Saturday 16 May 2020

A Grain of Terrytoon Wisdom

The Terrytoons studio, by all rights, should still be around today.

The demand for new cartoons on television has never ended. CBS owned Terrytoons. The network could have produced its own cartoons—and did for a while—but decided to rely on Hanna-Barbera and Filmation to fill its Saturday morning airtime and the studio petered out in the late ‘60s.

The studio was founded by Paul Terry after his unceremonious dumping by Amadee Van Beuren from the Fables studio, which had just gotten into the sound business, releasing Dinner Time in 1928 before Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie arrived on the screen.

Terry—at least at the outset—insisted he wasn’t the sole force creating his cartoons. He gave credit to animator Frank Moser and musical director Phil Scheib. Moser was shoved out the door in 1936. Scheib was still there after Terry sold the studio at the end of 1955 and, despite the repetitious musical arrangements in many of the later Terry-produced cartoons, was actually an accomplished violinist and composer. His scores became more interesting after the sale and even more so when Gene Deitch was brought in to give the studio a long-overdue creative overhaul.

Here’s Terry being interviewed by the Ossining Citizen-Bulletin of June 20, 1931 which features a brief look at how his cartoons were made and the backgrounds of the three main players. The frames are from a 1931 Terrytoon called Razzberries. The flying elephant is not Dumbo.

Our Famous Neighbors

By Muriel Vernon
Children adore them. Adults, too, all over the world, find laughs, relaxation, and a grain of wisdom in watching Paul Terry's cats and mice, dogs and elephants cavort right out of an ink-well onto the movie screen.
The famous creator of Terry Toons lives at 61 Beach Avenue, Larchmont, He has a small daughter, aged two, whose own claim to fame lies in her ability to hum the songs that accompany her daddy's cartoons some time before they reach the screen.
Mr. Terry insists he alone is not responsible for all the Terry Toon cut-ups.
"There are really three of us," were the words with which he greeted the interviewer at the gray-stone studio in the Bronx. It is on this movie lot that all the Terry Toon characters are created, "shot," and, at length, synchronized.
Has Two Aides
Mr. Terry, a genial, portly, middle-aged man whose appearance is much more that of the successful business man than the artist, introduced his two collaborators. They're Frank Moser, whose years of experience as a newspaper cartoonist and illustrator and movie cartoonist matches Mr. Terry's own, and who lives at 37 Hollywood Avenue, Hastings; and Philip A. Scheib of New Rochelle, musical composer, who scores and conducts the Terry Toon synchronizations. Mr. Moser has a 14 year old son; Mr. Scheib's family consists of "Just a wife and a canary."
Above the Terry desk is a mirror, in this case a very important studio "prop." First, the pilot of the newest Terry Toon is decided upon. Then Cartoonists Terry and Moser get busy. On the flimsiest paper imaginable they must sketch every gesture, every movement each character would be likely to make in "doing his stuff" on the screen. The mirror insures continuity.
Mirror Helps Out
If the word "you" is what the talkie mouse has to say, the artist must see how the word looks on his own lips. This the mirror shows him, so that he can go ahead and transport the proper expression to the actor. Sometimes the cartoonist finds he has to get up and execute a jig, or sing a song before the mirror to see how it reflects. So you see, the business of making animated movie cartoons really is a lot of fun.
Before becoming their own movie producers, both Moser and Terry had years of newspaper illustrating experience; both ran their own comic strips in various newspapers throughout the country, and both previously created animated cartoons for other movie producers.
Moser and Terry began to draw in their early 'teens. Back in 1906, Terry got his first job in the art department of a newspaper. It was on the San Francisco Chronicle, and he might have been there still if the earthquake had not come along and thrown him out of a job. In 1915, when animated cartoons were just being introduced to movie audiences, Terry was an Illustrator on the New York Globe. At that same time, his partner, Moser, was illustrating the Sunday supplement of the New York Press.
Both Made Good
You may remember the Alonzo dog series, a comic strip in the New York Call. That was Terry's. Among the strips created by the quiet, pleasant Moser was a Sunday series known as Fan Fanny in Sport, a cartoonization of a man, his wife, and their dog.
Moser's story is that of the boy who came to the big city and made good. Though he's been drawing since he was 17, It took him until he was 24 to land his first job on a paper.
Among the other Terry achievements was the famous Aesop's fables, which Terry "animated" on the screen for nine years. The artists he trained to succeed him still do the work.
Mr. Scheib, is the musical conductor of the trio. His working props consist of countless racks of sheet music and an upright piano installed in his office. He writes all the lyrics for the Terry Toons and composes music that must flawlessly match the capers of Toon characters. Mr. Scheib studied at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting that Scheib made it to New Rochelle before the Terrytoons studio did, though the studio's main owner living in Larchmont was already basically living next door.

    (The quality gap between Terrytoons and the other animation studios in '31 wasn't all that great yet, but you can see looking at the product five years later why Educational Pictures would have had and received complaints about the lack of advancement and Terry's refusal to toss any color shorts the theater owners' way.)