Saturday 28 November 2020

Paul Terry Wants You To Laugh

Everyone needs laughs, felt Fred McConnell, so he set about to make it happen.

The year was 1925. An executive with Pathé named Elmer Pearson wrote letters saying that one and two-reel films weren’t getting the attention they should. That resulted in a meeting of short subject producers and film trade news publishers at the palatial estate of Universal’s Carl Laemmle on upper Fifth Avenue in New York. It was here that McConnell, who had written and directed short films, proposed a “Laugh Month,” where one and two-reel comedies would be promoted. So it was that January 1926 was picked as “Laugh Month.”

Jumping onto the Laugh Month promotional train was none other than Paul Terry.

These days, Terry is known for Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle, but he went back into the silent era, attempting to sell his first cartoon in 1915. By 1921, he had a job at a new studio. Exhibitor’s Trade Review wrote in its edition of February 27, 1926:
When Aesop's Film Fables were first produced from the screen a staff of only three artists was employed. At that time Farmer Al Falfa, the cat, dogs, mice, and other animals, jumped about on the screen. But in spite of the imperfection in movement the Fables caught on with the public almost instantly. The producers sensed the need of a more finished product and the force of artists was greatly augmented until now there are two dozen employed by Cartoonist Paul Terry.
The Fables were churned out once a week. Cartoons released during “Laugh Week” were The Gold Push (Jan. 3), Three Blind Mice (Jan. 10), Lighter Than Air (Jan. 17), Little Brown Jug (Jan. 24) and A June Bride (Jan. 31). All were 2/3rds of a reel in in length.

Terry also took the opportunity of “Laugh Week” to make his first-ever personal appearance. It was reported in Exhibitor’s Trade Review of January 30, 1926. The same article, with the exception of the last line, appeared in Motion Picture World of February 6th. Terry was 38 at the time. I suggest the picture of Terry that accompanied the article is of a somewhat younger man.
Modern Aesop Boosts Laugh Month
PAUL TERRY, cartoonist of Aesop's Film Fables, made his first personal appearance since his entry into the film field on Saturday evening, January 23, to help Sydney Cohen and Felix Feist well known film men, present a Laugh Month movie program at the famous Metropolis Club on West 57th street, New York City, upon the occasion of a special dinner, entertainment and dance.
As vice-president of the Metropolis Club, Sydney Cohen is very active in the entertainment activities, as is befitting this well known New York exhibitor, who is nationally known as former president and now chairman of the board of directors of the Motion) Picture Theatre Owners of America. Cohen has staged several movie nights at the Club, but he wanted something out of the ordinary for Laugh Month movie night. Being a short subject enthusiast, he sought the aid of Paul Terry in making up his program.
"We want you to come up and tell the folks how you make your film fables," Cohen told Terry. The creator of the Pathe cartoon comics explained that that was something he had never attempted before an audience, but Cohen was a good salesman and told Terry that it would be a boost for Laugh Month. That settled it.
"I'll be there!" exclaimed Terry.
Short subjects in general were paid a marked tribute by Mr. Cohen in his remarks on Saturday evening. He explained to the audience that his fellow exhibitors and he do not depend entirely upon so called features for their programs, stating, in part:
"There are many meritorious short subjects which are features in their appeal. We have short comedies, news reels and novelties like Aesop's Fables and Topics, which we are showing here tonight. The shorts are very entertaining and very popular. We in the motion picture business are celebrating Laugh Month, and for our program this evening we have a comedy program with a personal appearance of a different kind of star— the creator of Aesop's Film Fables cartoon movies, Paul Terry, making his first personal appearance."
Before the audience of about eight hundred members of the Metropolis City and Country Club and their friends, Terry explained all the intricacies of making cartoon movies move. After a detailed description of the progressive stages of the work, the cartoonist drew Henry Cat in a sequence of poses. Then, by a clever manipulation of the sheets of drawings, he made Henry do a Charleston that took the house by storm. Terry closed his talk by answering questions of the audience upon various phases of fable filming.
Two pre-release subjects of Aesop's Film Fables, embodying the drawings previously explained by Terry, were thrown on the screen. "Hearts and Showers," in particular, proved a laugh riot with the Metropolis members.
Through the courtesy of Amedee J. Van Beuren, of the Fables and Topics organizations, a special Metropolis Club reel of "Topics of the Day" was shown. This reel was replete with jokes and humor with local appeal, bringing the names of club members into the mirth mentions on the screen. It proved a striking climax to the Laugh Month screen entertainment.
How many of Terry’s Fables have survived isn’t know. They suddenly had value in the late 1940s when TV stations were looking for anything that might appeal to children. Commonwealth Films had acquired the ancient cartoons; Terry had no rights to them as he had been fired from the Fables studio in 1929. Commonwealth slapped some Valentino production music in the background and peddled them to television. No doubt that helped numbers of them survive in some kind of form.

Exhibitor’s Trade Review gave little roundups of some of the shorts—there were so many back then it would have been impossible to review all of them—but here are some for the Fables films mentioned above.
"Lighter Than Air"
Pathe 1 reel
The prolific Paul Terry's latest animated cartoon is one of the funniest of the "Aesop's Film Fables." One wonders at the absence of any signs of strain that seems inevitable when you consider the frequency of issue of this series. Mr. Terry's ideas, however, seem to flow like water from an open faucet. [Note: no spoilers here, right?]

"The Little Brown Jug"
Pathe 1 reel
From the ingenious pen of Paul Terry again emerges a diverting cartoonic that deserves a place on any program. Mr. Terry's animated cartoon creations all go a-fishing and competition is very keen. This, together with the fact that the fish aren't the proverbial "poor fish" as evidenced by their deftness in removing the bait without biting, causes a run of tough luck for the fishermen. A very entertaining bit is a calisthenic class at the bottom of the sea consisting of a number of little fish, with a large fish as the instructor.
By the way, one of the members of the committee in charge of National Laugh Month was a Fox Films executive named Fred C. Quimby. He had nothing to do with cartoons in 1926, but some years later, he hired people named Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and Tex Avery who provided months and months worth of laughs.

No comments:

Post a Comment