Paramount had a lot to promote in 1943. It appeared Famous Studios was on its way to rival the Hollywood cartoon studios in popularity and quality. The Popeye cartoons were generally all winners, and the studio’s backbone would be switching to full Technicolor for the 1943-44 season. The color promotion doesn’t work particularly well, given the Sales News panels are on standard newsprint. And May 13’s gag could only work in 1943!
New series were gearing up: the Noveltoons and Little Lulu. The little charmer made her debut in Paramount Sales News mimicking Paramount player Veronica Lake’s look. Lulu would be a heavy selling point in the trades from here on.
Then of course, there’s the revival no one asked for — everyone’s favorite, Spunky! And trust me, you haven’t seen the last of him…
BELOW: The Hungry Goat released June 25th 1943
We’re at the top of the hill for Famous right now. For whatever reason, the slide starts pretty much in conjunction with the move back to New York, as the stories and timing are toned down slightly, even while the budgets and changes in pacing remain high enough to get the visual gags across.
Famous’ comedy efforts really wouldn’t hit the wall until the end of the 1940s, but after early 1944, they’re no longer consistently doing stuff on the same wild level as their west coast counterparts — though to be fair, the Lulu series called for a mix of comedy and cuteness that other series driven by male lead characters didn’t have to worry about (at least once Michael Maltese had convinced Chuck Jones to turn Sniffles into an irritating blabbermouth).
Gawd oh how I remember ! The original Blabbermouse (voice by the Late Great Mel Blanc) was a little grey mouse who used to “pester” W.C. Fieldmouse in two WB Cartoons (one I remembered was when W.C. Fieldmouse way a tour guide at the Savoy Drug Store [a take off on the SavOn Drug Store chain here in SoCal]) I think it was the episode where Sniffles was touring the Dutch countryside in a windup toy car until the toy car broke down and fell to pieces. And as a storm hit Sniffles took shelter at a old windmill where he meets up with a little Dutch bat who blabs up a storm. Probably that’s how they must of gotten to turn Sniffles from a cute mouse into a irritating blabber mouse who can drive Mary Jans (the girl and “bestie” in the Sniffles comic book series) nuts!
It’s debatable as to when Famous began to slide down that hill. One could say it started when they got back to New York. One could say it was when they began to repeat themselves with stories and characters in the late 40s. Me? I’d say it really started when Sam Buchwald left the studio around 1950.
It’s true you still had Jim Tyer doing crazy things after the move back to New York, especially when he had Izzy Sparber as his supervisor and Bill Tytla didn’t know better what he was getting into, when he first arrived in Midtown. But the B&W Famous Popeyes have razor-sharp timing, just like the best of the West Coast cartoons of the period, and you can see that start going away little by little over the next couple of years.
The move at the end of the 40s to start focusing more on continuing characters with repetitive story lines, along with bringing back the spot gag-filled Screen Songs, combined with the more evenly-timed cartoons is what makes so many of the 50s shorts so irritating — unlike Terrytoons, you knew Famous could do better, because they had done better (and to be fair, even with the continuing series’ repetition problems, Famous’ one-shots actually remained pretty good all the way to the end of the 50s).
Whoa! That nephews thing was pretty racist!
Fleischer cartoons didn’t do racially insensitive gags all that often (with some unfortunate exceptions), but Famous did far, far more for some inexplicable reason. The Lulu cartoons in particular have a maid character that’s even worse than Mammy Two-Shoes.
The Veronica Lake gag would be animated in Lulu in Hollywood, aka “the most boring cartoon ever made”.
And Lulu herself was in blackface in 3 of her cartoons, including the very first one. (“I sho’ do love FRIED CHICKEN!”)
Yeah, that “colored” joke was bad taste even in 1943. My father (who was 23 at that time) would have hated it!
Hungry Goat is a fave! Thanks, Thad.
Well, the blackface gag and Popeye with lipstick are certainly unsettling, but the real nightmare is the return of that little POS Spunky. Can’t he just die? Please tell me there really weren’t any more H&S cartoons after 1941.
There was one solitary Spunky-solo cartoon as a result of this campaign: Yankee Doodle Donkey. He showed up years later in Okey Dokey Donkey and in the Casper Boo Kind to Animals.
Was “Happy Birthday” the cartoon that was released as “Happy Birthdaze?”
I would assume so.
How the designers must have complained over Popeye going to Technicolor, but still being stuck in his all – white regulation Navy uniform!
I recall watching the Popeyes, for the first time, on The Uncle Gus Show when I was a kid. With a few exceptions my reaction was why is Popeye getting the %$#@ out of him? What happened to his spinach!? I get what Famous was trying to do now but, as a kid, I felt sorry for the one-eyed sailor. He doesn’t come off as the victim well.
The Cartoon Festival from Hell: Spunky! Gabby! Jeepers and Creepers! Parrotville Post Office! Honey Halfwitch! Dinky Duck! Pete Hothead! Buddy! Cool Cat! Merlin the Magic Mouse – and the Beary Family!
The revised Buddy (in an episode of Animaniacs) I always felt was a helluva lot funnier than the original 1930s Buddy, lol…