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'
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.