Saturday, 24 June 2017

Heeza Hit

J.R. Bray was an interesting fellow and deserves to be better known.

For years and years, his studio in New York produced industrial and educational films. But he was also involved, for a time, in the world of animation, though it seems as if he concentrated more on filing patents and then suing people for infringement than he did on the actual cartoons.

I was going to say he was involved for a time “in the silent era,” but that isn’t quite the case. When television started growing in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Bray was there, offering stations his ancient silent cartoons with newly (and poorly) added soundtracks, mainly consisting of music from the Valentino production library in the background.

Bray’s first animated cartoon was in late 1913. The Colonel Heeza Liar series was released through Pathé until September 1915. There was a 3½ month gap. Then the trade papers announced in December that Bray had signed a deal with Paramount to supply it with a cartoon a week. By this time, Bray wasn’t drawing anything. He had a staff of artists, and each was responsible for a cartoon in their own exclusive series about once a month.

Here’s the story in the Motion Picture News of December 18, 1915. An earlier story we posted from around this time asked Bray about his patent suits. This one does not. Bray also neglects to explain why he was no longer releasing through Pathé after praising the studio for its potential of international distribution.

Col. Heezaliar Will Tell the Truth for Paramount
His Creator, J. R. Bray, Who Was a Steady Contributor to Life, Puck and Judge Before Going to Pathé, Will Furnish One Reel of Animated Cartoons a Week

SMALLER even than "Little Mary" Pickford is the newest star who has been signed up to appear exclusively on the Paramount Program. He is Colonel Heezaliar, who for many months has materialized from the pen of J. R. Bray, the noted cartoonist, and appeared with his travel notes and records of doughty exploits, on the screen.
Colonel Heezaliar, it will be remembered, is the man who calmly stood at the plate, with the bases full, and allowed the second strike to flick the ashes off his cigar, and then clouted the next one a rap which would make the swats of Home-Run Baker sound like the drop of a ripe grape into a coal bunker.
And now the Colonel is to star alongside Mary Pickford, Marguerite Clark, Pauline Frederick, Hazel Dawn and the other notables on the Paramount Program. It has been brought about by a new contract between the Paramount and the J. R. Bray Studios, Inc., whereby Paramount will have one full reel of animated cartoons each week.
J. R. Bray, the creator of Colonel Heezaliar, and inventor of several patented processes by which these funny cartoons are produced, has added five noted artists to his staff. Each one will specialize in one form of cartoon work, and their productions will supplement the bi-weekly appearances of Heezaliar.
In addition to this feature, Mr. Bray is preparing something which he is confident will be the most startling and original feature of this kind ever shown, and will open up a new field in motion pictures.
He is not yet ready to announce it, but C. Allan Gilbert, long famous as artist and illustrator, is working with him on the first releases, which will be ready some time in January. The new feature will be known as the "Bray-Gilbert Releases," and will appear once a month.
"I am surprised myself at the immense popularity of Colonel Heezaliar," said Mr. Bray to Motion Picture News. "It is without doubt the strongest cartoon character in existence, and is second only to Chaplin as a comedy character. Consequently we are going to feature this subject in the new releases, but in addition we will release a quantity of cartoon material, which will include a topical cartoon to accompany the Paramount Newspictures.
"Besides Mr. Gilbert I have added such artists as L. M. Glackens, Earl Hurd, C. T. Anderson and Paul Terry to the staff at the Bray Studios, and each will contribute something strong and striking to the new cartoon releases. Mr. Gilbert's new series is to be a phantasy novelty almost startling in its originality and conception.
"It has long been my ambition to produce the highest class of cartoon comedy possible, and place it before the highest class audiences in this country. For this purpose I have concluded that Paramount best suits my needs, and hence I have joined the Paramount program.
"In addition to these releases, we have arranged extensive distribution abroad. I believe my work is even better known in England than it is at home, and we plan to take advantage of the European market for such subjects. I have studied this cartoon question as related to motion pictures for more than eight years, and my original object in going into it was to open and develop a new field for the activities of artists. I believe I have done this."
Mr. Bray was born in Detroit, Mich., and has lived in New York since 1901. He was for seven years a newspaper artist, being also a steady contributor to the humorous weeklies, such as Life, Puck and Judge. He took his ideas to Pathé Freres over three years ago, since he felt that such a house with its many foreign branches could give him a larger international circulation than any other.
The Pathé officials at once saw the value of his work, and from that day to this he has dealt only with Pathé. Millions of persons have laughed and are laughing at the "Heezaliar" and "Police Dog" series, and his political cartoons in the Pathé News, the motion picture weekly, have attracted wide-spread newspaper comment.
Mr. Bray has truly originated a new school of art.

My thanks to Tom Stathes’ fine research for some background on Bray. You can read more at Tom’s web site here, and about the Colonel here.

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