Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Tale of Two Terrys

It’s kind of funny that someone would interview Paul Terry at the dawn of sound cartoons about the use of sound in animation. Terry didn’t want to get into sound. Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic reveals that a dispute over switching from silent cartoons caused him to quit the studio he co-founded to set up his own company with Frank Moser in some kind of partnership with Audio-Cinema. However, reality must have struck him, or there was another reason he quit the Fables studio, as Terry’s new company never made a silent cartoon. Audio-Cinema seems to have vanished from the scene in 1931 (Terrytoon’s Bill Weiss told historian Leonard Maltin how the sheriff came to the door one day to shut down the company) and Moser was eased out in 1936.

Terry’s cartoons of 1930 are typical of what was coming out of New York at the time. Little dialogue to slow down the pace. Characters and things morphing into other things. Body parts as musical instruments. Dancing skeletons. Ethnic stereotypes as gags. Terry cartoons also featured angular layouts of cityscapes which still look neat. Oh, and lots of mice. Why mice? Terry addresses that in this news story that appeared in papers around June 23, 1930.

International News Service
Dramatic Editor
NEW YORK.—“Sound has helped the animated cartoon more than it has any other type of moving picture,” said Paul Terry, one of the pioneer creators of the animated cartoon, in an interview today.
Terry was the first to use animals as characters throughout a moving picture cartoon. “In the early days of animated cartoons, the mere fact that a drawing moved satisfied us. Then came emphasis on the quality of the story, next came ‘gags’ and the following development was the speeding up of the pictures.”
Every exposure in an animated cartoon must be drawn by hand. Then they are run together under the moving camera eye.
“We used to think 1200 drawings was a lot of work,” continued Terry. “But now 5,000 drawings are used in a picture and since cartoons became audible, the new method evolved is highly complicated.
Terry makes rough drawings to outline the story. The scenario, along with a chart showing the running time of each gag, then goes to Philip A. Scheib, orchestra conductor, who writes the musical score, makes individual orchestral arrangements and the various sound effects to be made in conjunction with the music.
With the use of a stop watch, a chart is made showing the exact time in, which the characters are moving, when the pause comes in a dance step, and how long a vocal note is held by a character—all to the fraction of a second.
The orchestra records the music on one strip of film while the drawings are photographed on another strip. To a third strip of film with a sound track, the sound is transferred first, and then the photography is transferred, completing the sound-on-film process.
Terry said he favored the use of a dog, cat and mouse in his cartoons, as the public was more familiar with these domestic animals than any others.
He pointed out that a commercial advantage of producing animated cartoons was that they are mostly sound, music and movement, so that they did not have to be changed for foreign markets as in the case of ordinary moving pictures.
“Our idea is to have the music so closely interwoven with the cartoons that one tells the story as well as the other,” said Scheib, the orchestral part of the team. Terry was born in San Mateo, Cal. He was formerly a newspaper cartoonist in Portland Oregon, San Francisco and New York. Fifteen years ago he started making animated cartoons. He originated the “Aesop’s Fables” series, made the “Farmer Alfalfa” animated cartoons and produced the first “Krazy Kat” series. Now he is blending sound with those thing-a-majigs for Educational Pictures.

Terry was part of one of the earliest brother combinations in commercial animation. John Terry animated for a time but chose to express himself in newspaper comics. He came up with a Lucky Lindy clone named Scorchy Smith. He didn’t draw Scorchy for long. Terry was infected with tuberculosis and died in 1934. This story and accompanying photo are from the Monitor-Index and Democrat, Moberly, Missouri, July 26, 1930.

Noted Artist Draws New Strip of Flying Adventures
Adventure is no stranger to John C. Terry, creator of Scorchy Smith, the story of a boy aviator’s daring exploits, which will appear as a daily strip in the Monitor-Index, beginning Monday.
A colorful career in the west, a host of exciting experiences in rugged mountain country and a keen interest in aviation combined to arouse Terry’s enthusiasm in creating the story of Scorchy.
Although Scorches fearless piloting and narrow escapes are fictitious, Terry places them, in realistic settings, of which he gained intimate, first-hand, knowledge through following the precarious trails of the Rockies during his youth.
Pioneer in Animated Cartoons.
Terry first won national fame as one of the pioneers in producing animated cartoons for movies. He is a brother of Paul Terry, creator of the animated “Aesop’s Fables” and the two have been recently associated in the production of animated drawings synchronized with sound.
Before entering the movie, business, John C. Terry was a cartoonist on a number of leading metropolitan newspapers in New York, San Francisco and other western cities. He participated in several notable political campaigns in the western copper districts while acting as staff cartoonist on a Montana newspaper.
Made Memorable “Beat”
In 1906, he won credit for a national picture “scoop” by sending out of the city the first photographs of the San Francisco quake and fire. He was spending a vacation near San Francisco when news of the disaster-reached him. Rushing to the scene, he obtained some excellent pictures and by a devious route, managed to place them on a train for Anaconda, Mont., where he was associated with the Standard at the time. The pictures were distributed from Anaconda to newspapers throughout that section and it was several days before any other photographs became available.
Similar thrilling experiences, his fertile brain and genius for vividly depicting action and breath-taking suspense are reflected in Terry’s latest creation,' find, the one he regards as his outstanding production, Scorchy Smith. Watch for it every day in the Monitor-Index.


  1. Interesting that Paul and John Terry both claimed to have taken the first photos of the SF earthquake. Paul was on staff at the SF Chronicle at the time of the earthquake, and they ran no photos during the disaster. I'll have to go through microfilm of the Anaconda Standard and try to find JT's photos. Additionally, seems like they have John Terry's chronology a little wrong: he didn't move to NY until 1916, but had been animating and involved in his own film production house in San Fransisco as early as 1914. Great post, haven't seen that John Terry article and photo in a few years.

  2. Great post! According to the Bronx White Pages, Audio-Cinema was still functioning up to mid-1933. But it was a failed investment of Griffith's flop of movie in 1931 that put them in the doghouse. -- What paper is the first article from?

  3. Hi, Jake. This Huntington Daily News of Pennsylvania was one of the papers that had the story, June 23, 1930, pg. 3.