While Steve Stanchfield takes a well-deserved break after a whirl-wind trip to LA this past week (he’ll be back next week with BIG news), I’ll fill in today by posting this fascinating email I just received from another “Steve” – Cartoon Research reader Steven Losie:
Recently, I had the chance to do some original research on old Hollywood films – “Mr. Bug Goes To Town” being one of them. Your readers might be interested to know that two commonly held beliefs concerning the film are probably bunk. Namely:
1) The film’s box office failure wasn’t a result of Pearl Harbor, and…
2) The film’s first commercial release wasn’t under the name “Mr. Bug Goes To Town”.
What’s the evidence?
I’ll start with the trade mags. According to the December 3, 1942, issues of Variety and Film Daily, “Mr. Bug Goes To Town” would be having its first screening the following day–three days before Pearl Harbor, consistent with common knowledge.
But this wasn’t its general release premiere. This was an invitation-only press screening. In Variety, it was listed under the “Tradeshows” section. Film Daily announced that the New York City screening that day would be held “at the 20th Century Fox projection room.” Like today’s press screenings, this was a pre-release event held regionally to give critics a jump on their reviews in time for the film’s imminent commercial debut, and for exhibitors to decide whether or not to book the film.
Based on this preview, trade mags Variety, Film Daily, and BoxOffice all published reviews of the film the following week. All three gave “Mr. Bug” positive notices, and predicted a hit.
“Mr. Bug” wasn’t heard from again until the end of the year, when Film Daily announced a special December 30th New York screening for “the children of movie press folks.” Three days later, an ad ran in the L.A. Times listing “Mr. Bug” among Paramount Pictures’ films “Coming Soon”. By the end of 1941, the public at large still hadn’t been given a chance to see the film.
And the Fleischer brothers still hadn’t been given a chance to see if their film was a hit. According to several latter-day accounts, both Max and Dave were gone from their namesake studio by the end of 1941 and, thus, before the film’s commercial release. Paramount then took over their studio. If this timeline of events is correct, then this had all the makings of an awfully awkward Hollywood premiere for the Fleischer/Paramount collaboration.
So what did Paramount do? They released “Mr. Bug” first in the UK instead. According to the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, and others, on January 23, 1942, the film premiered at London’s Carlton Theatre. But not under the name “Mr. Bug Goes To Town”. It premiered under a different name. That name? Why, “Hoppity Goes To Town”, of course.
As way of explanation, according to the January 29, 1942, edition of The Guardian:
“One of the peculiarities of difference between the English and American languages has just cropped up in the case of a film, the original title of which was Mr. Bug Goes To Town. . .[W]hile in the American language ‘bug’ is a generic term for all kinds of insects and carries no unpleasant implications, things are very different in this country, where the word has acquired a specialised meaning associated with slums and other unpleasant things.”
The film was fairly successful at the Carlton, playing there for four straight weeks. But back in the States, Paramount all but disowned the film. Its American premiere, according to the L.A. Times, came on Thursday, February 12, 1942, at the Paramount Theater, under the original “Mr. Bug” title. L.A. Times critic Edwin Schallert published a mixed review the following day.
The film’s debut was so momentous that “Mr. Bug” wasn’t even the main attraction at its own American premiere. It was the second half of a double bill with “Sullivan’s Travels”, a film that had premiered two weeks earlier in New York City. Worried that I might have missed an earlier premiere date, I combed through all contemporary L.A. periodicals I had at my disposal, but could find no evidence of any earlier public premiere in the area, and the L.A. Times review date of February 13th almost certainly confirms it. For further confirmation, Variety also listed the film with a “Week of 2/12/42” release date in its “Film Booking Chart” section over the following months.
After only seven days, “Mr. Bug” disappeared from L.A.’s Paramount. The next day, February 19th, it first appeared in New York at the Loew’s State Theatre, and was reviewed by all the major New York newspapers the following morning. This time around, it was the main attraction, but again, it only played for a single week.
As for the “Mr. Bug/Hoppity” issue, this brings up an interesting aside alluded to earlier. Since the “Hoppity” name came about years before commonly believed, you might want to check your remastered Japanese DVD release of “Hoppity Goes To Town”. (I don’t have one.) It’s possible it’s a remastered TV print prepared by NTA in the 1950s. But it might also be an original 1942 overseas print, a hidden treasure contemporary with the American “Mr. Bug” print recently remastered by the UCLA Film Archives.
It also puts it into perspective: the film possibly wasn’t renamed by NTA or anybody else during subsequent re-releases. It’s likely that the re-releases were just made using an overseas print, perhaps because it was more readily available in either Paramount’s or someone else’s archive, and, thus, the alternate title has propagated ever since.
This might not be news to you, but all this information was new to me!
And I thank you for taking the time to document it for all of us (Steve sent me all the clippings cited above to back up his research). Mr. Bug Goes To Town is one of my favorite animated films – and its neglect is a huge oversight in he history of animation. I’m always glad to help set the record straight.