Saturday 30 October 2021


Toby the Pup gets lost in the history of animation. His cartoons were never seen on TV over and over like Bugs Bunny and Popeye. In fact, his cartoons weren’t seen on TV at all.

The Toby series was produced for one year for R-K-O by the Charles Mintz studio, which had the rest of its cartoons released through Columbia. When Columbia took over Mintz some years later, I wonder if anyone in the upper echelon knew the cartoons had even been made. They seem to have been thought of as lost and, in fact, there are some shorts in the series that have not been tracked down.

Recently, though, there’s been some interest in poor Toby. A DVD set of some of his cartoons came out a couple of years ago. They have some imaginative little gags, like a Fleischer cartoon, but they remind me more of some of the Krazy Kats I’ve seen that Columbia was also producing.

The first reference I can find to Toby is in Film Daily of May 5, 1930.
Charles Mintz, of Winkler Pictures, has contracted to produce a series of 26 cartoons, under the title of “Toby the Tar.”
Where “tar” and the number 26 came from, I don’t know, but the trades had the correct name and number (12) by the end of the month.

Here are the cartoons and their release dates; the first two come from Motion Picture News, the rest from Harrison's Reports.

Toby in the Museum, Aug. 19, 1930
Toby the Fiddler, Sept. 1
Toby the Miner, Oct. 1
Toby the Showman, Nov 22
Toby in the Bughouse, Dec. 7
Toby in the Circus Time, Jan. 25, 1931
Toby the Milkman, Feb. 20
Toby in the Brown Derby, March 22
Toby Down South, April 15
Toby Hallowe'en, May 1
Toby in Aces Up, May 16
Toby the Bull Thrower, June 7

We’ve cautioned before here about taking release dates for shorts as dogmatic. Theatres were able to show films as soon as they got to the exchange. The Museum is a fine example. It was appearing at RKO-Keith’s in Washington D.C. on July 27, 1930, according to a newspaper review.

Some random newspaper ads for shows with Toby on the bill.


Variety reviewed Toby’s first cartoon in its edition of August 6, 1930:
Cartoons have become disposed to follow routines. As a consequence each creation has followed the design of a preceding success until nearly all of them possess much sameness. But this one has a marked quality of novelty that marks it suitable for filler on any type of program.
It is in the setting. Where most of the animal cartoons have resorted to woodland scenes or in general outdoor settings, this “Toby” cartoon takes an indoor setting and with it a comedy dance. It’s the Art Museum where “Toby” works as a sweeper and makes funny antics as he strums on makeshift instrument and statues of Alexander, Napoleon and Caesar dance with him.
But not a lot of attention was given to Toby. He wasn’t the only new cartoon character of 1930—there was Flip the Frog at MGM and Bosko at Warners, in addition to the brand-new Terrytoons shorts. What looks like a short news release appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on February 15, 1931.
Toby the Pup Catches On
Toby the Pup, contrary to predictions of the wise guys, has not gone Hollywood. Nor has he waxed temperamental in any sense.
And this, despite the fact that he is single in a land of beautiful four-footed sirens, and is not restrained by any morality clause.
Toby the Pup, in other words, is just one swell and easy proportion to handle, according to Charles Mintz, producer of the. Toby the Pup cartoon series now being distributed by Radio Picture.
But the end was nigh for Toby, thanks to corporate deal-making. RKO purchased Pathé in January 1931. Pathé had been releasing Van Beuren’s Aesop Fables, so there was no need for a separate deal with Charles Mintz for cartoons. That spelled the end of Toby, who was replaced on RKO’s star roster with the human versions of Tom and Jerry.

In keeping with the season, let’s look at one of the Toby cartoons. Hallowe'en is an odd one. The first half has nothing do with the second. In the first half, Toby’s kissing girls, getting shamed by Patsy in song, then plays the piano (and a goat).

The scene cuts to an interior of a church at night, with the bell separated from building playing that “horse’s ass” tune. It’s time for Hallowe’en fun with a stylised witch, heads floating in the darkness and, my favourite gag, a skeleton drinking punch. Dick Huemer or whoever wrote this milked the gag and we get four skeletons, each of reduced size, doing the same thing.

The cartoon ends with Toby scaring away ghosts by crowing like a rooster, then discovering he’s laid an egg, from which a baby ghost pops out.

I’ve liked the few Tobys I’ve seen and it’s too bad the series didn’t continue, especially considering some of the lame shorts the Mintz studio put out in the late ‘30s. Do a search on-line and see what you think.


  1. Hans Christian Brando1 November 2021 at 18:24

    The Fleischers out-Toby'd Toby with Bimbo, whose own days were numbered (and who wouldn't have lasted as long as he did if it hadn't been for Betty Boop).

    1. You're right. The Fleischer cartoons always have something unexpectedly odd happening in them, the Tobys less so. But I still like them. A shame cartoons got away from that style of humour. Thanks, Uncle Walt.

    2. The common ancestor of both Toby and the mature Bimbo is the very first, as-yet-unnamed Bimbo in the Screen Songs BEDELIA and THE PRISONER'S SONG—both in early 1930—who shows all the visual "tells" of being animated by Toby's Dick Huemer and Sid Marcus, and even has a puff of hair on his head like Toby later would.

      Once created, Toby continues to evolve in a Bimboish direction—eventually getting a girlfriend who, suspiciously, is a little more humanlike than he is.

  2. I wonder why the Toby cartoons were never released to the non-theatrical market. So many shorts like these survive mainly because they were widely distributed in 16mm to the rental market or in 8mm for home use. Heck, I would have bought 8mm Toby cartoons.

    1. It could be the negatives vanished or the cartoons themselves were forgotten. My guess is they became property of Columbia when it took over the Mintz operation. But as Columbia never released them, it may never have known about them.

  3. In regards to "Toby the Tar," the word "Tar" is a slang for "sea dog" in Western oceanic cultures. But as far as I know, Toby doesn't really have anything to do with being a sailor.