Saturday, 26 November 2016

Eshbaugh's Cartoons of Many Colours

For a brief period in 1932, Ted Eshbaugh was in the animation spotlight, but it wasn’t because of his animation.

Eshbaugh was employed as a portrait artist in Los Angeles in 1930 but at the same time was working to develop a colour film process. And by 1932, it had been perfected. He tested it out on cartoons. There was just one problem. All the film studios that were interested in releasing cartoons—Warners, MGM, Paramount, Columbia and so on—had deals in place with other animation outfits. They didn’t need Eshbaugh’s cartoons, no matter how bright they were in lighting up the screen. So Eshbaugh released a few independently before packing up in Los Angeles in 1934 and moving to New York where he got a job at the Van Beuren studio.

Eshbaugh must have had a good publicist, because there was a flurry of stories around the same time about his colour process. We posted a few of them here along with some background on Eshbaugh. Let’s post another story, this one from newspapers published on October 12, 1932.

New Hollywood Firm Will Produce Animated Cartoon Shorts in Full Color

[Chicago Tribune Press Service.]
HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 11—J. R. Booth, of Ottawa, whose lumber mills provide a lot of the raw newsprint used by American dailies, and Ted Eshbaugh, a young artist from Boston who mingles mechanical and administrative talent with his art work, have combined to form a new producing agency to put out animated cartoon shorts in color.
They have bought rights to all the "Wizard of Oz" published material, and already are half way through with the first film with Frank Baum, Jr., who succeeded his father as Oz author and publisher.
Backed by Great Wealth
Booth whose sister married Prince Eric of Denmark, is forty or fifty times a millionaire and a young man of 35, who commutes from Canada to Hollywood to participate in this latest interest of his. Eshbaugh as a youthful prodigy had a scholarship in the Chicago Art Institute at the age of 7, and was a scholarship winner in art when he and Booth met at the Boston Art Museum.
The pair are pioneers in a new system of applying color to films and did not take a step toward actually making a motion picture until their process was, in their belief, perfect as a result of four or five years experimenting at laboratories which Mr. Booth installed on his Ontario estate. That they really have something that appeals to the major film studios which have spent so much money in past efforts to give the American public satisfactory colored film is indicated much to the satisfaction of Booth and Eshbaugh, by offers made to them by major companies wishing to negotiate for their process. The offers were rejected.
800-Foot Reels
They call their new firm "Multi-color Fantasies." Their product will be one-reelers of about 800 feet each. Carl Stallings, creator of "Silly Symphonies," is doing their musical scoring and directing. All their films will be animated sound cartoons, although, according to Eshbaugh, their process can be applied to give color to action films also. As a sideline, Booth and Eshbaugh plan to come out within 90 days a 16 millimeter version of their animated sound films, the size used in home projection machines.
Eshbaugh explains that their pictures are colored on celluloid, and two negatives made of the same pictures at the same time, which are then superimposed to produce one print to which the colors adhere. "We were the first ever to get a good reproduction in yellow," he said. "We call our process perfected because it is the first time in applying color to films that any one has been able to get the effect of regular, ordinary everyday color. The reds do not jump at you. The colors do not overlap, glitter, get blurry or hurt your eyes, as theater-goers complained about in other color attempts."
"We are able to come out with it at this time because one year ago materials and operations made it five times more expensive to put out color films than at present. With our process, which we know is the most economical yet devised in the film industry, it now costs us only about twice as much to put out color films as it would cost to put out black and white."

Some of Eshbaugh’s films made it into theatres; to the right you see an ad for an appearance on a bill in Los Angeles. But there were troubles with his Oz film. Here’s a story from Variety; the year was 1935.
Baum Slaps Suit on ‘Wizard of Oz’ Tinter
Los Angeles, May 7.
In addition to Federal Court suit for injunction, Frank J. Baum has brought suit in the State courts to restrain Technicolor and Ted Eshbaugh from releasing a color cartoon based on “The Wizard of Oz.”
Eshbaugh started to make the cartoon by arrangement with Baum, son of the-author of 'Oz,' but according to the complaint failed to finish it within agreed time. Contract is therefore regarded as void by Baum. Technicolor has 730 feet of negative, which, under arrangement with Eshbaugh, company is declared ready to market unless enjoined.
Eshbaugh worked, mainly, on commercial and industrial films in New York. In 1950, he co-produced a musical-comedy fantasy called Bumps O’Dazy with Billy Gilbert, and it was shot in colour. He died in 1969. Here’s his obit in Variety
Ted Eshbaugh, 63, film producer-director and animated cartoonist, died July 4, in New York. Eshbaugh, in 1931, pioneered with Technicolor in the development of the three-color process as applied to animated cartoons. He later produced the first color and sound animated cartoon, "Goofy Goat."
In 1932 Eshbaugh produced an animated short cartoon, "Wizard of Oz" for Metro preceding company's live version by seven years. He came to New York in 1934 to revamp RKO pictures’ cartoon department. During World War II his studios were given over entirely to production of U.S. Government films.
Among the animated cartoons and documentaries he later produced were "The Dale Carnegie Story," "The Frank Bettger Story," several color spectaculars for Radio City Music Hall, animated sequences for "Around The World With Mike Todd," and many tv commercials.
Survived by wife and brother.
Obscurity beckons people like Ted Eshbaugh, unless someone intercedes. And someone did. Several years ago, that lover of obscure and B-studio cartoons, Steve Stanchfield, restored three of Eshbaugh’s shorts and put them on his “Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares” DVD/Blu-Ray. You can go to Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research website and read more about it.


  1. That article's an awful mess of conflicting claims, though I'd blame most of it on the reporter. It sounds like Booth and Eshbaugh are claiming to have invented Technicolor, though the process they supposedly described does not resemble the 3-strip method Technicolor developed. And to further complicate matters, Eshbaugh's previous color cartoons (with or without Booth's involvement) appear to have been made in Multicolor, a two-color system that, after a business failure, re-emerged as Cinecolor. The 16mm mention is also puzzling; as even Walt Disney's first 16mm color prints were made not by Technicolor, but by Dunningcolor.

    His obituary mentions an early involvement with Technicolor; it might be possible to speculate that he was doing experimental work for them that might even have been shown to Walt and/or Roy Disney.