Paramount Cartoon Studios/Famous Studios
Filed under: Studios, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, Al Eugster, Animation Series, Baby Huey, Betty Boop, Carl Meyer, Cartoon Characters, Casper the Ghost, Color, Dave Fleischer, David Tendlar, Felix the Cat, Herman and Katnip, Howard Post, Inkwell / Fleischer Studios, Isadore Sparber, Jack Mercer, Koko the Clown, Little Audrey, Little Lulu, Max Fleischer, Noveltoons, Paramount Pictures, Popeye, Ralph Bakshi, Sam Buchwald, Seymour Kneitel, Shamus Culhane, Superman, Technicolor, Tom Johnson, U.S.A.,
Paramount Cartoon StudiosAlso known as:
Famous Studios, renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios in 1956, was the animation division of Paramount Pictures. The studio was formed in 1942 after Paramount took over Fleischer Studios in 1941, when the Fleischer brothers were not able to repay their loan to Paramount. Key employees of the Fleischer Studios were hired to work for Famous Studios. Fleischers’ Business Manager, Sam Buchwald, took over the position of a president of the studio, while Fleischers’ storyboard artist, Isadore Sparber, and head animator, Seymour Kneitel, became creative directors.
The studio was moved from the old Fleischer’s studio in Miami to New York in 1943. At the beginning, Famous Studios continued to produce the series that were originated by the Fleischers, such as the Popeye the Sailor (1933-1957) series, which from 1943 was made in Technicolor, and Superman (1941-1943). The studio also revived the Screen Songs series (1929 – 1938 (original); 1945 – 1951) in 1945, with the first animation released as part of the Noveltoons series in 1945, and as part of the Screen Songs series in 1947. The decision to continue with the already existing series can be attributed to the fact that some of the key Famous Studios’ animators in the 1940s, such as David Tendlar, Tom Johnson, and Al Eugster, among others, and storymen, Jack Mercer and Carl Meyer, were previously employed by Fleischer Studios.
A year after its foundation, Famous Studios also started producing new series. In 1943, the studio began the Little Lulu series, which was based on Saturday Evening Post comic strip. The series was well received by the audience, and run from 1943 to 1948. In 1947, the studio decided to create a character that would resemble Little Lulu, and the character of Little Audrey was born, who was a main protagonist of the series of the same name that run from 1947 to 1958. 1943 was also the year that Famous Studios begun producing the Noveltoons series (1943 – 1967), which introduced such popular characters as Casper the Friendly Ghost, Herman and Katnip, and Baby Huey. All of those characters became the stars of their own series in the 1950s, all of which were targeted primarily at children. Casper the Friendly Ghost became arguably the most popular and well-know of all Famous Studios’ characters.
The beginning of the 1950s was the confusing time for Famous Studios. On one hand, the studio was open to experimentation and new directions. At the beginning of the 1950s, Famous Studios produced two cartoons in 3-D, which did not have, however, a great impact. By the mid-1950s, the studio also tried to produce UPA-inspired cartoons, which were direct emulations of UPA style, and as a result were not well received. On the other hand, the already existing series became repetitive in their stories and designs, as well as presented little innovation and low quality of animation. The 1950s brought also a number of significant changes for Famous Studios. In 1951, studio’s president, Sam Buchwald, died. He was an important figure in studio’s history, and was considered by many to be a successful mentor and leader for the animation team at Famous Studios. His position was taken over by Isadore Sparber and Seymour Kneitel. Moreover, in 1955, Paramount decided to sell their pre-1950 cartoons, except for the Popeye, and Superman shorts, to U.M.&M. T.V. Corporation for television distribution. The Popeye cartoons were sold to Associated Artists Productions, and the Superman series was acquired by Motion Pictures for television. In 1959, Paramount also sold their post-1950 series together with the rights to their established characters, such as Casper the Friendly Ghost, Herman and Katnip, and Baby Huey, to Harvey Comics. This proved particularly detrimental to the further success of the studio.
Finally, in October 1956, Famous Studios was reorganized. The studio was integrated into the Paramount Pictures Corporation, and renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios. This step meant that fewer resources were allocated to the studio which in turn pushed the quality of cartoons down. Paramount’s attempts at creating new characters and series, after they sold their most popular ones, proved unsuccessful. The Jeepers and Creepers (1960), and The Cat (1961) series were failures for the studio. As a result, Paramount decided to make animations for other companies. The studio was contracted to make television cartoons featuring their previous characters, such as Casper in The New Casper Cartoon Show (1962-1963) for Harvey Films, and Popeye the Sailor for King Features from 1960 to 1962. The studio also completed episodes of Felix the Cat (1958-1961) for King Features and Trans-Lux.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Paramount also distributed cartoons made by other animators and studios. In 1961, the company signed a contract with William Snyder to distribute Munro. Later in the 1960s, Paramount also became the distributor for the Nudnik series created by Gene Deitch. The 1960s brought changes in the management of Paramount Cartoon Studios. After Seymour Kneitel’s death in 1964, Paramount hired Howard Post to run the studio. Under Post’s supervision, Paramount Cartoon Studios began new cartoon series, Swifty and Shorty (1964 – 1965), and Honey Halfwitch (1965 – 1967). Post also hired a comic strip artist, Jack Mendelson, to direct two cartoons, The Story of George Washington (1965) and A Leak in the Dike (1965). Both of them were well received, and are considered to be studio’s most successful cartoons of the 1960s.
However, Post left the studio less that two years after he was hired due to internal conflicts, and was replaced by Shamus Culhane. Despite Culhane’s initial successes with the cartoons produced under his supervision, and with invigorating the studio with new ideas, techniques and approached to animation, his decisions were not accepted well by Paramount’s management. When the Paramount’s board of directors did not agree to produce television cartoons starring The Might Thor for Steve Krantz in 1966, Culhane quit his position the next year, and was replaced by Ralph Bakshi. Although Bakshi began making interesting shorts, Paramount’s new owners, Gulf and Western, decided to close the studio at the end of 1967.
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