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.
In 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.”
Was 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.