Paul Houghton TerryOccupation / Title:
19/02/1887Date of death:
San Mateo, California, USA
Terry began his career as a reporter, photographer and cartoonist for San Francisco based San Francisco Bulletin, and San Francisco Call-Examiner, as well as New York based New York Press, and many others. During this time, Terry became interested in animation, reportedly after watching Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) in 1914. This experience motivated him to complete two animated shorts on his own, Little Herman (1915) and Down on the Phoney Farm (1915).
Terry joined Bray Studios in 1916 as one of the core animators. At Bray Studios, Terry animated, directed and produced Farmer Al Falfa shorts. He left the studio at the end of 1916, and took the rights to Farmer Al Falfa with him. He started his own company in 1917, Paul Terry Productions, but due to the outbreak of the First World War, and Terry’s enlistment to the army, the studio was closed down.
After the war, Terry started a short lived partnership with Frank Moser, Earl Hurd, Leighton Budd, and Hugh Shields, which produced cartoons starring Farmer Al Falfa. When this partnership did not prove successful, Terry opened another studio in 1920, Aesop’s Fables Studio, first in partnership with Keith-Albee, and then from 1928 with Amadee J. Van Beuren. The studio produced Aesop’s Film Fables, which occasionally featured Farmer Al Falfa. However, the partnership with Van Beuren did not last long, and due to the continued argument between Terry and Van Beuren over producing films with sound, Terry left the studio in 1929.
The same year, he started another studio with Frank Moser and Joseph Coffman, called Moser-Terry-Coffman Studio, which produced a couple of Aesop’s Fables cartoons. However, this venture did not last long, and Terry, together with Frank Moser, opened another animation studio in 1929, Terrytoons. In 1935, Moser sold his share to Terry, who became the only owner of the company.
Terry is known in the animation industry for producing his cartoons quickly, and for resisting improvements. Terry’s goal was to produce cartoons at the lowest cost possible, and to utilize techniques that simplified the animation process, for instance cel animation. He objected switching to synchronized sound and color for a number of years. This decision is seen by many as one of the reasons why Terrytoons became a less popular animation studio that Walt Disney Productions and Fleischer Studios in the 1940s and 1950s.
Terry’s decisions regarding his characters also differed from those of Disney and the Fleichers. At the beginning of Terrytoons’ existence, Terry favored using a variety of one-shot films over developing continuous series with charismatic and easily recognizable characters, like Disney’s Mickey Mouse, or Fleischers’ Betty Boop. Only in the late 1930s, Terry introduced some memorable characters such as Gandy Goose, Sourpuss the Cat, Puddy the Pup, Mighty Mouse (originally called Super Mouse), and Heckle and Jeckle (Arguably, Terry’s answer to Bugs Bunny).
At the beginning of the 1950s, Terry’s fame and fortune considerably increased as Terrytoons became the first major animation studio to sell cartoons to television.
In 1955, Terry decided to retire from animation and sell his company together with the rights to all his cartoons and characters, as well as his film library to CBS. The studio remained active without Terry’s supervision until 1968.
- Lenburg, Jeff. Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2006.
- Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.