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!
Where’s the poster for ‘Gay Purr-ee?’
This post was specifically for Columbia’s UPA posters. GAY PURR-EE was released by Warner Bros. – but I plan to include it in a future post on the advertising of non-Disney animated features.
I’m sorry,I should have read the heading before writing. Great posters.
I believe Michael Barrier noted in his book that while UPA’s staffers were perpetually crying poverty about what Columbia was paying them, due to cost-cutting by the early 1950s at other studios the production costs for a Columbia short were pretty much the same as what was being budgeted over at Warner Bros. The poster art tends to confirm that while the money they were spending on UPA might have been a little behind what Disney was allocating, or possibly even MGM before 1955 or so, it was pretty much on par or even ahead of some of the other studios.
Thanks for these great posters!
I have bad childhood memories of watching Mr. Magoo on Sunday mornings at 6:30am. Along with “Davy and Goliath,” these are the only non-Saturday morning shows aimed at kids that I remember. I’m not sure if I saw only bad Mr. Magoos, if I saw the ones that (I think) were made for TV, or if I didn’t get the jokes, but until I saw the first Mr. Magoo on the Jolly Frolics boxed set, I didn’t like the show at all. Despite that, I watched it in back in the early 80s anyway.
Now I own the Mr. Magoo DVD set, and I really appreciate it. For many, it seems that most of these animated films are associated with great memories, but I’m discovering (nearly) all of them for the first time in my 40s, and I love it. Without cartoonresearch.com, I never would have discovered my love for classic animation. Thanks to everyone that contributes on to this site. Even when some of the posts make very little sense to me (timing sheets and record collecting, for instance), I read nearly every post. Keep up the good work, everyone! Thanks especially to Jerry Beck for making this a home for people to put their wonderful articles!
They were probably the 60’s TV versions then if they were. The first time I saw Magoo was the original UPA theatricals that came out on VHS in the 80’s. I saw the TV versions later when USA Network was airing them on their “Cartoon Express” and was not impressed.
Although I can’t fully appreciate this post, I will reiterate, once again, that I like the JOLLY FROLICS set on DVD. These are wonderful cartoons, and, having read this article, I have to ask whether any of this art made it to the packaging of the UPA set. I keep hoping that other such COLUMBIA CARTOONS sets will be made so we can see some of the shorts that had moments excised from them on the TOTALLY TOONED IN show.
Wow, these are great, Jerry! Although a couple are way off model on Magoo, most do their subject matter more than justice!
The thing that surprised me about the later Magoo theatricals is how they leaned away from gags towards situation comedy; some almost doable in live action.
It does, gone are the days of Magoo defying the law of gravity for a few moments in “Trouble Indemnity”. Now we get shorts like “Magoo Breaks Par” with Magoo simply confusing a state prison for a country club.
Gotta love the hyperbole in these posters. Things like calling UPA “miracle makers” or calling Magoo “the funniest cartoon character of all time!” Can’t imagine today’s movie posters saying things like that.
I wish hyperbole would come back.
It’ll never come back in a trillion times the half life of brand new uranium.
When you put it that way, I guess.