02 September 2010

Lucky New Oswald Finds

As one of my favorite research topics, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is also the subject that my longtime friends expect me to blog about most. So I generally try to keep it to a minimum—because who wants to be predictable?

Of course, sometimes an unpredictable Oswald discovery is made. Then what? When it's unpredictable and Oswald-related—but David Gerstein is blogging about it—do the unpredictability and predictability cancel each other out? (And if something's not predictable or unpredictable, what is it?)

Predictable or unpredictable, you've just seen a very rare cartoon. In fact, a lot about Oswald is rare—or worse. Of the 26 Disney-made Oswald cartoons of 1927-28, Disney could locate only 13 in time for their 2007 DVD release (a fourteenth, Poor Papa, apparently exists but was inaccessible). Of the 26 Winkler Oswalds of 1928-29, only ten seem to have surfaced in modern times; and none in sound prints, though some were originally released with sound.

It's easy to guess that the all-sound Lantz Oswald package must survive in full, but you'd be wrong; Universal has master elements on most, but not all. On the other hand, collectors often assume that what's not in the general rotation must be lost; and that's wrong, too. For example, my fellow Oswald scholar, Pietro Shakarian, recently learned that our colleague Tom Klein possessed a few titles that others did not. With Tom's kind permission, we're now able to share Broadway Folly, the cartoon shown above—and Cold Feet (1930), another classic Bill Nolan-era straggler:

Thanks, Tom! (Tom, by the way, is the author of "Walt-to-Walt Oswald" [Griffithiana 71, 2001], a seminal paper on the character's early days—crucial reading.)

So which Lantz Oswald cartoons are still MIA? Here's what Pietro and I believe to be a definitive list—with summaries based on the original copyright synopses. Anyone want to help us find these?

Cold Turkey (released 10/15/29; production number 5043, © MP 728)

Synopsis: Taking time off the job to dance with his "best girl," waiter Oswald is interrupted by an irate customer who wants an order of duck for dinner. Oswald obliges, but the duck resists death by decapitation and hanging. Oswald finally solves the situation by shooting the duck with a cannon, leaving it "done to a turn—and well roasted." Oswald: "Want some?" Girl: "I bite!"
Note: If the synopsis is accurate regarding dialogue, this would seem to be the first Lantz cartoon with spoken words (during this period, Lantz and his crew otherwise largely relied on a slide whistle to perform Oswald's voice).

Pussy Willie (released 10/28/29; production number 5063, © MP 758)

Oswald heads to his girlfriend's house and is faced with the problem of her "kid brother," who gives Oswald no end of trouble. Willie's misdeeds include putting pepper in the flowers that Oswald gives his girl. Fed up, Oswald throws "the imp off a dock." The kid returns and finds Oswald and his girl—desperate for privacy—locked in a safe. Willie uses TNT to blast them to Heaven—and comes along with them to slam the pearly gates in their faces.
Note: We're presuming "Pussy Willie" is the same bratty little cat who debuts in Disney's All Wet (1927)—then reappears as Homeless Homer in the eponymous Winkler title (1928), and once again as the girlfriend's kid brother in Lantz's The Fireman (1931). Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising reused him at Warner as Bosko's foil, renaming him "Wilbur"; you have to wonder if Oswald paid Bosko to take him.

Nutty Notes (released 12/9/29; production number 5062, © MP 855)

When Oswald gets a new job at a music store, his "bruin" boss tasks him with hoisting a piano to "Ozzie's girl's" apartment—on the top floor of a skyscraper! After several efforts fail, Oswald tricks a goat into kicking the piano upward, but the kick is delivered with "too much English," and the hurtling piano rips the roof off the building. Upon Oswald's descent, he is united with his girl and the two kiss happily.
Note: The poster survives, as illustrated at right. While the copyright description calls Oswald's boss a bear, the poster pictures a cat.

Ozzie of the Circus (released 12/23/29; production number 5024, © MP 938)

Oswald spends a day at the circus where he runs into a smart-aleck pup. The dog trips the barker, causes problems for the "two-headed sax player," and ties Oswald's tail to a strength-test indicator. After getting loose, Oswald chases the pup but soon finds himself pursued by an angry gorilla. The chase goes on and on; carrying over to the closing title, where "we leave them hotfooting it around the Universal universe—a dangerous triangle going around in circles!"
Note: Erroneously thought to be the first-released Lantz Oswald short until research in 2005 proved otherwise.

Kisses and Kurses (released 2/17/30; production number 5127, © MP 1147)

Oswald is part of a showboat troupe, with his girlfriend Fanny as leading lady in a melodrama. "Little Blue Eyes, the heroine, live[s] with her aged father in a wee cabin down on the Swanee. Simon Hardheart [played by Pete] demand[s] her hand in marriage, but Blue Eyes spurn[s] him. In fury, Simon tie[s] her to a railroad track and vows to run over her with an old locomotive called The General." She is rescued by Oswald, who splits the track—and by extension, the train and villain—in half! The show is a success and Oswald and Fanny embrace for the closer.
Note: The General got its name compliments, no doubt, of Buster Keaton!

Bowery Bimboes (released 3/18/30; production number 5154, © LP 1162)

Synopsis: Oswald is a cop on the beat in the Bowery. A girl catches his eye and the two engage in a rough Apache dance. But the girl is kidnapped by a tough-guy rat who spirits her to a skyscraper and hoists her to the top. Oswald comes to the rescue with an extension ladder; he saves her, but the ladder breaks. The two end up falling to the ground—but revive in time for a closing kiss.
Note: It seems likely to us that the tough-guy rat is the one who's also in The Prison Panic (1930). While the picture element for Bowery Bimboes is presently lost, an original soundtrack disc survives in my personal collection. Thanks to Ron Hutchinson's tech support, I'm honored to present it to you here:

Hey, that's not the end of the Ramapith audio selection for today. I'd be remiss if I didn't share Billy Murray's and Aileen Stanley's priceless performance of "Down By the Winegar Woiks" (1925), the song that you (appropriately) heard over Bowery Bimboes' opening titles:

And how about "Hi-Lee, Hi-Lo," as heard in Cold Feet? This one is all over 1930s cartoons—Donald Duck sings it in On Ice (1935), and it even survives as his theme in a couple of period comics (example at right from 1936 Sunday page: story by Ted Osborne, art by Al Taliaferro). Here's George P. Watson covering it in 1909:

Pietro, meanwhile, has caught studio musician David Broekman enlivening Broadway Folly with "Hittin' the Ceiling," a tune from Universal's rare part-Technicolor musical Broadway (1929). Carrying on in the same spirit, Broekman colleague Bert Fiske used the Broadway number "Sing a Little Love Song" for the marriage-proposal scene of Oswald's Oil's Well (1929; see sequence starting at 1:53).

I'd be remiss not to mention Pietro's contributions to Golden Age Cartoons' Walter Lantz Cartune Encyclopedia, where he informs me he's just now adding our new Oswald discoveries to the 1929 and 1930 pages. Hop on over, rabbit-style, to read more about them.

Update, September 3: I'd be remiss, too, not to link us to the first new Disney animation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 82 years. Nope, it's not what some of you would have expected...


Kristjan said...

Intresting find, nice to see 2 other thought to be lost cartoon of the list. I find those two quite a entertaining, although I dont know what is up with the time clock though,

But what was "wrong" with Disney's Poor Papa, was the copy in that bad shape that it couldn't be used on the WDT treasures? or was it located at place were it couldn't be returned to Disney in time for the release date of the DVDs? I personally feel that if all of the Disney made Oswalds ever turns up (wish full thinking) that Disney will go in and redo the Oswald DVDs in complete chronology order.

In similar manner I wonder if those 2 will ever turn of on annother Lantz DVD collection.

However I have to admit that as you can see so fair that prefer the Disney Oswald over the Lantz ones and probably even Winkler since there might be something lacking in them that was in the original Disney shorts. But I also have to admit that I haven't seen any Winkler shorts so I cant rely come to fair conclusion between Disney vs Winkler although I think that the Disney shorts are fair superior over those of Lantz and specially those later ones from Lantz and after some of the redesign that he went through. although that is clear that early Lantz Oswalds bare resembles to those of Disney, none the less finding "Broadway Folly" and "Could Feet" none the less fill in 2 gaps the filmo grapy of this very (un)lucky rabbit fella.

Valentin said...

Great finds, David!
"Broadway Follies" is easily one of the weirdest and funniest cartoons with Oswald that came out in 1930. But what's the deal with the beginning of "Cold Feet" with the camera, is it supposed to promote or at least refer to a documentary or something?

Mac said...

Predictable or not, I can't get enough of the Oswald posts, so please keep 'em coming!

Kurtis Findlay said...

Great finds David! I always look forward to your predictability! These are some great cartoons!

ramapith said...

Kurtis: Don't thank me—not for Broadway Folly or Cold Feet, anyhow. This was really a team effort.

Kristjan: "Was [Poor Papa] located at a place were it couldn't be returned to Disney in time for the release date of the DVDs?"
Essentially yes. I'll provide more information if/when it's feasible to do so.

Kristjan said...

Thanks, David it is good to know that Poor Papa is in good enough shape too be viewed, have you seen it? (im only curious)

I also want point out I like team work so I applaud all of you for those 2 findings.

Anonymous said...

Awesome finds, David. I can't believe I just watched two apparently "lost" cartoons. Incredible what one can find in this day and age. Keep the posts coming!

88fingers said...

I've just discovered your blog and think it's great, David. So glad to find somewhere online that takes Oswald the Lucky Rabbit seriously. One thing I hope you don't mind me bringing up is the issue of Oswald's public domain status. I explain the whole issue at this forum link, and won't take up room on your comment section to rehash it, but I hope you and your readers will have a look: http://forums.toonzone.net/showthread.php?t=238179

Del Walker said...

As a fellow member of the Oswaldian league I thank you and Brother Pietro for the time and effort spent sleuthing out these fantasic bits of Oswaldian legend!
Glad it was YOU that beat me out on the sound disc of Bowery Bimboes :-) If you've new info on Poor Poppa, as in a physical location and or holder of the film, that would be fantastic news!

88fingers said...

Wow, censorship. You should be proud.

ramapith said...

88fingers: I was waiting to post your first comment at some point tonight, when I had time to add a well-reasoned reply. Sadly, I still don't have time to write as much as I'd like. But since you've forced the issue by adding a second comment—rushing to conclude I was censoring your words—I guess I'd better say something now.

Namely: You learned that Disney acquired "rights to" Oswald from Universal (as per the news article you linked to from Toonzone). You then concluded—seemingly with no evidence—that these "rights" must primarily consist of a "copyright to" the character itself.
Then you went to a great effort to prove that any such copyright would have to be invalid, because the first released Oswald cartoons are now in the public domain.
You only incidentally added that "I find Disney's rush to...merchandise Oswald interesting because they may be hoping to strengthen [Oswald's] trademark..."

A quick search on the US Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)—a search that anyone can do, by the way—reveals that Disney filed for numerous Oswald-related trademarks in early 2006. Quite clearly, from this one can see that Disney's deal with Universal had a lot to do with the character's trademark status. Before the deal, it seems obvious that Universal would have objected had Disney tried to file these trademarks—and they'd have had good reason, as Universal's then-recent Oswald merchandise bore trademarks linking Oswald to the Walter Lantz franchise in no uncertain terms.
The Disney/Universal deal also enabled Disney to market Universal's high quality nitrate elements on various Oswald cartoons (as indicated by the print information given on the Oswald DVD set). Even if certain cartoons might be in the public domain, it's obviously to Disney's advantage to be able to access the best quality source materials for them.

Getting back to square one: I don't think you've proven that Oswald himself is in the public domain. From freely available information, one finds that the character is covered by trademark law, and that the Disney/Universal deal respected that.
I hope none of this is confusing. I'd hoped to have much more time to write this out later, but you wouldn't let me.

Martin Juneau said...

What's amazed me more than the animation is the sound editing. The "Broadway Melody" sound cartoon is terrific, perfect and neat. It's like you will have a real fun to watch. Today, they want to off-beat the sound, added 3-4 notes to the wrong place and make nauseuous to the sound industry in general. Great thanks for your worthing searchs.

Paul F. Etcheverry said...

Thanks! I love Bill Nolan's way-out animation in the early sound era Ozzie cartoons.

The Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

BTW, has the soundtrack for "Country School" (or at least a reissue print of it) ,"Kounty Fair" or "Hot for Hollywood" turned up yet? Cripes, would I love hearing the sound for what are visually very funny cartoons by themselves. :(

Pietro A. Shakarian said...

Unfortunately, the soundtracks for "Kounty Fair", "Hot for Hollywood", and "Country School" have yet to turn up. A sound print of 1929's "Amature Nite" exists at UCLA. Somebody supposedly discovered a sound print of 1930's "Mexico", but I still have not seen it myself.

I'm so glad that these Oswalds have been found. It's amazing that they're finally receiving the exposure they have long deserved. Each missing Lantz element (whether it be original titles, a soundtrack, or an entire short) is a missing link in the history of the Lantz studio.

The real highlights of "Broadway Folly" and "Cold Feet" (as with other Lantz-era Oswalds) are the sequences animated by Bill Nolan. He strikes me as being one of the most underrated animators of all time (he also happens to be one of my favorites). Mark Kausler once told me that "Nolan's animation is like watching a flag blowing in the breeze, it flops and flits unpredictably." I can't think of a better description than that!

"Folly" especially showcases some great Nolan moments like when the kid slides out of Pete's long-johns or when Oswald gets his head stuck in a spittoon.

Overall, this discovery was a solid team effort and I'm glad I could be a part of it. However, David and especially Tom really pulled this through. Awesome work guys!

88fingers said...

Dear David, I do apologize for thinking that my post was not being allowed. I should say when I first found this information, I tried to reach out to several animation historians for their responses, and could not believe the nastiness--telling me I was probably right, but that it didn't matter because they'd rather Disney have ownership of Oswald and that they would not engage in public discussion about it. I was very taken aback, as I was being very civil and they were not, and that obviously made me defensive, and in this case less than civil to you, which again I apologize for. ... If you'll forgive the lapse, I'd only add that trademark and copyright are different. My main point, though, is Disney's refusal to acknowledge that Oswald as a character is in the public domain is very disappointing to me. Or let me put it this way: if trademark replaces any expired copyrights, no visual character can enter the public domain, which to me, at least, is troubling.

Simone Cavazzuti said...

These are all 1936 "Hi-Lee Hi-Lo"s... Enjoy!