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Famous Studios, renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios in 1956, was the animation division of the film studio Paramount Pictures from 1942 to 1967. Famous was founded as a successor company to Fleischer Studios, after Paramount acquired Fleischer Studios and ousted its founders, Max and Dave Fleischer, in 1941. The studio's productions included three series started by the Fleischers - Popeye the Sailor, Superman, and Screen Songs - as well as Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Herman and Katnip, Baby Huey, Little Audrey, and the anthology Noveltoons series.

The Famous name was previously used as Famous Players Film Company, one of several companies which in 1912 became Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, the company which founded Paramount Pictures. Paramount's music publishing branch, which held the rights to all of the original music in the Fleischer/Famous cartoons, was named Famous Music.

History

Fleischer Studios dissolution

Fleischer Studios was a successful animation studio responsible for producing successful cartoon shorts starring characters such as Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The studio moved its operations from New York Citymarker to Miami Beachmarker in 1938, following union problems and the start of production on its first feature film, Gulliver's Travels (1939). While Gulliver was a success, the expense of the move and the expanded staff required to produce the feature created finance problems for the Fleischer Studios. The studio depended upon advances and loans from its distributor, Paramount Pictures, in order to continue production on its short subjects and to begin work on a second feature, Mister Bug Goes to Town.

Compounding the problems the studio was facing was the fact that the studio's co-founders, brothers Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer, were becoming increasingly estranged, and by this time, they were no longer speaking to each other due to personal and professional disputes. On May 25, 1941, Paramount assumed full ownership of Fleischer Studios, and had the Fleischer brothers submit signed letters of resignation, to be used at Paramount's discretion. Following the unsuccessful release of Mister Bug in December 1941, Max Fleischer, no longer able to cooperate with Dave, sent Paramount a telegram expressing such. Paramount responded by producing the letters of resignation, severing the Fleischer brothers from control of their studio.

Paramount renamed the studio Famous Studios, and although they had ownership of the company, it remained a separate entity. Four top Fleischer employees were promoted to run the animation studio: business manager Sam Buchwald, storyboard artist Isadore Sparber, animator Dan Gordon, and Max Fleischer's son-in-law, head animator Seymour Kneitel. Buchwald assumed Max Fleischer's place as executive producer, while Sparber, Kneitel, and Gordon shared Dave Fleischer's former responsibilities as supervising producers and credited directors. Gordon remained only briefly before departing after 1943. Although the Fleischers left the studio at the end of 1941, Famous Studios was not officially incorporated until May 25, 1942, after Paramount's contract with Fleischer Studios had formally run its course.

Early years

Shortly after the takeover, Paramount began plans to move a significantly downsized Famous Studios back to New York, a move completed early in 1943. Virtually all of the Famous staff, from voice artist/storyman Jack Mercer and storyman Carl Meyer to animators such as Myron Waldman, David Tendlar, Tom Johnson, Nicholas Tafuri, and Al Eugster, were holdovers from the Fleischer era. These artists remained with Famous/Paramount for much of the studio's existence. As at Fleischer's, the head animators carried out the tasks that were assigned to animation directors at other studios, while the credited directors—Kneitel, Sparber, Gordon, and Disney/Terrytoons veteran Bill Tytla—acted more as supervisors. Winston Sharples, formerly of the Van Beuren Studios, served as musical director.

Continuing series from the Fleischer period included Popeye the Sailor and Superman, both licensed from popular comics characters. The expensive Superman cartoons, having lost their novelty value with exhibitors, ended production in 1943, a year after Famous' inception. They were replaced by a series starring Saturday Evening Post comic strip character Little Lulu. Also in 1943, Famous began producing the formerly black-and-white Popeye cartoons in Technicolor, and began a new series of one-shot cartoons under the umbrella title Noveltoons (similar in respects to the Color Classics series from Fleischer Studios, and also the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series from Warner Bros.).

The Noveltoons series introduced several popular characters such as Herman and Katnip and Baby Huey, and Casper the Friendly Ghost, created by writer Seymour Reit and Famous animator Joe Oriolo during World War II as a children's book manuscript, was sold to Famous in 1945 and became the studio's most successful wholly owned property. In 1947, Paramount decided to stop paying Little Lulu creator Marge licensing royalties, and created a Lulu clone, Little Audrey, as a replacement. That same year Famous resurrected an old Fleischer series, Screen Songs, introducing a new series of musical cartoons featuring a "bouncing ball" sing-along.

Although the studio still carried much of the staff from the previous regime, animation fans and historians note that its films soon diverged from the previous style. Many of them deride the company style for being highly formulaic and largely oriented towards a children's audience, with none of the artistic ambition or sophistication that the previous management strove for.

Later period and sales of cartoon libraries

Sam Buchwald died in 1951. Seymour Kneitel and Isadore Sparber became the production heads of the studio, and Dave Tendlar was promoted to director.

The mid and late-1950s brought a number of significant changes for Famous Studios. In 1955, Paramount sold most of their pre-October 1950 shorts and cartoons, except for the Popeye and Superman shorts, to U.M.&M. T.V. Corp. for television distribution. The Popeye cartoons were acquired by Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.), and the Superman library went to Motion Pictures for Television, producers of the Adventures of Superman television series. In October 1956, Famous Studios was downsized and reorganized. Paramount assumed full control of the studio, integrating it into the Paramount Pictures Corporation as a division named Paramount Cartoon Studios. Two years after the company's reorganization, Isadore Sparber died, leaving Seymour Kneitel alone in charge of the studio.

Paramount sold their remaining cartoon film library and the rights to their established characters to Harvey Comics in 1959. Paramount's attempts at creating replacement characters, among them Jeepers and Creepers and The Cat, proved unsuccessful. Television production outsourced from King Features and Harvey Films brought the company additional income. Ironically, these arrangements had Paramount working on new TV cartoons starring Casper, who they had created, and Popeye and Little Lulu, characters they had previously licensed for theatrical cartoons. In the case of King Features' Popeye and King Features Trilogy TV cartoons, Paramount was one of several animation studios, among them Jack Kinney Productions and Rembrandt Films, to which King Features outsourced production. Twelve of the King Features Trilogy cartoons, starring characters such as Little Lulu, Beetle Bailey, and Snuffy Smith, were released theatrically by Paramount in 1962 under the title Comic Kings.

Seymour Kneitel died of a heart attack in 1964, and Paramount brought in comic book veteran Howard Post to run the cartoon studio. Under Post's supervision, Paramount began new cartoon series such as Swifty and Shorty and Honey Halfwitch, and allowed comic strip artist Jack Mendelsohn to direct two well-received cartoons based upon children's imaginations and drawing styles: The Story of George Washington and A Leak in the Dike (both 1965).

Post left the studio amidst internal conflicts in 1965, replaced by Shamus Culhane, a veteran of the Fleischer studio. In 1967, Culhane directed another short based upon children's art, My Daddy, the Astronaut, which became Paramount's first film to be shown at the International Animation Festival. In 1966, the studio subcontracted The Mighty Thor cartoons from Grantray-Lawrence Animation, producers of The Marvel Superheroes animated TV series. However, when Paramount's board of directors rejected a proposal to produce episodes for a second Grantray-Lawrence series, Spider-Man, Culhane quit the studio, and was replaced by former Terrytoons animator Ralph Bakshi in mid-1967. Although Bakshi quickly put several experimental shorts into production, by the fall of 1967, Paramount's new owners, Gulf and Western, had begun the process of shutting down the animation studio, a task completed in December. The last cartoon from this studio premiered on December 31, 1967.

Coincidentally, years later, Marvel Comics would start an imprint that published comics adapted from Paramount films. Even later, Marvel Studios would ink a deal with Paramount for that studio to distribute a number of Marvel-produced films - an adaptation of The Mighty Thor among them.

Current ownership of Paramount cartoons

Today, several companies own different components of the Paramount animated library.

Popeye and Superman

Time Warner owns all of the Paramount Popeye cartoons via their Turner Entertainment division, following several company mergers and purchases involving the a.a.p. film library. In addition, Time Warner (via its DC Comics unit) owns the masters to the Superman cartoons, although all seventeen of the series' entries are in the public domain.

All Fleischer-produced Popeye cartoons, as well as the Famous-produced black-and-white cartoons, have been restored for DVD release as part of an ongoing line of DVD sets from Warner Home Video - so far, three volumes have been released.

Warner has made two official DVD releases of the Superman series. The first set was split over the DVD releases of the first two Superman films using restored versions of superior vault elements. A second set, released in 2009, was restored from the original negatives.

Harveytoons

Classic Media now owns the Harvey comics properties, which include the October 1950-March 1962 Paramount cartoons and the original characters created by Famous before 1959. This explains the lack of Paramount involvement in newer media featuring such characters as Casper and Baby Huey.

A number of the cartoons are available on DVD from Classic Media, albeit as new versions from 2001 which feature new opening and closing Harveytoons logos.

NTA and post-1962

Viacom, Paramount's current parent company, owns what was once the U.M.&M. library via their Republic Pictures arm. This library includes the rights to all of the Paramount cartoons - Fleischer and Famous - released before October 1950 (with the aforementioned exceptions). However, a significant number of these cartoons did not have their copyrights renewed, and have fallen into the public domain. Numerous public domain sourced home video collections feature Paramount cartoons which were sold to U.M.&M. (several other Paramount cartoons sold to other entities have gone PD as well).

Paramount itself continues to hold the theatrical rights (and the copyrights) to the post-1962 cartoon shorts, and has held video rights since the early days of home video (though none of the later Paramount cartoons have ever seen video release).

As of the present, television syndication is the responsibility of Trifecta Entertainment & Media, which handles the theatrical side of the Republic library for television (Trifecta's rights were assumed from previous distributor CBS Television Distribution, a unit of the current incarnation of CBS Corporation). Republic has licensed the home video/DVD rights to the former U.M.&M./NTA package to Lions Gate Entertainment (successor to Artisan Entertainment, previously named LIVE Entertainment), although official re-releases have yet to be announced.

Filmography

Theatrical short subjects series



Television series



See also



References

  1. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1987). Of Mice and Magic. New York: Plume. Pg. 311
  2. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1987). Pg. 116
  3. Barrier, Michael (1999). Hollywood Cartoons. New York: Oxford University Press. Pgs. 303-305. ISBN 0-19-516729-5.
  4. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1987). Pg. 312
  5. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1987). Pg. 313 – 316
  6. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1988). Pg. 316-319
  7. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1988). Pg. 319-321
  8. Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1988). Pg. 321-322


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