Saturday, 14 March 2020

Coming Cartoon Attractions for 1956-57

“Let’s stop kicking short subjects around. Let’s be the smart showmen that we’re supposed to be, through years of solid experience, and put the short films back on the program”.

That was the call by Walter Brooks in the October 27, 1956 issue of The Motion Picture Herald. For a number of years, some of the movie trade publications devoted a few pages once a year to a short subjects preview. Basically, it was a sales opportunity; the paper could offer ad space to the various studios to plug their shorts in between articles.

Under the heading “Cartoons Grow Up,” Brooks stated:

Also, cartoons have grown up to adult stature. Now, instead of being all so very juvenile, they appeal to the more mature audience. In fact, the art and talent of the color cartoon studio, also in our new dimensions, was never greater than it is right now, nor the appeal to the public more certain as a box office potential. Television has cartoons that seem amateurish and outmoded in comparison. Your public will know the difference, and you will find all ages ready to buy animation in ‘Scope and color on your big theatre screen. Your opportunity has never been so good. You are much better off than you may have thought.

The main article, titled “Short Subjects on the March,” was penned by Lawrence J. Quirk where he went through what all the studios had to offer. There were still travelogues, musical offerings, newsreels, and Columbia had comedies and re-releases like the “Candid Microphone” series and the “Hop Harrigan” serial. However, this post will concentrate solely on cartoons (sorry, fans of Muriel Landers’ “Girly Whirls”).

Ten Mr. Magoo cartoons are on hand from UPA, all in CinemaScope and color by Technicolor.

A note of high optimism was sounded by William Zoellner, Loew’s shorts subjects sales manager, who expects the coming season to bring a new high in popularity to such staple MGM offerings as the Tom and Jerry cartoons.

“They will delight audiences more than ever,” he said, and pointed out that the characters, well-loved by adults and children alike, have been honored for 13 consecutive years by Fame.

At this point Mr. Zoellner took note of the three successful weeks of the Tom and Jerry Cartoon Festival at the Plaza theatre, New York in September. “Think — over 70 per cent of the patronage during that festival was adult,” Mr. Zoellner declared, “and then they say only kids like cartoons!” He added: “Cartoons are steadily growing more adult, more subtle, and we are adding some interesting new characters. This is bound to attract an even greater allegiance from adult audiences.” The tendency of some exhibitors to cut shorts from their programs he termed “shortsighted” and “poor showmanship.” “They will find that they have lost far more than they have gained in small economies. It is essential that they take the long view,” he streesed. On the other side of the ledger Mr. Zoellner cited the thousands of exhibitors who had made a point of informing the Loew’s office of the box office draw of Tom and Jerry and the other company cartoons.

MGM will release a total of 30 cartoons this coming season, 12 in CinemaScope and 18 in standard screen size.

The 12 CinemaScope cartoons, in color by Technicolor, will include the following titles: “Muscle Beach Tom,” “Downbeat Bear,” “Blue Cat Blues,” “Millonaire [sic] Droopy,” “Barbecue Brawl,” “Tops with Pops,” “Timid Tabby,” “Feedin’ the Kiddie,” “Cat’s Meow,” “Give and Tyke,” “Grin and Share It,” and “Scat Cats.” The 18 Gold Medal cartoons in Technicolor and standard (flat) screen, include such titles as: “Polka Dot Puss,” “The Bear and the Bean,” “Heavenly Puss,” “Bad Luck Blackie,” “Senor Droopy,” “Tennis Chumps,” “Little Rural Riding Hood,” “The Bear and the Hare,” “Little Quacker,” “Saturday Evening Puss,” “Cuckoo Clock,” “Cat and the Mermouse,” “Safety Second,” “Garden Gophers,” “Framed Cat,” “Cue-ball Cat,” “The Chump Champ,” and “The Peachy Cobbler.”

Cartoons on the agenda include 8 Popeyes, 6 Noveltoons, 4 Herman and Katnips, 6 Caspers and 12 Cartoon Champions, all in color

RKO’s 1956-57 plans include 18 re-releases of the Walt Disney cartoons.

Prophesying a favorable boxoffice reception for the Walt Disney shorts, Mr. Bamberger said that Disney’s TV activity has contributed to the popularizing of his work and this factor can’t help reflecting favorably on theatre attendance.

During this coming season, the company plans release of some three dozen shorts of the Movietone and Terrytoon varieties.

Of the 36 in work, 12 will be in flat or standard dimension and 24 in CinemaScope. All will be in color. The 12 Movie-tone subjects will be in CinemaScope. Three new characters will debut in the Terrytoon series: John Doormat, Gaston Le Crayon and Clint Clobber. Not only are fresh cartoon “stars” being created; Terrytoons is giving its well-known favorites a change of face. Under creative supervisor Gene Deitch, Mighty Mouse, Dinky Duck and Heckle and Jeckle are being restyled. Top merchandising policies will be followed in selling this array of short subjects from 20th-Fox.

The first nine Terrytoons set for release in 1957 are: a John Doormat; “Gag Buster”; “A Bum Steer” and “The Bone Ranger,” all in CinemaScope, and “Heckle and Jeckle,” "Pirates Gold” with the Talking Magpies; “Hare-Breadth Finish,” “African Jungle Hunt” with Phoney Baloney; “Daddy’s Little Darling” and “Love is Blind” all in standard dimension.

Of the 50 short subjects planned for release, there will be five separate series. Included are 15 two-reelers and 35 one-reelers. Six of the one-reelers are reissues of Walter Lantz Technicolor cartunes, which are in considerable demand by exhibitors, Mr. McCarthy noted [Frank J.A. McCarthy, assistant general sales manager]. “Walter Lantz cartoons are great favorites, “he said, “especially the Woody Woodpecker group. However, Lantz’ recent cartoon creation ‘Chilly Willy the Penguin,’ has been giving Woody a run for his money in this new season and ought to turn out a record breaker.”

Thirteen new Walter Lantz Technicolor cartoons are planned, with Knothead and Splinter added to the characters in these items. Takeoffs on popular subjects will again be a feature. Some titles: “Dopey Dick the Pink Whale;” “To Catch a Woodpecker,” and “The Plumber of Seville,” among others on the schedule.

According to Mr. Moray [Norman H. Moray, short subject sales manager], cartoons continue to be number one favorite with audiences, and 30 new cartoons headed by Bugs Bunny will be in 1956-57 release. “Reprints on yesterday’s outstanding cartoon successes are going better than ever, proving conclusively that there is no age on a fine cartoon,” Mr. Moray said.

Of course this was all ballyhoo. MGM talks about about cartoon success but by the end of the year, the company told Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera their cartoon studio was being closed and to finish whatever they had in production. Those “Television...cartoons that seem amateurish” would soon change the landscape of animation.


  1. The 1956-57 season was Warners' last really great release year, where you could have an Academy Award nominee ("Tabasco Road") and and Academy Award winner ("Birds Anonymous") released on either side of "What's Opera, Doc?". But my guess here is when Brooks is talking about cartoons "growing up" and being designed more for adults, he's probably talking UPA, even though some of the stylized UPA work was framed around more juvenile story lines.

    (Terrytoons does get a little love in the story, possibly due to Gene Deitch's UPA-New York roots, though of the CinemaScope entries mentioned, “Gag Buster”, “A Bum Steer” and “The Bone Ranger” feel like hybrids, as though they were started by the original Terry crew and them were tweaked into something that wasn't quite the new, modern Terrytoons, but they also weren't Paul Terry's old one-shot efforts, either.)

    1. It'd be interesting to know if Deitch had any role in them; my impression is he was concentrating on his own regular characters and these ones simply were left to go through the system.

    2. Since they were just recently posted on the Terry Toons YouTube page, I noted that all three got the 'modern' jazz music opening that Deitch would use for his other new-look CinemaScope efforts, like "Topsy TV" and "Flebus". So they seem to have been a little more than just burn-offs, but at the same time not something Deitch would have totally favored ("Gag Buster" sort of looks back to the early Heckle and Jeckle "The Power of Thought" and even to the Gandy Goose 1940 effort "The Magic Pencil", while at the same time looking forward a year to Deitch's own Tom Terrific).