Saturday, 19 January 2013


The Depression wouldn’t seem like a good time to open a cartoon studio, unless you had a tie-in with one of the major studios so your shorts could be block-booked with features. But several independents gave it a go anyway—with predictable results. They went nowhere.

We documented a bit of information about Mayfair Productions, which was all set to make “Skippy” cartoons for United Artists before a halt was put to the idea after a pilot cartoon was made. At least it had a deal with a bigger studio. That’s more than Tat’s Tales Productions could post.

Here we have the Film Daily Yearbook for 1937. A couple of studios are a mystery here but we’re focusing on Tat’s. Who’s Tat and what are his tales? I cobbled together a bit of information only to discover someone else had asked himself the same question and had decided to research for himself.

Daniel Francis Tattenham was born in Galveston, Texas on April 8, 1896 to Daniel F. and Dorothy (Meyer) Tattenham. By 1905, newspaper reports show the family was in San Francisco where his father was a deputy sheriff and active for many years in the Barber’s Union. He was working at the Chicago Tribune in 1919 because the paper ran a classified ad in June for an experienced air brush and layout man, with Tat as the contact. In 1928, he copyrighted something to do with colour motion pictures and submitted three reels to the U.S. Copyright Office. The following year, he had a private disc cut at Brunswick records for reasons unknown. He also belonged to the Photographers Union (through the January 1932 issue of International Photographer, the Chicago local bluntly announced he was no longer a member).

But then he ended up working for Walt Disney. The Dispatch-Democrat of Ukiah, California, dated July 17, 1931, has a note about Tat’s wife:
It will interest friends here who knew her as Dora Hoxie to learn that her husband is head cartoonist for “Mickey Mouse,” and that the Tattenhams have recently transferred their home from Chicago to Los Angeles in order to be nearer the studios for convenience in producing the famous talkies which are favorites with children of all ages.
“Head cartoonist” would seem to be a stretch.

But then Tat decided to strike out on his own. He apparently had his own studio by 1934 because Frank Tashlin’s biography written by Roger Garcia (1994) states that Tashlin worked there then. The book says, and refers to animation historian Mike Barrier:
The studio supposedly made a couple of fairy-tale cartoons but closed when they could not be sold. Apparently these films no longer exist. [Barrier has an undated group photo of the company's staff - including, in addition to Tashlin, Isadore Ellis, who in the mid-1940s would serve as an animator with Tashlin's unit at Warner Bros.]
The book calls Tat as “an advertising executive from San Francisco.” The studio is listed in the City Directory for 1936 and in the Film Daily directories for 1936 and 1937. But it seems probable the listings were already outdated. The studio was at 5515 Melrose Avenue. In the early ‘20s, it was the home of Rothacker-Allen, a film lab company. But on December 7, 1935 it formally became the new home of NBC in Hollywood, with an inaugural broadcast that date. Broadcasting magazine mentions nothing about Tat’s studio in its article on the grand opening published December 15th and considering the extensive renovations and space required by the network, it’s inconceivable the studio was still there at the time or had been for months. The Los Angeles Times reported on July 3rd that construction of the new NBC studios had begun the day before. It called the address the “site formerly occupied by Consolidated Film Industries,” and stated the building had “idle since the fire of 1929,” making no mention of Tat or a cartoon company (the fire on October 24, 1929, incidentally, killed one person and injured six. Insurance claims were not settled until 1935).

Census records in 1940 show Tat living in Oakland and running his own printing and advertising business, but his draft card signed in 1942 gives a Los Angeles address and shows him working for a company that made advertising signs. Tat died in Placerville, California on September 7, 1966.

Alas, our trail runs cold. There appears to be little concrete information about his colour photography discovery, his hiring by Walt Disney, his studio or his Tales. It would seem his career in animation was brief. Daniel Tattenham would appear to be just another footnote in the story of the Golden Age of Theatrical Cartoons.

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