Continuing our coverage of Paramount’s Famous Studios 1951-52 season. First let’s catch up with the exhibitor reaction via the industry trade reports.
Box Office Magazine (the two “Champion Shorts” articles below) ranked the Popeye cartoons 5th (in 1951) and 6th (in 1952). I don’t know know how these annual polls were determined – but its clear that Famous Studios’ Popeye shorts were still staples of the traditional movie program as of the early 1950s. Box Office is also honest enough to note the emergence of Mr. Magoo (UPA/Columbia) as something new and catching on.
Showman’s Trade Reviews (“The Leading Short Subjects” by Ralph Cokain) has a more traditional take on the shorts scene in 1952. It’s hard to argue with their top four selections (Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros. and Disney)… but Terrytoons over Popeye or Magoo, or even Woody Woodpecker that year…?? Well okay, maybe.
The Harvey Comics Deal
A simple licensing deal in 1951 for comic books would, in a few years, become the biggest thing that Famous Studios ever did for itself (outside of maintaining the Popeye franchise). Below is the initial 16 page contract (click to enlarge). It’s a great read.
The agreement is dated October 16th 1951, and we assume it was a much better deal for Famous than the previous arrangements with St. John and before that with Western. St. John was currently producing a mediocre line of Little Audrey and Casper comic books.
The centerpiece of this new agreement is a deal for a Little Audrey comic in particular – but it grants Harvey the rights to use other Famous characters in supporting features (in addition to Casper, Herman and Katnip, Buzzy and Baby Huey, Harvey had one page fillers with “Wiley Fox”, “Brownie Bear” and others from the Paramount canon).
Harvey had the rights to adapt stories from the animated cartoons themselves – and they certainly took advantage of that in the earliest issues. Harvey also had the right to request regular screenings of Famous Studio cartoons “upon reasonable notice”.
Harvey Comics was contractually required to print at least six issues per year of Little Audrey (no sweat); that each issue be 10¢ and 32 pages; the advertising had to be in good taste; and someone at Famous had to approve the cover and contents of each issue in advance of publication.
Under this agreement, Harvey agreed to provide 25 copies of each issue to Famous; and that this deal was for a two year period, which could begin as early as April 1952 (Harvey’s previous comic book deal with Archer St. John officially ended on April 1st 1952).
Famous had the option to opt out of the deal with four months notice (presumably the time it takes to create a typical issue). Harvey had the option to extend the deal an additional two years. Harvey was required to copyright all the comics material under Paramounts name. Most importantly, Famous had the rights to use any original characters or adapt stories used in the comics in their animated cartoons. That explains Spooky and Wendy’s appearances in Casper’s cartoons.
The contract below outlines the royalties to Famous from Harvey – keep in mind comic book sales in the early 50s were in the hundred thousands, so Famous stood to make a lot of money.
One interesting note, under paragraph 18 (page 14), says, “If Famous’ rights to characters herein licensed shall revert to Paramount, then this license shall continue except that Paramount shall be substituted in place and stead of Famous as though Paramount were the original licensor under the agreement.” This is the first time in print we have any clue that Paramount had an intent to absorb Famous – lock, stock and barrel – and “dissolve” it (as mentioned in paragraph 19).
It was signed by Isadore Sparber and Robert Harvey, and approved by Austin C. Keough (Vice President and Secretary of Paramount Pictures) on October 19th 1951.Casper (primarily drawn by Bill Hudson and Tom Golden), Herman and Katnip, Buzzy and Baby Huey (drawn by other Famous animators, mainly Dave Tendlar and Marty Taras).
The following month, Harvey introduced Paramount Animated Comics (aka Harvey Comics Hits #60), cover dated September 1952, with Herman and Katnip as the lead feature. This was sort-of their “try-out” book, to see which characters would click with comic book readers. Despite an effort to push Herman and Katnip who, after all, had their own official starring series of animated cartoons, Noveltoons regular Baby Huey caught on with the younger readers of Harvey’s comics line (I guess Herman and Katnip were more aligned to adult tastes). Baby Huey took over the title completely by issue #9.
Casper The Friendly Ghost emerged in his own Harvey book with Harvey Comics Hits #61 (aka Casper #6, continuing the St. John’s numbering), cover dated October 1952. Issue #7, dated December 1952, would begin the long run of Casper’s Harvey comics – a series that ultimately ran 42 years, through mid-1994.
(click to enlarge):