Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Sunshine Maker

The animated cartoon business in the Golden Age is full of people who should be better known. Ted Eshbaugh is one of them.

Eshbaugh worked on a colour process in the early ‘30s when cartoons were in black and white. He had studios on both the west and east coasts. But his attempts to become another Walt Disney or Leon Schlesinger with a series of cartoons released by a major studio failed. The best he could do was co-direct several cartoons during the waning days of the Van Beuren studio before spending most of the rest of his days in commercial production.

Unfortunately, this post won’t exactly be The Ted Eshbaugh Story but I’ll pass on a couple of newspaper clippings about him. Eshbaugh was born in Des Moines, Iowa on Feb. 4, 1906 to Edwin F. and Zada (Kinear) Eshbaugh. His father sold farm insurance and was transferred to Sioux City when Ted was about two. The Los Angeles City Directory of 1923 lists Ted as an artist living with his widowed mother. The 1940 census shows his brother Jack worked for him at his studio in New York and his other brother Will was a singer on the radio (known as Bill Russell). The two brothers had a beverage distributorship in Los Angeles in the mid to late ‘20s.

The Film Daily of March 8, 1932 reports “The Goofy Goat” had been released and was to be the first of a series; drawings of the character were copyrighted on January 13, 1931. Eshbaugh had a temporary studio in his home on Argyle Avenue in Los Angeles. Perhaps he thought colour would be the gimmick that would get theatres to show Goofy, but he couldn’t really overcome block booking, where a Warners theatre would have to run a Warners cartoon.

Eshbaugh got a lot of attention in 1932. In its January issue, Modern Mechanics profiled his efforts. And here are three newspaper columns which devoted part of their space to Eshbaugh. The first is actually from 1931. It s from the Los Angeles Times. My thanks to Mark Kausler for a copy of this.

A young man, working secretly and unobtrusively for the past two years, has recently emerged with a solution to a problem which has been frustrating the entire business of animated cartoons. His name is Ted Eshbaugh and he has perfected a system of color for these cartoons.
The result of his exhaustive researches will be seen with the imminent release of his own “Goofy Goat” series, complete with sound and color. These shorts are said to be the very first of their kind, no other firm having been able to conquer the color obstacle barring one sequence in color in the Paul Whiteman picture.
Trained for art in Boston, where he won various scholarships, Eshbaugh abandoned the field of portraiture for more lucrative ones. Prey to a desire to combine painting and the screen, he ventured to Hollywood with the intention of evolving some medium of his own.
He made first, an animated cartoon, doing every line of the 15,000 himself. Convinced, then, that he was capable of this rudiment, he continued to odd jobs here and there, learning the trade. It was just when Fox had bought one of his cartoon shorts that the idea for what he wanted to do became clarified. Fox offered him a contract for a series to follow their purchase. The contract was a considerable item for a budding young cartoonist.
But Eshbaugh wanted to make cartoons in color. And to that end, he refused the Fox offer and buried himself in experiment.
For two years, he has been spartanly faithful to research. He has looked at miles of color on film. He has tested the chemicals of every shade and gradation, been defeated countless times by the result shown on the screen, gone back again and stubbornly worked until he discovered what was wrong.
Now, after two years of engrossed study and concentration, he has literally perfected a color system—a system that is nearly unlimited in the values and tones it encompasses.
And with this has come about the birth of a news little playmate for Mickey Mouse and Pluto the Pup and Bosco of “Looney Tunes” and all the other gay, fantastic little creatures who skip across the screen.
The new member of the “gang” is called “Goofy Goat,” and he puts on side by means of his coat of many colors. Good colors, too. The feeling of picture or vegetable salad is conspicuously missing in these pictures. The colors are true, gentle on the eye and free of that blurred outline which his hitherto distinguished the departure from cinema black and white.
A prominent film company’s announcement of its acquisition of this series will shortly be made. And there will be gnashings of teeth in experimental laboratories where vain attempts to solve this same problem have been going on for some time.
The complexities of the process are manifold. Far from a matter of mixing colors, it involves all manner of testing to reproduce those colors photographed on the finished film. The hilation caused by the celluloid on which cartoons are made was only one of the difficulties. Now that the process is perfected and its secrets jealously guarded, young Eshbaugh is assembling an organization of experts to insure his production of a picture a month—one facet of the effort of the animated cartoon profession to supply 20 per cent (which is all that can be managed) of the demand for this lively, highly imaginative entertainment form.
Those who have considered the possibilities color cartoon believe that these might achieve the novelty and variety of the Sunday supplement in the newspaper as compared with the daily comics in black and white.
New elements of beauty might be introduced of, say, the Silly Symphony type, though, as yet, no announcement of color being applied to these has been made.
It would also give more of a third dimensional appearance to the backgrounds in many instances, for color is known to increase the perspective of a scene.
Then, too, in comedies dealing with a variety of animals and birds doing their mirthful stuff, these could be shown in their full spotted and striped panoply, and variegated plumage.
Maybe then, too, even that protean, many-hued Thespian, the chameleon, could be induced to act!

By Harrison Carroll

King Features Syndicate
Hollywood, Cal., Oct. 13—Names to conjure with by generations of youngsters, the tin woodman and little Dorothy, now are to be heroes in a series of animated cartoons based on the famous Oz stories of Frank L. Baum.
Musicolor fantasies, a new company formed by Ted Eshbaugh, Hollywood artist, and J. R. Booth, Canadian sports man, will produce the pictures using a color process they have perfected after several years of experiment. Releases already are assured both here and abroad and the first or the cartoons has gone into production.
To me it seems altogether a happy idea. I was raised on the Oz stories. So were millions of other youngsters. The proof of it is Frank L. Baum has sold more than 8,000,000 copies of his books.
Backing film companies is a side-line with Mr. Booth. He lives in Ottawa, has vast lumber and paper interests and is a well-known sports man. His sister is married to Prince Erik of Denmark.

Hollywood Screen Life

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 31—If Ted Eshbaugh's experiments are successful animated portraits eventually will take the place of animated cartoons.
Eshbaugh, portrait painter, miniature artist and sculptor, now is preparing a series of 13 two-reel animated cartoons in color, the stories being adapted from the famous Wizard of Oz books.
The color process, one Eshbaugh spent 10 years developing, was the first to be applied satisfactorily to cartoons on the screen. Yellow, a color heretofore impossible to reproduce truly, now is as free from halation as red or green.
Realistic Mr. Leo
This 30-year-old artist's hope is to put into motion pictures not merely jerky cartoon characters in simple outline, but backgrounds and characters with reality and artistry of detailed, paintings.
One animated film of this type, in which a lion looks like a painting of a lion instead of a pen-and-ink animal, already has been completed by Eshbaugh.
Eshbaugh, upon graduating from one of Boston's better art schools, where he won a scholarship, went into portrait and miniature work. As a hobby, he took up colored, animated cartoons.
When he announced his intention of giving up his “serious” art in order to come to this scene of film activity to experiment farther, intimated he was prostituting his art by giving his talents to a medium so un-arty as the movies! Ted was kind enough not to remind some of these same gentlemen of their remarks when, a few years later — the depression having been felt un the field of art — they wrote to ask him for jobs as movie illustrators.

Reel Life In Hollywood
[Boston Daily Globe, Nov. 2, 1932]
Does Boston remember Ted Eshbaugh, who won scholarships at the Boston Art Museum and Chicago Art Institute? Some years ago, the young artist came to Hollywood and went quietly above developing a satisfactory color process for animated cartoons. Recently he has come into prominence as head of a newly formed company known as Musicolor Fantasies. As inventor of a new color film process, said to give the truest color values yet produced on the screen, he now heads a staff of 25 of the finest cartoon animators in the country.

Eshbaugh kept trying. The Film Daily of August 29, 1933 revealed he was producing three-colour “Musicolor Fantasies,” with the first being “The Snow Man.” That may have been his last west coast effort. By 1934, he was in New York. The Van Beuren short “The Sunshine Makers” he co-directed with Burt Gillett was copyrighted on January 11, 1935. How much Eshbaugh was responsible for it isn’t clear, but it’s notable the cartoon was a commercial effort for Borden’s Dairy Products. Eshbaugh seemed to concentrate most of his future efforts in the commercial and industrial animation areas. Contemporary trade publications talk of “Mr. Peanut and His Family Tree” in 1939 (and murals painted on the Planters exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair), a dental hygiene film in 1944 and “The Pied Piper of Chiclet Town” in 1948, the same year he made a short on the Declaration of Independence in three-colour Ansco Color. The Library of Congress has a sample reel of Eshbaugh’s TV commercial work, including ads for Aunt Jemima Devil's Food Cake Ready Mix, Hinds Hand Cream, Camel Cigarettes, Chase and Sanborn Coffee and White Rock Sparkling Water. But he still apparently had a dream about a theatrical series; a New York Sun clipping dated July 25, 1938 reads: “Ted Eshbaugh Studios, in New York, are producing a series of animated cartoons called “Peter Panda,” inspired by the national popularity of the panda.” No, Walter Lantz wasn’t the first cartoon producer to come up with the idea of a panda (“Like Begins For Andy Panda” wasn’t released until October 9th the following year). But Lantz did make a cartoon and comic book series out of it.

The growth of television starting in the late ‘40s seems to have attracted Eshbaugh as well. Broadcasting magazine of September 18, 1950 reports: “TED ESHBAUGH STUDIOS Inc., N. Y., introduces new TV film comedy Bumps O'Dazy, starring Billy Gilbert. Initial film is in color.” Eshbaugh was a member of the National Television Film Council at the time. And Eshbaugh seems to have tried to make a series of TV cartoons out of a character called “Daffy Doodles.” He copyrighted a song with that name in 1955; you see a 1959 trade ad to the right. Animation history Jerry Beck has remarked to me he doesn’t think the cartoons were ever produced. And Broadcasting revealed in its issue of October 12, 1959: “Sterling Television Co., New York, has released 150 fully animated color cartoons, each of which is introduced and hosted by a character named "Capt'n Sailor Bird," also the title of package. Episodes are in "cliff hanger" form—providing a carryover from one chapter to the next. The series was created for tv by Ted Eshbaugh Studios, New York. Sales of the package have been concluded with WGN -TV Chicago and WGR -TV Buffalo, Sterling reported.”

The U.S Death Index gives Eshbaugh’s death as of July, 1969. An on-line site states it happened on July 4th. I have not been able to find an obituary.

A web search can easily come up with web sites to watch “Goofy Goat,” “The Snow Man,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Cap’n Cub,” which Eshbaugh himself screened on WBNT-TV in New York in 1946. I’d like to link to something of his, so here is “The Sunshine Makers” from a great-looking print from the Steve Stanchfield collection. Steve’s company has been responsible for restoring all kinds of obscure cartoons, making it a lot easier to appreciate them. Check out his site HERE.

And, just because it’s so strange, here’s “Goofy Goat.”


  1. That is definitely one weird toon! He would have fit right in at Fleischers!

  2. "Goofy Goat" or "Goofy Goat Antics" as it was called by Official Films, which released it to home movies and television, is one of my all time favorite cartoons. St. Louis, Mo. Channel 5 must have run it 100 times back in the 1950s! Imagine my delight when I visited the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History in 1968 and found close to the basement, a diorama displaying original CELS from "Goofy Goat", including the original Title Card, painted in various shades of red and green, AND the production camera that photographed "Goofy Goat"! That diorama is now no longer displayed in the museum, and one can only hope that they archived the materials properly. The "Wizard of Oz" cartoon which Eshbaugh completed in Technicolor, did not have heavily rendered lions, but a really kooky story line featuring enchanted eggs and chickens. The musical scores to both the Goat and Oz were written by Carl Stalling, and a principal animator on both cartoons was "Vet" Anderson, one of the weirdest and most eccentric movie cartoonists of all time. If the "Captain Sailorbird" cartoons were produced by Eshbaugh, he was at a low ebb by that time. The Sailorbirds were all English-dubbed Russian, German, Japanese and Polish cartoons, divided into serial chapters when the original cartoon ran longer than 7 minutes. The only new animation for the series was an endless cycle of Captain Sailorbird emerging from the crow's nest and pacing back and forth with a chatter cycle on his beak, setting up the story for the day. This character was no Goofy Goat, I assure you. Mark Kausler

  3. Thanks for your insight, Mark. It was either in "Broadcasting" or "Film Daily" in the mid-40s it was mentioned the Goofy Goat material had ended up in the L.A. Museum.
    Goofy could very well be a Bosko cartoon in terms of gags.

  4. Originally, "The Sunshine Makers" was released as part of the "Rainbow Parade" series in January 1935. Burt Gillett was credited as co-director. A few years later, Borden's acquired the rights to it, and reissued it as a promotional film. Here's the original opening titles (exhumed a while ago):