January 4, 2024 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Some Thoughts on ‘Public Domain’, Including One Particular Mouse.

Just the heck of it, look up the *reason* why copyrights expire. Think about what it means exactly- and what your own interpretation is. You’ll need to do a little bit of searching, because you’ll find a *lot* of information that seems to contradict itself — but, interestingly, most of what you find will also be accurate to what the actual law states.

I especially like this summary, on a site for photo copyright law.

Copyright — and expiration of copyright – allow for things to stay in the public view in different ways. Related to films, it’s allowed some films to still make money for the companies or people that made them— but its also allowed things to stay out of the public since the owners have decided the materials are not worth releasing from their best materials — or at all. Films being in the public domain have often allowed otherwise forgotten things to find a new market — or for the people that liked them to find them once again.

I’ve thought about – and was interested in pursuing — public domain animation most of my adult life, starting with wanting to release things on film as a teenager. If you were collecting animated shorts in the 70s or 80s, you were *very* familiar with a handful of titles above all others, and a whole series of companies often putting out some of the same films. I was about 13 when I started to understand what public domain meant, and got a lot better idea as I went through high school and into college.

A favorite trip of mine (as a 19 or 20 year old) was visiting the Library of Congress to research what films were public domain and what wasn’t. Back then (in 1988) they still let anyone go through the original copyright records, mostly bound neatly into small ‘books’ in order by year and type of copyright, in alphabetical order. Computer technology wasn’t anywhere near as good back then, but I found that the things that had been converted to digital records were, for the most part, really accurate. We printed out tomes of records there on a dot-matrix printer. At the end of the time there, after chatting, one of the Librarians asked for my notes, xeroxing them and asking what I had discovered. The biggest thing I learned was that copyright is really, really hard to keep records on — and that some studios did an amazing job, while others didn’t at all. Moreover, most the big issues with copyright mistakes happened if the films had transferred ownership in the TV era.

The coolest thing about that trip, besides a whole lot of new information, was that I got to see who signed the copyright records on so many films. Funny enough (and maybe expected), the smaller the company the better chance there was of seeing a familiar signature. Apparently the reason they stopped letting people look through those original records is that some of them were torn out of those little bound books and kept since they often contained amazing signatures (it was mentioned to me that the book The Catcher In the Rye was one of those).

In the end, my original goal of documenting everything that was public domain was pretty successful. It also taught me that some films people considered Public Domain were often actually copyrighted under a different spelling or including another word in the title (like ‘Gandy and Sourpuss in’… or the like).

Some of the best discoveries were finding that some films had improper copyright. As I was going through the Disney materials, I discovered that Steamboat Willie, Plane Crazy and Galloping Gaucho all had problematic copyrights, for various reasons. Several other shorts from early in the series also had problematic copyrights. With Steamboat Willie, it was registration without a copyright on the original title card, *and* copyright after the initial showings. At the time, I thought these issues would of course never allow the use of those particular shorts since they would be fought in court if anyone ever attempted, but the proof was right there in black and white. Those early copyrights often have Ub’s signature, Walt’s and Roy’s as the copyright holders.

Here’s a page (above) from the now tattered copy of the Of Mice and Magic Filmography I brought with me on that trip. The copyright office, at that point, hadn’t updated their digital records to match renewals on every film, so these notes are me going back and checking the films that had the original copyright listed digitally but not the renewals.

“From Dime To Dime”

With some here, I’ve made a note when the copyright in the digital record didn’t match what was on the original records, and in one case (on this sheet) I make a note of one with an improper copyright (From Dime to Dime, 1960). In this case the copyright renewal was sent over a year after the expiration. The Library attached the renewal attempt but noted it was added to the record after the period of renewal (making the film Public Domain). From these notes you can see there was a whole series of films from this period that matched the digital record (so I didn’t need to make a note of them) and a whole series of titles that either didn’t match the record or were not updated in the database yet.

So, now, with all the chat about Steamboat Willie being public domain *officially*, I thought it might be fun to talk about what the next few years mean for classic animation availability, and why some things have been available, and why other things are not.

One of the things that happened with large companies not wanting to release good materials on the films that are in the public domain is that some figured the material would be ripped off immediately by small producers. That’s probably pretty accurate honestly— but what it also did is relegate many of those films to not very good copies available for viewing. The Fleischer Color Classics and the George Pal Puppetoons come to mind immediately when thinking about just how poorly the available versions had traditionally been. Collector’s prints (and some pretty decent reductions from 35mm materials) allowed for some idea of what the films should look like, but those were few and far between in the bigger picture.

This is a collection of public domain cartoons.

I have a theory: with some of these films becoming Public Domain, it will actually allow some of the bigger companies *not caring* as much about releasing good materials on the films since now everything from those periods will be in the public domain… making the place with the best versions the place to see them.

Snappy Video and its successor, Thunderbean, was always trying to follow through with this idea, with (I think) some success. Now that streaming has become the predominant way of seeing films, it makes some sense for the largest companies to allow the material, Public Domain or not, to exist in the best versions possible and available all the time. In this way, those places will become known for being the best way to see them.

You can look all over YouTube and see all sorts of people have uploaded Thunderbean stuff. Most of it is in the public domain, and sometimes they compress it great, sometimes not so much — and sometimes people re-upload and re-upload them into chunky digital oblivion. Still, they are available, and moreover, the people that really would like a good blu-ray copy now know where the good versions are. I’ve never seen Youtube as a problem in terms of hurting sales on what we do- just the opposite in fact.

So, it will be really interesting to see how it all plays out over these next years; I’ll still be trying to license the best materials we’re able to, public domain and not, with the idea of getting the best possible version. That isn’t about copyright at all, but about an attempt to present the best versions possible since I know there are fans really love to see a film in the best version. That isn’t going to change. Seeing the materials from Warners and other studios over these past decade has been especially wonderful for fans. In this new environment and the possibilities for materials to have even more venues, I think we’re in for some great surprises over these next period of time. Since a lot of the material still has interest from an audience, it’s worth preserving in good versions, especially when materials are in danger.

Now, if you’d like, enjoy Steamboat Willie or another cartoon that in the public domain, not thinking about whether it is or not.

Have a good week everyone!


  • Is the off model Cool Cat in Public Domain?

    Copyright renewals must be a complicated process –
    even the best mistakenly let cartoons like “Susie The Little Blue Coupe” slip through the cracks.

    Public Domain advocates have been blowing their own horn the last few days as if a wonderful thing has happened.

    The reality is that your kind of issuing cartoons not deemed commercially viable by the major companies is the exception rather than the rule.

    The bulk of public domain these days is dominated by the s***-stirrers.
    In the last few days there have been at least 6 Mickey Mouse Horror projects announced.

    • Horror is cheap and easy to produce, and the media-savvy edgelords and publicity hounds know that turning the “innocent” Mickey into a figure of terror will get them lots of attention. This too shall pass, and the original shorts will still be around available for viewing, possibly more easily than ever before.

      Much of Disney’s early success was built on taking advantage of public domain works; should he have been forced to negotiate with the Grimm estate in order to get the rights to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

      I can easily ignore Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey and Infestation: Origins; if works could remain under copyright indefinitely, then I’d lose access to a lot of works that companies don’t feel is practical to keep available, but that people like Steve can afford to distribute to a smaller audience. I’ll take the bitter with the sweet in this case.

    • Yeah, and if I recall, some even used Mickey’s name in it even though a trademark name is still copyrighted. Something tells me half of these would be either be altered or thankfully legally cancelled if that were the case.

  • When I hear about the public domain, and your companies name or your own name in the same breath, I know that films will be in good hands. That’s the good thing about the public domain.

    I mostly pay attention to what you do, and probably nobody else, except the company that might own a specific film if they feel like really putting money into finding the best possible quality materials.

    The negative thing about the public domain is that, all too often, finding those materials is less and less easier. I know that you, yourself, know exactly where to go, as you stated above, to find such materials. Thank you for all that. I have always said that private collectors are not the enemies of the major studios, because sometimes they’ve collected specifically, so that good material around great films or commercials or cartoons or whatever are not lost to time. My hope is that more private collectors can come forward under better conditions, so that such materials can be digitized before they fade into oblivion, as has already happened in some cases. Some of this fade is because of studio neglect! That is something else that those who collect privately are trying to fight.

    Disbelief by most companies, that, if some of their properties fall into the public domain, they will be constantly misused, can be problematic, especially when it comes to animated cartoons; this is possibly true, because in most cases cartoons are not a video companies highest priorities.

    This is not true of the Walt Disney company, even as it stands now, although their feeling that they will never want to release physical product again around the classics is something that I certainly don’t appreciate!

    Anyway, good luck in the future. Good stuff is always out there for full and complete Archival materials by you and on those special discs as well. You’re doing a great job!

  • Unlike many people, I don’t think the 1998 copyright extension was a bad thing. It came just as DVDs (and eventually Blu-rays) were becoming popular and it encouraged the studios to restore their old film and make than available. But we know leave in an age of streaming, and companies can just upload their films without having to worry about making back the costs of manufacturing and distributing physical media.

  • Hi Steve!
    I wrote the article on Steamboat Willie from last week. Really glad to see this come up on it, and I’m happy to hear that sales don’t get hurt by having versions circulate online. I’m very thankful for all the work you’ve done on helping to preserve and newly circulate old cartoons. I agree, I’m very excited to see what happens over the next few years as more and more well known cartoons become public domain.

    And I really love the story of actually getting to go to the copyright office!

  • I’m glad you posted this Steve. I left a question somewhere (I forget where) about the copyright status of “Plane Crazy”. Did that and “Galloping Gaucho” go into public domain as well?
    I left a comment on Sean Dudley’s post on this topic on Dec. 26, but the comment section that day immediately turned into a battlefield of cartoon fans disagreeing with each other, with Sean fielding replies as graciously as he could. Hope that doesn’t happen today.

    • Hi Greg!
      As far as I can determine, and this is from my work with Duke Law, the silent version of Plane Crazy definitely went into the public domain since it had a copyright notice from 1928 and a renewal. We as a public aren’t entirely certain if Disney changed elements of the short besides adding sound, so we are working off the idea that the short without sound is public domain this year. Next year will be the sound version since that had a copyright notice and renewal for itself.

      And The Gallopin’ Gaucho is an odd case. That short also had a silent version that was screen before Steamboat Willie was released, but no copyright notice. It had a copyright notice after 1928 for the sound version in 1930. Since the short itself claims 1929 on the physical cartoon that is the date used for copyright term, always defer to the earlier date. So it is possible that the silent version of Gallopin’ Gaucho is public domain this year, and Wikipedia seems to think so, but we know that both the sound and silent versions will be public domain for sure next year.

      Hope this helps!

  • Dealing with copyright and the public domain is nothing short of intriguing for me. I feel the extension of copyright law has potentially hurt things that have fallen through the cracks, leaving some works “orphaned” due to being unable to find who owns it. I’ve also had an interest in improper copyright notices pre-1976, such as typoed notices (a 1960 [MCMLX] film accidentally being written as 1940 [MCMXL] and failing to be renewed by 1968, as the notice dictates, for example) and missing notices altogether (Filmation’s Fraidy Cat). It’s something I’d like to look more into.

  • Seeing the “technically” PD status of so many early ‘60s Paramount shorts, it now makes sense why so many of the Harveytoon versions of them still retain the Paramount copyright notice… Of course, who would WANT to own or release these?

    • I think the reason the 60s Harveytoons have Paramount copyright notices is because they bought them belatedly to fill out The New Casper Cartoon Show and nobody ever changed them.

      • That’s what I initially thought, too, but they even left the Paramount copyrights alone when they did new transfers and “cleaned up” the Harvey copyrights on all the other cartoons’ titles in the ‘90s. So I’m wonderin’…

      • Not to prolong this discussion, but as I worked for Harvey in the 1990s, and even restored a few “Harveytoons” while there, I’ll add my two cents (actually one-cent in this case).

        One thing I’ve learned absolutely in my years as an “animation historian”: usually the answer to every mysterious question is one so obvious, we dismiss it quickly because we can’t believe that can be the answer. And that answer is usually “no one wanted to spend the money”.

        Harvey contractually HAD to remove the copyright line in the original 1950s Funday Funnies/Harveytoons package. No such requirement was needed for the New Casper Cartoon Show ABC Saturday morning episodes. Getting rid of the Paramount logo certainly was. When I worked for Harvey Entertainment in the 1990s, they would never have committed to changing the copyright line on Swab The Duck, Rail Rodents and a few others we restored at that time. “Why spend the money?” was the attitude. The Harvey management knew they had the TV rights – and they knew Paramount still held the original negatives and theatrical rights.

        Technically, the 1950-1962 cartoons are still protected under copyright held by Paramount Pictures. I believe the change on the Harveytoon prints was only “cosmetic”. Can someone check if Paramount ever really legally transferred those copyrights? I’m betting they haven’t.

    • In the list above (and pages surrounding) there was only one 60s Paramount that wasn’t renewed correctly if memory serves. All the rest were and had correct registrations and correct renewals– by Harvey. If I didn’t note it on my list it was because everything seemed to check out correctly.

      • Harvey renewed the copyrights – good on them. But they didn’t change the notice on screen.

        We often speculated “what if” Paramount decided to exercise their right to re-release a Baby Huey cartoon with a Mission Impossible sequel – or a Casper short before the latest Star Trek reboot. Their original negs would not be altered to say copyright Harvey… The reality is: it’s complicated. Harvey (Dreamworks/Classic Media/Universal) essentially has the non-theatrical and television rights – which are the only rights that matter in this day and age.

        It would be interesting to study when “public domain” became an issue to the studios. In my experience it wasn’t so much a thing in the 1970s and early 80s – except in film collectors circles (which were much smaller then), perhaps a few repertory theaters, and local TV stations who had a few PD shorts and features on hand to play during sports rain-outs. It’s become a business over the last 30 years – and potentially a big business in the next decade

        • Thanks, Steve, I was probably misreading those notes, too small on my phone. And WOW, thank you, Jerry, for clearing that up. You know, you’re absolutely right, the most obvious/simplest explanation is probably true in many cases. I now recall I have several beet-red Eastman prints of those rotten 1960-62 cartoons that retain the full Paramount copyright AND mountain… so obviously, they were allowed to go out to TV as such. But with the devastating damage done to three decades worth of Fleischer/Famous titles, one had a right to ponder why the situation suddenly changed… And with the particular content in question (1960-62 Paramount), of COURSE no one cared. Thanks again, gents.

  • On the topic of the cartoons that a.a.p. and Sunset/Guild distributed on TV, I find it interesting that there are various clusters within certain timeframes that are PD (1930-32, 1939, 1941-43 for WB and 1953-57 for Popeye). I’ve often wondered what happened that those films weren’t renewed or never registered.

    In some cases, I saw registration dates done for when certain shorts were reissued (e.g. An Itch In Time from 1943, copyrighted in 1948), causing some to mistakenly believe these were PD.

    • There was no Sunset/Guild.

      Sunset was Warner Bros. They licensed the cartoons to Guild, which distributed but did not own them.

  • Funny how, with everybody obsessing over Mickey Mouse, nobody is making much of how Peter Pan became public domain as well. Maybe someone will make a snuff film with both of them, just as the “Blood and Honey” filmmaker now can make a sequel with Tigger (whom Disney and Paul Winchell already made pretty frightening).

    Classical authors and composers (Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” just became PD too!) survived, and so will Mickey Mouse.

    • Ugh. That’s something I DON’T want to see.

    • I believe the obsession over Mickey Mouse comes from him being a symbol for copyright extension acts.

  • My experience with films in the “Public Domain” is more negative than positive. The people out there like Steve – who care about these vintage films and want to not only restore them, but make them available to fians – seem to be the “exception to the rule.” I can’t tell you how many crummy Super 8mm sound or VHS copies I’ve had over the years of a “P.D.” work, hoping to find a complete and – at least – better than average copy. MEET JOHN DOE, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, etc. come to mind. The former copyright owner – generally speaking – is not interested in supplying pristine 35mm materials of a film that the owner no longer owns. What’s “in it” for him or her or somebody’s estate?

    I contacted a special effects technician by the name of Jack Polito who told me that one of his employees bought the 35mm nitrate “censored” scenes from KING KONG (1933) from a retired theater projectionist, who was told “back in the day” to cut the offending scenes out per orders of RKO and MPAA (or the Censor’s Office) and get rid of them. The projectinist kept the scenes and sold them to this collector some 35 (or so) years later. The collector did all the “legal paperwork” with the new owners of RKO at the time to get the material available for the studio to use – but, from what Jack Polito told me – it was a legal “nightmare” and worse, the film lab that made new 35mm nitrate material made “bootlegs” of the footage – often in 16mm – for other collectors. The footage was never really restored properly until Turner Entertainment did a LOT of digital and mechanical “clean-up” on the picture and sound quality for the scenes. The 35mm print that I saw in Chicago back in 1993 was the best looking and sounding version of the “censored” scenes that I had ever seen. I think it was about 10-15 years later that a beautiful 35mm film print resurfaced at the BFI archives and has since been used – either in part, or total – along with what negative material we have hear (apparently from a 1941 nitrate negative – with censored scenes missing, of course). Searches were SUPPOSEDLY made in the ’50s onwards for the censored scenes to be restored, but if it wasn’t for a film collector, it may not have ever happened. (I don’t know how the KING KONG print was found at the BFI.)

    Many years ago, I contacted someone from Warner Home Video who quite frankly told me that the company had NO interest in trying to find a good copy of MEET JOHN DOE because there were questions of copyright ownership and – again – no real profit – in going through the expensive restoraton process for a film that the studio no longer owned. Producer Sherman Krellberg allowed a guy like Steve Stanchfieild to try to restore an old Bela Lugosi horror film – even though he no longer legally owned the copyright – BECAUSE there was some profit to be made. The film was WHITE ZOMBIE and I’ve been waiting over 40 years to see this film properly restored – and supposedly, a company will put out the ultimate UCLA version sometime this year on Blu-Ray.

    I don’t think I have to mention the Fleischer-Famous SUPERMAN cartoons regarding their “copyright” status, do I? Supposedly, the cartoons are “P.D.” but of course “Superman” is a trade-marked image. Through black-and-white TV prints, poor quality “bootlegs;” these old SUPERMAN cartoons have had a rough time of it – for collectors and restorers, haven’t they?

    Restoring “P.D.” films are a big job that costs a lot of time, research, restoration issues and MONEY. I’m glad there are people out there that have the resources to save these films from disintigrating or only being available in incomplete and cruddy copies – when often times the films’ owners – or former owners – don’t give a damn unless there’s lots of profit to be made!

    • It’s a Wonderful Life is a telling example of a film that was only available on home video in variable-quality releases during its period of being assumed to be in the public domain — because if it were not for that assumption, it almost certainly would not have gained its widespread popularity. That film had been a nearly-forgotten flop for decades until television stations started looking for free Christmastime programming to fill out their schedules. Enough people fell in love with it during those years of wide exposure that it became established as a classic movie and a holiday staple; if not for its years as a public-domain feature, it probably would be about as well-remembered by the general public as other Capra films like Lady for a Day and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and for that matter Capra himself would most likely be a lot less well known.

      It’s true that studios have less financial incentive to go through the expense of maintaining and restoring media which is in the public domain… but it’s not like they have a great track record of maintaining, restoring, and making available media which they still own the rights to, but which they decide isn’t popular enough to turn a handsome profit. If it were still under copyright protection, Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels would almost certainly still be just as available on home video as Hoppity Goes to Town, and with a much less careful restoration than what Steve and his crew were able to accomplish. For more recent (though non-animated) examples, Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid and the ’70s versions of Sleuth and The Stepford Wives are largely unavailable on home video because the rightsholder (Bristol Myers Squibb — yes, the pharmaceutical giant) hasn’t been offered enough money to authorize a release in decades.

      Now, if someone wanted to push for studios to have renewed rights for restored versions they released, I think that would be an addition to copyright law well worth considering. (Giving Warner Brothers Discovery rights to a restored version of Meet John Doe for, say, 30 years, while allowing older, unrestored versions to be used and re-sold freely.) But I don’t think allowing companies to keep exclusive media rights in perpetuity benefits anyone.

  • As I understand it, when King Features licensed Flash Gordon to Universal for what was ultimately three serials, there was a contract clause that all prints would be destroyed after a specified date. It was assumed they’d have zero value thereafter. At some point there was presumably a rewriting of the deal, with King — now Hearst Entertainment — taking ownership of all three serials (the third, “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe”, was evidently not renewed and became a PD staple).

    Universal produced several more serials based on King Features properties, which reached home video not through Universal but VCI. I believe VCI got official source material from Universal, but not sure whether Universal, King, or both licensed the rights.

    Now the animation angle:

    Wasn’t there a similar clause in the contract for the Fleischers’ Popeye cartoons? Recall reading somewhere that Paramount and King got together to squeeze the Fleischers out when it became apparent the cartoons would have serious value beyond the original expiration date.

    Does anyone know if any films, animated or otherwise, were actually made extinct because of a closed-end contract?

    • King Features’ clause did actually go through with Mintz’s Barney Google cartoons. I think there was a similar case with the later Li’l Abner series, but I don’t remember for sure.

    • Yes, it was a standard boiler plate clause in contracts for King Features properties being translated to the screen – 10 years, and destruction of the prints afterward. Thank God the studios sent a sole print to the Library of Congress for copyright purposes – which in turn preserved these films. For decades, it was impossible to see the Columbia serials Mandrake The Magician, Brenda Starr Reporter, The Phantom and Terry and The Pirates (Thank you VCI Entertainment for digging these out and making them available). The overwhelming popularity of Flash Gordon, the Blondie series – and the Fleischer Popeye cartoons – made renegotiating the original deals a financial priority for all.

      As for animation, the Columbia Barney Google cartoons – and the recently unearthed Famous Studios “Snuffy Smith” Noveltoon, Spree For All (1946) – were subject to this King Features contractual obligation. While there seems to be a few still “lost” titles (in the sound era), I can’t think of any that are withheld or “lost” because of a limited time contractual commitment.

      Remember, keep in mind that films (and cartoons) made back in the 20s, 30s, 40s and somewhat into the 50s were not made with any permanence in mind. They weren’t even thinking of reissuing the cartoons to theaters, and forget television sales, home video and today’s streaming. They were ephemeral. So a ten year deal with King Features was an eternity. There was just no thought of the future.

  • Going to have fun:

    • No offense, but I had a lot of issues with that video especially since that is my favorite animated character! Mickey lost his Mickey, my foot!

  • I believe that “The Barn Dance” was also Copyright 1928 on the original title card, if Walt Disney Treasures DVD is to be believed.

    • The BARN DANCE title card on the WD Treasures DVD was a recreation.

      The original BARN DANCE title card, from documentation in the WD Archives, would seem to have had a 1929 copyright date, matching its actual copyright. (A print does survive with the card, but is a 16mm dupe with the edges of the frame—and the copyright—cut off.)

      • Thanks! I thought the Iwerks era cards on the Treasures sets were mostly original based on how the top line “Disney Cartoons” is nearly cut off. Also the end credit looks real on “Steamboat Willie” looks original as it’s so dark and scratchy.

        • In the Treasures sets, the following Powers-era Mickeys have original titles:

          PLANE CRAZY
          THE PLOWBOY
          THE JAZZ FOOL

          All others are modern-day recreations.

          The only later b/w Mickey to have true original titles on the Treasures is PIONEER DAYS, and it only has them on the Region 2 release: (The US version has a recreated title taken from an earlier laserdisc release.)

          • Wow. Thanks for that info. Of course THE KARNIVAL KID had the video style copyright added on top of the title on the second black and white Mickey Treasures set, which I thought was the reason it didn’t make it to the laserdisc release. I would love for Disney to re-release all of these. I’m sure my dvd sets won’t last forever and I love these cartoons.

  • Steve, what’s the copyright situation on IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE SAUCE? the lost Betty cartoon that seems to have not been renewed

  • Luckily – as I understand it form Richard Fleischer’s book OUT OF THE INKWELL – Paramount and KFS knew that TV was very likely on “the horizon” when the contracts were re-negotiatged around 1941 or so. Paramount – I think – had also kept the older POPEYE cartoons in theatrical circulation and 16mm prints were made for rental and then for the servicemen and women during WWII – so they knew there was still “profit” to be made from the older Fleischer POPEYE cartoons.

    On the other hand, the owner of THE LONE RANGER radio series wasn’t entirely happy with THE LONE RANGER and THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN movie serials made by Republic Pistures, and when Republic’s rights expired, the studio was ordered to destroy all of their prints and negatives. However, the owner of TLR did like the music and so, until a musician’s strike by ASCAP, THE LONE RANGER radio show used the music cues for the radio show. A couple of decades ago, warn-out prints of chapters spliced together as feature films of THE LONE RANGER and THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN were discovered in Mexico (I believe) and what exists of the serial version comes from those prints. I have no idea why Republic (or somebody) was allowed to keep the later feature version of THE LONE RANGER (1938) intact, but that exists in decent shape.

    More on topic, I wonder what happened to the original color prints of Al Capp’s LIL’ ABNER cartoons that Columbia made in the early ’40s? I seem to recall that only black-and-white TV prints had survived and they had been “colorized” (re-drawn animated, etc. at a South Korean animation studio) back in the ’70s – or early ’80s? – for TV syndication?

    • Leonard – the color prints of Columbia’s L’il Abner cartoons have been found. In fact they were found when I was curating the Columbia cartoon series “Totally Tooned In” for Sony Television in 1999. We used all four of them on that series, I believe. Unfortunately they are not very good. Here’s one of them on You Tube – click this link:

      • Jerry: Sadly, you are right!

        The colors seemed kind of “flat” from the print run on YouTube – and the same can be said for the cartoon itself. It didn’t have any LIFE to it whatsover. What a disappointment! I’ve never been a big fan of the LIL’ ABNER comic strips by Al Capp – they just seemed too weird and strange to me – but, I always hope for the best when a group of lost animated cartoons or shows turn up unexpectedly. Too bad Capp didn’t have more “creative control” of the series, but now that I think of it, he sure would have run afoul of cartoon censors – that’s for sure!

      • Actually, there were five L’il Abner cartoons. The fifth and final one “Kickapoo Juice”, only exist as a black and white print (and color redrawn) unless a color print has since been found.

  • You know, that brings up an interesting question. For so many color cartoons that had black-and-white prints made of them for TV “back in the day” – the ’40s SUPERMAN cartoons, even a number of ’40s MERRIE MELODIES, etc. and these LIL’ ABNER cartoons, etc. – with today’s computer technology, would it be possible in a few years maybe, for a digital system to “read” the gray tones in these prints and “de-code” what the color might be and have them digitally restored?

    • Too wacky of an idea, huh? I just wonder if someday, computer technology will be able to “read” various black-and-white and gray (grey?) tones that were originally in color and somehow print them out that way?

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