Saturday 26 December 2020

Ted and His Colour Snowman

Ted Eshbaugh had huge hopes for his experiments in colour cartoons. Instead, he’s pretty much a footnote in animation history, likely best-known for The Sunshine Makers.

His work trying to perfect a colour system was profiled in several places in 1931-32, with talk about his Goofy Goat cartoon and his effort to bring an animated The Wizard of Oz in bright hues to movie screens.

In between the two, he and his staff crafted The Snowman. He hoped to produce a series called “Musicolor Fantasies” (Boston Globe, Nov. 2, 1932).

Some familiar names are on the credits. The music was written by Carl Stalling, pre-Schlesinger. Frank Tipper and Bill Mason both animated for Walter Lantz into the early 1940s. Co-producer Howard C. Bonsall was a land developer who opened up large areas near Malibu for residential development. His son was Shull Bonsall, who gained a somewhat infamous reputation when he forced Alex Anderson and Jay Ward out of a Crusader Rabbit revival on television in the mid-‘50s. This is the only foray into animation by Howard Bonsall that I have found.

Here’s an article on The Snowman from the Los Angeles Daily News of September 7, 1933.


“Extra! Snow-man ‘Frankenstein’ runs wild over north pole, tears down igloos and menaces lives of Arctic denizens. Eskimo hero saves the day by turning on the aurora borealis and melts icy villain.” No, this is not the latest news flash from Iceland, but the original and comically entertaining plot of Ted Eshbaugh’s latest musicolor fantasy cartoon, “The Snow Man,” which is having its western premier showing with “The Masquerader” at Tally’s Criterion this week.
Audiences which have already viewed the new Eshbaugh cartoon have been amazed by the clarity and beauty of his color treatment, which greatly enhances the fast moving melodrama of animal land in the far north. Two of his scenes in the picture, are considered by critics and artists to be the most beautiful color cartoon work reproduced on the screen.
One of the scenes shows four little deer drinking from an azure blue pool in the snow, with their brown reflections actually animated in the rippling water. The other is the spectacular climax where the little Eskimo turns on the aurora borealis, which appears in a maze of radiating color schemes vividly animated behind the grotesque figure of Snow Man.
There is a reason for Ted Eshbaugh’s leadership in the field of color cartoons. Through his years of research in translating color to the screen in natural shades, he was able to blaze the trail for animated cartoons in color. The Los Angeles museum recently honored Eshbaugh in recognition of his service as the creator of the first successful full-length cartoon in sound and color by placing a print of his initial color production, "Goofy Goat, on permanent exhibition. This picture was released more than two years ago, before any other animated cartoon company had been able to accomplish the feat. Coming to Hollywood about 10 years ago after winning awards for his art work in the Boston and Chicago art institutes, Eshbaugh carved a niche for himself in the motion picture industry by virtue of his original ideas and creative genius. Today, at 27, he is one of the youngest film producers in Hollywood and is well on the road to success.
The young artist’s naive sense of humor is well represented in "The Snow Man. The locale is the north pole, and Ted has surrounded the story with a background of picturesque blue and blue-green shades blended into the snowy atmosphere. The little Eskimo and his animal friends are seen building a snow man, and as they caper about, it suddenly comes to life and runs rampant as they scatter in terror. In his path is an ice cathedral in which a walrus choirmaster is leading the chorus of penguin choir boys, singing the “Little Church in the Wildwood.” The monster chases them away and does a hilarious Jimmy Durante at the organ. Continuing his rampage, he finally corners the animals on the edge of an ice precipice just as the Eskimo reaches the north pole power plant and switches on the aurora to save the day. This was reproduced in the cinecolor process.
Ted Eshbaugh is also the creator of the first color cartoon of the famous "Wizard of Oz stories, and has already produced his initial version of those popular adventures of little Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin-Woodman and the Wizard. This cartoon feature, produced in technicolor, will soon follow “The Snow Man,” which has its eastern premiere in one of New York's biggest showhouses this week.

In 1934, Eshbaugh left the West Coast for the Van Beuren studio in New York. When it closed, he continued to produce industrial/commercial cartoons. Among them, according to his obituary in Variety, were “The Dale Carnegie Story,” “The Frank Bettger Story,” several colour spectaculars for the Radio City Music Hall, and sequences for “Around the World With Mike Todd.”

Ted Edgar Eshbaugh was born in Des Moines on Feb. 5, 1906. He died in New York City on July 4, 1969.

Here are some shots from The Snowman. These are consecutive frames. The evil snowbeing somehow is missing a hat.

Here’s where the Eskimo boy runs into the weather control centre to turn up the heat and melt the evil snowman. Eshbaugh shows a good sense of using colour. At first the frames alternate in a lighter blue colour. Then the Eskimo jacks up the temperature more and you can see how the frame flashes red. Finally, the heat is maximised into the danger zone and the snowman melts.

Interestingly, the short has the same end gag Tex Avery employed years later in Bad Luck Blackie. The snowman has an evil, Billy Bletcher-like laugh through the cartoon. At the end, the fish he swallowed is saved when he melts. The fish adopts the evil laugh as the iris closes. In the Avery cartoon, it makes sense for the tormented kitten to laugh as it has become the tormenter. Here the laugh seems random and forced, but maybe that’s me.

In November 2013, both this blog and Jerry Beck’s had posts about Eshbaugh. Read them here and here.


  1. Many years ago at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, I was roaming the halls of the Museum when I encountered a display made mostly of colored cardboard, all about Eshbaugh's "Goofy Goat"! It featured the original TITLE CARD, which just read "Goofy Goat" and featured a picture of Goofy at the grand piano keyboard. There were also a few cels from the production framed in black mattes and affixed to the cardboard backdrop. The whole affair was in oranges and yellows. Since then, it disappeared from the stairwell in which I came across it. Now you reprint an article stating that the Los Angeles Museum (of what, Natural History?), is putting a print of "Goofy Goat" on PERMANENT exhibition! Does that mean that a nitrate print of the picture is still held within the collection of the Natural History Museum? So far, my forays in to contacting any body who remembers Goofy Goat at the museum have gone for naught. Maybe one of your readers may know something more about this connection. "Goofy Goat" in color is extremely RARE, only the Official Films black and white 16mm prints of the cartoon seem to survive.

    1. Odd, because it's still listed in the holdings. "The collection includes the first complete color cartoon from Ted Eshbaugh’s “Goofy Goat” that was previewed in 1931 and commercially released in Los Angeles on March 2, 1932." Current location is: Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Los Angeles, California 90007-4057. See:

    2. Thanks, E.O.,
      I will try to communicate with the museum about the print, although it's probably disintegrated by now. Thanks for your reply, much appreciated.