traveltoon traveltoon

A Lost Fleischer Cartoon

I have friends in the stock footage business. They buy large libraries of old 16mm movies by the ton (usually home movies, travelogues and educational films) and every once in a while, while digitizing and archiving their latest acquisitions, they come across an animated film they cannot quite identify. When that happens they usually send it to me to examine.

This past weekend I screened one of those films and it’s a real mystery. It’s not a particularly great cartoon, but its quite an exciting find. Watching it conjured more questions than answers. But one thing’s for sure: It’s an undocumented product of the Miami Fleischer studio. I’m posting an excerpt below (the first 90 seconds) in hopes that others may have more clues to explain its existence – and its 70 year absence from any animation reference.

The Vacationer’s Paradise is apparently part of a proposed series called Traveltoons. It’s sort of an animated travelogue – not unlike what Famous Studios would base their later 1940s series of Screen Songs (like The Sunshine State or The Golden State).

First off, notice the title lettering done by that mysterious Fleischer/Famous studio calligrapher, whom I’m a big fan of. Next note “Mrs. Doe” – a character design that answers the burning question of what happened to Betty Boop after she retired and moved to Miami.

Could this have been a pilot for a new series of Fleischer cartoons? Was material created for this series later recycled in the Famous Screen Songs? Could this possibly be the first Famous Studios cartoon? A “blackout” reference certainly places it in either late 1941 or 1942. Note it’s really more of a film about Florida etiquette than Florida tourism. Perhaps it was created for a Miami Visitor’s Bureau?

Was the film perhaps a contractual obligation of the studio, produced for the Miami Chamber of Commerce, as part of Fleischer’s deal to re-locate to Miami? Why does the film feel so cheap? Why the absence of music in the main body of the film? Why are their no credits whatsoever? Note the voice of Jack Mercer among the background voices. Note the narrator may be Charles Irving, who voiced many of the later travelogue Screen Songs.

Bob Jaques believes that the man in the live action footage to be animator Tom Johnson. Did Johnson direct the film? Was this done by a group of ex-Fleischer artists as a sample film, perhaps to start their own Miami studio after Paramount took over Fleischers? And yet, there is a fair amount of live action and animation material, which leads me to believe this was done under Max or Dave Fleischer’s watch.

Lots of questions, no answers… but we have the film.

What do you think?

UPDATE: We got a few answers! See the bottom of the comments section below.

  • John Thompson

    I have to agree – it looks a lot like Tom Johnson. Reminds me a bit of the more static Animated Antics in the manner of ‘Wizard of Arts’ as well. Great find – thanks for sharing this!

  • Peter H

    It certainly seems to be a public information film, rather than an entertainment cartoon. But was it made for general showing in Miami – or was it an internal project to educate the Fleischer staff in ppropriate behaviour?

    As I doubt that many of them were likely to be sporting expensive jewllery, I guess it was sponsored by Miami to educate their visitors generally.

  • purin

    Wow, was that patronizing. It must be more of an educational type film, because I’m guessing it’s only entertaining if you’re a citizen of Miami fed up with vacationers.

  • Steve

    Really cool find! It’s very interesting to see that the only thing these days that’s frowned upon is the talking in the movie theater. I don’t think anyone would bat an eye for the others. Or at least wouldn’t say anything.

  • Kristjan

    Jerry, Have you contacted Ray Pointer?

  • thanks for uploading it to youtube! hope you figure it all out jerry

  • Gosh, I had no idea Miami was so puritanical about shoulder straps and bathing suits back then.

  • Amazing how the “dress codes” at beaches have changed so much since this cartoon was made 0_o

    I wonder what that narrator would think if he saw Miami Beach today :-P

    Definitely a neat product of the times!

  • Russell H

    Judging by its theme of “local etiquette,” I’m wondering if this might have been a pilot film for a series to be marketed to various states’ tourism boards or travel-agents for showing to vacationers planning visits.

  • Tim Brown

    Another great cartoon find! Thanks for sharing with us, Jerry! Have your friends discovered any other films worth mentioning??

  • Robert Barker

    It does have that early 40s, hints of Superman, hints of Animated Antics. It’s kind of sweet in the way it incorporates live action with animation, as in the olden days of the studio. Interesting find. Would probably have had a limited range of places to be shown. Thanks, Jerry.

  • Mr. T

    I noticed at the end, the narrator says “..tell your friends to drop in and see the show..” so maybe it was something playing in a small movie house around where beach bathers would see it. Or, if you got caught doing the kind of stuff like in the short, they’d give you a warning along with the place/time where you could go see the film. To keep the beach area from becoming a big, non stop party and driving out all the people who just wanna walk down a sidewalk in peace! :)
    If you’re gonna play poker all night, do it in the card room…”that’s what it’s for!” …some of us are trying to sleep over here!

  • Autumn

    Yes folks, keep your spousal abuse behind closed doors, you’re upsetting the tourists.

  • Lucy

    Wow, being in Florida during the summer right now, all I can say is that it’s close to 100 already… Narrator be damned, it’s shorts weather here. Patronizing does indeed seem like the correct word for this…

    I know my grandparents lived down here a few years after this film would have been made and shown, so it’s neat to see what their Florida looks like. In fact, I really wish I had one of them alive still to ask them if they’d ever seen this.

    This Florida’s quite different from mine, that’s for certain ^_^;; It was quite cool being able to see all of the old hotels like that, too. I wish there was more information as to the why this was made and who made it, but it does serve as a nice time piece to a place in time that’s passed.

  • Seems to me that the aim might be to influence the LOCALS of Miami to use better etiquette, out of a fear that visitors would be scared off by bare-chested men and tacky women. And those people talking on corners and playing cards out of doors. How gauche!

  • Definitely looks like a side project of some kind. I was thinking maybe something used by the Tourism Board of Miami? I found the lack of music odd.

  • Mesterius

    Boy, I sure do feel for Mrs. Doe… that psycho of a narrator won’t let her alone for a second!

  • James E. Parten

    Interesting item. I shall have to tell my friend Charles about this one.

    Interesting too to note that one area of local etiquette–one that Max found out about himself!–was ignored. You may have read of the minor kerfuffle that occurred when Max entertained his friend and acquaintance Cab Calloway, and let him in the front door! In 1939 Miami, yet!

  • Ken Layton

    Yeh it seems more like a Tourism film to me. Did you notice the lack of an MPDAA (MPAA) certificate number on the titles?

  • I can’t find anything about it, but the lack of any mention of Paramount or any specific credits on the cartoon makes it look like an industrial for the Chamber of Commerce or Tourist Association down there.

    It looks like “Traveltoon” was picked as a kind of self-parody.

  • Mike Cagle

    What an annoying tone that cartoon takes!
    I’m very intrigued to hear about the mysterious “Fleischer calligrapher.”
    To me, the examples shown seem reminiscent of Ira Schnapp, the longtime DC Comics letterer. He was very versatile and supposedly did film titles and lobby cards early in his career (as well as stone carving — apparently including the letters above the New York Public Library!). This breathless multi-part biography:
    includes many examples of his work. From the Fleischer examples you show, I can’t really say I think it’s him — it’s just a notion. Perhaps he could have met the Fleischers through the Superman connection (he was the designer of the Superman and Action Comics logos).
    Can you show more examples of this mystery letterer’s work?

  • Steve Menke

    This brings back memories of the 1960s “Be a Friendly Floridian” campaign, encouraging us locals to Play Nice With The Tourists. There doesn’t seem to be any trace of its PSAs on the Internet. You have been spared the earwig of their theme song!

    Jerry, I don’t know if they’ll have any clues, but it might be worth contacting the Florida Moving Image Archive:

  • uncle wayne

    Wow! That IZ quite a find!! (Not a laff…just a Find!) Betty on the uncle wayne diet!! (And nearly music-less….THAT i found odd throughout!)

  • John

    Awful, but I’m glad to see it.

  • Well, congrats Jerry on an interesting puzzle. I have never heard of this short either and no one I ever interviewed ever mentioned anything like it. I think your theory about this film being something commissioned by a tourism board rings true. I can’t see a general theatrical distribution for something that is so specific in content and tone.

  • Thanks to all for your responses and observations.

    I’m still following a few leads in my ongoing investigation of this film. I’m now suspecting it was created for a permanent “exhibit” somewhere, perhaps at a hotel – or maybe for the Florida pavilion at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. I have the Guide Book for the ’39 Fair and it only says their are “events” in the Florida pavilion, not specifying what those are.

    A film for the Fair would answer some of the questions: like why there are no credits and why it hasn’t surfaced for 70 years. It would also make sense that Florida would enlist the newly Florida-based Fleischer Studio to create the film.

    The research continues…

  • Leonard Maltin just wrote to me with his observations:

    So I just watched The Vacationer’s Paradise… and it is most intriguing.

    Two clues to its purpose or origin: I disagree about it being used at the World’s Fair, because it actually criticizes some of Miami’s visitors–being too noisy, inconsiderate, wearing inappropriate clothes. This seems more like a Chamber of Commerce type of film, trying to get people to behave properly. It wouldn’t have been used to lure people to Miami with that sort of content.

    And the very first scene, with Mrs. Doe revealing some modest cleavage–and the announcer remarking upon it–guarantees that it wouldn’t have passed muster for theatrical release in those days.

    Do you know anyone who has ProQuest or one of those services that can search vintage newspapers online? A search of Miami newspapers of the period might yield an answer.
    What a great find!

  • Mrs. Doe looks like Myron Waldman’s Eve.
    Y’know, once in a while a film like this will pop up and people will chuckle at its antiquated ideals. I actually agree with most this etiquitte. Perhaps some Wal-Mart shoppers on that certain blog could use a film like this.

  • Next note “Mrs. Doe” – a character design that answers the burning question of what happened to Betty Boop after she retired and moved to Miami.

    Haha! I hope you alert the Betty Boop Festival people to this one.

  • Ted

    I’m not sure I agree with Leonard Maltin’s statement that the cleavage shot was out of bounds for the late ’30s early ’40s for theatrical release. Jitterbug Follies has a shot of a woman with just as much skin exposed (tho without a cleavage line):
    Plenty of others have well defined breasts
    This is not to say I think it would have been a theatrical release; it seems too instructional, it seems to have had a specific place to be seen, it would not be especially useful to say “don’t take your furs and jewels to the movies” in the movies. Although I suppose it could have been shown in Miami movie houses as a PSA for people staying for a season, tho I’m not sure I’d count that as a theatrical release any more than something showing in a specialized NYWF theater.

  • Jed Martinez

    Having seen this Fleischer rarity from the past for the very first time – and the fact that I actually live in Florida in the present – I feel sorry that this pilot cartoon was never picked up. I think that the “Traveltoons” series could’ve served two purposes: (1) Displaying the sites of various US cities (including major ones like NY, LA, and Chicago) and (2) presenting proper manners for the out-of-town tourist (such as obscure ones like ordering a hot dog without ketchup in Chicago). I guess we’ll never know…
    One minor glitch (of sorts). I don’t think you can see a sunset from Miami Beach – since it faces the eastern horizon. Oh, you can still see the sun set, alright, if all those hotels and other buildings weren’t in the way!
    Nevertheless, great discovery, Jerry! Keep hunting for more rare animated treasures!

  • David Breneman

    I don’t think the “cleavage issue” is so much motion picture industry prudery as simply advising on respectable behavior. Anyone who’s seen pictures from the Soviet era Black Sea resorts, with baggy Politburo members parading around in their Glory of the Industrial Factory Brand counterfeit Speedos knows that prudery has nothing to do with wanting to limit this kind of exposure.

  • Jeff Boice

    I agree with Chris Garrison- I think this little etiquette short was designed for the local population. The reason why the offenders are all ignorant tourists is so the audience (hopefully) won’t realize they’re the ones being lectured. What percentage of a theater audience would be tourists- even in Miami in the winter of 1940?

  • Ed

    Interesting find. Thanks Jerry, and good luck find more info!

  • Steve Menke

    Here’s what The Palm Beach Post Historic Archive site (including the now-defunct Miami News) yields for “Fleischer Studios.” Think they only have certain dates/years available presently. Although the results don’t appear to have any mention of “The Vacationer’s Paradise,” thought I’d pass it along for other contemporary coverage of Fleischer’s time in Florida:

  • FleischerFan

    Wow! It gives me hope that more “lost” films from the Fleischer may yet surface. It does seem awfully preachy & controlling to our modern sensibilities – trying to tell Mrs. Doe (maiden name Boop?) what she can and can’t wear in Miami.

    I agree with those who think this was made for local exhibition in Miami. Theaters would make sense – even with the film ettiquette lessons as people went out to the movies much more frequently then than they do now (what with there being no television back in the day).

    Thanks for sharing, Jerry!!!!!

  • ginny mahoney

    That’s an amazing film! I love all the speculation as to origin– let me throw another piece of speculation into the mix — When Max was moving the Studio to Florida (1938-ish) he was bringing down a bunch of big city people, used to big city ways– to a place of relatively small town ways and mores- I know for a fact that he had concerns about how staff comport themselves least they give the Studio a bad name in Miami. So I’m speculating, since this film doesn’t have the traditional credits… might it have been made by Max for use in house to talk about some appropriate ways to dress and behave. I noticed for instance the film moved the male card players indoors– FS staff were big card players and gamblers in general. Seeing as how the Florida staff would grow to over 700 (though a lot from Florida) it would have been practical. The only thing that might undermine this theory is the reference to a ‘blackout’– however– thought it a worthwhile speculation to add to the mix…. And yes, that surely looks like Tom Johnson at the end

  • Cole Johnson

    Hello–It looks like Myron Waldman did most of this one, don’t know who did the theatre sequence–Tom Johnson? Since the term “blackout” is used, this must have been produced after World War Two began (Sept. 1939). Is that Andre Baruch as narrator?

  • steve w.

    It certainly could be Charles Irving narrating, but it sounds more like André Baruch to me, the voice of Pathé News. Here’s his credit list:

    My guess is that this film was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce for local Miami citizens and would have been screened at theaters only in the greater Miami area. The purpose seems to have been to persuade the locals spruce up for the influx of northern tourists. Perhaps censorship problems were mitigated, since the film wouldn’t be shown outside the city of Miami.

  • UPDATE: Hal Seeger’s asstistant, Lenny Bird recalls that it was made for the Miami Chamber of Commerce, Hal’s son David Seeger remembers Jewish Anti-Defamation League and Hal’s daughter Holly Seeger had the impression that it was a combination of the two. The goal of the cartoon was to instruct the Immigrant population, mostly from NYC, how to conduct themselves properly while on vacation in Miami so as not to raise the eyebrows of other groups in the resort area of Miami Beach. Hal Seeger wrote it and Myron Waldman was one of the animators and it was shown in movie theatres as one of the shorts before the film.

    According to the Kodak edge code on the film, the print was struck in 1942.

    • I recall hearing (and yes, it’s cited in my thumbnail bio of Seeger) that Seeger had made films for the B’nai B’rith. Could this have been one of them based on David Seeger’s recollection? Even so, this is probably one of the earliest examples of Seeger striking out on his own, ultimately leading to Out of the Inkwell and the several who followed from that. And I’m not surprised at the collaboration of Seeger and Myron Waldman, who Seeger continued to use quite prolifically throughout his studio’s history. I will probably have some information up on my page before too long.