|Predecessor Fleischer Studios|
|Founded May 25, 1942|
Products Animated cartoons
|Fate Shut down by new owner Gulf+Western|
Key people Sam Buchwald Seymour Kneitel Isadore Sparber Dan Gordon Howard Post Shamus Culhane Ralph Bakshi
Famous Studios (renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios in 1956) was the first animation division of the film studio Paramount Pictures from 1942 to 1967. Famous was founded as a successor company to Fleischer Studios, after Paramount seized control of the aforementioned studio and ousted its founders, Max and Dave Fleischer, in 1941. The studio's productions included three series started by the Fleischers—Popeye the Sailor, Superman, and Screen Songs—as well as Little Audrey, Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Honey Halfwitch, Herman and Katnip, Baby Huey, and the anthology Noveltoons series.
- Fleischer Studios dissolution
- Early years
- Later period and sales of cartoon libraries
- Theatrical short subjects series
- Television series
The Famous name was previously used as Famous Players Film Company, one of several companies which in 1912 became Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, the company which founded Paramount Pictures. Paramount's music publishing branch, which held the rights to all of the original music in the Fleischer/Famous cartoons, was named Famous Music.
Fleischer Studios dissolution
Fleischer Studios was a successful animation studio responsible for producing successful cartoon shorts starring characters such as Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The studio moved its operations from New York City to Miami Beach, Florida in 1938, following union problems and the start of production on its first feature film, Gulliver's Travels (1939). While Gulliver was a success, the expense of the move and increased overhead costs created finance problems for the Fleischer Studios. The studio depended upon advances and loans from its distributor, Paramount Pictures, in order to continue production on its short subjects and to begin work on a second feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town.
Compounding the problems the studio was facing was the fact that the studio's co-founders, brothers Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer, were becoming increasingly estranged, and by this time were no longer speaking to each other due to personal and professional disputes. On May 25, 1941, Paramount assumed full ownership of Fleischer Studios, and had the Fleischer brothers submit signed letters of resignation, to be used at Paramount's discretion. Following the unsuccessful release of Mr. Bug in December 1941, Max Fleischer, no longer able to cooperate with Dave, sent Paramount a telegram expressing such. Paramount responded by producing the letters of resignation, severing the Fleischer brothers from control of their studio.
Paramount renamed the studio Famous Studios. Although they had ownership of the company, it remained a separate entity. Three top Fleischer employees were promoted to run the animation studio: business manager Sam Buchwald, storyboard artist Isadore Sparber, and Max Fleischer's son-in-law, head animator Seymour Kneitel. Buchwald assumed Max Fleischer's place as executive producer, while Sparber and Kneitel shared Dave Fleischer's former responsibilities as supervising producers and credited directors. A third animation director, Dan Gordon, remained only briefly before departing after 1943. Although the Fleischers left the studio at the end of 1941, Famous Studios was not officially incorporated until May 25, 1942, after Paramount's contract with Fleischer Studios had formally run its course.
Shortly after the takeover, Paramount began plans to move a significantly downsized Famous Studios back to New York, a move completed early in 1943. Virtually all of the Famous staff, from voice artist/storyman Jack Mercer, Mae Questel and storyman Carl Meyer to animators such as Myron Waldman, David Tendlar, Tom Johnson, Nicholas Tafuri, and Al Eugster, were holdovers from the Fleischer era. These artists remained with Famous/Paramount for much of the studio's existence. As at Fleischer's, the head animators carried out the tasks that were assigned to animation directors at other studios, while the credited directors—Kneitel, Sparber, Gordon, and Disney/Terrytoons veteran Bill Tytla—acted more as supervisors. Sammy Timberg served as musical director until he was replaced in 1946 by Winston Sharples, who formerly worked with the Van Beuren Studios.
Continuing series from the Fleischer period included Popeye the Sailor and Superman, both licensed from popular comics characters. The expensive Superman cartoons, having lost their novelty value with exhibitors, ended production in 1943, a year after Famous' inception. They were replaced by a series starring Saturday Evening Post comic strip character Little Lulu. Also in 1943, Famous began producing the formerly black-and-white Popeye cartoons in Technicolor, and began a new series of one-shot cartoons under the umbrella title Noveltoons (similar in respects to the Color Classics series from Fleischer Studios, and also the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series from Warner Bros.).
The Noveltoons series introduced several popular characters such as Herman and Katnip, Baby Huey and Casper the Friendly Ghost, created by writer Seymour Reit and Famous animator Joe Oriolo during World War II as a children's book manuscript, was sold to Famous in 1945 and became the studio's most successful wholly owned property. In 1947, Paramount decided to stop paying Little Lulu creator Marge licensing royalties, and created another "mischievous girl" character, Little Audrey, as a replacement. That same year Famous resurrected an old Fleischer series, Screen Songs, introducing a new series of musical cartoons featuring a "bouncing ball" sing-along. In 1951 the Screen Songs became "Kartune Musical Shorts," which ended in 1953 after Max Fleischer claimed ownership of the "bouncing ball" trademark. Only two more musical cartoons were released (as one-shot Noveltoons): in 1954 ("Candy Cabaret") and 1963 ("Hobo's Holiday").
Although the studio still carried much of the staff from the previous regime, animation fans and historians note that its films soon diverged from the previous style. Many of them deride the company style for being highly formulaic and largely oriented towards a children's audience, with none of the artistic ambition or sophistication that the previous management strove for.
Later period and sales of cartoon libraries
Sam Buchwald died of a heart attack in 1951. Seymour Kneitel and Isadore Sparber became the production heads of the studio soon after, and Dave Tendlar was promoted to director in 1953.
The mid and late-1950s brought a number of significant changes for Famous Studios. In 1955, Paramount sold most of their pre-October 1950 shorts and cartoons, except for the Popeye and Superman shorts, to U.M. & M. TV Corporation for television distribution. The Popeye cartoons were acquired by Associated Artists Productions, and the Superman cartoons had already reverted to Superman's owners National Comics after the studio's film rights to the character had expired. In October 1956, Famous Studios was downsized and reorganized. Paramount assumed full control of the studio, integrating it into the Paramount Pictures Corporation as a division named Paramount Cartoon Studios. Around the same time, Isadore Sparber was fired along with some of the other veterans at the studio, leaving Seymour Kneitel alone in charge of the studio. In addition, budget cutting became a huge problem for the studio at this time, the animation quality of the shorts started to drop severely and by 1959 everything that the studio was turning out began to look bizarrely cheap and limited. Paramount also ceased using Technicolor by this time in favor for cheaper color processes as well. The last Famous Studios short to use Technicolor was Katnip's Big Day, the finale of the Herman and Katnip cartoon series.
Paramount sold their remaining cartoon film library and the rights to their established characters to Harvey Comics in 1959; however, the final theatrical cartoon to have any of their established characters already acquired by Harvey Comics since was Turtle Scoop featuring Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare (both uncredited and redrawn) in 1961. Paramount's attempts at creating replacement characters, among them Jeepers and Creepers and The Cat, proved unsuccessful. Nonetheless, television animation production outsourced from King Features and Harvey Films brought the company additional income. Ironically, these arrangements had Paramount working on new television cartoons starring Casper, whom they had originally created, and Popeye and Little Lulu, characters they had previously licensed for theatrical cartoons. In the case of King Features' Popeye and King Features Trilogy TV cartoons, Paramount was one of several animation studios, among them Jack Kinney Productions and Rembrandt Films, to which King Features subcontracted production. The first of only two all-new Little Lulu cartoons after the character's 16-year hiatus off-screen, Alvin's Solo Flight, was released as part of the Noveltoons series in 1961, while twelve of the King Features Trilogy cartoons, starring characters such as Krazy Kat, Little Lulu, Beetle Bailey, and Snuffy Smith, were released theatrically by Paramount in 1962 under the title Comic Kings.
Seymour Kneitel died of a heart attack in 1964, and Paramount brought in comic book veteran Howard Post to run the cartoon studio. Under Post's supervision, Paramount began new cartoon series and characters such as Swifty and Shorty and Honey Halfwitch (the latter having originated from the Modern Madcaps series in the 1965 short Poor Little Witch Girl), and allowed comic strip artist Jack Mendelsohn to direct two well-received cartoons based upon children's imaginations and drawing styles: The Story of George Washington and A Leak in the Dike (both 1965).
However, Post left the studio due internal conflicts with the Paramount staff. His replacement was Shamus Culhane, a veteran of the Fleischer Studios. Culhane completed a few films that Post started and then ignored the rule book and made films that were very different from the previous regime. In 1966, the studio subcontracted The Mighty Thor cartoons from Grantray-Lawrence Animation, producers of the animated television series The Marvel Super Heroes. In 1967, Culhane directed another short based upon children's art, My Daddy, the Astronaut, which became Paramount's first film to be shown at an animation festival. However, when Paramount's board of directors rejected a proposal to produce episodes for a second Grantray-Lawrence series, Spider-Man, Culhane quit the studio, and was succeeded by former Terrytoons animator Ralph Bakshi in mid-1967. Although Bakshi quickly put several experimental shorts into production, by the fall of 1967, Paramount's new owners, Gulf+Western, had begun the process of shutting down the animation studio, a task completed in December. The last cartoon from Paramount Cartoon Studios, Mouse Trek, the finale of the Fractured Fables series, premiered on December 31, 1967.
Years later, Marvel Comics would start an imprint that published comics adapted from Paramount films and TV series, Paramount Comics.
In 1980, Paramount had co-produced and released a live-action feature film adaptation of Popeye the Sailor, titled simply Popeye, with Walt Disney Productions. The live-action film ended Paramount's involvement in the Popeye franchise.
In 1986, both the Fleischer and Famous Popeye cartoons, along with the MGM b&w/color and pre-1948 Warner Bros. color cartoons, were bought by Turner Entertainment after an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. This library of cartoons, along with the Hanna-Barbera library, which Turner bought in 1991, would become the initial programming for Cartoon Network when it launched in 1992. Under the hands of Turner, many of the mid-40's Popeye cartoons have had their original titles restored, while "interim" logos were placed on those whose titles could not be found at the time. At the same time, in 1986, many of the B&W Famous Popeye cartoons were redrawn in color in South Korea, despite the availability of computer colorization, and as of 2012, were still seen on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang.
In 2006, Paramount Pictures became the primary distributor of animated features produced by DreamWorks Animation, many of which, such as Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, were notable critical and financial successes. In 2011, with the company's contract with that production house set to expire in 2012 while the film Rango produced by Industrial Light and Magic, proving a major success itself, Paramount announced their intention to re-establish a in-house animation department to compete in the feature animation field on their own. Paramount Animation was soon later incorporated in mid-2011 and its first feature, a sequel to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released February 6, 2015.