Yesterday, we wrote about how MGM suddenly sprung on its own shareholders the surprising news in March 1961 that a deal had been signed six months earlier with producer William Snyder to make Tom and Jerry cartoons. Enough were made for one theatrical season—13 cartoons—and that was that for Snyder and his director, Gene Deitch.
MGM wasn’t finished with Tom and Jerry, though. It was still making money on them, not only from the Deitch cartoons, but a package of old ones made by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera before Metro got out of the cartoon business. The studio inked a new deal in summer of 1963 to keep the cat and mouse cash cows on the big screen.
The SIB Productions arrangement with MGM was the centrepiece of a front-page story in Variety of August 30, 1963 on the lay of the land in the West Coast cartoon business. Among many things, it vaguely explained why Metro dumped Deitch.
SEE BOOM IN CARTOONIST JOBS
MGM Revives ‘Tom-Jerry’ Shorts After 6 Years, Walter Bien Producing
Sharp increase in Hollywood animated film activity, indicated during the next few months, should see IATSE Screen Cartoonists Local 839 membership 100 percent employed by end of the year. Prediction was made yesterday by union's biz rep Larry Kilty, who said that at present only 60 percent of the 826 members are working.
Sparking resurgence is deal disclosed yesterday which will put MGM back in the cartoon field for the first time since it shuttered its shorts department in 1957. Walter Bien, it was learned, has been pacted to produce top-budgeted "Tom And Jerry" shorts on a one-a-month basis. As an indie producer, Bien will produce films off the Metro lot, with the studio putting up coin and distributing. Bien, heretofore active only in commercial and industrial film field, has set director Chuck Jones, long associated with Warners cartoon production before studio closed its shorts department in January, to helm films. Jones will bring bulk of crew he has worked with in past which will include writer Mike Maltese.
Productions will be in "full animation" as opposed to the "limited animation" common to tv. Illustrating difference, Jones declares that average weekly output for the "limited" animator is equal to from 160 to 200 feet of completed film whereas in "full" artist usually accounts for no more than 30 feet.
WB Also Prepping?
Foreign income derived from animated shorts has long gone largely unnoticed, according to Cartoonists rep Kilty. He asserts that recent reappraisal by Warners of this factor has sparked recurrent rumors that studio is also prepping a return to cartoon production.
No Dubbing Factor
Fact that many of the popular animated series are done in "pantomime" with no dialog and hence no need for dubbing or new tracks on prints shipped overseas is a prime factor in their record of lucrative foreign returns, according to Jones. He notes that "Tom And Jerry" and his "Coyote" and "Road Runner" cartoon series are of this variety.
Among diverse animation activity slated for this fall, according to Kilty, in addition to the Metro work, includes "Whistle Your Way Back Home," the Hanna-Barbera feature already in production for Columbia release [released as “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!]”; one feature to be made here by Boston producer Norman Prescott, "How The West Was Lost (Almost)" and another which was 60 percent completed in Denmark, "Return To The Land Of Oz," he plans to complete here; a lengthy animated insert into Disney's predominantly-live action "Mary Poppins" plus two features "Jungle Book" and "Winnie The Pooh" now in story stage, two new Hanna-Barbera tv skeins in addition to "Flintstones," a carry-over from previous seasons; a variety of syndicated animated tv fare from such producers as Ed Graham, Al Lovey, Sam Nicholson and Larry Harmon—plus feature title work and an increase in animated commercials, field which usually employs 10 to 15 percent of Kilty's membership and which, according to the biz rep, usually runs in cycles and is due for turn upward.
UPA, adds Kilty, has large-scale Christmas spec in works similar to one they produced last season and Walter Lantz, one of pioneers in cartoon field, continues consistently active.
As a side note, Al Lovey is Alex Lovy, who seems to have briefly left Hanna-Barbera, only to return.
In October 1963, SIB set up a facility in the Sunset Towers Building, hence the company’s later name of SIB-Tower 12 Productions. It had opened an office in Chicago and a separate company in New York in August.
Bien’s crew delivered seven cartoons by the following October. And then production stopped. MGM stepped in. Here’s Variety from December 31, 1964:
NEW MGM CARTOON UNIT TO DO T& J, ALSO BIZ-ED FILMS
Metro, once a major source of cartoon shorts, has come full circle back into the animated production camp. Studio, which disbanded its animation wing several years ago, subsequently releasing cartoons made by indies, now has formed Animation-Visual Arts, a wholly-owned subsidiary which vet animation director Chuck Jones will head-up. Les Goldman is his associate. Unit has begun production on 12 new Tom and Jerry cartoon shorts, continuing characters created in 1937 by William Hanna and Joe Barbera.
In addition to theatrical cartoons, Jones and company will make commercial and educational films. To that end a research and development fund has been formed for unit’s use. Unit, most members of which had been working for Bien, will [remainder of sentence unavailable].
Metro was anxious to keep Tom and Jerry going. A Variety piece on August 5, 1964 estimated the Tom and Jerry series was good for at least $1,000,000 a year in sales to foreign markets alone. As for Bien, he signed with Rock Hudson’s Gibraltar Productions in late March 1965 to head the company’s new commercial and industrial film wing.
A month before Bien ceased production, he sold SIB’s New York subsidiary to the man running it, no doubt to raise cash.
MGM Visual Arts eventually moved into new territory involving a Grinch, Oz and a Phantom Tollbooth. The studio quietly decided to leave theatrical shorts behind. After the release of “Purr-Chance to Dream” in 1967, the 34th short after end of MGM’s contract with William Snyder, there was no more Tom and Jerry. Well, until they resurfaced in TV form under their old bosses, Hanna and Barbera, about eight years later. But that’s another story.