Saturday, 23 February 2013

Prognostications of J.R. Bray

Who in 1924 could have predicted Bugs Bunny, let alone something like “Fantasia”? Animated cartoons made big strides, especially once sound, colour and the drive of Walt Disney came into play. How different were things in 1924. Disney was just beginning to try to make his name with the Alice comedies, a combination of animation and live action. Felix the Cat and J.R. Bray’s Heeza Liar were big cartoon stars. And Max Fleischer was building his own distribution company while impressing critics with his rotoscoped clown.

Let’s go back through the pages of The Film Daily, a New York-based trade paper, and see what happened in the animated world in the first six months of 1924. Perhaps the most interesting things are articles by exhibitors and producers in a special short subject edition. We’ve reprinted a piece by J.R. Bray (a few words are missing) and one about Margaret Winkler. Following the news stories, you can read reviews of some of the cartoons.

January 20, 1924
Song Cartoons Planned by Harris and Fleischer
Red Seal—State Rights Distribution—To Be in One Reel

Chas. K. Harris and Max Fleischer of Out-of-the-Inkwell Films arranged with Red Seal Pictures to produce a series of old-time animated song cartoons. A perfect synchronization of popular song music with animated cartoons is promised. The first release is now in work and will be finished in the next few weeks. Strict secrecy is being maintained as to just how the effects are going to be produced, but it is known that some rather unusual machinery has just been devised and installed in the Out-of-the-Inkwell studios, in c[] to handle this novelty properly.
The series will be distributed by Red Seal through state right exchanges.

February 20, 1924
In The Courts
Pat Sullivan, producer of the Felix Animated Cartoons, has filed suit in the Supreme Court against Margaret J. Winkler, for a court ruling as to whether she has an option for his next series of 24 cartoons. He said he has turned over all of the series contracted for except one which he is ready to deliver, but she contends that she has an option on another series. Sullivan contends that the agreement between them is void because it is too uncertain.
Miss Winkler stated yesterday she held a bona fide option with Sullivan and that, after two years of work in building up the Felix cartoons, she did not intend relinquishing her rights on the new group.

Action On "Outline"
J. R. Bray to See H. G. Wells While in England—Former Has New Projector

John R. Bray, president of Bray Prod. Inc., sails for England Saturday on the Berengaria for a four weeks' trip. While there, he expects to visit H. G. Wells, author of "The Outline," which the former has held controlled for pictures for some time.
Bray and Wells will probably discuss the actual production of "The Outline" which the former has held since May, 1922. It has been reported at various times that Bray intended producing the work in cartoon form. He has perfected what he calls the Brayco, a compact projector that is said to be smaller than a desk telephone. It would come as no surprise to learn that the making of "The Outline" and the sale of the Brayco will be closely connected.

March 9, 1924
Bray Placed in N. W.
(Special to THE FILM DAILY)
Seattle—J. Kopfstein, associated with J. R. Bray, has placed the following with Greater Features, Inc., The "Bray Magazine," "Bobby Bumps," and "Jerry on the Job" cartoons and "Secrets of Nature" educational subjects.

March 23, 1924
"Funshop," New Educ'l Release
Maxson Foxsal Judell, author of "Black Must Be Read" which appears in many theater programs in New York is the producer of a new reel called "Funshop" to be released every week by Educational. Tie-ups with newspapers in many cities have been made. The reel will contain sayings by well-known authors and a 200 ft. cartoon strip on "Mother Goose" by Max Fleischer.

April 17, 1924
Fadman Going to Coast
Edwin M. Fadman, [sic] of Red Seal, will leave shortly on a sales trip to the Coast. He will take with him a series of "Funny Face" comedies, and "Marcus Cartoons" which his company recently acquired.

May 11, 1924
The Felix Vogue
England Takes to the Famous Cat-
Experiences of the Only Woman Distributor of Short Subjects

Everybody knows Felix—the funny cat. Felix has brought laughter and life to many an otherwise dead program. And while America seems to have appreciated Felix considerably from the box-office view point, over in England—and they do say Englishmen have no sense of humor—Felix has walked right in, stood them on their heads and walked right out again. In London today Felix is the recipient of an honor in that the most popular song of the day is entitled "Felix Kept On Walking" and it is being sung by many music hall performers. There are Felix handkerchiefs, Felix toys, Felix chinaware and an actor in vaudeville is made up to resemble Felix and struts in the same manner as Felix's peculiar little walk.
Back of Felix is Pat Sullivan the cartoonist. Few know Sullivan but there is hardly anyone who doesn't know Margaret J. Winkler, the only woman distributor of short subjects in the business. Up to 1921 Margaret Winkler—she's married now and has another name—was secretary to Harry Warner. Because of the Federated Convention on the Coast she was taken there by Harry Warner and later she decided to get into the business on her own. She looked about for material and decided upon Felix which had been shown for three years on the Paramount schedule. Since then her success has been most unusual.
Felix is in distribution in practically every part of this country and the foreign rights are reported to be working out very successfully.
Now, in addition to Felix, Miss Winkler is handling the Alice series and in the Fall will start distribution on a series of two reelers based on a series of poems written by Edgar A. Guest and published in Red Book and other well known magazines. The Felix cartoons are distributed through the King Newspaper Feature service and it is reported that the Geo. Borgfeldt Co., will have a line of Felix toys.

Box Office Builders
Possibilities of The Short Length Feature For The Wise Showman

By J. R. Bray
I am going to preface my comments with a prediction. The prediction—and I make it without qualification or reservation—is this: There is going to be—in fact there are many instances that it has already begun—a marked increase in interest among the more progressive exhibitors everywhere in the short length attractions in their programs during the coming summer.
Many exhibitors who hitherto have been more or less indifferent to the kind of entertainment they have provided their patrons in the shorter subjects on their bill, are going to give this part of their program vastly more consideration.
They will do this because the big [ ] feature, whether cartoon, comedy or scenic, or all three combined, have a special appeal of its own for the hot weather audience and one which can be made to equal and often excel the drawing power of the triple reel feature, if adequately advertised and exploited.
This means; of course, that the exhibitor must use care and showmanship in selecting the subjects for his full-length program, just as he does choosing his main attraction, for I cannot profess to maintain that all short subjects will prove box office winners, any more than all big features will.
There is now such an increasing variety of good short length attractions to select from, however, that I am sure no exhibitor who takes customary care will have any difficulty in securing subjects that will please his patrons and increase his box office receipts, especially if he gives them a part of the consideration he gives the larger feature.
Recent reports from exhibitors in vastly different sections indicate that many theaters this summer are planning to set aside one or two days a week on which they are going show a program exclusively made up of short features.
They are also going to build up this part of their program on other days of the week with greater care than formerly, and many state that they intend to call increased attention to this part of their bill in their []y, program, screen or newspaper advertising.
The reasons that they give for doing this are twofold. One is that they recognize the growing interest among their patrons for the better type of short length picture and the fact that they believe it to be ideal for summer entertainment. The other is that many exhibitors are convinced that there is going to be a decided let-down in quality in a majority of the multiple-reel pictures released this summer and so are turning to the shorter subjects to strengthen their program and hold their patronage.

May 25, 1924
Acquires New Holmes Series
Margaret J. Winkler has secured distribution of a new series of 26 Burton Holmes travel pictures. They will be state righted. Miss Winkler is also handling the Alice comedies and a new group of 24 "Felix, the Cat" cartoons. The difficulties existing between her and Pat Sullivan, the producer have been straightened.
Nat Levine has been appointed general sales manager for Miss Winkler, who together with C. B. Mintz, her husband, leaves for the coast shortly to secure new product.

June 19, 1924
Tie-Up on "Felix" Dolls
Arrangements have been made with the George Borgfeldt & Co., importers and exporters, for the manufacture of a "Felix" doll, to exploit the famous cat series. The doll retails at $1, and the Liggett Drug Co., has purchased them for their stores.

June 22, 1934
New Earl Hurd Series
A new series of 13 Earl Hurd Cartoon Comedies will be included in the 1924-25 Educational program, along the lines of "Pen and Ink Vaudeville". The Lyman H. Howe Hodge-Podge group will be continued. There will be 12 subjects in the new series.


January 13, 1924
"The Black Sheep"—Aesop Fable—Pathe
Nice Little Cartoon
Type of production . . 1 reel animated cartoon
"The Black Sheep" is entirely up to the usual good standard of this cartoon series. The drawings are cute, the action amusing and the animation smooth. The little story deals with a pup who is considered the black sheep of his family and is thrown out of the family kennel. However, he performs several brave deeds for which he is rewarded by a farmer with a medal and a huge plate of bones which he bears proudly home as a peace-offering.

January 20, 1924
"Pen and Ink Vaudeville"—Earl Hurd
Amusing Cartoon Number
Type of production . . 1 reel cartoon
To get the most out of this Earl Hurd cartoon you'll have to have an orchestra. It can be used without it, of course, but not to as good advantage. The reel consists of a burlesque on a vaudeville show with the orchestra providing a wild accompaniment to the various acts, all of which are humorously sketched and naturally much exaggerated. It's a good novelty number that will give your program variation and offers a good number of laughs.

February 17, 1924
"Felix Loses Out"—Pat Sullivan
Amusing Cat Love
Type of production . . 1 reel cartoon
Pat Sullivan has his cats perform many comical antics in his latest cartoon, called "Felix Loses Out." Indeed Felix can't compete with his rival when it comes to love-making even though he rigs up a tin lizzie to compete with the other cat's home-made wagon. The cartoon isn't as funny as some of Sullivan's Felix numbers but they'll get enough laughs out of it to satisfy.

March 2, 1924
"The All Star Cast"—Aesop Fable—Pathe
Good Cartoon Comedy
Type of production. . .1 reel animal cartoon.
This is a diverting number of Paul Terry's animated cartoon fables showing all the different acts of a vaudeville show at the Animals' Opera House. Should be good for a number of laughs, especially for the children in your audience.

March 9, 1924
"Song Cartoons"—Charles K. Harris and Max Fleischer
Well Handled Novelty
Type of production . . 1 reel novelty
Here's a new idea in song reels, presented by Charles K. Harris, the music publisher who is responsible for the songs and Max Fleischer whose animated cartoons skip nimbly from word to word of the song and lend much charm and some laughs. There is no picturization of the action described in the song—simply the words which run along the screen in large single-line type that moves slowly from right to left in time to the music and on which the tiny cartoon figures dance. The songs included are "Mother, Mother, Mother, Pin a Rose on Me," "Come Take a Trip in My Airship" and "Goodbye, My Lady Love."

April 13, 1924
"A Trip to Mars"—Max Fleischer Red Seal
Some New Tricks
Type of production. . .1 reel cartoon
Max Fleischer continues to inject originality and novelty into his cartoon numbers. His latest, "A Trip to Mars," on the Rivoli program last week, is a clever and amusing number that shows the cartoonist at his best and with his pen clown performing a series of comedy tricks that will amuse and entertain any audience. The clown is sent, via a sky-rocket, to Mars where Fleischer installs all sorts of grotesque, imaginary beings. The artist appears in his film as usual and makes a flying trip to Mars himself through means of trick photography. This is an A1 cartoon number, a good novelty and quite amusing.

May 11, 1924
"A Stitch In Time"—Max Fleischer—Red Seal
Exceedingly Clever Cartoon
Type of production . . 1 reel cartoon comedy
Max Fleischer's imp of the inkwell tries a new stunt this time. The artist sews him together instead of drawing him, as usual. The imp grabs the needle and the artist his pen and they have a duel. Finally sliding off the paper the little imp gets the spool of cord and ties up everything in the artist's home, much to the amusement of the audience. Cats, puppies, pictures, chairs, all are tied with cord, which is finally untangled by the artist and the imp put safely back in the inkbottle. There is the usual deft handling of actual photography and cartoon work seen in the Fleischer offerings. The audience at the Rialto liked this a lot.

May 25, 1924
"One Good Turn Deserves Another"—Aesop Fable—Pathe
Entertaining Cartoon
Type of production . . 1 reel animated cartoon.
A little pup is befriended by a mouse who cuts a tin can off the doggie's tail. In return, the dog saves the mouse when a swarm of cats are about to kill him. That's the basic idea, but Paul Terry has enlarged upon it with clever animation and cute little tricks of expression and the finished cartoon is entirely entertaining as a result.

Two of the editions have a list of what’s purported to be all short subjects that were released from September 1, 1923 to May 31, 1924. I won’t include it but here’s a summary: Film Booking Offices (723 7th Ave., New York) released the Heeza Liar titles from Bray Prod., Inc. (130 W. 46th, New York) until September 1923; Selznick Pictures Corp. (729 7th Ave., New York) took over distribution in November. Pathé Exchange Inc. (35 W. 45th St., New York) released a new Aesop’s Fables (133 W. 52nd, New York) short every Sunday. Max Fleischer’s Red Seal Pictures (1600 Broadway, New York) put out an Out of the Inkwell cartoon roughly every month while M.J. Winkler (220 W. 42d St., N. Y.) gave the world a new Felix the Cat from the Pat Sullivan studio (1947 Broadway) every other week as well as the monthly Alice Comedies. No other cartoon releases are mentioned. Earl Hurd’s studio was at Kew Gardens, Long Island.

While “Alice’s Sea Story” was the first short delivered by Disney to Winkler in December 1923, The Film Daily of May 11, 1924 reveals it wasn’t the first to be released. It states “Alice’s Wild West Show” was released March 1, 1924, followed by “Alice’s Spooky Adventures” one month later and “Alice’s Sea Story” on May 1, 1924. Ray Pointer has an excellent look at the history of these shorts HERE.

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