Saturday, 5 April 2014

Meaningless Money of Paul Terry

On January 2, 1956, Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine reported “CBS was in the final stages of a transaction with Terrytoon Inc., under which CBS would acquire the assets of the film animation company for about $5 million.” Later reports put the figure between three million and five million. Regardless, every single penny went to one man—Paul Terry, who took his instant new fortune and walked away from the cartoon business. This was a man who less than five years earlier insisted he wasn’t close to retirement and he wasn’t really in it for the money.

The sale came less than two months after the city of New Rochelle, New York changed its name for a day to “Terrytown” and honoured Terry on the 25th anniversary of moving his cartoon studio there.

Terry had already made a little bundle from CBS. Variety reported on November 11, 1953 that 112 sound shorts had been sold to the network for $140,000. A Billboard story dated four days earlier stated General Mills had agreed to a sponsorship deal. There had been rumours the previous June, according to Billboard that month, that 20th Century Fox was looking at releasing a number of the Terrytoons to TV. But Terry owned the cartoons, not Fox. So Terry quite wisely cut out the middle man and pocketed the cash himself.

Terry had been looking at television as early as 1951. He mentioned it in an interview with Hal Boyle of the Associated Press that appeared in papers on July 13th as he painted himself as a roly-poly veteran of the cartoon world who just wanted people to laugh. Money? It’s there to make better cartoons, he said. Anyone familiar with the 1950s Terrytoons may wonder how he said it with a straight face.

Cartooning Is Big Business to Paul Terry Creator, of Terrytoon Animated Flickers

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (AP)—Laughter is an industry today and cartooning is a big business.
A top chuckle-smith in this field is Paul Terry, creator of Terrytoons and a pioneer of the animated cartoon.
Some 40,000,000 moviegoers each week enjoy the antics of his famous characters—Mighty Mouse, Dinky the Duck, the Two Terry Bears, and Heckle and Jeckle, the talking magpies.
At 64, Terry well may have made more people laugh more often than any man in history. But he himself has remained little known to the public. That suits him.
“Put your roots in the minds of as many people as you can,” he said. “Minds are all that count. Anybody who goes out for dollars alone is crazy.”
Soon his big rambling studio here will put out the 1,000th Terrytoon. That leaves the cheerful, portly artist only one goal in life:
“To make 1,000 more. I never want to retire. If a fellow sets a time that he’s going to retire—whether at 35, 55, or 65—he’s through as of the time he mentally decides he’s going to retire.”
BACK IN 1915 Terry quit two jobs as a comic strip and newspaper artist to make his first film cartoon. It was called “Little Herman,” and it took him two months working alone in his own living room to make the 1,000 separate drawings for the five-minute feature.
“Now our cartoons run seven minutes,” he said. “They have 8,000 to 10,000 drawings, and it takes 85 people eight months to produce one for the screen.”
The studio turns out 26 cartoons a year now, all in technicolor. His staff also puts out several million comic books a year and is working on a television show.
“We haven’t worked out the format yet,” Terry said. “But I’m sure it will stick basically to children, cartoons and animals.”
Terry won his first wide recognition with his series of Aesop Fable cartoons in the days of silent films.
“I had to out-Aesop Aesop himself,” he recalled. “Aesop told 220 fables originally. But I eventually put out 240 more—460 altogether. Sometimes I wonder if Aesop is waiting for me to give me plenty for what I did to his stories.”
EACH CARTOON now costs up to $50,000 to produce. Over the years Terry has ploughed his profits back into his studio, trying to improve the art of animation.
“There is no sense in accumulating money,” he said. “Only people who are afraid try to accumulate money. I have more faith in the pictures I make than in dollars. The dollars I make are no good to me until I turn them into another picture.”
Terry believes cartooning still has a fabulous future, and this is advice to the young kid learning to draw:
“There’ll always be room for the top ones. But it’ll always be tough for the ones who don’t grow mentally. This trouble comes if they are too clever too young. They peter out and don’t develop. Anyone can learn to draw, but to succeed—growth must be endless.”
He recently put his own philosophy in a lyric, “The Miracle,” set to music by his old friend, Phil Scheib, who has composed original scores for all the Terrytoons.
“Every day is a miracle to me,” he said. “Life has been good. The world is better than it was, and it is still getting better.”
With a twinkle in his eye, Terry added stoutly:
“And that’s no Aesop fable.”


  1. “There is no sense in accumulating money,” he said. “Only people who are afraid try to accumulate money. I have more faith in the pictures I make than in dollars. The dollars I make are no good to me until I turn them into another picture.”

    Terrytoons was trying to create new characters for their CinemaScope cartoons about at this time, one of whom was Phoney Baloney, a congenital liar. Based on the above quote, you'd think Mr. Story Department would have been able to write those all by himself in about 15 minutes time.

  2. Even Phoney Baloney went back to the mid 1930s in cartoons like FROZEN FEET. *sigh*

  3. Given that Paul Terry once described himself as the Woolworth's of animation studios to Walt Disney's Tiffany, it is one of the highest ironies, given what has been written about the quality (or lack thereof) of Terrytoons over the decades (both when he was in charge and after he sold out and cashed in), that when Disney started out in the 1920's he sought to emulate Terry's "Aesop's Fables" silents. Obviously Disney's emulation ultimately didn't extend to his business practices or his approach to producing animated cartoons . . .

    1. Well, Disney did in one way. He made sure after the Oswald situation he owned the rights to his films and characters. Terry did the same thing (after having shoved Frank Moser out of the picture) and it paid off very well for him.