October 12, 2017 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Notes On the Iwerks’ “Comi-Color” Materials

Hi all,

No real updates from Thunderbean this week; besides teaching, I’ve been spending the week working on a project for a good friend, and am happily now done! Some ‘Little King’ cartoons with original title sequences showed up here this week from England, and that was thrilling. There’s a transfer session Friday that I’m very excited about; the session will complete at least three of the ‘special’ and pre-order sets, and that’s exciting! More news soon.

Some history on the ownership, condition and film materials from the Iwerks cartoons, the Van Beuren Rainbow Parade series:

This week, I had planned to write a little about the Iwerks Comi-Color master materials at UCLA. A fellow collector and IAD member wrote me a short note earlier this week that prompted much of this post- so I combined information from that conversation here; since the Iwerks and later Van Beuren materials ended up in the same hands, I thought I’d write a little about both of those collections of films.

Some of this post will be a little ‘in the weeds’ in terms of its relevance to the actual cartoons, but this is the sort of archival work that should be done, since it’s hard to say if or when the materials will be revisited in the either near or further future. It’s important to me to get the best versions possible of each film, because if the material exists and I have access and rights to it, at least we’ll have the best we can get from the known materials.

I *LOVE* the idea of other small companies releasing rare material. It makes things available that otherwise wouldn’t be, and as more material in worked on by a smaller company, the better they often get at making it look as good as it can. To me, what matters is the accessibility of the materials and having quality versions available, complete as possible and presented well). I honestly can’t wait to get through this particular period, because it means moving forward on some more dream projects. The Iwerks films are a dream to be working on.

The continual hope is that once work is done on one thing, that project can help, in one way or another, will lead into other work searching through other collections and releasing sets. There are a few things that have shown up in more recent history that I’m very excited to start to dive into. I’ll hold my cards close on this for the moment so that no competitor tries to trademark any of it to prevent a future Thunderbean release!

After their original releases, Pat Powers had the MGM released Iwerks cartoons returned to him from MGM. This must have been contractual. These were then recombined with the Iwerks cartoon library that Powers released under ‘Celebrity Productions’. It seems clear that Powers had planned a reissue of the films while he still had a deal with Iwerks himself; the piano playing Flip animated titles with a Celebrity Pictures logo was shot for reissue in 1934 (by Kodak stock date). At least some of these sequences are still intact in what appears to be original camera negative, attached to the front of one of the camera negs of a cartoon from the Flip series. It looks like the title was shot over and over, with a different film title after it each time. These titles still exist as well on many of the master positives on the Flip series that were struck from the negs by Powers.

In the pursuit of various materials for the Flip collection, my good friend and project partner David Gerstein researched the chain of title on the Flip films as well as other Iwerks shorts. Interestingly, Powers didn’t receive the ‘official’ rights transfer from MGM until February 1953. It seems likely that Powers, through contact, had ownership and distribution of the MGM Iwerks shorts contractually, but hadn’t gone though the proper transfer of ownership, but decided to do so in order to sell the Iwerks shorts directly to Commonwealth, a non-theatrical and Television distributor. A month after the transfer of ownership of the copyrights, the Powers company sold all the Iwerks films to Exclusive Pictures, a subsidiary of Commonwealth. Some of the Willie Whopper cartoons were then sold to Modern Sound Pictures. Cartoons that were once part of the Gutlohn Library were also sold to Modern Sound, including the early part of the Cubby Bear series. Teleprompter bought Commonwealth/ Exclusive in the early 70s, and Blackhawk acquired this library in 1975.

The Iwerks material is in varied condition, but generally pretty amazing shape. I’m *still* hunting for Flip titles and other elements on some of the films, and do hope at some point some of the missing title sequences will show up.

About a year back, I looked through a good amount (although not all) of the material (that still exists) for the films that Commonwealth used as its masters for the Comi Colors, the color Willie Whopper Hell’s Fire, and the Rainbow Parade series. This material consists of negs, master positives (as B/W separation masters), original nitrate prints (from the 30s) and safety and nitrate prints made sometime in the 40s into the 50s. I have another trip planned in November to finish that work as well as look through the remainder of the ‘other’ materials, in both 16mm and 35mm, that UCLA and the Academy have from the David Shepard/ Blackhawk films collections.

The Van Beuren films appear to have been split up resold, split up some more then brought back together. Screen Gems had TV distribution of some of it, Gutlohn had some, Official had some, Commonwealth had some, and some titles were given to more than one company at the same time. North Star Pictures reissued a lot of the sound VB fables in the late 30s into the 40s in cartoon parade form for theatres, lobbing off the titles and replacing them with generic ones. Walter Gutlohn, who ran an educational 16mm film company, bought many of the Van Beuren cartoons.

According to “Robbie’s Reels” (Bob Hermann) Gutholn died in 1938, and the library was sold to a ‘Theatrical and Television Corporation’. My guess is that it was Commonwealth that bought them. Interestingly, prints with the Gutlohn titles were sold into the 50s at least and probably later…

Here are my brief deductions from looking at the material and some related paperwork that Eastin/Philan and Blackhawk saved. Much of this paperwork is on file at the UCLA Film and Television archives:

• It appears that the original negs on the Rainbow Parades either do not exist, were tossed by Commonwealth, or that the matrices (raised printing masters) for the materials were kept at Technicolor and Cinecolor specifically, left there for ‘on file’ for printing.

• Gutlohn either became Commonwealth or sold their entire library to them; Teleprompter, then Eastin, then Blackhawk ended up with all the printing materials that Commonwealth kept, whatever they may be (and that varies widely). The paper trail from Commonwealth includes Gutlohn paperwork as well as references to all of these companies at some point during the years the materials were used for printing.

• Commonwealth had prints struck of many of the films in Cinecolor and Technicolor. These more ‘modern’ prints were used as master material, with many of them never touched or used (literally ‘mint’ condition, some down to not having the lab seals taken off the end). Some of them *were* touched, with Commonwealth’s titles spliced directly onto a print, with the soundtrack copied onto another piece of film to eventually marry with the new picture. There were cartoons from both Iwerk’s Comi-Color series as well as ‘Hell’s Fire’ that have a ‘Fairy Tale’ Commonwealth title spliced onto them. Iwerks shorts, including The Little Red Hen, Brave Tin Soldier, Hell’s Fire and at least a few others had this faded Eastmancolor title spliced onto some of the Cinecolor prints. Other prints of the same titles look to have been struck at the same time (with a similar stock date where it appears and identical color content). A few Comi- Color titles *only* have a 35mm print as their best existing master, while the majority have prints and the original separation negs. It appears that the Comi-Colors were shot on two strips of film at the same time rather than successive exposure. My guess is that there was an edited soundtrack made for that ‘Hell’s Fire’ version, and, chances are, that exists somewhere in the materials at UCLA, or was discarded.

• Most if not all of the Rainbow Parades in 35mm at UCLA do not have negs; just a series of prints (some in mint condition) in both Cinecolor and 3 Strip Technicolor. A few films (Sunshine Makers and Parrotville Fire Department) only exist in fragments. Two reels of Wise Hen appear to be the same print (first half and second Half) just separated on two reels somehow.

• Castle appears to have had non-exclusive rights to the Comi-Colors through the early 60s for non-theatrical, non-Television use only, directly from Pat Power’s Celebrity productions, starting in 1942. I didn’t find the paperwork at UCLA for the rights on the Comi-Colors, but there’s a good chance it’s in there somewhere; these notes are not well organized and I didn’t have a chance to look through more than a little section of them. What was clear is that Commonwealth paid residuals back to Powers in the early 50’s before buying the films outright. There was a note about the titles that Commonwealth was allowed to distribute for non-theatrical and what films they could only sell for Television. I didn’t get a copy of these, but hope to when we’re in production.

In terms of the 16mm prints that exist to this day, my guess is that Commonwealth kept printing the Guhlohn versions of some of the titles since they had 16mm Cinecolor masters already on them; they made Kodachrome prints of many of the later Rainbow Parades, and there are prints of many of those still in existence. I didn’t look through UCLA’s 16mm holdings yet, but I would bet that there are Kodachrome positives that were used as masters to make the Kodachrome (reversal) film prints for non-theatrical use. As far as I could tell, none of the Commonwealth titles that appear in the 16mm Kodachrome prints of the Rainbow Parades exist on the 35mm materials, although I could be wrong since there are some of the later titles that I didn’t look at materials on yet.

Ok. Back out of the weeds! I can’t leave you without a cartoon. Here’s a Commonwealth print of Trolly Ahoy – one of the last Van Beuren cartoons ever made. The print here isn’t very good – don’t worry, we’ll be restoring it.

Have a good week everyone!


  • I would love to know the economics of this business. How much could they actually afford to pay in royalties? It couldn’t have been much. It seems like it wouldn’t be worth everyone’s time and attention for the meager return – especially if lawyers were involved.

  • Kind of odd how Official Films changed the names of Tom and Jerry to “Dick and Larry”. Is it due to MGM had the namesake of Tom and Jerry for their cat and mouse duo? Luckily, MGM to my knowledge, decided to look the other way as to Van Buren’s Tom and Jerry. YouTube sill has videos of Van Buren’s Tom and Jerry with it’s original titles and the Official Films version with the Dick and Larry titles.

    • Probably the least odd of the Van Beuren Official Films retitles actually, compared to the likes of Brownie Bear, Jungle Jinks, Tiny Tot etc. Only the Little King was spared from any rechristening so as to capitalise on the Soglow comic strip connection I guess.

  • According to Scott MacGillivray’s CASTLE FILMS: A HOBBYIST’S GUIDE, Castle issued 23 Ub Iwerks cartoons between 1942 and 1948, a few of which were given new titles. Some of the cartoons were out of print within a year of their release, while others stayed in Castle’s catalog for years. “Sinbad the Sailor” and “Jack and the Beanstalk,” for example, were still available as late as 1977.

    • I have the same book, and it has all the in-depth information about the films that Castle Films put out during the 1940’s through the 1970’s from Terrytoons, ComiColor to the Walter Lantz cartoons.

      Thankfully, I have all 15 of them on 8mm and some on 16mm.

  • Thanks for all the info, Steve.

    It’s probably all lost to history now, but I wish we could learn more about the Famous Fairytale series Commonwealth was putting together and why it was apparently aborted. They must have been desperate to cull together a viable package of color cartoons, because Hell’s Fire was mutilated to make it not seem like Willie is actually in Hell, and to censor out most of the boozing footage with “Prohibition”.

    Also, was it Powers himself who sold the Iwerks library or his estate? On an old GAC post on this topic, it was mentioned that Powers died in 1948.

  • “Picnic Panic” was on a Digiview DVD with a “Kolor Kartoons Presents” opening and a Pictoreels closing title. Did Pictoreels get that cartoon?

    • Not really. Pictoreels doesn’t owned the Van Beuren cartoons, they owned the Harmon & Ising’s “Happy Harmonies” series from MGM.

      “Picnic Panic” was originally released in 1934 as part of the “Rainbow Parade” series by Van Beuren.

  • Fascinating stuff, Steve!

    Didn’t know Commonwealth ended up acquiring some Gutlohn titles. With all the existing paperwork at UCLA, it sounds like you could write a whole book on the long convoluted rights trail to the Iwerks and Van Beuren cartoons. Such subjects would, as you mentioned of course, be too niche and tangential to the cartoons themselves, but it’s still interesting to read how great material on these series have survived all these years.

  • Fascinating Steve.
    All this amazing information would be a must in the accompanying booklet of future Blu-Ray releases.
    Looks like the Flip set is a long way off yet but it sure will be something special.
    You must nearly have a bed set up at UCLA these days 😀

  • As far as I know, Walter O. Gutlohn, Inc. became Library Films; Paul Robins, the owner of that firm buying out Dr. Gutlohn’s widow. There may have been sales of specific titles or packages by Library to Commonwealth.

  • The purchase of Gutlohn by Library is documented here. I believe Library changed its corporate name to something like “International Film & TV Corp.” but not sure what its activities in TV were, if any.

    To Argus Sventon: That Digiview print of “Picnic Panic” is simply a copy of a beat-up 16mm rental print that had replacement main titles made and spliced on; the Pictoreels end title was similarly spliced on from some other film.

  • I’d been away, visiting family out West, but I’ve been reading these posts each day, and this one is as fascinating as it makes my head spin! It is agonizing how many changes of hands these films have gone through, and each time hands change, we lose quality control somehow. Sections of Van Buren cartoons have shown up in the strangest places–I caught the audio only of a small section near the end of “BOLD KING COLE” appearing in the movie, “MUD”, as representation of what a character was watching on TV. I wonder if one of the actors or the director is also a major cartoon fan and just wanted to see how many toon fans would pick up on the sound bite! I cannot tell you how much I look forward to the resulting FLIP THE FROG set, and I’ve enjoyed the ComiColor cartoons for years, seeing them mixed liberally in with the later MGM classic cartoons from HAPPY HARMONIES to Tex Avery. I will keep hoping for full and complete restoration of all of these before I die! That wish has had its candle snuffed out too many times to mention, but here’s to your tireless efforts to see such a wish bear some kind of fruit. Good luck, and please keep us all informed!

  • There were 15 ComiColor titles released in Cinecolor by Castle Films starting in October 1941.

    There’s more information on this page of our website:

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