Researchers revel in the search for classic cartoons' original titles. Almost every major studio reissued its cartoons years after their creation; sometimes to theatres, other times to TV. And almost every major studio retitled its cartoons for the purpose, drafting new and more modern opening and closing titles.
Often these new titles weren't as imaginative in style as the old. Sometimes they swapped the original cartoons' episode-specific graphics for a tedious sameness. Other times they simply lacked the period charm that the originals had had.
But often there was no going back. Many studios, including Disney, Warner, and MGM misplaced or completely lost numerous original title sequences after replacing them. Often the originals were snipped off the negatives and thrown away. Other times they were simply reshelved until it was difficult to find them. In the case of MGM in particular, original versions of the shorts were saved—but then a studio fire destroyed the elements.
Luckily, enough searching, hunting, and pecking can bring refugee copies of the originals to light. At a collection I recently visited, I met up with a few rare Tom and Jerry stragglers. The condition on some was only fair, but at least now we can see a little more of them than we usually do.
The Midnight Snack (1941) was the second Tom and Jerry short, and the first to call the characters by their well-known names. A similar title sequence survives on The Night Before Christmas (also 1941), but we didn't know how it looked on the first cartoon to feature it. Now we see that it shared the same brilliant blue style as the basic MGM cartoon titles of the period:
(This may have been the only time the proper episode title appeared on the Tom and Jerry card. It doesn't happen in The Night Before Christmas—nor in Fraidy Cat , a print of which I also saw and which combines the Tom and Jerry card above with the Fraidy Cat title that we still see today.)
Jumping ahead a year we find Puss 'n' Toots (1942), Tom's first ill-fated love story. The print I saw was not complete, but we do get a differently-colored version of the Tom and Jerry intro card and an era-appropriate end title.
Moving forward again we have Mouse Trouble (1944). The Tom and Jerry intro card here is in fact one we're used to seeing, though the screengrab that circulates today survived only on a single nitrate frame; this is the first time I'd seen it on an actual print. The Mouse Trouble-specific title and credits cards themselves are also colored and designed differently than on the reissue. Until we find more originals, a lot of such differences may be lost to the ages.
There's still at least one early Tom and Jerry intro card that I've never seen on a print; you can see it below in its surviving pencil sketch, as presented years ago on the Cartoon Network website. I'm guessing this could have been used in 1943, and maybe one day we'll see; perhaps there are more rarities out there?
(Speaking of rarities, some of you may wonder whether the several Tom and Jerrys that I viewed, like some other early MGM cartoons, included gags that were tweaked or altered for their reissues. I didn't see any, nor do the copyright synopses indicate any.)
Update, June 14: Thanks to my accidentally getting my screengrabs crossed, the "Supervised By" card shown here for The Midnight Snack was actually the one for Fraidy Cat. Vdubdavid at the Termite Terrace Trading Post noticed the incorrect production number—thanks! I've got the correct Midnight Snack card up now, and will repost the Fraidy Cat version later.
Link, June 15: Thad has posted actual footage of another MGM rarity with original titles: Avery's Wild and Woolfy (1945). This cartoon was altered for reissue, and we can now get a look at the first release print in action. Nice job.
Update, October 20: O-W-T out! The Tom and Jerry intro card I showed for Mouse Trouble here was really from The Zoot Cat (1944). Now I've fixed it—identical card design, but very different looking prints, and the Zoot Cat card is now seen only where it belongs. Thanks, Gabriel Katikos.