Saturday, 25 October 2014

Fableland

Aw, shucks, he’s just kindly, old, unassuming cartoonist Paul Terry. That’s the impression you’re left with reading The Corning Evening Leader of July 23, 1951.

Even Terrytoons fans are liable to bust a gut more reading his response to the “millionaire” question than they ever did watching his cartoons. Terry must have been pocketing a nice chunk if his shorts were playing in thousands of theatres on any given day. Soon, he worked out a deal with CBS to air his cartoons, then sold his whole studio to the network in January 1956 for $3,000,000 and retired to an exclusive men’s club.

Even though it’s 1951, Terry is still talking about the Fables cartoons he made from 1921 until 1929 when he was unceremoniously fired by Amadee Van Beuren, who had just been wed a couple of hours before. Yet he conveniently forgets Farmer Alfalfa, the human character he managed to wrest from the Van Beuren studio, which announced a series of Al cartoons in the early ‘30s.

A Woman's New York
By Alice Hughes

TV NOW CLAIMS MIGHTY MOUSE, PIONEER OF FILM CARTOONS
One of the best-known characters of the film industry, yet the least Hollywood-type; whose pictures have been shown more often and in more theatres than any others in the world; who rarely goes to the Coast but works quietly and happily in a place called Fableland, in New Rochelle, 16 miles from New York, is Paul Terry the movie cartoon producer. No one has been able to take a numerical count on his ability to make the world laugh in the past 36 years. We do know he has populated movie screens here and abroad with the antics of his animated family—Mighty Mouse, Heckle, Jeckle, the Talking Magpies, Dinky and the wobbly Little Duck, characters that flicker through the Terrytoon animated films distributed these past two years by 20th Century Fox.
To oblige me, Mr. Terry had come in from Fableland to lunch with me in New York. I regretted and wished I had gone there after he described Terrytoons Studios where he employs about one hundred artists to animate the 17 or 18 cartoons that are always in current production. His weekly payroll is $10,000. According to Spyros Skouras, president of 20th Century Fox, Paul Terry underestimates when he says that 10,000 theatres are at all times running one or another of the 26 animated Terrytoons he makes in a year. There are at least 12,000 theatres. I asked him if all this hadn't made him a millionaire. His answer was typical. "It has given me several millions in contentment," he said simply. Modesty as a characteristic is little in evidence among the people who make my world.
This quietly humorous man in his early 70’s bowled me over.
Terry's cartoon characters are always little animals, never people. "No one takes offense with animals," is his explanation. Besides the stories Terry gives birth to from imagination, he draws upon the 220 Aesop's Fables. Out-Aesoping Aesop, Terry has stretched these fables to twice their number retaining their eternal truth homespun philosophy and sure-fire laughs. Aesop's fables long have been in the domain.
This versatile cartoonist turns with ease from one talent to another. At the moment he is readying Terrytoons for television, and he has also just written a song called "The Miracle," about to be published by Charles Hansen Music Co.
Records prove that Paul Terry's friend Winsor McKay, [sic] an editorial and strip cartoonist, made the first film cartoon in this country. This was just before 1913, when Terry gave up a job as a strip cartoonist for King Features, as well as staff artist for the old N. Y. Daily Press, to go into film cartoons. Today it takes dozens of artists and thousands of individual drawings to make one modern Terrytoon. But Terry did his first one in his combination bedroom - living room studio by himself, using only a few hundred drawings for his 220 feet of animated cartoon called "Little Herman," showing a sleight-of-hand artist doing magic tricks.
Making it was hard enough, but selling it was next to impossible. Lewis J. Selznick offered him $1 per foot for it. As it had cost $330 to complete, Terry could not afford to sell it for $250. So he next took the cartoon about Herman the magican to Edwin Thanhouser who doubted audiences would care for it. Terry hustled out to collect an audience but all he could find was kids. They looked with wonderment at first, but laughed excitedly through the rest of the picture. Thanhouser bought the first Terrytoon and thus the pioneer of film cartoons began his long career 36 years old. [sic]
Making a film cartoon today is quite a different story from 1915. It then cost $1.35 per foot. Now it costs $65. Each 5 seconds of screen times requires 7 1-12 feet of film. In a 7-minute Terrytoon there are from 7 to 10 thousand separate drawings and it takes eight months to do one complete picture. Besides the film cartoon and the imminent television, Paul Terry has produced 334 comic books. These again are based on his beloved little animals which stand for forces of good, mischief, naughtiness and so forth. In the month of May, Terry's comics had reached an Impressive 80 million printing aggregate.


By the way, I checked about the status of Terry’s song. I couldn’t locate it, but Charles Hansen Music is still a member of ASCAP.

Terry must have given an audience to a throng of reporters the day he spoke to Miss Hughes. A similar story found its way onto the Associated Press wire. We’ll pass it along in due time.

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