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The History of Cartoons

The World of Cartoons - How It All Came To Be....

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio was the in-house division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) motion picture studio in Hollywood, California, responsible for producing animated short subjects to accompany MGM feature films in Loew's Theaters. Active from 1937 until 1957, the MGM cartoon studio produced some of the most popular cartoon series and characters in the world, including Barney Bear, Droopy, and their best-known work, Tom and Jerry. Prior to the existence of their in-house cartoon studio, MGM released the work of independent animation producers Ub Iwerks and Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising.

MGM's Early Involvements With Animation

The Ub Iwerks Studio:

To promote their films and attract larger theater audiences, motion picture chains in the 1930s provided many features to supplement the main feature, including travelogues, serials, short comedy subjects, newsreels and cartoons. During the late 1920s, Walt Disney Productions had achieved huge popular and critical success with their Mickey Mouse cartoons for Pat Powers' Celebrity Pictures. Several other studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer among them, took note of Disney's success and began to look for ways to compete.

MGM's first foray into animation was the Flip the Frog cartoon series, starring an anthropomorphic talking and singing frog. The series was produced independently for Celebrity Pictures by Ub Iwerks, formerly the head animator at the Disney studio.

Celebrity Pictures' Pat Powers had hired Iwerks away from Disney with the promise of giving Iwerks his own studio, and was able to secure a distribution deal with MGM for the Flip the Frog cartoons. The first Flip the Frog cartoon, Fiddlesticks, was released in August of 1930, and over two-dozen other Flip cartoons followed during the next three years. In 1933, the Flip character was dropped in favor of Willie Whopper, a new series featuring a lie-telling little boy. Willie Whopper failed to catch on, and MGM terminated its distribution deal with Iwerks and Powers, who had already began distributing their Comi-Color cartoons on their own.

The Harman-Ising Studio:

MGM next turned to Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, the directors behind Leon Schlesinger's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for Warner Bros.. Harman and Ising had departed from Schlesinger in 1933 because of budget disputes, and in February 1934 MGM signed the Harman-Ising studio to work on a new series of high-budget color cartoons. The director team brought with them much of their staff from Schlesinger, including animators and storymen such as Carmen "Max" Maxwell, William Hanna, and brothers Robert and Tom McKimson. (The McKimsons would later return to Schlesinger.) Also following Harman and Ising from Schlesinger was Bosko, a successful character the duo had created for the Warner cartoons.

The first entry in MGM's new Happy Harmonies cartoon series, The Discontented Canary, was completed in June 1934 and released in September. The series continued for three years, moving from two-strip to three-strip Technicolor in 1936. The Happy Harmonies canon included a handful of entries starring Bosko, who by 1935 had been redesigned from an ambiguous "inkspot" character into a discernable little African-American boy. The directors worked separately on their own films, although both strived to create intricate films that would compete with Disney's award-winning Silly Symphonies.

However, budget problems threatend to plague Harman and Ising a second time: Happy Harmonies cartoons regulalrly ran over budget, and Hugh Harman paid no heed to MGM's demands that he reduce the costs of the shorts. MGM retaliated in February 1937 by deciding to open their own cartoon studio, and hired away most of the Harman-Ising staff to do so. The final Happy Harmonies short, The Little Bantamweight, was released in March 1938, and Harman and Ising went on to establish a new studio to do freelance animation work for Walt Disney and Screen Gems. (cont.....)

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