June 20, 2024 posted by Steve Stanchfield

A Fleischer Animated Antic: “The Wizard of Arts” (1941)

Greetings, Gate! It’s a short TB Thursday today, with a short you’ve most likely not seen before.

In brief Thunderbean news:

This week, as it is hot as heck in a lot of the country, I’ve been concentrating on helping finish a stop motion animation segment for a documentary at the school, while the Thunderbean crew is holding down the fort as we’re able. I’m looking forward to going to the little office tomorrow and catching up with everyone. Work continues on the Rainbow Parade cartoons, with lots of progress. We’re hoping to wrap the set in July, and hopefully replicate soon after. Mid Century Modern 3 is finished, and we’ll be replicating it as soon as we’re able! I’m also looking forward to the next batch of special discs dubbing this next week.

And — this week’s cartoon oddity!

The Wizard of Arts (1941) is one of the odder Fleischer shorts. It’s really a cheater— maybe the king of the cheaters the Fleischers made. Of course, the title spoofs The Wizard of Oz. It’s sort of a hopeful title in that it seems like we’re going to see something magical since the word wizard is in the title. Not so much! We’re introduced to an unnamed artist character who does a sort of Jerry Colonna impression throughout (complete with ‘Greetings, Gate!” and Colonna’s signature bug-eyed stare right at the camera. He then just shows us one sculpture after another, each a groan worthy gag. There’s very little actual animation, with spot gag puns presented as sculptures dominating. It’s almost not an animated cartoon and more a punny comic. It’s a very un-Fleischer-like Fleischer cartoon.

Jack Mercer does his best to come up with a voice that isn’t exactly Jerry Colonna throughout. The gags here sort of remind me of the beginning gags in a lot of the Lantz cartoons from the early 40s, and the overall pace reminds me of Columbia cartoons from around this time too. While it’s topical humor, none of the gags seem to land particularly well, even there ethnic stereotype gags land with a thud somewhat. It’s more interesting that it was made than it is good.

I don’t think there’s a lot to say about this particular cartoon beyond that, honestly— at least than I can think of. I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.

Thad Komorowski was kind enough to lend his print of this cartoon for scanning— one I had never seen before. It’s the second to the last of the ‘Animated Antic’ series by the Fleischers- even through two other shorts were released by Paramount under the same series that weren’t made by the studio.

Have a good week all!


  • If nothing else, I adore the artist’s walk cycle.(It’s no Wiffle Piffle, but oh well..)

  • A very interesting cartoon indeed. I don’t think I’d ever seen this one. Would love to see it restored someday, along with so many other Max Fletcher cartoons that need to be seen again. I look forward to those “special“ discs whenever they are available. Fantastic stuff!

  • In the “Snooze Reel” portion of the 1936 Screen Song “I Can’t Escape from You” — which, like “The Wizard of Arts”, was animated by Tom Johnson — we are treated to a similar exhibition under the heading “Art Galleries Exhibit Codliver [sic] Oil Paintings.” Here we see the same “Paradise” and “Lost Souls” gags that would be reused in the latter cartoon, along with “A Black Cat Sitting on a Ton of Coal in a Dark Cellar at Midnight” (a black canvas with two blinking eyes in the middle) and “The General Flees” (Napoleon scratching himself with his hand inside his waistcoat). Wiffle Piffle, Johnson’s most popular and enduring creation, puts in an appearance before Genial Joe Reichman and his Happy Piano lead us in singing along with the bouncing ball.

    I have to wonder: Was the audience response to “I Can’t Escape from You” so overwhelmingly positive that Johnson saw fit to make another spot gag cartoon about an art gallery featuring another eccentric mustachioed character with a bizarre walking cycle? Seems a little farfetched to me.

  • How to make it obvious that your studio blew the entire budget Paramount would give you for the year into the making of Mr. Bug, and mobilized most of your workforce in making a Superman series exhibit #5! I don’t think Mr. Bug being a financial success would have changed the fate of the studio for the better, sadly.

  • i really should not be surprised at the prospect of a lame early 40s cartoon with dave fleischer at the helm. i’m quite familiar with those lame li’l abner shorts for screen gems. this, however, is astoundingly, awe-inspiringly uninspired. truly one of the limpest cartoons i’ve ever watched, next to the 1940 screen gem “news oddities”. i imagine spot gag cartoons are pretty hard to make work, although at least new oddities was *animated*.

  • Looks like someone thought the background gags in the “Smokey Stover” comic strip would make a great cartoon. Foo!

  • Interesting, but difficult to follow because there were several puns I don’t understand because English is not my native language and I actually don’t understand some references.

    I have no idea how this short would have played in Argentina with subtitles because this would have never worked outside the United States.

  • Do you suppose that ending was a commentary on the buyout and eventual death of the Fleischer Studio by Paramount?

  • Why do I have a print of this?

  • “That’s what I keep telling them down at the office!” and “Quote….Unquote!” are two Colonnaisms that he used in the late 1930s Pepsodent Show starring Bob Hope. He also used…”Ahhhhh YES, Messy things, aren’t they?” and many other catch phrases. Colonna, like Joe Penner, was always looking to magnify his cultural impact by coming up with quotable sayings. There are just a handful of Pepsodent radio shows that exist from before 1940, so it’s hard to know if all the unknown catch phrases in cartoons of the late thirties were Colonna’s or not. Bob Clampett used “YOU, and your education!” in several of his black and white Looney Tunes. Said phrase sounds a lot like a Colonna to me.

    • I can’t remember the specific episode, but I remember Molly McGee saying “that’s what I keep telling them down at the office,” and then adding “with apologies to Skinnay Ennis.” Ennis was Hope’s bandleader around that time, and sometimes had dialogue as well, so I’d bet that was his catchphrase and not one of Colonna’s.
      “Quote…Unquote” also wasn’t associated with Colonna, but came from another radio comedian, Phil Kramer. Kramer can be seen doing the bit in live action in the 1940 Monogram Frankie Darro starrer, “Up in the Air;” I can remember him also doing it as a cuckoo clock in a Warner cartoon, but just as with Molly McGee, I can’t remember which one on the spur of the moment. Kramer also played the emcee in “Hamateur Night” without doing the “quote” bit.

      • The cuckoo clock gag was from “Porky’s Hotel” – reading from a written statement, the bird states, “As my father once said – quote – CUCKOO!!! – unquote.” The Fleischers would also remember the line for the ending of “A Cartoon Travesty of The Raven” – “Quote the Raven – Neverrrrrrmorre! – Unquote” – also voiced by Jack Mercer.

  • The “George Washington’s Bridge” gag would reappear about 20 years later, in the Paramount-produced King Features’ Popeye episode, “My Fair Olive”.

  • Forgive me if this is a question that has already been answered. Did it ever occur to the Fleischer creative team to seek out some other voice actors for their cartoons? Why did they use Jack Mercer all the time? He doesn’t seem to be terribly versatile.

    • I’m sure I’m not alone in loving Mercer’s voices in the Paramount cartoons. I thought he was quite versatile… in fact I recall years ago how surprised I was a when I realized Mercer was doing the “mad scientist” in the first Superman cartoon. It’s easy to hear now, but I think Mercer as quite good at doing other characterizations.

      And, to answer your question as to why they used him all the time – Mercer was Popeye. He was on staff! And he was dependable and professional. Came into the booth and nailed it. He was one of the writers! He was there when they needed a scratch track – or an extra voice in a pinch.

      As for Fleischer seeking out other voices… They did when they had to. Mae Questel, Pinto Colvig, Everett Clark (Grampy) – and later with Famous, much of the voice roles are still undocumented, the stock company included Arnold Stang, Sid Raymond, Cecil Roy, Jackson Beck, Margie Hines, and narrators Ken Roberts, and Frank Gallup to name but a few.

      • I love Jack Mercer as Popeye. Beyond that role, I feel he’s overused in the Fleischer/Famous cartoons, and there’s a sameness to the voices of most of these additional characters that he performs. Just pointing out that there were hundreds of capable, talented and accomplished actors available to the studio. From my perspective, it sounds like Fleischer/Famous limited their creative possibilities — and perhaps limited their studio’s success — by not experimenting with other voices.

  • While I can see this gimmick working in the silent era (matter of fact, I think the Fleischer’s may had already done something like that in that era), it was pretty much an old hat by then. I’m not sure what happened with the “Animated Antic” series, but the material felt pretty inferior to the shorts at the west coast studios including Disney (which just came up with a great new direction for The Goof’s fledgling series).

  • This seems like a cartoon the other studios were making ten years earlier. No wonder Paramount wanted to fire the Fleischers. But this was probably third- or fourth-string work; the hierarchy of the staff at the time probably went something like: “Mr. Bug,” Superman, Popeye, junk like this.

  • I think at this point, the Fleischers were just desperate to try and one up the other studios, particularly Disney. Basically, once they moved their studio to Miami, the quality of their output started to wane (with a few exceptions, of course).

    BTW Steve, any ETA on the bonus disc for those of us who preordered the Tom and Jerry Blu-ray way back when? I also ordered the All Original Titles special set last month and am looking forward to seeing that as well.

  • About how old were these kind of gags, check “The neoimpressionist painter” by Emile Cohl. 1910.

    • Some were old enough to have beards.

  • Wow! A very poor imitation of a typical Warner Bros. “spot gag” cartoon. Jack Ward – according to the late Gordon Sheehan – was a terrific dancer in vaudeville and was responsible for helping the animators get walks and dances “just right” in the Fleischer cartoons. My guess is that the Fleischer staff had to get the cartoon out with barely any money in the budget – and very little time to do it – before the move back to New York City – and Max and Dave’s dismissal.

  • Yeah, a cheater of a cartoon, but I found it quite enjoyable anyway! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Loved the funny walk — but don’t know why they didn’t use it later in the cartoon when he’s walking again.

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