April 8, 2015 posted by

“The Fresh Vegetable Mystery” (1939)


We’re heading over to Miami at Max Fleischer’s animation studio. Today’s entry is a 1939 Color Classic, populated by humanoid produce! (This draft is extracted from Leslie Carbaga’s The Fleischer Story.)

In some aspects, the low reputation of the Miami-made Fleischer cartoons is valid point. Their first feature, Gulliver’s Travels meant to bank on Disney’s Snow White triumph. The Betty Boop series was a shadow of its former self and the hopes of successful new series (Gabby, Stone Age, Animated Antics) were dashed, though the Superman series proved sensational with audiences.

Titles such as Cops Is Always Right, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, Wotta Nitemare, Hello-How Am I, It’s the Natural Thing to Do, and With Poopdeck Pappy, among others, prove that the Popeye series was still in top form.

The Color Classics were still consistently Disney-esque, often instigated by the unit headed by Myron Waldman, who later confessed that the Fleischer cartoons’ refinement was a mistake. However, The Fresh Vegetable Mystery is one Color Classic that is Disney-esque but with a darker tone.


In terms of credit, directing in East Coast animation studios was much different from the West Coast. It’s obviously impossible for credited director Dave Fleischer to have directed every cartoon released. He supervised the soundtracks and was heavily involved in the story sessions, at least during the first half of the 1930s. Almost always, the ‘head animator’ (the first credited animator) was the de-facto director. Fleischer/Famous expert Bob Jaques has said the amount of animation a head animator would be able to handle in a particular title would be minimal or none at all. In this case, time permitted for Tendlar to animate at least two shots. This misnomer has since left many head animators with an undeservedly low reputation, but we know better.

hard-egg250Dave Tendlar, the de-facto director of Vegetable Mystery, was a brilliant character designer for Fleischer, crafting characters that often veered on the grotesque (the main characters in The Cobweb Hotel and Greedy Humpty Dumpty are prime examples). Tendlar also had a keen eye for filmmaking when he started his own unit, no doubt inherited from his former protégé (and arguably the studio’s true auteur) Willard Bowsky. Note Tendlar’s use of dramatic angles/ composition and handling of transitions that amplify the tension (examples: scenes 9A-10 and scene 33).

shadow-250It’s wonderful to find out from the draft that Jack Ward and Bill Turner were responsible for the story, since they are uncredited in the final cartoon. The same goes for the uncredited animators, which included Eli Brucker (more info on him here), Irv Spector (later renowned for his story work at Famous), Bob Bentley, Nelson Demorest (both former Schlesinger animators for Tashlin), Tom Golden, John Walworth (two later Famous animators that drew a number of “funny animal” stories) and Edith Vernick – head of the inbetween department – who is credited for only one scene.

Fortunately, this (below) is the best looking copy of this cartoon I’ve ever seen. Hope you all enjoy this latest breakdown video!

The Draft (click each page to enlarge)



  • Nice breakdown. I always had a hard time figuring out who did what in a Fleischer’s cartoon (I do wish the cartoon would get a decent restoration).

    It’s interesting that the lead cop is given a name on the model sheet, despite the fact that every character is unnamed. It’s also amazing that the villain’s identity is still kept under wraps, even by the crew (Apparently he had crow’s feet during the early stages?).

  • The Fleischers knew the strengths of their various head animators/de-facto directors and the stories they handled usually played to those strengths. If they wanted a cartoon with a little menacing drama in with comedy, it would go to either the Bowsky or Tendlar units (who were the ones given the two-reel color Popeye assignments), while directors like Seymour Kneitel and Tom Johnson were better suited to straight comedy efforts, and Myron Waldman was given the ‘cute’ cartoons, whether it was Pudgy, Hunky & Spunky or the Raggedy Ann two-reeler.

    “Fresh Vegetable Mystery” is definitely a cartoon suited to either the Tendlar or Bowsky units, and the most memorable Color Classics, like this, “Play Safe” or “Small Fry”, tended to be the ones that got away from trying to mimic Disney’s color short subjects and went their own way (or went the way of Disney’s early feature films, which certainly did a good job of scaring the bejeezus out of the kids in the audience).

  • In today’s animation terminology, Dave Fleischer’s job title would probably be that of Supervising Director – someone who overseas all the product and shapes it’s overall direction, but stays away from the minutia involved in each production.

  • Hopefully someday Viacom will release the Color Classics on DVD (using what was left of the 35mm materials in their archive).
    Steve, maybe you could do a Color Classics set. That would be something!

  • Shouldn’t that read ‘mentor’ instead of ‘protégé ‘. Tendlar worked for Bowsky before he started (de facto) directing.

    • Damn – I thought I had that wrong! Thanks, Bob.

  • I’d caution the use of ‘auteur’ also. Strictly defined I suppose it’s OK (Bowsky’s cartoons do have a distinctive approach) but it’s probably good to remember ‘The Auteur Theory’ was a term coined in the mid-50’s to describe independent European directors like Goddard who were able to work without studio interference. Not sure how well that describes animating at Fleischers in the 30’s.

  • I saw this cartoon on “Matinee at the Bijou;” I think they ran an NTA/UM&M print. And it was fascinating to see the draft and model sheets in the “Fleischer Story” book, which I read not long after seeing the “Bijou” episode.

    Seeing the name Bill Sturm among the animators listed in the draft, I remember when I attended a church-run school in the late 70s. Some of its faculty invited recruiters from their alma mater, Bob Jones University, who showed us a cartoon they said was animated by Sturm, “who used to work for Disney” (they didn’t mention Fleischer). It featured a high school grad driving around in an anthropomorphized VW Beetle from college to college till he ended up at BJU. The brand-X colleges were depicted as ungodly, hedonistic, etc. Needless to say, I made no plans to move to Greenville.

  • This is one of those cartoons I would love to see restored. I’ve only seen it in dark, muddy prints (even the Somewhere In Dreamland ain’t that great) with jumpy cuts. I think it just might be a great cartoon if we could see it properly.

  • you should try making a new video for this Baxter’s Breakdown

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