February 12, 2015 posted by

Billy Bletcher and “The Fresh Lobster” (1928)


I’ve always wondered who animated the sequences in The Fresh Lobster (1928). This odd short stars a sadly silent Billy Bletcher, who has a surreal nightmare after snacking too late. Some people have speculated it was done by the Walter Lantz Studio, but that appears to not be the case. At one point I thought it has been figured out that the animation was done back east in New York, but that would seem unlikely. Does anyone know on the list?

This odd short is beautifully produced, with an interesting combination of stills with highly rendered cel animation, dissolves and sometimes difficult compositing and effects that are pulled off quite well. It’s certainly one of the most unusual shorts of the period.

My friend Jeff Missinne lent a print to me for Telecine way back in 1988. A handful of years back we made a better transfer for the Blue Mouse Studio’s ‘Grotesqueries’ DVD. I’m not sure if this uploaded version is from that copy, but it’s a decent one to see:

Here’s another nifty Biilly Bletcher short from 1920, about prohibition, Dry and Thirsty:

….and here is a unique piece of film with Billy Bletcher performing for ‘Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip’

Here is a really fun and excellent compilation (in four parts!) of live action scenes (and lots of animation) with Cartoon voice actors. The second clip has Billy Bletcher in the Our Gang short “The First Round Up” and ”The Lost City”

Have a good week everybody!


  • I can see why Walter Lantz is a candidate – he had developed the technique of shooting cel animation over live-action film frame blow-ups in the Dinky Doodle series at Bray, and in 1927-8 he was doing odd jobs in Hollywood, gag-writing for live-action comedies and, according to one source, doing odd bits of animation. (Animation gags appear in quite a few silent comedies – usually photo cut-out animation.) So what rules him out?

    The only references online are to the 1948 sound re-issue – does anyone know when the original was made, by whom, and even what the original title was?

    • I wrote Walter Lantz in the mid-1980’s and asked him if he had worked on this film; he said no, but that he clearly remembered seeing it in a theatre in Los Angeles in the late 20’s. (I still have the letter…)

  • “a surreal nightmare after snacking too late”

    Not too long after the 1923-1925 revival of McCay’s “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend”.

  • This is wonderful! — very cleverly written and executed (despite riding on the coattails of McKay). Who’d have thunk that a lobster could gallop?

    The musical score was also excellent, quite sophisticated for such an early sound film.

  • So, looking at the clips of Sarah Berner that you included, do you think that Sarah was used not only as the voice over actress but as the model for the human in the MGM cartoon, “CHIPS OFF THE OLD BLOCK”? I would assume so since it would have been easy enough for the animators to sketch her pantomiming. Oh, and think how many other voice actors could be found in live action segments, like Penny Singleton in the “BLONDIE” films or George O’Hanlon in the Joe McDoakes series, although those two would be obvious. I wonder how many times Mae Questel appeared in live action. Sad that we can’t buy some of those films on DVD as yet. We know that Tommy Bond was used in a couple of favorite Warner Brothers cartoons just after his run as Butch in the Hal Roach OUR GANG comedies, but I’d always wondered if George “Spanky” McFarland added his voice as one of the kids in a CAPTAIN & THE KIDS cartoon called “HONDURAS HURRICANE”. It almost sounds like Spanky saying the line “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” The choice would seem like a natural, too, considering that Spanky was still making OUR GANG comedies at MGM after Hal Roach departed…and I wonder if any up-and-coming stars first appeared on film as animated characters.

    • Alan Reed (Fred Flintstone) was a regular on the Duffy’s Tavern TV show.
      And of coarse Bea Benedetet (Betty Rubble) starred on The Burns & Allen Show and Petticoat Junction.
      Mel Blanc (just about everyone in a WB cartoon as well as Barney Rubble) was a semi-regular on The Jack Benny Program as well as many other guest appearances.

  • The human flying effect in “The Fresh Lobster” is superior to those done for the late 1940s Superman serial, twenty years later.

  • Does anyone know where the 1928 date on “The Fresh Lobster” comes from? The copyright date on the film is 1948. All over the internet, the film is dated to 1928, but I can’t find any explanation for who arrived at that date and how.

    • I’ve wondered about that “1928” date, too, Jon. It seems awfully specific for a film whose origins are a mystery.

  • I get the impression there is a lot more to the history of this film that has yet to be uncovered….

  • Wow, can’t even find anything about this in the new Lantern media database. This has long been an absolute favorite of mine, after seeing it as a kid on a “Thrills and Chills” PD tape put out by Nippon in the late 80s. Bought the tape for a buck in Woolworth’s when they were closing. Wonder if they made their own transfer or copied yours, Steve?

    The titles and soundtrack all must date to the 1948 reissue, and I’ve no clue where the 1928 date originated. Would love to learn more about it…and hopefully replace my silent 16mm with a sound one sometime!

  • By the way, Steve, a friend tells me he found your “Gulliver’s Travels” transfer complete on Youtube. He said he recognized the restoration and the rounded frame corners you left in. He thought maybe it was posted there “officially” by you, but I doubted that it was.

  • That’s the cutiest vintage short I’ve seen for a long time

  • I remember seeing “Fresh Lobster” on PBS’ “Matinee at the Bijou” in the ’80s.

    • “Matinee at the Bijou” also showed the Rudy Vallee short “The Musical Doctor” seen in one of the embedded videos above. In addition to Mae Questel being in it, Rudy Vallee sings the song that Betty Boop sings in “Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions” (which aired back-to-back with this short in that episode), and it has a brief bit of animation (of tonsils) that I assume was done by the Fleischer studio.

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