Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Other Cartoon Tom Cat

Elliot Hyman’s Associated Artists Productions flooded TV channels in the mid-1950s with Warner Bros. and Popeye cartoons. There were other syndicators with other cartoons knocking on doors of stations. But there were only so many cartoons to go around, meaning some syndication companies had to look pretty hard to find animated films if they wanted a piece of the action.

One of those companies was Cinema-Vue Corp. Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop and even the old Toonerville Trolley shorts by Van Beuren were taken by others, so Cinema-Vue had to content itself with another character. It tried to convince stations to buy Tom Puss.

The ad you see to the right is from The Radio Annual and Television Yearbook for 1959. Cinema-Vue was co-founded in March 1954 by brothers Joe and Frank Smith to produce and distribute shorts for TV. But, according to Billboard of September 5, 1955, the company quickly became moribund and the two went to work for Guild Films. The two left Guild, Frank Smith went on to manage Cinepix, a subsidiary of Astra Films, and Joe reactivated Cinema-Vue. The company decided to get into the cartoon business. Billboard of September 24, 1955 reported:
Cinema-Vue Takes Cinepix Cartoons, 1-2 Reel Comedies
NEW YORK, Sept. 17—Cinema-Vue this week took over distribution of the 100 cartoons and 100 one and two-reel comedies that had been handled by Cinepix. It is expected that the Westerns, features and other product out of the latter’s vaults will later also go over to Cinema-Vue, making Cinepix inoperative as a separate entity.
Frank Smith, who had been running Cinepix, has moved over to the new firm as vice-president under his brother, Joe.
Billboard, in a story dated October 29, 1955, said Cinema-Vue was going to package an hour-long kids show featuring Westerns, comedies (some were silent starring Charlie Chaplin) and cartoons into an hour-long show called “The Cinepix Kiddie Carnival.” The story stated the company now had 150 cartoons.

So what were these cartoons? All Billboard revealed in its January 22, 1955 was they were “from a variety of production sources and are all sound.” A Billboard story of December 10, 1955 tells that Cinema-Vue had cobbled together an hour-long “Christmas Film Festival” and two of the five cartoons were titled “Santa’s Arrival” and “Christmas Up North.”

We learn a bit more from Variety of May 30, 1956:
Cinema-Vue’s New Batch Of 52 Color Cartoons
Cinema-Vue Corp, has acquired a new group of 52 color cartoons, which added to its backlog of 350 black-and-white subjects, brings its total animated library to 402 shorts. It had acquired 150 b-w's only a week earlier. All the films go into its "Whimseyland" package. Of the 52 new color subjects, 12 of which are "Mutt & Jeff" pix, a total of 40 were acquired from Morris Kleinerman...
Kleinerman had founded Astra Films. Incestuous, this film business, eh what? He was also involved in an attempt to manufacture animated colour cartoons in 1934. He signed some distribution deals at the time.

I suspect the “Mutt and Jeff” cartoons the ones that were originally silents and later had sound and colour added.

Cinema-Vue’s next cartoon venture was a Christmas show. Reported Variety on September 5, 1956:
Yuletide Show for Syndication
Cinema-Vue Corp. is planning a one-hour special Christmas program for syndication, featuring Leon Jason's puppet character Jingle Dingle acting as host to a roster of cartoon films. Jingle Dingle currently is serving as the official weatherman on WABD's, N.Y., Sandy Becker show.
Billboard reported the show consisted of “eight novelty shorts on the spirit of Yule season and theme music recorded by Julius La Rosa and Archie Bleyer.”

Well, this finally brings us to Tom Puss. Broadcasting magazine of November 30, 1959 explains the origin of the shorts. They were originally Dutch.
Cinema-Vue Corp., N.Y., has opened a West Coast branch office at 11693 Laurelwood Drive, Studio City, Calif., under direction of Frank Smith, vice president and sales manager. The company is worldwide distributor of Tom Puss cartoon series produced by Martin Toonder Studios in Amsterdam.
Toonder, according to 1977 The International Film Guide, had been producing comics and cartoons since 1939. Tom Puss was originally a weekly comic, created in 1941.

Did Cinema-Vue manage to sell Tom Puss cartoons to any TV stations? They remained in the company’s catalogue for a number of years. One Hollywood star was certainly acquainted with them. Walter Winchell blah-ed in his column of June 10, 1959:
Mickey Rooney's new bride. Barbara Thompson, is the voice of the frog in the Tom Puss cartoon, Flickers.
It’s likely few people had any idea what Winchell was talking about. Fewer do today. But we’ve been able to, I hope, tell a bit about one of television’s most obscure cartoon series. For more, read Jan-Willem de Vries’ background note in the comment section.

12 comments:

  1. That Christmas special was called "Jingle Dingle's Christmas Party". I have a 16mm print of it, I don't have a list of the cartoon titles within it, but one of them was "The Shanty Where Santa Claus Lives", a Harman-Ising Merrie Melody. The Jingle Dingle puppet hosts the show and does wraparounds in live action. Cinema-Vue and Astra TV liked to take cartoons and put their own main titles on them, similar to the "Krazy Toons" series. They were pioneering film pirates! They probably weren't prosecuted since no body was really that concerned about cartoons in those days. They were up for grabs.

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    1. "Cinema-Vue and Astra TV liked to take cartoons and put their own main titles on them, similar to the "Krazy Toons" series. They were pioneering film pirates! They probably weren't prosecuted since no body was really that concerned about cartoons in those days. They were up for grabs."

      In some way, I admire the tenacity of those days.

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  2. By the way, are any of the Tom Puss or Tom Kitten cartoons available anywhere? In more than 40 years of film collecting I've never run across them.

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  3. Mark, there's one on YouTube from someone's old VHS tape that's so murky, you can't really see it. Other than that, I've never run into any of them or even a mention of them.

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    1. I have managed to talk to one guy about those cartoons Yowp, his name is Jan-Willem De Vries, and he wrote a book about the Toonder Studios a few years ago that included a DVD with some of their work on it. He shared me a couple episodes of the Tom Puss cartoon series I suppose was being developed for Cinema-Vue until the deal fell through (I think). They have that limited TV production look down pat, but the stories are crammed into 4-5 minutes, it feels like they could've went or a serialized approach had they went more in the direction Crusader Rabbit, Ruff & Reddy and others did before. Here's one link to a couple screengrabs from it....
      http://www.programma.eyefilm.nl/collectiespecial-100-jaar-marten-toonder

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  4. "Tom Puss" (or Tom Poes, in Dutch) is the Netherlands' most popular comic strip, and is still being published (despite creator Marten Toonder passed away in 2005). Actually, the real star of the strip is not Tom, but his pal Oliver T. Bommel, a pompous bear. It was adapted in 1983 as a theatrical feature, "The Dragon that Wasn´t... or Was He?" It was released in the U.S. on home video; Tom Puss was re-named in the English dub (for obvious copyright reasons) as "Kit Kat" (and turned into a female cat!). Here is the entire movie (in English): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW1dxDUQW6o

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    1. If it wasn't for that movie, I'm sure none of us Americans would ever had known these guys at all, let alone some of us to even bother finding out who Marten Toonder was at all. This film also use to air on The Disney Channel as well, at least I recall seeing ads for it in their own magazine they use to send you when you subscribed to the channel back in the 80's, so it has had some penetration here, of course not enough for there to be a DVD release at all (I was lucky to get a DVD R2 copy from a pal of mine who once lived in the Netherlands years back).

      "It was released in the U.S. on home video; Tom Puss was re-named in the English dub (for obvious copyright reasons) as "Kit Kat" (and turned into a female cat!)."

      You'd be surprised how many Dutch fans watching the English version get up at arms over it! Arguably, had they kept "Kit Kat" male, this would not be a problem.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djBS56Cmsqk

      Here's a few behind-the-scenes clips on the making of the film!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSENLxqsG-s
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DGr5S32LOw
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1m6GsFlfp0A

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  5. This was a great piece to read. A few years ago I did research on these Tom Puss shorts and it was really hard to find information. In 1959 Dutch newspapers proudly wrote that ‘our’ Marten Toonder produced cartoons for American television. About 8 of them were really made in1959 and 1960. These were:

    The Magic Hat
    The Weather Crystal
    The Wondershoes
    The Bumble Cure
    Vengeance Valley
    The All purpose Machine
    Little Faustus
    The Eastern Treasure

    A 9th title, ‘Mr. Bumble´s Secret Vice’, was not completed.
    I was told that the production stopped, because the Toonder Studio’s in Amsterdam no longer trusted the American client they worked for. An employee of the studio’s studied its letterhead and started asking questions. He thought that the address of the distributor was in a slum area (New York). They hired a local detective agency and they reported that the distributor was indeed a fraud... Toonder Studio’s abandoned the project immediately.
    I had some doubts if this story was entirely correct and it now seems that it was not, or that the studio’s acted too soon. The order for 52 cartoons mentioned in this add corresponds with some old Dutch newspaper articles I found. I also understand from this article that Cinema-Vue was a very serious distributor and highly ambitious in selling these shorts to television stations. The article also explains why they would order these shorts all the way in the Netherlands, since so many of them were made in America. Clearly there was a lot of demand for these shows.
    I now wonder why I was told that the distributor was a fraud. It was told to me by the son of of Marten Toonder. I suspect there is some truth in that story, but it is very hard to find out the details after all these years. Maybe the detective agency was lazy and decided to confirm the suspicions from their Dutch client (they would never find out). And it is also possible that Marten Toonder himself somehow jeopardized the project, because he was not so proud of these cartoons.
    Many thanks to Yowp for posting this article. And thanks to Chris for mentioning it to me. The Cinema-Vue add is a real treat!

    Jan-Willem de Vries (from the Netherlands)

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    1. "I was told that the production stopped, because the Toonder Studio’s in Amsterdam no longer trusted the American client they worked for. An employee of the studio’s studied its letterhead and started asking questions. He thought that the address of the distributor was in a slum area (New York). They hired a local detective agency and they reported that the distributor was indeed a fraud... Toonder Studio’s abandoned the project immediately.
      I had some doubts if this story was entirely correct and it now seems that it was not, or that the studio’s acted too soon. The order for 52 cartoons mentioned in this add corresponds with some old Dutch newspaper articles I found. I also understand from this article that Cinema-Vue was a very serious distributor and highly ambitious in selling these shorts to television stations. The article also explains why they would order these shorts all the way in the Netherlands, since so many of them were made in America. Clearly there was a lot of demand for these shows."


      The early days of TV around here was rather maddening to say the least. You had so few "original' stuff coming out from the likes of Hanna-Barbera, the guys behind Crusader Rabbit, Spunky & Tadpole and the worst of Sam Singer, to acquiring films overseas that were simply re-edited and dubbed over to English without much rhyme or reason other than to fill a package quota. If you follow this blog Jan, you might pick up other early TV tidbits of this era that have been brought up before. There were winners and losers.

      "I now wonder why I was told that the distributor was a fraud. It was told to me by the son of of Marten Toonder. I suspect there is some truth in that story, but it is very hard to find out the details after all these years. Maybe the detective agency was lazy and decided to confirm the suspicions from their Dutch client (they would never find out). And it is also possible that Marten Toonder himself somehow jeopardized the project, because he was not so proud of these cartoons.

      Those could be very possible reasons there. I'm sure trying to keep international tabs like that probably opened up all sorts of headaches for the one that has to pay for the effort. Also, from what I saw of those cartoons, they certainly didn't show the potential I felt Toonder had in mind at all.

      Many thanks to Yowp for posting this article. And thanks to Chris for mentioning it to me. The Cinema-Vue add is a real treat!

      Jan-Willem de Vries (from the Netherlands)


      Thanks for your time!

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  6. Thanks for your insight.
    I didn't want to go deeply into Kleinerman's activities. I understand he didn't actually have the rights to distribute the Mutt and Jeff cartoons his company was syndicating to TV stations.
    There were at least a couple of times he was hauled into court on various film matters.

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