Friday, January 5, 2024

Hearst’s International –


Goldwyn Bray Releases, Walt Lantz, Feb 14, 1920

By John Adcock

“Into this period [1917] entered the International Feature Syndicate, formed by William Randolph Hearst. He placed Gregory La Cava in charge, who immediately set about improving the cartoons. He increased the number of drawings from the 2,000 of the average cartoon of the time to 3,500, resulting in smoother animation. Further, he changed the animation of the characters from the stiff, angular movements of the legs and arms to a smooth “rubbery” animation such as is used at present. La Cava also discontinued the “bubble” title for the conventional title of the silent days.” – ‘The History of the Animated Cartoon,’ Earl Theisen, International Projectionist, Vol.6 No.2, November 1933

Walt Lantz, 1924

In 1915 Walter Benjamin Lantz (April 27, 1899 - March 22, 1994) joined the staff of Hearst’s New York Sunday American as an office boy, sweeping floors, washing brushes and “rushing the beer cans” for the cartoonists. In 1917 he was taken under the wing of Gregory La Cava, director of Hearst’s animation studio, beginning at a $10 weekly salary. Animator Bert Green recalled the top salary at the time was $300 weekly).

International had been producing animated films since 1915 based on the best-selling comic strips from the Hearst papers. In Dec 1917 they announced the cartoons would be bigger and better, “as many pains will be taken with them as a five-reel feature – Katzenjammer Kids Features Ready.” Gregory La Cava (March 10, 1892 – March 1, 1952), who had previously worked with Raoul Barré and John R. Bray, would direct the department under the supervision of Edgar B. Hatrick.

Gregory La Cava, May 25, 1918

Lantz recalled to British comic historian Denis Gifford in 1972: “The characters moved very swiftly. We animated them like human beings, from the joints. They had elbows and knees. Then Gregory La Cava had an idea. He conceived what we came to call hose-pipe animation. He eliminated elbows and knees. Arms and legs became rubber tubes, they were flexible, they flowed. If Happy Hooligan wanted to reach across and pick up a pie his body would stay put and his arm would stretch out like elastic!” – ‘Woody Woodpecker’s La-ha-ha-hah-antz,’ Denis Gifford, Arts Guardian, July 4, 1972

Beginning in 1917, the International Syndicate released such cartoons in series as Jerry on the Job, drawn by Walt Lantz; Katzenjammer Kids, by John Foster; Tad’s Indoor Sports, drawn by Bill Nolan and released at the end of the International Newsreel. Happy Hooligan, drawn by Jack King; Bringing Up Father, by Bert Green; Krazy Kat, drawn also by Bill Nolan and Leon Searle; and the best of the Internationals, Silk Hat Harry, were the principal cartoons released at this time by that company. This last named was drawn by Walter Lantz and La Cava and was first released in 1918.” – ‘The History of the Animated Cartoon,’ Earl Theisen, 1933

Tad Dorgan's Judge Rummy Joins the Stars of the Screen (with Silk Hat Harry,), Film Fun, January 1919. Art work probably by Walter Lantz.

“I started ‘Judge Rummy,’ ‘Bunk,’ and the other dogs during the trial of Harry Thaw; they sort of ‘kidded’ the case and became popular. I have been drawing these characters ever since. The 'Indoor Sports’ I thought of about seven years ago (1912), when I was confined to my home with rheumatism. I thought what a lovely indoor sport it was, this sitting around the house looking llke the wreck of the Hesperus. Other Indoor sports suggested themselves and this series has been going on ever since… I might add that It was Judge Rummy who first called the Ford car a “flivver.” – TAD Dorgan, ‘Are Cartoonists Doleful?,’ The Sun, May 25, 1919

It was reported in the Boston Sunday Post in 1929 that Dorgan’s “Indoor Sports” was syndicated to 20,000,000 readers daily. His salary was well over six figures yearly…

Tad Dorgan's Judge Rummy and Silk Hat Harry on the left of the page, FB Opper's Happy Hooligan on the right, Educational Films Corp., NY, Motion Picture News, August 9, 1919 (signed Walt Lantz)

On Feb 22, 1919, Educational Films Corporation announced it would be distributing all Hearst cartoons world-wide. EFC had been distributing Internationals animated cartoons before the outbreak of the Spanish influenza but “when the situation reached a critical stage the Educational ceased releasing these cartoons, and subsequently the International Film Service Inc., stopped making them.” This was followed by an announcement on October 21, 1919, that Bray Pictures Corporation had secured production of all Hearst cartoons. The cartoons would be released through Goldwyn and included Judge Rumhauser, Happy Hooligan, Krazy Kat, Jerry on the Job, and the former Katzenjammer Kids renamed Shenanigan Kids.

John R. Bray was the son of a Methodist minister. He worked as a cartoonist on the Detroit News before moving to New York. He was hoping for a job on Life or Judge but ended up in the art department of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1911) where he worked alongside Max Fleischer and Earl Hurd. He had one successful Sunday strip called the Teddy Bears and a Little Nemo inspired comic, Mr. Scrapple of Philadelphia, also know as Mr. Sleeper. His first animated cartoon, The Artist’s Dream was announced June 12, 1913, followed by a widely popular series beginning with Colonel Heeza Liar in Africa, in Dec 1913. In 1928 Bray released Dinky Doodle and his Wonderful Lamp, animated by Walter Lantz. It was said to be the first of the “combination films,” where the actor (Walter Lantz) appeared on film simultaneously with the animated character of Dinky Doodle.

Col. Heeza Liar, 1919

By the end of the teens Hearst’s International Film Service was out of the animation business. Bray closed shop in 1929 leaving the field to Walt Disney, Paul Terry, Max Fleischer, and Pat Sullivan. Sound and color brought new vistas to the screen, and new techniques. Animation evolved from crude “moving comic strips” to fully realized worlds of fluid motion giving the illusion of life.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful column, much information.

    I met John Bray toward the end of his life. He was around 100, in a nursing home in Bridgeport CT when I was in my early 20s, a cartoonist on the staff of the Connecticut Herald.

    The "Heeza Liar" cartoons were parodies of Theodore Roosevelt, subsequent to his famous African safari and claims that were questioned by some people. They ran for several years, outliving TR's association with the safari.