Saturday, 29 May 2021

Better to Have an Ache in the Stomach Than in the Head

Walter Lantz talked about taking the plunge. Leon Schlesinger toyed with it. Hugh Harman kept saying he wanted to do it. But only Max and Dave Fleischer jumped into the feature cartoon waters with Walt Disney in the 1930s.

Of course, the Fleischers’ distributor was pushing for it—and Paramount Pictures pretty much put up the money. So it was that an animated adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels was crafted in southern Florida by the Fleischer studio.

If nothing else, the film generated huge amounts of publicity. There were plenty of newspaper columns and magazine stories with colour pictures. We’ve presented a few here on this blog. Let’s give you another syndicated column that appeared in papers in November 1939. There’s the inevitable reference to Disney’s Snow White, a bunch of numbers, and visions of empty Pepto-Bismol bottles in Max’s office.

Florida Challenges Hollywood With Feature Cartoon Gulliver
Max Fleischer Putting Finishing Touches On Him At Miami

MIAMI, Fla., Nov. 22.—A New Yorker with a stomachache came down here a year ago with a pocketful of pencils and an idea. Today he signs one of the largest weekly payrolls in Florida.
Max Fleischer, who makes movies without actors, scenery, stages or Hollywood hysteria, still had the stomachache when I saw him. "But," the former Brooklyn cartoonist sighed, "in the movies it's better to have an ache in the stomach than in the head."
For years Fleischer turned out animated cartoons on Broadway. His Koko, the clown, popped out of an ink well at the start of a picture, did his didoes, then slid reluctantly back.
Fleischer started Florida's only movie studio with 300 employees. Today he has 700, who draw a total of more than $1,000,000 a year. Part of this new wealth is attributable to a man who has been dead a long time—the satirical Dean Swift—and his "Gulliver's Travels." Fleischer is just finishing the job of making Gulliver's adventures into a feature picture in colors. It has taken 18 months and marks Florida's first full-length screen challenge to California.
Into its making have gone 105,000 individual drawings. Using 12 tons of paint on the picture, Fleischer has his own paint factory turning out 1,350 actual shades of colors.
With a total cost for this picture that he estimates at close to $2,000,000, Fleischer hasn't a movie star on the lot. He hasn't even a lot, for the feature which he hopes will outdo Walt Disney's $6,000,000 success, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," is acted on drawing tables. The beauty of making movies with pencils and brushes is that you don't need any "flesh"—no $10,000-a-week mortals—to eat up the budget.
The story only cost the few dollars paid for a copy of the book. Yet, Fleischer says, the story as he has screened it represents about $50,000 paid to authors and gag men who provided the script, and more thousands paid Robin and Rainger, the song-writing team, for the musical score.
Fleischer believes the animated feature picture is the highest form of the cinema, and by far the finest medium for fantasy. But he doesn't see any likelihood that pen-and-brush movies will be produced in commercial quantities very soon. There aren't so many people who can draw, and of them only a small percentage can adapt themselves to the technique of animation. One feature-length animated picture a year, he believes, is the best a studio can do.
Fleischer movies can teach Hollywood spendthrifts some film economy. Hollywood has been known to shoot 600,000 feet of film to get only 2,000 that reach the screen; Fleischer's cutting room on this picture had mere 600 feet left over.
The unfortunate part of the hectic months of the studio's existence is that Fleischer still has his stomach ache.
"Do you think?" he asked anxiously, "that my eating half a dozen hot dogs a day could have anything to do with it?"

The Mongomery Advertiser was one the papers that published the above story. It added its own sidebar in the edition of Nov. 26, 1939.

Spang, Jr., On Fleischer Staff
The work of a young Montgomery artist, Frank Spangler, Jr., son of The Advertiser's noted cartoonist, "Spang " will be seen here early next year in Max Fleischer's feature-length cartoon, "Gulliver's Travels," which may provide some keen competition for Walt Disney's forthcoming "Pinnochio."
Young Spangler has been in Miami for some time and has been working top speed in Fleischer's "Special Effects Department," or that department given the task of preparing the scenes where there is fast action, as in duels, races, or moving vehicles.
The Fleischer Studio, according to a letter received from the youthful artist yesterday, is engaged in a revolutionary process of creating special effects, that of using transparent colors for water scenes or in depicting reflections on glass.
It is said in the letter that the entire staff is now working overtime to catch up on short subjects which had to be sidetracked for the preparation of "Gulliver's Travels."
Frank Spangler, Jr., finds himself intensely interested in the motion picture cartoon which, he says, is "still in its infancy."
He reports that 13 tons of paint have been used in the production of "Gulliver's Travels;" that 49,000 pencils have been consumed; that there are 115.000 composite scenes; that 16 tons of drawing paper have been used, and that inked lines, if extended end-on-end, would extend at least 600 miles.
The world premiere, according to Spangler, will be held at Miami on Dec. 1.

Spangler, Jr. didn’t maintain his career at Fleischer. For one thing, the war got in the way. He was a bombardier who also drew nose art on planes, then became a commercial artist and poultry farmer in Montgomery after the war. He also became a Mason and joined the Alcazar Shrine Band. But there may not have been a career with the Fleischers anyway. Paramount seized control of their studio, got out of the feature business, and moved it back to New York City.

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