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Found 2 results

  1. Doing things alphabetically this time and restricting to releases dating after September 1928 (start of the 1928-29 season when sound was incorporated... gradually). I could tackled the pre-'28 films on a future date with a special thread all their own... but I wanted to keep this thread not too-too long. After all... Universal has either produced or distributed more short films than any other company during Hollywood's golden age. The numbers for the silent era are staggering, figuring about 4280-4300 released between 1912 and 1928. Fortunately, I do NOT need to blog these thanks to the dedicated contributors on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). The silent Universal is well documented title by title (thanks in part to Richard E. Braff for McFarland Publishing), even if only a fraction are accessible today. A popular rumor that is probably not true but certainly sounds true suggests that some studio employees simply dumped countless rolls of film into the Pacific, assuming nothing without a soundtrack would ever be marketable. Nonetheless, it is the later product that is under-represented online and, hopefully, these posts will partly remedy the situation. When Michael G. Fitzgerald published his popular Universal Pictures: A Panoramic History In Words, Pictures and Filmographies in 1977, only the thirties and forties shorts were accounted for, with limited detail. Universal's product is undoubtedly the least recognized in print and very rarely shown today... unless it features Woody Woodpecker. It is a toss up as to who gets the title of longest surviving film major, not counting the ol' Biograph facilities sometimes used for TV. Either Universal or Paramount is game for this, since both were more-or-less "launched" in the spring of 1912... depending on how you would interpret that. That is, Paramount's history books insist that "it all began" with Adolf Zukor's backing of Queen Elizabeth and his Famous Players Company, even though the name "Paramount" (and its mountain of stars logo) wasn't adopted until 1914 as the name of W.W. Hodkinson's distribution company (handling both Famous Players and Lasky feature films). Universal tends to start its birthday with the birth of Universal Manufacturing distribution in May 1912, even though it could easily use Paramount's logic and "start" with Carl Laemle's IMP company in 1909... or... even make itself younger by using the 1914 construction of its Burbank, California facilities and the release of its fourth feature film Damon and Pythias. (This was the first made AT the Universal we know today.) Movie studios, like actors and actresses, have no trouble fibbing about their age. In any case, the first multi-reel feature film released under the Universal logo was Rainy's African Hunt. Yet, the company was slower at backing five-reel "epics" than its rivals, despite the fact that its second, Traffic In Souls, was a runaway smash in 1913. It took about three years before they reached Paramount's level of 40-60 per year. All the while, a huge mass of shorts accompanied the bill, at a rate of five or more titles per week. Obviously, these were not all made at one place, but by many mini studios operating under the Universal fold. A basic rundown of the companies and series were updated here on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_short_subjects_by_Hollywood_studio#Silent_Films_.28pre-1928.29 There were also two silent newsreels full of human interest and travelogue footage: Screen Magazine (105 shorts from November 18, 1916-February 5, 1919) and New Screen Magazine (100 shorts from February 13, 1919 through January 5, 1921) before the official sound Universal Newspaper Newsreel began July 21, 1929, running through December 26, 1967. (http://www.archive.org/details/universal_newsreels) The sound era: The "Universal Movietone" series, launched in 1928, marked the studio's first foray into talkies. By mid-1929, they started moving towards an all-sound program, but some of the western shorts like "The Pioneer Kid" were still filmed silent and available in both sound effects and silent versions. It took a while for some of the rural theaters to wire up and Universal frequently catered to those that the big-wig monopolists ignored in favor of the urban market. Universal had a limited number of theaters it owned and this was reflected in the character of its product. Other studios aimed for sophistication, while this company provided entertainment for Middle America. This was a top company for multi-chapter serials and the Saturday matinee market we now associate with childhood pre-television. For his 21st birthday in April 1929, Carl Laemmle Jr. was put in charge by daddy and made good with All Quiet On the Western Front and the first wave of great horror features. He also made sure the sound shorts got a dramatic make-over. Western 2-reelers were definitely o-u-t, despite being a staple for two decades and always an annual cash-cow. The new aim, again, was to attract more urban audiences. Augmenting the always reliable Slim Summerville, a new crop of comedy stars were conned away from giants Sennett, Roach and Educational. Lloyd Hamilton, Bert Roach, Daphne Pollard and Franklin Pangborn were all part of the two reel lineup for 1931. Warren Doane was put in charge of the more expensive productions after 1932 and Harry Edwards, Gus Meins, James W. Horne, Sam Newfield and even George Stevens added as directors. Unfortunately, critics and audiences made unfavorable comparisons to the Sennetts and Roaches; the Pollard and Hamilton comedies in particular get chewed out for being "unoriginal" in contemporary reviews. Looking attractive in production values was not the same as being "funny". They did better with some multi-star vehicles and a later batch featuring Sterling Holloway (future voice-artist in many Disney cartoons) was more favorably viewed than the other star-vehicles, but only a few were reissued and shown on TV later. Surprisingly, the company threw in the towel after completing the 1934-35 season. What's more, they stayed clear from short comedies all together, using their B features instead as a springboard for future talent like Abbott & Costello. Their serials were better liked at the time and Flash Gordon was shown in many first run theaters, so most of the energy was focused here (that is, until International merged a decade later and changed things again). Also, there were animated cartoons providing enough of the laughs. Once again, I'm pushing "live action" here, but Walter Lantz does deserve special mention since his cartoons are the primary Universal shorts seen today. Two very gorgeous DVD box sets of Woody Woodpecker & Friends were issued a few years back, competing very well indeed against the Looney Tune Golden Collections and Disney Treasures. They even included extensive liner notes and stellar restoration (including original United Artists title cards for the late '40s releases made when Lantz and Universal had a brief "separation"). The animation bearing his name was not quite in the same league as Walt Disney and wasn't even Hanna-Barbera TV standard during the lackluster later years, but he could back some grade A-material from time to time. Directorial talents included Alex Lovy, Shamus Culhane, Dick Lundy, Don Patterson, Tex Avery, Paul J. Smith, Jack Hannah and Sid Marcus... adapting quite well to their boss' genial nature after working for more controlling animation rivals. Lantz had started animating for Hearst's studio back in 1916 as a struggling teenager and first hit his stride with the Fleischer Inkwell inspired "Dinky Doodles" for producer John Bray in the mid-twenties. After working in live-action comedies, he impressed Carl Laemmle enough to be put in charge of the newly formed Universal Cartoons in 1929, taking over Oswald the Rabbit (formerly a Walt Disney and Charles Mintz character). At the start of 1930, his staff produced a delightful 2-color Technicolor "crowning of Paul Whiteman" insert for The King of Jazz. The Oswalds of the thirties are not all that bad (for their time) as were his color "Cartunes" starting 1934. When Universal suffered financial troubles mid-decade, he persuaded the front office to allow him to independently co- produce, allowing greater freedom, but also forcing him to keep everything on a budget. (At least twice he had to shut-down temporarily to get enough funding, briefly in 1940 and for a year and a half in 1948-50.) Andy Panda arrived in 1939, followed the next year by Lantz's biggest star Woody Woodpecker. New 'toons were released as late as 1972, with Chilly Willy arriving in 1953 and the Beary Family in '62. (Less famous than Walter Lantz was Dave Fleischer's short-lived “Cartoon Melodies” series that succeeded the mostly live-action, but with animated inserts, “Sing & Be Happy” series and filled in a void during Lantz' two year separation from Universal. In 1965-66, two independent cartoons produced by Ed Graham Jr. were also added to the program: The Shooting Of Dan McGrew and Funny Is Funny.) Universal was distributing sound cartoons before Burbank neighbor Warner Brothers took on Leon Schlesinger and the Harman-Ising team. It is interesting to compare the two companies' line-up in the early thirties, even though the other was a lot more prolific and got all of the praise thanks to its Brooklyn-based Vitaphone. Clearly, there was some friendly rivalry going on. In 1930, Universal responded to Warner-Vitaphone's signing Robert Ripley's "Believe It or Not" with John Hix's "Strange As It Seems", the first being shot in Multicolor. Like Paramount's "Pictorials", they were "screen magazines" with up to eight different segments... in this case, covering the eccentric and unusual, strange animals, interesting locales and peculiar hobbies and occupations. When Warner signed golf champ Bobby Jones for some comic sports-reels, Universal took on Babe Ruth. Inspector Carr was also one-upped by a short-lived adaptation of radio's popular The Shadow. During the years 1932-39, first the team of William Rowland and Monte Brice, then Milton Schwarzwald's Mentone and Nu-Atlas companies provided a variety of comedy vaudeville acts and mostly plotless musicals to both Universal and RKO's programs. All of these were shot in New York City. When Universal's comedy unit in California was halted, it leaned on this eastern product for a couple years. At their best, these showcased a number of interesting performers mostly forgotten today, but occasionally including some familiar faces like Smith & Dale and Bob Hope. All film companies relied on travelogues and human interest docu-shorts to fill up their programs because these could be made at half the cost of a studio-made musical or comedy. Much of the footage could be shot on location silent and given voice-over and music later. When a company like Universal had to economize, this became the preference for pre-feature filler. They closely followed Fox Movietone's model by using their newsreel staff (and sometimes recycling their news footage) to provide a certain quota of one-reelers. When Jerry Fairbanks left for Paramount (starting their "Popular Science"), his series "Strange As It Seams" was taken over by the Universal newsreel staff with Thomas Mead and Joseph O'Brien in charge and renamed for the '34 season "Stranger Than Fiction". It was accompanied by a mostly one-subject in-depth series "Going Places", narrated first by Fox commentator Lowell Thomas and later by Graham McNamee. Charles E. Ford was the key director-editor on many of these. A colorful character unafraid to get first-dibs on the Japanese invasion of China for the newsreel or assisting an expedition through the Amazon (for an independent feature Jacare), Ford maintained a unique, aggressive and often offbeat style with the company's docu-reels. The Oscar nominated Camera Thrills was his. Ironically, shortly before his passing in 1942, the two series titles changed to "Person-oddities" and "Variety Views". The latter title was maintained through the fifties. After Milton Schwarzwald stopped providing New York product, entertainment shorts were re-started at Burbank with just one key genre: the big band short... or, as later billed, "Name Band Musicals". Direction was done over the years by Ralph Staub, Larry Ceballos, Reginald Le Borg, Josef Berne, Jean Yarbrough, Lewis D. Collins and Will Cowan. A few, like the late forties musical westerns featuring country star Tex Williams, incorporated a storyline, but the majority were just straightforward musical performances skillfully edited together with as little "lull" between numbers as possible. For the modern viewer, these are a treasure trove of jazz personalities and singers: Count Basie, Nat "King" Cole, the Ink Spots, Les Brown, Lawrence Welk, Woody Herman and Spade Cooley, just to name a few. There was even an attempt to tap a younger market in the fifties with a little R&B and two even had the novelty of 3-D. The bare bones approach of just filming the performance with limited improvising was different than the contemporaries like Warner's "Melody Masters", which incorporated arty camera angles and special effects. Positively, these kept the performances "pure" for the fan, but negatively could make for some mighty tedious viewing when seen as in mass. These lasted through 1957 and were the solo entertainment shorts on the program apart from a rare "special". Everything else was sugar-coated education. Thomas Mead operated as the primary producer for both the newsreel and the one-reelers after co-producer O'Brien's death in '45 for more than two decades, with Edward Bartsch as editor from the mid-forties through the sixties and Arthur Cohen (a.k.a. Michael Feldman and Phil Foster and a future Laverne & Shirley star) being the most prolific of several director-writers. In short, stability was the name of the game. The "Variety Views" continued a consistent, if predictable, run which covered mostly travelogues (the most engaging being the "Brooklyn Goes To" series), sports outings with a special eye for young viewers and an annual quota of critter subjects. During the declining years of short subjects, a number of producer-directors provided material for more than one studio. Universal-International shared John A. Haeseler and his bear cub and chimp reels with Paramount, while Hamilton Wright also contributed European and South American scenics for Warner and RKO. All of this made many shorts of the 1950s hard to distinguish by studio and U-I unfortunately lacked the Three Stooges, Joe McDoakes, Pete Smith or any specific "in-house specialty" apart from its Name Bands. Ever economical, you can practically count the entire number of pre-fifties full-color shorts with just two hands, but once the studio started its own "Color Parade", it certainly made up for lost time. By 1954, they were partnering with Carl Dudley and other producers on wide-screen travelogues in Vistarama and CinemaScope, mostly the former (cheaper and grainier) process. Eastmancolor was used more than Technicolor and the pictorial quality varied considerably from title to title. Regardless, these later shorts were generally well received by the trade papers. Meanwhile, Thomas Mead continued producing black and white newsreels through 1967, by which time his staff had been reduced to only ten and much material came from outside sources. Color television officially killed the newsreel completely, but it took a bit longer for it to destroy the full-color theatrical. Norman Gluck, who worked on and off with Universal, took charge of managing the 1960s product, which were primarily travelogues, but with occasional jazz performance 2-reelers as well. The simple fact that the company continued releasing up to ten shorts (often high quality by this stage) long after its rivals ceased to is quite remarkable. In fact, it was probably the only studio besides Disney who was still producing most of its own rather than just distributing for the independents. By the late sixties, another key producer-director, William Burch, headed the non-theatrical branch Universal maintained; even though the company stopped releasing shorts theatrically by 1972, they continued making plenty of instructional material for businesses and schools. (Added a few later shorts to this list, but it is far from complete... along with some of their United World Films stretching backward to the forties, initially released on 16mm and sometimes later in 35mm for theatrical distribution.) Although the studio seldom received Oscar nominations, there was still a certain consistency in quality over the decades and most that do make it online on YouTube and elsewhere are quite entertaining regardless of the economics of their production. It is sad that the company isn't tapping into what they have sitting in their vaults. Hardly any have been reissued for VHS and DVD, probably on the assumption that today's consumers would have zero interest. Some of us movie buffs would prefer to judge that for ourselves.
  2. Jlewis

    A Shortie Checklist: Paramount

    This set of posts feature an alphabetical list of the Paramount short films. I know… I know. Those of you reading will ask “Are you nuts?!” Yes I am. I will even start with a little itty bitty introduction. On the other now-defunct forum (CMU), I had been making chronological “lists” of each studio’s live-action “shorties” since 2010. These lengthy blogs have… sometimes… received up to 8000 “views”. (I guess I am not the only shorties “geek” online?) This past year or two, I have been adding some of this material to the Wikipedia site and previously to the imdb.com site, but have only covered the bulk of Warner’s shorts so far. These are listed alphabetically. When you line up the titles chronologically, Paramount’s live action shorts intriguingly had three distinct “periods”. Burton Holmes was their most prolific producer; his travelogues following a previous “Paramount Travel Pictures” series of 1915. Arriving two years later was the mighty Mack Sennett whose enormously popular 2-reel comedies of the period brought a huge boost to the corporation’s income. His top star, Fatty Arbuckle, was made head of his own short comedy unit before graduating to features (and some… um… scandal as well), all co-starring newcomer Buster Keaton.Then, rather abruptly, Paramount decided to stop making shorties all together early in 1922. With rare exceptions, the company merely distributed others’ product (and the mid-twenties was a golden age for Pathé, Educational and smaller distributors keeping theaters well stocked) and focused just on their features for a while. When MGM announced in 1926 that they were entering the shortie business by distributing for UFA and (a year later) Hal Roach, Paramount hopped on the bandwagon again by starting up a newsreel and acquiring Al Christie’s comedies from Educational. With some of their features also being done at the Astoria facilities (NYC) in addition to Hollywood, the 1928-32 era was a particularly rich period for testing new talent emerging on Broadway in the 6-20 minute format. This second period of Paramount shorts production spanned exactly 30 years, parallel to the Paramount Newsreel shown in theaters twice weekly. Once the newsreel ended in February 1957, so did the live-action shorts, although animated cartoons with Popeye and Casper continued uninterrupted. Then, in 1960, Leslie Winik’s A Sport Is Born became an unexpected hit and Oscar nominee; thus awakening interest in a THIRD unbroken boom in live-action shorties, mostly of the sport or travelogue kind, that lasted through the 1968-69 season… and there have been a few occasional “one shots” since (like The Absent-minded Waiter). Again, these listed titles are all LIVE-ACTION and do not include ANIMATED cartoons, even though the “Speaking of Animals” series do feature cell-animated mouths implanted on live animal footage frame by frame. (Remember the talking camels in Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road to Morocco?) Of course, Paramount has been making plenty of ‘toons ever since John R. Bray’s studio began adding “inserts” to the “Paramount Pictograph” series. Most famous of its animation producers was Max Fleischer, who has a building named after him on the Paramount lot in Hollywood despite his cartoons being made in NYC and later Miami. Apart from his early work under John Bray, he started releasing through Paramount in 1927 (after operating independently with Red Seal distribution) and, by the time he and his brother Dave left their animation studio in early 1942, Paramount’s cartoon line-up succeeded very well indeed as the Number Two cartoon factory just behind Walt Disney… with Ko-Ko, Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman, along with the features Gulliver’s Travels and Mr. Bug Goes To Town. After taking charge of the Fleischer studio and moving the animators back to NYC, Paramount renamed it Famous Studios (later Paramount Cartoons) and kept chugging away through November 1967 with more Popeye, as well as Little Lulu, Little Audrey, Casper, “Noveltoons”, “Modern Madcaps”, etc. (Jerry Beck profiles at cartoonresearch.com the season-by-season saga of the animation studio that all animation buffs publically loathe but secretly love, since many later catoons are an acquired taste. Never allow an impressionable young mind watch Herman and Katnip in Mice Meeting You without proper supervision.) Among the later (cell-animated) independent releases distributed were Gene Dietch’s Munro (Oscar winner, 1960) and “Nudnick” series (1964-67) and a trio of John & Faith Hubley productions (1966-69), including another Oscar winner and two nominees. Meanwhile, during 1940-47, George Pal made his stop-motion Technicolor “Puppetoons” in Hollywood (previously running a factory of full color puppetoons in Holland since 1934). He eventually graduated to special effects live-action features. (Ray Harryhausen got his start working with Jasper, another character of “acquired taste” although I find Jasper And The Watermelons more oddly charming than insulting.) Although Pal was Paramount’s primary stop-motion producer, two earlier releases also had frame-by-frame figurines in motion: Lulu In Love was a 1936 re-edit of a Wladyslaw Starewicz production made in France, and Wild Oysters (February 14, 1940 release), which was made by longtime cartoon veteran Charles Bowers. Paramount sold their pre-1950 titles to the U.M. & M. TV Corporation in 1957, which altered many of the titles with their own logos, using the original prints. However, only we eagle-eyed movie fans can detect the difference. Harvey Comics apparently received (according Jerry Beck) both the ’50-59 cartoons AND the live-action Sportlights, Pacemakers and Toppers as well. I am assuming that Paramount kept their VistaVision travelogues and anything kept after 1960, some of it made available to schools on 16mm. After being taken over by Viacom, much of the pre-1950 product was re-acquired (excluding Popeye and Superman which Time-Warner eventually got). Kino Lorber released on DVD a sampling of late ‘20s through Robert Benchley ‘40s materal. Shield Pictures currently owns the rights to the Jerry Fairbanks productions and did air many of these on AMC in the 1990s when that network resembled TCM: http://www.shieldspictures.com/ I need to acknowledge my references for these lists and you folks can let me know of my many boo-boos that need corrected… preferable on another thread. (Also I am not sure how many edits I am “allowed” to make here.) BoxOffice Magazine (scans available online for a while, but a bit harder to access in recent years), Film Daily and Motion Picture Herald Magazine back issues (both found on the Internet Archive), with the IMDb.com site have all been a great help. (I had added many Warner shorties to that latter site.) Equally important are the Library of Congress copyright listings Motion Pictures 1912-1939 (1951), Motion Pictures 1940-1949 (1953), Motion Pictures 1950-1959 (1960) and Motion Pictures 1960-1969 (1971). Also Edwin M. Bradley’s The First Hollywood Sound Shorts, 1926-1931 (McFarland & Company, 2005). Unfortunately the later Paramount shorties are poorly documented, even in the periodicals of the period. So it is good that many Treasure Searchers have been digging up missing prints and additional information (and a few even pop up on youtube if you hunt well enough) in the years since I began posting these silly posts as a naïve Treasure Searcher myself. Anyhoo… this is the basic set up for each film listed: Title of film (producer and/or director) If you see (---), it means I don’t have director information… yet. black & white (bw) or color “approximate” running time in minutes (m) or running time in reels (1 reel is under 11 minutes, 2 reels under 25 minutes) since I couldn’t find an exact time frame here Series Title in () with a key star (a.k.a. name above the title) listed in [] release date or copyright © date and sometimes a filming date in () (any awards) brief description… and I do keep it brief. Additional cast members are also listed here. And now... a salute to the most prolific short film producer for this company:

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