Saturday, 9 November 2019

Voice of the Spider

Paul Terry made a good living. He didn’t make very good cartoons.

Comparatively, that is. In no way, shape or form do Terrytoons match up to the artistry, direction and story work at Warner Bros., MGM or Walter Lantz. But the Terry studio did make some entertaining cartoons, and they were certainly good enough for 20th Century Fox to continue releasing them year after year after year.

Terry was a newspaper cartoonist who joined the staff of the Bray studio in the mid-teens. In 1921, he took his Farmer Al Falfa character to a new studio that was to make Aesop’s Fables. He was fired in 1929 but simply picked up and took Farmer Al to a new studio he set up with animator Frank Moser and backing from an outfit called Audio Cinema and began releasing cartoons in February 1930.

Terry lived in Larchmont, and the local paper decided he was a successful and creative person who deserved a profile. Below is what was published on January 7, 1932.

To the above left is a frame from Lorelei (1932). I picked this one to show that not every foot of film in a Terrytoon featured mice—but it sure seems that way. What’s interesting in the story is that Terry actually provided voices; it’s maddening that it doesn’t reveal specific names of others. His claim to have created cel animation is, well, I don’t think we need to comment. It’s nice to see Moser and Scheib get mentions. Moser was unceremoniously shoved out by Terry in 1936; by then, Audio Cinema was out of the picture and Terry controlled the company. Scheib stayed after Terry closed a deal in early 1956 to sell the studio to CBS for a fair chunk of money. Gene Deitch was brought in to oversee the creative end of things and remarked that he discovered Scheib was no hack musician and had been churning out saxophone chase scores for ages because that’s what Paul Terry wanted.

Terry died on October 25, 1971.

ELABORATE WORK GOES INTO MAKING OF LARCHMONT MAN’S “TERRYTOONS”
Of all the celebrated artists who helped to make Larchmont's recent "Big Show” a success, Paul Terry was the only one who did not appear in the glare of the footlights, much to the disappointment of his many admirers. He stood quietly in the comparative shadow of a balcony, close beside the projection room, where his animated cartoon, the Paul Terrytoon, “Pigskin Capers” was being unrolled amid the loud applause of the audience.
Although Mr. Terry is an entertainer of some repute, he chose to remain modestly incognito, content with the obvious pleasure his comedy was bringing to a representative audience of Larchmont assembled to witness the monster performance for the benefit of Mayor Munroe Stiner's committee on unemployment relief. In spite of the fact that the High School was unequipped for the dialogue and musical accompaniment of the film the comedy was, of course, enthusiastically received.
Pioneer In His Field
Mr. Terry is a pioneer in the art of the animated cartoon. For nine years he made the Aesop's Fables, hut finally gave that up for the present mode of expression. He has been making Paul Terrytoons for two years. He makes one every two weeks; and at present is working on the 56th production. The picture called “The Black Spider’ was so well received that the exhibitors asked Mr. Terry for a sequel. The result will be when complete, "The Spider Talks”. The “Black Spider" was a mystery, without the usual trite and commonplace paraphernalia of skulls and cross bones. It was fantastic, and bizarre, with elaborate artistic backgrounds, the whole thing so different, that much admiration and comment excited.
Invented Celluloid Process
It was Mr. Terry who invented the celluloid process. The story is first written from the central idea. Then Mr. Terry lays out the plot in rough sketches, on very thin paper, about 5,000 to a picture. These are transferred to celluloid by a staff of 20 artists who work constantly at their drawing boards. One man who has the entire work of photographing the scenes, sits at an electrical photographic machine in the greenish glare of strong white lights.
An interesting thing about the process is that with the celluloid sheets economy may be exercised by the use in various scenes of parts of drawings, or instance, the picture of an animal's body may be combined with the waving of an animal's body may be combined with the waving arms drawn separately on another celluloid and even falling tears made separately. One or two scenes may be imposed on another and photographed together. A thing that surprises the uninitiated is the fact that the background sometimes is made to move, instead of the object.
Sound Important
The music and dialogue is an important part of the modern animated cartoon. Every sound must come at the exact instant, of the action, which it fits according to an elaborate diagram that is carefully drawn to facilitate the synchronization. The artists themselves edit the frames which contain this diagram and each leaves a crayon mark of a different color, as a sign of approval. There are 8,000 frames to a picture and each frame has about 300 scenes.
Phillip A. Scheib, 155 Center Avenue, who wrote the musical score for the latest Griffith picture, “The Struggle”, is in charge of the music for the Terrytoons. He composes nine tenths of the music used. For the remainder, he and Mr. Terry insist on the best that can be reproduced from the world's treasury of melody. Those who are so fortunate as to see and hear Terrytoons, are charmed by snatches of favorite arias and overtures. Whenever possible the highest form of music is used, such as the fire music from the Valkyrie.
When a quartet is needed, high class voices from a large broadcasting company are secured, or solo work, care is exercised by Mr. Terry to obtain a voice that is distinctive and appropriate to the part to which it is adapted, as for instance, the voice of a certain little girl that is particularly thin and high. One singer is from the Aborn Opera Company. This care in the selection of the music, together with the artistry of the backgrounds, and the unique and lively quality of the plot has resulted in popularity for these comedies.
Supply Sound Effects
When the music is serious and dignified. the action to which it is suited must be absurd. For instance, the lady mosquito in distress keeps dancing in jazz tempo while she sings of her despair. The artists of Mr. Terry’s company show their versatility in the matter taking the part of the various animals, for the dialogue and supplying the necessary noises, by their vocal achievement. Mr. Terry himself spoke the deep, villainous lines for the black spider. He has a barking accomplishment more effective than any little dog can offer. He can also interpret to perfection the accents of a parrot.
His partners in the production are prepared to offer their services at a moment’s notice during the actual production of the comedy.
At the beginning, Mr. Terry collaborates with Mr. Scheib in the selection of the music for each production, arranging the music to fit the 500 feet of film. The score is scratched off. and then arranged in orchestration form. Finally the production comes to the studio room, which is engaged for two and a half hours. This is the time required for rehearsal and actual recording. Then comes the final test of the strenuous concentration of the entire staff over a period of two previous weeks.
The men who are engaged in this work say that the more difficult the subject to work out. the better they like it. They seem so happily engrossed in their occupation, and so interested in the results they obtain that it is a pleasure to see them. All the lesser artists on the staff are imbued with the enthusiasm of Mr. Terry.
Mr. Moser, Technician
Frank H. Moser, Hastings-on-Hudson, is another partner of Mr. Terry in this enterprise. His official capacity is that of technician; but he also collaborates in all the brunches of the industry, rising to any emergency, when assistance is needed in plot or revision, or dialogue.
The Paul Terrytoons are produced at the Audio Cinema studio, 2826 Decatur Avenue, New York, the old Edison plant, and one of the first to be established in New York. Altogether as much thought and effort and money expenditures goes into the making of these animated cartoons, per foot, as is spent in any other film production. The backgrounds, being the ideal product of an artist, are perfect. The characters of the play created by the pen, have no chance to be temperamental. The men who make the cartoons are the severest critics of their own work. Each production must be better than the last; each new idea more unusual. Each is filed away for future reference and study.
The partners especially recommend “The Lorelei”, “Jingle Bells”, “The Black Spider” and its sequel, “The Spider Talks."
Pirate Picture
A forth-coming release is a unique and remarkable comedy called "Peg-leg Pete, the Pirate." Much time and painstaking effort has been spent in research work to make this picture authentic in costume and atmosphere, The works of such artists as N. C. Wyeth have been consulted. There is always more than one production in process of making at a time.
"The Spider Talks", is now in the process of preparation. All the scenes are most unusual. There is the one in which the spider spins his web on a colonial spinning wheel; throws knives at the birds; sharpens the beak of a mosquito on a grindstone and uses him for the needle of the phonograph. Then there are the picturesque scenes of the bees wigwagging to other bees; flying as airplanes and dropping bombs on the Black Spider’s castle.
Mr. Terry lives at 61 Beach Avenue, Larchmont. He belongs to the Hook and Ladder Company, No. 1, of the Larchmont Volunteer Fire Company. He is a member of the Cinema Club of Larchmont, the Men's Club, the Larchmont Shore Club, and the American Legion, Larchmont Post.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize how close the Audio Cinema studio already was to New Rochelle until checking out the 2828 Decatur Avenue address in the story. It's in the north-central Bronx, so Paul was already pretty close to his Larchmont home even before he relocated the studio outside of New York City.

    ReplyDelete