Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cartoons Caricature Hollywood

There are two aspects that immediately grab the viewer: first, the sometimes extreme ugliness of the caricatured images of stars who were otherwise celebrated for glamour; second, that these stars were marketed like products and brands of the studio based on their physical "type."  Nowhere is this more glaringly apparent than in their animated cartoon likenesses. 

Today we join the Classic Movie Blog Association's Hollywood on Hollywood blogathon.  Have a look here for more entries.

The cartoons we discuss today that lampooned the stars were produced by every studio.  One of the earliest, Mickey's Gala Primier (1933) was a black and white cartoon put out by Disney.  Mickey and Minnie Mouse attend a Hollywood premiere of one of Mickey's cartoons, and all the stars are there, emerging from a single limousine, as klieg lights arch into the sky.  Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, the three Barrymores in their Rasputin guises (a movie we covered here), Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Joan Crawford--a huge list of greats. Some like George Arliss would not be as identifiable possibly even ten years later, that is to say he would not have been worthy of parody in popular culture.  Greta Garbo, however, who was much parodied in these cartoons (in particularly unflattering jibes), was a star whose greatness can be measured by the fact that her name was still identifiable long after she stopped making films, and was therefore still the butt of jokes.

The Hollywood Bowl (1938) was put out by Universal under Walter Lantz, known for Woody Woodpecker, which, again in black and white, showed all the major stars of the day attending a performance at the Hollywood Bowl.  Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields are among the most well-known here--and Garbo is again skewered, invariably portrayed as a somewhat somnolent stooge--but Jean Hersholt is on hand, and the Ritz Brothers, all probably less identifiable to later audiences.

Ned Sparks seems to pop up with great regularity in these cartoons too.  For film buffs, trying to name the actors flashing on screen for only seconds at a time is great fun and quite challenging.

Katharine Hepburn's angular features and distinctive voice always make her a good target for caricaturists and she appears in this cartoon, as well as others in the 1940s.  Joe E. Brown, the enormous mouth that devours the entire screen is another regular, but in this cartoon, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Rudy Vallee, and Leopold Stokowski, his  long hair in a snood, also get the works.  What may be surprising to young fans of classic films and cartoons today was that conductor Stokowski was actually something of a "rock star" in his day. 

He also appears in Hollywood Steps Out (1941), which, as you can see by the screen caps here, has some of the best drawn, and least offensive, caricatures of the stars.

Included in this one are Ann Sheridan, Sonja Henie on skates, Cesar Romero, Mickey and Judy, Henry Fonda, but I'd have to say my favorite is of C. Aubrey Smith. 

The Golden State (1948) is a travelogue type cartoon (that ends in a singalong of "California Here I Come") with cameos of Dorothy Lamour, who is of course, in a sarong, as well as Johnny Weismuller in Tarzan garb. 

Hollywood Picnic (1937) gives us, along with Garbo and Joe E. Brown, without whom no cartoon lampoon of the stars is complete, a brief glimpse at Edward Arnold, which seems surprisingly without any exaggeration, and a stereotyped Stepin Fetchit.  Young audiences today will justly be offended at the racism, however they will likely be ignorant that this portrayal of Fetchit was on the mark: this was his act.  This was his brand.  Joe E. Lewis had a great career on Broadway, but in Hollywood, his brand was his large mouth.  James Stewart was a terrific stage and screen actor: to Hollywood, he was a lanky, stammering twit.

Edna May Oliver, likewise, an esteemed stage actress whose screen roles were exquisitely nuanced, had her value to Hollywood, especially the publicity departments that pushed these cartoons, reduced to an ugly old lady.

Hollywood Detour (1942) brings the gang back for a bus tour of the town.  This one was Columbia.  Garbo is back with her large feet and sleepy affect.  Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, however, get off without being cruelty teased.

Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938), another Walt Disney offering, gives comic sendups of Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew, Edward G. Robinson, Martha Raye, and most of the others mentioned above.

There seemed to be less cartoon parodies of the stars by the mid 1940s--though Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall would pop up in Slick Hare (1947) and in Eight Ball Bunny (1950).  Here the caricatures are not unkind.

When the studio system began to break up and the actors were free agents, they were less likely to be marketed according to their branded caricature. 

Did audiences of the day discover through these cartoons what brilliantly blue eyes William Powell had, an actor they normally saw only in black and white films?

Take a look at the other swell blogs participating in the Hollywood on Hollywood blogathon.

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon.


Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I had no idea cartoons like this even existed! You're right about the C. Aubrey Smith one, by the way—it's perfect. Is the one on the far left in that picture supposed to be William Powell? At first I thought it was Franklin Pangborn. :)

Silver Screenings said...

Today is a good day. You've introduced me to some new vintage cartoons! I'll have some great viewing this weekend, thanks to your handy links. :)

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Yes, Elisabeth, the fellow on the far left is William Powell. Gorgeous blue eyes.

Ruth, I'm so happy to have introduced you to these cartoons. Enjoy!

Yvette said...

I love these cartoons, always have. Though admittedly I couldn't always remember who was supposed to be who. :)

I'm trying to remember if I ever did see these on the big screen and I suppose I must have since I remember them in color. Or maybe it's just that I watched them on early color television. I know I saw them in black and white on very early TV as well. So it's kind of come full circle.

Great post, Jacqueline!

P.S. Is that Mischa Auer?

Anonymous said...

How fascinating! I didn't know there were so many! Thanks for a great post!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Yvette. I know I saw Mischa Auer in one of the cartoons, but I can't remember which one. Do you mean among these screen caps? I don't think so.

Thanks, Cameron. They're fun.

Caftan Woman said...

My son Gavin obsesses over a couple of the Hollywood lampoons from Disney (naturally), Mickey's Polo Team and The Autograph Hound. When I try to share some of those others like favourite Hollywood Steps Out, he all of a sudden isn't interested. Sigh!

You mentioned some new/old titles to me and I cannot wait to check them out. I believe I have passed some sort of invisible threshold where, if they did this sort of thing today, I really would need a score card.

John/24Frames said...

Remember watching many of these as a kid. I am glad you provided links to so many. Will check them out. Fascinating post as always..

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

CW, while I have only a dim memory of The Autograph Hound, my brother John is familiar with both of them -- but he forgot to mention them when I was pumping him for cartoons for this post. He's my champ when it comes to animation. Gavin is entitled to his obsessions -- we can't even explain our own.

It strikes me that if somebody were having a night out or a gathering for classic film buffs, using these cartoons for a trivia contest would be great fun.

John, like you a lot of these made a huge impression on me when I was a kid. Only now when I look back am I astonished to realize I knew most of the stars they were lampooning.

Rich said...

This is pretty interesting - these cartoons speak to the idea of Hollywood as one big happy industry where everybody's pals with everybody else - but I'm afraid I have to correct you. The dude with the large mouth is Joe E. Brown, not Lewis.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks Rich, for pointing that out. I got it right in the "labels," but put the wrong name twice in the post. Silly me. I don't know if everybody was pals, but the film colony was a pretty small world where everybody knew everybody else, or knew of them.

FlickChick said...

Yippee! I chose the same topic (only one, though). I really did learn about these stars through the cartoons first. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Garbo did not wear a size 14 shoe! Delightful post.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks - - There's more than enough to go around, FlickChick. That shoe bit with Garbo is repeated often. I wondered what that was about.

Danilo Castro said...

I've always loved Hollywood Steps Out, I remember seeing it when I only knew who Bogie was and had to ask who Cagney and Raft were. As I've revisited it and the few others you've mentioned (I'll have to watch the Disney ones!), my appreciation and joy only grows! Thanks for the fun read!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Danilo. These cartoons are fun. Part of the difficulty in naming all the actors is that the images are caricature and not a photo. We have to recognize -- and to an extent, agree with, the exaggerations.

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