More Mike! San Pascual Stables! Tytla and Tyer!

mike-_4.jpgmike-_5.jpgmike-_6.jpgfelix-5.JPGfelix-6.JPG  Here are the last two pages of the Tyer story from Felix the Cat #2, and the next three strips in the Marvelous Mike saga. Note how in the last page and the last panel of the Felix story, Felix’s dialog has been re-lettered. Maybe his original comment was too ribald!  In episode #4, Mike first displays his precocity with a quotation from Shakespeare. His sister Merrie is the only one in the family who knows Mike’s secret at this point. Bob Kuwahara did another comic strip in the late 1940s; “Barker Bill”, featuring the Terrytoons host from early television days who made his screen debut in “Happy Circus Days” (1942).  I don’t have much information about the “Barker Bill” strip, I might be able to dig up an example one of these days. Next time we should be getting some better quality scans on the Felix comics.

    Cathy and I painted a beautiful old barn and some of the horses stabled there last Thursday. It was a beautiful day at the San Pascual stables in South Pasadena, after cold and wet weather discouraged outdoor painting the last couple of weeks. Southern California is really horse country. There are a lot of dedicated riders and owners who maintain stables in all sorts of out of the way places. We found another stable just a few blocks from the San Pascual that had a lot of free-range chickens running all over it! At the San Pascual stables there were some beautiful girls riding English, complete with habit and saddles, and still more girls exercising thoroughbreds and sorrels right next to the barn where we were painting. Cathy got a good start on an oil of the barn with two horses in front of it. I did a watercolor which our guest crit master, Lynn Fearman, called “animated”! She said this without knowing I did the painting! I did a study of Lynn and another painter standing in front of the barn with a couple of horses peeking out. I also attempted another study of a little clothesline with the sun streaming through the wash, I didn’t get it on the first try, but it’s such a beautiful subject I might try it again.

       I’ve been watching a lot of color Terrytoons lately. I like the fact that grand opera had such a big influence on the story structure of the Terrytoons, almost from the beginning of the Audio Cinema days. Paul Terry or maybe John Foster must have been opera fans. The singing in some of the Mighty Mouse cartoons is pretty good and fun to listen to, the music in Carmen’s Veranda, for instance, is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. I wonder if Phil Scheib did all the arranging and composing for the choral parts, or if he got help from a friend at the Met. There is  something touching about the little jockey’s song, “You Look Pale and Worried…” as he sings to the Colonel’s daughter in  My Old Kentucky Home (1946). The operetta form almost stands in for personality (but not quite). Mighty Mouse eventually developed into a remake of the “Fanny” cartoons from 1933 (The Banker’s Daughter), with Oil Can Harry re-designed as a cat, and Pearl Pureheart and Mighty taking over the roles of Fanny and Strongheart.

It’s interesting to see how highly polished the studio’s animation looked when Bill Tytla was working there (1944), and how raggy and unkempt the animation became by 1949, when Jim Tyer’s animation was starting to bloom. Tytla not only animated the famous “cat becomes Mr. Hyde” sequence in Mighty Mouse Meets Jeckyll and Hyde Cat, but also many of the singing hippo shots in Carmen’s Veranda, along with a few scenes of Carmen the girl cat herself. I think Tytla also did some of the great dance animation in the Gandy Goose cartoon, Aladdin’s Lamp (1943), with Sourpuss and the little Chinese cat. Jerry Beck posted part of A Wolf’s Tale a few weeks ago, and that also features Tytla doing the wolf skipping through the forest. This cartoon re-uses some of George Gordon’s animation from The Wolf’s Side of the Story (1938).

    Mike Barrier often compares the Tom and Jerry cartoons with the Terrytoons. I saw a Dingbat cartoon, All This and Rabbit Stew (1950), which uses the same bees in the mouth gag from the Tom and Jerry Tee For Two (1945). The Dingbat (a crazy little bird) sets a whole hive of bees on two hapless buzzards; one buzzard hides in a lake to escape the bees and breathes through a reed. The Dingbat makes like Jerry the mouse and chunks a funnel in the end of the buzzard’s reed above the water line. The bees then fly into the funnel just like in the Tom and Jerry, except they are animated by Tyer in an almost abstract fashion. Unlike Tee For Two, there is no dramatic pause before the bees start stinging. Instead the next scene is a helicopter shot of the lake. The buzzard animated by Tyer, bursts out of the water and gives out with a series of screams animated in staggered timing coming closer and closer to the camera; so crazy that it almost doesn’t scan! Tyer was kinder to his buzzard than Ken Muse was to Tom, there are no bees actually in the buzzard’s mouth, they just sort of radiate out of the buzzard’s body like so many insect shaped sweat drops. The results are not as funny as Tee For Two, but entertaining in a loopy, lopsided way.

Looking at Tyer’s animation frame by frame from some of these Terrytoons is often jaw-droppingly startling (and funny). There is another Dingbat cartoon, Sour Grapes (1950) with the most primitive child-like drawings of the Dingbat doing a laugh, then going into a take at the fox who is just above him. Tyer couldn’t draw the Dingbat’s beak from the front, and apparently had no idea how his bill joined on to his head, but the animation works anyway! In Tyer’s world, the drawings are just way stations in the action stream, it’s what happens between the frame changes that’s magic. In Cat Happy (1950), a Little Roquefort cartoon, Percy the cat’s happy takes when he’s high on catnip are just abstract pinwheels when looked at a drawing at a time. Percy’s head and body literally become just a pinwheel shape before turning back into the cat. At speed this reads as just an accent, all on ones, of course. He uses the same device with Roquefort doing a series of amazed takes at Percy as the mouse floats in mid air, becoming an abstract pinwheel before each of his poses. When you see the tendency toward abstraction in Tyer’s work, and how incapable he was of drawing characters from certain angles, it’s no wonder that Gene Deitch’s design theories were such a natural fit for his brand of cartooning. Terrytoons certainly didn’t create too many vivid characters, but it can be fun to watch them for the animation tricks on display. It’s interesting that at Terrytoons, an incredible draftsman like Bill Tytla and an abstract expressionist like Tyer are equals. Given no real personalities to work with, Tytla and Tyer trade on their skills at making action interesting to look at, Tytla with his careful control of volumes (Carmen and the wolf) and realistic handling of weight (that hippo woman), and Tyer with his complete abscense of volume and completely funny drawings (Dingbat and Percy). They both entertain.

6 Responses to “More Mike! San Pascual Stables! Tytla and Tyer!”

  1. Mark-
    I just watched that scene with the buzzard, and wow! I thought that was really weak for Tyer (but still some funny animation). Maybe because that great Muse scene of Tom was done so perfectly.

    Thanks for giving these scenes your POV, and for identifying some more Tytla scenes! You’re an asset to all of us classic cartoon geeks.

  2. Please continue writing about the work of animators like you do here about Tytla and Tyer. There’s not enough of this kind of material available and you’re one of the best at it.

  3. Marc Deckter says:

    Thanks for posting these insightful Tytla&Tyer Terrytoons observations, Mark. I look forward to reading more!

    And on the same note, I really enjoyed your commentaries on the Disney Oswald set – particularly all those animator id’s in “The Ocean Hop”. I especially like the scenes identified as Rollin ‘Ham’ Hamilton’s work.

  4. Keith Scott says:

    Mark–Enjoyed your comments about the Terrytoons, as I, too, have been watching a slew of ’em lately. Regarding the singing cartoons I believe the choral arrangements were a collaboration between Phil Scheib and whoever was the leader of the quartet used in almost all 1940s Terry cartoons. I have an interview with story man Tom Morrison and he said that Roy Halee sang for Mighty Mouse, and that Halee was a menber of the quartet who did other voices for Terrytoons. As you know, a lot of the 40s Terry’s feature just a narrator who talks like a bass singer or a baritone singer (either one or the other are frequently heard). I wish I knew the name of the group and the other members, and also the woman who sang for Pearl Pureheart. If anyone ever comes across a mention of them from some New York-based trade paper, please alert us.

    Incidentally I have a 1934 radio show starring Paul Whiteman (originating from New York), and at one point Roy Halee is announced and proceeds to sing a comic opera number – there’s Mighty Mouse warbling a decade early! And of course by the late 50s-early 60s Halee is still being heard, but now as a character voice-man, with screen credit yet (Heckle and Jeckle I believe).

  5. Mark Kausler says:

    Thanks, Thad, Mark, Marc and Keith for your comments!
    I always thought that Tom Morrison himself was the voice of Mighty Mouse, maybe he was the voice on the CBS Mighty Mouse Playhouse. Roy Halee certainly had impressive pipes, maybe he doubled as Oil Can Harry? It would be fun to hear that Paul Whiteman show with Halee. Now if someone can provide scans of some “Barker Bill” strips…..

  6. […] Kausler (whose blog I should read more often) pointed this out in one of his blog posts (where he identifies more Terry animation by Bill Tytla). It’s from the Dingbat cartoon […]

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