Saturday 22 February 2020

More and Better Cartoons!

Who made the best cartoons in 1952?

The correct answer is—Tex Avery. At least according to a survey by Boxoffice magazine in its edition of January 31, 1953.

The trade publication conducted an annual poll about short subjects, and while some live-action series made the list, cartoons were at the top.

The magazine put “Tom and Jerry” as the number-one series, though it used that as an umbrella name for all MGM cartoons. On the list of individual shorts, the Tom and Jerry cartoon The Two Mouseketeers was fourth. Number one and two were Car of Tomorrow and One Cab’s Family. Compare that with the nominees for the Academy Award. The Avery cartoons weren’t on the list. Mouseketeers won.

We’ll reprint the article below. You may find the reference to “Bugs Bunny Specials” puzzling, because Warners released Bugs as part of the Merrie Melodies series (though he did get special opening title animation). But the trades always referred to both Bugs and the Blue Ribbon releases as separate series.

Evidently exhibitors weren’t all that enamoured with the one-shot UPA cartoons, though the Motion Picture Academy doted on them.Yet a Terry Bears cartoon made the list. Take that, pretentious studio!

And while various watchdog groups simply hated the Three Stooges being shown on television later in the decade, theatre owners thought they were great for business.

Sadly, less than six weeks after two of Tex’s cartoons were lauded by Boxoffice, his unit was disbanded at MGM.

Cartoons Lead Short Subject Parade

SEE-SAWING back and forth between MGM Cartoons and Warner’s “Bugs Bunny” Specials, for first place in the series popularity of our annual shorts poll, still goes on. In this season’s poll of exhibitors to determine the relative popularity of short subjects, both as to series and singles, MGM Cartoons (which include Tom & Jerry) came in ahead. “Bugs Bunny” ran a close second and this is a reversal of last year’s results but parallels those of the year before. So far there has been no other serious contender for these two top positions.
However, the Woody Woodpecker Cartunes squawked up to third place this year, one notch higher than on any previous poll. This series drew several comments on ballots, such as this one from an Illinois exhibitor: “Patrons seem to enjoy the Woody Woodpecker comedies best of all.” And an Arkansas exhibitor singled out one of its late last year’s subjects for this remark: “ ‘Sling Shot 6 7/8’ had more laughs than I can remember.”
A little back-checking shows that Tom & Jerry started in 1940, and that “Bugs Bunny” as a character began cavorting in cartoons about the same time. By the 1943-44 season, he had also become the titular head of a series.
It is significant that the three top winners on the series list are “animal” cartoons, also that the top five on the same list are cartoons—in case you want to take it from there. Checking this scoreboard further, we find Warner Bros. is ahead numerically among series winners, having produced three of the top ten. MGM, Columbia and RKO have two each, U-I and Paramount one each.
Popeye Cartoons (Para), which came up to fourth position last year from sixth the year before, maintained that place in this year’s poll, but Disney Cartoons (RKO), which had been in third place for two years in the balloting, dropped back to the number-five position. Yet a Montana exhibitor wrote: “The name, Disney, and the True Life Adventures are better drawing cards than the features.”
The Pete Smith Specialities (MGM) lead in the live action field, taking sixth place in the series vote. The Stooge Comedies (Col) follow in seventh position. Merrie Melodies-Looney Tunes (WB) moved up one and tied for eighth place with Mr. Magoo (Col). Mr. Magoo, in case you haven’t noticed, placed on the poll for the first time—probably in his familiar, near-sighted fashion, just learning that a poll is carried on.
The Joe McDoakes Comedies (WB) moved up from tying for tenth position last year to ninth place in this year’s poll. Disney’s True Life Adventure (RKO) took tenth place on the best-ten list, but this series is only about three years old and had never placed before, so it seems to be growing in program importance.
The picture changes somewhat when we come to the study of the ten best single shorts, as indicated by the poll. Here MGM product wins first, second and fourth place. Disney’s True Life Adventure, “The Olympic Elk” (RKO), took third place on the singles.
RKO’s Special called “Here Comes the band” took fifth place. Sixth place for single shorts went to “Deep Boo Sea,” a Paramount Casper Cartoon, and this company also had a Grantland Rice Sportlight tied for tenth place, “Riding’ the Rails.”
The 20th Century-Fox Terrytoon, “Papa’s Little Helpers,” tied for seventh among the singles with Universal’s two-reeler, “Knights of the Highway,” tied for tenth place in the single-shorts poll. “Land of the Trembling Earth,” a Technicolor Special, a Warner Bros. product, was given eighth place and Columbia received ninth place for “Pest Man Wins,” a Stooge Comedy.
Comments were varied, and for the most part, brief. However, one South Carolina exhibitor evidently wanted to get this off his chest:
“One look at your list of product on the ballot will show what’s wrong with ‘program fillers.’ There is too much junk (I mean just that!) pushed onto the exhibitor, and there are far too few cartoons.
“We play, on the average, four changes per week and I find it impossible to play a new cartoon each change. I have to go back and pick up second run (not reissues), and so far as I know, there’s only one series I’m not playing.
“If Hollywood producers would concentrate on more and better cartoons and use their facilities in the production of these, they would be doing themselves and the exhibitor quite a favor. I do not mean there should be no other shorts. A few good ones are a help, to wit, Disney’s True Life Adventures.”
Other comments of a critical nature include these: “No originality in the production of shorts year after year.” (Va.) ... “We need more two-reel live action comedies.” (N.D.) ... “The biggest fault in the cartoon business is the reissue product.” (Calif.) ... “I really get some patched up cartoons.” (La.) Further selected comments were in praise of certain types of single shorts played recently, which pleased extra well:
“ ‘The Guest’ (20th-Fox featurette) pleased the adult trade more than any ever run in this theatre.” (Mont.) ... This appreciation of a serious short was followed by “Cartoons and comedies are favorites of all patrons.” (Minn.) ... “Tom & Jerry are the best we can put on our screen.” (Iowa) ... “The Tom & Jerry and ‘Bugs Bunny’ are the best-liked cartoons. Gil Lamb, I believe, had the best-liked two-reelers. (Iowa.)
“Color cartoons are probably the most successful for all kids from six to 50 years old.” (Wyo.) ... “The little skunk in ‘Little Beau Pepe’ has a French accent and is a riot. This character is becoming very popular.” (Ill.)
The Stooge Comedies were all good, clean pictures liked by both adults and children.” (Okla.) ... “Tweety Pie, Tom & Jerry, ‘Bugs Bunny’ and Stooges Comedies are the biggest favorites here and most requested.” (Tex.) ... “Tom & Jerry Cartoons are tops in this theatre.” (Ill.) ... “We get good comment on ‘Little Rascals.’” (Kas.) ... “Any Tom & Jerry would qualify as best.” (Mo.) ... “Cartoons hold our top place for consistency.” (Ark.)
And then there’s this comment from a Texas exhibitor, as expansive as the bigness of his state seems to call for: “All product this year was good.”

The Ten Best Short Series
1—Tom & Jerry (MGM) [including Tex Avery cartoons]
2—“Bugs Bunny” Specials (WB)
3—Woody Woodpecker Cartunes (U-I)
4—Popeye Cartoons (Para)
5—Disney Cartoons (RKO)
6—Pete Smith Specialties (MGM)
7—Stooges Comedies (Col)
8—Merrie Melodies – Looney Tunes (WB)
Mr. Magoo (Col)
9—Joe McDoakes Comedies (WB)
10—True Life Adventures (RKO)

The Ten Best Shorts
1—Car of Tomorrow (Cartoon) MGM
2—One Cab’s Family (Cartoon) MGM
3—The Olympic Elk (True Life Adventure) RKO
4—The Two Mouseketeers (Tom & Jerry) MGM
5—Here Comes the Band (Special) RKO
6—Deep Boo Sea (Casper Cartoon) Para
7—Papa’s Little Helpers (Terrytoon) 20th-Fox
Danger Under the Sea (Two-reel Special) U-I
8—Land of the Trembling Earth (Technicolor Special) WB
9—Pest Man Wins (Stooge Comedy) Col
10—Ridin’ the Rails (Grantland Rice Sportlight) Para
Knights of the Highway (Two-reel Special) U-I


  1. I was under the impression that from the mid-1940s on, Warner Bros. offered their cartoons to theaters in three separate packages: the Bugs Bunny's, the Blue Ribbon's, and the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies. A friend has contracts between a theater in Ohio and Warner Bros. booking the LT/MM and the Bugs Bunny Specials. The Bugs Bunny's are under a separate contract and cost the theater more than they had to pay for the other LT/MM. The number of cartoons specified on the LT/MM contract (a full season's cartoons) wouldn't seem to allow for inclusion of the Blue Ribbon's.

  2. That's right, Gary. Up to the 1942-43 season, Warners sold their cartoons in two series: color Merrie Melodies and black and white Looney Tunes. And they began reissuing the "Blue Ribbon" Merrie Melodies (color). In 1943-44, with all new cartoons in color, the release offerings were changed. Most of the new cartoons were released to theaters in a single series regardless of whether the film titles said Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies. Warner began releasing the cartoons with their new superstar as Bugs Bunny Specials, again regardless of LT/MM designation. And yes, because they could charge more. Plus, with the Blue Ribbon reissues continued. Warner Bros. sold their cartoons like this until 1963.

  3. That's the odd part of it to me. You'd think Warners would have not used the Merrie Melodies opening/closing for Bugs if he was really a separate release series. They never did. I don't know why not.

  4. I guess the top three held their status for a few years. The first issue of Gold Key's Golden Comics Digest (May 1969) featured on its cover Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry. These same characters and some of their friends shared the covers of #3, #5, #8, #12, and #16. Eventually, each stable of characters had complete GCD issues to themselves, and the combined issues became a thing of the past.