August 29, 2013 posted by

What is “A Fabletoon”?

It’s been more than a busy week here and continues to be, but a cartoon showing is still in order!

When I was first collecting cartoons, I found this film in a giant stack of odd reels being sold by a guy named Jerry Nelson. Jerry was a well known dealer who would also go to the film collector shows, usually with a batch of unmarked or poorly marked reels of every kind of film imaginable. Some collectors and dealers would make sure things
were labeled before selling them, but not Jerry- he’d haul those milk crates full of films right into the show, the trail of disintegrating film smell trailing strongly behind him as he carried them (a side note: acetate film prints start to emit a foul smell as they return to the earth, sort of like old plastic purses smell and get sticky. This has been termed ‘Vinegar Syndrome’ because of the smell, but it’s really just the organic materials in the acetate breaking down).

Jerry must have been in his late 70’s when I first met him at a show, and that was after buying quite a few things from him over the years. He was always very kind. I would usually look for his ad first when the film collector magazine came. It was called ‘The Big Reel’ and big it was- it was folded in half on newsprint and sent with a white newsprint cover surrounding it. At one point he had a whole bunch of Scrappys on his list… and I remember making a deal with him (and
giving him whole paychecks from my high school job) to buy a handful each week. He also had a whole slew of Columbia Rhapsodies (most in original IB technicolor) that were more beat up than almost any film I’ve ever owned. I remember calling him many times right when I got the paper, trying to buy whatever treasure he had for $10 or something, usually being beat to the punch by likely some of the cartoon collectors that are reading this now. Jerry would pause, looking at his list and say, “No, no Steve.. I’m sorry, it’s sold”.

At the film show it was another story- his boxes were usually full of stuff that he hadn’t looked at yet. He handed me a roll of masking tape once and asked me to label as I went along!

In one of those boxes in 1984 or so was this cartoon, The Black Duck, released by Film Highlights. It’s clearly a silent Aesop’s Fable from the late 20’s, but what is really great about it is an amazingly bizarre soundtrack that appears to be half ad-libbed if not almost entirely, with a nice musical score by Winston Sharples.

I especially like “Hiya Kid…. meet me. I’m Butch the Cat from over the hill. I bet you get tired of lookin’ at dem dare ducks!”.

A few years later I found another, A Lad and His Lamp, also with the ‘Fabletoon’ titles. My guess is that these tracks were done in the late 30s or early 40s (from the sound of the Sharples scores), composed for these particular films rather than stock music. Paul Terry gets complete credit for the animation here, with Sharples getting the sole other credit. Maybe one of our other cartoon-ologists will know more about these two releases than I do, or if there are others in this series. For now, here’s A Lad and His Lamp too:


  • Neat story! Wish we had someone like Mr Nelson over here, but no such luck.

  • Those were ,without a doubt,two of the weirdist toons I’ve ever seen! But they were also very entertaining!With just the silent animation alone,it rivals anything the Fleischers or Van Buren did in the early talkie era! I like it in A Lad And His Lamp when the king cat says to the mouse he’s dueling with “Pick up your head!” It just adds to the strangeness of it all!

  • “Pick up your head!” Wow!, this one is terrific!

    And, oh, sure! Who doesn’t remember Jerry? Always amazed me the sheer volume of film he (and a handful of other super collectors) regularly turned over. I mean, who’d have the time to identify much less sit down and look at all that stuff?

  • When I ran some early Terrytoons like these during my ANIMAFEASTIVAL ’79 with Bob Clampett four or five animation buffs were furious. “Why are you showing us this junk!” they said storming out of the theater.

    When the films were done those who had seen them were loud in their thanks. Many had never seen an early Terrytoon.

  • Here’s a bit about the releasing company, from ‘The Film Daily,’ Jan. 10, 1946:

    Martin Ross, for the past 10 years associated with Films, Inc. as a sales executive, has formed his own company for the production and distribution of 16 mm. and 8 mm. sound and silent short subjects. The company will operate under the name of Film Highlights, Inc. at 330 W. 42nd St., New York City. Maj. Manny Jacobs, recently discharged from the Army Signal Corps, motion picture division, will be in charge of production.

    Television was still fairly nascent so it could be they were for home viewing.

    • Well that clears up the mystery a little.

  • the big reel. gosh, I had forgotten all about that. i’ll bet I have some of those fliers buried somewhere.

    thanks for posting those cartoons. kind of a shock to see blood pouring out of the fox’s mouth as he dies at 5:45 in the black duck.

    • I loved THE BIG REEL! Had a couple ads placed in it myself!

  • Same here, don’t know of any others in this particular series of releases. Maybe because the others haven’t turned up.

  • Here’s an ad for Film Highlights. With there were more Fabletoons to view.,+Inc.+at+330+W.+42nd+St.,+New+York+City.&source=bl&ots=CSaL-LBd1c&sig=ACfU3U0gDmQZXcXMbztXXXhzjaUPmap4_w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi7nJK85uL8AhVMj4kEHRWYDAQ4ChDoAXoECAIQAw#v=onepage&q=Film%20Highlights%2C%20Inc.%20at%20330%20W.%2042nd%20St.%2C%20New%20York%20City.&f=false,+Inc.+at+330+W.+42nd+St.,+New+York+City.&source=bl&ots=CSaL-LBg_7&sig=ACfU3U2J_iOGRccRvEdnljYVwydP2CrgYw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjapre65-L8AhV-j4kEHRaSDo04ChDoAXoECAIQAw#v=onepage&q=Film%20Highlights%2C%20Inc.%20at%20330%20W.%2042nd%20St.%2C%20New%20York%20City.&f=false

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *