Saturday, 13 February 2016

Fun From Pelican Films

In the 1950s, some of the best-looking cartoons didn’t appear on theatre screens or TV sets. They were shown in schools or workplaces. They were made by companies that mainly specialised in industrial and advertising films.

There were many of these companies, some of them owned by animators from the Golden Age of Cartoons who, in the late ‘40s, saw that theatrical animation had reached a cash crisis and decided to go into business for themselves. They were helped by the rise of network television, where major advertisers were starting to pump money they had put in radio, and who discovered that cartoon ads were incredibly effective sales tools.

Among the companies on the East Coast was Pelican Films, owned by Jack Zander, whose animation career dated back to the ill-fated Hollywood studio started in 1930 by Romer Grey. Zander retired some 55 years later after stops at Warner Bros. (Harman-Ising version), Van Beuren, Terrytoons, MGM, the U.S. Army Signal Corps animation branch on Long Island and then a number of East Coast commercial studios.

The New York Post announced on November 7, 1946 his hiring as the animation director for Willard Pictures. His first TV ad was a 60-second spot for Chiclets, fully-animated for $3,500. He left for Transfilm in 1948 where he was an animation director (the watermarked photo to the right from 1951 appeared in an article in Sponsor magazine; Zander is on the left). Zander, Thos. Joe Dunford and Elliott Baker co-founded their own company, Pelican Films, in July 1954.

This post isn’t intended as a full biography or filmography of Mr. Zander, but I ran across some neat designs from a couple of cartoons he directed at Pelican and wanted to pass them on. They’re from the pages of Business Screen Magazine. I don’t know who Zander employed as a designer in the ‘50s; Chris Ishii had left UPA and was at Pelican by 1960. Earl Murphy was there for a time.

One of Pelican’s earliest films was Ernest Jones, Double Duty American, similar in plot to 90 Days of Wondering, a 1956 industrial directed by Chuck Jones. The design, at least in the frame below, is pretty conventional for 1954.

SPONSOR: U. S. Army Reserve.
TITLE: Ernest Jones, Double Duty American, 12 min., color, produced by Pelican Films, Inc.
Ernest Jones, the typical young man coming out of his Army service, represents a sizeable government investment. After the Army has trained him for two years to top efficiency in his military job, back he goes in civilian life perhaps to forget all he has learned.
Although every discharged soldier has an eight-year obligation of service in the Reserve, the Army would like to encourage inactive Reservists to join an organized unit in their communities, thus maintaining a Ready Reserve of organized and trained men.
As a part of its program of fostering the Organized Reserve units, the Army Reserve Corps, through ad agency Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, Inc., is now using this animated cartoon limning [?] the post-service life of Ernest Jones. No one could be happier to get out of the Army and enjoy the delights of civilian life than Jones. At first he wants no part of the Army in his future, until he becomes convinced that (1) his country still needs him; (2) it will still pay him well for his part-time service; and (3) by joining an Organized Reserve unit he can “belong” to the Army in his own home town, and train with his own neighbors.
Ernest Jones, Double Duly American, get a lot of mileage out of its limited animation. An original score is played to good effectiveness by piano and drum.
The U. S. Army Reserve will distribute the film through its own units.

Who knew there was a Better Heating-Cooling Council? Well, there was, and it commissioned a film in 1958 imaginatively showing aliens and Ben Franklin.

SPONSOR: The Better Heating-Cooling Council.
TITLE: You Lucky Earth People, 13 1/2 min., color, produced by Pelican Films, Inc.. through Film Counselors. Inc.
People about to build or re-model a home are the target of this new film which extols the qualities of liquid heating-cooling systems. With no hot air, the film is a gentle, entertaining reminder that no system can do the job like water. Designed, primarily, for public service television showings, it is a cartoon depicting the frustrating adventures of little space-man. Bebop Bobap, who is assigned the job of selling his planet's "Galaxy Heating System" to earth people.
Long-lived Bobap begins his pitch in 18,000 B.C., but his puttering air heater won't function properly in the caveman's cliff dwelling. Bobap is persistent, however, and goes on to show his heater to Nero and to Ben Franklin before coming to grips finally with a modern prospect.
In an earth-man's new home Bobap finds a hot water system that is silent, efficient and economical, and even removes snow from the driveway. And in summer, the same system cools through chilled water. "You Lucky Earth People," says Bobap, as he packs up his Galaxy clunker and takes off in space with plans for a modern system in his kick.
The film is cute and funny, more than a big selling venture. The Council knew that you can't really sell hard, or pack the tv air with technical facts, so wisely seeks only to amuse and plant a seed of home heating wisdom that a plumber or contractor may later sprout into a sale. A most proper activity for an association and well done.

Among the other films the studio made in 1958 are (and I swear I’m not making up the first one): Motion Pictures: The Inside Story of a Chicken Gizzard Grinding (Granite Grit Inst.-Wildrick & Miller); Kingsbury Thrust Bearings (U.S. Navy); Wind & The Navigator (U.S. Air Force); Making Soybeans Pay With Chemical Weed Control (U.S. Rubber). TV Commercials: For Robert Hall Clothes; (N.W. Ayer); Marathon Gas (N.W. Ayer); Lucky Strike, Campbell Soup, Wildroot (BBD&O); Hostess Cup Cakes, Twinkles (Ted Bates); Folgers Coffee (Cunningham & Walsh); Ipana, Mum Mist, Ammens Medicated Powder, 4 Fisherman Fishsticks (Doherty, Clifford, Steers & Shenfield, Inc.); Nucoa (Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, Inc.); Parliament Cigarettes (Benton & Bowles); Joy (Leo Burnett); Kinney Shoes (F. B. Stanley); Cinzano Vermouths (Burke Dowling & Adams). A Business Screen article stated that 75 per cent of Pelican’s business was fully-animated or animated/live-action commercials.

We all know the havoc wreaked on the movie industry by television in the 1950s, but the living room tube had an insidious but little-remembered effect on another bastion of Americana—card playing. To counter that, Pelican was asked to come out with a low-budget industrial film urging people to turn off that vile Donna Reed Show and joyfully spend the evening with a friendly round or four of Canasta. Once again, Pelican drags out historical figures in its pitch.

SPONSOR: Association of American Playing Card Manufacturers.
TITLE: It's All in the Cards, 11 min. color and b/w, produced by Pelican Films, Inc.
Recent survey figures show that some 20% of homes do not own playing cards. On the presumption that card-playing has been overlooked in favor of television, the Association of American Playing Card Manufacturers has set about finding a method of showing the fun of cards to tv-equipped homes.
Public service television seemed to offer the most possibilities within the Association's budget, and J. Walter Thompson advertising agency decided on an animated film to be offered stations for this purpose.
Pelican Films, Inc. was selected to produce the film. Since the budget was quite limited, multi-cel animation was held to a minimum and the animated effects were achieved through techniques made possible by motorized camera equipment designed by John Oxberry.
Two stylized characters, Mr. Meek and Mr. Boomer, are featured in the film. Mr. Meek is a quiet little poll-taker calling on Mr. Boomer who shouts and hollers with a voice like a bullfrog and exhibits the manners of a bull. Mr. Boomer likes television all right, but his special enthusiasm is card games.
Mr. Meek asks Mr. Boomer if he watches television frequently and the answer is "yes." Soon the conversation swings over to cards and continues on this subject till the final word is spoken. Although Meek claims he never plays cards. Boomer gets him to try gin rummy and later Meek wins, much to Boomer's dismay.
While the sound track carries the conversation between Boomer and Meek in this part of the film, several cost-saving techniques are used to add interest to the picture. As Boomer explains how George Washington, Napoleon and Columbus played cards, drawings of these characters flash on the screen. The camera focuses on one of these portraits at a time and they come alive through use of only a few drawings.
To animate Boomer's word story that tells how George Washington kept a record of his card wins and losses, the scene flashes to a notebook showing the tally and another entry which reads "also crossed Delaware." Napoleon's portrait shows him holding a fanned-out group of cards in his left hand with his right hand thrust typically into his jacket. Just before the shot dissolves out, Napoleon winks and pulls his right hand out of his jacket with a hidden card.
Designed as a modest public relations venture, It's All in the Cards has proved to be a sleeper. Demand has been so heavy that the original stock of prints available were quickly booked months ahead. With more prints now available, the film is certain to reach hundreds of thousands of hitherto non-card-playing homes.

Evidently the diminishing numbers of bridge players in the U.S. put the American Playing Card Manufacturers in a real panic. Not only did they commission this film, they also had published a 14-page, 5½ by 7½ brochure with the same title as the film to prevent further rummy rejections in American homes.

Unfortunately, limited research hasn’t discovered the identity of the artists who worked on these industrials, but a note in Variety of April 24, 1957 reveals Arthur Anderson provided voices and vocal sound effects for the studio’s Marathon Gas spots.

Pelican went through some corporate and staff changes in 1969 and the following January was hit with a lawsuit by actress Marilyn Hassett, who demanded $1,900,000 from five co-defendants after falling off an elephant (evidently not animated) during the filming of a TV spot. Zander left in July to form Zander Associates with five staffers and later changed the name to Zander’s Animation Parlour, with Henry Lehn as the head designer and Emery Hawkins, Jan Svochak and former Van Beuren and MGM colleague Bill Littlejohn among the animators. Zander closed up in the mid-‘80s, picking up an Emmy along the way. Jack Zander died at the age of 99 on December 17, 2007. He left behind a huge body of work. It’s a shame his industrial and commercial animation isn’t as readily available to view as his fine work on MGM’s Tom and Jerry or even Van Beuren’s lamented Molly Moo Cow series, even if one example is the “rhythmic grinding cycles of a chicken's gizzard in action” as one industrial film catalogue put it. The above articles from a defunct trade paper will have to do for now.


  1. To limn means "to represent in drawing or painting," so it is indeed an accurate description of what these films did.

  2. Thanks, Mike. I've never heard the term.