Welcome back to the Famous Studio Archive. Before we move on to 1946-47 season, a few more items from the 1945/46 era to observe. For example, this…
The Noveltoon Jack-In-The-Box Opening
This iconic signature open for the Paramount Noveltoons made its debut in 1943 and was used for about twelve years. It was an attempt to brand the miscellaneous one-shots and to link the cartoons as a series. However, several times during the 1940s, this generic Jack logo wasn’t used. For some of Noveltoons (for example, The Friendly Ghost, The Enchanted Square, The Wee Men) the studio was aiming for some kind of prestige by not using the common opening.
Steve Stanchfield shared this information about the man who actually animated the Jack-In-The-Box opening, Gordon Sheehan:
Sheehan said he animated the sequence to me and many others- I asked him about it in 1988 or so. He said it was one of the first assignments at the ‘new’ studio… so it’s less of a speculation than a remembrance. He was upset that the prints that he had in 16mm were missing the logo and thought it was a nice way opening for these cartoons.
Sheehan wasn’t a person to misremember things- if he knew, he knew- if not, he would state so immediately. The inbetween notes are very similar in writing to his writing as well in later years, so this seems to confirm it. So, I would say it’s certain (he did it). He was one of the last animators that continued to work in New York for a while (after the Fleischer’s moved to Miami), and said a lot of (the Popeye two-reeler) “Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp” was produced there, and that David Tendler’s unit was producing some cartoons there as well as finishing his duties on the two-reel color short.
Sheehan was very clear to state he animated the *original* Jack in the Box, and designed the character. He said that the scene was drawn large to allow for a ‘truck’… and of course seeing the drawings confirmed that. He also said the name ‘Noveltoon’ started out as something like ‘An Animated Novelty’. Paramount asked them to do a series to test various properties that they considered licensing for the studio. He said that the war caused Paramount to cut as many expenses as possible, so some of those were never produced, or produced after the war (the “Snuffy Smith” (Spree For All) is the only one that comes to mind as being possibly part of that).
Click to enlarge some of the surviving animation art from this opening, below:
Of course the Noveltoons Jack morphed into the Harveytoons Jack (or “Ha-Ha” as they began calling him in the 1990s) and the even more iconic Harvey Comics logo. More about this in a future Famous Studios post.
The clippings below are from several motion picture trade magazines circa late 1945, and they show the hand-writing on the wall. (click each page below to enlarge and read) It’s hard to believe some of the statistics cited, especially in comparison with each other. The first poll, for BoxOffice Magazine, lists George Pal’s Puppetoons as #5 in their top ten shorts series. There is no denying that Pal’s Puppetoons were at the height of their popularity at this point – but it is the only Paramount series to make the cut.
The second poll (I believe this page, by Mandel Herbstman, is from Motion Picture Herald) lists the top 25 “money makers” among shorts series, and here Paramount’s partially animated Speaking of Animals ranks #6! Famous’ Popeye is #8 and Little Lulu ranks #11. The Puppetoons are #19 (and note Screen Gems’ Fox & Crow at #23).
The third (a 3-page article) reports the results of Showmen Trade Reviews “Leaders of the Motion Picture Industry” poll. Similar to the BoxOffice magazine results, Paramount’s greatest hope here is not from their in-house Famous Studios but from Pal’s puppet factory. Regardless, Popeye was still a strong feature for the studio. Though the fate of Little Lulu may have been determined.
And finally this week, let’s acknowledge the studio’s licensing deal with Western Publishing (Dell Comics). Famous didn’t last long at Western – only two years (1944-45) – with their characters used as back-up features (to Pogo) in Animal Comics. You can feel the editors desperately fishing for a “star” personality among the Noveltoon wannabes: Blackie Sheep, Cilly Goose, Hector The Henpecked Rooster and his sidekick, Herman the Mouse. On the plus side, the stories were crafted by such notables as John Stanley, animators Tom Golden, Otto Feuer, Rube Grossman and most significantly, Walt Kelly.
Here is the final Hector and Herman story, from the last issue they appeared in, Animal Comics #17 (November 1945) drawn by Walt Kelly. (click pages below to enlarge)
(Thanks this week go to Frank M. Young, Steve Stanchfield, Bob Jaques, Don Yowp and Mark Kausler)