Before the Cat and Mouse:
Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry
Filmography compiled by David Gerstein and Pietro Shakarian Special thanks to Jerry Beck, Cole Johnson, and Mark Kausler
Almost a decade before MGM’s famed cat-and-mouse team, Amadee J. Van Beuren’s New York studio had another pair of stars named Tom and Jerry.
Van Beuren, who’d lost Paul Terry and other creative staffers in 1929, needed breakthrough cartoon characters to put his studio on the map. Terry’s directorial replacement, John Foster, first singled out a pair of mice, but their resemblance to Disney’s Mickey was too close for comfort. A better Foster decision was to develop a Mutt and Jeff-like cat and dog pair, but success still eluded Van Beuren. The turning point came only when Foster was joined by New York artists George Stallings and George Rufle — who brought with them the idea of turning the cat and dog into humans.
At first, Tom and Jerry — the pair’s new name — were drawn in a literal style that directly recalled Mutt and Jeff. By mid-1932, though, they were streamlined to incorporate an increasingly rubbery graphical style.
The first Tom and Jerry short was 1931’s WOT A NIGHT, similar in style to the earlier cat and dog cartoons. As the series progressed, though, the films became increasingly bawdy, boozy and bizarre. Van Beuren was second only to Fleischer in depicting surreal, impossible feats on screen; Tom, Jerry, and their surroundings did it all. Inanimate objects came to life; two singers could share a single mouth. Old houses hid evil dancing skeletons; seas concealed fish rabbis dressed in spy-drag black. In PIANO TOONERS, Jerry flushes a humanized “sour note” down the toilet. In A SWISS TRICK, eating too much swiss cheese causes our heroes to grow holes in their bodies.
In 1933, Van Beuren fired Foster and promoted Stallings to his position. Under Stallings, the Tom and Jerry series seemed to lose much of its earlier charm. The last cartoon to star the original Tom and Jerry would be 1933’s THE PHANTOM ROCKET.
Over the years the original Tom and Jerry drifted into obscurity. On TV they were first renamed Dick and Larry, then put entirely on the shelf. Today, however, they’re back on DVDs — and on this website, as we invite you to explore their development with us, film by film. Let’s go!