November 15, 2018 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Eshbaugh Gets Political: “A Fable of the New Deal” (1936)

As if we all haven’t had enough of politics as of late! First, though, a few Thunderbean updates:

Lots still going on; look for stills later this afternoon on the IAD (Internet Animation Database) forum from both official and ‘special’ sets tomorrow, after a very full scan session. Things are arriving tomorrow as well from scans done elsewhere. We’re working to get as many of the ‘special’ sets does this year as well as some of the official sets as well.

Grotesqueries is finished and will be available soon. The Snappy Video Party disc is finished and shipping now all the pre-orders. More pre-orders are on their way out of the country, finally. I’m flooded with requests for this set, so we’ve put it up on Amazon, for likely a limited time. It’s mostly live action, but it does feature the infamous animated short, Buried Treasure, made by three studios to show after the famous 1926 Winsor McCay party. I didn’t think I’d be offering this set to a bigger audience, but it will be available for at least a little while, here.

If you look under the most obscure rocks in animation history, you find a lot of forgotten and beat up film. It’s always surprising to me to see that independent producer Ted Eshbaugh’s efforts always seems to show up in the least expected places. A little while back, our own Johnathan Boschen sent me a list of productions that Eshbaugh was involved in, and I was struck at how unrelated and unexpected the whole list was; being a tiny producer, it would of course be expected that commercials and industrial films would be a big part of the output of this particular studio, but Eshabugh’s work really takes the cake (made with Cushman’s Flour). I’ve been a little obsessed with finding Eshbaugh shorts that haven’t shown up yet, When A Fable of the New Deal showed up, I was amused and surprised.

My guess is that this fully animated Eshbaugh short, like so many of his other productions, involved something novel: a color ending on an otherwise black and white production.

I’m guessing this little short was produced to show around the country at some sort of local gatherings— perhaps at social clubs, churches or schools.

This short, A Fable of the New Deal is a fully animated political commercial, featuring the oddly familiar Ted Eshbaugh animated whimsy. In Eshbaugh’s ‘political’ animated cartoon world, the Democratic platform is destroyed by its own swallowing of the NRA (National Recovery Act), sending the Donkey representing the party into a dizzying disastrous bucking fury (thanks to a ‘liberal’ added dose of Russian Vodka).

Even though we are far removed from the actual politics of the 30s, the message they are trying to portray is pretty clear: FDR’s New Deal and the government’s various policies were not working, and change was needed. Alf Landon (and his running mate Frank Knox) were of course unable to capture the imagination of the voting public, but understandably; the economy seemed to be heading the right direction (although very slowly), More importantly, a lot had happened policy-wise in FDR’s administration, and many of these new policies were very popular with the American public. Social Security, the end of Prohibition, new laws to support unions and new regulations that included sick leave and unemployment benefits for workers are all things we take for granted now in this country, but in 1936, it was a safe bet that these new policies would be at least in some jeopardy under a new administration. Under these particular circumstances, even a full Technicolor Eshbaugh production probably wouldn’t have been as able to get the vote, at least not as easily as we are all convinced to drink tea or buy Cushman’s Flour or Bordon’s Milk.

In any case, all efforts were ineffective, and Landon lost 31% to FDR’s 61%, a landslide by any measure.

One can’t necessarily deduce Eshbaugh’s personal politics from this politically sponsored short, but it’s amusing to see that attacking the other side with 30s cartoon humor was not out of the question back then. I especially like the ‘wink’ here, and in all cartoons, honestly.

This likely only existing print of A Fable of the New Deal was scanned by Thunderbean and appears here courtesy of The Library of Congress, who continue to preserve America’s film history; the amazing people there love films as much as we all do.

Have a good week everyone!!


  • Steve and Jerry, thanks for solving this one. The Tralfaz blog quoted a squib about “The Amateur Fire Brigade” six years ago from Film Daily of Feb. 19, 1936.

    Chicago—Action of the Ohio sponsors in banning the animated cartoon, “The Amateur Fire Brigade,” satirizing the New Deal, will be fought to a finish, according to Raymond Pitcairn, national chairman of the Sentinels of the Republic.

    I found a few other clippings about the cartoon with the intention of doing a post but I don’t seem to have written it.

    The Sentinels was one of those “Pro Constitution”/pro States-right groups formed in the Coolidge years that turned its attention to lobbying against the New Deal after Roosevelt was elected. To no great surprise, Alfred P. Sloan and Irenee DuPont, were among its financial backers (the Sloan and DuPont interests later employed the John Sutherland studio to make propaganda cartoons). The group seems to have petered out when the war arrived. Sloan dropped his support in 1936 after a Senate Committee examined letters by the secretary of the Sentinels that were perceived to be anti-Semitic.

    • “Amateur Fire Brigade” is apparently a lost cartoon at the moment. This one that Steve shared is the second one. There are a few publicity photos to the Amateur Fire Brigade that show scenes (such as a caricature of Roosevelt driving a firetruck) that don’t appear in this film.

    • The New York Times of April 18, 1936, reporting on the proceedings of the Senate Lobby Committee, says that after “Amateur Fire Brigade—A Fable of the New Deal” was first screened, “the picture…was subsequently ‘toned down’ considerably, as some Sentinels took the position that too much of the reel was given to caricaturing the president.”

      It sounds as if the film was ordered to be edited. It very well could be that Steve has the edited version. As you know, it was banned in Ohio (and, originally in Chicago) for disrespecting a president. The publicity drawings I’ve seen were published before the film was banned and that might account for the discrepancy, but that’s mere speculation on my part.

      It’s interesting in all the clippings I’ve spotted on “Amateur Fire Brigade,” there’s no reference to it being in colour.

    • I was unaware of the New York Times article and that’s pretty interesting of it being edited down. That would explain some of the similar scenes and why the only title present is “A Fable Of The New Deal” and is missing some of the credits.

  • There appears to be two of these Eshbaugh political shorts. The first one was the “Amateur Fire Brigade” which from what I’ve read was made entirely in color. I haven’t found to much more on these shorts, but I’ll share more when/if the time becomes available. 🙂

  • Thanks for posting this cartoon. It could serve as the basis of a PBS documentary series just by explaining all of the references. The tragedy that came to be known as the Air Mail Scandal and Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6591 was legitimate criticism and the Supreme Court found in 1935 that the National Recovery Act was unconstitutional.

    Alf Landon was famous at the time for being a very poor campaigner and seldom appeared in public at the beginning of his campaign. He wound up with 8 Electoral votes against Roosevelt.

  • Why do these commercials had to be 7-20 minutes long, I bet film audiences were like “ENOUGH ALREADY WE KNOW WHAT YOU’RE PITCHING”!? This is an issue I addressed in my Retrojunk list of “Top 10 Advertising Cartoons” (which, as I already mentioned that list before in the previous “Mickey’s Surprise Party” post).

  • That still of Roosevelt on the fire truck also showed up in Ken Burns’ FDR documentary a few years back.
    The World War II cartoons get most of the attention, but I also find the New Deal era shorts another fun and fascinating confluence of animation and current events. This one is certainly an outlier among the overwhelmingly pro-New Deal sentiments expressed in most politically-themed cartoons of the 1930s such as “Confidence” (1933), “Marching Along” (1933), and “Hell’s Fire” (1934) to name a few.
    It also makes a good compare-and-contrast with another enjoyable animated political advertisement; Chuck Jones’ 1944 pro-Roosevelt short “Hell-Bent for Election” (, which likewise makes heavy use of editorial cartoon-style allegories, along with a bit of election year hyperbole. Hey, if Ted Eshbaugh can call Roosevelt a commie, Jones can call Thomas Dewey a Nazi.

  • Thanks for posting the Party Disc on Amazon. Just ordered it.

  • I also just ordered my copy of the SNAPPY PARTY disk and, while you did mention a silent piece, I’ll be interested to listen to what there is to listen to on the sound era bits and pieces. It just sounded like a disk I would like to own, and I’m sorry that there aren’t as many animated cartoons on it. I half-expected some of the most surreal titles from the 1930’s…something that petered out toward the 1940’s, unfortunately, since the Fleischers influenced so many early bits of sound animation, with varying results. I’m also interested in other forthcoming titles that you’ve mentioned so often, like POPEYE IN TECHNOCOLOR and the two volumes of MID-CENTURY MODERN on blu-ray. I know that the FLIP set is taking time, and I’m glad you’re so dilligent in seeking the best print quality for each short. I’m never sure of just how many of those were two strip technicolor experiments, and I don’t want to throw more misinformation into the already confusing forums. Always good to see these cartoons that you post each week. I’m always still searching for mainstream things to fill in the blanks, and I hope that, someday, we see those Ub Iwerks classic looking and sounding amazing, with lots and lots of commentary to keep the history alive. Thanks again for all you do.

  • At 0:07, a quote briefly appears, just before the title cuts over to the aerial shot of Bedloe’s Island. It appears to be “signed” by Abraham Lincoln and states (in part): “To the support of the Constitution, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor. While ever such a feeling…prevail, vain will be every attempt and fruitless…effort to thwart the hand of freedom.”

  • This is fun. Thanks for posting it, Steve. A real treat to see 30s political satire in cartoon form.

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