Al Kilgore’s Scrappy

(Click to enlarge–and please do)

Normally, I would not publish a drawing featuring Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, Gertie the Dinosaur, Porky Pig, Woody Woodpecker, Willie Whopper, Farmer Alfalfa, and Katharine “Bo Peep” Hepburn on Scrappyland. But this drawing is special–it’s by Al Kilgore.

And hey, you’ve probably already spotted Scrappy in there, too, down in the lower right-hand corner next to fellow Columbia alum Gerald McBoing Boing–a character my wife loves so much she mentions him in her Twitter profile, which is more than I do for Scrappy.

Al Kilgore with his wife Dolores

Al Kilgore (1927-1983) was a wonderfully gifted cartoonist who mostly worked on projects that weren’t all that widely seen. In the 1960s, he wrote and drew the syndicated Bullwinkle comic strip, as good a dead-tree interpretation of an animated cartoon as anyone has ever done. He also illustrated book covers (including this one), designed the glorious Sons of the Desert escutcheon, drew a monthly panel for a magazine for the floor-covering trade, created paper-doll books featuring Elvis and the Reagan family, and did some of the world’s kindest, most charming caricatures for a syndicated feature and film-fan magazines.

I’m guessing that the drawing above, which I recently acquired after learning about it from Jerry Beck, may have been a preliminary sketch for a piece in such a magazine–conceivably Alan G. Barbour’s Screen Facts or Leonard Maltin’s Film Fan Monthly. It seems likely that it dates to the 1960s. But I don’t know for sure. Come to think of it, I’m not positive that Kilgore ever turned this rough into an inked drawing, though I can’t imagine why he’d produce something so ambitious and not finish it for publication, unless he had second thoughts about copyright issues. (It’s drawn on the back of a giant piece of illustration board preprinted with blueline panels for some comic-book publisher–perhaps Gold Key.)

Another Kilgore crowd scene

Kilgore loved old movies (especially those starring Laurel and Hardy), comics, and related pop-culture artifacts and imbued his work with his passions every chance he got; even the later part of his Bullwinkle run was crowded with allusions and in-jokes that feel deeply personal. So he must have enjoyed the opportunity to draw so many cartoon characters in one place. At least some of the poses are borrowed from elsewhere, but the composition has a Kilgorian feel–he often did crowd scenes of familiar figures–and it would have been even more distinctive in finished form. (Along with everything else, Kilgore was a great inker.)

Kilgore in Captain Celluloid vs. the Film Pirates, a 1966 serial parody with a cast of film buffs

At the time Kilgore would have drawn this, Scrappy was even more forgotten by history than he is today. But Kilgore remembered him, and appears to have had enough reference material handy to draw an excellent, on-model version of the character. I’m so glad their paths crossed.

I’ve owned this Kilgore original for years

If you’d like to see more Kilgore–way more Kilgore–you must check out Drew Friedman’s incredible assemblage of his art. Over on eBay, the people I bought my drawing from have scads of other Kilgore originals for sale, all of them fascinating and some costing as little as $20. And if you happen to know where my sketch might have appeared in completed form, do tell me, won’t you?

Two Columbia kid stars, together again for the first time

Scrappyland is 15

On January 21, 2005 at 9:00am San Francisco time, I sent an email to a few animation-loving friends:

Subject: Scrappyland is live

At long last, the greatest obscure cartoon character of all time has a home on the Web:  Scrappyland is up and running. 

Tell your friends–at least if they’re Scrappy fans! 

— Harry

That makes today the 15th anniversary of this site. (It did have a preview mode, with a smidge of content, that lasted through much of 2004.) I don’t remember wondering what sort of future the site would have when I was launching it. But I do know that 2005 Harry would be pleased to know that 2020 Harry was still at it.

Why has writing for this site been such a rewarding experience? Well, it’s rare to get the opportunity to create the definitive resource on anything. (I hope you won’t think me full of myself for considering Scrappyland to be such a resource.) There are other folks who write about Scrappy from time to time—hello, Paul, Steve, and Uncle John—but nobody else would be silly enough to spend so much time on the topic. (Even my own silliness flagged from mid-2005 through mid-2012, a stretch when I performed no meaningful updates to the site—but then I converted it into a blog and have since published over a hundred posts.)

It’s nice knowing that if people Google for Scrappy, the odds are high they’ll end up here. I can usually answer their questions, and some of the people who land here have stuff of their own to share. I find it therapeutic, after spending my days thinking about the present and future of technology, to devote some of my brain cells to cartoons that are almost ninety years old. I still get a little tingle from every new Scrappy discovery.

The challenge with a site like Scrappyland is that the day might arrive when I have nothing left to say—either because I’ve lost the urge or because I’ve covered every possible aspect of the subject. I’m pretty sure my interest won’t flag anytime soon. And even if all I do is write up stuff that’s still in my queue of Scrappy learnings, I’ll have enough material for the next several years.

Thank you for reading, and please stick around for more. Scrappyland has already had a longer run than Scrappy himself did as a cartoon star, so there’s no reason this can’t go on indefinitely.

In search of Scrappy cels

Want to see some Scrappy cels? You can. Just go to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library in LA and look up the “Donald Gledhill Animation Project Collection.” Gledhill was the first husband of Margaret Herrick, who earned the honor of having a library named after her by being the Academy’s first executive director (and, at least possibly, the person who named the Oscar “Oscar”). He tried to put together a how-to book on animation, and while it never reached publication, he assembled a pretty remarkable-sounding collection of 1930s cartoon artwork for it. It includes a total of nine cels from two Scrappy cartoons, Scrappy’s Rodeo and Scrappy’s Side Show.

Here’s one from the latter short, with a late-model Scrappy:

I haven’t checked out the Gledhill collection myself, but I should—and so should you, especially if you live closer to it than I do. Those two cels are the only surviving ones from Scrappy cartoons that I know about.

Over the years, I have managed to assemble a small collection of original Scrappy art. Here’s some of it, and here’s some more. And here’s the original art for the Scrappy pull toy. A little more has escaped my grasp. But I’ve never seen a Scrappy cel for sale.

If I’d been around in the late 1930s, however, I might have been able to pick up a Scrappy cel at a reasonable price. Original cels from Hollywood cartoons were widely sold as a fun and affordable form of art, with the most famous and influential example being the Disney pieces offered by San Francisco’s Courvoisier Galleries. Leon Schlesinger also made cels from his cartoons available, and was nice enough to sign them.

And Charles Mintz seized the opportunity as well. Here’s a December 1937 article from a New Jersey paper:

The Mintz cels may have been intended to dress up children’s rooms, but 80 years later, there are a bunch of examples on eBay at prices up to $1200. Here are three of them, all in nice shape:

And here’s the label from one of these cel’s backsides explaining its provenance:

These cels also have stickers on their backs from Cleveland’s Guenther Galleries; presumably it and Bamberger’s, the department store mentioned in the newspaper article participated in an art sale program that may well have involved other merchants around the country.

All of these Mintz cels on eBay are from Happy Tots. Which—you probably already know this—was not a Scrappy cartoon. The Gledhill collection at the Margaret Herrick Library also has some Happy Tots cels, suggesting that it was a cartoon whose cels Mintz dispensed with particularly freely.

So which Scrappy cartoons was that newspaper article referring to? That is a toughie. The newspaper piece specifies that the cels were from Color Rhapsodies, and that some featured Scrappy, Margy, Oopy, and Yippy. But Scrappy only appeared in four Color Rhapsodies. The last of them, Merry Mutineers, was released in August 1936, well before the newspaper announcement. All his other cartoons were in black and white.

It’s certainly possible that the newspaper story’s wording was sloppy and that the Scrappy cels you could buy were in black and white. Many of the surviving cels from the Schlesinger studio’s sales program are from black and white cartoons, so there’s no reason to assume that Mintz would have rejected the idea of selling b&w cels out of hand. Especially since Scrappy, his most recognizable property, was mostly monochromatic.

Still, the fact that it’s cels from Happy Tots that are available in relative abundance makes me uncertain just how many pieces of Mintz art made it to the public. I’m not assuming that any Scrappy cels were sold, let alone that they survived until the present day. But it’s nice to think they may be out there somewhere, perhaps in the possession of some late-1930s child who once had one up in his or her bedroom—and was smart enough to hold onto it.

Scrappy Tie-Ups Galore

Way back when Scrappyland was new–almost fifteen (!) years ago–I published some Columbia publicity photos of a 1930s child actress named Cora Sue Collins using Scrappy products. Then I found some featuring her fellow Columbia kid contract players Edith Fellows and Dickie Walters. And lastly, back in 2012, one of Edith with a costar named Jackie Moran.

Thanks to Jerry Beck, who generously alerted me to some recent eBay auctions, I have finally procured more examples of what Columbia called Scrappy Tie-Ups. They efficiently promoted current Columbia live-action features and Scrappy merchandise … although, come to think of it, I’m not sure where they appeared. (Newspapers, maybe, although I’ve never seen one in print.)

First, here’s Dickie Walters again, showing off his Scrappy necktie, as photographed by William A. “Bud” Fraker (father of the celebrated cinematographer) and approved by the Hays Office on January 29, 1935.

IMDB lists only four movies that Dickie appeared in. The first was Carnival, which premiered on February 15, 1935–a couple of weeks after Columbia readied this photo (and one week before my mother was born). Besides Dickie, who had a fairly meaty role as a little kid named “Poochie”–which sounds like the name of a Scrappy bit-player–it starred Lee Tracy, Sally Eilers, and Jimmy Durante. And it indeed was set at a traveling carnival. (Dickie, incidentally, also appeared in MGM’s 1935 Anna Karenina, along with both Garbo and Cora Sue Collins.)

Scrappy ties (“For He-Boys”) were manufactured by a company called Guiterman Bros., and were popular enough that I’ve assembled a small collection of them and even found a photo of a small boy who was seemingly wearing one because he liked it, not because he was being paid by Columbia to do so. If they came in slightly large sizes, I might well be wearing one right now.

Next, say hello to Cora Sue Collins, who seems quite pleased with her copy of the Scrappy Big Little Book. (Oddly, hers seems to be in more battered condition than the one currently in the Scrappyland Archive.) This photo was released in conjunction with the May 1936 Columbia picture The Devil’s Squadron, in which Cora Sue costarred with Richard Dix, Karen Morley, and Lloyd Nolan.

The back of this photo credits it to A.L. “Whitey” Schafer, who succeeded Fraker as chief of Columbia’s stills department and later left for a similar gig at Paramount. He took a lot of photos of stars, such as this 1944 portrait of Veronica Lake, which I borrowed from an excellent post on his work at Aenigma. (I’m sorry to report that we lost him in 1951 in a tragic accident involving an exploding stove on a yacht.)

Here we have Edith Fellows and Jackie Moran in a Schafer photo released in conjunction with And So They Were Married, another Columbia release in May 1936. Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor got top billing, but Edith and Jackie were right behind them and get tons of screen time. (You can watch the movie over at the Internet Archive.)

But the big news about this Scrappy Tie-Up is that young Jackie is brandishing a Scrappy Army Plane from the Scientific Model Airplane Company, an apparently noted maker of toy aircraft. This is a new Scrappy product to me, and it seems like a major one. I’d love to think there’s still a chance I’ll stumble across one someday.

And here’s the weirdest part: Only a day or two before Jerry alerted me to this photo, I’d heard from another Friend of Scrappy, David Welch of Childhood Memorabilia. Over at eBay, where he’s “pezdudewelch,” he’s selling a 1938 photo of a Lionel train setup at a retail store, and he noticed that the background included … an upside-down Scrappy Army Plane box. When he asked about it, I wasn’t even positive that the Scrappy in question was our Scrappy.

Edith also posed for Whitey Schafer with Transogram’s Scrappy Ring Toss, a fine game which we do have in the Scrappy Archive. This photo is undated and bears no Hays stamp, and I’m not sure what Columbia feature it tied into.

And here’s Edith again in a Schafer photo approved by the Hays Office on October 16, 1937–but apparently produced with the Christmas season in mind. It features the Great Lake Novelty Co.’s Scrappy doll, which I believe had been around for a couple of years by then.

Just so you can get a taste of what the back of these photos looked like, here’s the flip side of the one above, with the Hays stamp, another stamp for the Advertising Advisory Council, Whitey Schafer’s credit, and a caption plugging a Columbia feature called Wonder Child.

That confused me, since I couldn’t find evidence of Edith or Leo Carillo appearing in anything called Wonder Child. It turned out that the movie, when Columbia released it in January 1938, had a much better name: Little Miss Roughneck. And it was a genuine Edith Fellows starring vehicle.

This photo features Edith and her Columbia colleagues the Three Stooges promoting a 1937 Pillsbury giveaway–a successor to the Scrappy Puppet Theater–and I include it here mostly because Edith seems to be wearing the same dress as in the photo above, suggesting that they were part of the same Schafer shoot.

Speaking of the Scrappy Puppet Theater, I lied when I said I’d never seen a Scrappy Tie-Up photo in print. While I was working on this post, I found several papers that published this photo of Edith with her Scrappy theater in December 1936. The caption talks about it as if she just happened to be a fan of cartoon-related puppetry–and I hope that was true, even if was a contractual obligation.

At this point, it doesn’t seem the least bit unreasonable to assume that there are still more Scrappy Tie-Ups out there. I won’t rest until my collection is complete–even if it takes another fifteen or more years, and it probably will.

The Scrappy Pull Toy Was Everywhere

Scrappy Pull Toy
This particular Scrappy Band is part of the Scrappyland Archive.

Eighty-three years ago, the Great Depression still seemed intractable and a dollar was a meaningful amount to spend on a child’s plaything. But what a plaything the Scrappy pull toy was. Manufactured by the Gong Bell Co. of East Hampton, Conn. and officially known as the “Scrappy Band,” it featured Scrappy playing a xylophone and Margy doing the hula in a grass skirt. It’s funny and charming, with great graphics, and deserves a spot high on any list of the best Scrappy products of all time.

Enough examples survive that it’s not tough to find a Scrappy Band on eBay, though their condition is often poor. Margy, for instance, has most often lost her skirt. The one in the Scrappyland Archive is in near-mint condition; maybe it was owned by a kid who didn’t play with it much.

How well did this toy sell back in 1936-1938, which seems to have been the duration of its availability? We’ll probably never know for sure. But here are three 1937 photos of little girls surrounded by toys, and in each case you can spot the Scrappy Band among the goodies.

Here, in a photo originally published in the Milwaukee Journal on February 14, 1937, is Betty Ann Gaudynski posing with toys donated by Milwaukee schoolchildren to be sent to their counterparts affected by the Ohio River’s Great Flood of 1937, which killed hundreds and left a million people homeless. Along with the Scrappy Band in the lower right-hand corner–Scrappy himself is in the shadows–the donations include two Donald Duck pull toys (one with Pluto), which were also products of the Gong Bell Co.

In this photo, published in the Tampa Bay Times on December 18th, 1937, Barbara Jean Williams is flanked by a Scrappy Band and a Shirley Temple doll (apparently in scouting togs). Barbara Jean is using a toy telephone-another popular product from Gong Bell, whose president, the wonderfully-named Mayo Purple, was the subject of an accompanying article.

And in this Christmas picture from 1937, by a photographer for the NEA wire service, boxing legend Jack Dempsey’s daughters Joan and Barbara enjoy their loot, with a Scrappy Band near Joan’s right foot (and a doll spread-eagled on top of it).

It’s tempting to think that Columbia, which was generally intrepid in its Scrappy marketing efforts, had something to do with the Scrappy Band popping up in so many newspaper photos of kids and toys. But unless the studio snuck Scrappy Bands into flood donations and sent one to Jack Dempsey’s daughters, maybe this pull toy was just popular enough to have a decent chance of appearing in any image involving a quorum of playthings. I mean, if you’d been alive in 1937 and had a buck–or as little as 79¢ at a discount house–wouldn’t you have bought one?

(Another piece of evidence for that theory: If Columbia had a hand in the creation of the photos, you’d think the girls would be fawning over Scrappy and Margy rather than ignoring them.)

Coda: If someone was a child in 1937, it’s not unrealistic to think that she might still be alive in late 2019. But I’m sorry to report that Betty Ann Gaudynski, Joan Dempsey, and Barbara Dempsey have all died–in 1986, 1993, and 1994, respectively. (Barbara is not to be confused with a different Dempsey daughter named Barbara, whom he adopted with a later wife; that one ended up being the coauthor of his autobiography.)

Barbara Jean Williams is a common enough name that I can’t research the one in the photo with any confidence. So here’s hoping she is still with us, happy and healthy.

Scrappy goes to Penney’s

I’d known for years that J.C. Penney had some sort of promotional tie-in with Scrappy. After all, years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, I’d bought what seemed to be a piece of Penney’s back-to-school store signage depicting Margy and Scrappy gallivanting merrily, books in hand, with accompanying text–“This is ‘Scrappy’ and ‘Margy'”–that suggested they needed introducing.

But I had never bothered to investigate the matter further until Friend of Scrappy Mark Newgarden shared a 1933 Penney’s newspaper advertisement featuring Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy. Remarkably, he’d stumbled across it on Newspapers.com while looking for something else. The ad doesn’t mention Scrappy by name, which means it would be tough to find on purpose. (If you don’t go hunting for Scrappy, Scrappy comes hunting for you.)

Inspired by Mark’s discovery, I turned to Newspapers.com myself and found a bounty of Scrappy-themed back-to-school Penney’s ads, all from August and September 1933.

Here’s just a taste of it.

As you can see, the ads used a few drawings of Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy in various ways with different layouts and text. It seems reasonable to guess that individual stores or regional advertising managers were provided with stock art to use as they saw fit.

You may also have noticed that the ads reference a variety of Scrappy-themed local events: costume contests, parades, and screenings. Here are some more details on these lavish affairs.

The Betty Boopers referenced in that last ad seem to have been members of a Betty Boop club run by a local theater, similar to the original Mickey Mouse Club, and leading to the above bit of unexpected Fleischer-Mintz cross-promotion.

The point of the Penney-sponsored events was to generate publicity that didn’t feel like advertising. The effort paid off handsomely. Newspapers ran announcements about the doings, referencing both Scrappy and J.C. Penney. Then they published follow-up reports once the festivities had taken place.

Sadly, I haven’t run across any photos of the Scrappy parades, lookalike competitions, and theater shindigs—or, for that matter, any of Penney stores during the 1933 back-to-school season, when they must have been bedecked in Scrappyana such as the sign I own. But at 2005’s Scrappyland screening in LA, we unwittingly revived Penney’s tradition by holding a Scrappy masquerade of our own (I think it was Jerry Beck’s idea).

We had one entrant, Raven Loc, who came dressed as a brilliantly monochromatic Margy—and I do have a photo of her in costume.

Other than being pleased by the intensity of the Scrappy angle, the thing that I find most striking about Penney’s campaign is how evocative they are of the Great Depression that was going on at the time. The U.S. economy had bottomed out the previous year, but times were still awfully tough in 1932–unemployment was at 25%—and some of the ads feel obsessed with penny-pinching and fear of higher prices to come, even as they champion FDR’s plan to get the country back on track:

I mentioned that all the Penney-Scrappy items I found dated from August and September 1933. With a little more Newspapers.com research, I learned that J.C. Penney made a tradition of promoting its back-to-school offerings with different well-known, kid-friendly characters each year,

In 1932, the company had used Hal Roach’s Our Gang. I think that’s Spanky third from the left, with Pete on the far right, obviously; whether the others represent actual members of the Gang, I’m not sure.

After embracing Scrappy in 1933, Penney’s dumped him for Mickey Mouse in 1934. Charles Mintz must have taken that as a stinging rebuke, assuming he was paying attention.

The year after that, Penney’s mascot was Popeye. This was during the period when he was Mickey Mouse’s most serious rival, and the chain may have regarded him as an upgrade.

By 1936, however,Penney’s was apparently tired of shelling out money to license familiar characters. Its back-to-school blitz featured Peggy and Peter, the human, non-cartoon Penney Twins…

And in 1937, Peggy and Peter gave way to the largely similar Sunny and Jim, who seem to have ended this promotional tradition.

These back-to-school drives involved at least some of the same elements as the Scrappy one, such as parades and theater parties. And Penney’s distributed celebratory pins in high enough volume that eBay is fairly awash in them. (I haven’t seen any Scrappy ones.)

JC Penney, of course, is still with us–albeit in battered condition. It still throws annual back-to-school events. And tonight, when I found myself in a mall with a Penney’s, I dropped in just in case it had inexplicably decided to enlist Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy in the cause again, a mere 86 years after the first time

It hadn’t. But the place now has an entire Disney-store-within-the-store. I would not be surprised if it includes even more Mickey Mouse gear than the company sold back in 1934.

Penney’s also sells Popeye and (sexy) Olive Oyl costumes, continuing the tradition it began with its 1935 back-to-school bash. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or unrealistic to believe that it might revive its relationship with the Mintz organization and add a few Scrappy items to its current line. It wouldn’t hurt the company’s business, and it might help–or at least I’d be way more likely to stop in…

Scrappy Sayings: The Even More Lost Episodes

Back in 2013, we brought you a bunch of examples of Scrappy Sayings, a comic panel–weird even by Scrappy standards–that Columbia syndicated to small newspapers in the mid-1930s in hopes of getting some free promotion for its animated shorts. (The papers didn’t pay for these, did they?)

Last year, Friend of Scrappy found more of the panels, which inspired me to locate even more. And now another Scrapologist, Christian Bajusz, has tracked down another dozen of them, including the intact version of one I previously published with a big chunk torn out of it.

As usual, our mystery artist seems most interested in topics that are odd fodder for a feature about a little boy, such as romance, auto safety, and skeletons in one’s closet. He (or she) draws another adult woman whose head is about 1/5th the size of Scrappy’s, and I can’t tell if it’s an artistic quirk or evidence of lack of skill, or maybe a telltale sign of a swipe from a non-Mintz source. (There were not a lot of grown women depicted in Scrappy cartoons.)

This batch also has the distinction of including the first one that I found ever so slightly entertaining: “If your best girl asks you to sing with her–duet!” (Okay, I’m easily amused.)

Thank you for these, Christian. At this point, I wouldn’t be started if we keep uncovering new Scrappy Sayings forever. I’d just like to know who was responsible for it.

The 861 Seward Story

861 Seward St. when I visited it in September 2017

 Even if they’d never made a single Scrappy cartoon at 861 Seward St. in Los Angeles, the address would have its place in animation history. After all, it was home to the Harman-Ising studio. And Bambi sprung from work done there. And the Walter Lantz studio was headquartered in the building for many years.

And partway through all of that, Screen Gems–the former Charles Mintz studio–was located at 861 Seward. Columbia moved the operation there in 1940–leaving behind 7000 Santa Monica Blvd.–after Charles Mintz’s death at the end of 1939. It’s therefore the last location I have to cover in this series on Scrappy’s homes, which began with my piece on 1154 N. Western Ave.

861 Seward St. was built in 1924 and was apparently devoted to the making of movies from the start. The earliest mention of it I’ve found in trade journals is from that December. Here’s that reference, in an ad for Alessandro Productions, producer of The Sagebrush Lady.

Other companies in the building during the same era included Walter W. Kofeldt Inc., a film importer; and the wonderfully-named Mrs. Wallace Reid Productions, which an actress named Dorothy Davenport named to leverage the brand power of her late husband, a silent star who had died in a sanitarium where he was attempting recovery from his morphine addiction. (Human Wreckage, mentioned in the ad below, had an anti-drug message.)

In Hollywood Cartoons, Mike Barrier cites Rudolf Ising as remembering that Disney used a laboratory at 861 Seward for film processing in the 1920s; Martha Sigall’s Living Life Inside the Lines is more specific, saying that Steamboat Willie had been developed there. And indeed, a lab called National Aeromap that catered to the movie industry was in the building by 1926 and stayed there for at least a few years. Seward St. may have been a bit of a film-processing district: The 1932 Film Daily Yearbook lists five lab facilities on the street, including one belonging to Technicolor.

The June 25, 1935 Film Daily reported  that the Harman-Ising studio–by now making shorts for release by MGM–was moving into 861 Seward to get the space it needed to make more cartoons and adopt three-strip Technicolor. (The two-reelers referenced below–one of which might have been based on “The Nutcracker”–did not get made.)

In February of 1937, MGM terminated its contract with Harman-Ising. The two animators worked on other projects such as Merbabies–which Disney released as a Silly Symphony–but went bankrupt. They then joined a new MGM cartoon studio, overseen by Fred Quimby and located on the studio lot.

This website may be about Scrappy cartoons, but let’s be honest: 861 Seward’s next era was its most intriguing. Disney, which was in the process of building its new Burbank studio, was out of room at its old Hyperion one and had to shunt some projects into other premises. It leased Harman-Ising’s Seward St. space and moved the group doing early work on Bambi into the building in October 1938.

It wasn’t until I began thinking about 861 Seward’s Screen Gems years that I realized I’d talked about its Disney period with Maurice Noble in 1991, when he told me about his work on Bambi:

About that time [Disney] were constructing their new studio in Burbank, and the Bambi unit was shifted over to a small building down in Hollywood on Seward Street. That’s where we were isolated for almost two years. All I did on that particular picture was sketchwork; I probably did three or four thousand watercolor sketches for it. As it finally appeared, my influence was probably minimal, because they decided to go with the approach that Tyrus Wong gave it – a certain Oriental flavor, if you recall the film. My view of the story of Bambi was more on the grand scale, and Tyrus’s rendering and type of background seemed to lend itself to the intimate approach. My contributions were probably more indirect on the film.

Mike Barrier’s Hollywood Cartoons says that Walt Disney himself rarely showed up at Seward St. In Walt Disney’s Bambi: The Story and the Film, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston make the outpost sound rather pleasant:

 At first there was much resentment over on Seward at being separated from the stimulation of the main studio, but gradually the staff realized that there were certain benefits in being isolated. Clair Weeks, artist and story sketch man, said, “It was … sort of a little paradise we had … free of the hurly-burly of Hyperion–nobody bothered us.” No one made trips back to the main studio and the only person who came over to Seward was Mr. Keener, the paymaster.

In the fall of 1939, Disney’s Seward St. lease ran out and the Bambi unit moved to the new Burbank studio. Screen Gems moved in the following year. I don’t know what instigated the relocation from Santa Monica Blvd. but perhaps it had something to do with Columbia’s consolidation of control over the studio.

By that time, the Scrappy series was withering away. Paul Etcheverry and Will Friedwald’s Scrappy filmography lists only seven shorts released in 1940. None of them were classics and some were Scrappy cartoons in only a technical sense at best.

The final Scrappy, The Little Theatre, was released in February 1941. 861 Seward, in other words, was the place where Scrappy died.

If you’re interested enough in old cartoons to be reading this website, you probably know what happened at Screen Gems as the ’40s wore on. The last vestiges of the Mintz years gave way to an era of revolving-door management (including Frank Tashlin and Dave Fleischer, among others); a failure to create new successful new series (with the Fox and Crow cartoons as the closest thing the studio had to a flagship); and an approach that veered from experimental to generic and then back again without giving Disney, Warner, or MGM any reason to worry. Hollywood business directories show Screen Gems as being located at 861 Seward through 1946. As far as I know, it was there until Columbia ceased producing its own cartoons.

I don’t have any fascinating facts about the studio’s time there. Well, maybe one: When I visited the building,  I saw that it was at the intersection of Seward and Willoughby: 

And it dawned on me that Willoughby Ave. must have provided the Screen Gems character Willoughby Wren, a tiny strongman, with his name. I already dimly knew that the Lantz studio named Inspector Willoughby (whose first name is Seward) after its intersection; Willoughby Ave. must be the only street in Hollywood to have inspired two cartoon characters.

Here’s Willoughby Wren in Bob Wickersham’s Magic Strength:

861 Seward wasn’t bereft of animation activity for long. In August 1947, Box Office reported that the Walter Lantz studio, which was severing its ties with Universal (temporarily, it turned out), had leased the place.

The best thing about Lantz’s long residency at 861 Seward—at least from a Scrappyland perspective—is that we have film footage documenting it. The early years of TV’s Woody Woodpecker Show featured numerous mini-documentaries about the making of cartoons, with Lantz employees coming up with stories, animating them, painting cels, and running animation cameras. Judging from the scenes that made it onto TV, it wasn’t the world’s most evocative Hollywood animation studio, but I’m glad this material survives. Here’s some of it.

At least one animation notable, Sid Marcus, worked for both Screen Gems and Lantz in their respective 861 Seward eras; I’ll bet there were other folks who did, too. If you can identify any of the faces in the video above, please let me know. (And if Lantz shot these live-action segments at a soundstage elsewhere in Hollywood, don’t tell me.)

Another neat thing about 861 Seward’s Lantz years: If you want a memento of them, you can go on eBay and buy any one of a surprisingly large number of checks signed by Walter Lantz and bearing that address.

Walter Lantz seems to have bought his building at some point, which I imagine was a savvy investment. As his studio’s production slowed, he began renting out space to other companies. According to Martha Sigall’s Living Life Inside the Lines, one such tenant was the commercial studio operated by the great Warner Bros. animator Abe Levitow. And here’s a letter–which I borrowed from ChipJacobs.com–in which Lantz agrees to least space “formerly occupied by an [sic] our animators” to Gordon Zahler’s General Music Company. (Jacobs is the author of Strange as It Seems, a biography of Zahler–who was, among other things, Lantz’s partner in the Walter Lantz Music Company, a purveyor of stock music for other cartoon studios, and the man who patched together a score for Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.)

Even after Lantz ceased production of cartoons in 1972, it retained offices at 861 Seward. It remained there until at least the late 1970s, but eventually moved less than half a mile to 6311 Romaine, an art deco building known as Television Center that had once been the original Technicolor film-processing laboratory.

After Lantz moved out of 861 Seward, the building was home to a variety of small, obscure Hollywood-type outfits: Schulman Video Services and JPJ Productions were two of them. Eventually, it housed a post-production company called Laser-Pacific–which was successful enough that it was bought by Technicolor in 2011. Today, that company continues to provide services to Hollywood out of 861 Seward. (I was too shy to go in when I dropped by in 2017, but maybe I’ll try to arrange a tour someday.)

To recap: Walter Lantz ended up moving into Technicolor’s former headquarters, and Technicolor ended up taking over Walter Lantz’s former headquarters. That’s surely evidence that Hollywood is a small town. And given that the Screen Gems brand still exists–as a label for Sony horror films and an independent operator of film production facilities–it isn’t entirely unthinkable that the current incarnation of the studio that gave us Scrappy could return to its one-time home a mere eight decades after it first moved in.

Maybe All Scrappy Art is Mystery Art

Every so often, I post examples of what I think of as Scrappy Mystery Art–pieces whose origins I can’t readily identify. When Debra Brossack bought an apparent Scrappy item at an estate sale, she emailed me to ask about it–and while I’m sorry I couldn’t tell her much, I’m glad she shared it.

Here’s Debra’s find…

That’s two pieces of art, which she reports seem to be painted on clipboards, connected by a piece of string. They depict the classic yanking-out-a-tooth-via-doornob gag. And the kid supervising the yanking certainly looks like Scrappy as he appeared in his later cartoons, when his proportions got a tad more realistic and his design evolved in what the Mintz studio probably thought was a cuter direction. (I suspect that if you’re reading this, you prefer the earlier, rubber hose-y Scrappy, as I do.)

I asked Friend of Scrappy Mark Newgarden, who knows about this kind of stuff, if he could shed any light on this artifact. He said that he has several examples of connected-frame Americana of this sort, and isn’t sure if they were sold at tourist traps or were home projects. Either explanation might explain the crudity of Debra’s art, which looks like someone’s unpolished rendition of what might have been a slicker pose by a Mintz artiste.

If you know more about this curiosity–or just want to idly speculate about its provenance–I’d love to hear from you.

A Brief Visit to Casa Mintz

Charles Mintz home

I’ve taken you to Charles Mintz’s first Hollywood studio at 1154 N. Western Ave. We’ve gone inside his second one at 7000 Santa Monica Blvd. And I still need to recap my visit to 861 Seward, which is where Columbia moved operations after they took control from Mintz.

But for now, let’s take a detour from these studio trips to consider 717 N. Linden Dr. in Beverly Hills, the Spanish-style home where Charles Mintz lived with his family at the time of his death in 1939. There it is at the top of this post, in a photo I recently took while admiring it from the sidewalk and hoping there was nobody inside, peering out the window and wondering why I was casing the joint.

Mintz was not always a cartoon tycoon, of course. The son of a York, Pennsylvania grocer, he was born in 1887 and dropped out of high school but eventually graduated from Brooklyn Law School. By 1915, he was living in New York with his mother and siblings. According to one obituary, that was also the year he went to work for Warner Bros. as a booker. That’s where he met Margaret Winkler, who–in what sounds like a fairly meteoric rise–went from being Harry Warner’s personal secretary to running her own cartoon distribution company. Mintz married Winkler in 1923 and soon took charge of the business. You may have heard of the tiff he had with one of its clients, Walt Disney.

Eventually, Mintz concluded that his Krazy Kat Studio would be better off in Hollywood—presumbly a well-informed decision given his experience working with Disney and then producing Oswald cartoons there himself. (One article about the move referenced the superior recording facilities there.) He sent his staff off to the coast by train in February 1930—but stayed in New York himself.

The fact that Mintz ran a studio across the country, with his brother-in-law George Winkler managing operations in L.A., may say something about his level of involvement in its productions. Columbia’s business operations were headquartered in New York, so he had a legitimate reason to remain in the east. But really, if you had the opportunity to be a Hollywood movie mogul, would you turn it down forever?

When Mintz and family went westward, they lived at first in Beverly Hills at 611 N. Linden, a three-bedroom Spanish-style home built in 1926. In July 1930, it was on the market (“A BUY”) for $28,000, or $420,000 in 2018 dollars. (Which is not to say you could buy it for that price: Zillow estimates its current value at $6.3 million.) But perhaps the Mintzes rented, since a year later the Los Angeles Times real-estate section offered it for $350 a month, the equivalent of $5,600 today.

By 1936, according to the Movieland Directory, Mintz’s voter registration showed him living at 717 N. Linden, the home I photographed. According to LA Times classifieds, it had gone on the market in May 1935—a “real buy” for $26,500. In the depths of the depression, it was a buyer’s market: By August, the house remained unsold and the asking price was down to $22,000 (“1/2 original cost”), or about $400,000 in 2018 dollars. After September, the ads disappear, conceivably because Mintz had bought it.

I hope it’s not gauche to wonder about this: How rich was Charles Mintz, as the producer of moderately popular animated cartoons? In 1933, he had sold half of his studio to Columbia, which would scoop up the rest in 1937; what that meant for his own finances, I can’t say. As far as I know, Columbia owned Scrappy and reaped the rewards from character merchandise, not Mintz.

In any event, 717 N. Linden sounds like a prosperous person’s home: Built in 1924, it had five bedrooms, four baths, chauffeur’s quarters, and a three-car garage. It still looks pretty lavish today, and Zillow estimates its current worth at $9.8 million. Not that it’s on the market—though a rental down the block can be yours for just $24,500 a month.

(Side note: Someone, probably not me, should map out where all the Hollywood animation producers of the 1930s lived. For the record, Leon Schlesinger and his wife Bernice were over on Benedict Canyon, a little over a mile from the Mintzes.)

My knowledge of Beverly Hills real estate history is too skimpy to assess how prestigious the Mintzes’ neighborhood was when they lived there, but a fair number of notables have inhabited the vicinity. Actress Bessie Love, an Academy Award nominee for Broadway Melody, moved into 611 N. Linden with her husband William Hawks after the Mintz family moved out. The acting couple Lilyan Tashman and Edmund Lowe lived across the street at 718 N. Linden, in an apparent marriage of convenience; their home was known as “Lilowe” and they were said to hold extravagant orgies there. (It’s tempting to envision Charles Mintz either being appalled or invited, although Tashman died in 1934, before the Mintzes arrived on the block.) Later, Wimbledon champion Fred Perry lived at 718 N. Linden, possibly after Charles’s death.

Producer Sol Siegel was a neighbor. Aldous Huxley, Jeanette MacDonald, and Dorothy Parker also lived nearby at some point in the 1930s or 1940s. Eventually, writers Nora and Delia Ephron grew up on what had once been the Mintzes’ block. (Bizarrely, two minutes after I typed that sentence, I heard Nora’s upbringing there referenced on The Bold Type, a TV show my wife was watching in the same room.) And it’s probably just as well that Charles Mintz was no longer with us when Bugsy Siegel was murdered in 1947 at 810 N. Linden, home of his girlfriend Virginia Hill.

Within months of Charles’s passing, his home was back on the market, at an “attrac. price.” I hope that it wasn’t financial strain that prompted Margaret Winkler Mintz and the two Mintz children to decamp to a place a few miles away on S. Bedford. It was smaller, but sounds nice, judging from the old classifieds (“finest 2 sty. corner ever built”).

The current residents of 717 N. Linden have lived there since 1996–and boy, it would be neat if they know they lived in the House That Scrappy Built, Or At Least Bought.