I tend to assume that nobody who isn’t an obsessive cartoon fan knows Scrappy. That isn’t quite true, though — if you’re old enough, you may have watched Scrappy on TV, back when the airwaves practically buckled under the weight of vast quantities of old black-and-white theatrical cartoons.
This fascinating article from Billboard, from December 4, 1954, reports on the deals that brought Scrappy — and Krazy Kat, Oswald the Rabbit, Pooch the Pup, and others — to television. As the story explains, the medium was starved for animated content, and still reliant largely on silent cartoons starring Felix the Cat and others. Scrappy cartoons, despite being up to twenty-three years old, were fresh and exciting by the era’s standards.
Hygo, the company mentioned as distributing the Scrappy cartoons to television, owned Samba Pictures, the company whose name pops up in the opening titles of most of the prints of Scrappy cartoons I’ve ever seen (such as this one). I believe that Samba may have technically owned the television rights to the shorts, but Hygo did the actual distributing.
The article also says that fifty Mintz cartoons were rejected for poor print quality or objectionable content. I wonder which ones they were, and what you had to do to be too offensive for 1950s TV?
It’s been far too long since we watched a Scrappy cartoon together. And what a Scrappy cartoon to watch: The Flop House (1932), the one which Paul Etcheverry and Will Friedwald’s pioneering article on Scrappy rightly called “perhaps the ultimate depression-era cartoon.”
The flop house in question is operated by Scrappy, and all the customers are down-on-their-luck animals — except for Scrappy’s brother Oopy. This is the Scrappyverse, so the premise is no odder than those of numerous other cartoons in the series. I’ve watched this probably fifty times and never get tired of it — but if you’re about to be entertained by it for the first time, I’m jealous.
Among Scrappy’s many notable achievements: he starred in not one but two unsuccessful newspaper comics. I’ll write about one of them — the one with the Will Eisner connection — another time. This post is about Scrappy Sayings, which ran in papers as early as 1935. Years ago, comics scholar D.D. Degg alerted me to its availability in an online archive of a paper called the Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Review. The paper ran it erratically — sometimes every week, sometimes two panels in one week, often not at all — in 1936 and 1937.
Scrappy Sayings is weird — it involves Scrappy, so it would be weird if it wasn’t weird. How to describe it? It’s a little like Love Is, if Love Is starred a fully-dressed Scrappy and Margy, used terrible jokes which made no sense in a feature about small children, and took place during the depression. And was drawn by someone who didn’t know how to draw Scrappy. (Anytime he looks like himself, he’s almost certainly a swipe.)
The panel was syndicated by something called the Columbia Feature Syndicate. I assume that was part of Columbia, and that nobody ever looked at Scrappy Sayings as anything other than promotion for Scrappy cartoons. (It sure wasn’t Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse.)
Here are all the examples I could find — including one fragment — in the order the Grosse Pointe Review ran them, although they don’t seem to have published them in chronological order, nor to have run all of them. But even this poorly-reproduced smattering is probably the most Scrappy Sayings ever published in one place at one time.
As we've seen before, the Film Daily frequently reported on Columbia's untiring efforts to merchandise Scrappy. It published several stories on the ultimate Scrappy promotion, the Scrappy Puppet Theater. In this one, from September 16, 1936, Columbia's campaign starts out sounding ambitious — and by the end, with its mention of “armies of children” whose entire existence is defined by their consumption of a never-ending Scrappy promotion, it sounds downright terrifying.
You recognize the gentleman above, of course, as Eugene Talmadge (1884-1946), who was elected four times by the people of Georgia as their governor. (He only served three terms, though — he died before taking office a fourth time.)
When Talmadge was in his first term, he accepted a distinct honor which merits commemorating here. The Film Daily for August 14, 1934 reported it:
Yes, the governor of Georgia was also the one of the first two Scrappy Club members in the state. History, as far as I know, does not record whether the club counted any other governors among its members.
I'm old enough to remember Eugene Talmadge's son, Herman Talmadge, who served as Georgia's governor as well, and was later a senator from the state, famous for his staunch segregationist views. I sort of hope he wasn't a Scrappy fan.
So it’s come to this: I’m no longer the most enterprising Scrappy scholar in my own family. Once again, my sister–with the able assistance of my brother-in-law–has made an astonishing discovery. Namely, an appearance by Scrappy (and Margy, and Yippy) in a Humphrey Bogart picture.
The film in question is 1942′s All Through the Night, and it’s got an all-star cast: Bogie is joined by Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, William “You kids get out of my kitchen” Demarest, Phil Silvers, Jane Darwell, Jackie Gleason, and others. The plot involves Damon Runyonesque types and Nazis; Bogie, playing “Gloves Donahue,” has suffered the assassination of the baker of his favorite cheesecake and has been framed for (another) murder himself.
A dame may be able to clear him, and Bogie has reason to think she may be at a warehouse on East 61st. He goes there with Demarest…
They break into the warehouse, which is chockablock with toys…
Including a SCRAPPY, MARGY, AND YIPPY PULL TOY (!!!)…
Attempting to sneak around the warehouse, Demarest accidentally gives the pull toy a kick…
And it goes careening, causing Scrappy to energetically play his xylophone whilst Margy does the hula…
A nonplussed Bogie tells Demarest to can the noisy tomfoolery…
And it turns out the whole thing is the setup for a gag in which Demarest gets buried in a veritable avalanche of toys.
What to make of this? If this had been a 1930s Columbia flick, I’d accuse Harry Cohn of product placement. (I don’t know of any Scrappy appearances in live-action Columbia pictures, but the studio sure tried every other avenue to promote the guy.) But All Through the Night was a Warner film, made the year after the Scrappy series ended. So maybe the use of the Scrappy toy was random rather than an intentional promotional effort.
In any event, I’m pleased to say that The National Scrappy Gallery‘s collection includes an example of the toy in question, in absolutely wonderful condition.
Here’s Charles Mintz’s entry in the biographical section of the 1937 Film Daily Product Guide and Director’s Annual. It speaks of the cartoon producer in the third person, but one suspects that it’s his official view of himself. And it’s fascinating.
Mintz doesn’t mention his wife, pioneering cartoon distributor Margaret Winkler. He does assign himself credit for some series we usually associate with her, including the Felixes and Alice cartoons. And he dwells on his ill-fated association with Walt Disney, claiming to have “discovered” Walt and been the first person to “appreciate the young man with great ideas.”
Mintz calls himself the producer of the Oswalds and calls Disney his production chief for the Alices and Oswalds; I’m not sure if that counts as downplaying Disney’s role, but it surely emphasizes Mintz’s involvement more than most people would. (Elsewhere in the directory, Walt Disney’s entry says that he was the producer of the Alice cartoons and Oswald’s creator and producer.)
Oh, and Mintz says that he’s released cartoons solely through Columbia since the dawn of sound — news which would come as a surprise to RKO’s Toby the Pup.
Was Mintz haunted by the Oswald debacle? We may never know for sure. But once Disney became a phenomenon, he seems to have been happy to remind everyone else in the business that he was once Walt Disney’s boss.
He also cheerfully takes credit for personally creating Scrappy — and mentions that he’s president of the Motion Picture Cartoon Producers Association, an organization I’m unfamiliar with. Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall at its meetings?
The top sketch above is a preliminary piece, obviously. I'm not positive who it's by, but my guess (and hope) is that it was drawn by Dick Huemer, and I suspect it dates from 1931 and was prepared in conjunction with The Little Pest, the second Scrappy cartoon. That short doesn't contain this precise scene, but it does involve Oopy irritating Scrappy and Yippy as they attempt to go fishing.
One of the reasons Scrappyland exists is to document the amazing world of Scrappy merchandise and promotion — something which is even more obscure than the Scrappy cartoons themselves. Basically, nobody has written about or otherwise acknowledged it, ever.
Or so I thought. Actually, The Film Daily — the Variety-like publication which Archive.org offers in full-searchable scanned form — did a really good job of reporting on Columbia’s licensing and marketing efforts. It covered new products as the studio signed deals, wrote about the many and varied Scrappy-related publicity schemes and even noted the existence of the wonderfully-named Scrappy Franchise Department, headquartered in New York and run by one Eli Gottlieb.
Here are just some of the Scrappy items which the Daily published in 1935 — including mentions of both Scrappy products in the Scrappyland collection and ones I’ve never seen (airplanes!). There’s even a mention of Uncle Miltie and his Scrappy connection. Sadly, the paper never illustrated any of these entertaining news alerts with photographs…but they’ve still got plenty of color.
August 19, 1935:
September 10, 1935:
September 16, 1935:
October 16, 1935:
November 11, 1935:
November 14, 1935 (one day after my father was born):
Among the many odds and ends relating to Farina’s great Scrappy Puppet Theater giveaway of 1936 was a really nice poster. It mentions something called happy-hour entertainments — which, I’m guessing, were programs of Columbia short subjects, including Scrappy cartoons — and was presumably designed to be displayed at movie theaters which gave away the puppet theaters.
Here at Scrappyland, we’ve long displayed an example in an image generally shared with us by Keith Spurgeon. But now we have our own — and here it is:
Note that the two posters aren’t quite identical: The lettering and wording is slightly different. In either version, it’s a swell piece.