It’s a Grand Old Nag

Grand Old NagI’ve had this on the stack for a while, and since I know you’re dying for updates, here’s a rarity to tide you over.

As you all know, the only color copy of Bob Clampett’s sole cartoon for Republic, It’s a Grand Old Nag, was available in terrible dupes for decades. That was it. Even Clampett himself didn’t have anything better, and that’s what was included on the Beany & Cecil Vol. 2 DVD.

That changed almost two years ago when a 16mm Kodachrome of the cartoon appeared for an astronomical price on eBay. I tried reasoning with the seller, and he agreed to sell it for something reasonable. Then he decided to back out. Then I asked, look, for posterity’s sake, can I rent it from you, make a transfer, and pay you a fee (and all shipping costs)?

The guy said sure. I was very impressed with the quality of the 65 year-old Kodachrome print. That film stock is not well known for its sharpness, but trust me, after the third-generation dupes we’re accustomed to, this is the best we’ll see it until a 35mm print shows up. (The color won’t be much better either. Trucolor was another cheaper two-color process like Cinecolor.)

The improperly dressed animation wizard Steve Stanchfield came to my rescue and did the very nice transfer you see below. It was a big deal. Clampett’s kids, the genial Rob and Ruth, were extremely pleased when I offered them a copy of their dad’s final cartoon in full animation. I sent the print and a copy of the transfer back to the owner and never heard another thing.

That is, until several months later when I found out, quite by accident, that the guy flat out sold the print to someone else, after how he would only rent it to me because he whined about how “this is the closest I’ll get to having a lost film.” (I guess anything has its price.) The buyer, fortunately, was Jerry Beck, a close friend and fellow animation historian, but the story is still a thorn in my side. The guy never operated a film projector in his life and I could’ve easily swapped it out with anything. But that would mean stooping to his level.

Bottom line: the guy who had this rare, fun cartoon was a jerk, but happily it ended up in more than capable hands. And hey, now you can see it for free! Sorry for the watermarks, but the hard work of Mssr. Stanchfield and myself will not be overlooked. We paid for it, for chrissakes!

It’s a Grand Old Nag from Thad K on Vimeo.


Filed under classic animation

The Mr. Jones That Became Mr. Twiddle

For all three of you waiting for an update… not so much of one. I’ve been busy with my new position at WBGO, the jazz station in Newark, so I haven’t cared much about my graveyard of a website. I’ve also been working on a proposal for my second book, which I hope to announce formally in the coming year.

One of the fellows who has been of great assistance in that regard is Will Friedwald, the noted animation and jazz historian, whose books on the Warner Brothers cartoons (coauthored by Jerry Beck) are still of vital importance, even if he feels otherwise. David Gerstein and I recently did him the favor of hauling things in and out of his storage place. He repaid in kind by granting me access to all of his animation files. I’m going to be posting a lot of treats from Will, but I thought this would be of the most historic value to start off with.

Sh-h-h-h-h-h was the last theatrical cartoon Tex Avery directed during his all too brief (and unhappy) stint at Walter Lantz Productions. It may be the darkest he ever did. What I love about those four cartoons he directed at Lantz in 1954 is that they are pure Avery: he drew the boards and he didn’t have a character designer, so this is the closest Avery’s roughs ever got to being animated.

The storyboards here are almost the final film verbatim, in both story and design, as Lantz didn’t have the money to screw around (note the alternate ending that he thankfully didn’t go with). None of these limitations hindered the Avery on film, of course, even if it did force the real-life Avery out of the animated shorts business.


Filed under classic animation

Positively Booped Out

9760_16_largeI wrote about the damage Olive Films and Paramount had done to the first (and, subsequently, second) release of Fleischer Betty Boop cartoons in a detailed report on Cartoon Research last August. I knew it would do no good for the second volume, but I was at least holding out hope for the last two volumes to be spared the same treatment.

I couldn’t have been more delighted to see the review that showed the cartoons on Betty Boop: Essential Collection Vol. 3 are accurately presented. Bob Furmanek congratulated me, stating that my article salvaged things. “Your detailed report and my letter to Frank Tarzi [the director at Olive Films] on August 28 did the trick. At the time, he wasn’t aware of the problem and he passed on your data to the mastering people at Paramount.” Let it not be said that cartoon research accomplishes nothing. [5/12/2014 Update: Of course, they’re still cropped, but not offensively so. So Olive Films listens, and they don’t.]

The new collection is about half the one it could have been. Olive’s bizarre programming seems to have included a few great cartoons completely by accident (Minnie the Moocher, I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You, I Heard, The Old Man of the Mountain) and filled the rest with an odd, random assortment of others. I’m reminded of the VHS days, when we’d buy a new compilation simply to get one or two cartoons that had never been released before. And they weren’t much cheaper than a $25.46 price tag, either.

I never bought Vol. 1, but did break down for Vol. 2 because it featured a number of important and excellent Fleischer cartoons like Dizzy Dishes, Bimbo’s Initiation, and Boop-Oop-a-Doop. What a mistake. The stretching is not “indiscernible” as alleged experts would tell you. The distortion is downright criminal and makes it impossible for any discriminating viewer to enjoy some of the greatest cartoons of the early sound era.

I have no idea if Olive plans to do a second pressing of the first two volumes to correct them, but I can’t in good conscience recommend them. I think they’re tantamount to the Definitive Collection laserdisc that was marred by DNR. Probably worse, because in the case of DNR, at least no one could deny the cartoons were damaged. Whereas in this case the number of “I’m not really bothered by it” comments is staggering and rather embarrassing.

But to end this on an upbeat note, Vol. 3 is a collection you should buy, and Vol. 4 too. I have no idea what the fourth collection will feature, but the list of the cartoons licensed by Olive circulating the Internet is not complete. The 1931 Talkartoon masterpiece Mask-a-Raid was licensed by Olive, as was the 1932 oddity The Robot. Why a non-Betty girl cartoon over dozens of ones she actually does appear in? Damned if I know, and it shows the lack of insight that has steered these crapshoot Olive releases. The Fleischer cartoons deserve better, and fortunately, they will be done better in the future. Keep watching the skies.

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WDC&S_109_p01_fc_Oct.1949One of the books I most highly anticipate is one I can already heartily recommend: Michael Barrier’s Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books is set for publication at the end of December.

I had the opportunity to read Mike’s book in manuscript earlier this year and absolutely devoured the history he’s uncovered about the murky, untold story behind the Dell label that was adorned on billions of comic books in the mid-20th century. I’m sure some of his trademark acerbic commentary will outrage fans, but I personally found nothing that caused my eyes to roll.

His comments on the world of publishing rang true to me, especially since I’m deep into work on my own next book. I’m more reminded not of the demand to put Sick Little Monkeys in Kindle form (which really needed to be done in light of the skyrocketing cost of shipping things outside the U.S. that occurred in January 2013), but the losers who whined about my book’s $29.99 pricetag. Good books cost good money, yeah.

I’ll have more to say once I get my copy, because I feel anyone who loves the works of Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, and John Stanley shouldn’t have it spoiled and owes it to themselves to read this book.

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Filed under carl barks, comics