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Chew Chew Baby (1958)

There’s no debate that animator Irving Spector was, like John Dunn, an under appreciated cartoonist and storyman — working in animation at a time when the finished product didn’t do justice to the talents behind it. Thanks to Spector’s son, Irv’s work is getting some long overdue appreciation in a blog dedicated to his work.

Among the best of the late Paramount output, Chew Chew Baby was produced during a brief period when the studio put some actual effort behind its limited animation. This particular film is one of my favorites, and contains one of Jackson Beck’s (no relation) best performances. It’s also notable as one of the last cartoons to ignore political correctness and feature a pygmy cannibal – as well as one of the last cartoons credited to Isadore Sparber, released a few days before his death in August 1958.

This is also one of the “Harveytoons” not contained in Classic Media’s Complete Harveytoons DVD collection. Mike Van Eaton (of Van Eaton Gallery) recently unearthed a cache of original Spector storyboards from this film (click thumbnails below to enlarge). These drawings are a lot of fun – and this film may be the closest representation of Spector’s design style to make it faithfully to the screen.

  • To bad You can’t show that on TV today is that it so not PC !!!

  • David

    I’m going to make a shirt that says “ignore political correctness and feature a pygmy cannibal”.

  • Thanks Jerry, this was the perfect way to start my day. I have long been a fan of Spector’s cartooning and I agree that the animation never quite lives up to the storyboards. This had some great gags and I especially loved the ending. This cartoon would make a great bonus feature for the next Hannibal Lector DVD. Was the title character Chew Chew ever used again in any form?

  • Thad

    My absolute favorite Paramount/Famous cartoon, and probably the only one I can cite as a masterpiece without hesitation. Like with alot of their best cartoons (Cilly Goose, Kitty Cornered, Mice-Capades, the Blackie series, The Plot Sickens), this one has a distinctly unsettling flavor that I’m sure turns off a lot of softies.

    I keep reading lately in whatever prose I can find on the studio of how the Famous staff, like Spector, never really understood ‘modern design’ and faked it… Well, as cartoons like this prove, they don’t know what they’re talking about! They’re just simple and funny, almost to the point of being elegant. Thanks for posting the boards too.

  • Irving Spector must have had a friend (or a friend of a friend) who actually went to Africa and made that stupid joke AND was proud of himself for saying it. This could have been his way of getting back at that jerk. At any rate, this is a delightfully sick and twisted cartoon. More cartoons should be like this.

  • Jason


  • Joel Brinkerhoff

    The Little Shop of Horrors of cartoons.

  • a reader

    To say that Mike Van Eaton “unearthed a cache” of these great rare storyboards is a strange way of putting it, as if he dug them up or stumbled across them. Van Eaton’s is a large retail animation art dealer-he didn’t just “find” these in a thrift store or antique shop, did he? Did he actually locate them himself at all? Or did a relative of Irv Spector-perhaps the very son you mention here also-offer these for a commission or outright sale?

    Don’t get me wrong, these are fantastic to see and I’m glad he’s sharing them(if they’re not for sale it’s less of an advertisement and more of a generous sharing of material). It just seems there’s an untold story here about how/where these came from. Things like these are ultra rare and they almost never “pop up” for dealers or collectors on as regular a basis as they do for retail stores.

  • This is a wonderful cartoon. I often think Famous suffers from slow timing, although I suspect audiences at the time found them to be just fine. This cartoon shows no slowness at all and the gags are funny. The end gag seems to reference “Crazy Mixed Up Pup,” but it’s still a perfect ending for this cartoon.

    No doubt about it, Irv Spector’s boards added life to the films he worked on. This one is a classic!

  • It would be interesting to assemble a focus group of actual pygmies and get their reaction.

  • Doofus

    If you consider the context of this, this is a pretty frightening story…

    Sort of ends on a cliffhanger, too!

  • a reader – Mike Van Eaton is one of the greatest friends that animation can have. Yes, he’s a “retail” animation art dealer, but he’s also a collector and perhaps the most knowledgeable seller of this kind of material there is. As such he gets offered much art of this sort. Most dealers would turn material like this away – as none of it featured well known characters. Mike instead recognized the talent and style in these drawings and offered (as he has done numerous times in the past) to share them with our readers.

    They did not come from Paul Spector — in fact, I gave Paul’s address to Mike and, as far as i know, they are in touch and working together to preserve it.

  • Rose

    I remember this short.

    …and I feel in many ways, now, as I did then. It’s very funny, and disconcerting.

    Now, however, I can also say it’s one of the few modern Paramount cartoons that I love. Good in every way; I wish they had made far more with this wit and careful style.

  • uncle wayne

    Cartoon cannibalism was never more gruesome…nor comedically correct, than this. A film i had never seen….and a funny one! (Once again, I adore its unique style!) Thank yoo!!

    • wayne moises

      I watched all the cartoons when I was six years old at that time during childhood years my favorites like popeye Casper gumby beany&cecil and others to see a classic cartoons for a long time. and remains a collectors item.thanks for the information about your comments in your opinion.from:Wayne

  • Ryan

    All I’d known of Paramount before seeing this was Casper. This was hilarious! I’ll probably be looking at getting that Harveytoons set now, providing the rest’re as fun as this one.

  • Doug Drown

    I CAN’T BELIEVE Paramount made this cartoon! It’s one of the most bizarre pieces of animation I’ve ever seen — and really funny!

    I should add that one of the things that makes it stand out is the bongo drums. Winston Sharples was never more creative.

  • pspector

    Re: A READER’s remarks about the works in question:

    To make a long private story short and not too public, the artwork that the Van Eaton Gallery has obtained was not owned by me, but was long ago given by my mother to someone else, who has recently brought it to the gallery. I regret it of course, but there it is.

    Personally I’ve no need to deal with galleries. And, I’ve sometimes heard negative stories about them — perhaps some of them earned. However, I can tell you that it is not the case in this instance. In fact, unsolicited by myself, the gallery offered to return all related non-artwork paperwork to me. Whether I can broker a deal to get the artwork back in my possession is another story, but I wouldn’t blame the gallery for that.

  • J Lee

    I’ve thought for a long time that the release of the Hal Roach “Our Gang” comedies to TV in the mid-1950s — specifically, 1933’s “The Kid from Borneo” — may have had a role in this cartoon. For anyone growing up in New York in the late 1950s or early 60s, when WPIX had no problem airing that short, the image of a cannibal chasing Spanky around yelling “Yum, Yum! Eat ’em Up!” was pretty much burned into your brain.

    Since it was the most popular of the Little Rascals shorts airing on Ch. 11, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Irv took that idea and saw where he could take it, but using adults and with much darker results.

  • J Lee

    And just to add on about the late-50s stuff — One of the great things about the 1930s Fleischer cartoons, and particularly the ones out of the Willard Bowsky unit, was they not only didn’t give a flip if their stories and/or images frightened the kiddies and unnerved the adults in the audience; they reveled in it. The one-shot Noveltoons of the mid- and late-1950s don’t have the surreal images Bowsky and others at the Fleischer studio were able to put into those cartoons — Al Eugster could barely sneak his UPA-styled anglar takes past Seymour Kneitel in the early going — but the stories and even some of the limited action imagry in the one-shots brings back that sense of uneasiness and darkness that existed in the 30s shorts (and like those cartoons — and unlike, say the dead Ferdie ending to “A Haunting We Will Go” — you understand that Spector and the animators were trying to make the audience feel uneasy, and didn’t do it by accident). They’d be much better known and respected today if they weren’t packaged with the dull, repetitive continuing series cartoons Paramount was churning out at the same time.

  • I think the subject matter here, also in Finnegan’s Flea might’ve been what led to the Modern Madcap series, in an effort to differentiate the more adult cartoons from the child-friendly stuff.

  • Yes, I’ve also thought, like Mr. Semaj, that Famous cooked up the MODERN MADCAP series to distance themselves a little from their more traditional family oriented toons and general audience. Like other commentators point out, there always was a dark riff in their stuff. By time Paramount was making Noveltoons like GRATEFUL GUS, FINNEGAN’S FLEA and CHEW CHEW BABY, the studio was not just working in a post-UPA environment but was also highly influenced by the relatively new craze for so called ‘sick humor’ (and those new fangled studio greeting cards). Irv Spector was a great, unsung talent, the sort of creative type who gave some much needed distinction to a lot of assembly line product. But CHEW CHEW BABY is something special, a twisted masterpiece where, for once, everyone involved seemed to be on top of their game. Boy, I love this one!

  • I love old retro cartoons like this! The transfusion bit was class…

  • I’ve known and loved this cartoon for a good long time. When I was doing the 16mm film collecting thing, I happened across a print at Syracuse one year, and quickly bought it up, fully knowing what it was. It had Harvey Films titles, so Harvey did indeed package it with the Caspers and Little Audreys. I eventually lost the print, along with a boxful of other cartoons (including Fleischer’s “Snow-White”), perhaps a year or two later at Syracuse. It’s all water under the bridge since I’m now pretty much out of 16mm.

    The print you’ve linked to has the original Paramount titles and the animated version of the main title card, which the Harvey Films version lacks. This is a good find.

  • David

    Harvey definitely included “Chew Chew Baby” in the syndication package. A station I worked for in the early ’80s had it in its library, though station management had shelved it at some point in the 1970s. (“Cat Karson Rides Again” was another that had been shelved, but I don’t know why. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that cartoon uncut and it appears only in excerpted form on the Harveytoons set. Anyone have any idea why?)


    okay… being that this was from 1958. It’s pretty creepy… much akin to the Who’s Hungry short from Calarts earlier this year. eeeeh! gives me shivers… yeow! that’s just creepy for a cartoon.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > The print you’ve linked to has the original Paramount titles and the animated version of the main title card, which the Harvey Films version lacks. This is a good find.

    This print was actually up for bids on eBay a year or so ago. I wanted to buy it myself but didn’t have the extra cash lying around, but the seller provided the video himself which is what you see here!

  • Marin Pažanin

    Too bad that Irv Spector didn’t write any of the KFS Paramount Popeye cartoons. But why? He was at the studios in 1960-1961. Maybe he wrote “Hits and Missiles”.

  • Marin Pažanin

    Voices: Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer
    Credited Director: Izzy Sparber
    Animation Director: Tom Johnson
    Animation: Frank Endres, probably John Gentilella, maybe William Henning
    Story: Irv Spector
    Scenics: Robert Owen
    Music: Winston Sharples

    Theatricaly released on 15.8.1958.The only cartoon after this that Sparber “directed” is “Travelaffs. He died of a heart attack on 29.8.1958, 14 days after this cartoon was released and the same day “Travelaffs” was released. One of my favorite late 50s Famous Studios cartoons.