July 14, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Bill Nolan directs: “The Foul Ball Player” (1940)

(First, Thunderbean news):

Lots going on in Thunderbeanland right now!

This next week I’ll be finally doing a big scanning session with all sorts of things in toe. Films in this batch that will finish quite a few special sets and several official ones as well. It’s really fun to see nearly all the tasks scratched off on so many of the asset and project lists. I’ve also just finished my contributions to a special project film historian/ collector Eric Greyson is doing. It features lots of rare shorts (many animated). While a majority of his time is devoted to finish his “King of the Congo” serial project, this one has been under wraps for the better part of a year, so I’ve been pretty quiet about it–but you’ll be hearing more about it soon!

In terms of the day to day here, I’ve had my head pretty buried in getting the “Stop Motion Marvels” Blu-ray revision looking as good as possible before saying goodbye to it- maybe next week if all goes well. It’s really close. Then, it’s on to the long list of other stuff I’ve been trying to get back to forever. I’m sure everyone has a list like that!

Essential animation historian, artist and author David Gerstein is doing a lovely job of all things graphic on the Flip the Frog Blu-ray. I’m not quite ready to share since they’re not all in the final version as of yet, but they are to the high quality you’d expect from him, and I’m thrilled to be closer and closer to Flip heading to replication. It’s looking like Flip will done this month and shipping in early August. July and August are shaping up to be the busiest we’ve ever had at the tiny Thunderbean company, but happily so.

Now— onto our cartoon!

The Stone Age cartoon series could never be considered top- Fleischer in any way. This particular cartoon, The Foul Ball Player (1940) is one I had never seen before until I bought a print of it last year. The print is a little splicy at times but generally complete I think, so of course we scanned it for everyone to see.

This cartoon was directed by Bill Nolan. Nolan should be considered an animation pioneer, and he never really has gotten the accolades he deserves. His work in the silent era – especially his round redesign of Felix the Cat, his work on the early Lantz sound cartoons and ideas on arcs and timing had a bigger influence on the industry than can ever really be calculated. I really love so many of the qualities of his work. Maybe someday the nearly-lost “Skippy” cartoon will see more of the light of day too.

To steal term from Mark Kausler, Nolan was an animation primitive in many ways, discovering a lot of the principals that would be taken much further by many others into the mid-30s. By the late 30s, Nolan was at the Fleischer Studio in Florida, animating on Gulliver’s Travels as well as various shorts.

I’m not going to say this is a great cartoon by ANY means, but if you’re watching it JUST for the animation and timing it starts to be really fun- not because the animation is great, but it’s really interesting once you start to look closely. It looks like Nolan is doing both layout and sometimes keying out a scene. There’s only a few places where I could identify a shot being entirely animated by Nolan, but you can see other animators attempting to follow his layouts and timing ideas. It’s one of the oddest Fleischer cartoons I’ve seen from a direction standpoint. While some of the timing works really well in this picture, quite a bit of it is a somewhat swimmy, a hallmark of Nolan’s work in the silent and early sound era. His cartoony posing is also apparent at times, other times less so. I especially like the character’s actions that have that signature Nolan rubber hose arm movement with hands following behind, or action causing the character to completely turn around following the largest arc of the action, arms following through in their own loopy arcs to smoothly follow-through. I very much enjoy his thinking- it’s wonderfully unusual at this later point in theatrical cartoons.

from a whole film standpoint, this cartoon seems like you’re watching Lilliputians from Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels playing a game of baseball dressed in Stone Age costumes! There are really no gags *at all* requiring a stone-age theme, and the character designs are so similar to the Lilliputians that there’s almost no difference. To complete that picture, there’s a short piece of ‘It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day” that seems completely appropriate. There’s even a character who seems sort of like Gabby. That’s a hard note to end on!

Have a good week everyone!


  • Wow, so much good news! I’m glad to hear that a lot of projects are achieving fruition, especially these “special“ sets. Just listening to today’s cartoon sounds as if the voice overs were just available at one microphone to deliver their lines quickly! So you can see this is at the end of the golden age of Max Fleischer productions. However, anything from that studio is a real find.

  • Funny how all Soyuzmultfilm animation seems to have been based on this late-stage Fleischer studio style.

  • Nine years before “The Foul Ball Player”, Bill Nolan animated an Oswald cartoon for Lantz titled “The Stone Age”, which likewise lacks any gags specific to a stone age setting, although that one at least has a dinosaur in it.

    With all due respect to Bill Nolan and the Fleischer studio, when it comes to stone age cartoons of 1940, nothing beats Paul Terry’s “Club Life in the Stone Age”. As Cave Pop says of his nubile daughter, “What a gal!”

  • It is so great to finally see these Stone Age cartoons get found and shown. I know at least one did show up on a Special set I watched recently. (I really need to sort through exactly what’s on each of those amazing discs for easy reference.) For so long, the Stone Ages have been a missing piece of the Fleischer puzzle, a part of my Fleischer database that remained stubbornly incomplete. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for “The Foul Ball Player”. New to me.. I’ve long hoped Thunderbean would produce a set of baseball cartoons, or if not enough are available throw in other sports. Maybe a “special” disc?

    • That’s a great idea! A disc of baseball cartoons — or even simply sports cartoons — would be very welcome.

  • Whenever I see a Stone Age cartoon, I wonder if anyone on that team at Fleischer’s (Dan Gordon?) ended up working on The Flintstones 20 years later. Also wonder if Rod Scribner, Jim Tyer and Ed Love studied Bill Nolan’s animation. I’m a big fan of Nolan’s very imaginative work on the Lantz Oswalds, especially THE FOWL BALL.

    • Dan Gordon did indeed work on the Fleischer Stone Age cartoons AND was pivotal in developing The Flintstones with Hanna Barbera.

  • Nolan’s direction is pretty rebellious for Fleischer in Miami, but ironically, this sorta look would’ve been great in 1935! It does seem like a lot of scenes were done by Nolan, but heavily retouched by assistants, but they still flow like his work

  • Anyone notice the opening music is Sindbad the Sailor speeded up? Curious what cartoon package these were included on for TV, and how long they played. All we ever got in Indianapolis when I grew up there in the late 50s, early 60s, was Fleischer Popeyes. No Boops, no Color Classics, no Animated Antics. And the Popeyes were shown on our one independent station. I’m thinking the bigger the city, with more independent stations determined whether you got ‘secondary’ Fleischer.

    • Just watched the toon. It could have made a mildly entertaining Popeye. It’s not that bad. Slightly original.

  • It appears that the Stone Age cartoon shorts were inspired by, not to mention cashing in on, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1940).

    • Thanks for the link, but the 1940 film is titled “One Million B.C.”, without the word “years”. “One Million Years B.C.” was the unforgettable 1966 remake starring Raquel Welch.

    • It’s a coincidence, no recollections suggest they ever came from this movie. It seems it was an idea possibly from Max himself, and his love of inventing, ya know?

  • I think the Stone Age cartoons are judged a little harshly. At least the studio wasn’t trying to mimic Disney’s sentimental style with these (which they were never much good at). Many of the gags are as good as or superior to the stuff that showed up on the Flintstones years later. Sure, they aren’t up there with Popeye, Superman or the early Boops, but I find them extremely watchable. Great to see Steve featuring one here!

  • I know that Charlie Thorson did some (or most?) of the character designs for the Stone Age series at Fleischer. These characters would look very much at home in the similarly Thorson-designed MGM “Captain and the Kids” cartoons.

  • Bill Nolan’s two Popeye cartoons – actually both Poopdeck Pappy cartoons – are really great.

  • Well, i can see why the STONE AGE cartoons never caught on. Gordon Sheehan only mentioned them to me in a remark that Dan Gordon revised the concept of them for Hanna-Barbera’s THE FLINTSTONES for TV – a couple of decades later. You can see why the gags worked in THE FLINTSTONES and not in a short here like THE FOUL BALL PLAYER. The characters really don’t have much of a personality to them at all.

    The influence of ONE MILLION B.C. for this series is something I haven’t – but should have considered.

    Steve, thanks for finding this. Now I can say I’ve actually seen a Fleischer STONG AGE cartoon! “Yay! – in small voice.

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