Saturday, 28 June 2014

Drooping Cigars and a Throwaway Dime

“Subtle humorist” is not how many would view Paul Terry. What’s subtle about Mighty Mouse? Or Heckle and Jeckle? But when someone is 82 years old, you cut them a bit of slack. Thus the Yonkers Herald Statesman bestowed that moniker on Terry in a profile published March 19, 1969.

Terry survived being cut adrift by Amadee Van Beuren at the advent of sound cartoons in 1929. He formed his own studio and survived into the era of network television via coaxial cable in the early 1950s. Along the way, he produced cartoons that paled in comparison to what was being put on screens by every other studio, even as his staff duplicated some of their ideas. Yet Terry had no pretentions and that somehow was reflected in his films, to their benefit. And some of today’s fans, perhaps tired of the bashing that Terrytoons have received in some quarters, point out the merits of the work of the individuals who worked on them, such as Jim Tyer, Carlo Vinci and Art Bartsch.

So let’s turn our attention to the aforementioned newspaper feature story. A comment about the Terry studio “infrequently working around the clock” doesn’t make sense in context of the point the author is making. And there’s a glaring composition error that, somehow, seems appropriate to a story on Terry.

Paul Terry, At 82, Still Calls The Toon
By CARMEL MARCHIONNI

The antics of “Little Herman” which originated in animated cartoon more than a half century ago, were the brainchild of a subtle humorist from Westchester County.
A struggling pioneer in his field in 1915, Paul Terry is the originator of the rib–tickling Terrytoons. He sold his first cartoon for $1.35 a foot . . . today it is not unusual to get anywhere between $100 and $165 a foot.
At 82, Mr. Terry attributes his success to simplicity in everything he undertakes. He has been living at the Westchester Country Club in Harrison since 1942. His daughter, Pat Leighton, lives in Yonkers.
Considering photography as an experimental media, he started his career as a cameraman handling a flash powder type instrument which more often than not would explode in someone’s face.
He worked on and off for the San Francisco Examiner until he became interested in pursuing his family art background only to choose cartooning as his particular delight.
The most vivid recollection of his early days was the taking of a picture of a murderer in an Oakland, Calif., courtroom and being threatened with jail by the presiding judge.
In another incident, a black-faced woman chased him a few blocks after he took a flash picture of her.
Mr. Terry recalls with pleasure the time he shared a studio at 50th Street in New York City with Robert Ripley of “Believe It Or Not” fame. His greatest problem in the past was the tremendous amount of talent stolen from him. As soon as he trained a good animator, someone would come along and “raid” him. This left him with his cigar pointing downwards, “a sure sign of trouble” as far as his employes were concerned. The cigar served as a barometer for his moods.
One of his particular brainstorms Mr. Terry claims was stolen from him by contemporary humorists, was the saying . . . “When I feel like exercising
I lay down ‘til the feeling wears off.”
This was factualized by his staff who always saw him rush into his office in the morning and quickly close the door behind him. He would impress upon them the idea of an idea in evolution while, in reality, he claims originality with the psychiatrist’s couch . . . napping for hours on end in his office.
Mr. Terry produced about 52 cartoons a year and possibly produced more pictures on film than any other man in the country. He worked his studio a seven-day week simply by not worrying about daylight.
He shut the drapes on his windows and infrequently worked around the clock.
Mr. Terry’s talent came naturally — his mother was an accomplished sculptress, his brother was an artist and he had two sisters who enjoyed working on silver and sculpting.
The cartoonist lost his wife, Erma Heimlich Terry, last Jan. 7, ending 45 years of marriage.
Mrs. Terry was originally an artist employed by Paul Terry’s brother, John.
She quit and went to work for the man who was to become her husband and, according to Mr.
She quit and went to work for her.
The 1929 stock market crash found him in the middle of a party he had been throwing. Mr. Terry said nothing to his guests who continued to dance. He later took a walk along the Hudson River line in the Bronx and threw his last dime away in order “to start from scratch.”
He came to 115 Beech Ave., Larchmont, in 1925, and later set up a studio at 271 North Ave. in New Rochelle. In 1947 he moved to 38 Center Ave. in New Rochelle, the old Knights of Columbus building which is now the Terrytoon Division of CBS, to whom he sold out 12 years ago.
Mr. Terry holds membership in the Hook and Ladder Co. of the Larchmont Fire Department and often produces shows for senior citizens’ groups. He serves on the board of trustees at the Industrial Arts School in New York City.
Off on a five-week motor trip to California with his lifetime friend, Bill Hillicher, Mr. Terry is taking the jaunt for a change of pace and to “get the hell out of here.”

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