Saturday 25 May 2019

Angel Puss Protest

Reviewer “Longfellow” in The Independent of July 8, 1944 wrote of the Warner Bros. cartoon Angel Puss: “It is all good, clean fun and suitable for any class of theatre.”

Someone didn’t think so.

The cartoon’s basic plot is familiar—character one believes he’s killed character two; character two heckles and guilt-trips character one. The difference here is the characters are black, speak in dialect and a few stereotype gags are tossed in. African-American audiences were apparently not impressed.

It would appear the Pittsburgh Courier, a black paper, took the concerns to the Hollywood Screen Cartoon Producers Association. It got a response. A story was published October 7, 1944.
Film City Cartoonists Act To Correct Race Caricatures
HOLLYWOOD—The Hollywood Screen Cartoon Producers' association, headed by Walter Lantz of Universal studios, assured The Pittsburgh Courier that they planned to seriously consider at an executive meeting to be held this week, the subject of harmful caricatures of minority races of American citizens. Previously, Mr. Lantz had requested from the publication's Pacific Coast bureau, a specific letter in which he asked that such protests concerning the Negro be contained therein and a suggested plan of correction be outlined.
Listed among members of the association are Universal, Walt Disney Productions, MGM, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, RKO, and Columbia. Lantz also expressed himself as being personally opposed to any alleged derogatory treatment and he promised to use his good offices for co-operation in the future.
Basis for the spontaneous protest by the long and patient suffering Negro theatre-going public were the many forthright expressions of condemnation made regarding Warner Brothers animated cartoon, "Angel Puss."
Almost in direct irony was the picture's showing in Los Angeles, in that it was sandwiched between the main feature and March of Time's "Americans All." which theme is directly aimed at the lessening of racisms.
It has since been learned that the Warner Brothers had ordered the somewhat considered controversial "Americans All" to be shown in each of their theatres throughout the country as a contributory effort towards breaking down the evils of race prejudice.
In a further effort to throw light on the subject of caricatures, March of Time offices here were contacted.
A spokesman stated they had nothing to do with the placing of their film on the same program as "Angel Puss" or any other such picture.
It was admitted, however, that in consideration of the type of cartoon, poor taste was shown in the matter.
M. C. Pomerace [Bill Pomerance], executive of the Screen Cartoonist Guild, AFL, expressed his approval of The Courier's stand and told the writer that in the past, certain of the membership or the local had expressed distinct dissatisfaction with the type of racial caricature material used in the making of animated film cartoons. At one time, he stated, the matter was brought to the attention of the Office of War Information for correction.
When the subject was bruited to Edward Steltzter [sic], who heads Warner Brothers cartoon department, he stated "Angel Puss" had been obtained when the company had purchased the Schleszinger [sic] interests.
To the best of my knowledge, Angel Puss was never re-issued but it was part of the AAP package of Warners cartoons that began appearing on TV in 1956. I don’t recall seeing the short but it’s not terribly memorable. It’s slow and not really funny. Chuck Jones was the director. He revisited the head-game-playing idea later with Hubie and Bertie (who are actually funny). The one-shot characters in this one were rightfully consigned to cartoon unemployment.


  1. Given a choice between ethnic caricature and scatology, I'll take the ethnic caricature.

  2. Chuck Jones and Lou Lilly was probably the worst pairing of director and writer in Warners' studio history. Lilly's other efforts were over with Bob Clampett and his cartoons are notable for the contempt the cartoons' instigators have for their adversaries.

    With Clampett, the gags came so fast at furiously, the contempt was hidden a bit be the next gag three seconds later. But in Jones' personality-driven animation, the disdain the cat has for the boy is slowly played out for all to see. The fact that the charactures were black made the problem even worse, but even if the story had involved a dumb white guy and a sharpster (as with Lilly's effort with Bugs and Red-Hot Ryder), the contempt and the final denouncement -- every Lilly cartoon at Wanrers ended up with someone either dead or buried -- would have painfully shown through with Jones as director.