Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Short Cartoon Career of J. Waldo Purrington

The mid-1940s saw the rise of a number of cartoon characters—Heckle and Jeckle, Sylvester the cat, Yosemite Sam, Casper the Friendly Ghost. There were others that tried. One of them was Professor J. Waldo Purrington.

You probably haven’t heard of him. But he did make it onto a theatre screen. At least once.

J. Waldo was part of an attempt by Planet Pictures and Oscar Productions to break into the movie business. Historian Jonathan Boschen recently dug up a little bit of information about Planet’s animated obscurity, so allow me to pass on the fruits of his work combined with some additional revelations.

Planet first appeared on the scene in 1944. The first reference to the company in Daily Variety was on February 19, 1945 when there was word it had rented space at the new Consolidated Studios to make 16 millimetre films (as a side note, Hugh Harman was also on the lot making industrial films, some of which included animation). Planet intended to create a full programme in 16 millimetre for any theatres that wanted to run films in that format—features, newsreels, even cartoons. Its first “feature” was ready that September. “Jeep Herders” ran only 59 minutes and was co-produced and directed by ex-stuntman Dick Talmadge and Harvey Perry.

As for the company’s cartoons, we learn this from The Educational Screen magazine of February 1946.
PLANET PICTURES, INC., 5746 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood 28, Calif., has launched, in addition to its 16mm releases of entertainment features in color, the release of a series of first-run animated cartoons filmed in 16mm Kodachrome. The first series of amusing subjects introduces a whimsical, intellectual and absent-minded cat as Professor J. Waldo Purrington, who is devoted to the cause of pure science and proceeds to demonstrate the scientific truth or falsehoods of various familiar adages and accepted precepts. The first in this series to be released to Planet's national distributing organization is Honesty is the Best Policy. Subsequent subjects will clarify such old adages as Haste Makes Waste, Finders Keepers—Losers Weepers and Barking Dogs Never Bite.
Another series of cartoons will feature laugh-provoking characters known as "Diddits", invisible little men who busily run the affairs of the universe, utilizing the most ingenious inventions. Original theme music will be featured ; the script is narrated by the many-voiced Frank Graham, tailored to appeal to all ages.
The current release in Planet's series of 16mm color features is The People's Choice, described as a rollicking satire on the production of radio programs and the building up of radio personalities.
Graham is another of animation’s unsung voice artists. He worked for Warner Bros. (the narrator in Bob Clampett’s Horton cartoon, for one), MGM (The House of Tomorrow and The Shooting of Dan McGoo, among many), Columbia (he played both starring roles in many of the Fox and Crow shorts) and Walt Disney.

We’ve reported on the blog before about cartoon series announced with great fanfare only to fizzle out before anything got made. But Honesty is the Best Policy was not only made, it premiered in Hollywood. The Billboard magazine of April 13, 1946 reported:
Planet Premieres All-16mm. Program
HOLLYWOOD, April 6.—With the customary Hollywood fanfare Planet Pictures this week launched the world premiere of an entire theater program in 16mm. Kodachrome film—newsreel, cartoon and feature—at the local Marcal Theater.
Purpose of the showing was two-fold, according to Planet officials, to demonstrate to the industry and public that the showing of 16mm. subjects in regular auditoriums is practicable and that color may be filmed economically in 16mm. stock. The Marcal, a nabe house, was chosen because it has an average size screen (16 by 22 feet) and an average throw of light (123 feet). Full program runs 95 minutes.
Planet Pictures deserves an “E” for effort in presenting this experimental program, the fact that it didn’t prove what it had hoped to, notwithstanding. Technically speaking, of the three subjects shown, the short trailer-type cartoon was better than either the newsreel or the feature. The cartoon star, Professor J. Waldo Purrington, will probably not cause Walt Disney any sleepless nights, however.
The “newsreel,” edited from footage obtained from various sources, runs 10 minutes and includes shots of Lockheed’s new Constellation airliner, take-off and landing of the P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters, sport shorts of child athletes and field archery contestants, and close-ups of baby chinchillas. Outstanding were the chinchilla close-ups, which were sharp and in contrast to all the other footage shown. The reason for this, according to 16mm. experts, is that these particular close-ups were filmed with a ten-inch lens, giving a clear image equal to any shot on 33mm. stock. Long shots were particularly fuzzy thruout the showing because wide angle lenses for 16mm. color films are not yet developed to the point where they reflect well on a full-size screen.
Sound projection was generally satisfactory, barring a tendency toward thinness of tone.
The main feature, The People’s Choice, was not—by any standards—an epic production, but the critic is forehandedly disarmed in advance by a program note which states frankly that “The People’s Choice is not an epic production; Planet is not a major studio.”
Whether the cartoon was ever shown again in a theatre is something further research will have to discover.

16 millimetre was a format for home movie projectors so it’s no surprise ads for the Purrington cartoon were taken out in several magazines aimed at the home movie hobbyist. The May 1946 edition of Popular Photography featured a brief blurb on the cartoon and revealed who was involved in it.
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY. 16 mm color. Planet Pictures Inc., 6362 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood 28, Calif. Purrington, a lovable cartoon character who takes the form of a whimsical, absent-minded cat, springs from the drawing board of Paul Fitzpatrick, Jr., and will romp through an entire series of short subjects to prove or disprove well-known adages. The first of these is Honesty Is the Best Policy.
So just who was Paul Fitzpatrick, Jr.? And who was behind Oscar Productions and Planet Pictures?

Planet was the cartoon’s distributor while Oscar was the producer. Oscar Productions wasn’t named for the Academy Award statue, as you might think. A photo in a 1945 edition of Film World magazine (which we, unfortunately, can’t reproduce) shows Fitzpatrick, Oscar president Oscar Kipust and company general manager Maurice Goldman signing the distribution deal with Planet president Jack Seaman.

Paul George Lanctot Fitzpatrick, Jr. was a former Disneyite. He was born in Toronto in December 1910. His father moved the family to Montreal in 1914 then to Manhattan in 1916. He spent some time in the ‘20s in London, England and arrived in Los Angeles from St. Louis in the late ‘30s. An edition of The American Film Institute Catalog lists him as one of the people who worked on Bambi and The Reluctant Dragon; Hans Perk’s excellent blog shows he was an effects animator on Fantasia as well. He copyrighted a song in 1944 and his name is on the copyright for a drawing of Purrington (March 14, 1946) and for the Diddits (April 10, 1946). Oscar Kipust, as Oscar Productions, copyrighted a drawing of “The Professor” on the Diddits (Dec. 10, 1945). The 1959 Film Daily Yearbook lists Fitzpatrick running the New York branch of Telepix Corp., an industrial and commercial film company which, at the time, employed former Warner Bros. cartoon manager Johnny Burton. Within two years, he had opened his own company to make theatrical, educational and commercial films.

Kipust had no animation experience. In 1930, he was a salesman at a hosiery store in New York. By 1940, he was in Hollywood, employed as a property manager at a movie studio. He got some newspaper ink in 1968 as the prop man who built the huge Dagwood sandwiches seen on the Blondie TV show on CBS (yes, they contained real food).

His foray into animation was brief. Oscar Productions was bought out in 1947 by Walter Lantz, who planned to set up a new 16 millimetre unit concentrating on commercial pictures in Kodachrome (Daily Variety, May 20, 1947). Kipust was born in Poland in 1905 and died in Los Angeles in 1996. Oscar was actually the cartoon subsidiary of Meridian Pictures, run by Sam Nathanson, the former sales boss of Planet (Daily Variety, Aug. 30, 1946). Nathanson quit Planet after a reorganisation in July 1946 that put stuntman-turned-director Talmadge in the president’s chair and booted Jack Seaman down to vice-president. By November, Talmadge was out and Stan Ceizky was president, with Fred Kane as vice-president and general manager. Seaman continued as a vice-president but in the odd world of small-time Hollywood, where companies split and morphed, he and Talmadge set up United-International Productions by 1950. By 1952, he brought back the Planet Pictures banner in a project with Robert A. Heinlein (the company changed its name in 1953 to Galaxy Pictures) which saw Seaman run out of cash and receive a $1,000 loan from Heinlein. Seaman had been a stuntman before setting his eye on being a producer. His name vanished from Variety after the Heinlein picture was released.

What became of the cartoon, or cartoons if others were made? Was it fully animated or limited? Did Oscar Productions hire some Golden Age animators to work on it on a freelance basis? I’m afraid when you start digging through the world of obscure animated cartoons, you raise more questions that even the noted Professor Purrington could answer.

Late additional note: As usual, others raised these questions long before I did and found answers. See the comment section.

2 comments:

  1. The address of Planet Pictures was the future location of Metromedia Square, headquarters to KTTV, KMET, KLAC and later KTWV- The Wave. It now exists as an athletic field for a High School.

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  2. This short was fully animated, and Norm McCabe was a principal animator on it.

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