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 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 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 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 D’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–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.

Remembering Dr. Richard Huemer

Dr. Richard Huemer

Dick Huemer had left Fleischer before the creation of Betty Boop, but when we came across this statue in San Francisco, his son Richard saw it as a good omen and was more than happy to pose for photos.

Of all the nice things that I’ve experienced as a result of starting Scrappyland, nothing else came close to the joy of getting to know Dr. Richard Huemer, the son of Dick Huemer, Scrappy’s creator. I’m very sorry to report that Richard passed away today, and I offer my condolences to his wife Kay, his son Peter, and the rest of his family.

When I was first putting together Scrappyland and contacted Richard, he told me that his father did not consider Scrappy among his proudest achievements. That’s entirely understandable given that he went on to a long tenure at Disney, where he co-wrote Dumbo and Fantasia. (The elder Huemer’s pre-Mintz animation career, which began in 1916 and included work on silent “Out of the Inkwell” cartoons, is also notable.) Despite that proviso, Richard went on to be a great supporter of Scrappyland—he supplied some great Mintz staff photos, for instance—and he spoke at the Scrappyland event in Hollywood in 2005.

Richard and I ended up corresponding and getting together on a number of occasions when he visited San Francisco, usually to attend medical conferences with his delightful wife Kay. We’d talk for hours, and he had so many interests that animation came up only occasionally. We were more likely to discuss gadgets and tech, or (especially after I co-wrote an article for TIME on Google’s research into human longevity) advances in medicine. He was funny, thoughtful, and infectiously curious about the world, and I rarely gave thought to the fact that he was born only a couple of years after Scrappy was.

Many things about Richard will stick in my mind forever, like the time we went to a semi-professional musical in a tiny San Francisco theater on the spur of the moment. And his silly/sincere theory that he may have met Dr. Edwin Land’s daughter in Santa Fe circa the early 1940s and accidentally inspired her to accidentally inspire her father to invent the Polaroid camera. And—to bring this post back to animation—the fact that he gave the benefit of the doubt to Charles Mintz, a man much maligned by cartoon history. (Richard noted that his father never had a bad word to say about Mintz, and that Mintz brother-in-law George Winkler was a close family friend.)

I’m also happy that Richard got to attend Dick Huemer’s posthumous induction as a Disney Legend, go to the gala opening of the Disney Family Museum here in San Francisco, and generally see his father be rightfully appreciated for his contributions to cartooning. Richard contributed to that process by coediting a collection of Buck O’Rue, an enjoyable comic strip written by his dad which had been largely forgotten. Getting it back in print was a long-time passion project.

I loved Dick Huemer’s wry Funnyworld columns in the 1970s, and am sorry I never had the chance to meet him. But I got a sizable dose of the Huemeresque experience by knowing Richard—who bore a striking physical resemblance to his father, and inherited his sense of whimsy—and I feel so lucky that I did.

The Somewhat Less Incompleat Scrappy Sayings

Back in 2013, I rounded up 18 examples of Scrappy Sayings, a single-panel comic feature run by small newspapers beginning in 1935. I said that it looked “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.”

Scrappyologist Jason Fiore has scoured the archives of Michigan’s Grosse Pointe Review newspaper, where I found the panels I posted, and uncovered 11 more examples. As with the others, Jason’s discoveries feature painful wordplay, a usually-off model Scrappy–is he an Orthodox Jew in that first one?–and an odd emphasis on themes such as courtship and dentistry.

Thanks for sharing these, Jason.

Scrappy Sayings comics

Inspired by Jason’s research, I dug around myself and found 14 additional examples of Scrappy Sayings in 1935 and 1936 issues of the Post-Democrat of Muncie, Indiana.

Scrappy's Sayings

That last one is the only Scrappy’s Sayings I’ve seen with an appearance by Oopy (or a rough approximation thereof), albeit in diapers and under the name Toots.

I’m still not sure who drew or was otherwise responsible for Scrappy Sayings. I did find yet another example in Eisner-Iger’s Wow What a Magazine, which might be a hint that Jerry Iger had something to do with it. Or maybe not.

Along with Scrappy’s Sayings, the Post-Democrat ran another comic feature from the Columbia Feature Service, a Believe It or Not-esque panel called Unusual Facts Revealed. I briefly took that as evidence that the Columbia Feature Service wasn’t owned by Columbia Pictures–until I noticed that the unusual facts happened to involve Columbia movies and stars.

Unusual Facts Revealed

A final note, at least for now: The most entertaining thing in the Post-Democrat isn’t a comic feature. Instead, it’s the headlines–which seem to have been crafted by someone who was having a lot more fun than the person or persons responsible for Scrappy Sayings.

Post-Democrat headlinePost-Democrat headline

Post-Democrat headline

Post-Democrat headline

Post-Democrat headline

Post-Democrat headline

Inside 7000 Santa Monica Blvd.

7000 Santa Monica Blvd.

With apologies to Joe Campana, here’s the Charles Mintz staff circa 1932 superimposed on their studio building in 2017.

Last fall, when I visited 1154 N. Western Ave.–Charles Mintz’s first Hollywood studio–I had to bask in its history from outside on the sidewalk. Some of the businesses that currently rent space in the building even had signage specifically requesting that you not ring their doorbells.

But on the same L.A. trip, I also went to Mintz’s second studio, at 7000 Santa Monica Blvd.–and I strolled right in, hung around, and chatted with its occupants, who are well aware of their building’s connection to animation history and tickled by it. The lovably quaint Spanish-style structure is now home to LAXART, an experimental art space which would be worth visiting even if it weren’t hallowed ground for Scrappy fans.

I wrote about 7000 Santa Monica’s rich legacy in 2015. To recap, it was built in 1929 and originally served as RCA Victor’s west-coast headquarters. For roughly seven years it was home to the Mintz studio, until Columbia took over and relocated the staff to 861 Seward St. (I visited that, too, and plan to write about it.) Eventually, the ex-Mintz facility became Radio Recorders, a legendary recording studio where everyone from Louis Armstrong to Frank Zappa made music which the world still cares about.

Having taken a gander at the building via Google Maps long before I dropped by in person,  I knew that 7000 Santa Monica’s exterior was still very much recognizable as its 1930s self. It’s lost most of its roof tiles and gained a rather enormous tree and a gate–and sadly, it no longer says “The Charles Mintz Studio” and “Screen Gems, Inc.” above the door. But if Sid Marcus or Art Davis were teleported there today from the great beyond, they’d know exactly where they were.

7000 Santa Monica Blvd.

7000 Santa Monica Blvd. circa 1932, in Mintz’s staff photo (top) and in 2017

One of my big questions, of course, was whether the interior still looked like the inside of a 1930s animation studio. Well, not really. The place has been through a lot of reinventions over the decades, and presently has the open spaces, white walls, and lack of ornamentation that you’d expect of an art gallery. (When I was there, an interesting exhibit of Latin America video art filled it up.)

There was one element that looked like it had been there since Charlie Mintz’s day, because it almost certainly had: a built-in safe in an alcove-like area on the second floor. It was manufactured by the Cary Safe Co. of Buffalo, which Wikipedia says went out of business in 1929, the same year 7000 Santa Monica was erected. I don’t know offhand what a 1930s animation studio proprietor would have wanted to secure in a vault, but there seems a decent chance that Mintz used it for something. And while I didn’t think to ask, it’s nice to hold out hope that it’s currently locked up and filled with priceless Scrappy art which will some day be busted loose.

Cary Safe

Visiting LAXART and chatting with staffers Hamza Walker and Makayla Bailey about their building was a joy. Landmarks like Termite Terrace and Disney’s Hyperion studio were demolished long ago; 7000 Santa Monica–for all the ways it’s changed since the young men and women of the Mintz studio worked there–is living history that’s open to the public.

7000 Santa Monica entrance

On top, Charles Mintz and his sister Anna in front of his cartoon studio; below, LAXART program & curatorial assistant Makayla Bailey and executive director Hamza Walker in 2017

Let’s end this post with a cartoon produced in this building 83 years ago…

Scrappy at Home

Let’s face it: In movie theaters, Scrappy was not particularly stiff competition for Mickey Mouse or Popeye in terms of sheer star power. But the old-time home-movie cartoon business had a curious leveling effect. I’m not sure if it raised the profile of second-stringers or diminished the lustre of iconic characters—maybe both—but anyone who was enough of a name brand to appear on a home-movie box was a star.

And Scrappy beamed from box art for years, long after his cartoon series was history.

Scrappy movie boxes

Oddly enough, even though I’ve owned several Scrappy home movies for years, I’ve never seen any of them, since I don’t have a projector handy. But Friend of Scrappy Jason Fiore (who is, incidentally, 12) has done us all a favor by digitizing two examples, adding Scott Joplin soundtracks, and putting the results on YouTube.

Here’s Excel’s Stage Struck, a cut-down version of The Concert Kid (1934):

And this is Exclusive Movie Studios’ Bucking Horse, better known to you and me as an extract from Scrappy’s Pony (1936):

I never thought of Scrappy cartoons as being overly burdened by complex plots. But both of these silent short-shorts are less than half as long as the theatrical shorts they’re derived from, and in both cases, whoever did the editing accomplished it in part by chopping off roughly the first half, eliminating lengthy set-ups which explain how Oopy came to be onstage with a violin and where Scrappy got his pony. The results still feel like Scrappy cartoons, albeit ones that have been denuded of a fair amount of both coherency and charm. The lack of of dialog, music, and sound effects is also a bigger deal than I might have guessed.

I doubt that the people who watched these in the comfort of their own homes decades ago were overly critical, though. And there was a time in my life, before the advent of home video, when I’d have been pretty pleased by them myself. Actually, I still am. Thanks, Jason.

Jane Withers, Scrappy, and Scrappy

Some kid performers played with Scrappy products as part of their professional obligations to Columbia. Jane Withers, one of the most popular child stars of the 1930s (and, much later, TV’s beloved Josephine the Plumber), actually liked the little guy.

Well, I don’t know that for sure. But I did recently stumble across the fact that Withers, who worked for 20th Century Fox rather than Columbia in the 30s and is a serious collector of dolls, owned two of Scrappy. Here they are, as photographed for an auction some years ago.

Jane Withers Scrappy dolls

(OK, if she really liked Scrappy, she might not have auctioned him off, twice. At least she did well: The one on the left went for $700 and his fraternal twin brother went for $900.)

I’m not too jealous of Jane for having owned the one on the left: The Scrappyland archive includes another example in nearly as nice condition. But the right-hand doll is a Holy Grail of Scrappyana: I’ve never seen one in person, and may not have even encountered one for sale. I know it mostly from a photo of the great Cora Sue Collins posing with one. (Cora’s seems to be slightly different from Jane’s–I’m guessing the Scrappy products in Columbia’s promotional stills were sometimes prototypes.)

None of the Scrappy dolls I know about–I also have a small celluloid one and one sewn from a pattern–were exactly dead ringers for the cartoon character, but the striped-shirt one from Jane’s collection comes closest to capturing his likeness and spirit. I hope this doll isn’t so hopelessly rare that I’ll never have the chance to own it. Perhaps the person who bought Jane Withers’ one would be willing to sell it to me at a substantial loss.