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Early Terrytoons: Fried Chicken and Chop Suey

During the golden age of animation Disney was the top – and Terrytoons were the bottom. Cartoonist Paul Terry started making cartoons at the birth of the medium in the mid-teens, and established his long running Terrytoons studio in 1930.

My fascination with this studio never ends. Michael Sporn reprinted several interesting Terrytoons newspaper clippings dating from the 1940s and 50s on his blog yesterday. Today animation historian David Gerstein adds to our collected knowledge by unearthing several press sheets from Terrytoons studio first year of sound production. Fried Chicken is one of several lost cartoons from this era – cartoons whose only record of existence are these printed plot synopsis (click on thumbnail below left to read). These synopsis from 1930, in particular, are actually rather shocking – as they describe ethnic characters in the crudest possible terms; using words no longer acceptable to society. Chop Suey is one of the initial sound Terrytoons, and comparing the publicity synopsis (below) to available film copies shows how these early cartoons rely of prevalent stereotypes of the day.

(Thanks, David Gerstein, and readers Kliph and Debbie)

  • Bill Field

    Who the heck is that awesome mischievous looking elephant?- I dig the mask/hat combo! Any more info on this precocious pacaderm?

  • J Lee

    Wasn’t this about the time that Paul Terry’s studio was based in East Harlem? Bet they didn’t post those synopsis on the outer walls of the building. (If the body copy writing for the synopsis was done in-studio and actually approved by higher-ups, it would go a ways towards explaining the mindset that would up and move the entire cartoon studio out of Manhattan and all the way up to New Rochelle, at a time when that area could still be considered at least semi-rural and isolated from the city by all but the New Haven Railroad link).

  • I like how at about 3:30 in Chop Suey they only animated half a walk cycle so the legs seem to be rotating around each other.

  • Bugsmer

    These are extremely interesting synopsis sheets, Jerry, and the cartoon “Chop Suey” is a very entertaining one. I wasn’t aware that long-haired Chinese had hooks at the end of their pigtails that would allow them to attach to any line they were thrown against.