EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a new series articles I plan to regularly post that dives a little deeper into the history of the Academy Award For Best Animated Short Subject. I am still in the process of researching the earliest years of this particular Oscar category, so please bear with me as I am not presenting these posts in chronologic order. – Jerry Beck
We all know which short cartoons have won the Oscars since the category was established by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1931-32. We also have easy access to find which films were the nominees in this category.
But have you ever wondered why One Froggy Evening or King Size Canary were never nominated? How could What’s Opera Doc? not win – or even be nominated? I’ve wondered about this too. A few years ago at a Chuck Jones exhibition in the Academy lobby there was an interesting piece of paperwork framed on the wall – a 1950s-era memo to the Shorts Branch indicating which films the committee members would consider of that year.
It indicated some unusual animated films I’d never heard of – as well as cartoons from Terrytoons, Famous Studios and Universal that clearly had no chance against the Hollywood giants. This has intrigued me for years. What other films did the committee screen for consideration? Which cartoons did Seymour Kneitel, Paul Terry, Walt Disney, Steve Bosustow, Fred Quimby, Walter Lantz and others even deem worthy for submitting to the Academy? What were some of the independent and foreign films submitted, if any, and where are they?
It took me a while to get around to looking into this, but I finally have. And thanks to librarian Libby Wertin (at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library) we have tracked down many of these internal memos (they were not easy to locate – even within Academy walls – and the hunt is still ongoing). What they reveal needs to be shared and discussed with readers of this blog.
And the nominees were…
MICKEY AND THE SEAL (Disney) Charles Nichols
MOUSE WRECKERS (Warner Bros.) Chuck Jones
ROBIN HOODLUM (UPA) John Hubley
TEA FOR TWO HUNDRED (Disney) Jack Hannah
And the Oscar went to…
THE LITTLE ORPHAN (MGM), Fred Quimby Producer – Bill Hanna & Joseph Barbera, directors.
Submitted, screened, but NOT nominated were:
BASE BRAWL (Famous Studios)
HEP CAT SYMPHONY (Famous Studios)
TAMING THE CAT (Terrytoons)
THE 3 MINNIES (Impossible Pictures/Republic)
WAGS TO RICHES (MGM) Tex Avery
WILD AND WOODY (Walter Lantz)
Here’s the documentation:
I do not know the names of all the members of the Academy’s shorts branch in 1948 – but can you picture MGM’s Fred Quimby, Universal cartoon producer Walter Lantz, veteran Warner Bros. (live) shorts producer Gordon Hollingshead (“Joe McDoakes” among much else), RKO Shorts producer Cedric Francis, and documentary shorts producer George Bilson – can you imagine them screening Famous Studios’ Base Brawl or Heckle and Jeckle in Taming The Cat? I can’t. Or at least not without imagining them turning those cartoons off after two minutes.
Eleven films were submitted. Five made the cut. Let’s take a look at the films didn’t make it…
I always wondered why Paramount took a full page advertisement in the Hollywood trades for this cartoon, and now we know why – they were running a campaign to win an Oscar (well, that and trying to establish their new Screen Song series – and I’d have to suppose Seymour Kneitel thought this one was a laugh riot).
A very generic cartoon, with many old “pun” gags (the bat boy is a “bat”; a high-ball is pitched as a cocktail, etc.), even Jackson Beck’s narration seems lackluster. While the animation of the ball players is spirited, overall its not quite an Oscar worthy cartoon… 1948’s The Land of The Lost was more ambitious, Butterscotch and Soda was more elaborate and Symphony In Spinach were much funnier films from Famous that year – but this is what they submitted. So go figure.
One of those “musical competition” cartoons Famous did so well – over and over again, here and at every studio in Hollywood – this one being a template for the forthcoming Herman & Katnip series – despite the fact that, while both characters were already established, are not used here. The Dave Tendlar timing and Marty Taras animation is superb. Love the timing of the piano falling through the floor; the cat’s emergence and the reveal of the 88 keys in his mouth. This was certainly a logical choice to submit to the Academy, and it would have been nice to see a Famous get some industry recognition – but it was not to be.
TAMING THE CAT
It’s debatable if this was the best Terrytoon of 1948 – but its certainly a good one (by Terrytoon standards). With a story by John Foster(!), direction by Connie Rasinski (!!), with animation by Jim Tyer (2:40-3:18) and Carlo Vinci animating that catchy Durante-esque song (“Get A Couple Of Song Birds Today!” by Phil Schieb), sung with proper enthusiasm by Dayton Allen – what could go wrong? Thanks for the submission, Mr. Terry, but not today.
WAGS TO RICHES
This is clearly the best cartoon that was NOT nominated (of those submitted). A prime MGM Tex Avery Droopy (one of my favorite ones, in fact) – but it was produced during the same eligibility period that included Little Tinker, Lucky Ducky, and Bad Luck Blackie, all of them classics – so why not submit one of them? And among the nominees: is there anyone here who thinks Tea For Two Hundred, or even Mickey and The Seal, are better cartoons than this?
WILD AND WOODY
Another great one overlooked. One of the Dick Lundy Woody cartoons with funny animation by Freddy Moore, Pat Matthews, Ed Love, Ken O’Brien, LaVerne Harding and Les Kline. For more information about the animation on this film – via Devon Baxter – click here.
This was one of Walter Lantz’ independent United Artists releases, submitted during his studio closure. He could have used the nomination just now… and as part of the Shorts Branch executive committee, the rejection must have hurt.
THE THREE MINNIES
In the 1948-49 season, Republic Pictures released a quartet of cartoons under the banner “Jerky Journeys”. Low budget satires of travelogues, written and produced by radio comedy-writer Leonard Lewis Levinson, and narrated by Frank Nelson (“Yeeeeesss”). Levinson wrote the films in such a way as to have as little animation as possible, and convinced Republic that this would be a perfect showcase for their cut-rate “TruColor” (red & green) film process.
An early example of what Chuck Jones might term “illustrated radio”, background painters and designers such as Art Heinemann, Pete Alvarado, Bob Gribbroek, Paul Julian and effects animator Miles Pike helped bring these “cartoons” to life. Our colleague Don Yowp posted several clippings about the Impossible Pictures Jerky Journies on his TRALFAZ blog.
One of the films, The 3 Minnies: Sota, Tonka and Ha-Ha, was submitted for an Academy Award. Here is a rare copy of this cartoon (thank you, Mark Kausler):