Saturday 30 May 2020

Not Just Mickey

For years, it seemed animation history began and ended with Walt Disney. Thankfully, fans with an historical bent came along to flesh out things in writing so, today, there are seemingly endless sources to learn about animation’s past.

Occasionally, one could find articles in the press about studios other than Disney, or even a brief overview of theatrical animation history. That’s the case with the story below, published in the Austin American of January 8, 1940.

The source material may have come from a Paramount news release, as several random paragraphs deal with the studio, which had just released the Fleischers’ Gulliver’s Travels. Colvig’s cartoon referred to in the story couldn’t have been very well known. I’m a little confused by the reference to Gertie being a “giggling” dinosaur; she displayed a range of emotions in the cartoon and giggling didn’t dominate.

Interestingly, the story refers to Celebrity Productions, Pat Powers’ company, which I don’t believe was releasing new cartoons. Audio Productions and John McCrory were industrial studios, while there is next to no information about Albert Paganelli, who provided titles at one time.

The writer was, at the time of this story, a journalism student at the University of Texas. Boyd Sinclair served in the China-Burma-India theatre during the war and wrote a book about an incident that took place there in 1943. He made the military his life and died in 1990.

Animation Was Here Long Before Jitterbugs; First There Was 'Gertie, the Giggling Dinosaur'
The showing of “Gulliver's Travels,” the feature-length animated cartoon, is a reminder that the animated cartoon was here three decades ago. It was over thirty years ago that several men gathered in a projection room to watch drawings on a screen that seemed to move.
The first animator of drawn figures was Winsor McCay, and his first animated cartoon was the one that was watched by the group of men around the ancient projection machine. The title of that cartoon was "Gertie, the Giggling Dinosaur." Gertie's actions looked like a cross between a seismograph needle's marks in a violent earthquake and a pencil and a pencil pusher with delirium tremens in the Eversharp factory, but the lines wiggled anyway. After that private screening, Mr. McCay was called an impractical dreamer with wide-eyed delusions and fantastic ideas. Mr. McCay gave vent to prophecies that are today realities in such films as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Gulliver's Travels," "Pinnocchio," [sic] "Relativity," and "Darwin's Theory of Evolution," the latter being two full-length cartoons that the public has heard little about. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” returned to Walt Disney's enterprises around $8,000,000.
Animators Plentiful
In the production of animated cartoons today there are over a dozen organisations, over which the Disney enterprises without a doubt dominate. Disney has studios in Los Angeles, New York and London. Hugh Harmon [sic] and Rudolph Ising produce cartoons for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in California. Also in production of drawings in motion in the City of the Angels are Walter Lantz, creator of Oswald the Rabbit; Charles B. Mintz; Leon Schlesinger, creator of Porky Pig; and Animated Pictures Corp., Ltd., the president of this concern, U. B. Iwerks, being the creator of Flip the Frog.
The producers of “Gulliver's Travels,” Max and Dave Fleischer, work in Miami, Fla. Their chief contributions to animated cartoon art have been Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop. Paul Terry, creator of the Terrytoons, has his studio in New Rochelle, N.Y., and in New York city are Audio Productions, Celebrity Productions, John McCrory Productions, and Albert Paganelli.
Disney has led the cartoon field in the creation of genuine character with his cartoons and his definite superiority in animation, with the smoothness of his moving figures, and his deftness with beauty as well as caricature, together with the human traits he has traced into his characters. He got his idea of Mickey Mouse from a small rodent that used to play on his drawing board when he was a struggling art student.
The Fleischers have achieved more with steroptics and depth, and with the advent of “Gulliver's Travels” they have increased the number of moving figures in single scenes far beyond what has been achieved heretofore. Limitation upon caricatures in the past have been set because of the vast and Herculean work of animating so many figures.
About the first cartoon character to live his jerky life for any length of time on the screen was Colonel Hezliar [sic]. Mutt and Jeff lasted several years around World war time on the silent screen, and their manner of dialogue was the same as you will still find in the newspaper. For more than two decades all cartoons were silent, lacking the sound that makes them as caricatures of living things, neo-perfect in many types of humor.
Other early cartoons were Felix the Cat with his studied pose, folded arms and flowing tail; Aesop's Fables; Krazy Kat; and the Fleischer Clown that bobbed in and out in the “Out of the Inkwell” series. Tony Sarg of the undying marionettes had his day with his "Silhouettes."
Disney was the first to apply sound to cartoons, that being the squeaking voice of his timid Mickey Mouse. The first colored cartoon, was “Pinto's Prisma Revue,” which was created by Pinto Colvig, who voiced several of the character in “Gulliver's Travels.” The singing voices of Prince David and Princess Glory in the Jonathan Swift classic are those of Lanny Ross and Jessica Dragonette.
Besides the regular Fleischer staff, college and high school artists of Miami, Fla., helped with the production of “Gulliver's Travels.”

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