Saturday, 1 November 2014

Ism!

No sooner did the John Sutherland studio cancel its contract with United Artists because of its inability to make a profit on cartoons than it signed a deal with Harding College for three animated educational shorts (Variety, Jan. 17 and 29, 1947). But the studio wasn’t out of the theatrical cartoon business yet.

MGM was looking to save some money, too, and announced in early February 1948 it would release the first in the series of Sutherland shorts, “Make Mine Freedom,” and that it would use part of its Technicolor commitment on the prints. The cartoon went into national release on March 10th. The film received the ringing endorsement of the American Legion’s Americanism Commission (Variety, May 28, 1948) and won the Freedom Foundation’s Achievement award in 1949. The cartoon wasn’t subtle. It was a denouncement of Communism and a celebration of Capitalism, with worker, management and politician working together for the betterment of America.

The first Sutherland cartoons look like a cross between Lantz and Columbia designs, with much of the animation on twos, like in a Warners cartoon. But the poses and some of the animation is great to look at because of the quality people Sutherland picked up from other studios. Here are a few of the neat little poses on Professor Utopia, as he pushes his “Ism” as a cure-all for the ills of labour, management, government and farmers. There’s a nice little bit of animation where he lets go of the bottle of Ism only two catch it before it falls too far.



There are no credits on this cartoon, but former MGMers Carl Urbano and George Gordon were directing at the studio. Gerry Nevius (Disney) and Ed Starr (Columbia) were the early layout and background artists and Arnold Gillespie (MGM), Emery Hawkins (Warners), Armin Shaffer (assistant, Disney) and Bill Higgins (assistant, MGM) were among the Sutherland animators around 1950 or so. Ignore internet sources that claim Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had anything to do with this cartoon; it was made by Sutherland’s staff.

Sutherland didn’t cheap out on voice talent. There are at least a half dozen actors in this cartoon, with Frank Nelson as Dr. Utopia. Bud Hiestand narrates and if I’m correct, you can also hear the voices of Billy Bletcher, Stan Freberg and John Brown, among others. Voice historian Keith Scott has pointed out Hiestand narrated a number of Sutherland’s propaganda shorts.

MGM released five more Sutherland shorts after “Make Mine Freedom,” but the second-last one caused a controversy. “Fresh Laid Plans” cost $80,000 to produce and was released on January 21, 1951. Some felt it was an attack on U.S. government aid to agriculture.Weekly Variety of March 21st reported:

Metro Won’t Yank Cartoon In Farm Rap
Metro is sticking to its guns in releasing “Fresh Laid Plans,” cartoon short over which has developed a political controversy. M-G distribution vice-president William F. Rodgers stated in N. Y. yesterday (Tues.) the distrib has no intention of withdrawing the one-reeler from circulation.
Recognizing the uproar which “Plans” has caused, Rodgers issued a formal press statement identifying the M-G position.
He asserted: “‘Fresh Laid Plans’ is fifth in this series of patriotic cartoons which we have released. It was submitted to us by Harding College as were its four predecessors, and we released it because, like the others, we believed it to be interesting and entertaining to moviegoers.
“As a matter of fact we had received such favorable comment on the other cartoons, all of which dealt with similar subjects in the public interest, that our acceptance of ‘Fresh Laid Plans’ was routine.” “Plans” and other four shorts which Rodgers referred to all were produced in Hollywood by John Sutherland, for Harding. M-G serves only as the distributor, as it would with any other indie producer with whom it enters a releasing pact.
Touching off the fireworks in the “Plans” instance, however, is the fact the short has been interpreted in some quarters as treating of Government agricultural planning in satirical fashion. Carrying this thought still further, Alfred D. Stedman, farm editor of the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, questioned whether handling of the short might mean that a “big segment of the movie industry is going to bat to knock the Government out of agriculture.”
Stedman further branded “Plans” as a “one-sided editorial in pictures" and declared its purpose was to sway public opinion in a hotly-contested farm issue.
'Hits at Price System'
Editor alleged the short hits specifically at the farm production and prices system advanced by Secretary of Agriculture Charles F. Brannan, known popularly as the Brannan Plan. Also linked in the pic's production is the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which granted funds to the college for its lensing. Denials of the Stedman charges have been made by a spokesman for the Foundation, who said the film had neither the intent nor effect of satire, and by Sutherland. Producer said he merely tried to “point out the impossibility of planning our lives from a central authority.”
Other four cartoons made by Sutherland who, incidentally, formerly was associated with Walt Disney, were: “Make Mine Freedom,” dealing with free enterprise; “Meet King Joe,” concerning the capital-labor relationship; “Why Play Leap Frog,” focusing on prices and wages, and “Albert in Blunderland,” a satire on the Russian system. Three others now are in preparation, centering respectively on profits, taxes and inflation. M-G’s pacts with Harding have been on a single-pic basis. Distrib. has made no commitments for the future, as yet.


A week later, the ACLU backed Metro, saying it was concerned about censorship, and that Sutherland should be “free to express himself, and those who want to see the film, despite protests against it, should be free to do so.” But perhaps the controversy made MGM skittish. It waited 11 months to release one more Sutherland cartoon, “Inside Cackle Corners” (November 10, 1951). And that was the end of it. Sutherland continued making industrial films and TV commercials. MGM contented itself with Tom and Jerry.

9 comments:

  1. For what its worth, you can watch "Fresh Laid Plans", the cartoon that caused controversy, on Vimeo

    http://vimeo.com/18480797

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    1. Glad to see it's up, and look, they even had production credits too, or what's left of the print due to it missing it's opening titles. I noticed "Inside Cackle Corners" has credits as well, so I guess they stated adding the credits at this point besides "A John Sutherland Production".

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  2. Make Mine Freedom (1948):
    https://archive.org/details/make_mine_freedom_ipod

    https://archive.org/search.php?query=sutherland%20AND%20collection%3Aanimationandcartoons

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    1. Let's not forget these!
      Meet King Joe (1949): https://archive.org/details/4050_Meet_King_Joe_01_19_26_08
      Why Play Leap Frog? (1949): https://archive.org/details/4050_Why_Play_Leap_Frog_01_37_44_23
      Inside Cackle Corners (1951): https://vimeo.com/18480653 (I see they use birds as they had in Fresh Laid Plans)

      It'll be nice if someone finds and uploads "Albert in Blunderland" soon. http://www.wolftracerstudiosarchive.com/catalog/comedy-155/albert-in-blunderland-comedy-94934.html

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    2. I think I found it! The guy though who uploaded this and nearly the rest of the Harding College films, though it's listed as "To Be An Ant".
      https://vimeo.com/18480880

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  3. Ignore internet sources that claim Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had anything to do with this cartoon; it was made by Sutherland’s staff.

    Given MGM's involvement in releasing these, I can see who that happened. MGM even made posters for these too, at least I recall one for "Why Play Leap Frog?" that at least for whoever they had that did those off-model posters any other time, this poster wasn't that bad, though I noticed the price of the doll was inflated by fifty cents than seen in the cartoon.

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  4. Thanks for the links. I hope they stay active for a while.

    Chris, the other side effect of the MGM release of these shorts was Fred Quimby could disband his third unit (the Lah-Blair group) for good. Contracting for theatrical rights for shorts of theatrical quality that had already been made must have saved a nice chunk of money. Sutherland's Capitalism at work!

    Cole Johnson was gracious enough to identify the MGM poster artist in a post on the topic to Jerry Beck:
    "The man responsible for most all of the artwork for MGM’s shorts was Bela Reiger. He did some of the promotional art for Pathe in New York in the mid-20′s, and was hired by MGM when they initiated their short subjects department in 1927. His initial efforts had a lot more work put into them,but still, poor composition, limited caricaturing skills, and shaky anatomy were the lifelong aspects of Reiger’s masterpieces."

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  5. Thanks Charles and Yowp, for making "Fresh Laid Plans" available for readers of the Tralfaz blog! I've tried to find a print of this cartoon for over 50 years without success. It didn't play well on my computer, but I got the general idea. The animation drawings seemed pretty conservative, no real pushed extremes or comical looking poses. The Sloan Foundation was of course, the idea of Alfred P. Sloan, president and manager of General Motors for much of the 20th Century, to encourage the Sloan theories of Capitalism. Of course, Planned Obsolescence was one of Sloan's key ideas that made folks need to buy a new car every year or every few years. This concept is now a part of nearly every manufactured item that we buy. Sloan also invested in German cars and engineering during the Nazi era in World War Two, but that's his dark side. He also believed in philanthropy.

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  6. The Sloan Foundation worked with WB to release three Freleng-Sylvester cartoons, the second two with Elmer Fudd and they have all been long familiar through television as part of the regular Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodie series, from 1954-1956.

    Sylvester's in all three of these:
    "By Word of Mouse" with Bavarian/German mice cousin/buddies (Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg) and Richard Haydn-sounding mouse (Stan Freberg again).Bea Benaderet had a cameo as the mama or grandma mouse on beginning and end of this flashback-framework cartoon.The only of these not with Elmer Fudd.

    "Heir Conditioned" with a bunch of cats and some bits borrowed from Friz's 1952 "A Mouse Divided"
    and Elmer (Arthur Q.Bryan as usual). Daws Butler makes an early appearance and for once with his Capitol records and radio buddy Stan Freberg in a WB cartoon. As voiced by Daws, that orange cat (with for the first time the "Frank Fontaine/Mr.Jinks voice") that was in some Sylvester cartoons before shows up with Daws, Mel and Stan doing the other of Sylvester's feline buddies.


    "Yankee Dood It" set in the Elves and Shoemaker story with a very slow behind time shoemaker,(Daws Butler) with capitalism and a CERTAIN storybook/fairytale word need to undo the word "Jehosaphat" that could change elves into mice.Elmer Fudd is a small king of elves.

    The shoemaker's at the end got his own modern factory! Well, JE-HOSAPHAT--wait,wait, RUMPLESKILTSKIN!!:) Thanks for the post.


    Mark Kausler, cars weren't the big thing that General Motors and Sloan were really dominant with in the 50s but in the bus industry! Including the Greyhounds-like (when those Warner Brothers/Freleng/Sloan/Sylvester shorts that I mention above were done, the legendary Scenicruiser buses...).SC

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