As I’m sitting here doing much overdue maintenance on archive materials on the 20-some hard drives currently occupying this current desk area, I’m struck by the temporariness of all this more recent media. It isn’t as if I haven’t known this before, but with the great gift of having so much material gathered, organized and archived comes the inevitable realization that it’s pretty difficult to make sure all of this stays intact and usable. In the digital age the problem is really the same as it has always been: how do you store all this stuff in a way that make sure it gets hurt as little as possible.
Nearly every film collector faces this same challenge, and the inevitable heartbreak of just not being able to preserve the stuff in the condition you received it in for one reason or another. The bigger the collection, the harder the challenge is. I’m been lucky enough to lose every little in the way of digital files over the years, but I’m also now intrinsically aware that my backup dvds and hard drives all have issues related to their inevitable demise. It means that something needs to be done to back things up, and then, over time, to keep backing up the back ups so nothing is lost. The problem really come down to expenses on that end of things. I wonder if the lost material of the future is all going to need to be attempted to retrieve by opening up hard drives with non-working motors…
It’s another big dubbing and packing week as I start school for the year, but happily my schedule allows full days to spend just Thunderbeaning. Final cleanup and color correct work is taking place on the material we’re fixing up for Arnold Leibovitz’s Puppetoon Movie 2 Blu-ray set. Amazing stuff. The Noveltoons Blu-ray isn’t back from replication quite yet, but chances are it will be by this time next week. The majority of the Flip the Frogs are cleaned up and looking very spiffy, and the set is waiting for some sound work and getting back to bonus features. Rainbow Parades Volume 1 as well as several other less-involved sets are getting pretty close to being finished, and the special sets are going that direction quite well too. We’ve started dubbing Missing Links as well as a few others, and I’m hoping to get the Terry/Lantz/Famous one done next week, and if all goes well, Popeye in Technicolor. Stop Motion Marvels 2 had some wonderful material cleaned up this week. I’m hoping the Stop Motion Marvels Vol. 1 Blu-ray set has a scan session in the coming few weeks to accompany the films that just were scanned- it depends on a large group of films arriving from one collector. It would all be overwhelming if it wasn’t all coming out so well.
Last week, Google put up some wonderful little ‘Easter eggs’ on their search pages to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the classic 1939 MGM film. The Metro (in the UK) did a nice article on the various features, so visit here first unless you’d like to be completely surprised!
It got me thinking about Ted Eshbaugh’s Wizard of Oz short, and the interesting history behind its creation.
Finding a good color print of this little film was at the very top of my ‘Holy Grail’ list for many years, followed closely by Eshbaugh’s The Snowman (1932) and Goofy Goat (1931). Eshbaugh is perhaps the most unusual of the independent producers; from viewing his independent output of films made at his studio as well as Van Beuren, you get a pretty good impression of the unique ideas and directorial touches that are present in his films. Perhaps the reason I was most excited about producing a Rainbow Parade set was the chance to get the best possible versions available of these Ted Eshbaugh directed shorts. Eshbaugh made three independent shorts (that we know of) between 1929 and 1933, then directed three shorts at Van Beuren for the ‘Rainbow Parade’ series in New York, Pastrytown Wedding (1934), The Sunshine Makers (1935) and Japanese Lanterns (1935). Seeing these three now almost finished and looking beautiful on their own made that whole project worth while. Between the Technicolor Dreams set and this new Rainbow Parade set, all except one will be available in 35mm prints. Maybe some day sooner than later Goofy Goat can be added to that list. Is it sitting in someone’s basement, recently rescued from a vault In New Jersey, or does it just not exist in 35mm? If a color print is found it’s a wonderful day for animation history.
Eshbaugh’s sincere attempts to advance color in animated cartoons is both a barely documented and important chapter in the history of animated films. His Goofy Goat (1931) has been listed as the first color/sound cartoon by some sources. Of course, it isn’t, but is one of the first. It’s preceded by both Iwerk’s Fiddlesticks (1930) released in Multicolor in the UK as well as Cy Young’s Mendelssohon’s Spring Song (1931) in Brewsterolor. Two other Flip the Frog cartoons, Little Orphan Willie (1930) and Puddle Pranks (1931), were probably also released in color in the UK.
This wonderful article (from Modern Mechanics and Inventions January of 1932) presents a great idea of Eshbaugh’s personal involvement in the technical details of making the films. No color process is listed in this article, however, Technicolor’s records show that Eshbaugh was working *at Technicolor* in some capacity when this article was written. My guess is that the studio had nearly completed The Snowman (1932) by the time this article appeared. (Click each image to enlarge)
Technicolor’s records show a co-production deal with Eshbaugh, Rank Labs UK and J.R. Booth in late 1931 to produce the Wizard of Oz short. Booth owned Film Laboratories of Canada, the exclusive lab in Canada for the Technicolor process. It seems likely that Technicolor’s direct involvement with its production (and with Eshbaugh’s production company of the same address according to Technicolor’s records) was to refine the specifics of filming and printing a cartoon, producing a showpiece to interest other producers in the Technicolor process. It was a perfect showcase in a way since the film was to start in black and white and turn into full color once Dorothy arrived in Oz.
Disney’s contact with Technicolor, by popular telling, was initiated by one of Technicolor’s co-founders, Herbert Kalmus. What happened to the production of Eshbaugh’s The Wizard of Oz isn’t entirely clear, but it’s more likely that production on the film halted for a period of time around April 1932, close to the time that Disney signed the contract for exclusive use of the Technicolor process (through late 1935, originally longer). One has to wonder if some of the Wizard of Oz footage was viewed by Disney.
Eshbaugh formed a new company thereafter, and in October of 1932 an article announces the Wizard of Oz cartoon is in development at Eshbaugh’s Musicolor Fantasies Company on North Highland Ave.
In April of 1933, in a syndicated column by Hollywood writer Harrison Carroll, it is noted that Eshbaugh had finished the first Wizard of Oz cartoon. It’s interesting to note that whatever arrangement Eshbaugh had for the release of the film seems to have been scuttled by Technicolor sometime after this point. A Film Daily article from June 1933 notes that the film was brought to New York’s Du-Art film studios, and that Booth had an office there. I have to wonder if this the print that Eshbaugh owned, the same print acquired much later from Eshbaugh by the Library of Congress.
This is speculation, but from the facts of the situation, it seems as if Technicolor gave some impression that the film would be allowed release since they allowed it to proceed and the negative to be put together. At some point in 1933, did Technicolor, perhaps worried about their Disney contract, not allow its release when completed against a standing contract?
Eshbaugh and producer JR Booth sued Technicolor USA in 1934 for 14k, demanding the release of the Wizard of Oz negative. Rank Labs is named as a co-producer in the lawsuit. In June of the same year, Frank Baum sued Technicolor (not Eshbaugh or Booth) for copyright infringement in producing the Wizard of Oz cartoon. It appears that Technicolor acquired the rights from Baum’s cousin who claimed ownership. Perhaps Technicolor held onto the negative to prevent it from being printed by Booth’s film Laboratories of Canada (known also as Technicolor Canada), or Rank (who had rights to the Technicolor process in the UK). Both companies were independently owned rather than sister companies with Technicolor USA.
Here is Eshbaugh’s “The Wizard of Oz”. This 35mm Technicolor print is from Ted Eshbaugh’s personal holdings, donated to the Library of Congress, who generously allowed Thunderbean to scan it for the Technicolor Dreams and B/W Nightmares Blu-ray set. Youtuber Bilbo Barpkins’ posted the version of the film from the Thunderbean Blu-ray on January 10th this year (my birthday). Since he’s already done the work of uploading, here it is. Make sure to watch it in HD since it looks so nice!
(some research in this post is from the new book The Road to Oz: The Evolution, Creation, and Legacy of a Motion Picture by Jay Scarfone & William Stillman, Brown and Littlefield, 2019)