Kneitel and Sparber really had no choice but to comply. Paramount summarily ordered the number of subjects reduced to 16 pictures annually and, in the first week of January 1957, told Kneitel to layoff 20 staff members – including Izzy Sparber. Before the month was over key personnel, such as Dave Tendlar and Myron Waldman, departed (Tendlar went to Terrytoons, Waldman joined forces with Hal Seegar).The cartoons released in the 1956-57 and 1957-58 seasons were in production since 1954 – and were particularly attractive in several ways. First, Famous adopted the new rectangular screen ratio (1:85), skewing the frame for “wide-screen” presentations – and second, the studio adapted to current animation trends, namely a more sophisticated style with art direction cues from UPA.
The backgrounds, in particular, are outstanding examples of minimalist design, with vivid colors (especially if viewed in Technicolor). The “Scenics” crew of Robert Owen, Robert Little and John Zago were now unshackled – and became inspired, adding a fresh contemporary feel to the previously tired Famous material. Take another look at the background paintings in Fishing Tackler (Zago) or Spooking About Africa (Owens) – this is good stuff.
Character designs were also modified during this period as well. A more angular style was adopted for the stars Popeye, Herman and Katnip, even Baby Huey. Overall, the theatrical films became more attractive. It’s too bad no one really noticed.
By January 1957 the “Famous Studios” name had virtually disappeared. Spooking About Africa (1/4/57) still bears an on-screen title card “A Famous Studios Production” but it may have been the last cartoon to do so (a re-designed Famous screen-credit began appearing on the 1955-56 releases).
Paramount itself seemed ambivalent about the name of the new division of the company. It was listed simply as the ‘Paramount Pictures Cartoon Studios’ in-house – and on rare screen credits, usually when the studio did work-for-hire (for Harvey Comics or King Features).
Let’s take a look cartoons released during at the 1956-57 season. Casper was still enjoying his popularity on screen and in Harvey Comics – and Herman and Katnip were still viable, especially as MGM was winding down its Tom & Jerry series. The Noveltoons ambled along with a fresh Little Audrey and Baby Huey pictures; Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare seemed to fill the bill from the now un-PC Buzzy Crow. Of the new characters, Louis The Lion was clearly pointed at kids, while Sir Irving and Jeames were geared towards the grown ups. Renoir the Matchmaker seemed to click and would be used again in subsequent seasons.
This would be the last season for newly produced Popeye The Sailor theatricals. AAP began distributing the Popeye cartoons to television in the Fall of 1956 and they were an immediate hit. In fact, Popeye was biggest thing in kids TV that year – and the next, and maybe for the next ten years.
Paramount had retained the rights to reissue the older cartoons for the next ten years – and that allowed the studio to have its cake and eat it too. It could still sell a package of shorts to theaters each year with their biggest “star” attached. And, thanks to King Features, Popeye himself would go on and on – with television cartoons and on children’ records, providing story man and voice actor Jack Mercer an income for life.
Eight (8) POPEYE cartoons
PARLEZ VOUS WOO (9/12/56) Sparber/Eugster. UPA stylization takes over in this parody of TV’s The Continental. Bluto impersonates “The International”, a suave French talking TV charmer, to woo Olive away from Popeye.
I DON’T SCARE (11/16/56) Sparber/Johnson. Bluto uses Olive’s fear of superstitions to scare her away from Popeye.
A HAUL IN ONE (12/14/56) Sparber/Eugster. A remake of Fleischer’s Let’s Get Movin’ – Moving Men Popeye and Bluto compete to win Olive’s favor.
NEARLYWEDS (2/8/57) Kneitel/Johnson. The first Paramount Popeye cartoon without a credit title for Famous Studios since Alona Of The Sarong Seas (1942). Olive accepts Popeye proposal of marriage and Bluto does everything to ruin those plans.
THE CRYSTAL BRAWL (4/5/57) Kneitel/Eugster. In this cheater, an angular-stylized Bluto takes Olive to a fortune teller who shows her stock clips from the traditionally drawn Alpine For You and Quick On The Vigor.
PATRIOTIC POPEYE (5/10/57) Sparber/Johnson. Popeye warns his two nephews about the dangers of illegal fireworks.
SPREE LUNCH (6/21/57) Kneitel/Johnson. Restauranteurs Popeye and Bluto compete for the patronage of a customer, Wimpy.
SPOOKY SWABS (8/9/57) Sparber/Johnson. The final Paramount theatrical Popeye cartoon is sort-of a remake of Fleischer’s Shiver Me Timbers. A shipwrecked Popeye and Olive (who wants to “go home and watch television”) encounter a haunted old sailing ship, loaded with British ghosts.
Six (6) Noveltoons
SIR IRVING AND JEAMES (10/19/56) Kneitel/Eugster. Thick outlines, stylized design, odd story (by Irv Spector) about a rich, pampered mustachioed dog and his harried butler Jeames, who only wants to discuss his pension.
LION IN THE ROAR (12/21/56) Kneitel/Eugster. Louis The Lion practices for his future role as King of The Jungle.
PEST PUPIL (1/25/57) Tendlar/Reden. (Baby Huey) Huey gets expelled from kindergarden and requires a private tutor.
FISHING TACKLER (3/29/57) Sparber/Golden. (Little Audrey) A truant officer follows Audrey on her fishing trip.
MR. MONEY GAGS (6/7/57) Sparber/Eugster. (Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare) Tommy goes to the big city and runs into Moe the Gyp (Moe Hare).
L’MOUR THE MERRIER (7/5/57) Kneitel/Eugster. Renoir the Matchmaker tries to match Hector the Garbage collector with the Princess Louise.
Four (4) Herman & Katnip cartoons
HIDE AND PEAK (12/7/56) Tendlar/Reden. Herman and Katnip go mountain climbing.
CAT IN THE ACT (2/22/57) Tendlar/Reden. Herman tours his nephews around Paramount Pictures, unaware that Katnip is the night watchman.
SKY SCRAPPERS (4/14/57) Tendlar/Reden. Herman finds his cousins a new place to live, on a construction site unaware that Katnip is the watchman.
FROM MAD TO WORSE (8/16/57) Kneitel/Johnson. In a department store, Herman plots to drive Katnip crazy.
Six (6) Casper cartoons
FRIGHT FROM WRONG (11/2/56) Kneitel/Golden. The Ghostly Trio give Casper a “mean pill” which turns him into a little devil.
SPOOKING ABOUT AFRICA (1/4/57) Kneitel/Waldman. I believe this may be the last cartoon to carry a “Famous Studios” title card. Casper helps Wheezy The Elephant get rid of bad sneeze.
HOOKY SPOOKY (3/1/57) Kneitel/Waldman. Cousin Spooky is scaring all the animals instead of going to school.
PEEK-A-BOO (4/24/57) Kneitel/Waldman. Casper plays with a mischievous kitten who is tormenting a dog.
GHOST OF HONOR (7/19/57) Sparber/Waldman. At a Hollywood premiere, Casper tells a reporter of how he became a star. The lush Paramount Animation Studios pictured in this film looked nothing like the actual studio in New York’s Times Square. Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip, Spunky Donkey, Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare make cameo appearances.
ICE SCREAM (8/30/57) Kneitel/Waldman. Casper pretends to be a snowman to teach Little Billy how to skate.
(Special thanks this week to Ken Layton, Art Binninger, Fred Grandinetti and Thad K)