December 20, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: 1940 – Way Back When…

The 1939-40 season may have been somewhat disappointing to Paramount’s distributors. The only shorts they had at the beginning of the season were the Popeyes. But Max and Dave were more concerned with a feature in the works (Gulliver’s Travels). The brothers must have remembered at the same time some silent shorts which had been set in an idealized Stone Age (including Buster Keaton’s “The Three Ages”, and Laurel and Hardy’s “Flying Elephants”). So they proposed a series set in such an age, crossing ancient problems with modern-style humor. This would be a perfect setting for black and white production, most rocks being naturally in a shade of grey. Paramount consented, and the series was introduced in early 1940, lasting until the end of the season. Some of the last entries may have been rushed out, to complete the quota in time to clear the field for subsequent series such as Gabby and Animated Antics. They also may have begun negotiations for a series based on a comic book (Superman), and may have already been in preliminary planning for their second feature (Mr. Bug Goes to Town), so their attentions were well-divided to take them away from this short-term stopgap series.

Nobody has found a print yet of the series’ first installment, Way Back When a Triangle Had Its Points. The title suggests one of two scenarios – the rounding off of a pointed stone to invent the wheel – or perhaps a romantic triangle between henpecked Henry, a battle axe wife, and someone more comely. Anyone with access to review of synopses of the day are invited to contribute any information available on the subject matter of this short.

Way Back When a Nag Was Only a Horse (3/8/40) – Henry’s wife (the battle axe), finds out there is a sale at a stone-age department store. She insists he go shopping with her – an activity he hates. A lot of gags follow, with Henry stopping off at the music department, where Henry asks for a demonstration of a new tune. “Let Your Hair Down”, an original song composed for the film. (One can only wonder if this tune may have been planned for one of the aborted Sally Swing cartoons. The girl character who demos this song does so with a great deal of verve and eccentric dancing in the manner Sally might have portrayed.) Mobs of women gather at the bargain table to tear each other apart for a sale, and at the soda fountain, where a cobra shakes up the beverages to mix a “Dinosaur Delight”. The battle-axe finds Henry dancing with the song demonstrator – but Henry manages to turn the tables on his wife ad drag her off by the hair, the narrator adding “And she loves it!”. Other songs include “Thanks For the Memory”.

Way Back When a Night Club Was a Stick (3/15/40) – The battle-axe wants Henry to rock the baby, while Henry wants to go out for a night with the boys. Henry’s singing is not very pleasing to the baby. Henry does manage to sneak off to the pool hall, where he is most interested in a nickel slot machine (the machine is probably “gaffed”). The same establishment also has a pool table with a chicken laying the pool balls, and a duckpin bowling alley – with real ducks. Henry keeps missing out on the slot machine jackpot, with the machine’s third wheel always drifting to another spot. The battle axe catches up with Henry, armed with a club. She is told women are not allowed inside, but that doesn’t stop her. The place begins to clear out like it was under a prohibition raid. The duckpins transform into a bowl of duck soup. Henry is dragged away home – just as his jackpot finally comes in, getting left behind. Songs: “It’s a Hap Hap Happy Day”, lifted from Gulliver’s Travels (it would become a veritable anthem for Gabby series and for all manner of later Paramount cartoons well into the 1950’s) and “Chicken Reel.”

Granite Hotel (4/21/40) – Spot gags set around a luxury stone-age hotel, catering to such guests as Edgar Burgundy with Charlie Bacardi, and a large gorilla who asks for a single room with a trapeze, who signs the register as “Monkey’s Uncle”. One can only wonder if MGM’s Grand Hotel (1932) was in theatrical reissue at the time, as a great deal of attention is given to the line “Nothing ever happens” by the hotel switchboard operator. This cartoon originates the dinosaur fire engine that would later be a memorable part of the original opening sequence of “The Flintstones”. It also has a gag which predicts the later Tex Avery film, The First Bad Man, as the fire department reduces the entire hotel to pebbles with their fire axes – which Avery would perform upon a mountain hideout to reduce the bad man’s lair to a tiny jail. Songs: “Reuben and Cynthia”, and “William Tell Overture – The Storm”,

The Fowl Ball Player (5/24/40) – Spot gags on the diamond, as the Giants play the Mighty Midgets. One of the Midgets has a girlfriend always encouraging him on, whom the star player of the Giants tries to coax for a kiss. But the Giant has one weakness – hay fever – which the Midget plays upon to full advantage with an ample supply of goldenrod. Songs: “Take Me Out To the Ball Game”.

Wedding Belts (7/5/40) – This cartoon features a rather jaundiced view of marriage, as both the prospective bride and groom are taken in hand by others who’ve been there and shown the finer points of marries life. A battle-axe takes the bride into her “training quarters”, where the maiden receives lessons in making a bed (from scratch, out of rock), cooking (if you can call it that), and the ever-popular rolling pin throwing (with a target wall of plates to break, the centermosr plates revealing as they break the word “BINGO” etched in the wall behind them. Over at the husband’s training camp, the groom first becomes expert at dodging thrown rolling pins, then takes up how to eat a bride’s cooking (demonstrated with a solid wood “plank steak”), and how to bear up under wifey’s suspicious accusations and overwhelming nagging. The wedding takes place at the Stone Age Coliseum, before a rabid crowd of fight fans. The minister calls for “the ring”, as four posts and connecting rope drop into place around the center of the arena, and wifey and husband go into their respective corners, armed with clubs to wait for the bell. The round begins, and the groom takes a KO, before the minister pronounces them man and wife. Songs include “Love In Bloom”, “Mendelssohn’s Wedding March”, and “Lezginka” (played during hubby’s rolling pin dodging).

Springtime In the Rockage (8/30/40) – A would-be gardener is pestered by various insects who eat up his crops. The insects eventually take over the caveman’s dwelling, and there’s nothing the caveman can do about it. This would prove a template for such cartoons as Flies Ain’t Human. Songs: “Mendelssohn’s Spring Song” (dealt with before, but which about that time was appearing on Columbia by Benny Goodman in a new swing arrangement).

Pedagogical Institution (College To You) (9/13/40) – A caveman looking for work finds that the only jobs available require a college degree. He is suckered into a fast-buck school, where the professor in charge discovers the caveman to not be the brightest bulb in the socket. The instructor borrows multiple phrases from Kay Kyser’s “College of Musical Knowledge”, including the trademark, “That’s right – you’re wrong.” He eventually becomes so frustrated, he has to count ten to keep his head from exploding. The film also gets some mileage out of a math question, requiring the student to add the sum of one rabbit plus one rabbit. The caveman spends considerable time counting on his fingers and toes, and comes up with the solution: 777 rabbits. The professor scoffs, until he looks at the illustration of the rabbits on his blackboard, and finds in the time it took to solve the equation that they have actually multiplied to exactly 777 chalk images! Eventually, the caveman gets his diploma, and his college-level job – walking around outside with a sandwich sign upon him, drumming up business for a pants presser. Songs: “One and One Makes Two”, an original with music by Sammy Timberg, lyrics unknown.

Way Back When Women Had Their Weigh (9/25/40) – A relatively comely lass is expressing her interest in getting herself a “thin man”. (Is the voice Margie Hines?) A cave man decides to trim down to attract this lass. He goes through all the various tortures and contraptions in a prehistoric gymnasium, and does manage to slim down, only to emerge to find his intended keeping company with a 300 pound ball of blubber in spite of her song. If this caveman had had a rival, they‘d have ended the film kicking each other, as Popeye and Bluto did in A Clean Shaven Man. Songs: “I’m After a Thin Man,”, an original song, lyricist unknown. The song title would suggest a play on words upon the William Powell/Myrna Loy feature “After the Thin Man”, from a few seasons back (1936).

Next Post: Popeye – Into the 1940’s.


  • “Film Daily” reviews the cartoon in its March 4, 1940 edition, page 7, which is available on They rated it “fair.” “Short opens with a stenographer applying for a job. The boss takes her out after calling his wife to say he won’t be home, but a radio broadcast discloses to the wife that they are together in a nightclub. The customary roughhouse ensues with the wife making little pieces of the nightclub.” Cabarga says there’s a song called “That’s Primitive Rhythm,” done by a Ted Lewis-type, and in fact he has quite a lot of detail on the cartoon. Cabarga also has a model sheet for the cartoon at page 173, showing the boss, I.M. Stonebroke, with the stenographer.

    • The surviving Stone Age cartoons evidently use an instrumental version of “That’s Primitive Rhythm” for the opening theme. The title perfectly matches the cadence at the end of each phrase.

  • “What we’re going to do right here is go back, way back, back into time, when the only people that existed were troglodytes: cave men, cave women, Neanderthals, troglodytes. Let’s meet the average cave man at home, listening to his stereo….” — Jimmy Castor

    Another antecedent to the Stone Age cartoons would have been the Alley Oop comic strip, which debuted in 1932 and appeared in hundreds of newspapers by 1940. All of the Stone Age characters have extremities that get thicker toward their distal ends, exactly like Alley Oop and his cohorts. Come to think of it, the same can be said for Popeye.

    Reuben and… Cynthia? Obviously there are some people who sing it that way, but when I was a little boy I learned it as “Reuben and Rachel”, a couple of good alliterative Old Testament names from the Book of Genesis. (Rachel was Reuben’s stepmother, as well as his aunt.) Not that it matters one way or another, but “Cynthia” is much harder to sing repeatedly at tempo. Besides, it’s such a shiksa name.

    None of these cartoons holds a candle to the 1940 Terrytoon “Club Life in the Stone Age”, and I really wish Paul Terry had made a whole series with those characters, especially Cave Gal. By coincidence, that cartoon also uses Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, as well as “Loch Lomond” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”.

  • I thought the next post was going to be about Betty Boop’s radio show.

  • Say what you will about the Stone Age cartoons, but at least they’re infinitely better than ANY Hunky & Spunky entry.

  • When it was said that MeTV will run the restored Flescher’s Somewhere in Dreamland soon, it reminded me of the blog and the previous social media discussion of the Flescher cartoons being restored.

    Back from the New York Comic Con panel when that stoned “pin pusher man” was talking about saving the rotting Flescher negatives they showed some pictures of rotting old film for sympathy – and the audience ate it up. I am guessing the Stone Age cartoons are going to be a part of that project before they become Lost Media like all the other Flescher cartoons. It was said that Ray Pointer grew up on the Flescher cartoons in the 1940s and they were already rotting by then, so he had nightmares about the rotting Ko-Ko Inkwell. Now that the films are rotting again it’s a godsend that the Koko’s and the Color Classics will get scanned and restored alongside the Stone Age films – perfect for new pins too, I suppose.

    These cartoons cost a fortune to preserve so it is good that some organizations, like Asifa-Hollywood and the UCLA Film Archive, are helping the Fleischer Studios raid the Paramount holdings and do this before they go back into the vaults. Someone should colorize the black and whites too. These are not the best Flescher cartoons but it’s a part of history that is being lost, and cancelled. Bless the scanners and restorers for doing the work of G-d.

    • Who would want to see black and white cartoons colorized in this day and age?

    • There are some things needing correction here. First of all, the new scan and first pass clean up of CHRISTMAS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR was aired on MeTV. SOMEWHERE IN DREAMLAND aired last year. Second, I did not have nightmares about the Koko films “rotting.” And my introduction to the Fleischer cartoons was in 1956/57 when the were first sold to television. That was when I was introduced to the animated clown and artist films known as Out of the Inkwell. This impressed me so much that I had a dream about Out of the Inkwell on the living room television and stepping through the screen like Alice Through the Looking Glass, where I met Max Fleischer in his office. It was a black and white world like the films. After Max showed me his drawing equipment, he brought forth a large ink bottle. He worked the stopper off and Koko came out, rubbed his eyes. As he looked around he saw me, and ducked down with a little splash. As I reached for the ink bottle to see the clown, it caught on the desk and tip with a big splash of ink. Max dropped me from his lap in reflex, and I woke up having fallen out of bed, one foot tangled up in the quilt much like “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” This was the dream, not so much a nightmare, but a visitation. And this dream had significance 10 years later when I interviewed at Jam Handy in Detroit.

      As for the restoration efforts, Paramount has been very cooperative with all who are championing this cause. As I also stated at the conventions, we are in the 11th hour of saving these neglected films. Some are already past rescue. This is what I call the “Round-up, Rescue, and Restore” project, that is gaining continued interest and support.

  • It never ceases to astound me that, despite the influx of Disney refugees into Fleischer Florida, the cartoons of the time (with the possible exception of Popeye) just kept getting worse. Catchy theme music for the Stone Age cartoons, though.

    • The influx of Disney people to Miami had nothing to do with the bad cartoons. Most of them were Animators. The cartoons were under the supervision of Dave Fleischer, who forced the issue of putting himself in charge of production. While the animation in these cartoons is outstanding, they are ruined by bad stories and concepts, and most of all TERRIBLE music.
      Interestingly, and objectively, one of the west coast people with the most influence was Cal Howard, whose name was credited for the worst stories. While he may have done better work for other producers, it was not the case here.

  • I have a feeling that ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) has someting to do with this.

    • The first of the Fleischer Stone Age cartoons was released a few months before Hal Roach’s “One Million B.C.”, but I guess you could say that cave men were “in the air” in 1940.

  • James Parten: The STONE AGE cartoons are part of the bad 1940 releases that included ANIMATED ANTICS and the GABBY series, which was cancelled after eight entries. Paramount normally ordered blocks of 12 cartoons. STONE AGE was not conceived as a joint agreement between Max and Dave. By 1940, Dave was placed in charge of production. These series were the result of his decisions while Max was forced out of any creative input, leaving him with handling business matters and continuing with his research and development. As I disclose in my book, an announcement in FILM DAILY stated that the SALLY SWING series was to be produced. Dave cancelled it in favor of STONE AGE. Interestingly, one of Dave’s grandsons, Gary Stone, had an antique shop down the road from the old Miami studio site called “Stone Age” that was operating there 20 years ago.

    It has to be quite clear that Max was embarrassed to have his name on such poor cartoons in 1940. Reports were coming in from Paramount that the only product of value continued to be Popeye. The rest of the cartoons were parceled off as giveaways with B pictures, or run after features to clear the theaters.

    It was Max who secure the SUPERMAN license after Republic failed to develop a live action serial. Those rights were obtained in September of 1940. Development for the second feature, MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN appears to have started in October. The short-term success of GULLIVER in a one month domestic release motivated Paramount Head, Barney Balaban to order a second feature for Christmas 1941. With all of this increase in production, one can only imagine the sort of production management logistics that were happening. What’s more interesting is that the Disney studio managed to a balance between the production of shorts and features without compromises. But then Disney was not having the difficulties working with his brother that Max had by this time.

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