Animation History
January 23, 2023 posted by Jerry Beck

Baby Huey in “Swab The Duck” (1956)

An unusual post today… one of those “Things I Promised Not To Tell”. Today I will talk about how I happened to come into possession of a mint condition, one-of-a-kind 35mm print – struck in 1994, direct off the camera negative – of a 1956 Famous Studios Noveltoon “Swab The Duck” (featuring Baby Huey).

In 1993, having recently moved on from five years with Streamline Pictures, and deep into writing my book The 50 Greatest Cartoons, I was offered a job at the home office of Harvey Comics in Santa Monica, to assist the production of a new “Baby Huey Show”. The show was being produced for syndication (by Claster TV) with my good friends at Carbunkle Cartoons in Vancouver. My initial role was to assist the Producer Harvey had hired… and help facilitate the selection of older “Harveytoons” for the show.

In some ways the half-hour was a cheat – there would be one new Carbunkle cartoon, followed by a miscellaneous 50s “Harveytoon” and a 1950s Baby Huey “classic”. It would be up to me to select the cartoons to be used – and make them ready for broadcast.

Within a few weeks, the producer Harvey had hired quit the production (or was “let go” – I have no idea). I was soon asked to take her place. Cool! It was an interesting situation (I’ll leave the full details for a future “Things I Promised Not To Tell” entry), but the job entailed my being the point person between Harvey, Claster and Carbunkle. Strangley enough, I enjoyed it! I wish I had further opportunities to “produce” in this fashion.

Beyond selecting the “classic” cartoons, my two biggest contributions to getting the older cartoons ready for the show was (1) including the very first Huey cartoon, Quack-A-Doodle-Doo (1950), and (2) restoring Swab The Duck (1956) for broadcast.

Concerning the first cartoon – remember, Quack-A-Doodle-Doo was NOT in the Harvey library. It was released pre-September 1950, and was sold by Paramount to the U.M.& M. TV Corp (later NTA). I was able to prove to Claster and my bosses at Harvey that the first Huey was in public domain… and to scan a 35mm Technicolor print I had (from my personal film collection) for the show. We also needed the cartoon for the show. There were only thirteen Famous Studios Baby Huey cartoons produced between 1950 and 1959 – and the order for our new show was only 13 episodes.

Swab The Duck was another story. Back in those pre-digital, standard-def days of analog television, we were using 1-inch master tapes – of transfers made seven years earlier for a series of Worldvision VHS home videos. I reviewed them and they were fine – except for Swab The Duck. It was obvious that the grainy version on the Harvey master tape was transferred – terribly – from a 16mm print.

I showed this to my Harvey overlords – and initially they couldn’t see any difference. I needed to show them several cartoons off the master tapes for them to comprehend how bad this copy of Swab The Duck was. Then they made a momentous decision that not only worked to improve the cartoon – but taught me something I had not known until that moment. They sent me to the Paramount Pictures lot on Melrose Ave. to retrieve the original sound and picture elements!

I had not known – till then – that Paramount had all the 1950s “Harveytoon” master film materials – the Technicolor negatives. I soon learned that Harvey had bought (back in 1958) all the rights to the characters and cartoons EXCEPT the theatrical rights. That’s because Paramount was still reissuing the cartoons to theaters (the cartoon’s original audience – and Paramount’s main business in 1958). So Paramount kept all the original negatives – with the understanding that Harvey had rights to borrow these materials whenever they needed them.

My dear friend Sid Raymond, the voice of Baby Huey and Katnip the Cat, whom I met and befriended during my experience as Producer of “The Baby Huey Show”

I delivered the materials to a local Hollywood film lab a few blocks away – and the sound track to Chace Sound in Burbank who worked to enhance the soundtrack. All we (Harvey/Claster) needed was a hi-con negative with which to make a positive film transfer to video.

I got a phone call a few days later from the lab wanting to know if “Harvey wanted a composite 35mm answer print with the order?”. I recall saying that as long as we got a nice transfer on video, that is all we really needed for our show. The minute those words came out of my mouth, I had a second thought. “How much would a composite 35mm print cost?”, I asked… The lab said it would be another $300. added to the bill.

I immediately said, “Yes. Make a print!”. Harvey had no use for a print of Swab The Duck. No one really did. But I wanted it. I figured if my bosses asked about it – if I got caught – I’d pay the $300 bucks out of my own pocket. They never did.

A week later, the lab called me to come in and look at the answer print. In theory, if there was anything wildly wrong with the picture, they would re-do it with different color timing. My friend (and fellow Paramount cartoon fan) Andrew J. Lederer accompanied me to the screening room, where we sat to watch a Baby Huey cartoon on the big screen, in a brand new print, at the lab – something that probably hasn’t happened in over 25 years. It was a religious experience. We felt the spirit of Seymour Kneitel in the room.

I still have the print to this day. I showed it as part of my Famous Studios Tribute at the Museum of Modern Art in 1995 – where I heard audible gasps at the quality of the opening titles when they came on. I ran this print over the years when it was appropriate – which wasn’t very many times. Perhaps once at The Silent Movie Theater during the Cinefamily screenings… maybe at an Asifa screening at some point…

I decided recently to get it scanned in High Def – and am happy to share it with you. Thank you Dino Everett at the USC Archive for doing it with an open aperture – full frame – so we can see the animation pegs at top, registration markings, and camera instructions that were captured on film – but unseen by theatre and television audiences… until now.

This is a raw scan – no color correction or other enhancements to make it perfect for broadcast, theatrical or physical media sale. It’s faded a little in those 29 years since it was struck. Imagine this with vivid color and you’ll have an idea of what we watched in that screening room in 1994, or at MoMA in 1995… or what theater audiences saw in Technicolor back in 1956.

About the cartoon itself… Personally I love the character of Baby Huey. He’s funny. I love Sid Raymond’s performance of the character – the oafish innocent. No attempt to use a younger actor, or to modulate Sid’s voice to sound like a child… Baby Huey has an adult man’s voice – Genius! This particular cartoon has everything down pretty solid – including Sharples’ score, and other voices by Mercer (the ducklings) and Jackson Beck (the fox). In the thick of 1950s UPA styling sweeping animation, this was one of the last Paramount cartoons to use traditional background paintings by Anton Loeb – and they are beautiful.

No one should dismiss the Paramount cartoons over their repetition. These cartoons were produced at a time when no one in the general public had any way to “repeat view” them – no television rebroadcast, not video tape or streaming services. If an idea worked once, there was no reason not to repeat it. Animated cartoons in theaters were as ephemeral as daily comic strips in the newspaper. Watched once and then forgotten. This explains why their were so many topical references during the golden age. The Paramount studio turned out a slick, professional “product” (yes, I’ll use that term). I have screened this print for audiences in theaters – and I’ve heard them laugh at some of the gags. Swab The Duck is far (very far) from the funniest cartoon ever made, but is a somewhat quintessential Famous Studios cartoon of the mid-1950s.

If you liked today’s post, I have more stories from my time at Harvey (and Nickelodeon, Disney, Streamline Pictures, etc); more “Things I Promised Not To Tell” from my so-called career. I’ll save them for future posts if the reaction to this one is positive.


  • Jerry, your question is like asking children whether they want Santa to come this year.

    I’m waiting to see the Merlin Jones pilot you worked on at Disney –
    at least visual elements of its progression.

    (Hope Paramount stores their original negatives in safer places than Universal)

    The 35 mm Disney short subject cartoon reissues of the late 30’s thru mid 50’s in cinemas during the 1960’s through early 1980’s accompanying their features nearly always looked as if they’d been made yesterday. MIckey Down Under and Donald’s Crime especially stand out for me visually from the past as part of my religious experiences.

    In the last 10 years approximately 75% of the Disney full length one story animated movies from Snow White to LIon King (94) have been re-released digitally in major Australian multiplexes for special weekend morning screenings – in some cases up to about 4 different occasions – (the latest was 101 Dalmatians about 6 months ago).

    And none of those prints hold up to when I viewed them years ago (some at the same cinema) on 35mm.
    (And I’m not talking with rose-colored glasses either)

  • “What luck! That’s some duck!” It’s remarkable that the Baby Huey show was responsible for your discovery of the negatives at Paramount, a discovery that is bearing fruit today with the wonderful restorations of Fleischer Color Classics like “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” and “Somewhere in Dreamland”. I wasn’t terribly crazy about the new Baby Huey cartoons — a little too much toilet humour for my taste — but it was a treat to see the classics on a syndicated TV show in the ’90s.

    I don’t know whom you promised not to tell these things, but I hope you’ll break more of those promises in columns to come!

  • Thanks for sharing this beautiful print! It’s nice to see classic animation in close to its original form of presentation. What is also amazing to me is the quality of animation that went into some of these late-entry cartoons.

    By 1956 the handwriting was on the wall. Disney had shut down regular production of animated shorts and offered only one-offs and specials in terms of anything new. Plus their old backlog was being recycled via theatrical re-releases to accompany new features, or shown on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show or the weekly anthology series. MGM was about to close down their animation department. UPA had already embraced less costly forms of animation and would in a few short years make the leap to television. Walter Lantz’ output was already showing its economy and he was also shortly to make a big splash on the small screen. The days of WB’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were numbered, as well. The animated theatrical short, if not quite dying yet, was in a period of extreme transition.

    Given that environment, the smooth and elaborate animation in “Swab the Duck” is particularly noteworthy and remarkable.

  • Yes, more stories are welcome, Jerry!
    I too love the Baby Huey cartoons and also bought the Harvey Comics version. One of my favorite book purchases was the Harvey Comics Classics reprint book you did the intro for.

  • Of course the reaction is positive. Would love to read more stories of the kind!

  • By ALL means, please continue the “Things I Promised Not To Tell” series! All behind the scenes stories hold some interest. The best have aspects like this one. Only $300? I can almost see you smacking your head a la the old V-8 commercials. Hope some of the future tales (again: Please, PLEASE!) have these taking advantage of being in the right place at the right time moments in them. Thanks for sharing the story and the print!

  • It was interesting to see a raw film print with the soundtrack and frame edges visible. I had no idea how much of the equipment showed up on camera. The cartoon’s okay, amusing and beautifully produced, as was always the case with Famous.
    I remember the Carbunkle Baby Huey show. Personally, I found it relied too heavily on toilet humor for my taste, but overall, still pretty funny.

  • Lovely stuff Jerry. In doing such, you also preserved the film in a way. It was really nice seeing a Baby Huey look that nice, thanks for sharing!

  • What is the name of the song (Playing Pirates is So Fun) that wasn’t just used in this cartoon, but a chunk of the Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons?

    • It’s Little Brown Jug, a favorite of the studio. Maybe because Famous had quite a few drinkers on staff

  • Fantastic. Thanks so much for this.

  • Thanks Jerry!

    I gasped too… wotta print.

    But oh, those ham-fisted gags… painful.

  • Wow! I would have gasped in that audience too!

    The lab was a few blocks away? The closest one I can think of was CFI!

    Thank you for sharing this Jerry! The sound is a few frames late but I loved that you scanned it in full aperture. When I see all the clean-up lines, numbered cels, unfinished backgrounds and peg bars, I feel like the artists of the past are communicating with us!

  • I loved the Carbunkle Cartoons Baby Hueys…they took a formulaic character and made him fun. it always disappointed when the Harvey Hueys played, they paled so badly by comparison. I would love to see a BD with the Carbunkle Huey shorts, but I’m sure tangled rights issues preclude such a release. Just like with The Twisted Tales of Felix The Cat.

  • Cool stuff Jerry! I wish we’d get nice copies of every cartoon someday!

  • Great article Jerry. Beautiful-looking print of ‘Swab the Duck’. Personally, I’d love to hear more “Things I Promised Not To Tell” stories.

    Also, and correct me if I’m wrong, but if the original contract between Paramount and Harvey from ’58 states that- while Paramount still owns theatrical rights, Harvey can access the original camera negatives from Paramount whenever they need to, does that mean that Harvey’s current owner (DreamWorks/NBC Universal) are hypothetically allowed to restore their Havery-owned Famous Studios cartoons for Blu-Ray/Streaming?

    • Yes – absolutely. If Dreamworks/NBC Universal wants to restore the films for blu ray/streaming they can access the original negs and do that.

      And remember – if Paramount Pictures wanted to stick a Casper, Herman and Katnip or a Noveltoon to the head of a theatrical release of TOP GUN, DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, or JACKASS… they could!

      • Wow… that sounds amazing! Then why haven’t they done that yet? Sometimes it just feels like Hollywood is run by people who have totally amazing ideas… and do everything in their power to make it NOT happen.

  • If there hadn’t been Baby Huey, there probably wouldn’t have been Ajax (Duckman’s son).

  • In high school, in the mid 70s, we would run films during lunch break. Kids running the projector without proper mattes, gates or whatever they called the framing device. I have a vivid memory of seeing Disney’s Pinocchio and in at least one scene i could see the animation pegs and the cameraman’s finger tips at the bottom of the screen. It’s fun to see these mistakes.

  • Sid Raymond is funny. Period. For someone who wasn’t a star, he had an incredible career. He was called for an audition the day he died at 97!
    I wish he had more chances in cartoons to do the impressions that started him on his vaudeville career; he got to do his Clem McCarthy voice on a Heckle and Jeckle. (Huey is his version of Charlie Cantor’s Socrates Mulligan from the Fred Allen show).
    I guess it shows you how often these Paramount/Harveytoons cartoons aired because I remembered the plot as soon as I saw the title, and it must have been almost 50 years since I’ve seen it.
    Any stories that can be recorded for posterity should be welcomed by cartoon fans.

  • Such an amazing story, Mr. Beck, and one that helps keep a smile on the face at the thought of there still being possibilities for these cartoons. I add my voice to those encouraging you to share more stories, and thanking you for sharing this one!

  • I love some of the messed up gags in that 90’s Baby Huey show like the homage to Deliverance when Huey and his dad went camping.

  • Great print and wonderful color! I haven’t seen the BABY HUEY series for decades and they never looked quite this good when I saw them!

    Too bad I didn’t ask Jackson Beck about working with Sid Raymond when I interviewed him – nearly 30 years ago!

  • That was nice. I almost immediately remembered seeing this particular cartoon. Of course we’d like to hear more of your stories. Don’t make us beg.

  • I noticed that the sound comes a little bit after the picture.

  • Cool post, Jerry. As you know MANY of the 35mm release prints of the Paramount cartoons look like this improperly masked. Far more than any of the other studios, where the masking was done before it was printed and they weren’t printed directly off the negative. It’d be informative to read any documentation related to the camera operation at Famous. Also worth noting is how SWAB THE DUCK, and the surrounding Famous cartoons produced from 1954 on, are clearly planned for widescreen matting. I have to gather with Paramount pushing Vistavision, the Famous guys’ hands were tied.

    As David Koenigsberg noted, the sound is fairly late here. Was that an issue with the transfer or the print?

    It’d be wonderful to see all the Huey cartoons look like this.

    • It seems to be one frame out. I’m not sure if the sync problem is in the print or with the scan.

      It was in sync when broadcast… and its in sync on the video check print used on my Garage Sale discs. I’ll have to bring the print to Mark Kausler, or to some editing bench, to check if its the print. Thanks to all who’ve pointed it out.

      Here’s the “broadcast” version that aired on the Huey show:

      • Thanks, Jerry. I’m very familiar with that copy, since you generously circulated it with all of us hardcore collectors on tape/DVD decades ago, so I was a bit puzzled by the sync here since it was perfect there. Ditto for those “minty” transfers of RAIL-RODENTS, HIDE AND PEAK, and WINNER BY A HARE that had original Paramount titles as well. The hell with the haters, all hail Dave and Marty.

  • Fascinating story, what a privilege it is to have worked with actual film prints of all these classics and see them as they were meant to be seen, on a big screen no less!

    Not too bad of a cartoon either this one, fairly predictable in its structure and gags but there’s some funny animation so it’s not terribly dull. Cool how Famous stuck to this classic rounded style and painterly backgrounds so far into the ’50s.

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