Saturday, 11 June 2016

Terry at 25

1940 was a pretty good year for Paul Terry. He hired George S. White away from Educational Pictures to be his advertising and publicity director (and assistant story editor). Theatre contracts passed the 10,000 figure, an 11-year high. He announced more colour cartoons than ever—13 of 26 releases, and plans for a two-reel cartoon in colour, likely inspired by the Fleischer studios having done the same thing. He signed a merchandising deal with Ideal Toys. And he celebrated 25 years in the animation business.

Terry set White to work and the resulting ink was something that would have made publicity-conscious Walt Disney proud. Trade publications and newspapers soon started telling how poor Paul tried to sell his first film and was told the film would be more valuable without his drawings on it. For whatever reason, the Motion Picture Herald skipped that little tale as it told the Terry Story in its April 13, 1940 edition. Here it is, with the drawing accompanying it.

Paul Terry Recalls 25 Years Of Animated Cartooning
TWENTY-FIVE years ago this month Paul Terry, owner and guiding genius of the Terry-Toon studios in New Rochelle, N. Y., finished and sold his first animated motion picture cartoon. It was "Little Herman," a 400-foot pen and ink imitation of a performance of Hermann the Great, and it was sold, with the benefit of a little showmanship involving the packing of the projection room with children, to the old Thannhauser company for $1.35 a foot.
The picture, first of a long series of what are not known as Terry-Toons, was the result of three months of back-breaking labor in a little room on 42nd Street in New York, where the Cameo theatre now stands. It was made without benefit of the celluloid and fixed background method on which Mr. Terry now holds patents.
Inspired by McCay's Work
Reminiscing this week on a quarter century of work in the medium in which he and others have since become famous, Mr. Terry said he owed the inspiration for that first cartoon to Winsor McCay, famous newspaper cartoonist of the period. Mr. Terry had been in New York four years, having come from San Francisco search of new fields to conquer, when he attended an artists' dinner at which Mr. McCay screened "Gertie the Dinosaur," an incomplete animated cartoon on which he had been working for some time.
The cartoon and Mr. McCay's enthusiasm for the medium for which he predicted an important future intrigued Mr. Terry and he forthwith sank most of his slender resources in equipment for the 42nd Street workshop.
With the completed "Little Herman" under his arm, Mr. Terry took a train for New Rochelle to try out his salesmanship on the Thannhauser officials. He met a cool reception, but he argued and pleaded until it was agreed that the cartoon would be screened later in the day.
Mr. Terry used the interval to good advantage. When the time came for the screening he had the projection room packed with children from the streets of New Rochelle. As "Little Herman" stepped out on the screen, bowed, tipped his hat and began to take out of the hat everything from rabbits to elephants, the audience roared. "Little Herman" went into the Thannhauser magazine reel.
All One Man Labor
During the following year he contributed several more subjects to the magazine reel. It was all one-man work. No one had thought in terms of the organization by which the present cartoons are turned out. Before starting his second picture, however, Mr. Terry determined to find a simpler method of production.
McCay had started by drawing a complete new picture for each frame. Background as well as animated figures had to be redrawn for each frame.
Mr. Terry thought of trying celluloid and he had some sheets made up. These were better to work on and their complete transparency enabled him to make one drawing of a background on opaque paper and then repeat only the moving figures on the celluloids. With this improved method his second picture, "Farmer Alfalfa," was less back-breaking labor.
Made Aesop's Fables Series
After the Thannhauser days Mr. Terry worked through several different associations. He served during the World War, doing animation of medical subjects for the Army Medical Corps and then returned to making comedy cartoons. Howard Estabrook suggested to him the use of Aesop's Fables for a series of cartoons and the suggestion resulted in a series which continued for nine years, until the coming of sound.
Aesop's Fables started with the staff of 19 men who had been engaged in producing the previous comedies.
At present a staff of 100 men are engaged in making the Terry-Toons for Twentieth Century-Fox release. They are shown in more than 10,000 theatres in the United States and Canada.


  1. Hmmm, I always thought that J.R. Bray and Earl Hurd invented the cel and background peg register system, not Terry! All the early Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes give credit to the Bray-Hurd process.

    1. In a series of interviews I did with Terry in 1969-70, he basically repeated what's in the Herald story. However, he said he never patented his use of transparent cels. He did patent a matte process in 1915, which involved double exposures, which he used on his first film, Herman the Great.

      He said he used it "only used for the first two pictures, I think, and then realized that if I drew the background first and then made the drawings on a transparent material and colored them in, it would serve the same purpose. So, I made the first pictures in celluloid. Earl Hurd did a similar thing, but he did it with glassine paper."

      Terry acknowledged that "Hurd had patents. I think the Hurd patents were the best."

      The separation of animated characters and backgrounds actually goes back to 19th century optical toys, as can be seen in Émile Reynaud's Théâtre Optique which debuted in 1892.