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I’m Just a Jitterbug (1939)

I always love an excuse to post an obscure Walter Lantz cartoon from the 1930s featuring swing music, rotoscoped dancers and un-P.C. stereotypes, set against the backdrop of an animation studio. The excuse this time is a Lantz in-house memo (below left – click thumbnail to enlarge) that collector Eric Calande just sent me. Lantz asks the staff (“Dear Gang”) to contribute gags to this cartoon, with prizes ranging from $2 to $10 for the best ideas. Note that the memo is dated September 26th 1938 and the cartoon was released January 23rd 1939. From board to screen in four months!? Perhaps the rush to cash in on “a fad” necessitated a production crunch. Also note the set up to this premise pre-dates Friz Freleng’s Looney Tune You Ought To Be In Pictures by a year.

Though the Jitterbug character never reappeared, the concept of this cartoon was the basis for several other swing music cartoons, and the forerunner of the Swing Symphonies series Lantz initiated in 1941. Despite the title card, this was not an Oswald Rabbit cartoon – it was actually one of Lantz’s miscellaneous Cartune series (it was released to TV in the 1950s in the Oswald television package). Frame grabs from the original titles are posted below (click thumbnails to enlarge)

  • Ted

    Maybe the process was sped up when you only needed two backgrounds to be painted for the first two minutes of your cartoon…

  • Roberto

    Was this originally a black and white cartoon?

  • Jay Sabicer

    Appears the cuckoo’s solution to quiet things down is still in practice with today’s gangster rap ‘artistes’. Wonder how much did Walter pay for that last gag?

  • Sivolla

    “The Wizard of Oz” featured a whole song called ‘The Jitterbug’ in a number cut after the preview for length and because it would have dated the film. The setup reference to that character remains in the film, as the Wicked Witch instructs her Winged Monkey “…I’ve sent a little insect on ahead to take some of the fight out of them. They’ll give you no trouble.” The “Oz” song was probably already written as that film started production in late 1938. Swing dancing was in the air.

  • uncle wayne

    Well, now….that IZ a joy! A b&w Lantz!! Great!! A film i had NOT seen b4! Thank u!!

  • Jonah Sidhom

    I love Old King Cole’s dance! (2:50)

  • John A

    Amazing how this B&W cartoon was better animated than most of Lantz’ color cartoons of this period. I guess it flew through production because it really didn’t have much in the way of plot, and most of the dance routines are rotoscoped, but even so, WOW!! Great animation on the Jitterbug himself, just a fun, fun cartoon all the way through. (I wish Disney’s Pocahantas had been as lively as the gal in this one!)

  • Harvard

    Nice ending. Did Lantz pay ten bucks for that or was it the work of Vic McLeod?

  • I, too, like most of the Walter Lantz “swing” cartoons, even with the politically incorrect caricatures. Some of the best jazz around pops up in these toons. Please keep this one in mind in case there is going to be a third WOODY WOODPECKER & FRIENDS collection, with the emphasis on the FRIENDS since there are so many miscellaneous Lantz cartoons that need to be fully restored and seen again, even if for nothing else but the incredible soundtracks! Terrific stuff!

  • wow that was great! the scene with the jitterbug and the frogs was great! it’s too bad they didn’t carry the jitterbug character throughout somehow. i know the whole characters from the books coming alive thing had been done a couple times but this seems like a more direct possible influence for clampett’s “book revue,” nice!

  • TJR

    Loved it.

  • Matthew K Sharp

    Very enjoyable. Thanks Jerry. Glad you found an excuse to post it!

  • What a charming ending!

  • Robert Barker

    I always found it odd that the Fleischers, with all their great early jazz cartoons, could never pull off the Swing Music of the late 30s. For some reason the animators at Lantz excelled at it.

  • I’m just going to come out and say it. What Walter Lantz lacks in creativity, he makes up for in horrible and completely unoriginal ideas. The ending made no sense, the rotoscoped dancing was completely unnecessary, and the voice didn’t match the Jitterbug’s design. But, that’s what I’d expect from a Lantz cartoon from the 30’s.

  • Glad I took the time to send the studio note to Jerry. Seeing the actual cartoon and getting some background info really pulls it all together. Fun little short with some surprisingly decent animation. The ending was very, VERY odd. I was expecting the party to shut down only to have the cuckoo pop out to make is hourly appearance and get revenge by waking everyone up. I could have done without the rotoscoped bits, they just didn’t fit.