Saturday 8 February 2014

The Brief Stardom of Charlie Horse

“It’s a Grand Old Nag” is a fascinating orphan in the Golden Age of theatrical cartoons. It was supposed to be part of a series launching Bob Clampett as a cartoon producer, but the whole plan collapsed for reasons that were never publicly revealed.

Daily Variety outlines some of the pieces so we can get a limited idea of what happened.

First, a bit of background. Michael Barrier’s Hollywood Cartoons says a memo circulated at the Warners cartoon studio dated May 7, 1945 that Art Davis had been picked to replace Clampett as a director. Clampett had worked on Warners’ releases since 1930, eventually being named a director in a unit overseen in the late '30s by Ray Katz. Katz took over management of the Screen Gems studio on August 1, 1945 and, presumably, that’s when Clampett did some uncredited story work there.

Clampett had tried producing before. While still at Warners in July 1944, he set up an experimental TV cartoon operation which doesn’t seem to have produced anything. Now that he was on his own, he tried again. And he landed a deal. Here’s Variety from June 25, 1946.

Rep Enters Short Cartoon Field With 6 in Trucolor
Republic, for the initial time in its history, is entering the short-subject cartoon field. Prexy Herbert J. Yates yesterday revealed that negotiations have been completed whereby studio will release a series of six Trucolor cartoons in 1947. Deal was consummated with the newly-formed Bob Clampett Productions, who will produce the subjects for Republic distribution.
Clampett, whose studio is located at 6066 Sunset Blvd., comes to Republic with a great backlog of experience in the cartoon field. He had been with Warner Bros. for 16 years and is credited with originating the "Bugs Bunny" character.
Associated with him in his new venture are former mid-western exhibitor Walter W. Arnold, veepee and general manager, and Roydon Vosburg, secretary-treasurer. Understood that Clampett's deal had been brewing for some time.
Yates queried exchange managers, salesmen and theatre exhibitors on their reactions. When practically unanimous favorable response greeted his queries, and with the completion of facilities at Consolidated Laboratories to take care of an increased load of film for processing, in addition to the feature film already being handled by the lab, the deal was signed.
Clampett plans a gradually expanded number of single-reelers as well as probable novelty sequences in some of Republic's top-budgeted features.

Clampett had a company. Now he needed staff. And, along the way, he decided on his first cartoon under the contract. More clippings:

Clampett Signs Towsley
Donald Towsley has been inked by Bob Clampett Productions as head animator and starts work at once. Towsley is former head animator on Donald Duck shorts for Disney's. Clampett will release inkers through Republic. (August 21, 1946)

Republic Makes Initial Cartoon
Republic entered the short subject field over the weekend with start of production of the initial cartoon short, "It's A Grand Old Nag," at the Bob Clampett Cartoon Studio. Development marks another step in rounding out studio's program for 1946-47, with slate of six Trucolor cartoons to be released on this year's schedule. Studio plans a gradually expanded number of cartoon shorts, as well. (September 16, 1946)

James Palmer sold his song “The Filly With the Twinkle In Her Eye” for use in the Republic picture. "It's a Grand Old Nag." (October 9, 1946)

Ed Love has been signed as one of top animators in Bob Clampett's cartoon unit at Republic. (October 9, 1946)

Jeff Alexander set by producer Bob Clampett as musical director for "It's a Grand Old Nag," first cartoon for Republic release. (October 10, 1946)

William De La Torre, formerly with Disney, was signed yesterday by Clampett as animator on Republic's Trucolor cartoons. (October 16, 1946)

Assignments: Paul Smith, chief animator, "It's A Grand Old Nag," first Bob Clampett cartoon to be released by Republic. (November 8, 1946)

Republic Will Release 17 Pix in Trucolor
[Republic] also will distribute six cartoon shorts in same color process. (November 25, 1946)

Bob Clampers "It's A Grand Old Nag," his first Trucolor cartoon for Republic release, was turned over to Consolidated lab yesterday for processing. Short, initialer in first series of cartoons Rep has ever distributed, is expected to go into release in about two months. (April 11, 1947)

Finally, the short was ready. But a little warning was buried in the Variety story about it.

"Old Nag" Hits Wire
Bob Clampett Productions yesterday wound lab work on "It's A Grand Old Nag," Clampett's first Trucolor cartoon under his six-shorts-a-year deal with Republic. Work on second cartoon in series is being held up till exhibitor reaction to new equine cartoon characters is determined (May 13, 1947)

And that’s where things sat. What exhibitors thought isn’t known, but Republic decided to cut the number of cartoons under the Clampett deal by two.

Republic will expand its program for 1947-48 by six features over number for previous season, it was announced yesterday by prexy Herbert J. Yates.
New production line-up includes 27 features, 20 outdoor action dramas and westerns, one novelty feature, four serials and four cartoon shorts. Additional pictures will be encompassed in company's variety group of B-films, which will number 16.
Yates reported that circuit operators and indie exhibs have promised to give increased support to this type of product.
Color will be emphasized on overall program. In utilizing its own Tru-color process for 12 outdoor releases, several features and the cartoons, Republic will turn out more tinters than at any time in past (August 27, 1947)

And things sat some more. The cartoon finally had a limited release on December 20th, according to Boxoffice magazine. Film Daily and Boxoffice both reviewed the cartoon. Film Daily said on the 8th:

"It's A Grand Old Nag"
Republic 8½ minutes Lot of Fun
First color cartoon from this company packs a lot of wit, imagination in its brief time and delivers hilarity all the way. Plot takes film production, techniques and the like over a burlesque route wherein a horse is engaged to double for a star horse. It is sly kidding from that point on and should give the laff register a workout.

And Boxoffice wrote on the 13th:

It’s a Grand old Nag
Republic (Trucolor Cartoon) 8 minutes
Very good. First of Republic’s new cartoon series in Trucolor, this kids Hollywood and film-making in laugh-provoking fashion. Charlie Horse, a dimwitted nag reminiscent of Disney’s Pluto, is a happy farm animal until a movie director picks him to go to Hollywood to play with Hay-de LaMare, his dream horse. He finds he is only needed to double for the male star, but when a studio fire breaks out, Charlie charges in and saves Hay-de.

The reviews likely pleased Clampett, but he was hamstrung. He wasn’t making any other cartoons while Republic mulled over things.

Further production of cartoon shorts is being held up by Republic pending decision by studio execs this week on whether or not the program will be continued.
Studio made a releasing deal with cartoonist Bob Clampett over a year ago for a series of the animated shorts, but he has made only one, "It's a Grand Old Nag." It goes into national release next Tuesday, when local bookings also start, at the Guild, United Artists, Ritz, Studio City and Iris. Short is in Rep's own tint process, Trucolor.
W. W. Arnold, general manager of Clampett Productions, said yesterday that firm's Melrose Avenue plant has closed down pending decision of Rep execs.
Clampett was formerly an animator with Leon Schlesinger when latter made Warners' cartoons. He branched out as an indie with his Rep deal. (March 2, 1948)

And the studio decided to drop the idea of distributing cartoons, leaving “It’s a Grand Old Nag” Clampett’s sole picture for Republic.

The movie continued to booked into theatres that wanted it—it was advertised opposite a Disney feature at a house in Kokomo, Indiana in March 1951—and today remains a curiosity on the internet. Clampett moved on to an Emmy-winning puppet show on KTLA called “Beany and Cecil.” His final crack at animation was when he set up the Snowball studio and made Beany and Cecil cartoons for TV, featuring the same kind of forced punny names you find in “Nag.”


  1. Thanks for all this information on one of Clampett's most fascinating (and, for my money, one of his funniest) cartoons. I hope a restored copy of it will show up sometime soon.

  2. Absolutely excellent post, and afirst class piece of research Mr. Yowp. It's a shame the 35mm neg (or any 35mm prints) of It's A Grand Old Nag are unaccounted for. It's one of those things I always keep my eye open for. Of course, the footnote to this tale is that Clampett went off to greater fame (and fortune?) with his Time For Beany TV show - and that Republic funded three more ultra cheap Tru-Color theatrical cartoons: Impossible Pictures "Jerky Journeys" in 1949.

  3. Stan Freberg does the voices. Or is credited with the main voice! I've seen this and remember the music and song credits..Thanks for posting.

    From another grand nag who really made it,
    Pokey (Steve).

  4. Dave Barry does the other voice.

    Jerry, I gather the Clampett family doesn't even have a 35mm version. Maybe one will turn up and with Trucolor being a little more true.

    1. It's a shame the Clampetts didn't get a copy somehow.

    2. Chris, I gather the family has a 16mm version with the colour worn out.