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CHECK IT OUT: “Paul Terry Nitratoons”

Calling all animation historians! Today on animator Mark Kausler’s essential It’s The Cat blog, Mark discusses his restoration of two 1930s nitrate Terrytoons. Whatever you think of early Terrytoons (many serious historians consider them practically worthless) they have not been preserved and are essentially being neglected by their present day owner (cough, Viacom, cough). Mark’s descriptions (and frame grabs) of the two shorts he just acquired only increase my appetite for these rare cartoons. Read all about it here.

  • James Fox

    Maybe with a lot of support (if any)
    You WILL persuade Viacom to release the Terrytoons on DVD

    • Danny Willis

      People who debate the artistic validity of Terrytoons are kind of missing the point. Terrytoons are, at their
      best, fun to watch and, at their worst, historically and technically interesting. It is the very roughness and lack of sophistication of these films that makes them intriguing today, as opposed to decades ago when they were considered run-of-the-mill, bargain basement products. They’re animation’s answer to depression glass and Grey Gull records. I’ll take a good Terrytoon over most Walter Lantz cartoons any day.

  • When I ran my original ANIMAFEASTIVAL with Bob Clampett as my special guest in Toronto I programmed 200 cartoons over 3 days.

    “Why are you showing junk?” some said when I ran early TERRYTOONS like the above for variety.

    “Those things are awesome,” said many, many others.

    I learned an important lesson.

    Henri Langlois, of The Paris Cinematheque, said that it took him time to learn that good taste is the enemy. Salvador Dali said the same.

    Save everything you can.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    It is a danger that “many serious historians” are dismissive of these films’ importance. Historians who are selective about history are dangerous.
    I tend to believe when animation/film historians started to research animation history, let’s say in the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a limited number of prints of the lesser known studios, and entire sweeping judgements were based on whatever the historian saw or could acquire.

    As well it is dangerous that studios are owned by individuals that just don’t love film and animation and their histories and they see motion pictures interchangable with selling anything else.

    • Funkybat

      Seriously….old-school “rubber hose” animation isn’t my first or even second choice for what to pop into my DVD player on a given evening, but to just let them disintegrate into oblivion when there’s still a chance to preserve them is just negligent. Terrytoons were a big part of early animation history, they’re worth preserving at the very least for historical completeness. Also, there are still people out there who find them entertaining.

      It reminds me of how there are millions of ’57 Chevys, ’51 Mercurys, and ’65 Mustangs out there, both preserved and lovingly restored. But just try to find a decent condition ’60 Mercury station wagon, ’66 Dodge Polara, or a ’61 Bonneville. There are dozens of car models and years that are almost extinct that a lot of people find interesting, especially after seeing a million Corvettes, Bel Airs and Lincoln Continentals. I view old Terrytoons like that, something that isn’t popular but shouldn’t be forgotten or left to rot into oblivion.

      • swac

        I just got nostalgic for the ’66 Dodge Polara, that was the car my parents had from when I was born until I was 5 or so. I remember sticking to the vinyl seats on hot summer days at the beach.

        You know what nobody’s preserving? ’80s Chevy Citations (my dad couldn’t get rid of that car fast enough).

  • Kevin Martinez

    Disney, Harman-Ising, Lantz, Fleischer and Iwerks were ahead of Terrytoons in every way. Other than the fact that one of these cartoons was irreparably censored for televsion and the other was banned outright, there’s very little else of merit here.

    • Hi Kevin,
      Your points are well taken. However, CBS cut more than a third of the 1930s Terrytoons to shreds, substituting repeat footage for the cuts. To this date most of us don’t know what was there originally. I don’t mean to imply that the Terry product is necessarily SUPERIOR to Harman-Ising or Max Fleischer, far from it. Some of the gags are COMPARABLE to material that Fleischer used, that’s all. There may be more of it than we know over at UCLA right now! Also remember that Paul Terry was one of the pioneering theatrical cartoonists with his Aesop’s Film Fables series which started in 1921. Hugh Harman told me that Walt, Friz and the other animators in Kansas City studied the Fables frame by frame for animation tips. So in the early 1920s, PAUL TERRY was ahead of the industry!

      • Kevin Martinez


        that wasn’t intended as a slam on you or your discovery, and I’m sorry if it seemed that you. I commend you for your work in acquiring and restoring rare shorts like these.

        I just find the idea (expressed mostly be people at other forums) of B/W Terrytoons being unfairly-maligned opuses to be odd.

    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      Their merit is that it is a part of history. We don’t have to like them. Otherwise future students of film will only know about Disney and Warner Bros…or only hear legends that these were “crap”. People now and generations from now should be able to judge for themselves.

    • James Ciambor

      Kevin its about historical placement. Disney didn’t really hit its stride until the early to mid-thirties. Probably around the time he began achieving Oscars and switching to United Artists who had celebrities willing to advocate for him. This is when he received the necessary publicity and notoriety to become the leader of animation. Though also technicolor certainly provided improvement within production value.

      Don’t let the Disney archives or any history in partisan with Disney deceive you. I have read many of them and they chronicle Walt’s life as if he ascended to the top from Day One. Even Leonard Maltin canonizes Disney’s early work. This is because of what he later accomplished, but you don’t put that into the context of his earliest work. These is a distortion of what actually happened.

      Disney had quite a bit of trouble keeping up with the New York industry in his initial years. Because he wasn’t in the center of the action, and not privy to their method of producing cartoons. He left was to improvise and try to discover what made these technically superior cartoons tick. Dick Huemer is even quoted as saying that during his years with Fleischer, Terry was the only competition they took seriously.

      Walt deduced that adding contrasting tones in the backgrounds might help the situation. This is evidenced in Laugh-O-Grams. It didn’t, most of Disney’s 1920’s work is awkward in comparison to the rest of the industry.
      This is definitely a problem with most people chronicling the Disney history. He had to build a most necessary foundation to get to where he was in the thirties.

  • Mark Sonntag

    It’s a shame these film aren’t being as actively saved as others. What I think many people forget is that Paul Terry was quite an important figure and was at one point the person Walt looked up to when he was starting out more so than even Fleischer. Yes Terry fell behind aesthetically, but his studio flourished I think well into the 50’s, before he sold out to CBS.

    Everything has it’s place in history.

  • Steve Stanchfield

    I agree….if the films are available for us to see we can look at them and enjoy them for their merits rather than rely on a book (however good it is) to tell us what has merit and what doesn’t…..

    There’s one book that dismisses the 30’s Columbia Scrappys as ‘largely unwatchable’, and they are some of my favorite cartoons ever! I also like the Cubby Bear cartoons an awful lot….but heck, what do I know?

    By the way, those two cartoons were very enjoyable to me, 80 years after they were made….I wonder if Family Guy will be….

  • I owned a good number of Terrytoon 16mm prints when I was in my early teens. A camera store in Manhattan called Willoughby/Peerless had a 8mm/16mm film department that sold new prints of Universal, Disney, Fox movies among others. One year, they acquired brand new 16mm prints of Terrytoons in either Black and White or color for sale! Black & White prints were $ 5.95 and color was a couple of bucks more. They had quite a few bins of the material and there must of been hundreds of prints from the 30’s through the 60’s. I can remember they had Lariat Sam & Tom Terrific prints which were a buck or two cheaper and even complete half hour Deputy Dawg & Mighty Mouse Playhouse shows for about ten bucks! My father bought me a couple of sacks full of material and took the train back home to Long Island.
    Terrytoons is a mixed bag, but there were some gems to be found in what I had purchased. Among the batch were Sick Sidneys, Little Roqueforts, Heckle & Jeckles, Lunos, Deputy Dawgs and even Hector Heathcote! My favorite cartoon was a Gandy Goose Cartoon about a Gandy & Sourpuss the Cat having a bizarre nightmare involving a haunted house! The cartoon is called Lights Out and it’s available on You Tube. Watching it again today, it’s a fun cartoon and although the drafting isn’t on the level of even a Lantz cartoon of the time, it still has pretty good animation and a neat storyline.
    It’s true, Terrytoons are underrated cartoons and it’s about time that these films are preserved and made available on DVD.

  • Christopher Cook

    The earliest I recall seeing those early Terry shorts was in the early 60s–I was in the San Diego area at the time and Tijuana TV station XEWT/ch. 12 ran them on an afternoon kids show called “La Feliz Hombre.” Didn’t necessarily make me laugh, they were just mesmerizing surreal to me at age 7.

    To his credit, Paul Terry knew his films were pure cheese. It showed immensely but there were still some nuggets to be found among the fool’s gold.

  • Valentin Moretto

    The early Terrytoons have such an odd charm to them, you always get fascinated by their warped humor however primitive the drawings are—in a way similar to Terry’s comics and Fables cartoons. At worst they are curiosae, and IMO even curiosae should be made available to the public. The artistic quality of a cartoon, movie, picture, score or whatever form of art it is should be no contender for a public release—preservation to future generations should.

    Now if only the Terrytoons made their way to the public domain…

  • Barry Siegel

    It doesn’t seem like anything new when private archivists, historians and film lovers have to piece together an important part of animation history. UCLA Archives and CBS probably have to power to rescue and to restore these Terrytoon titles, yet it takes people like Mark and Steve to do what they can do to shed a new light on these old cartoons. I hope I’m able to see these restored titles some day.

    I don’t think anyone out there thinks that Terrytoon made the best cartoons, but I bet you could put together many a museum show of restored titles that would probably both astound and entertain all of us.