Introductory Note: Welcome of the first of new series of posts devoted to Paramount’s Famous Studios. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be posting here each week – or how long it’ll run – but I hope to put a spotlight on the qualities – the highs and lows – of their films and filmmakers, and to shed some new insight on this oft-dismissed studio. Inspired by Thad Komorowski’s year long series of posts chronicling Fleischer/Famous from the mid-1930s to mid-1945, I’d like to continue from that point on. Will I maintain the strict chronologic order? Will I have enough items to posts? Will it get tiring (or Tyer-ing) after a few weeks? Let’s find out. And I invite those with further knowledge, or rare Paramount cartoon visuals, to join the conversation and share materials in the comments section below. – Jerry Beck
It’s easy to dismiss the 25 year output of Paramount/Famous Studios. Many critics have. They weren’t Fleischer. They weren’t Disney. But I won’t dwell on what they weren’t – I’d prefer to enjoy what they were.
Famous produced slick, professional “Hollywood” cartoons from offices in New York City. Though they were never recognized by the Academy or beloved by “fans”, they created a solid product that served a commercial purpose for their parent company – and entertained an audience underserved by the other cartoon makers in its time. They adapted comic strip and radio characters (Superman, Little Lulu, Land Of The Lost, etc.), created a stable of popular characters still remembered today (Baby Huey, Herman & Katnip, Little Audrey, etc.), specialized in cute children’s fantasy (Raggedy Ann, Casper) and – perhaps most importantly – maintained the popularity of their biggest star, Popeye.
We begin our first post where Thad left off two weeks ago – a look at the 1945-46 season. Though Paramount stopped soliciting cartoon promotional art from Famous in its in-house Paramount Sales News, the studio produced this illustrated brochure (below) which was distributed to theatre owners in late 1945 through an insert in movie industry trade magazines (like Motion Picture Herald, etc.).
Here you get a look at the offices and key personnel (including a rare shot of Kneitel, Sparber and Tytla lecturing Little Lulu – one wonders what Walt Disney or Max Fleischer thought of this photograph!). The brochure was a fold-out triptych (with a cover) that was impossible to scan in one piece – so I present it to you in various ways: in three parts (click each to enlarge), or as a long pieced-together-in-photoshop image below that. Enjoy!
Here is the agreement between Famous Studios and Paramount concerning the production of its 1945-46 season (click to enlarge). It is an extension of the May 25th 1942 contract that first established Famous Studios and its relationship with Paramount.
Interesting to note that Paramount is now requesting less cartoons than its previous agreement with the studio. Screen Songs were now an established sub-series within the “Noveltoons” releases. Screen Songs, it seems, were considered cheaper to produce (less animation) and Paramount was aware that making them was a way for Famous to stretch its budget dollars.
Sheep Shape (released 6/28/46)
Each week I hope to spotlight one or two cartoons (or more?) from a particular season as we move along in chronologic order. Today a look at a real fan favorite – heck, it’s my favorite of the “Blackie Sheep” cartoons, a perfect combination of 1940s attitudes and slick cartooning. Sex, violence and greed, a wise-guy trickster versus a big dumb adversary. Dave Tendlar’s sharp timing, Johnny Gent’s clever animation. Stang and Raymond. Famous Studios at its best? It’s a close call…
Too bad all the prints around are faded red-as-a-beet – I had the privilege of borrowing a 35mm nitrate Technicolor print from the UCLA Archive for my Museum of Modern Art tribute to Famous Studios in 1995. It was jaw-dropping.
Here’s the cue sheet from Sheep Shape
I have the musical cue sheets from many (not all) Famous Studios cartoons. Are these of interest to you? I don’t find them as exciting as ones I’ve seen from Warner Bros. and MGM. Here are two more from the studio in its prime, late 1945: The Friendly Ghost and Mess Production (click to enlarge) – The Popeye cartoon’s sheet came with an additional page of dialogue – the entire “script”! Not sure why that was attached… but here it is.
Mess Production (released August 24th 1945) is a remake/mash-up of Fleisher’s A Dream Walking (1934) and Lost And Foundry (1937) with a wartime factory backdrop. Of note, two rarities of this period: Jack Mercer returning as Popeye’s voice – and that Olive is given breasts in a sexy close up.
The Friendly Ghost (releasedNovember 16th, 1945) was an excellent entry in the “Noveltoon” series – introducing, what we all know now, a significant new character for the studio, one that would shape its direction in the years to come.
That’s it this week from the Famous Studio Archive. Check in next Monday – who knows what I’ll post then!