October 4, 2017 posted by Devon Baxter

Harman-Ising’s “The Early Bird And The Worm” (1936)

The early bird gets the worm in this week’s animator breakdown!

In this Happy Harmony directed by Rudolf “Rudy” Ising, survival is the essence—a bluebird arises at dawn to catch a worm, but a rattlesnake follows their trail…not to mention a pair of tired black crows are after the bluebird’s breakfast.

Carman Maxwell

By 1935, Carman “Max” Maxwell was the head of the story department at Harman-Ising. Maxwell associated with Harman and Ising as a former animator for Disney during the early 1920s at the Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Kansas City. After Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt and Disney moved to California in 1923, the three went to business for themselves as “Arabian Nights Cartoons,” with animated adaptations of the Middle Eastern tales. Later, he moved to California to join Disney in May 1927, but left after only nine months, mostly due to Disney’s growing estrangement from his animators.

After a year-long stint with Harman and Ising at the Winkler studio, he assisted them on their pilot film in 1929, voicing their character, Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid. Maxwell soon worked for them as an animator—later promoted to production supervisor—when the two negotiated a contract with producer Leon Schlesinger for a series of cartoons in 1930, through Warner Bros. Three years later, after Schlesinger severed his association with Harman and Ising, Maxwell went along with them as a production supervisor, as they reached an agreement with MGM. In 1937, when MGM terminated their contract with Harman and Ising and established their own animation studio, he was promoted to production manager, a position he retained into the 1950s.

Jim “Tony” Pabian, Bob Allen and Carl Urbano are the chief animators on The Early Bird and the Worm. Pabian and Urbano animate the first two minutes of the film, with the bluebird and the worm leaving their homes. Pabian also animates many of the scenes with the rattlesnake following behind them in their path. Allen animates the dialogue between the two lethargic crows, while Urbano animates them slowly chasing after them—accompanied by a bluesy 12-bar Scott Bradley composition, which he used in many subsequent MGM cartoons. (One example would be the title card for 1948’s Mouse Cleaning.)

Bob Allen takes over the other half of the snake scenes, when he hypnotizes the bluebird and the worm, using his tongue in a Svengali-esque lure. Urbano handles the bluebird hiding behind a rock, as the worm is hypnotized, and making the ethical decision to save him. Meanwhile, Pete Burness, Cal Dalton and Frank Tipper animate the middle portions of the chase between the bluebird and the worm. Jim Tyer is credited for the scenes of the worm, blackbird and two crows running around the tree, and later in the film when the two crows fall from exhaustion—unaware the bluebird and worm have long gone—at the end of the film. (Tom McKimson is credited with only one shot in the film—scene 41 when the snake coils and springs out at his two victims.)

The two crows in the cartoon are patterned after the popular comedy act of George Moran (1881-1949) and George Mack (1887-1934), who performed on vaudeville and Broadway shows in blackface. The dialogue exchange between the Moran and Mack crows is directly lifted from their self-titled comedy record issued by Columbia in 1927, which included the sketch “The Early Bird Catches the Worm.” One of the lines spoken on the record and in the Harman-Ising film—“Who wants a worm anyhow?”—was used in a number of cartoons.

In the draft for The Early Bird and the Worm, scenes 16 through 22, where it is indicated the bluebird chases the worm across a frog pond and at the edge of a cliff, were excised from the film, presumably due to what was already a long running time (at 9 minutes). George Grandpre is credited in separate scenes with Jim Pabian and Bob Allen, but it isn’t clear how each artist were assigned their work in his regard. Likewise for scene 53, credited to both Bob Allen and Joe D’Igalo. However, it’s fairly easy to determine sequences such as scene 27 where the worm looks at the two crows, credited to both Frank Tipper (worm) and Bob Allen (crows), and scene 53, when the bluebird and worm resolve their differences, credited to Pete Burness (bluebird/worm) and Jim Tyer (crows).

As Rudy Ising recollected in an early 1970s interview, before the film was released, the Production Code Administration (PCA) objected to the depiction of the rattlesnake, with a baby’s rattle on its tail. Details on their reasoning is sparse as of this writing—perhaps the idea of a deadly serpent with a plaything intended for helpless infants attached to its tail might have seemed disturbing to the administration.


Next up is a Disney Silly Symphony

(Thanks to Michael Barrier for his help.)



  • One of the lines spoken on the record and in the Harman-Ising film—“Who wants a worm anyhow?”—was used in a number of cartoons.

    The most notable are Freleng’s cartoons, both as the ending gag (1939’s The Bookworm and 1941’s The Wacky Worm)..

  • Yes! Baxter’s Breakdown’s are back!

  • So, the Hays office objected to the rattlesnake’s tail. But did they object to the lazy black stereotypes? Interesting what their priorities were.

    Thanks Devon for another great breakdown.

  • I appreciate that this rare work has been made available here for viewing, but I am disappointed that the names of the artists were superimposed over the film. If a student/admirer of this cartoon wishes to know who animated which scenes, all they would need to do is read the article above to find out. I see no need to destroy the work just to point out the names of the artists.

    Then again, perhaps I am failing to understand the point of Baxter’s Breakdowns, since I am new to this column. My immediate thought upon discovering this article was, “Oh cool, a rare cartoon to download and immerse myself in.” Instead I was immediately taken out of the experience by the superimposed text.

    Dems me feelinks.

    • Don’t fret Patrick, the short is readily available for your viewing pleasure online at both YouTube and Dailymotion free of superimposed names. Enjoy!

  • Thanks, Devon, as always for these breakdowns. Enjoying the work of Harman and Ising as I have, I like hearing detailed information on each of their cartoons, from LOONEY TUNES to HAPPY HARMONIES. It is amazing to hear about the storyboards for these things and find out about scenes that were eventually excised from the films. I hope you’re able to find materials on more of the MGM work simply because I have clearer memories of actually seeing these cartoons, even if only on a grainy black and white TV screen.

  • This cartoon must have taken a long time from production to release – Cal Dalton was already getting screen credits at Warners in 1934, two years before “The Early Bird” went out. Unless there was another animator named Dalton?

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