Saturday, 13 June 2015

Psst! Wanna Buy A Cartoon?

Crowd-funding is a way for modern-day cartoonists to get money to finance their films. But the idea isn’t really new. The same sort of thing was tried almost 60 years to create one of most disreputable TV cartoon series ever made—Spunky and Tadpole.

In the 1950s, movie studios didn’t see any value in their old theatrical cartoons, so they sold their television rights to distribution companies who proceeded to make fortunes from stations eager to fill kiddie programme time. But there were only so many old theatricals to go around, and parents groups were already beginning to complain about the violence in them. So new producers climbed out of the woodwork to figure out a way to make cartoons specifically for TV that allowed them to turn a profit. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera did it by going into hock, climbing in bed with Columbia Pictures and quickly started minting cash with Ruff and Reddy and Huckleberry Hound. But a chap named Ed Janis decided to go a different route.

In 1957, Janis formed a company named Beverly Hills Productions. The company doesn’t appear to have any money for its own. Instead, it advertised on TV for people to buy stock in its cartoon venture. Variety reported how it worked in its August 2, 1957 issue.
RAISE TV PROD'N COIN VIA SPOTS
Reportedly the first time it's been done on tv, a BevHills brokerage house offer of stock in a telefilm cartoon venture, made during past two weeks on KTTV, has been completely subscribed to tune of $125,000.
Principals in experiment are Beverly Hills Productions, cartoon firm headed by Edward Janis, with Corinne Calvet and husband Jeffrey Stone as veepees, and Howard Bierman as secretary-treasurer; and brokerage house of H. Carroll & Co.
Reports attorney Ralph Frank, of law firm of LeMaire & Frank, repping Carroll firm, on the tv stock sale: "We've had fantastic results. To sell a similar issue (by more conventional means) in three months wouldn't be unusual."
Calif. State Commissioner of Corporations has issued Carroll firm a permit to sell the shares. Since this is an offer only in this state, to bonafide residents. SEC jurisdiction has been almost entirely eliminated.
Actually, offer on KTTV was only an offer to send a prospectus. However, Frank states, California law holds that this is really a stock offer. Carroll firm already has contracted for a schedule of further spots on Tom Duggan's KCOP show and KTTV, and finds itself in pleasant position of continuing with stock already completely subscribed. However, since it's likely that about 10% of subscribers won't redeem pledges (a normal depreciation, Frank holds), Duggan spots will probably be used to clean up $125,000 offer.
Spots were started last week, and by early this week, $82,000 was subscribed. Rest of issue was subscribed by yesterday, at $1 par and same cash value. In one case, a client came to Carroll office as result of teleblurbs, with $1,000 in hand. He left after reading prospectus, with $3,000 order.
Actually, $125,000 offer represents 50% of available stock. Other 50% still resides in BevHills Productions firm.
Janis, formerly with 20th-Fox, has plans to package five-minute color cartoons, approximately 50 in number, for a daily telepix strip. However, he was unavailable for comment on actual production start.
But successful result of BevHills Productions issue has aroused enthusiasm of Carroll house in further use of tv spots to sell stock, in both entertainment and other ventures. Already on the drawing boards are plans to sell stock in "one or two" feature pictures, and firm has been approached to finance a Broadway show in a similar manner.
Something about this was skunky, not Spunky, to the Better Business Bureau. It decided to look into the “TV pitch for production coin.” Variety did its own investigation, too. In its August 6th edition, after noting a similarly-funded stage musical several years earlier had seen more than $165,000 in investments disappear, reported:
An analysis of the company's figures, as presented in the brochure, indicates an ignorance or at least an unfamiliarity with the field in which they seek to raise money, unless the firm has a secret formula which it isn't mentioning.
The Bureau told Variety it was trying to “develop information on the firm and its principals.” Variety did some digging and the results weren’t all that complimentary.
President of Beverly Hills Productions is Edward Janis, 35, one time staff cartoonist for 20th-Fox who "entered the television field in 1953." DAILY VARIETY has found no record of any credit for Janis in the tv field during the last four years and Attorney Ralph Frank, representing the firm, said he "didn't think" Janis had any. Actress Corinne Calvet and her husband, actor Jeff Stone, are vice-presidents of the firm, the only members of the outfit's top quintet whose names are familiar to show business. Secretary is Howard Bierman, a commercial artist and the treasurer is Emil Gillman, who last year sold his share of a family furniture business and "entered the television industry, utilizing his business knowledge and administration (sic) ability in the production of telefilms." DAILY VARIETY has found no credits for Gillman, either.
Trying to find biographical information about Janis today is a little difficult even today, at least using on-line sources. Janis could have been born in 1922 according to the Variety story. FamilySearch.org has records which show an Edward L. Janis was born on January 26, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois to Jack and Rose Janofsky. He had legally changed his name to Janis by 1946 when he married a Lillian Snyder in Los Angeles. At the time, he was unemployed. Whether he worked at Terrytoons or was a publicity artist at Fox is unknown.

As for the cartoons themselves, the brochure from Beverly Hills Productions outlined their financing. Bear in mind that Hanna-Barbera’s first Ruff and Reddy cartoon had a budget of $2,700.
Firm estimates $100 per film each for director, writer, narrator, voice, background artists, inkers and painters, and $200 per film for animators—and reports that it can turn out each five-minute color cartoon for $1,850. Salaries quoted are, in the main, below minimum scales, at a time when, the Screen Cartoonists Guild reports, there is a labor shortage in the trade and most people are drawing more than scale pay for their work. As to the total cost, one veteran teleblurb producer estimates that using slide animation (the cheapest form), a five-minute cartoon would cost at least $3,000 in color—at the going commercial rates; for full animation the cost would be around $18,000. Another reported that for limited animation, the cheapest possible price is around $1,000 per minute; full animation, $5,000-$8,000 per minute.
The trade paper also reported Janis would get one free share for each share sold to the public, meaning he didn’t need to put up a cent.

It seems Variety and the Better Business Bureau weren’t the only ones having suspicions about the financing of Beverly Hills Productions. So were some of the principals. From the December 16, 1957 issue of Variety
Calvet Jeff Stone Wash Hands Of TV Cartoonery Using Names To Sell Stock
Corinne Calvet and Jeff Stone, the pic couple who were v.p.’s of Beverly Hills Productions cartoonery, over the weekend resigned their posts and informed Calif. Commissioner of Corporations they did so because they were denied info on the firm's financial dealings.
Beverly Hills Productions recently came under fire, including investigation by the Better Business Bureau and the LA. Police Bunco Squad, following DAILY VARIETY story disclosing inconsistencies in group's brochure accompanying public sale of stock.
Via pitches, mainly over tv, group sold nearly $100,000 in stock to the public. Labor and other estimated costs listed in brochure were considerably below established scales in the cartooning field. Consensus of expert opinion from reputable firms in held was that Beverly Hills Productions couldn't deliver proposed color cartoon strips at prices quoted.
In their letter to the Corporations Commissioner, Miss Calvet and Stone admitted they knew that their names would be used in stock solicitations. However, " . . . we feel it imperative that our names not be used for any purpose which may in any way affect our reputation.
At the time, we permitted the use of our names because representations were made to us that the corporation's purposes . . . warranted our support, and we were guaranteed we would be active in the company's affairs, so we would be aware of how monies collected as a result of stock sales would be used . . ." Letter asserts that when the couple requested such info last week, firm's directorate not only refused it, but voted them out of office.
The woes weren’t over for Ed Janis. A piece in Variety of March 19, 1958 reveals Janis, basically, sold a cartoon idea to himself before he decided to sell shares in a company that gave him free shares.
Janis, Prod'n Firm Over 'Fish & Chips'
Suit asking $66,250 assertedly due him from a deal with Edward Janis was filed yesterday in Superior Court by Philip Nasser against Janis and Beverly Hills Productions. Nasser charged that he and Janis had entered into an agreement whereby he was to devise and work on an idea for a tv cartoon series originated by Janis in November, 1956, "Fish and Chips," in which they were to split 50-50 on all proceeds.
However, he claimed, he was excluded when Janis sold rights to the idea in February, 1957, to Beverly Hills Productions for 125,000 shares of stock, at $1 per share, in corporation, plus $7,500 per year. Two defendants, according to complaint, "conspired to exclude Nasser from deal."
What were “Fish and Chips”? Beats me. Janis is on record as copyrighting, on February 27, 1957, artwork for something called “Storybook Adventures,” including a walrus, a goofy bear and a German scientist. This could have been S & P; at the end of each cartoon, the narrator urged kid viewers to join Spunky and Tadpole next time “in storybook adventures.” However, the current Copyright Catalog on-line reveals that all Spunky and Tadpole cartoons were copyrighted on July 15, 1956—even though it’s clear the cartoons hadn’t been finished by that date. The trades began talking about the series of June 19, 1958, when Janis managed to finalise a distribution deal for the cartoons, which were already in production, with Guild Films.

Guild was set up in 1952 (around May) by Reub Kaufman, the former owner of a Chicago-based ad agency, to cash in on the growing need for low-cost syndicated programming. His first distribution efforts were “Lash of the West” starring Lash LaRue and “Beam It Up” with Chick Chandler, but then he hit the jackpot in February 1953 by offering to stations a show featuring a Los Angeles lounge act pianist named Liberace. More to the point, Guild had some success with animation, acquiring the TV rights in February 1955 to 191 black-and-white Warner Bros. cartoons. Variety gave a progress report on June 27th.
New Cartoon Deal For Janis, Guild
Beverly Hills Productions, which last week inked a $125,000 deal with Guild Films for distribution of its new "Adventures of Spunky and Tadpole" cartoons, is now negotiating a new deal with Guild which calls for production of 150 of the three-and-a-half-minute shorts, according to Beverly Hills prexy Edward Janis.
New deal, which would supersede the first, would also give Guild options on 350 more of the color cartoons under a long-term lease arrangement involving flat payment of $4,000 per subject plus a participation in merchandising rights. New pictures would be budgeted at $2,500 each, as compared with the $1,850 per-pic budget which pertains on the 50 Guild has already purchased.
Beverly Hills, which was launched last summer via a $125,000 public stock issue, got back just that amount via its initial Guild deal, which called for a guarantee of $2,500 per pic for the 50 cartoons. Janis has 40 of the 60 in the can and is wrapping up the rest.
He started production on the cartoons last November, and without a studio himself, has sub-contracted the various animation and recording elements while retaining production control. Films, which can be combined into 15 and 30-minute packages, are done in limited-animation style.


Guild started aggressively advertising the cartoons in the trades. When “Spunky and Tadpole” first appeared on TV is almost impossible to say but the series had been sold to KHJ-TV by September and was picked up by 20 stations by the end of November. And Beverly Hills Productions started paying dividends to shareholders. But things weren’t altogether rosy. On May 5, 1960, it was reported Janis was no longer the company president. Official Films took over distribution from Guild in August, the same month Herts-Lion International struck a deal for a 30-day option to buy Bev Hills (“Spunky and Tadpole” was now airing on 37 stations). On October 7, Janis resigned from the company altogether. Beverly Hills Productions hung around until June 5, 1964 when it was purchased by Beverly Hills Film Co. Its only asset was “Spunky and Tadpole;” Janis had copyrighted, on March 28, 1960, something called “The Genius”—cartoon characters included characters named Homer, Wentworth and Bingo—but the series was never developed. He also developed a character named Don Coyote, apparently in 1962; it was signed over to UPA in 1988. Ownership of “Spunky and Tadpole” changed hands at least twice more in the ‘60s. Eventually, they ended up in the hands of Ziv International, which sold home video rights to Media Home Entertainment (1981) and All-Seasons Entertainment (1984). In 1992, the 150 cartoons were swallowed up by Time-Warner.

I suspect that’s more than you’ll ever want to know about the series’ back story. Let’s give you a bit of information about the cartoons. If IMDB is correct, the animation was done by Arthur Moore Studios. Moore had worked at Disney from 1939-41 after a career drawing for the Los Angeles Examiner. After serving in the war, he opened a studio called Royal Titles with two ex-Disney buddies. Moore died in 2005. Moore is credited as “director.” No animators are credited. The only other artist’s name is Bob Caples, who was responsible for backgrounds. He, too, worked for Disney in the late ‘30s after graduating from Chouinard. A bio at CalArt.com says he painted backgrounds for Warner Bros. in the 1950s (was he ever credited?) and then worked at Hanna-Barbera; Jonny Quest was among his shows. He died in Mesa, Arizona, in September 1996.

Music was provided from a stock library. The main theme is “La Vitrine Aux Jouets” (“The Toy Shop Window”) by the prolific Roger Roger, who seems to have composed for at least a half dozen libraries. It was released in England in the Chappell library and in the U.S. by Sam Fox.

The series’ main voices are by Janis himself, along with Joan Gardner and Don Messick. Both Gardner and Messick had worked in the 1950s for Bob Clampett, providing voices on his puppet shows. Messick apparently didn’t stay for all 150 episodes; word is Janis took over his roles. Janis and Gardner also married in Nevada on December 8, 1960. They went into production of live action films, most famously working on that underfunded 1965 cult classic “The Beach Girls and the Monster.” In 1973, Janis (with Gardner writing) proposed a movie called “Scavenger’s Gold,” to be shot in Oregon. It was funded by selling 350 units in a limited partnership (sound familiar?). But—oops!—the Bend Bulletin reported on December 3 that shooting had been delayed. Janis hadn’t convinced enough Oregonians to pony up $1,000 for a unit.

Janis survived Gardner. When she died in 1992, her career was written up in the Los Angeles Times. When he died in Los Angeles on August 19, 2000, there was no lengthy celebrity obit. He had drifted off into obscurity, much like his cartoon creations.

14 comments:

  1. Very good post! Indeed such sketchy crowd-funding continues to this day - witness last year's "Legends of Oz" flop, whose producers had been soliciting funds since around 2008.

    I noticed the plug in the Guild ads for "Big Rascals: 133 RKO Comedies." I presume those included the Leon Errol, Edgar Kennedy and Newlyweds shorts?
    And Ziv International appears to be a separate company from Fred Ziv's original firm, which he sold to United Artists. I guess the self-proclaimed "father of TV syndication" couldn't stay out of the business for long.

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  2. Roger Roger - The Toy Shop Window (1954): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5lvennfPcg

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    1. I used to have several 78-rpm discs of Major Records (Thomas J. Valentino) mood music that formerly belonged to a radio station; about half the tunes were composed by Monsieur Roger.

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    2. Yeah, he composed about three discs worth released by Valentino. One cue was used in a Pixie and Dixie cartoon.
      He also composed electronic music in the 60s under the name Cecil Leuter.

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  3. Ownership of “Spunky and Tadpole” changed hands at least twice more in the ‘60s. Eventually, they ended up in the hands of Ziv International, which sold home video rights to Media Home Entertainment (1981) and All-Seasons Entertainment (1984). In 1992, the 150 cartoons were swallowed up by Time-Warner.

    Figures. Not that we should expect a Warner Archive release of this show these days (we're lucky just getting what we have. I see 1976's "Hugo the Hippo" will be released soon).

    Neat ZIV International ad here BTW. I see they listed one of the Japanese cartoons they acquired that only ever got home video releases in the US but was quite well remembered up in Canada (Fables of the Green Forest).

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  4. Reading all that, it's amazing that the show got made at all.

    Didn't know that Warners owns the rights to "Spunky" now.

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  5. According to the US government copyright records on-line, the cartoons are now owed by Time-Warner.

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  6. Nothing changes. Here in Wisconsin we have a somewhat sketchy building contractor who thinks he's Walt Disney reincarnate. For years he's been promoting a feature film featuring his born-again mouse character, and every time he gets caught in a scam, he wraps himself up in the flag and Jaaayyy-zus. Here's a (fairly mild) article on this guy: http://www.milwaukeemag.com/2007/01/17/MiracleHomes/

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  7. Regarding "Don Coyote", UPA did produce a pilot cartoon for the series. Gerard Baldwin worked on it. Some years ago I ran the cartoon for him. He'd remembered that he'd worked on it, but didn't remember much else. I have reason to believe that they may have produced a pilot for "The Genius" as well.

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    1. That Don Coyote pilot sounds interesting, assuming you have a video copy to share someday!

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  8. Thanks, Mike. Janis definitely had the characters under copyright, so could it have been that he sub-contracted to UPA? I've found no indication Janis had his own studio.

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  9. Interesting that Warner Home Video owns the series....:)

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    1. Go pester them for a burn-on-demand release if you must!

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  10. The Don Coyote pilot film, "Don Coyote and Chico in HAS BEAN," ended up in the same UPA syndication package as the cartoons from the Gerald Mc Boing Boing Show. It had no credits, and a UPA end title spliced on. When I was a kid, one of the local stations ran them as fillers during daytime movie slots, as they were all random lengths from 3-12 minutes.

    Even then I noticed it didn't seem to belong with the rest; it was sort of a poor man's Quick Draw McGraw, full of backfiring pistols and bullet-hole gags. So THAT'S where it came from!

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