This past weekend I attended Cinecon, an annual classic movie film festival and collectors convention in Hollywood. While perusing the dealers room, I came across a fellow selling press books from obscure films. Since I love looking at vintage movie advertising and have quite a collection of press books myself, I took a look at his material for sale.
I came across several press sheets for MGM short subjects, which I knew were rare – but even rarer were press sheets for MGM cartoons. One of my prize possessions is the press sheet for Harman-Ising’s The Old Mill Pond (which I posted here back in 2013). How many cartoon shorts did MGM market to exhibitors with individual press sheets? We know Disney did this for each and every Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony short in the 1930s. Beyond The Old Mill Pond, I had only previously found MGM press sheets for the Willie Whopper and Happy Harmonies series (promoting the series itself, not individual cartoons).
As I went through the pile I kept my eyes open – and soon found this sheet (the complete sheet, back and front, is embed below) for the MGM Happy Harmonies cartoon, Good Little Monkeys (1935). What struck me as odd was that the artwork to promote the cartoon was “off-model” (to say the least). Not Bela Reiger bad, but stylized as to mislead the viewer as to the style of the cartoon. Previous MGM press sheets were accurate to the style of cartoon art in the film.
Despite these unusual graphics, I purchased the press sheet (for a very reasonable low-ish price) – and later on took another look at it. And then it hit me. This stylized art was by famed caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. It wasn’t signed – and no “Nina’s” in sight – but I remembered that Hirschfeld had done the MGM Marx Bros. posters for A Night At The Opera and A Day At the Races, for the short Plane Nuts starring Ted Healy and The Three Stooges, and numerous other MGM marketing art for everyone from Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy to Our Gang.
Hirschfeld started his career drawing caricatures for Hollywood studios in 1925. In 1927 he began a long-term association with MGM. Good Little Monkeys was simply one small assignment for him amongst dozens in 1935, but its as brilliant as any of his work – in fact, its a rare example of his art suggested by the subject, not a caricature of the subject.
As for the marketing itself – MGM was positioning Good Little Monkeys as the “1935 successor to Three Little Pigs“. That may say more about the popularity of the Disney short than it does about the qualities of the Harman-Ising cartoon.
The publicity department urges the exhibitors to feature the short in their ads, “Put it in lights! Sell it hard!” Not only were the three monkeys the new pigs, but “The Devil” was apparently the new “Big Bad Wolf”!
In the press sheet the monkeys are referred to as their Buddist names – “Iwazaru” (Speak No Evil), Krkuzaru (See No Evil) and Mizaru (Hear No Evil) – and the publicity stories contain several “news” items about how hard it is to create an animated cartoon. There are also “quotes” here from Rudolf Ising and Scott Bradley – and the publicity boasts “Ninety Laughs in Nine Minutes!”. Apparently a 52-inch lobby standee using the Hirschfeld art was also made available to theaters to use! (How’d you like to find one of those?).
Here is the complete press sheet – click on it to enlarge. Enjoy!
For the record – here’s a bad dub of Good Little Monkeys (off You Tube by way of Boomerang). I’ll leave it to you to decide if this was the successor to Three Little Pigs: