Saturday, 7 April 2018

Max Fleischer in Vaudeville and Receivership

Max Fleischer could have been a vaudeville star. At least according to one trade magazine.

In the mid-1920s, Fleischer made periodic appearances on radio. And, for reasons unknown today, he made one appearance on the vaudeville stage.

Unlike Winsor McCay, he didn’t interact with one of his animated creatures, like he did in his one-reel cartoons. In fact, the whole thing seems pretty off-the-cuff, judging by the description in The Billboard of May 8, 1926. (“In One” means Fleischer appeared on stage in front of the curtain).
Reviewed Thursday evening, April 29, at the Premier Theater, Brooklyn, N.Y. Style—Monolog and dancing. Setting—In one. Time—Ten minutes.
Max Fleischer, the cartoonist, who achieved fame thru his Out of the Inkwell one-reel animated pictures and his clown, Ko-Ko, made a special appearance at this theater for one day only. He characterized himself in his talk as “one of the neighbors,” asserting that he had been born and reared in the vicinity of the theater and proved his assertion by naming schools, teachers and places in the neighborhood which were readily recognized by many in the audience. Hence, his appearance was in the nature of paying homage to a local celebrity.
In addition to the interest occasioned by the “personal appearance” of any character of wide reputation, especially if he be connected with the stage or movies, the act, if it may be so termed, was worth while on other counts. Fleischer recounted how he conceived the idea of making animated movies that wouldn’t be so crude and jumpy as the old ones, how he worked out the idea with his brother, Dave, and how it was finally perfected until it reached the stage where he could turn the film cartoons out weekly—his first one, by his own admission, took him more than a year to complete.
Since vaudeville audiences are well acquainted with these one-reel comedies, it is but natural that their curiosity should be piqued as to how they were made. The audience, this evening, gave every indication of being much interested, for they listened intently and responded enthusiastically. Fleischer’s intimate way of talking, his droll sense of humor and his personality, in addition to the “homey” aspect of the offering, helped put it over.
If the cartoonist found the time, and also the inclination, he could easily work up an act that would get over nicely in metropolitan vaudeville. His daughter, Florence, a pretty and vivacious girl in the midst of her teens, with an unbobbed head of red curls, could help daddy out very well in such an act. At the end of his talk, he introduced her to the patrons and she did as hectic and expert a Charleston as any professional could do. It might not be a bad idea to dress her in the Pierrot makeup that Ko-Ko prances about it and put her on after a short film in which the clown does his stuff. With his explanatory talk, and the working up of a routine that would include some sketching to illustrate that talk, a short film and the closing Charleston by Florence, Fleischer could put on an act that would be a worth-while novelty. P.H.
This, and the reception his Koko cartoons received from audiences, may be the only positive things that Fleischer received in 1926. He was beset with problems elsewhere.

Actually, he had troubles the previous year when he took four ex-employees to court. You should recognise the names. Ben Harrison and Manny Gould went to work for Charles Mintz producing Krazy Kat cartoons, first silent, then in sound. Burt Gillett became a top director for Disney before chucking it all in 1934 to move back to New York to run the Van Beuren studio. And Edith Vernick returned to work for Fleischer and eventually became head of the in-between department.

This is from Billboard, September 12, 1925.
Max Fleischer Charges Employees With Piracy
Brings Suit To Restrain Four From Using His Process
New York, Sept. 7—Max Fleischer, originator of the Out of the Inkwell cartoons, has brought suit in the New York Supreme Court asking a restraining injunction against four former employees who, he alleges, have stolen ideas which he invented and are using them for commercial purposes.
The defendants named are Burton Gillette, Emanuel Goldman, Benjamin Harrison and Edith Vernick.
Fleischer alleges in his affidavits that two of the processes used in the Out of the Inkwell series have been used by the quarter above named. These are what he called the “cut-out” system and the “reverse color and action system.” Altho animated sketches are used by a number of cartoonists in motion pictures, Fleischer uses one which seems to be unique. This is the introduction of a live character in his pen and ink sketches, and it is probably this method that he seeks to protect.
The cartoons have to do with a clown who comes out of his inkwell, and who, at the conclusion of the picture, dives back whence he came. Into the actions of this clown Fleischer introduces himself, lifesize, a trick which he claims has been heretofore unknown and which is original with him. While many guesses have been hazarded as to the method employed in drawing these cartoons, Fleischer alleges that until recently no one knew of the actual process except himself and the four defendants.
In the complaint Fleischer alleges that he is president of the Out of the Inkwell Company, Inc., and that he employed the four defendants to work in his plant, imparting to them, of necessity, the method of drawing the cartoons and training them in its use. Shortly afterward, he alleges, the four left him and organized for themselves the A.A. Studios, Inc., for the purpose of operating them with the same processes as those used by Fleischer, making use of the knowledge they gained while with him. This, he avers, they are continuing to do.
Fleischer is represented by Finklestein & Welling, No. 36 West 44th street, New York.
Fleischer’s big problems, though, involved his Red Seal Pictures Corporation, formed in September 1923, which distributed not only the Fleischer cartoons, but a number of independent shorts and features, including the “Animated Hair” sketch cartoons made by former Life cartoonist Marcus.

On the surface, everything seemed fine. The trade papers announced company president Edwin Miles Fadman had left and Fleischer had taken over. Motion Picture World on January 30, 1926 put together a page worth of free publicity.
Max Fleischer, Creator of “Ko-Ko,” Elected Head of Red Seal Pictures
Ardent Supporter of “Laugh Month” Will Continue His Unique Work at the Inkwell Teaching His Clown New Tricks

MAX FLEISCHER, recently elected president of Red Seal Pictures Corporation, and known throughout the world wherever Ko-Ko, the Clown, star of the Out-of-the- Inkwell Cartoon series and the Ko-Ko Song Car- Tunes, is known, will stick to his inkwell.
The business of being president of a national distributing organization sets lightly on the shoulders of this creator of fun pictures.
Mr. Fleischer recently decided to take a personal interest in the distribution of his films in order to get direct reaction from the exhibitor so that he might properly gauge the product which he produces. With the recent organization of Red Seal, Mr. Fleischer stepped into the presidency. And — he will go right on putting Ko-Ko through his stunts!
"Do you know," Mr. Fleischer asked, "that a lot of people have got me sized up as some kind of a grouch? It sounds funny, doesn't it? I suppose the folks think along the line that a chap who throws out these cartoons must be an awful tough nut to crack. The fact is, I've successfully managed to laugh myself half way through life, trying all the time to keep the other fellow from bursting into tears, and when I deliberately set out to try to be serious, very few people take me seriously. Every laugh month is laugh month to me, and I hope some of the folks who have been looking at my humble contributions to the screen during these recent years have managed to get an occasional smile out of the antics of Ko-Ko. I'd hate like the deuce to feel that all of those hours, crouched against my inkwell, have been wasted on my public. The showmen tell 'em that everything is all right — and I like to think so.
"Laugh Month" Will Do World of Good
"I've been going around for years with a chip on my shoulder telling everybody that 'Laugh Month' will do a world of good along the lines of bringing to exhibitors a better understanding of what it's all about. I never found it difficult to convince an exhibitor that his show should be brightened up by various bits of humor. I'm the strongest booster (or I hope 1 am) of the other fellow's funny stuff. I was a laugh fan before I took a keen interest in production, and I see no reason why I should rent a safe deposit box to store away one iota of my optimism.
"I may not be funny, but my daughter thinks I'm a scream."
* * *
"Max" was little more than a boy when he joined the staff of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as a cartoonist. Popular Science Monthly made him its art editor shortly thereafter and it was while with this publication that he applied himself to scientific subjects. Mr. Fleischer's knowledge of science stood him in good stead in recent years when editing such profound films as "Einstein's Theory of Evolution," in collaborating with Prof. Garrett P. Serviss, the noted astronomer, and "Evolution," edited in collaboration with Edward J. Foyes.
Began Production Eight Years Ago
Mr. Fleischer entered the motion picture field eight years ago, associating himself with his brother David, now production director of the Out-of-the-Inkwell Studios.
The product of these studios is protected by various patents, and President Fleischer is constantly experimenting to elaborate upon the several processes which he now controls.
During recent years, the demand upon Mr. Fleischer's time has extended to include his repeated appearance in a number of leading radio broadcasting station in Eastern cities.
Cartoonist Talks on The Radio
"Ko-Ko's boss" has talked to millions of listeners, and has regaled them with chats regarding his clown, these chats being almost as funny as the cartoons. Recently, at WIP Station, Philadelphia, Mr. Fleischer promised his listeners that if they would send their names to him in his office in number 729 Seventh avenue, New York City, he would send them a Ko-Ko card. Max graciously promised to print in the names of those who wrote to him. The following day he received 1,082 requests. He was dizzy when the day's work was done! Next morning, on reaching his office he was confronted with 8,391 additional names, and was obliged to hire a couple of experts to properly letter the cards to be mailed out. The third day 15,427 urgent requests for Ko-Ko cards arrived! And now, when Max talks over the radio, he soft-pedals all reference to "personally lettered Ko-Ko cards!"
The creator of Ko-Ko "sat in" on the first conference of the series that resulted in the designation of January, 1926, as "National Laugh Month" and his Ko-Ko cartoons are included among the most amusing features of "Laugh Month."
But soon it was revealed why Fleischer had taken over as president. There were accusations of unauthorised spending by just about everyone. The company had a cash flow problem on top of that.

Here are some clippings. First, from Variety of April 14, 1926.
Fadman Sued by Seal
Edwin Miles Fadman, former president and general manager of Red Seal Pictures, Corp., is being sued in two separate Supreme Court actions by the film company for $3,377.89 and $3,186.54 respectively. The Red Seal Co., now headed by Max Fleischer, the cartoonist-creator of Koko the Clown, alleges that Fadman drew the $3,377 in excess of his just allowance on a 50-50 percentage arrangement for the releasing of a certain “hair cartoon.”
The $3,186 claim arises from an alleged illegal diversion from the company’s proceeds.
A week later, Variety reported again.
Red Seal Stockholders’ Action in Court
A stockholders’ suit has been instituted in the Supreme Court of New York against the Red Seal Pictures Corporation, of which Max Fleischer is president. Edwin Miles Fadman, until recently president of the film, is one of the stockholders bringing suit. Fleischer, Maurice Finkelstein, lawyer, and Abe Meyer, secretary of Hugo Reisenfeld, are the three defendant directors charged with dissipating the assets of the corporation.
Among the specific items alleged in the complaints are payments of extra salaries of $75 weekly to Hugo Reisenfeld, $100 weekly to Fleischer and $100 weekly to Fred Greene, Jr., brother-in-law of Dr. Reisenfeld. Fadman alleges that when he resigned the presidency these payments were authorized by the new controlling board headed by Fleischer. Fadman contended that the disbursal of this money weakened the net asset position of the company.
Meanwhile, there was an unrelated lawsuit. Film Daily of July 1, 1926 had the following briefie, and a vague one at that:
Suit over "Carrie" Series
Irwin R. Franklyn has filed a suit against Inkwell Studios, Max Fleischer, Red Seal Pictures and others to restrain the production, exhibition and distrubution of the "Carrie of the Chorus" series. Max Fleischer, for Red Seal, denies all charges.
Evidently, the two sides settled their differences. The trade papers reported in September than the Carrie shorts were ready to for theatres.

Despite endless puff pieces talking about the desirability and growing distribution of Red Seal’s products, the company collapsed. Variety, October 13, 1926.
Red Seal Owes $109,000; Receiver Asked For
Max Fleischer’s Out-of-the-Inkwell Films, Inc., and the Red Seal Pictures Corp., subsidiary unit, are involved in Federal Court receivership proceedings. The appointment of a receiver in each case has been urged by Fleischer on behalf of his defendant corporations.
Spiro Films Corp. (formerly Urban-Kineto Corp.) brought the first suit, claiming $4,800 due on a $9,963.13 claim for licensing “Reel-views and Searchlights” to Out-of-the-Inkwell Co.
The defendant is alleged to have $109,737.77 in liabilities, the principal claims being $44,000 by the Consolidated Film Industries, Inc.; $28,643.75 due the banks, $3,000 to Maurice Finkelstein or Finkelstein & Willing, Fleischer’s lawyer; $2,249.99 due Hugo Reisenfeld; $3,400 to Fleischer and another item for $4,049.81 for salary; ditto to Dave Fleischer for $4,351.91.
The assets are said to total $310,613.23 of which $168,175 is in the form of Red Seal Corp. stock; another $68,616 advanced to the same corporation; $27,301 in completed films and $523.56 in cash.
The purpose of the receivership, with B. Bright Wilson appointed the receiver, is to seek the release of sundry films being held by the Consolidated Film Industries, Inc., a raw film enterprise, for unpaid claims.
In the Red Seal Corp. receivership Receiver Wilson sued the company in order to make possible a collection of claims.
While all this was going on, someone swooped in with cash and took control of things. This is from The Billboard, November 27, 1926.
Expansion Program Planned For Red Seal and Inkwell
NEW YORK, Nov. 20—An immediate expansion plan will be put under way by Alfred Weiss, new president of Red Seal Pictures and Out-of-the-Inkwell Films. Reorganization of the two companies was completed recently, with Weiss in control, following dismissal of the receivership claims against them. Weiss paid $218,000 of the liabilities and furnished working capital on which the companies will continue to operate. Red Seal now has 21 exchanges thruout the country. Max Fleischer is vice-president of both corporates, placing him in charge of production.
Weiss is a pioneer motion picture man, having been one of the originators of the old Triangle Film Corporation.

Legal troubles didn’t end. The Film Mercury, a Hollywood-based trade publication, reported in December 1926 that music publishers Waterson, Berlin and Snyder were suing Red Seal and Out if the Inkwell Film Corp. for using “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in one of its cartoons.

Fleischer’s troubles still weren’t over. Weiss jettisoned both Max and Dave Fleischer in January 1929. The Fleischers set up their own company and somehow managed to take the Paramount contract with them, making Screen Songs and then Talkartoons for the the giant studio. Apparently, Weiss’ company wasn’t really functioning any more. It formally filed for bankruptcy on January 15, 1930 after Dave Fleischer won a $27,800 breach-of-contract judgment against Weiss, with a similar suit by Max pending and a third suit claiming Weiss siphoned off company money for his own benefit.

Weiss moved on to other things, including a movie sound system, before dying in 1940. The Fleischers moved ahead to create some excellent cartoons before everything caved in on them in 1942 and Paramount took over their studio. Despite all the turmoil, Max Fleischer’s name is still respected by animation fans today. The vaudeville he tried for a day is long gone.

1 comment:

  1. I love the details on the controversial relationship of Alfred Weiss and his relationship with the Fleischers. Thanks for posting this. Because Weiss bailed Inkwell Studios out and paid the lab bills, he assumed certain ownership of the films, which he re-released in sound versions, removing the names of Max and Dave Fleischer from the Main Titles. But it was Weiss who connected them with Paramount since his company, Artcraft produced live action short films for Paramount. That name still lives as a subsidiary of Paramount, by the way.

    In my book, I used Dave Fleischer's recollection of Weiss attempting to alter his contract. This was a sign that Weiss was not to be trusted. It doesn't seem logical that Weiss would "oust" the Fleischer Brothers when they were the source of his interest. They left after they realized what he was doing, and it is reasonable to conclude that they saw a repeat of what brought about the demise of Red Seal. Max and Dave left while there were a few of the INKWELL IMPS to be completed. That is why the last in the series do not show Max in them. What was miraculous was Max getting a new Paramount contract with the Song Car-tunes revival, re-titled SCREEN SONGS. The logical conclusion was that Max had previous experience with sound cartoons in 1926 while Red Seal was still a going concern. This experience and past reputation along with the relatively inexpensive production was surely attractive to Paramount at a time when they were wanting sound cartoons.