Saturday, 9 December 2017

The MGM Cartoons That Never Were

They aspired to be the next Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. Instead their teaming is a very obscure footnote in ‘60s animation history.

They’re Phil Duncan and Herb Vigran.

The combination was certainly unusual. Duncan was an ex-Disney animator who had also worked for commercial studios. Vigran wasn’t an animator at all. He made his moolah voicing television spots after his radio acting jobs dried up (his continued to do bit parts on TV comedies and dramas). His animation experience mainly consisted of providing voices for John Sutherland Productions’ industrial cartoons in the early ‘50s. However, the two hooked up, and they approached MGM in 1965 about making animated cartoons.

At this point, Metro was doing pretty well in the animation business. It had announced a new animation/visual arts subsidiary in late December 1964 under Les Goldman and Chuck Jones. The operation was, in essence, Walter Bien’s SIB Productions, which had financially collapsed after making seven Tom and Jerrys for MGM; Metro took over its staff and offices. Apparently, the Goldman/Jones cartoons cost $35,000 each to make; at least, Jones was citing that figure while criticising others for cheapening out and making limited animation at $10,000 a cartoon.

But it appears Metro was quite interested in cutting Jones’ cost. And that’s where Duncan and Vigran enter the picture.

They formed a company to find a buyer for cartoons using a “die-cut adhesive” method instead of the traditional drawn and inked system. The “Duncan Process” was supposedly patented but, unfortunately, I have not been able to find a patent for it on-line. Duncan and Vigran went to MGM, proposed making cartoons with the new method, and worked out a deal for a pilot cartoon called “The Invisible Mouse” at a cost of $10,000. MGM would supply storyboards, character drawings and other artistic materials free of charge to Duncan-Vigran.

A carbon copy of the proposed contract between the two companies ended up in the hands of late animation writer/historian Earl Kress. You can read all ten pages below.

You can see the agreement is dated September 17th. On September 9th, Daily Variety reported (UPI later picked up the story):
MGM-TV and CBS have set two animated pilots for series planned in 1966. Cartoons, titled "Goldielox And The Three Yanhs" and 'The Invisible Mouse" go into production this month at MGM's animation-visual arts division, with producer Les Goldman supervising and Chuck Jones directing.
Division has recently embarked on a large expansion program, including new releases of the "Tom & Jerry" cartoons and an animated short based on Norton Juster's book, "The Dot And The Line."
MGM gave up on the idea of releasing new Tom and Jerry shorts in 1969. That year, Jones, in the middle of a two-year contract, busied himself with Pogo and Horton TV specials, the feature The Phantom Tollbooth and main titles for The Strange Case Of...!#*%? before jumping to a job with the ABC TV network the following year.

What became of Duncan and Vigran’s company, and the projects mentioned in the Variety story, are mysteries (at least for now). Vigran died in 1986, Duncan passed away in 1988.


  1. I've never heard of this! It's almost as if MGM was bipolar when it came to cartoon budgets.They really tightened the purse-strings toward the end of Hanna and Barbera's tenure, and paid peanuts for the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerries. Then suddenly they were willing to let Chuck Jones make some of the most expensive cartoons of the 1960s. This seems to have been an attempt to be cheap again.

  2. The cheapest was yet to come: in 1980, they hired Filmation to create a half-hour Tom and Jerry series for Saturday Mornings.

  3. So that's what Chuck was doing just before Curiosity Shoppe.

  4. I used to have a 16mm print of "The Invisible Mouse", and it was extremely stylized characters, with hardly any movement. Essentially a pose reel, ran about five minutes. It's about the same story as the Tom and Jerry cartoon of 1947, a mouse drinks invisible ink and saves animation for the rest of the cartoon.

  5. What was The Strange Case Of...... I know Chuck was involved with the opening credits,but what was it

    1. It was later retitled "The Maltese Bippy."

    2. What sequence did Jones and his crew do for this Rowan and Martin feature?

  6. I think Chuck Jones should've done more theatrical cartoons at MGM than just Tom & Jerry,I know he did two standalone cartoons at the studio,one of which recieving critical acclaim and winning an Acadamy Award(The Dot & The Line) and made a memorable christmas classic(How The Grinch Stole Christmas!),but he should produce more cartoons other than doing just Tom & Jerry because Chuck admitted he couldn't draw Tom very well and the violence was aimed at the cat most of the time. I wish he would do more to MGM than Tom & Jerry and two standalone cartoons like he did back at Warners:maybe adapt a famous character from a story or comic strip and turn it into a famous cartoon character or make an original cartoon star or cartoon short. If he did make a new cartoon star for the studio instead of focusing solely on the cat and mouse,the character would be critically acclaimed and become a more popular star than Tom & Jerry itself,so Jones would be more happier with this one instead of Tom and Jerry

  7. It's a shame this TV cartoons never made it pass the production stages,It would be better instead of producing these cartoons for TV,he should've done more cartoons to MGM instead focusing on the Tom and Jerry series because Chuck was unhappy with these cartoons,admitting he couldn't draw Tom very well and most of the cartoons slapstick and violence was now aimed at the cat. I know he made a memorable christmas special that has become a instant classic(How The Grinch Stole Christmas) and a couple of cartoon adaptions,one of which being critically acclaimed and winning an acadamy award(The Dot and The Line),but he should done more cartoons for the studio instead of focusing on Tom and Jerry. I wish he would do more cartoons than focusing solely on the Cat & Mouse duo:maybe try adapting a famous character from a book or comic strip or create an original character or a one-shot cartoon into a new cartoon star for the studio,that way,the cartoon star Jones made would become popular and critically acclaimed,becoming even more popular than Jones' Tom and Jerry shorts and the character would become the top cartoon star for the studio,so Jones would be much happier than he less did with Tom and Jerry if he made or adapted a new cartoon character that would be more successful and popular with audiences if he did more cartoons to MGM than focusing on the Tom and Jerry cartoons.