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A Tale of Old Whiff

Tale of Old Whiff
(click on the image above to see more of this model sheet)

With so much attention being paid nowadays to film gimmickry like stereoscopic 3D, it may be only a matter of time before Hollywood begins resurrecting other outlandish ideas from the past, like Smell-O-Vision. As far as I’m aware, there’s only one piece of animation ever produced using the Smell-O-Vision process, in which audiences were exposed to aromas that accompanied the visuals onscreen. The cartoon is called A Tale of Old Whiff. I’ve never seen the short, but I can offer the model sheet above which allows us to see what the characters looked like.

A reviewer named F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre has written extensive commentary about the short on IMDB that includes the following synopsis:

Bert Lahr does hilarious work as the voice of Old Whiff, a cartoon bloodhound searching for a museum’s lost dinosaur bone worth $100,000 … but whose search is hampered by the fact that he has lost his sense of smell. While the bloodhound meanders through this cartoon, muttering to himself in Bert Lahr’s distinctive voice, we see various items which Old Whiff encounters … including a hot dog, mustard, soap, soup, chocolate, violets, pine trees, a field of clover and a horse. We also SMELL those objects; at least we smell them if the Smell-O-Vision process is working properly. But poor Old Whiff can’t smell anything.

I found the faded and many-times photocopied model sheet in the collection of Alan Zaslove, who is credited with directing the film. The film was originally being directed by John Hubley in New York but, for reasons that are unclear, he abandoned the project midway. The most likely scenario is that he had a financial or creative conflict with the bankroller of the Smell-O-Vision process, the notorious Hollywood producer Mike Todd.

Zaslove remembers that all of the artwork, including much of the completed animation, was shipped by Hubley to to Format Films in LA, where it was photographed and completed. Story artist Leo Salkin, who was working at Format at the time, is credited with storywork on the film, which perhaps implies that the story of the film wasn’t completely figured out when Hubley stopped working on the film. I’m not sure if the model sheet above was drawn entirely by Hubley, but the designs are certainly his, and a lot of the drawings look like they could be from his hand.

  • The model sheet of the man is definitely Hubley’s. I’m not so sure about the dog.

    Tissa David said she worked on this film assisting Grim Natwick. Hubley used the profits of the film to finance MOONBIRD. I would suspect that the client asked for changes that interfered with Hubley’s schedule and they resisted ending in the film being removed from his hand. Tissa seems to remember the film being finished by Hubley, so I suspect all animation was complete before it was removed. (Though that wouldn’t explain why the dog model might not be his drawing – if, indeed, it is.)

  • B. Baker

    Amid, Mike Todd’s son, Mike Todd, Jr. was the main entrepreneur of Smell-O-Vision. In addition, “A Tale of Old Whiff” is often cited as possibly the first short cartoon photographed in 70mm.

  • amid

    Michael – Thanks for the info. Alan Zaslove doesn’t remember much about working on the film because he recalled that most of the film had already been animated when it came into his hands. So this definitely matches up with Tissa’s memories.

    B. Baker – Thanks for the clarification. The IMDB writeup says however that the idea for putting in the cartoon was conceived by the senior Todd. I’m not sure where he got that info from but it would seem to suggest that both father and son were involved in some capacity for this project.

  • fishmorg

    In the Medved’s Golden Turkey Awards book, they say that “Glorious Smell-O-Vision” was developed for the live-action film “Scent of Mystery” (1960)…scents were piped from a master-control sysem to each seat. The aromas included roses, peaches, wood shavings, bread, bananas, boot polish, salty seabreeze, oil paint, wine, sugar cane, gunsmoke, garlic, clover, coffee, brandy,lavender, incense, peppermint, lemon, perfume, and pipe smoke. Wow!

  • Geaffus

    I think I remember there being a commercial on TV for the wild thornberries movie. like if you went to mc donnalds you could get a pack of scratch and sniff stickers, and whenever an icon appeared on screen you would sniff the corresponding sticker.

  • unknown

    well lesure suit larry 7 love for sail had smell-o-vision…. not that that’s a good thing

  • Dewey McGuire

    Carl Stalling sez it’ll never work.

    • Rod Araya

      …And it didn’t “woik” (as Bugs would say) indeed. Most moviegoers complained about the odors being too faint, or coming too late.

  • Bryan

    Does this pre-date the other Bert Lahr-ish cartoon SNAGGLEPUSS?