collection and it always gets a rise out of audiences when I screen it. I think this is one of the best Terrytoons ever made! There’s a publicity drawing showing Gene Deitch’s new star lineup with Clint Clobber sweeping Dinky off to the side and out of the picture! A coincidence? I don’t think so!

  • There already was a tiny bit of self-awareness sneaking into a handful of Terrytoons prior to this, but after dealing with TV and ad people in his role at UPA, Deitch brought a lot of material to this one, which isn’t only a brilliant satire of high-pressure TV sales pitches, but still resonates today (Swift’s voice-overs could be on late-night TV in 2019 just as easily as in 1956). Unlike some of the other Deitch CinemaScope efforts, this one manages to be cerebral and slapstick at the same time.

  • A cartoon well done!

  • Thank you Steve, for a frame blow-up of the credits that isn’t too blurry to read. I’ve always wanted to see those otherwise uncredited artists get their due! And neither Terry nor Weiss particularly cared about that. Your preservation work is outstanding !!

    • If it’s one thing Detich did right was allowing credits for more than just the three main headings every cartoon had up to that point (Story, Direction and Music). After that, it kinda stayed that way after he left, even if TV was going to cut them out regardless.

  • I guess the cartoon was a commentary of how animators are moving away from theatrical short cartoons for positions in commercials due to higher wages in the TV industry at that time.

  • Even across the years, two advertisers’ commercials of the era are still recognizable, both in the watch sequence. Longines (“America’s Most Honored Watch”) and Timex (“Takes a Licking and Still Keeps Ticking”).

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