Columbia Pictures released a total of 90 animated shorts from United Productions of America (UPA) – from 1948 through 1959. Here’s a little look at the posters the studio created to exploit their popularity.
Columbia had been dissatisfied with the product of its own cartoon studio – the former independent Charles Mintz studio (Scrappy, Krazy Kat) during the 1930s, which became the mis-managed Columbia-owned Screen Gems studio (Fox & Crow, L’il Abner, etc.) in the 1940s. That studio was let go in 1946, but by 1948 Columbia decided to buy a new series of cartoon shorts – produced at a much lower cost – from independent UPA.
Columbia assigned the new series a name – “Jolly Frolics“ – and required that three of the first cartoons contracted feature the studio’s somewhat popular Fox & Crow characters. UPA had its own ideas for character design, art direction and even how the cartoons would be produced. When their third cartoon featured a cantankerous near-sighted old coot (with hilarious ad-libs by character actor Jim Backus) a new star, Mr. Magoo, was born.
On the first row of posters below (click each to enlarge) note the first stock Jolly Frolics poster simply reused characters from the latter days of Screen Gems output – to the publicity department, one cartoon was like another. Totally inter-changable.
When Magoo’s popuplarity was confirmed, a somewhat more respectable stock one-sheet (in full color) was sent out to theaters. By 1955, after a Magoo short won an Oscar, even more hyped-up poster (“The funniest cartoon character of them all!“) was warranted.
When Gerald McBoing Boing won the Oscar for 1950 – Columbia began treating each cartoon like a little jewel, whether worthy of such attention or not. Thus, posters for all became the norm, including for such duds as The Emperor’s New Clothes (1953), Bringing Up Mother (1954) and The Rise Of Duton Lang (1955). No matter – they were all UPA, the toast of the animation world during the 1950s.
The art direction of these posters was handled by Columbia’s publicity department (which I believe was based in New York). The good news was that these shorts were taken seriously as box office attractions. Only Disney and MGM were still creating one-sheet posters for individual cartoons as late as 1956 – so while UPA’s cartoons were in a lower budgeted league than its rivals, they were marketed as any first class production, befitting their (or at least, Mr. Magoo’s) popularity.
Magoo was so popular, in fact, that in 1953 Columbia released a Mr. Magoo feature compilation package, Mr. Magoo Cartoon Merry Go Round. This “feature” got all the requisite ballyhoo that any other comedy feature did at the time.
The UPA posters continued right on to the final Columbia releases in 1959 – the two-in-one Ham and Hattie shorts (at right) and the 1001 Arabian Nights Mr. Magoo feature.
So here’s a little gallery of the Columbia UPA cartoon posters. I’d love to update this with further examples – contributions of images gratefully accepted!