The Man Behind the First Tom & Jerry

A decade before Van Beuren’s Mutt & Jeff-like rubber-hose human pair, and many decades before Hanna-Barbera’s Oscar-winning cat and mouse, a comical duo named Tom and Jerry created mischief on movie screens in animated theatrical short subjects that have long been forgotten—and are perhaps lost for all time.

In the image above, Tom is the man and Jerry is the mule. This was a stop-motion Tom and Jerry series, filmed in Los Angeles in the 1920′s, modeled and animated by Joseph Leeland Roop, a stop-motion pioneer who today is just as forgotten as the films themselves. Lee Roop, his grandson, is presently preparing a book about the animator and provided Cartoon Brew with tantalizing information about the original Tom & Jerry films.

Lee says J.L. Roop worked on twelve shorts for producer Lloyd C. Haynes, released between 1923-1924. All are (as of this writing) lost films. If anyone has any clues to their whereabouts, please contact us. The titles are:

The Incomparable Aerial Comedians in Fly-Time by H. C. Matthews
The Amiable Comedians in Throbs and Thrills (“A Snappy Railroad Comedy Drama”) by H. C. Matthews
Gasoline Trail by Bumps Adams
Tom’s First Fliver by Bumps Adams
Tom Turns Sleuth by Doris E. Kemper
Tom Turns Farmer by Doris E. Kemper
Tom’s Charm by Marshall Roop
Moonshine Frolic by Glen Lambert
Tom Turns Hero by Doris E. Kemper
The Jungle of Prehistoric Animals by G. E. Baily Ph. D.
The Hypnotist
Tom Goes on Vacation

Lee Roop provided this biographical information:

Joseph Leeland Roop was born in Kentucky on December 22, 1869 and died on December 22, 1932 in Glendale California. He was a sculptor most of his life and his work can be found in Indiana, Kentucky, and California.

When he died he was working for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and made most of the Early California History miniature dioramas which most are still on display. He also started and almost finished some of the statues at the Page Museum in Los Angeles (The La Brea Tar Pits) but died before he finished them and Herman Beck finished them and got the credit. You can find the picture of the saber tooth tiger on the internet.

He worked on the 1925 version of The Lost World making and animating some of the dinosaur scenes. His picture is on the Ray Harryhausen website as a early pioneer. He worked on the 1926 version The Gorilla Hunt, making the gorilla model and animating the scenes. He carved a fourteen foot wooden indian which is still in San Bernardino.

Lee sent three images (thumbnails below – click to see larger image). 1. a trade advertisement for the Tom & Jerry series, 2. An article from the May 1924 Popular Mechanics magazine, 3. Second page of P.M. article:

This is the kind of stuff I crave, new information on the unsung pioneers of animation history. Mr. Roop will keep me informed on the progress of his book – and I thank him for sending us this little preview.


  • w

    now THIS is why I like the Brew.

  • F Flood

    There are a couple of semi-familar names among what appears to be the writers of these Roop films. Bumps Adams starred in some decidedly obscure short comedies in the very early twenties, and Glen Lambert had short comedy writing credits throughout the twenties and into the thirties.

  • http://scuzzbopper.blogspot.com Ken Priebe

    Fascinating stuff! I’m still seeking lost bits of information like this on the MoToy Comedies by Howard Moss. A few of those do exist, but the historical information on them is fragmented.

  • Mark Newgarden

    Wow.

  • http://hand-drawn-animation.blogspot.com/ David Nethery

    Totally agree with first commenter “w” : THIS sort of post is what sets Cartoon Brew apart . I have learned something new about animation. Thank you , Jerry and Lee Roop for sharing this information. A great way to start the week.

  • Doug Nichols

    Great post, Jerry. Thanks. That’s a book I’ll pre-order.

  • George

    Absolutely amazing! I really hope he gets the info he’s looking for, as I’d love to see and learn more about this. Please be sure to keep us informed Jerry, and thanks!

  • http://ramapithblog.blogspot.com David Gerstein

    Whoa. When Pietro Shakarian and I researched the Van Beuren Tom and Jerrys all those years ago, this was the place where our trail ran cold. Glad to see things heating up.

  • Kristjan

    Jerry, even if I don’t personally like stop-motion. Im glad that animation buffs and historians have gained more information about those lost works. As I do respect what other pepole like even if it is not my cup of tea.

  • Mitch Kennedy

    Why has this combination of names been used so many times? And in animation, no less! Interesting.

  • http://www.selcouthblog.blogspot.com/ Mesterius

    So… in the course of three decades (the 1920s, the 30s, the 40s), this name combination was used for three animated series. Coincidence? Or was it just found to be an extremely catchy title? If the cat and mouse named Tom and Jerry hadn’t been the fantastic success that they were, maybe today we would also have had a lot of semi-forgotten cartoon series titled “Tom and Jerry” from the 40s, 50s, 60s and onwards…

  • John A

    The name Tom and Jerry orignated as the name of a drink. Or a type of toast. something that involves alcohol.

  • Wally Ballou

    Actually, the “Tom and Jerry” pairing was first used by British writer Pierce Egan in his 1820s periodical Life in London. The title characters were a pair of drunken young brawlers inhabiting London’s underworld.

    The drink (which is a kind of eggnog spiked with rum) was named after Egan’s characters.

  • Jeffrey Gray

    Ah, now I get the “You’re not that Tom and Jerry-drinking mouse!” joke from Beany and Cecil!

  • Snappy Sneezer

    Then was this what was referenced in one of Fatty Arbuckle’s shorts?

  • V.E.G.

    I cannot believe the films are gone for good. Too bad it’s lost!

  • V.E.G.

    Clarification:
    Believe it or not, Joseph Leeland Roop’s wife is the fifth cousin of General George Armstrong Custer!
    Reinhart KUSTER
    Johannes KUSTER
    Arnold Arets KUSTER
    Paulus KUSTER (CUSTER)
    Eva Doors KUSTER (CUSTER)-(Siblings)-Arnold Kuster
    Eve GOTTSCHALK (GOTTSCHALL)-(1st Cousin)-Nicholas Kuster
    Sussanah SHORT-(2nd Cousin)-Emanuel Custer
    Susan Tidewater JAGOE-(3rd Cousin)-John Custer
    Susan Amanda DRAKE-(4th Cousin)-Emanuel Henry Custer
    Rena Elston MILLS-(5th Cousin)-Gen. George Armstrong Custer
    Joseph Roop and Rena Mills’ son (5th Cousin 1x removed)-Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
    Lee Roop-(5th Cousin 2x removed)-Gen. George Armstrong Custer

    • Rena Beth (Moore),Smith

      Which makes me-(5th.Cousin 2X removed)-Gen.George
      Armstrong Custer.
      (1st. Cousin)- Lee Roop
      (Granddaughter)- Joseph Leeland Roop & Rena Elizabeth
      Mills.

      • Rena Beth Moore-Smith

        *Oop’s correction:
        (Granddaughter)- Joesph Leeland Roop & Rena *Elston Mills.
        (Daughter of)- Rena Elizabeth Roop-Moore

  • Tim Haack

    I’ve got a copy of the June/July issue of NATURE magazine which features the La Brea tar pit sculptures and gives Joseph Roop full credit for the Fighting Sabre Tooths and the Sabre Tooth on Trapped Primitive Bison sculptures. Herman Beck is given credit for the Sloth, Short-faced Bear, and Lions. You’re right though – other magazines give Herman Beck credit for all the sculptures.

  • Tim Haack

    Oops. Forgot to give the year on the NATURE magazine – June/July 1938.

  • Barbara Powers Kramer

    I’m a Great-Granddaughter of J L Roop. I was thrilled to see this info was available. I wasn’t thrilled with the characterization of Tom, but still think its amazing this is still available & to know he hasn’t been forgotten.