11 June 2009

Tho-MAS! Come Up and See Some Rarities Sometime (Hic!)

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 [1942], 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.

26 comments:

Thad said...

Dude this is fucking amazing. I literally came right in front of you and Tom (not Jerry though) while viewing these. This is the best blog on the Internet. MORE MORE MORE

Kasey said...

Woah! You're a god, Gerstein!
I wonder why Ken Muse was changed to Kenneth Muse in the reissue.

The Coyote Never Wins said...

These are some pretty amazing finds. It's a bit depressing to think of all that was probably lost in that MGM fire. Maybe someday some of these surviving titles can make it into a restoration program.

Larry Levine said...

These cards are both historic & incredibly awesome!!!

Martin Juneau said...

This is very awesome. Especially i lacked interest of Tom and Jerry last year but this original title cards is awesome and pretty detailed most as the re-issued versions.

Anonymous said...

Hello, David---Bravo, good work again! Just brainbooming here---Could they possibly have had a different intro card for every season, like the Merrie Melodies different color rings? If this is so, then the "sitting for their portrait" image would be the second, 1942-43 card, then the "tongue" card would be for 1943-44. I've seen the "portrait" image used in early 40's MGM promotion, as a newspaper cut, and as an all-purpose still. They updated the "portrait" picture, circa 1950, with the more mature T&J design, for similar publicity purposes.---Cole Johnson.

Bart said...

Very cool! I love seeing these original title cards - keep 'em coming, David!!

J Lee said...

One thing that's noticeable as far as the background colors go is MGM seemed to be fairly consistent between those on the Tom & Jerry ones you found and the existing non-rereleases done by Rudy Ising, George Gordon, Robert Allen and Tex Avery that have been available for years (i.e. -- MGM didn't change their colors annually, like the Warner rings, but the seemed to have had a "blue period", a "red period" and a "red/orange" period for all their cartoons during the early- and mid-40s).

Bugsmer said...

Dave, this is indeed a very rare treat. It never fails to amaze me how very much better the original title always looks as compared to that of the reissue. I have a question: have you obtained the original plot synopses for all of the MGM cartoons, or just the ones that strike your fancy? I'm asking if we, the public, should be looking for specific titles, in the hopes that we find a missing section that's absent in the reissues.

Anyway, that's another great find, Dave. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Matthew Hunter said...

David: Amazing finds! You've given me just enough to do a digital mock-up of what "the Midnight Snack" might have looked like with these titles. Assuming I can get it up on Youtube, I'll let you know!

Del Walker said...

Once again, very nice work David!

Although you did not say, I'm guessing your frame grabs are sourced from 35mm nitrate prints. I've never heard of any original IB Tech 16mm safety prints being existant, except for the later re-issued versions, and these are pretty rare.... Thad has a few I believe.

Going to agree with Cole here also. The background colorings suggest an affinity with the MGM intro lion sequences which did change in 1942 and 1943. I was going to speculate that Puss and Toots might have had the wild "Hold That Tiger" intro music, but it was released a bit to early I think..

dw

Mark Newgarden said...

Keep it up.

esahC said...

Heh, I knew something was up with "The Midnight Snack" reissue card. Thanks for confirming my thoughts Dave! But these card leave me a question. How on earth did the "The Night Before Christmas" (and for that matter, "Puss Get The Boot) title card remained intact? Was that cartoon wasn't stored in those vaults or something?

Also, while I'm talking, here's something I noticed that I'm surprised no one noticed yet. Look at the Tom and Jerry card in "Mouse Trouble". Now look at the font. Doesn't it look similar to the "The End" card we've seen many times by now?

Duck Dodgers said...

This is THE blog! YOU are THE blogger!
More, please!
Look at the quality of those frames!!

ParamountCartoons said...

Would you post some Paramount logos lost in Popeye and Betty Boop?

Anonymous said...

I love how the quotation marks on the "Mouse Trouble" title card are "The Early Bird Dood It!"/"Designs on Jerry"-like caricatures of a cat (and the "Puss 'n' Toots" title has two hearts as each mark) -- the cartoons of this era had so much care and attention poured into them! Also, now I can picture these images when hear the musical score of these particular reissues. Awesomeness!

--Ed

HenriekeG said...

Huh! I'd swear I had put this blog on my blogroll already. Keep going! I know practically nothing about animation history and I have no idea what's rare or not, but I've been looking for large versions some of those title cards for quite a while. So yay!

John V. said...

These are great! I wonder how many of them were re-scored when they were re-released? Certainly "Fine Feathered Friend", "Sufferin' Cats" and "The Lonesome Mouse" were, as the current versions of them have the 1949 theme music.

On that other intro card, the fact that Jerry's in a high-chair makes me think of "Baby Puss", but Tom's hat looks like the one Butch wears in "Trap Happy", by which time the characters would look very different!

Деян Мавров said...

These are great! But something made me wonder: where is the copyright notice in the opening of "The Midnight Snack"?

ramapith said...

Деян, the copyright notice for MIDNIGHT SNACK appeared on the standard MGM Cartoon intro card of the time, which preceded the "Supervised By" card on the prints I examined.
I didn't bother showing it because it's identical there to most other cartoons where it appears.

ParamountCartoons: I'm afraid I don't have any lost Paramount titles to show you. I've only been researching MGM and Disney titles lately.

Jon B said...

David, This post is absolutely amazing!! This post honestly answered a good many questions I have had regarding the original Tom and Jerry title treatments. I still have my hopes up (and something tells me) that more of these original nitrate prints will submerge over the years.

Anonymous said...

Great artwork there. I hope they get to appear on an actual collecter's DVD set.

nickramer said...

Great artwork. I hope they get to be on an actual collector's DVD set someday.

Richard said...

The title background for "Puss N' Toots" is also the title background for "Little Gravel Voice" and "Bats in the Belfry" (both 1942). I guess this background was used in 1942.

Richard said...

When are you going to blog about the original opening titles to the Mickey Mouse short "Fiddlin' Around" (1930)?

Javiera said...

What a great blog!!! Congratulations! :)
I've been a Tom & Jerry fan since I was a child, and it's good to know more interesting things about my favorite cartoon ;)
These cards are amazing!! Congratulations, again! :)