May 9, 2023 posted by James Parten

Famous Studios: Noveltoons 1948-50

The Noveltoons during the period of this article continued in similar fashion to previous seasons, with a few changes in cast of characters. Blackie the Black Sheep was dropped from the roster, with Wolfie making only periodic appearances in conjunction with other one-shot characters (and at least once in a later Casper cartoon). Casper would begin to make periodic appearances in the Noveltoon series, preliminary to becoming a stand-alone series on his own. Little Audrey would rise to take the seat of Little Lulu. And in general, the studio inched closer to launching its own stable of original characters to compete with the Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry. In addition, the studio would ramble again along radio row, picking up a short-lived franchise from children’s broadcasting of the day, The Land of the Lost, based on a fantasy radio series starring and written by Isabel Manning Hewsen. Even some members of the voice cast would cross over into the cartoons.

The Land of the Lost (5/7/48) – The mythical undersea kingdom where all things lost on Earth come to rest and find a home is introduced, through the guided tour of a glowing fish named Red Lantern. The film is a simplified version of a radio script which still exists in airccheck, in which Lantern guides two children to Table Land to visit the Jack Knife that the boy lost on the surface. Jack attempts to join the Knives of the Square Table, but has to prove himself in battle against Dirty Dirk, a villain who has kidnaped Princess Butterknife. Dirk tries to convey the Princess into a knife sharpener that will do as a buzzsaw, but Jack uses his Swiss army-style file to free her. The cartoon includes the slogan of a famous razor blade as the Knives’ motto “Look Sharp – Feel Sharp – Be Sharp”, known to baseball fans of the time from the regulat sponsorship of Gillette. Songs: a theme from Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major, K545″. The melody, written in 1789 (2 years before Mozart died), formed the basis for a Raymond Scott composition, “In an Eighteenth Century Drawing Room”, recorded for Columbia. Curiously, the Scott recording was not considered a hit, with primary sales action going to a competing version by Guy Lombardo on Decca. It would be well-used at other studios such as Warner Bros, where, for a time, it become an unofficial cue for any entrance of Granny in a Tweety cartoon.

Butterscotch and Soda (6/21/48) – Little Audrey receives a rotating star, though her cartoons would continue to be sub-billed as Noveltoons to meet the series’ production quota (also allowing for the films to be distributed on a less-than-regular production schedule). She is graced with a newly-penned theme – “Little Audrey Says”, which appears for the first time here in a more syncopated arrangement than usual, slightly more hep to the jive, and with brass fanfare intro. The song appears to have been commercially recorded only once, by Little Golden Records, performed by Mae Questel herself.

Such version is unique for featuring a missing set of lyrics which never appeared in the cartoon openings: “Little Audrey says, ‘Look before you leap.’ But she doesn’t look, ‘cause it’s more fun, to be surprised when the leaping’s done,” Audrey is ignoring the lunch Mandy has set out for her, instead opting in favor of candy, consuming it in great quantities. She disguises a candy bah as a doll of Casper, and also comes up with what she thinks is a good subterfuge, feeding the nutritious stuff to the dog while swallowing the candy instead. When she finds Mandy in place of the dog, the jig is well and truly up. Mandy remands Audrey to her room for the entire weekend, where she’ll stay until she decides to eat food instead of candy. Audrey, however, has bags of candy stashed on a line outside her window, labeled “Friday”, “Saturday”, “Sunday”, “Monday”, “and Always”. Mandy confiscates the stash, leaving Audrey to fall into a candy-induced version of the D.T’s, in clever satire to Ray Milland’s “The Lost Weekend”. Audrey drifts into hallucinations of a candy world, quite similar to the setting of “Somewhere in Dreamland”, where she gorges herself on Boston Baked Jelly Beans, lollipops color-coded like traffic signals for stop and go action, and the like, until her candy bag is full, and her face turning green (and other shades) from over-eating. Her bag transforms into a ghostly figure, who pursues her with a haunting refrain of an original number, “The Tummy Ache Blues”. The inhabitants of said world capture Audrey, and hold her captive, force-feeding her endless amounts of candy from a sack. Suddenly, Audrey revives, back in her own room. Mandy has relented, and offers her all the candy she wants. That ship has sailed in Audrey’s opinion, and instead, she races downstairs, assuming the position of her dog, sio that now she gets to eat the good food, while the dog takes care of devouring the candy. In addition to the two original songs discussed above, “Sunday, Monday, Or Always”, from Bing Crosby’s “Dixie”, is revisited for a musical sting to accompany the candy stash gag.

The Mite Makes Right (10/15/48) – An animated retelling of the tale of Tom Thumb. Tom decides to run away from home, realizing since he doesn’t grow, he can’t help his father with the back-breaking tasks of the farm. Tom and his mouse friend encounter a circus, but Tom’s mouse spooks an elephant who is the star of the show. Eventually, they provide a rescue of the pachyderm, and become stars in the circus troupe, to the delight, and good fortune, of Tom’s parents. Song: “The Happy Farmer”, written by Robert Schumann in an album of songs for the young. It was later arranged by Raymond Scott for his Quintette, recorded on Brunswick and later reissued on Columbia. Lyrics were set to the tune in England around 1934, re-titled “An Elephant Never Forgets” – bearing no relationship whatsoever to the Fleischer Color Classic. A short version of the original instrumental was also recorded by Mitch Miller for an early release on Little Golden Records (embed below). An original song also appears in the cartoon, presumably with music by Winston Sharples, entitled “The Things I’m Gonna Do Are Big.”

The Little Cut Up. (1/21/49).- A little boy in colonial garb likes to go through the woods chopping down trees with a small axe. He chops down a tree that is home to several animals, also destroying a beaver dam in the process. The boy makes amends by building new homes for his forest friends – even providing the best in new logs for the beavers by chopping down a cherry tree in his back yard. The boy turns out to be – you guessed it – young George Washington. In reality Parson Weems, a biographer who wrote one of the early works on Washington, may himself have been the creator of the tale of George chopping down the tree, and fessing up to it. Songs: an original, “I’ll Chop, Chop, Chop”, likely another Sharples’ composition.

The Lost Dream (3/18/49) – Mandy warns Audrey about the dangers of reading by moonlight – that it will cause bad dreams. Audrey refuses to believe Mandy, as the domestic tucks Audrey into bed for the night. Audrey meets up with a semi-intangible spirit – a dream that missed the boat to Dreamland. Audrey helps get him there there by moonbeam, then the dream has to report in to the Dreammaster. When rhe dream tells how Audrey helped him, the Dreammaster gives permission for Audrey to receive a tour of the place, but warns her not to open a certain black door. The dream shows Audrey various examples of sleep, including a cat-napping, and someone who sleeps like a top. But, impetuous as ever, Audrey fiddles around the black door, and releases a nightmare. A chase ensues, and Audrey awakens in her own room. “No moor moonshine for me,”, she swears, boarding up her window. Song: “Oooh, What You Did”, an original, sung during the chase, with only Sharples credited on musical arrangement.

Campus Capers (7/1/49). Another cartoon setting the te,plate for the later “Herman and Katnip” series, but using a burly black cat in Katnip’s usual spot, named Knucklehead, voiced by Jackson Beck. The Alumni of Harbard (an all-mouse university) are having a class reunion party, which is broken up by Knucklehead of Quinceton. Herman gets some mileage out of a meat slicer and a piece of tongue (making Knucklehead think the worst as to his own vocal appendage). Herman ultimately avoids becoming a sandwich himself by singing the alma mater song of rival Quinceton, fooling Knucklehead into thinking he is a fellow alumnus – long enough to drop a wagon-wheel chandelier upon him, and roll the cat off through the window to parts unknown. Songs: three originals – a fight song for the mice, “Hit ‘Em Hard, Harbard”, a reunion ballad for the “Class of 1900″, etc.,” and an alma mater ballad, “Quiceton, Dear Quinceton”, celebrating the official university colors of black and blue.

Leprechaun’s Gold (10/14/49) – At first blush, this cartoon seems like a simple retitling of The Wee Men but eventually finds a tangent to separate it from the earlier short. The leprechauns are busy washing the contents of their crock of gold, while also cooking their dinner, realizing there are no potatoes in the stew. Patrick (Paddy for short), the youngest of the leprechauns, wants to spend some of the gold for taters, bit us instead reminded of a widow who is known to leave potatoes for the leprechauns in reward for their making shoes for the poor. (Spuds for shoes, a deal you can’t get at your local Footlocker.) The widow is, however, being belabored by her landlord, who threatens to evict her at the crack of dawn if she can’t produce ten pieces of gold. Paddy decides to let the widow’s young daughter catch him, so that he can give her the gold needed to pay the mortgage. The leprechauns surrender the gold, at least realizing its going to a good cause. However, the landlord, seeing the crock, is not content with the mere 10 pieces owed, and makes off with the whole pot. Paddy, however, points out that those who steal leprechaun’s gold don’t get to keep it very long, as the gold pieces transform into a swarm of angry bees, to chase the miser away. The girl returns the pot to the leprechauns – plus Paddy is rewarded with the desired sack of spuds. Song: “The Minstrel Boy”, one of the classic Irish ballads. J. W. Myers recorded a version for Columbia in 1902. Henry Burr would cover it for Victor. Others included John McCormack for Victor/HMV, William A, Kennedy for Columbia, William Thomas on English Regal, and Walter McNally for Columbia. And Leroy Anderson would include the melody within his “Irish Suite:, both for the Boston Pops on Victor and in his own recording on Decca.

Land of the Lost Jewels (1/6/50) – Another cartoon based on a radio script by Isabel Manning Hewson, whose radio show had already left the air by this time. But some suit at Paramount or Famous Studios thought there was still life in the franchise for purposes of cartoons. Isabel and Billy are fishing again, and Isabel is proudly wearing her lucky pin – a green grasshopper, carrying a fiddle. The pin dislodges, and falls into the water. In repeated animation from the previous “Land of the Lost”, Billy gets a bite, falling into the water, and meets Red Lantern, who again guides them to the Land of the Lost. This time, we meet King FindAll, a walrus who rules the land, and decides where lost objects will be distributed. This gives the writers a chance for puns – a pocket watch is to go to Watchington, and a pen to Pen-sylvania. But what to do with Isabel’s pin? The grasshopper, named “Hoppy Go Lucky”, wants to be placed with toys to play and sing all day, but the King believes he is an emerald, classifying him for the hideaway vault of lost jewels – the last place Hoppy wants to go. The hideaway provides more visual puns for the writers, such as a diamond playing – you guessed it – solitaire. Hoppy is forced to undergo tests to see if he is emerald, and passes the first two tests for size and weight. Fortunately for him, the meter for the final test drops from an initial read of “Perfect” to the embarrassing low, “Glass”. Hoppy is expelled from the hideaway, which suits Hoppy fine, bound for his proper place in Toyland. Songs: “Hoppy Go Lucky”, an original song, very much inspired by Disney’s “The World Owes Me a Living” – indeed, the grasshopper character is himself highly derivative of Disney’s 1934 character, even with a voice not dissimilar to Pinto Colvig.

Next Post: Popeye 1949…


  • In both “The Wee Men” (1947) and “Leprechauns Gold” (1949), I believe the wicked town miser was voiced by Gilbert Mack, for some reason if I’m sure of it, because he is the villain who wanted to get the pot of gold from the leprechauns.

  • Robert and Clara Schumann had eight children, all of whom were under fifteen when he died. So it’s not surprising that Schumann composed a significant body of music for young people: the aforementioned Album for the Young, Childhood Scenes, Fairy Tale Pictures, Three Sonatas for Young People, etc. Three of his daughters would support themselves largely by teaching piano. “The Happy Farmer”, a staple of first-year piano books for well over a century, is usually the first of Schumann’s works that pianists learn to play.

    I wonder whether Buddy Kaye might have written the lyrics to some of the original songs in the Noveltoons series. He wrote the lyrics to the Little Lulu and Little Audrey theme songs, and he’s credited with the lyrics to the Noveltoon “We’re in the Honey”, so it seems that he and Winston Sharples worked well together. By this time Kaye had written hit songs for the likes of Perry Como, so maybe the return from these one-off Noveltoons songs was no longer worth his while. These songs are catchy and well-written, but they’re so closely tied to the context of the cartoons in which they appear that there’d be little potential for commercial recordings or sheet music sales.

  • “The Happy Farmer’ was memorably used for the opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz. Animaniacs also set lyrics to it for “A Quake, A Quake”, a catchy song about earthquakes.

  • I’d love to know how “magic seaweed” enables one to breathe underwater when put in one’s pocket, as Red Lantern instructs Isabel and Billy. Wouldn’t ingesting some make more sense? The best fantasy doesn’t overtax credibility.

    “There’s Good Boos Tonight,” the second or third Casper cartoon, despite the title (which somehow seems to reference booze), might have been included here. It actually has a touching ending. I like “The Bored Cuckoo,” too, not that it’s any more remarkable than the ones listed here.

    • What’s even more uncanny about Magic Seaweed is its ability to allow you to return to the surface with your clothes unwrinkled and machine dry, and your hair perfect and not a tangled, snarled mess. Not even a puddle in the rowboat. These may have been side-effects that even the author didn’t dream of, instead invented by the animators to merely make their life easier.

      Besides that, wouldn’t Magic Seaweed taste terrible to a kid? That’s as bad as getting Popeye’s nephews to develop an appetite for spinach.

  • In Butterscotch & Soda, the song played while Audrey is feeding the dog is the 1936 pop tune, Nero, which was recorded by Fats Waller among others. I remember as a kid singing a version of it with different nonsense lyrics- so am wondering if it was a pop song first (in 1936) which morphed into a kiddie song, or was it a kiddie song which was taken and made into the pop tune Nero. I see it was written by Razaf-Denniker, but wonder if they adapted it or was it an original song.
    I also remember seeing these so often on tv that kids in school would sing Tummy Ache Blues and we all knew what it was from.

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