Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tom and Jerry 3.0

Yesterday, we wrote about how MGM suddenly sprung on its own shareholders the surprising news in March 1961 that a deal had been signed six months earlier with producer William Snyder to make Tom and Jerry cartoons. Enough were made for one theatrical season—13 cartoons—and that was that for Snyder and his director, Gene Deitch.

MGM wasn’t finished with Tom and Jerry, though. It was still making money on them, not only from the Deitch cartoons, but a package of old ones made by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera before Metro got out of the cartoon business. The studio inked a new deal in summer of 1963 to keep the cat and mouse cash cows on the big screen.

Walter Bien had been a film editor for MGM, Monogram and Eagle Lion studios in the 1940s before opening his own TV production company in 1950. By 1954, he was the head of the Universal TV commercial department, had the same job with Warners in 1956, then headed Four Star Productions’ commercial division; the company made animated ads for TV. He opened SIB Productions in August 1960 (I can’t find the reference now but I read the “B” was for “Bien,” “S” and “I” were for his children) to make commercials and industrial films in association with Paramount. But Bien had other things in mind. Daily Variety of October 8, 1962 reported he formed a side company, Bien Productions, “to make fictional vidpix series. ‘The Manager’ is first projected skein.” Then Variety declared on July 26, 1963 he had delivered 14 segments of the Lou Scheimer-directed “Rod Rocket” series to Desilu for distribution. And at some time, he landed a far bigger deal, one that wrested a cat and mouse away from Deitch.

The SIB Productions arrangement with MGM was the centrepiece of a front-page story in Variety of August 30, 1963 on the lay of the land in the West Coast cartoon business. Among many things, it vaguely explained why Metro dumped Deitch.

MGM Revives ‘Tom-Jerry’ Shorts After 6 Years, Walter Bien Producing

Sharp increase in Hollywood animated film activity, indicated during the next few months, should see IATSE Screen Cartoonists Local 839 membership 100 percent employed by end of the year. Prediction was made yesterday by union's biz rep Larry Kilty, who said that at present only 60 percent of the 826 members are working.
Sparking resurgence is deal disclosed yesterday which will put MGM back in the cartoon field for the first time since it shuttered its shorts department in 1957. Walter Bien, it was learned, has been pacted to produce top-budgeted "Tom And Jerry" shorts on a one-a-month basis. As an indie producer, Bien will produce films off the Metro lot, with the studio putting up coin and distributing. Bien, heretofore active only in commercial and industrial film field, has set director Chuck Jones, long associated with Warners cartoon production before studio closed its shorts department in January, to helm films. Jones will bring bulk of crew he has worked with in past which will include writer Mike Maltese.
Cat and mouse team was launched by Joe Hanna and William Barbera [sic], who segued into indie production when Metro halted its shorts production. Their creations, however, remained property of studio. No specific number of cartoons has been set for production under deal, according to Bien. The agreement stipulates that films be made for "as long as they are satisfactory to everyone concerned."
Productions will be in "full animation" as opposed to the "limited animation" common to tv. Illustrating difference, Jones declares that average weekly output for the "limited" animator is equal to from 160 to 200 feet of completed film whereas in "full" artist usually accounts for no more than 30 feet.
WB Also Prepping?
Foreign income derived from animated shorts has long gone largely unnoticed, according to Cartoonists rep Kilty. He asserts that recent reappraisal by Warners of this factor has sparked recurrent rumors that studio is also prepping a return to cartoon production.
No Dubbing Factor
Fact that many of the popular animated series are done in "pantomime" with no dialog and hence no need for dubbing or new tracks on prints shipped overseas is a prime factor in their record of lucrative foreign returns, according to Jones. He notes that "Tom And Jerry" and his "Coyote" and "Road Runner" cartoon series are of this variety.
Foreign production and sharp drop-off in animated skeins in recent seasons has pushed Local 839's employment from virtually 100 percent two years ago to current meager level, according to Kilty. Predicted upswing will be wrought by producers returning after bad overseas experiences and work already on the boards for fall, he asserts. MGM has made several "Tom And Jerry's" in Italy following 1957 halt to local production, asserts Kilty, though studio confirmation on this was not forthcoming.
Hanna-Barbera Active
Among diverse animation activity slated for this fall, according to Kilty, in addition to the Metro work, includes "Whistle Your Way Back Home," the Hanna-Barbera feature already in production for Columbia release [released as “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!]”; one feature to be made here by Boston producer Norman Prescott, "How The West Was Lost (Almost)" and another which was 60 percent completed in Denmark, "Return To The Land Of Oz," he plans to complete here; a lengthy animated insert into Disney's predominantly-live action "Mary Poppins" plus two features "Jungle Book" and "Winnie The Pooh" now in story stage, two new Hanna-Barbera tv skeins in addition to "Flintstones," a carry-over from previous seasons; a variety of syndicated animated tv fare from such producers as Ed Graham, Al Lovey, Sam Nicholson and Larry Harmon—plus feature title work and an increase in animated commercials, field which usually employs 10 to 15 percent of Kilty's membership and which, according to the biz rep, usually runs in cycles and is due for turn upward.
UPA, adds Kilty, has large-scale Christmas spec in works similar to one they produced last season and Walter Lantz, one of pioneers in cartoon field, continues consistently active.

As a side note, Al Lovey is Alex Lovy, who seems to have briefly left Hanna-Barbera, only to return.

In October 1963, SIB set up a facility in the Sunset Towers Building, hence the company’s later name of SIB-Tower 12 Productions. It had opened an office in Chicago and a separate company in New York in August.

Bien’s crew delivered seven cartoons by the following October. And then production stopped. MGM stepped in. Here’s Variety from December 31, 1964:

Metro, once a major source of cartoon shorts, has come full circle back into the animated production camp. Studio, which disbanded its animation wing several years ago, subsequently releasing cartoons made by indies, now has formed Animation-Visual Arts, a wholly-owned subsidiary which vet animation director Chuck Jones will head-up. Les Goldman is his associate. Unit has begun production on 12 new Tom and Jerry cartoon shorts, continuing characters created in 1937 by William Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Metro, which had released several foreign-made Tom and Jerrys in recent years, early this year inked deal with Walter Bien’s animation-commercial firm for production of a new cartoon series featuring the cat and mouse team. In October, after completing seven of them, Bien’s company struck financial trouble and ceased production. Difficulties, which involve a suit brought by employees for back wages, are now being unraveled by courts, with an out-of-court settlement also a possibility.
In addition to theatrical cartoons, Jones and company will make commercial and educational films. To that end a research and development fund has been formed for unit’s use. Unit, most members of which had been working for Bien, will [remainder of sentence unavailable].

Metro was anxious to keep Tom and Jerry going. A Variety piece on August 5, 1964 estimated the Tom and Jerry series was good for at least $1,000,000 a year in sales to foreign markets alone. As for Bien, he signed with Rock Hudson’s Gibraltar Productions in late March 1965 to head the company’s new commercial and industrial film wing.

A month before Bien ceased production, he sold SIB’s New York subsidiary to the man running it, no doubt to raise cash.

MGM Visual Arts eventually moved into new territory involving a Grinch, Oz and a Phantom Tollbooth. The studio quietly decided to leave theatrical shorts behind. After the release of “Purr-Chance to Dream” in 1967, the 34th short after end of MGM’s contract with William Snyder, there was no more Tom and Jerry. Well, until they resurfaced in TV form under their old bosses, Hanna and Barbera, about eight years later. But that’s another story.


  1. MGM Visual Arts eventually moved into new territory involving a Grinch, Oz and a Phantom Tollbooth.

    And a possum.

    1. Not to mention an elephant as well!

  2. Of course, the question is, whose Tom and Jerry do we like the best?:) Like your comment, top_cat_james... Nice post, Yowp.Steve

  3. According to Lou Scheimer (Creating the Filmation Generation), SIB was a very shady operation, being financed by a bunch of "Japanese gangsters" (based in Chicago, so I wonder if that was the same "connection" still running the 1963 office there), and the studio apparently being a "farce".
    Scheimer eventually quit the company because of this, but then made a deal with Bien to keep doing freelance work for him.

    So apparently after Rod Rocket was finished, the actual SIB company was basically dormant (the 100 people working there were hired by Scheimer and Sutherland, and they didn't produce anything else afterward), but then Bien began making the deal with MGM and Jones while Scheimer's indie operation was effectively serving as his sole de-facto "studio".
    That's when Scheimer, thinking he was about to be "screwed" out of his own studio, left for good (and soon after started his own company), and then the Jones crew took upon the SIB name, and moved into the Tower.
    (So I wonder what would have happened if he hadn't left. Would Scheimer and his crew have all been thrown out onto the street, or might they have been integrated into the Jones production, and he perhaps bring over less of his former WB crew).

    Apparently, the first film, Penthouse Mouse, as well as Much Ado About Nothing, have Bien credited as executive producer, and the SIB logo doesn't appear, while the other films credited to SIB Tower 12 don't credit Bien. So I imagine those first two were done by the other company Bien was running, under his own name.

    (I wonder if the "financial trouble" that ultimately shut Bien's production down, and the man running the New York office, who then bought that part of the company, had to do still with gangsters).

  4. Bien also had a brief connection with Friz Freleng via DePatie-Freleng: the 1970 live-action/animated special "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", starring Bing Crosby and his family. Bien was the "associate producer" on the special.

  5. What's this reference to Tom and Jerry cartoons being made in Italy?

  6. 11/18/14 Wrote:
    The Chuck Jones Tom & Jerrys were moderately amusing, and beautifully drawn and colored, if not outright hilarious as the H-B cartoons of the 40's and 50's. again, like the Gene Deitch era T&J's, MGM wanted to keep the budget at a moderate level,so these shorts are somewhat higher in budget costs than Gene Deitch's attempts, but Chuck Jones didn't really understand the true meaning of T&J"s violent nature for laughs and pleasing an audience. He wasn't as mildly ignorant as Gene Deitch, he just didn't have H-B 's flair for making them "chase and violence" formulas. Then again, he also stated to Leonard Maltin in 1979 thet H-B would have had a hard time with Jones' "Road Runner and Coyote" story formulas.(though that didn't stop H-B for attempting a copy-cat idea in 1976 replacing a buzzard and a snake for a road runner and coyote-the segments were filler for H-B's "C.B.Bears" time slot, and the idea flopped big time; I'm surprised Chuck Jones didn't consult with his attorneys over those weak copies of R.R. & C.) True, Tom does look more like Chuck Jones' "Grinch" character than a harassed pussycat, but at least his attempts were noble, if not hilarious. Oh, BTW, Eric, that 1964 T& J episode was titled "Much Ado About Fishing." Mr. Jones already did a W-B cartoon in the 1950's about a coconut-challenged squirrel titled "Much Ado About Nuttin'". Neither cartoon had the same story line, Mr. Jones was just infatuated about classical music, the opera, and pretentiously-titled books and movies with a title like "Much Ado About Nothing." Again, Boomerang shows these Jones' era cartoons a lot in their T&J time slots to cover up the fact that the dozen & a half or so "Mammy Two-Shoes" cartoons with T& J can't be broadcast too often anymore. A drag, really.

  7. 11/19/14 Wrote:
    Boy did I goof up with my computer keyboard typos! The 1964 T&J cartoon was titled "Much Ado About MOUSING". there were fishing scenes in it, but the fish weren't in the title. Sorry about my typos.

  8. E.O., the post about Gene Deitch also mentions Bill Snyder had units in "Zurich, Milan, Rome" as well as the Deitch and Batchelor/Halas cartoons. I don't know anything more.