UPA VP Hated Terrytoons

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Several years ago, when Playhouse Pictures closed its Hollywood office, cartoonist Mike Kazaleh purchased some old files being sold off in their garage sale. In one of the folders Mike found this intriguing bit of correspondence (click on pages below) between UPA Vice President and Production Manager Adrian Woolery and Spyros Skouras, President of 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

upaterrytoons1.jpgupaterrytoons2.jpgIn this initial letter from November 7th, 1952, Woolery, who has just established his offshoot animation studio Playhouse Pictures, complains to Skouras about the quality of Fox’s Terrytoons (in particular, a Heckle & Jeckle short named House Busters):

“It was not a good picture. The story was completely lacking in charm and imagination. There was not a new or interesting idea in the entire reel. The characters and backgrounds were poorly designed and drawn. The story and gags were not funny or even amusing. I had a feeling this same picture had been done dozens of times in the last score of years and in fact was done much better twenty years ago.”

After hurling a few more insults at the Terrytoon, Woolery concludes:

“It is my sincere belief that we in the animation business have at our command the finest medium of expression. It must be exploited by capable people who have the courage and ability to recognize its unlimited potential. Fortunately, good pictures do not cost any more than bad ones.”

upaterrytoons3.jpgupaterrytoons4.jpgWas Woolery trying to convince Skouras to drop Terrytoons and commision Playhouse to provide modern cartoon shorts, as UPA did for Columbia? Skouras replied on January 23rd, 1953 (click letters at left), that he was quite pleased with the Terrytoons as is:

“…I cannot agree with the conclusion you arrived at after seeing the particular Terrytoon called House Wreckers (sic). As a matter of fact, Terrytoons Cartoons are immensely popular with audiences everywhere and are played in thousands of theatres. Audiences found them attractive enough to make our 1952 reciepts from Terrytoon releases to be most gratifying. You may be sure we are always endevoring to make this product better and, in 1953 we will do our utmost to improve all of our short subjects.”

And in fact, shortly thereafter, Fox forced Terry to begin producing his cartoons in CinemaScope. In 1955, perhaps taking Woolery’s suggestion to heart, Terrytoons installed UPA director Gene Deitch to overhaul the theatrical cartoons and bring them up to date with modern graphics.

Below is the first minute and a half of the cartoon that set Woolery off, House Busters, which features animation by Jim Tyer (the scenes of the convict escaping prison) and a delightful song written by Philip Schieb.

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  • Bryan

    Haven’t read the letters through and through yet but I just wanted to say I absolutely adore the logo on the 20th Century Fox paper.

  • Charles

    Wow, that cartoon’s actually probably one of the better Terrytoons. You can’t beat that fun song.

  • John

    Agreed — It’s one of the best H&Js Terrytoons came up with, and I’m not damming it with faint praise. It’s a hell of a lot more entertaining to watch on repeated viewings than your average UPA cartoon, and can stand up against most of the other studios’ best cartoons during the same period.

    About the only reason I can think of that Woolery might have picked out this cartoon is that the storyline bears a passing resemblance to the 1950 UPA Mr. Magoo cartoon “Bungled Bungalow”. Surely he couldn’t be disparaging it for its Tyer animation, unless UPA had some hidden Disney elitism bubbling to the surface.

  • Chris Webb

    “…not a new or interesting idea in the whole reel”

    “…poorly designed and drawn”

    “The story and gags were not funny or even amusing.”

    Paul Terry was a genius. He was producing TV crap 20 years before TV was invented!

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robert

    I’d say they were both right. Yes, those gags had been recycled for twenty years and yes, audiences may have loved them none-the-less.

  • Charlie J.

    House Busters is great! Try to watch a UPA cartoon and a terrytoon and see which is more “imaginative”

  • Christopher Cook

    Woolery’s comments I’m sure reflect his own, but I can only vouch for “House Wreckers” as I’ve seen it more than I have most of UPA’s theatrical output. I’m not saying every Terrytoons cartoon was great entertainment (if it can be believed that some theater owners ran a Terrytoons film last just to clear the auditorium) but “House Wreckers” was better than Woolery made it out to be.

  • http://vice.parodius.com/ Dave Silva

    The song on that clip you posted is pretty good, and catchy. But by god… that escaped guy’s face, when he’s talking… it burns like heck.

  • http://classiccartoons.blogspot.com/ Duck Dodgers

    This is one of your best posts ever, Jerry!

    Extremely interesting and full of details.

    That said, Terry produced a lot of average and soemtimes crappy cartoons, so it is beyond me why that UPA guy selected one of his best entries ever.
    I’ve always loved this particular short, due to the catchy score, wacky Tyer animation and many good gags.

  • http://potulentpalaver.blogspot.com/ Kent Butterworth

    I’ve gotta wonder why Woolery doesn’t mention UPA by name? Was he worried Spyros would go to UPA to get quality pictures instead of Playhouse? It sure sounds like he’s trying to get Paul Terry fired! Spyros obviously knew good animation when he saw it – That Jim Tyer animation is genius!

  • Michelle

    I loved the blatant continuity goof (slamming the door). Quality control didn’t seem to be one of Terrytoons’ concerns.

  • Bugsmer

    It looks entertaining. Perhaps the man was trying to sell his product.

  • http://cartoondavid.blogspot.com david

    jim tyer animation > upa blandness. i sense jealousy was behind this.

  • RobEB

    Great stuff! I wanna see the whole cartoon!

  • Jess Price

    I like the 1950′s-version of the “Out of Office Reply”.

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    what a lovely thing to come home to! A fun (& great) H&J!! Thank YOO!

  • Ignatius Walden

    Mike Kazeleh found quite a treasure in that letter but I just picked up Ade Woolery’s pancreas at a yard sale.

  • Mike Kazaleh

    Ade Woolery was a friend of mine, and he was a very nice man. He had a lot enthusiasm for the cartoon medium, and was a firm believer in the ability of animation to inform and entertain. He was active in animation up until the time of his death.

    I don’t believe Ade was angling for a cartoon deal with Fox. I have seen enough of his correspondence to know that when Ade was soliciting work, he came right out and said so in plain english. What I really think is that Ade felt the Terrytoon in question was retrograde, and that it might benefit the industry as a whole if producers tried to keep their fare fresh.

    I actually like “House Wreckers” and a lot of the other Terrytoons, too. But then, I like a lot of different things as far as animation is concerned. Our perspective on old cartoons today is hindsight. In some ways it is now easier to take each film at face value. Seen from the early fifties eyes of someone who activly tried to help the medium progress, the Terrytoons may have been seen as being a step backwards.

    Why did Ade pick “House Wreckers” to pick on? Because he just happened to see it, that’s why. The vast catalogue of Paul Terry’s product was not readily available for veiwing. Whatever happened to show up at theaters was what you saw. Why did Ade even comment on it? Read the first portion of the letter he sent. Ade had heard about a lecture given by the head of Fox that interested him, and shortly afterwards he caught an actual Fox release at the theater.

    The old days were a little different than today. Make that a lot different. Cartoons were made by hand, in studios that did full production. The people working in the business were primarily concerned with the pictures they were charged with completing, and they did not always keep tabs on the output of other studios. The blogging culture did not exist. Nobody had DVD collections of every cartoon ever made. More time was spent making films than talking about them.

    I think it’s ironic that so much energy is being used to discuss these wonderful classic cartoons while the skill and knowledge it took to create them slowly vanishes into the ether.

  • RODAN

    Actually I agree with Adrien Woolery. After watching the clip you gave as an example, I thought that it looked like a very amateur efforts compared to other studios productions. Even when I was very young I knew which cartoons looked good and those that looked as if something were wrong. Back then I had no idea why they looked bad I just thought they came from the “twilight zone” or something. It always gave me an eerie feeling that something evil was involved in it’s creation. Like maybe satin spawn. Didn’t anyone but myself get these feelings back then? I think Frank Thomas said something about mastering the squash and stretch style that if not done right it made you feel that way. This cartoon was a great example of that problem. So I think this is what Mr. Woolery was picking up on. If Mr. Skouras didn’t see this he was really in the wrong business. Just my take on this revelation. So no suprise here, I’m sure that there are dozens of pages of correspondence like this out there somewhere. Love to see more of it. Any like this from Disney or Warners or MGM?

  • http://bloggerasaurus.com/ Cliff Galbraith

    “House Wreckers” was one one of my all-time favorite cartoons as a kid growing up in the 60′s and it left a lasting impression in my young mind . Years later, my high school buddy (or chum as Heck and Jeck would say) and I worked remodeling an old building one summer — we began singing “Give Us a House to Wreck” as we tore out walls and rotted wood. “House Wreckers” had the absurdity of a Marx Bros. routine — there was joy in seeing someone destroying, like Pete Townsend smashing his guitar. I never got that kick from Mr. Magoo.

  • http://billfieldtrip.blogspot.com/ Bill Field

    This is one of the best Terrytoon shorts of that period, Jim Tyer is like a madman on a mission: Pack as much expression and gesture into a cartoon as you can, then put three-times more on top of that.
    This is a basic cartoon premise, your wacky cartoon stars drive a criminal back to the joint, to keep HIM safe from said wacky cartoon stars. I always love the loud bluster of sight n sound at the beginning of most of Terrytoon’s shorts, and this is no exception.

    UPA made some great shorts, but a lot of well designed snoozers as well… It seems to me that this rage against the cartoon was more aimed at replacing Terrytoons with his own interest- UPA.
    Hey Mike, thanks for sharing!

  • http://cube47.blogspot.com/ cube

    Heckle & Jeckle were favorites of mine as a child. I was sorry to see the clip end. I found myself wanting to see the whole thing.

  • James Franklin

    The nagging thing for people craving respect for their design heavy UPA shorts back then was that audiences laughed at everything that was animated. They even laughed at UPA’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and at Winsor McCay’s “The Sinking of the Lusitania”, for God’s sake. The general public (as opposed to animators who own every cartoon ever made on DVD) has always been funny that way. A century of conditioning is a tough nut to crack.

  • pfxjohn

    I was agreeing with Woolery – until Heckle & Jeckle made their entrance. The pace instantly picked up, and that tune is infectious. I wanted to see more. I agree with the comments about UPA vs. Terry, even as a kid, when I saw UPA I turned the channel.

  • Mr. Semaj

    Did anyone notice that Heckle and Jeckle trade places in the truck between the time they sing their song and the time they arrive at the house?

  • http://none Barry I. Grauman

    “House Busters” was probably the funniest Heckle & Jeckle cartoon of 1952 ["Off To the Opera" comes mighty close, though]! It might not have been “great” animation to Adrian Woolery, but it MOVED {and it was mostly Jim Tyer’s}! And it was funny…I loved H & J’s “Give Us a House To Wreck” work song (jaunty and unpretentious), and the fact they once again outsmarted someone’s “perfect scheme”….it was pure entertainment- what more do you want? Paul Terry knew exactly what the audience wanted, and he gave it to them! As he always said, “If Disney {*and UPA*} is the Tiffany’s of this business, then I am the Woolworth’s”.

  • DavidMcG

    Remember this cartoon came out in 1952!
    Try to look at this from the point of view of an animator who’s just spent the last 20 years watching nothing but cartoons EXACTLY like it with all of the same jokes. Even Heckle and Jeckle’s musical entrance, as fun as it may have been to watch, wasn’t particularly original in any way.

    I love how the crook runs into the house and closes the door behind him and then it cuts to a scene of him closing the open door behind him!

    I don’t think this cartoon is crap, but from a purely critical point of view, Woolery had a good point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001249396142 Steve “Pokey” J.Anti-Blockhead

    Amazingly, UPA, Harveytoons, Disney, and Terrytoons had one thing in common, and another except for Disney (repsectively):
    They all either were regarded for kids as being “cute” or (as in UPA’s, for instnace) tame enough for 1940s-1950s parents [as witness 1956's Gerald McBoing Boing show*/^]
    Except for big spender Disney, the other three I mentioned, UPA, Harveytoons/Famous, and Terry, were low budget [though that was not always NECCESARILY the reason for the non-violence, as shown the snobbery that they seemed to ahve for Warners. Needless to say, as Terry has shown, they and many others were disdained heavily by UPA, the very point of this, and surely Terrytoons].[My own username's namesake creator Art Clokey was somewhat the same way!]

    ;-)

    Sincerely Steve J.Carras

    *”Gerald McBoing2″, predating The Flinstones, early prime time cartoon show, making another landmark for UPA.
    ^Needless to say, those guys ALSO looked down on cuteness a la DIsney and maybe Terry, and others.