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.

Gaba Gaba Hey!

I’ve owned the above 1933 issue of Life—the great humor magazine, not the photo weekly that later stole its name—for something like 20 years. I’ve always loved its cover’s stylish and funny rendition of FDR (the incoming president) and Hoover (the outgoing one). But it was only a couple of weeks ago, when I was getting ready to sell it on eBay, that I noticed that it’s the work of Lester Gaba—the guy best known for his soap sculptures of Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy. (Well, best known around here, at least—among non-Mintz disciples, he’s remembered for his common-law wife Cynthia, whom he happened to have carved himself.)

As a magazine person, I’m dazzled by the mere fact that covers like this once existed. The two presidents are wearing tiny well-tailored suits; the lion has a serious mane; the lamb looks pettable. And Gaba built all this for a single photograph that would appear on newsstands for one month.

I wonder what he, or Life, did with his creations after the photo shoot? If there’s any chance they’re still extant, they should be on display somewhere where people can enjoy them.

This is, by the way, the second bit of Scrappy-related art depicting presidential candidates which we’ve covered here at Scrappyland. The first was Dick Huemer’s 1960s album cover showing LBJ and Goldwater. If you come across any Art Davis paintings of Jimmy Carter and Jerry Ford, please let me know.

Some Scrappy Art I Probably Won’t Be Buying

Over on eBay, someone is selling a few production drawings of Scrappy and Oopy, as well as other art from 1930s Columbia cartoons. The merchant says that they came from the collection of the grandson of a Columbia artist, and has set rather high minimum bids: If you were to snag all of these, it would cost you at least $2,495. Scrappy art is exceedingly rare, but that seems overly optimistic for these particular examples.

Still, it’s nice to see them out there, and I have borrowed the auction images for this post. They’re yet more evidence that nobody worked very hard to give Scrappy a consistent look from short to short or, sometimes, screen to scene. (My favorite is the Oopy close-up at the bottom.)

These are from later-ish Scrappy cartoons, but I’m not sure offhand which ones. If you know, please tell us.

The Saga of 1154 N. Western Ave.

Artist’s conception of the Ries Bros. Building at 1150-1154 N. Western Ave.–the first west-coast home of the Mintz studio–from a 1926 issue of American Cinematographer

In February 1930, Charles Mintz did something rather unusual: He hired a private railroad car to transport his staff from Manhattan to Los Angeles, relocating an entire animation studio from one coast to the other.

A bit over 87 years later, I took a plane from San Francisco to LA and visited Mintz’s first west-coast headquarters (at 1154 N. Western Ave.) and second one (at 7000 Santa Monica Blvd.). I also dropped by 861 Seward St., which is where Columbia moved the studio, by then known as Screen Gems, after Mintz’s death. Between the photos I took and the stuff I’ve dug up about these three buildings, I have too much information for a single post. So let’s start at the beginning with the story of the building where Scrappy was born.

Once upon a time–as I learned from an excellent article by Robert Peters–there were five brothers from Akron who had moved to Hollywood in 1913 with their mother. Their names were Irving, Raymond, Park, Paul, and Frank Ries, and they all found work relating to photography and the movie business.

Irving, the eldest, had his identity stolen by a German spy who was executed during WWI; was cameraman for The Lucky Dog, the first film featuring both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; and eventually became a distinguished special-effects man who worked on the Gene Kelly/Jerry Mouse segment of Anchors Aweigh and Forbidden Planet. Frank, the youngest, ran his own photography studio which was actually a front for an operation which produced prodigious quantities of stag films; after arrests and jail time, he committed double suicide with his wife in a Chicago hotel room in 1947.

Probably the most lurid thing you’ll ever read on Scrappyland, from the Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1947

As for Ray, Park, and Paul, they founded a camera store/photo lab catering to the film industry, which was such a success that in late 1925 they began construction on a new $75,000 home for it at the corner of N. Western Ave. and Virginia Ave. The groundbreaking ceremony featured celebrities such as Baby Peggy–who, remarkably, is still with us. The new location officially opened on May 1, 1925, with festivities that attracted everyone from Priscilla Dean to Pal the Wonder Dog, the pooch who played Our Gang’s Pete the Pup.

Park J. Ries

Besides their own operations–ranging from a portrait studio to a camera repair department–the Ries Bros. Building included 19 offices on its second floor designed to be rented out to other film-related businesses. Among the clients were Disney animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, who, as Mike Barrier recounts in Hollywood Cartoons, took space in the building for two weeks in September 1926, during a studio vacation, and produced a cartoon called Aladdin’s Vamp with their Disney colleagues Ub Iwerks and Rollin Hamilton. In 1928, Hugh and Rudy returned to the building for about a year to produce Oswald the Rabbit cartoons for Charles Mintz, after the latter’s legendary break with Walt Disney.

The Ries Bros.’ Cahuenga storefront, which is only tangentially related to Scrappy, but too nifty not to show here

The Ries store’s time on N. Western Ave. was short-lived: Less than four years after it moved in, the brothers relocated it to Cahuenga Ave. (They also began producing wooden tripods which won the favor of notables such as Ansel Adams and are still available today.) But at roughly the time they left in 1930, Charles Mintz’s studio–still known at the time as the Winkler Film Corp.–rented a second-floor suite. Given that Mintz and his brother-in-law and associate George Winkler were well aware of the building from the brief period when Oswalds were produced there, it’s no surprise that they chose it for their newly-relocated studio, which got busy making Krazy Kat and Toby the Pup shorts–and, starting in 1931, the Scrappy cartoons of Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus, and Art Davis.

I don’t have any photos I know for sure to depict the interior of the Mintz studio at 1154 N. Western, but there’s presumably a decent chance that this one–from Dr. Richard Huemer’s Huemer.com, showing Jack Carr, Sid Marcus, and Dick Huemer with Toby–was taken there.

As for the exterior, we do have some shots of Mintz staffers hanging around outside the building, thanks to Mark Mayerson. In 2006, Mark shared a photo sent to him by Paul Spector, the son of animation-industry veteran (and Mintz employee) Irv Spector.

That’s Irv second from the left. Mark guessed that the photo might show Al Gould third from right, Felix Alegre second from right, and Ed Solomon at right. They’re standing in front of the door to 1154 N. Western, which led up to the studio and other tenants; the “entrance” sign is tantalizing, but I’m not sure what it’s for. (As quoted in Hollywood Cartoons, Mintz inbetweener Don Patterson said there was a pool hall downstairs, possibly in space the Rieses has vacated when they relocated their store to Cahuenga.)

Way back in the last century, Mark also posted some 1154 N. Western exterior shots from the collection of Al Eugster, showing Al with fellow Mintz artists.

In the top photo, from left to right: Al Eugster, Manny Gould, Allen Rose, and Harry Love. On the bottom, from left to right: Harry Love, Preston Blair and Allen Rose, with Al Eugster in front.

Mintz’s move west was followed by expansion: In December 1931, the Film Daily reported that the studio had tripled its staff and doubled the size of its quarters. Most likely, it was a need for even more space that prompted the company to move from 1154 N. Western Ave. to 7000 Santa Monica Blvd, where it could occupy a building of its own. When I wrote about that address, I published a staff photo taken there marked “1932.” But I’ve since come across a want ad placed by Mintz artist Ben Harrison, offering a reward for his lost music manuscript. It’s dated December 21st, 1932, and lists the N. Western Ave. address; if the studio left that building in 1932, it must have done so at the very end of the year.

Whatever the year, the Mintz operation did move out in the early-to-mid 1930s, and the building is still there in 2017. What has it housed for the last 80-plus years? Funny you should ask.

In 1934, someone located there was selling a mysterious electrical device of interest to beer parlors and restaurants.

In 1935, a director sought girls and children for a new production, which sounds like a likely story to me.

In 1937 you could write to 1154 N. Western for a free booklet on the secrets of songwriting.

That same year, another tenant had a need for salesman to hawk the “sweetest oil deal that has ever hit L.A.”

More salesmen were needed in 1939 for an unspecified purpose.

In 1942, a company called Champion sold its “battery rejuvenator” from the address.

In 1946, there was a business at 1154 N. Western that wasn’t as far-flung from what we talk about here at Scrappyland as most: Telecomics, which might have beat Jay Ward and Alex Anderson’s Crusader Rabbit to be the first made-for-TV animation if it had made its drawings, you know, move. (It was headed by Dick Moores, who drew Disney comics and was eventually best-known as the wonderful writer and artist of Gasoline Alley.)

In 1950, there was a steam-heat business there.

In 1954, a company in the building wanted to finance and promote inventions

In 1962, a school operated out of the building taught the noble science of shoe fitting.

In 1968, you could write to 1154 N. Western to get yourself a Russian pen pal.

In 1974, a syndicated newspaper column called “Kanine Korner” used the building as its mailing address.

In 1987, a landlord accused of treating tenants poorly was sentenced to perform community service at 1154 N. Western.

And at the same time, you could go to see movies about the Soviet Union.

Maybe any random office building that’s been around for more than ninety years has had a similarly eclectic list of tenants. But I’m still fascinated by the sheer randomness of occupants, in a structure originally catering solely to the film industry.

What was going on in the downstairs retail area over all these decades, I’m not sure. But in recent years, as shown in the Yelp photo below, the space had housed a party-supply shop and a market. If you squint, you can make out a Mickey Mouse poster in the market’s window, which is some sort of karmic commentary on the respective legacies of Walt Disney and Charles Mintz.

Anyhow, fast-forward to last week. Here’s what the Ries Bros. Building currently looks like.

The neighborhood that apparently had its fair share of Hollywood pizzazz in the 1920s has kept its buildings but lost its glamour; on the morning I was there, I couldn’t tell whether many of the retail businesses in the area were still extant or not.

On the ground level of the Ries Bros. Building, where the brothers’ camera store once operated, I found something called The Unincorporated Life which I thought might be a defunct bar. Turns out that it’s a still-in-business fashion school with a mascot who has a bit of a Mintz-esque look.

In fact, the Unincorporated Life robot looks like a relative of the ones in the Scrappy cartoon Technoracket (1933). A coincidence, presumably, but a happy one.

Image borrowed from Green Briar Pictures

Upstairs are several businesses, including a moving company, an insurance agent, and (retaining a tenuous link to the building’s showbiz past) a video-production facility. Perhaps one of them is in the space once used by the Charles Mintz studio. Or the studio’s precise quarters may currently be unoccupied: There’s a “For Lease” banner hanging off the balcony that’s been there for years.

I didn’t attempt to go inside–for one thing, several of the current occupants had signs requesting visitors not to ring the bell–but standing on the pavement, I tried to visualize what Charles Mintz’s young employees might have seen from the area immediately outside their place of business. They might well have had a splendid view of the not-yet-iconic Hollywoodland sign; now the Hollywood sign, it’s blocked rather precisely by a nearby billboard that may not have been there 85 years ago. (I hope no Mintz staffers witnessed the suicide of Peg Entwistle, a young actress who jumped off the “H” in 1932.)

A few doors down from 1154 N. Western is Stewart Plumbing, which says it’s been in the same building since 1920, and looks like it’s hardly changed at all. I can’t quite tell whether its current sign is visible in Mark Mayerson’s photo of Irv Spector and colleagues, which does show the Stewart building in the background. But it’s certainly easy to envision the Mintz studio calling in its neighborhood plumber to deal with any clogged drains it might have had.

As seen in my photo above, 1154 N. Western is just around the corner from 5454 Virginia Ave., where the Mintz staffers gathered for some photos made famous–at least to hardcore 1930s cartoon fans–by Joe Campana’s wonderful blog post “Ghosts of the Charles Mintz studio.” I didn’t see any signs that the building, which was originally a furniture store and later became a non-denominational church and then a synagogue, is currently occupied. But as I snapped photos, I did mystify a man seated in his parked car, right where the Mintz photos were taken.

Here’s the Mintz staff lined up for their team photo, circa 1930 or 1931.

The Mintz Staff

And here’s that 1926 rendition of the new Ries Bros. Building again, along with a Google Maps image capturing the same view in February of this year. For all that’s changed, I’m glad it’s still there and wish its current inhabitants well. Even if none of them have a clue that Scrappy cartoons were once made on the premises, as seems probable.

See you soon with news of my visit to 7000 Santa Monica Blvd, a place with a history all its own–and tenants who, I’m pleased to report, are well aware of their building’s Mintz legacy.

Hey, Maybe Will Eisner Drew Scrappy After All

Earlier today, I wrote about learning–via a Will Eisner panel at Comic-Con–about Wow, What a Magazine, which published some of Will Eisner’s earliest work as well as at least one panel of Scrappy. At a different Eisner panel, Denis Kitchen mentioned The Lost Work of Will Eisner, a fascinating 2016 book which reprints two hardly-seen Eisner newspaper strips from the same era, Uncle Otto and Harry Karry. (They’re printed from the original printing plates, part of a recently-unearthed collection of 5,000 plates for various obscure comics.)

I didn’t see a copy of the Lost Art book at Comic-Con–even though celebrating Will Eisner was one of the official activities of the convention this year, its show floor is no longer the sort of place where scads of Will Eisner comics are for sale. But I did order a copy from Amazon, and it was waiting for me when I got home.

It’s a neat book. And having examined Uncle Otto and Harry Karry, I am now officially upgrading Will Eisner from a guy who didn’t seem like much of a candidate to have drawn the Scrappy newspaper strip to an an actual contender.

Here are snippets of the first installment of Scrappy, Uncle Otto, and Harry Karry. They all involve tough guys with caps, and while I’m aware that’s not proof in itself, it’s enough to be intriguing.

Eisner comparison

Another thing I noticed: the word balloon tail shapes in Scrappy and Harry are similar.

Stylistically, these three strips are nowhere near identical, I know. But there are multiple explanations why the Scrappy might be by Eisner even if I haven’t found any other Eisner that looks just like it:

  • Eisner was getting better all the time. From year to year and month to month and maybe even panel to panel. The Scrappy–which is the most confident of the three–may have been done a bit later than Otto and Harry.
  • He intentionally switched styles and sometimes was crude on purpose. Kitchen’s intro to the Lost Art book quotes Eisner to that effect in reference to his work for Fiction House. (He wanted them to think that Eisner-Iger had a larger staff of cartoonists than it did.)
  • The amount of work he put into his art varied. Lost Art mentions this too, noting that his level of interest and/or available time varied.
  • He often channeled other artists. Harry Karry started out riffing on Segar, as you can tell from the three panels above. After a few strips, it abruptly switched to aping Alex Raymond–in mid-strip!
  • He probably had help here and there. Lost Art says that Otto‘s level of quality varied and guesses that it might not have been 100% Eisner 100% of the time.

Incidentally, I’m focusing on the first Scrappy installment here. It’s enough different stylistically from later strips that if the same person did it, it’s clear it wasn’t all in one fell swoop.

If you have any thoughts on this vital matter, lemme know.