Saturday, 24 February 2018

Doting on Disney, Waxing on Walt

This blog hasn’t posted much about the Walt Disney cartoon operation. So much has been said and written about the studio for years and years to the point of overkill; nothing needs to be said by me.

In the ‘30s, if you read about cartoons in the popular press, it was Disney, Disney, Disney, as writers fell over each other to praise the studio’s cartoons and laud Uncle Walt as some kind of genius artist. One fan was Amy Croughton of the Rochester Times-Union. Basically, she took Disney news releases and re-wrote them for her column; the exact same wording she used can be found in other papers. Eventually, some readers rose up and said “Enough about Disney” So she finally wrote about other studios, though she gave credit for their success to Walt Disney!
Here is a small sampling of some of her columns. The dates they appeared in her paper are in bold.

June 23, 1933
WHATEVER one's opinion may be of the taste in hats displayed by Queen Mary of England —and, after all, they say King George is to blame for that—there is no denying her good taste in motion pictures.
With several million other film patrons, here and there about the world, Queen Mary is a keen "Mickey Mouse" fan and recently interposed to have that engaging rodent put back on the screen program of a charity entertainment from which he had been cut because of lack of time.
Not only has Mickey been applauded at public cinema performances by royalty in several countries but he has appeared at private showings on royal command before the rulers of England, Sweden and Japan, and the viceroy of India.
To be sure, Mickey has a good press agent, bin it seems to us that any one writing or seeking publicity for him has a pretty soft job. However, since the sincerest admiration often needs a spur to urge it on to concrete expression, we suspect the P. A. of having a hand in Mickey's receiving an invitation to be guest of honor at a recent Prosperity Festival in Worcester, Mass., and his being further exalted by having a street in that city named Mickey Mouse Mall. Personally, we doubt if even our strong predilection for Mickey would prevail upon us to take up residence on a thorough fare titled with his name. But perhaps the street is in the commercial section and is devoted to the offices of cheese importers.

February 21, 1934
One Some Say This And Some Say That, About the Films

MANY persons have asked us Mickey Mouse cartoons are made, but although we have read dozens of explanations of the process we never felt competent to condense them into something we were sure would be understandable.
The following synopsis of the process, sent out from the studio, apparently was written by someone who knew enough about it to write simply and definitely. Not that you are likely to be able to start producing Mickey Mouse cartoons on your own, immediately after reading it, but you will have a clearer idea of the mechanical means by which Mickey is sent dancing off to his adventures.
"Each reel, about 750 feet in length and taking about 12 minutes to show, contains from 10,000 to 15,000 separate pictures, each of which has to be photographed separately," reads the explanation.
"These pictures are drawn by a large staff divided into three groups known as Animators, In-Betweeners, and Inkers. The Animators develop the various sequences, but draw only the beginning and end of each action. Their sketches pass to the In-Betweeners, who draw the small, delicate changes. The Inkers then fill in the proper tints.
"The fitting of music sound to the cartoons is also a delicate and difficult job. The musical director begins to work on the musical score at the same time that the plot is being formulated. Perfect synchronization is secure by mathematical means, each of the 10,000 to 15,000 separate frames of film having to account for a certain action and also for music to accompany that action. As a result the rhythm is perfect, since it is mechanical."
Now who would have thought it was so simple?

June 28, 1934
IN OUR file of material on motion picture stars and executives by far the largest compartment is devoted to Walt Disney and his cartoon creations, Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies.
Very little of this material is the ordinary "publicity stuff" such as is received in fat envelopes on every mail concerning the flesh and blood stars of the screen. Occasionally United Artists sends out a notice of some new departure such as the making of all Mickey Mouse cartoons in color, but the majority of the writing done about the cartoons is by independent writers and cinema reviewers to whom they appeal and who enjoy discussing them as much as they enjoy watching them.
In February, 1931, Harry Carr wrote of Mickey in The American Magazine under the title of "The Only Unpaid Movie Star." Barnet O. Braver-Mann wrote of "Mickey and His Playmates," in one of the theater art magazines, and Walt Disney, or perhaps his ghost, wrote of "The Three Little Pigs in a Big Bad World" in the weekly magazine section of The Christian Science Monitor of Jan. 10, 1934.
Mickey's most recent interpreter is Claude Bragdon, former Rochesterian, now of New York City. Mr. Bragdon, architect, scenic designer and author, in an article in the July Scribner's Magazine on "Mickey Mouse and What He Means," traces the animated cartoons' derivation from the shadow plays that were shown at the Cafe Chat Noir in Paris before the motion picture was invented.
Mr. Bragdon feels that the cartoons have but scratched the surface of their own particular field. They are moving, he says, within the narrow limits of the merely funny. He would have them branch out "toward knowledge, toward beauty, toward social satire, symbol and allegory, or pure imaginative fantasy like 'Little Nemo In Slumberland' instead of in contradistinction to the warmed over fantasy of Grimm and Mother Goose."

September 28, 1935
Mickey Mouse, the famous film cartoon star will celebrate his seventh birthday. All over the world theaters will hold special showings of his films for the children and foils admirers of every age from three to 100.
In this city, Mickey is to cavort upon the screen of Loew's Rochester Theater next Saturday morning at a special children's show of his films and the Silly Symphonies which will include such favorites as "The Three Little Pigs", "The Grasshopper and the Ants", "The Wise Little Hen", "Mickey's Service Station", "Mickey's Garden", "The Flying Mouse", "Lullaby Land" and the most recent Mickey cartoon, "The Band Concert".
Undoubtedly Mickey was fortunate in being born into the Disney family which included not only Walt Disney, his artist-creator, but Roy Disney who is the business end of the firm. He was fortunate, also, in being properly christened and copyrighted almost at the moment of his birth and before he made his first public appearance on Sept. 28, 1928, at the Colony Theater, New York City, as a minor character in a cartoon called "Steamboat Willie". This copyright enabled the Disneys to secure an injunction in 1931 against other cartoon producers who were using characters imitating Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It has also enabled the Disney firm to build up a network of agencies in this and other countries which license manufacturers desiring to use the magic insignia of Mickey on all sorts of products from rubber balls to sweater-fronts.
The fact that Mickey Mouse has been expertly publicized and commercialized in this mariner reflects no discredit upon him as an artist. Mickey and his creator have not been content to loll back and grow fat on their profits. They have turned a large share of them back into production, to improve technical methods and to finance the cost of the new venture into color, and they have worked harder than ever to satisfy their public which is ever clamoring for more.
There will always be those, we are among them, who contend that the early Silly Symphonies, "Spring," "The Skeleton Dance," and others in black and white, and with their rhythmic movement synchronized to the music, but without squeaky dialog, or color, achieved something that could not be improved upon so far are pure artistry is concerned. But Mickey Mouse, and his cohorts, Pluto, the dog, Donald Duck, and Peter Pig, have personality that appeals to the children as the dancing leaves and flowers, the mischievous leaping flames, and the ironic skeletons cannot. So if Mr. Disney will just make us a Silly Symphony of the old type, occasionally, we will join heartily in the good luck birthday wishes to Mickey.

February 3, 1936

CLARK GABLE and Shirley Temple may have their fans, but so have Scrappy, Oswald, Buddy, Stinky the Skunk, Mickey Mouse and Popeye.
These cartoon character fans are jealous for the rights of their favorites, too. Witness a note we just received from one who reproaches us for giving too much glory to Mickey Mouse and falling to sing a peon of praise to the characters and exploits of Stinky and his barnyard friends as set forth in the "Loony Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" turned out by Hugh Harmon and Rudolph Ising under the Leon Schlesinger banner.
We acknowledge our shortcoming. It is high time something was said about these other cartoon products. However it must be remembered that they are all more or less imitators of the original Disney ideas and characters.
The list of cartoon series is longer, perhaps, than you have realized. There are Celebrity's "Comicolor", Columbia's "Color Rhapsodies", "Krazy Kat" and "Scrappy" cartoons; Educational "Terry-Toons"; M-G-M's "Happy Harmonies" —also a Harmon-Ising product; Paramount's "Betty Boop" and "Popeye the Sailor"; Radio's "Rainbow Parade"; United Artists' "Mickey Mouse" and "Silly Symphonies"; Universal's "Cartune Classics" and "Oswald" cartoons, and Vitaphone's "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies."
Next to the Disney cartoons the best use of color is to be found in the Harmon-Ising product, in our judgment, and the comedy ideas usually are clever. A current release, "The Country Mouse," is an excellent example. The illusion—and a very strong one— of three-dimensional images has been arrived at by Max Fleischer in his "Color Classics"; but in getting this result smoothness of color transition has been sacrificed. They are, however, very interesting. The most recent release was "Somewhere In Dreamland" in which one not only saw the holes in a ragged quilt, but actually saw through them.
Animated cartoons go far back in the history of motion pictures. A recent dispatch from Paris stated that Emile Cohl, 80 years old, who is credited with the invention of the animated cartoon, is living in poverty in Paris.


  1. Ms. Croughton was certainly confused about Harman-Ising's cartoons in her 1936 column! Stinky the Skunk is the lead character in "Poor Little Me", a Happy Harmonies cartoon released by MGM, not Schlesinger-Warner Bros. "The Country Mouse" was a Merrie Melodies cartoon in two-color Technicolor, directed by Friz Freleng, NOT Hugh and Rudy! She also misspelled, as so many did, Hugh Harman's last name as "Harmon".

    1. Thanks, Mark. I couldn't figure out who Stinky Skunk was. The name never stuck in my mind, though I've seen the cartoon.
      As for poor Hugh's name, it's still not as bad as Bea Benaderet's name being misspelled on the titles of the Burns and Allen TV show all those years or Hans Conried's own publicity ads in trade directories having his name wrong.