Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Lost Cartoons of MGM

The MGM cartoon studio seems to have gone through more abandoned projects and units than anywhere else, though it may be a case of information about the other studios not surfacing. Boxoffice magazine had brief mentions of them at the time, possibly planted by Rose Joseph, who had been Leon Schlesinger’s P.R. department before going over to Metro.

The studio’s unit system was a little awkward at the beginning, with Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising “supervising” the directorial work of others, including Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, as well as Jerry Brewer. Then things settled down with Hanna and Barbera in charge of one unit, Tex Avery another (September 1941), and George Gordon a third (July 1942). Gordon left in 1943 and the third unit vanished for a bit. Then Boxoffice mentioned on July 28, 1945:

TONY RIVERA has joined the cartoon department as a layout artist assigned to the “Barney Bear” unit.
Producer Fred Quimby’s Technicolor cartoon, “Rivets Stay Away From My Door,” introduces a new cartoon character, Rivets, a robot.


The Barney Bear unit seems to have been in a state of flux for months. Mike Barrier’s fine Hollywood Cartoons states that Mike Lah and Preston Blair began to co-direct the Barneys (only three were made) in early 1946. But before that happened, yet another MGM unit was announced in Boxoffice. Kind of. From December 15, 1945:

Quimby Organizing Cartoon Unit To Be Staffed by Ex-Service Men 
A new cartoon unit, to be staffed exclusively by returned service men, is being organized by Fred Quimby, chief of M-G-M’s shorts department. In the group, slated for assignment to the Barney Bear unit under the supervision of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, co-directors of the Tom and Jerry series, are Bill Williams and Ralph Tiller (AAF), Jack Cosgriff and Chuck Couch (U.S. navy), Vonda Bronson Wise and Kathleen Coyle (WAVES).

The best-known names may be Cosgriff and Couch. Cosgriff had been writing for Lantz and then Columbia before the war broke out. His name first appears on an MGM cartoon released in 1949 (Tex Avery’s “House of Tomorrow”) but he spent at least a year at Lantz again before that. Couch worked at Disney through the ’30s before being hired to write at Lantz.

So what happened to the unit? Your guess is as good as mine.

You’ll also notice the mention of a cartoon about Rivets the robot. Boxoffice announced the production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse” by the Hanna-Barbera unit about a month earlier. Newspapers actually announced it twice; I’ve found stories about Rivets published August 20, 1945 and again on October 19th. So it appears the end of the war wasn’t responsible for Rivets’ abortive screen career.

In leafing through Boxoffice, there are mentions of other cartoons that vanished from the production schedule, with the exception of “Lucky Ducky.”

December 16, 1944
Fred Quimby’s next slated cartoon is “The Thin Mouse.” First of a series to satirize the features. It will be a pen-and-ink burlesque of “The Thin Man.”


October 20, 1945
“Our Vine Street Has Tender Wolves,” Technicolor cartoon travesty starring animation stars, Red Hot Riding Hood and Wally Wolf, will be directed by TEX AVERY for FRED QUIMBY, producer.


May 10, 1947
Cartoons "Lucky Ducky," "Lovey Dovey" and "Oily to Bed," the latter starring Droopy the Ponderous Pooch, set to roll with Fred Quimby producing and Tex Avery directing.


Wally Wolf? Did Avery really call him that? Likely not. In fact, some of these mysterious cartoons may have been news to the directors who were supposed to be making them. Thad Komorowski, who has a list of MGM cartoon production numbers on his site, has commented “For the record, a lot of these were just fake titles ‘leaked’ by the MGM publicity department, often with no basis on what was actually going on in the cartoon studio.”

Here’s what Metro (or perhaps Quimby) trumpeted to Boxoffice in the first half of 1950.

January 21, 1950
“I’ll Be Skiing You” is the latest in Producer Fred Quimby’s cartoon series covering sports subjects.

February 11, 1950
Gil Warren, radio news commentator, was signed by Producer Fred Quimby to do the narration for the Technicolor cartoon, “You Auto Be in Pictures.”

February 25, 1950
“Jerry O’Mouse” is scheduled as the third in the foreign-locale series of Technicolor cartoons to be produced by Fred Quimby. The cartoon will be backgrounded in Ireland.

April 8, 1950
Slated for production as a Technicolor cartoon is “Tom Van Winkle.” Fred Quimby will produce the new adventure of “Tom Cat,” in which the feline gets hit on the head with a bowling ball and wakes up in the atomic age.

April 22, 1950
Scheduled as a new Tom and Jerry Technicolor cartoon was “Cat Carson,” to be produced by Fred Quimby.
“Jerry’s Dream Mouse” is being prepared by Producer Fred Quimby as a new entry in the Tom and Jerry Technicolor series.

May 13, 1950
Producer Fred Quimby has slated “Lighthouse Mouse” as a new Tom and Jerry cartoon.

June 10, 1950
“Putty Cat” has been added to the 1950-51 slate of Tom and Jerry cartoons by Producer Fred Quimby.


“You Auto Be in Pictures” might be Avery’s “Car of Tomorrow” (1951); Warren did provide narration in it. But the rest of the shorts were never made. Finally, in the July 15th edition, Boxoffice announces the Barney Bear cartoon “Wise Little Quacker,” the first cartoon Dick Lundy directed when he arrived at the studio on May 15, 1950 and made it to screens in late 1952. Some of the titles might have made good cartoons, though “Tom Van Winkle” sounds like a ‘60s Tom and Jerry by Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow, to be honest.

The most intriguing cartoon of all is mentioned in the December 9, 1952 edition of the Los Angeles Times, written by Edwin Schallert, the father of actor Bill Schallert. My thanks to Mark Kausler for deciphering the contents of the column.

Full-Length Tom, Jerry Cartoon Anticipated
While this may be away off as yet in fulfillment, there is a dream, at least, of a feature-length Tom and Jerry cartoon. And it’s about time, too. Fred Quimby’s animations in the short pictures released by MGM have already won an array of Oscars. It is logical that the progression should he achieved to the longer type of films, which have brought such manifest distinction to Walt Disney.
It comes to me from a very special unofficial source that the picture contemplated will involve Robin Hood type characters, with Tom and Jerry as valiant allies of whoever is proceeding rightly. And again it may be that the cat will be mixed up in his amusing fashion in sinister plotting.
Incidentally, Quimby and his directors, Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, were due to join Gene Kelly in England this week to work on the cartoon in “Invitation to the Dance.” Not Kelly but children will take part in this with the animations if these are included. However the chances are that the cartoon part will be shot here and naturally this episode would follow a general form of Kelly’s dance with the mouse in “Anchors Aweigh,” and one lately devised for “Dangerous When Wet.”


As we all know, no feature cartoon was ever made at MGM.

The clipping you see to the right comes from Boxoffice of December 23, 1944. It may be tied in to this story in the March 27, 1943 edition:

Under the supervision of Executive Producer FRED QUIMBY, a series of cartoons featuring stories familiar to citizens of Latin America will be launched. First production is to be “Panchito y el Lobo,” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” adapted from the universally known fable. Spanish main titles will be used with American sub-titles as subjects are slated for U.S. and foreign release.

While no series appears to have been made, the cartoon mentioned in the story was produced, after a name-change. You can see it below.

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