In some ways, the 1950-51 season was the zenith of Famous Studios existence. Perhaps not creatively, but in their role as Paramount’s in-house cartoon studio they had certainly established a secure position for themselves. Sam Buchwald had not only maintained Popeye’s status as a cartoon superstar, but had successfully introduced a line of cartoon franchises (Baby Huey, Little Audrey, Herman, Buzzy, et al) and was about to launch, as the article from Motion Picture Exhibitor demonstrates below, a new “star” – Casper the Friendly Ghost. Not only had Casper been audience tested, but he would begin a new line of lucrative character merchandising – profits that would go right into the bank account of Famous Studios.
The article below has a few glimpses behind the scenes – Larz Bourne, I. Klein, Winston Sharples are pictured (Kneitel and Sparber get mentioned in the text, as does Alan Shay – the voice of Casper). Can anyone else identify the other artists pictured?
Boxoffice Magazine (clipping bellow) has Popeye in sixth place for 1950 (they note its a drop in popularity from the previous year) – but Famous no longer has any “friendly” competition from Speaking Of Animals (which ran its course) or Pal’s Puppetoons (Pal was by now producing Paramount’s feature When Worlds Collide).
But the high points of the 1950-51 release slate were bittersweet – Sam Buchwald passed away at the end of the season, on August 28th 1951. As we shall see, the studio seemingly “froze” in its tracks without a savvy businessman like Buchwald. Pretty much everything established by now stays on auto-pilot for the next five years (with some exceptions). Let’s take a look at this seasons offerings:
Sing Again Of Michigan
The Screen Songs were winding down – but not without a fight. Kneitel/Waldman try spot gags in Mexico, in Mississippi, and in prison. Sparber/Eugster sing along with birds and draw spot gags in Michigan. Sparber/Waldman spoof the gold rush.
Mice Meeting You (Herman & Katnip)
Voice Of The Turkey
Sock-A-Bye Kitty (Buzzy)
One Quack Mind (Baby Huey)
Mice Paradise (Herman & Katnip)
Hold The Lion Please (Little Audrey)
Land Of Lost Watches
As The Crow Lies (Buzzy)
Slip Us Some Redskin
Party Smarty (Baby Huey)
Dave Tendlar’s unit tackles Herman and Katnip in two pictures, Buzzy in two, and Baby Huey in another. Steve Muffatti’s unit draws upon Baby Huey and Little Audrey. Bill Tytla completes his time at Famous with the Thanksgiving one-shot, Voice Of The Turkey; The final Land of the Lost film comes from George Germanetti’s pen; and Dave Tendlar introduces a cute little native American (if one can get past the politically incorrect “Indian” gags) in Slip Us Some Redskin.
Baby Wants Spinach
Quick On The Vigor
Riot In Rhythm
Farmer and The Belle
Vacation With Play
Thrill Of Fair
Alpine For You
Double Cross Country Race
Kneitel/Eugster begin the season reviving Sweepea with a remake of Little Swee’Pea (1936). Kneitel/Johnson then remake King Of The Mardi Gras (1935) and Me Musical Nephews (1942), send Olive and Popeye to the farm and on vacation, to a county fair and in a road race. Rounding out the season, Sparber/Muffatti remake I-Ski Love-Ski You-Ski (1936), while Sparber/Eugster crib Tex Avery in a Turkey hunting Pilgrim opus.
One extra note: Howard Beckerman is working at the studio as an assistant at this time – and he’s proudly recalled getting a bonus for suggesting the punny title, “Vacation With Play“. The bonus? An extra $5 in his pay envelope.
Casper’s Spree Under The Sea
Once Upon A Rhyme
To Boo Or Not To Boo
Casper Comes To Clown
The first of a new series of Casper cartoons – and certainly the most significant and longest lasting original creation the studio ever had. Tytla directed the first. After that, the unit headed by Myron Waldman shared duties with Steve Muffatti this first season – but Waldman’s unit would soon become the Casper specialists. Here, Casper makes friends under the sea, in Mother Goose Land, at the circus, with the Boy Scouts, at an orphanage… and in my favorite, he meets a ghostly girlfriend at a Halloween dance.
BELOW: Here’s the complete storyboard (click each to enlarge) for the first of the official “Casper” series, Casper’s Spree Under The Sea, by Isadore Klein. Then compare it to the finished cartoon, embed at the bottom.
Next Week: Kartunes, Katnip and Life without Sam – 1951-52