The “Idiot Box” and the History of Television

The television, the T.V., the idiot-box, the electronic babysitter. That magical screen in our living-rooms which has brought us news, sports, weather, education, entertainment, excitement, bemusement and rage, has come a long way since its inception nearly 100 years ago.

This posting will have a look at the history of television, from its beginnings to the commencement of regular programming.

The Television and Us

For most of us in the 21st century, life without television is inconceivable. There are those of course, who were born without it, but with it or without it, chances are, if you watch it regularly today, you would be hard-pressed to imagine your current and future existence without this magical device in your living-room. How many incredible events have been brought to us through the television? How many amazing films have we seen? Famous and memorable TV serials, and even advertisements. Everything from “Happy Days” to “Brylcreem” (just remember, only use a LITTLE dab), to “Are You Being Served?”

Mankind’s love-affair with the TV is inseparable, unstoppable and unthinkable that it should ever go away. But where does TV come from?

A World Before Television

In a dark and soul-less time, before computers and fax-machines and mobile telephones, when eggs were 5c a dozen and penny-candy was really a penny, mankind tuned into the radio.

From the early 1920s, until the late 1950s, we enjoyed a roughly 30-year period where radio was king. When we literally had to tune in and warm up, to enjoy a program over the air. This was the Golden Age of Radio. It brought us such memorable events as the Hindenburg Crash of 1937, the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Declaration of War in 1939 and countless famous old-time radio programs, from “Gang Busters” to “Dragnet”, to “Richard Diamond” and “Abbott & Costello”.

If you want to read more about that, have a look here.

Back then, the family radio-set was an important piece of household equipment. But even by the 1930s, its dominance in our living-rooms was being threatened by a new kid on the block called television.

The Invention of Television

The word ‘television’ comes from the Greek ‘tele’ meaning ‘from afar’. Just like how telephone, and telegraph mean sounds, and writing, or messages, from afar, television means pictures from afar.

So, who invented television?

As with many great inventions, from airplanes to motor-cars, telephones, the fountain pen and the typewriter, television cannot be wholly attributed to one man.

Experiments in transmitting images over a distance have dated back as far as the late 1800s, however, television as we would recognise it today, that is, moving images transmitted to a screen, did not emerge until the mid-1920s. The man responsible for its creation was Mr. John Logie Baird, a Scotsman (1888-1946). To this day, the Australian TV industry still holds the “Logie Awards” every year in his honour.

Mr. Baird was experimenting with transmitting images over the air for a long time, starting in the early 1920s. However, it was not until the early 1930s that the first TV sets that we might know today, ever appeared in shop windows.

Early Television

Named after its inventor, this is the Baird Televisor, ca. 1933, one of the first ever residential TV sets! It’s hardly widescreen, but it is a television.

Back in the 20s and 30s, radio was the dominant force for entertainment, education and news, and T.V. programming was often limited to a few hours, or even a few minutes a day, and nothing more than black and white film with no sound, or sound, with no pictures! T.V. during the interwar period was little more than a fairground attraction, or a toy for the rich.

By the second half of the 1930s, TV started becoming more accessible, and more advanced, although it still had a limited market. Picture-quality was not what it might be, but now, TV sets had sound! Sets were still expensive, but those who could afford them, bought them from famous department-stores like Selfridges in London. In the United States, T.V. broadcasting started in the 1930s and Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first American president to appear on television, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.


That’s right! Nazi-Vision!

Believe it or not, but it was the Nazis who created one of the world’s first national television networks. German factories started producing early TV sets in 1934, and the Nazis were among the very first people on earth to realise the potential for television to reach several audiences at once, and spread the glorious Nazi ideologies of Strength through Joy, racial purity and an abundance of bratwurst for all!

Based in the German capital of Berlin, the Nazi-controlled broadcasting station and studio produced everything from propaganda movies, to Nazi rallies, speeches and other material, which was transmitted to the screens of loyal Germans fortunate enough to own the first generation of home television-sets. While most of the programming was broadcast live, and was not recorded, some 250-odd reels of ancient film remains, which gives us a tantalizing look at television under the Nazis, from 1935-1944.

Although the Nazis could see that TV could be a great technology for spreading their ideologies and propaganda, they also realised that the technology would have to be greatly improved before it would work properly. The limitations of early cameras meant that picture-quality was mediocre at best. Their solution was to record their broadcasts onto film, and play it back later, like they did with any other movie. This not only improved quality, but it also had the unintended side-effect of giving us a record of Nazi television that has survived to this day.

Despite the Nazis grand vision, the relative expensiveness of television sets meant that the audience for their programming was always rather small. Few people owned sets. Those who did were usually party-members with the money to spend, people in positions of power, money or authority, and a chosen lucky few private citizens. The rest of the sets were set up in public “Television Parlors”, scattered around Berlin. They were little more than simple movie-theaters, where the big screen had been replaced by the small one.

Another opportunity for the Nazis came in 1936. That’s right, the Berlin Olympics of 1936, where Jesse Owens beat the Aryans and humiliated Hitler, were the first Olympics to be publicly televised!

However, the fact remained that, despite the Nazis best efforts, early television remained impractical on a large scale. They had improved some things, such as picture-quality and sound, but a limited audience meant that until the medium was more widely adopted and accepted, and better recording, broadcasting, and receiving means had been devised, TV would be little more than a toy. Indeed, even by the outbreak of the Second World War, the entire nation of Germany had only about 500 television sets, scattered around the country.

Television and the War

By the early 1940s, some semblance of regular TV broadcasts had begun. In 1941, CBS in the United States was broadcasting televised news in 15-minute bulletins, twice a day. Regular programming began to introduce the TV shows that we would recognise today, although the limitations of the studio-cameras and lights of the period left much to be desired when it came to picture-quality. The war itself played a big role in holding back the development of TV. Rationing and shortages of almost everything needed to make TV sets, from wood to metal to glass, made them expensive luxury-items. And at any rate, the companies that made TV. sets were more interested in making radios and other electronics for the war effort.

These shortcomings and interruptions severely affected the widespread use of televisions, and it wasn’t until after the war, in 1947, that regular T.V. broadcasting really took off in the United States.

In Germany, where television was being exploited for propaganda purposes, advances in technology had been made, but even then, programming was brief. Usually only a few hours a day, if at all. By autumn of 1944, with constant, heavy bombing-raids on German cities, and the war going badly for the Nazis, the national broadcasting company in Germany ceased transmissions.

Please Check your Local Paper for the Times

The war is over! Yay!

In the late 1940s, TV programming really started taking off. With the war over, more technology and research could be profitably spent developing and improving the emerging medium of television. For the growing number of television-owners, there were now more frequent telecasts and a greater variety of options, everything from news programs, sitcoms, and early kids’ shows like the famous “Howdy Doody” program, starting in 1947!

There was stiff competition from radio during this time, but one by one, popular radio programs of the 1930s and 40s slowly shifted from the old, to the new, setting up regular TV spots for themselves on the weekly schedule. For a while, some actors and performers ran concurrent TV and radio programs; “Dragnet” used to do it for nearly a whole decade!

By the early 1950s, TV was becoming more and more accepted, and popular shows such as “Amos & Andy” (1951) and the Jack Benny Program (1950), were big hits on TV. Radio-writers and musicians who found themselves suddenly unemployed, began scriptwriting for these newfangled television-series, and writing and recording music for TV shows.

The Shape of the Box

Early televisions of the 1930s and 40s closely followed the styles of furniture and radios of the period. A typical 1930s radio-set was large, with a handsome wood case, cloth-covered speakers and handsome bakelite knobs. Television sets were made in the same style. Here’s an RCA 360, from 1947, one of the first postwar televisions to be mass-produced and available to the public:

By the 1950s, as with many other things, from typewriters to radios to kitchen gadgets, sleeker lines, newer materials and different colour-palettes were the rage. Boxy old wood-case televisions were out. More simplistic and uncluttered looks were in…

In the 50s, televisions were the latest and greatest thing around. Some people who couldn’t actually afford a set, would just buy an aerial and stick it on their rooves, just to pretend that they did, so that they could keep up with the Joneses.

Remote Television

Almost as soon as TV started taking off, people started looking for ways to make the technology more appealing to the everyday user. Why should you have to get up and flip a dial and knob whenever you wanted to change the channel? That arduous, six, seven, or nine-foot trek to the set, and back again, is such an inconvenience! Surely there’s a better way?

I See the Light!

As early as 1950, the first TV remote-controls had been invented. Originally connected to the set itself by long cables, the first wireless TV-remotes, of the kind we recognise today, came out in the mid 1950s. One of the first wireless remotes was the Flashmatic, from 1955. It worked quite simply: You pressed the buttons on the controller and aimed it at the television. A beam of light from the remote hit a photoelectric panel on the TV set, which changed the channel.

Brilliant, but problematic. See, the light-sensitive electric cell on the television-set did not differentiate between the beam shot from the remote, and any other source of light. If you turned on an electric lamp near to the television, or even if you opened the curtains and let in the sunlight, the channel would change automatically, even without the remote!

A Click and a Switch!

Early TV remotes worked on light-beams affecting light-sensitive electric panels on the television set. They worked well enough, so long as you had a decent aim and there weren’t any interfering light-sources, but the drawbacks of their over-sensitivity and fiddly operation made them somewhat impractical. A better type of TV remote was invented shortly after, which relied not on light, but on sound. Pressing the remote-buttons let off clicks of different frequencies, which could be picked up by the TV-set. Each frequency related to a specific command – changing the channel, or the volume, as the case may have been. But even this could be problematic, when people with sensitive hearing could hear the pulses of sound (which were designed to be outside the human hearing-range).

Slice and Dice!

Don’tcha just hate it that, just when the show gets to the interesting bit, it suddenly breaks for a commercial?

You can thank TV remotes for that.

After the invention of the remote, it was discovered by studio bigwigs that airing commercials between shows was ineffective. Once a show was over, you could just turn the set off, or flip to another channel. And you didn’t have to watch the stupid commercial for Remington typewriters, or Brylcreem, or Pepsodent, or whatever other boring junk those commercial schmucks were trying to peddle in your own living room! How dare they invade your privacy like this!?

To remedy this, the modern format of television was created, where shows were split into segments or acts, just like a play at the theater. This allowed for advertising, but it also meant that people were less likely to flip away from the channel, in case they missed the return of their favourite TV episode, thereby increasing the viewer-numbers of TV commercials.

Crafty bastards…

The Golden Age of Television

The Golden Age of Television is defined as the period from the early 1950s up to the 1970s. It was during this period that many of the classic and famous TV shows that we know and love and remember, were broadcast. But more importantly, it was during this time (especially in the 50s and 60s), that TV gained dominance over radio for the first time in history. Also, it was during the 50s and 60s that TV developed its own style, format and language.

Previously, TV shows were modeled after radio-programs, but not everything used in radio was possible on television, which necessitated various changes, which led to the evolution of modern television. Shows produced on TV during and after this changeover, are considered classics of television.

What shows, you might ask? Well, how about Dragnet? The Jack Benny Show? Amos & Andy? Leave It To Beaver? Life with Luigi, and numerous other programs.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Along with regular programming, the television revolutionized the broadcasting of news. Previously, you had the radio and the newspaper. But now, the nightly, six o’clock bulletin was the mainstay of news, sports and weather. The news anchor and reporters became staples of nightly broadcasts. Programs like the 1950s “See it Now“, began to replace radio broadcasts as the method for spreading news to the public. The line “Good night, and good luck”, was the sign-off line used by famous reporter Edward R. Murrow, notable for reporting on the Blitz in London, and MacCarthyism during the 1950s.

We Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Program…

By the 60s and 70s, TV had become the mainstay of most well-to-do households in the developed world, and had finally replaced radio as the main medium for electronic entertainment, music and news. It had by now, reached the format which we’re most familiar with.

The 60s and 70s saw many of the most famous TV shows in history take to the air, like Gilligan’s Island, the Addams Family, Are You Being Served?, Dad’s Army, Dragnet (which transferred from radio in the 1950s), and the Dick Van Dyke Show.

It was in the early 1970s that the first TV-recording equipment arrived on the scene. These days, we have DVD recorders and other technology that will allow us to pause, rewind, record and watch multiple shows at once. But we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if the VCR and the video-cassette didn’t get there first. Entering the market in 1971, the VHS tape and the VCR remained the standard method for recording TV-programs for thirty years, until the end of the 20th century. Tricks like putting sticky-tape over the slots in the tape-cassette to disable the anti-recording feature on some cassettes, would enable people to use almost any cassette to record movies, TV shows and almost anything else that they wanted, right off their TV sets. VCDs, and eventually, DVDs, and their accompanying recorders, would of course replace them starting in the late 1990s, but VHS tapes paved the way.

That brings us more or less to the modern day, so far as TVs are concerned. Some things have changed, such as digital TVs from old cathode-ray tube (CRT) TVs, and the lack of a need for a pair of rabbit-ear antennae, but in the past few years, not much else has changed about the basics of television as we know it today.

Want to Know More?

“Television under the Swastika – The History of Nazi Television”

A History of Television from the Grolier Encyclopedia


Hooray for Hollywood: A Brief History of the American Film Industry

Hollywood! A magical, amazing, magnificent, fascinating, fantasmagorical funpark where dreams are made. Today, Hollywood is the most famous place in the world for making blockbuster feature films. It’s where movie-stars earn multi-million dollar paychecks, it’s where aspiring actors hope to make it, and make it big…one day. It’s where directors create their masterpieces and where producers hope to push their latest pitch. It’s the dream factory where thousands of people work to produce fantasies that millions of others will buy. But where did this dream factory come from and how did it come into existence? Was Hollywood always around? Or was it accidently washed onto the shores of California a couple of centuries ago? Or did the aliens drop it out of the sky on their way to Mars? Who knows?

Well, we’re going to find out.

What is ‘Hollywood’?

The first thing we need to understand is the name ‘Hollywood’ and where it is. It is, admittedly, a very generic name. Just like there are lots of places named ‘Springfield’ or ‘Townsville’ or ‘Harrison’ (maybe), there are lots of places in the United States named ‘Hollywood’. Don’t believe me? Go look at a map. In America alone, there’s at least a dozen towns named ‘Hollywood’ and three places named ‘Hollywood’ in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. But when most people say ‘Hollywood’, we all know the one they’re talking about.

Hollywood, California.

To be clear, Hollywood is not actually a town. It’s a district of the City of Los Angeles, California. The area known as ‘Hollywood’ today started in the second half of the 19th century as just another suburb of Los Angeles. Developed between the 1880s and the early 1900s, Hollywood takes up a space of 500 acres. The area is designed as a quiet, upperclass neighbourhood where the wealthy, the high rollers and the fat-cats can live in luxury. To advertise this wonderful new part of town, an enormous sign is erected on the hills overlooking Los Angeles.


The Early Filmmaking Industry

Moving pictures started as an experiment at the close of the 19th century. By the first decade of the 20th century, people were beginning to hear about these new moving images and the possibility that they held for entertainment. Film studios were small concerns, few and far between. Films were cheap thrills. You could go to a simple cinema in town and pay five cents to watch a short flicker-show…which almost literally coined the term…‘Nickelodeon’.

But by the 1910s, interest in the filmmaking industry began to grow as people saw the potential of this new technology, and Hollywood would be there every step of the way.

The year is 1912. Hollywood is about to take off. Two years previously, the first film ever made in Hollywood went on show. It was just seventeen minutes long. A far cry from the three-hour-long, multipart blockbusters we know today. But it was a start. In 1912, the first official film-studio opened in Hollywood, called Nestor Studio. The first official Hollywood film, made in a Hollywood studio, would come out two years later in 1914, directed by one of the legends of the Golden Age of Hollywood. His name was Cecil B. DeMille.

By 1915, the American film industry (before then, based mostly in New York) had started moving to Los Angeles. The American film industry was born.

The Golden Age of Hollywood

The Silent Era

During the 1910s, Hollywood was still making a name for itself. Although film was becoming more widespread, it was still in a rather rudimentary state. The idea of film credits were only just being thought-of. It was only once cinema had a firm foothold as an entertainment medium that people decided it might be a good idea to add lists of details before and after films, so that people could tell who produced, directed and starred in the various films then rolling across the screens of the world.

The 1920s saw the rise of Hollywood. The first stars were born. People like Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. Films during these early years were crude. Without the benefit of synchronised audio, actors relied on exaggerated body-language and close-ups of facial-expressions to convey emotional messages such as anger, frustration, horror and comedy. Intertitles, a staple of films of this era, conveyed important information to the audience such as important bits of dialogue, scene-changes or important story-elements.

Many terms used in the film-industry today survive from this early era. Today, a ‘flick’ is a feature film or a ‘movie’. A ‘film’. ‘Flick’ came from the propensity of early images to flicker across the screen as the film-reels rolled over the projection-lights. ‘Movie’ naturally comes from the bigger word ‘moving picture’ and ‘film’ from the delicate and highly combustable cellulose nitrate film that early films were produced on – So flammable that it was against the law to carry film-reels on public transport due to the immense fire-hazard. The very word ‘Cinema’ comes from the larger word ‘cinematograph’, an early form of projection camera. If the film produced wasn’t good enough, then the editor would take out a pair of scissors, slice off the bad film and splice the good bits of film together to make a complete reel – Anything not up to scratch literally ended up “…on the cutting-room floor”.

Despite technological shortcomings, films were being produced with amazing speed in Hollywood during the 1920s. Up to eight hundred a year during that decade alone. Most of them were short, one-reel flicker-shows, but the idea of the ‘feature length film’ was beginning to gain ground. The first feature-length film was actually produced in Australia in the early 1900s, and was about the famous Ned Kelly gang…Hollywood had a bit of catching up to do!

Due to the lack of audio, many early picture-houses featured a piano (or if they could afford it, an organ) to provide musical accompaniment. Most music was generic, written to provide a background to various filmic situations – Love-scenes, dramatic fights, light relaxing music for summer days, scary, dramatic music for stormy weather or horror films…Only the really big-budget films had musical scores written specifically for them. Cinema pianists had to be the best of the best, to accompany the film exactly in-sync for the music to work with what was being portrayed on screen. One of the most famous silent-film organists was the late Rosa Rio, who died in 2010. Playing the piano from the age of seven, her musical career ran for over a century (that’s right, 1909-2009). She started out as a silent-film pianist, then she moved to radio, then to television, providing some of the most famous theme-tunes ever known, such as the haunting and slow organ music that accompanied the opening of every episode of the famous radio-program, ‘The Shadow’.

Rosa Rio, silent film organist, 1934

The Birth of Talkies

“Talkies”, so-called because the actors could be heard to talk, came out in the late 1920s, when film studios figured out how to successfully synchronise recorded sound with moving pictures. Many people will tell you that the first talking picture was “The Jazz Singer” from 1927. This is both true, and untrue. It’s certainly got talking in it, but in many ways, it is still a silent film, complete with the exaggerated body-language and the intertitles that had existed since the earliest days of film production. I’ve seen the film myself and while it’s certainly a great story – I don’t know that I’d call it a modern, audio-synchronised film as we would know it today.

Talkies were a watershed of an invention. Some people loved them…Others hated them! Many silent-film actors were put out of work because they just didn’t understand the new technology and were unable to adapt to it. Charlie Chaplin was one of the lucky few that did…although he held off making his first ‘talkie’ film until well into the 1930s, by which time silent films were fast becoming ancient history. It was because of the invention of talkies that one of the most famous pieces of filmmaking equipment was created…the clapper-board:

The clapperboard was used to help the filmmakers. By showing the film, but most importantly, the act, scene and take-numbers, they could accurately synchronise motion with sound, from the ‘clack!’ that started each reel. It was invented in the late 1920s in Melbourne, Australia.

The Hollywood Sign

The most famous thing about Hollywood is of course, the Hollywood Sign. It was created in 1923 as a real-estate advertisement and originally read “HOLLYWOODLAND” and was lit up by thousands of lightbulbs at night. Only designed to be up there for a few months, no thought was given to its preservation and it was allowed to deteriorate for over twenty years until it was partially renovated in 1949. By then, the weather had damaged the sign so badly that the decision was made to remove the last four letters, leaving simply ‘HOLLYWOOD’.

The original Hollywoodland sign, photographed here in the 1930s

The original sign from 1923 doesn’t exist anymore. The one that we see today was what replaced the original sign in the 1970s. Continued exposure to the elements had necessitated the sign’s complete replacement in 1978.

Pre-Code Hollywood

A lot of people like to think of old Hollywood films as weak, soppy, exaggerated and overacted. And perhaps they are. But that’s only because of the intense censorship that existed in Hollywood at the time. Any Hollywood films made before 1934 (especially those made between 1927-1934) are classed as “Pre-Code” films. These films were full of sex, violence, blood, rough fist-fights and even homosexuality. It was during this time that many of the great gangster films were made, such as the infamous ‘Scarface’ and ‘Little Caesar’. Free from creative restriction, filmmakers and actors let themselves loose on the camera and film-set, shooting what they wished.

It was in 1934 that all this fun and joy had to end. It was dangerous. It was immoral. It was offensive to women, children, civilised men and to President Roosevelt’s pet dog (…maybe. The dog could not be reached for comment). Religious and morality groups spoke out against the percieved ‘immorality’ of these films, and demanded that the government take steps to clean up the act of the American motion-picture industry. As a result, a strict list of rules was created. These rules clearly stated, or strongly suggested that, among other things…

– Sexual innuendo was to be illegal. No nudity. No ladies lifting their skirts. No sex-scenes of any kind.
– Criminal films were to be strictly censored. It would be better if films did not show scenes of robbery, theft, murder, brawling…firearms, safecracking, malicious demolition of railroads or buildings…the list goes on and on. No wonder all the best gangster-films were made before 1934!!
– Profanity of any kind was illegal. It’s for this reason that Clark Gable shocked everyone in 1939 with his infamous line “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”.
– Death wasn’t allowed to be gory or excessively violent.

The damage that the ‘Hays Code’ as it was called, did to the American film industry was catastrophic. Many actors were furious and felt that their creativity was being severely impeded. One of the most famous of these was the actress Mae West. Famous for her saucy double entendres and generous breasts, she faced almost complete ruin thanks to the restrictions placed on her by the Code. Many movies from earlier years, mostly those from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s were heavily edited to comply with the new censorship laws, the result being that many classic films are now only available in their post-code states. In some cases, films were destroyed outright because they didn’t comply with the rules of the Hays Code.

One of the most famous and most obvious examples of the Hays Code in effect is in fight-scenes. They almost always take place at night and always in the dark, with the lights turned off and only turned on again when the fight is over. On the surface it makes no sense, because it’s almost impossible to film a fistfight in the dark, but this was done deliberately so that the audience wouldn’t see the violence portrayed on screen and children wouldn’t be desensitised to it. Another example comes from the 1950s Stanley Kubrick film “Paths of Glory”. A film set during the First World War, soldiers killed in combat merely flop over dead onscreen (regardless of actual manner of death). Compare this with the jarring introduction of Stephen Spielberg’s famous film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ which portrayed the full horror of a beachfront assault.

The Code couldn’t last. By the 1940s it was already being eroded as people complained that, while the Code did have its good points (needless or pointless violence and sex was removed from films, for example), it increasingly caused problems for filmmmakers who were unable to shoot particular scenes. The Code died a slow death, though. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that it was finally abandoned, to be replaced by the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating-system that we know today (“G”, “PG”, “PG 13+”, “R” and “NC-17”) which allowed films of all kinds to be created, and merely advised people of their content prior to watching them.

The full text of the Hays Code of 1930 may be found in the ‘Article Sources’ page of this blog.

The Big Studios

With the arrival of talkies, filmmaking really took off. The 1930s to the 1950s is considered the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. In this roughly twenty-to-thirty year gap, some of the most famous films ever, were shot in Hollywood. Classics like “Gone with the Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz”, the ‘Dick Tracy’ films, the classic ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films starring Basil Rathbone, “San Francisco” starring Clark Gable and many famous Hitchcock films, such as “North by Northwest” in 1959.

Hundreds of films were produced every year by big movie-studios. Called the ‘studio system’, the big-name filmmakers produced their films entirely on their own lots. They also controlled film distribution-rights as well as some of the better cinemas in town, which meant that they could make more money. Some of the big studios have survived into the 21st century. These include…

– MGM (“Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer”)
– Paramount Pictures.
– Warner Brothers.
– RKO Radio Pictures.
– Fox Film Corporation (later “20th Century Fox”).

The only one of these not around today is RKO Radio Pictures. Famous for films such as “King Kong” (which saved the company from bankruptcy in 1933), the company folded in 1959.

Before the age of television, Hollywood was pumping out hundreds of films a year, dozens of films a month. Some films made it big, some have faded into history. In the 1930s and 40s, Hollywood films were extremely popular – for just a few cents you could buy a ticket and forget your troubles for a couple of hours and not worry about the Depression or the War that was going on around you. Hollywood boomed in this era for that reason. With so many films being made, less emphasis was put on films to make them a hit and fewer people worried if a film was a flop – there was nothing to compete against so it probably didn’t matter. Some films did make it big – “Casablanca”, “San Francisco”, “The Big Sleep” and “Twelve Angry Men” to name but a few.

An antique Bell & Howell movie-camera from 1933. An identical one was used in the Peter Jackson remake of ‘King Kong’. Cameras similar to this were common during the Golden Age of Hollywood

Hollywood During the 30s and 40s

Although Hollywood began to take off during the 1920s, the 1930s and 40s nearly killed it. The Depression could have shut the movie-making industry down, just as it killed off nearly everything else in the United States, but strong ticket-sales saved the various studios then in operation, from going bankrupt. Buying a film-ticket for a few cents was the only way that most Depression-era people had of escaping their misery, and they bought millions of them. ‘King Kong’, released in 1933, was wholly responsible for saving RKO from bankruptcy during the worst years of the Depression, when one in four Americans were out of work and unemployment was in the millions.

In the Second World War, Hollywood helped produce propaganda films and documentaries for the war-effort. While some may be considered insensitive today, they were undeniably funny and were aimed at boosting Allied morale and reminding Americans why they should fight a war which some of them thought, wasn’t theirs to bother about. Hollywood even produced training-films for the U.S. Army to better educate soldiers. They produced instructional films for soldiers as well, in the shape of the famous “SNAFU” cartoon-shorts. They were supposed to be followed by additional cartoon-series with SNAFU’s cousin TARFU and FUBAR, but these last two weren’t produced due to the war’s end. Because they were aimed at soldiers, these instructional cartoons were considerably more adult than other material Hollywood produced during the same-era…SNAFU, TARFU and FUBAR are all military acronyms. Respectively, they stood for: “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up”, “Totally and Royally Fucked Up” and “Fucked up Beyond All Recognition”.

The End of the Age

The ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ ended in the 1950s and 60s. The collapse of the U.S. Government’s ‘Hays Code’ meant that filmmakers were able to produce drastically different types of films, no longer restrained by what some people thought were over-the-top restrictions and regulations. Although invented in the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that television finally took off and by the 1960s, was really spreading around the world. Some people feared that television would put the movie-making industry and cinemas out of business, but this fear proved groundless. What television did do was change the way Hollywood operated and affected the kinds of films they made. With fewer people going to the cinema, the number of films made dropped significantly, to about four hundred a year today.

“Hooray for Hollywood”?

If you’re wondering about the title of this article, it’s taken from the 1937 song “Hooray for Hollywood”, a piece of music written for the film ‘Hollywood Hotel’. It’s widely considered the official “theme-song” of Hollywood and is sometimes heard at awards ceremonies (even those not held in the United States!) The lyrics, largely forgotten today, celebrate the golden age of American filmmaking. They can be confusing and hard to understand today because they use many outdated slang-words, mention actors or actresses who have since passed away and refer to technology long obsolete.


Ars Gratia Artis: The History of Animated Cartoons

‘Toons. Cartoons. Animated films. Bah! Kids’ stuff!

And perhaps you may be right. These days, cartoons have a distinct, childish look and feel to them. When someone mentions cartoons, we think of the kids sitting in front of the television on Saturday mornings watching “Cartoon Network”, “Nickelodeon” or the “Disney Channel”. But cartoons have had a longer and more colourful history than most of us are probably aware of. Characters such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Popeye the Sailor Man, Goofy, Pete, Koko the Clown, Pluto, Tweety-bird, Daffy Duck and dozens of others, have histories stretching back well over fifty, sixty, seventy and in rare cases, eighty years! When and where did cartoons come from? How were they created? Who did what, when and how?

For the purposes of clarification, this article will cover the history of cartoons in the context of animated film, not as the funny pages in your local paper. So grab some popcorn, your best ACME-brand director’s chair, sit down and relax…

The First Animated Cartoons

Ever since the dawn of photography, people learned that pictures taken in quick sucession, of a moving object, could be flipped through, sequentially, to create the illusion of a ‘moving picture’. This became the basis of moving pictures of all kinds for over a hundred years, from the 1870s until the late 1990s, when it was gradually made obsolete by computer and filmmaking-technology that was more up-to-date.

People reasoned that, if dozens of photographs taken in quick sucession could be ‘played back’ as a ‘moving picture’, then there was no reason why a series of carefully-drawn illustrations couldn’t do the same thing. The first experiments with this took place in the late 19th century and the results were short animated cartoons created through ‘flip-books’. A flip-book worked by holding a small book (with the illustrations inside) spine upwards and then letting the pages fall downwards in front of you. As the pages fell and revealed the next frame in the animation, the pictures appeared to ‘move’.

The Development of Animated Film

Animated cartoon-films as we know and love them today, were born in the early 20th century, with companies and film-studios such as Inkwell Studios, the later Fleischer Studios, Warner Bros. Studios and most famously, the Walt Disney Studios and the less well-known Van Beuren Studios, all founded in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Since cartoons exist outside the world of conventional physics, science, medicine and technology and are created in a world entirely of their own, animators, illustrators, directors, producers and voice-actors of animated films soon realised that they could bend reality to extraordinary levels and thereby create amazingly vivid, surrealist and imaginative films which, in turn, allowed for a great deal of liberty and creativity in making comedy cartoon-shorts, something which the early animation studios produced a great deal of.

Cartoons started off looking very crude as animators originally struggled to draw such detailed drawings in great number. The cartoon tradition of having characters drawn with only four fingers and four toes was supposedly a time-saving measure. By having only four digits on the hands and feet, animators could draw more quickly, but at the same time, not appear to have greatly mutilated the limbs of the characters being used. This tradition of four-fingered characters has continued into the modern day with cartoons such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.


In the late 1920s, with the invention of films with synchronised audio (the “talkies”), animation studios began to explore with sound-effects, vocal-talents and music for their cartoons, to liven them up and add to the comedy in an audiable as well as visual way. Famous voice-actors of the “Golden Age of Animated Cartoons” included Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse), Mae Questal (Betty Boop, Olive Oyl) and Clarence Nash (who did Donald Duck’s famous raspy duck-voice). The famous Disney cartoon-short, “Steamboat Willie”, starring Mickey Mouse, Pete and Minnie Mouse was famous for being the first animated cartoon with complete post-production audio (music, dialogue and sound-effects) to be screened to the public.

Cartoon Music

With the creation and perfection of synchronised audio for animated films, animation-studios began experimenting with other additions to their cartoon-shorts to make them as humorous as possible. The next logical step after dialogue was the inclusion of music. From the earliest cartoons with sound, animators started including popular songs from the day or popular folk-songs. In “Steamboat Willie”, Mickey and Minnie Mouse play a goat as a phonograph which plays the song “Turkey in the Straw”. The 1930s Van Beuren ‘Tom and Jerry’ short “Piano Tooners” included notable songs such as “Margie” (in the opening credits), “Daisy Bell” (at the 1:50 mark) and later on, “Doin’ the New Low Down”, which was a popular jazz-song published in 1928, which would’ve been a very contemporary piece of music to include in a cartoon released in 1932.

Other popular songs used in cartoons included “Happy Days Are Here Again”, “Kitten on the Keys”, “Manhattan Serenade” (in the MGM short “Mouse in Manhattan”) and a selection of turn-of-the-century Vaudeville songs, such as those used in the Disney short “The Nifty Ninties” (that’s the 1890s, folks).

The most famous piece of cartoon music is probably the Warner Bros. Studio’s adaptation of Raymond Scott’s famous composition: “Powerhouse”, published in 1937, whose slow, rhythmic melody was used in several “production-line” sequences in numerous cartoons.

For curious minds, the theme tune for the Warner Bros. cartoon-shorts series “Looney Toons” was “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down”, the theme-tune for “Merrie Melodies” was “Merrily We Roll Along”.

Colour Cartoons

Colour still-photograhy became a reality in the 1860s, believe it or not and probably equally unbelievable was the fact that colour film technology was born as equally early in the motion-picture industry as it was in the photography industry. Using the famous ‘Technicolor’ film system, cartoons (and live-action films) were, for the first time, shot in full colour.

Technicolour had been available from the early 1920s, but due to the expensive nature of shooting a film in colour, before the development of synchronised sound to make the expense worthwhile, most film-studios (animated or otherwise), never bothered with it and through the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s (mostly due to the Depression), popular cartoons such as Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Tom and Jerry and the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons, remained black and white as a cost-cutting measure.

Starting in the second half of the 1930s, though, with the Depression slowly beginning to ease up, animation studios began experimenting with colourised, audio-synced cartoons, to great effect. The Disney “Silly Symphonies” cartoons of the late 1930s showed the quality of early Technicolor technology which was a great change from the greyscale black-and-white cartoons of only a couple of years previously. Technicolor, famous for its saturated tones, gave cartoons new life and provided animators with even greater comedic clay to craft into something even funnier and more memorable than before.

Viewing Cartoons

Before the rise of television in the 1950s, cartoon-shorts and obviously, full-length feature-animations, were screened in cinemas. If you’ve ever wondered why old cartoons from the 30s, 40s and 50s looked like they were treated as miniature films, with credits telling folks who was the director, producer, composer of the music and who did all the voice-acting, it’s because they were films which were showed in cinemas, along with conventional live-action films. This trend stopped in the 60s, though, with the rise of television, and with cartoons being delegated to the slot of Saturday-morning entertainment for the kids. But before then, making cartoons to be shown in cinemas was big business and the people who made them took a lot of pride and care in their work and craft. Naturally, they wanted to be properly credited for their part in their final masterpiece!

“Yeah but cartoons are computer-generated. You have the software and the graphics and the motion-capture and the…pfft”.

Making cartoons wasn’t always as easy as fiddling around with a mouse to create graphics on a computer-screen. In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that the first entirely CGI (Computer-Generated-Imagery) animated film was created…Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” in 1995. Before then, cartoons were still done the old-fashioned way and while CGI had been around since the early 1970s and had helped animators take a few shortcuts…before then, things were a lot different.

Walt Disney sketching out Mickey Mouse as he appeared in “Steamboat Willie” in 1928

Handcrafted Fantasies

In the days before computer graphics, before photoshop, before CGI, before computer-editing and all the rest of it, cartoon-films were made an entirely different way to how they are now. To begin with…they were all made by hand. Literally.

Today it’s impossible to imagine the level of skill, patience, dexterity, patience, care, patience, talent, patience, perseverence, patience, attention-to-detail, patience and time (did I mention ‘patience’?) that it took to create an animated film. It was an incredible artform where screwing up literally sent you back to the drawing-board. To work in an animation studio, you needed incredible patience. As Mel Blanc said, in an interview with David Letterman:

    “…To make a six-and-a-half minute cartoon in full animation, took a hundred and twenty-five people nine months; to make one fully-animated cartoon. And even then, it cost around $50,000…”

    – Voice-actor Mel Blanc (“The Man of A Thousand Voices”)

So, just how hard was it to make a cartoon the old-fashioned way? How was it done? Who did what? When? Why?


The first step in animation was drawing a storyboard. A storyboard is a rough series of sequential drawings, set out a bit like a comic-strip. The storyboard tells people what’s happening in the cartoon in a basic, easy-to-understand manner. It’s like a visual representation of a film-script. Anyone who’s seen storyboards of animated films will know just how quickly and crudely they’re drawn, often just with pencil or ink in a simple, sketchy, black-and-white way without any colours, with little captions under each picture to explain what’s happening in each frame.


With the basics of the cartoon illustrated on the storyboard, it’s time to put sound to pictures. Believe it or not, but in animated films, the soundtrack (the music, the sound-effects and the dialogue) is all done first, before the actual animation. The reason for this is so that the animators can draw and custom-fit their animation-cells AROUND the soundtrack and better synchronise the sounds with the pictures, actions and the lip-movements depicted on-screen. Doing it the other way would have the soundtrack fighting to keep up with the actions on-screen instead of having the animators “tailor-make” the pictures to go with the sound.

It’s during the recording process that the voices for the characters, the sound-effects for the actions and the music for the film are created. Voice-actors such as Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum) and Mel Blanc (Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig) have often said that creating a voice for a character in a cartoon was not about making up a voice and then trying to figure out a character from the voice, but rather being given a picture of the cartoon-character and then deciding what kind of voice the character should have, based on the picture and a short description.

Reeling it In

With the storyboard drawn up, the voices, sounds and music recorded and spaced out and the characters created, it’s time to string the whole thing together. Obviously, perfectly synchronising movement with sound is an amazingly tricky process (which is why the first ‘talkie’ didn’t come out until 1927!), and to help them do this, animators create what is known as a story-reel.

The story-reel plays the cartoon, frame by frame along with the soundtrack, with all the frames drawn roughly as a draft for the final product. It’s during this process that any problems with synchronisation, lip-movements and timing between the movements on-screen and the audio, are fixed up. Getting the initial ‘meshing’ of the sound and movement perfect at this stage of the filmmaking process is important because, as animation is obviously a very expensive business (don’t forget, $50,000 for a six minute cartoon!), the animators and the studio cannot afford mistakes in the audio-synchronisation later on in the production process, when the film is almost complete. Doing it now when the drawings are still crude saves a lot of money in buying aspirin-tablets for folks later on.

Timing it Out

The next stage in traditional animation was design and timing. ‘Design’ was taking the storyboard and the story-reel and the pictures of all the things that would be in the cartoon, and drawing them out professionally, removing the rough edges and making it appear like a real cartoon. ‘Timing’ is making sure that all the problems with audio-synchronisation are removed and that the film runs and sounds flawlessly. Small details such as lip-synchronisation and music-synchronisation are touched up at this point.

The Layout

With the pictures being finalised and the audio properly synchronised, it’s time to organise the layout of the film. This includes camera-angles (how the camera is positioned) the camera-paths (how the cameras move) and the lighting…whether a scene will be bright, dark, done in half-light, shadow and so-on.


With the sound synced to the story-reel, it’s time for the animation. Animation is the process of making the characters and objects in the cartoon…move! It’s not as easy as you might think. It takes animators a very long time to do this professionally, since animation is done by hand. At the drawing-board, the animator starts drawing out the frames, one by one, illustrating them, colouring them in and making sure that they’re perfect. Traditional animation of this sort is called “cel animation” or “hand-drawn animation”. What’s ‘cel’?

‘Cel’ is short for ‘Celluloid’. Traditionally, the animation-frames were drawn out on clear, transparent sheets of celluloid plastic, from which this process gets its name. Cels are illustrated with the scene and the characters and objects and the cel is then coloured in using acrylic paints. Cel animation is no-longer used in big-budget cartoon movies (the Walt Disney Company stopped that in 1990) and original, framed animation-cels of famous characters or cartoons from the Golden Age of Animated Film, are big, big, BIG collectables, often fetching thousands of dollars at auctions. However, at this stage in the animation-process, cels don’t come into the picture yet. It’s still all done on paper.

Animation takes a considerable time. Apart from the characters moving and running around, apart from the drawing and the colouring and drawing the backgrounds to match movements and making sure it all matches PERFECTLY with the soundtrack, you also have to think of other aspects of the film. What about effects such as…fire? Wind? Rain? Weather? These are separate parts of the animation process which are handled by folks called…appropriately: “Effects animators”, whose job it is to fill in and animate all the parts of the film which are not either objects (vehicles, machinery, etc) or characters moving around. Once this is all done, can it be considered complete…after repeated touch-ups, examinations and careful screening, probing and analysis by the big bosses.


With the hand-drawn animations finally completed, it’s time to turn the paper sheets and sketches and drawings into something which you can actually watch on a screen! Now of course…If you shined a projector-light onto a piece of paper, it wouldn’t work. The paper would block the image drawn on it and it wouldn’t appear on a screen because paper isn’t transparent. To overcome this problem, the final stage of the animation-process is the inking and painting.

In this step of the filmmaking process, the animated drawings are traced, copied and painted onto cels (remember those? The plastic sheets?). Since the cels are…celluloid, and are smooth and made of plastic, pencil-graphite and fountain-pen ink won’t stick to it. Instead, thicker inks and acrylic paints are used to draw and colour in each frame of the film.

With the transfer-process done, the film is now ready for photography, where it is filmed by special animation-cameras and lights are used to determine how bright or dark each frame of the film should be. Once all the cels have been photographed by the animation-camera, it’s transformed into film, where it can be mass-produced, ready for release to the public and screening in cinemas around the world!

This is where traditional, hand-drawn animation ends. These days, cels are no-longer used. The inking and painting of the drawings is done electronically after the sketches are scanned onto a computer, and are coloured in using the appropriate animation software. But, from the dawn of animated films in the 1920s, until computers started taking over in the 1970s…every single cartoon you watched, whether it was a ten-minute short or a two-hour feature-film extravaganza, was painstakingly sketched, recorded, transferred, inked, painted and photographed entirely by hand…exactly as described above.

Cartoons and the Modern World

A lot of things have changed since the first cartoons hit the screens of movie-theatres back in the 1920s, with all their flickering, black-and-white animated glory. One of the main things that has changed is the content and acceptability of what’s shown or not shown on cartoons and what is, and isn’t, what can and cannot, be shown to children.

Censorship and Political Correctness

Due to their free-reign of creativity and imagination, cartoons have long been attacked by political-correctness gurus and censorship hounds. Cartoons filmed in the 20s, 30s and 40s are altered, cut, censored or otherwise changed from their original state to something “suitable for the kiddies to watch”. Scenes depicting violence, sexual references (Yes! Even in cartoons!), racism, animal cruelty and warfare are often edited, changed or removed altogether.

“Mammy Two Shoes”, the obese, African-American housekeeper who looked after the house where Tom the Cat and Jerry the Mouse live, is one famous victim of modern cartoon-censorship, with her appearance, voice and mannerisms being changed to reflect a more politically correct view, by having a slim, white teenage girl replace her in some scenes.

Scenes in Betty Boop cartoons which depict legs, arms, breasts, which hint at rape, sexual-assault and racism were also heavily censored in later years and some cartoons were even banned from being shown at all!

Warner Bros’ famous cartoon character, “Speedy Gonzales”, the fastest mouse in Mexico, was also subjected to heavy censorship…until Mexican-Americans had to stand up and state flatly that they didn’t find the cartoons offensive and that they remembered them fondly from their childhoods.

These, and other countless examples of censorship and political correctness affecting classic cartoons have been dominating much of peoples’ enjoyment of these entertainment classics in the late 20th and early 21st century. Many people feel that the censorship is uncalled for and unecessary and that the political correctness is overboard. The cartoons should be viewed with the context in which they were produced, 60, 70 or even 80 years ago, and should not be measured by modern standards of society and acceptability.

Famous Cartoon Characters

Cartoons aren’t just about the whacky sounds, the funny things you see, the music or the great illustrations…it’s about…the characters! And what characters! Some of them have remained famous to this day, even though they’re up to eighty years old! So who are they?

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse looking very smart in his white tie and tails, from the 1947 short “Mickey’s Delayed Date”

Created by Walt Disney in 1928, Mickey Mouse is King of Animated Characters! Funny, charming, witty, amazingly sweet and adorable to look at in any context! Mickey Mouse was born out of Disney’s desire to create a different kind of cartoon character. Instead of cats or dogs or people, Disney wanted to draw something really unique. He took his inspiration for Mickey from the bog-standard cartoon mouse of the period, with large, black ears, big eyes, a round body and large feet.

Disney fleshed out the character from a simple, nondescript mouse into a screen legend. Mickey was famous for a lot of things, such as appearing in the first cartoon with complete sound, for popularising white gloves and for his catchphrase “Ooooh boy!”.

Mickey’s voice was deliberately high-pitched to match his size and species, but still distinctly male in tone. So far, Mickey has been voiced by four people over the years:

– Walt Disney himself (1928-1947).
– Jimmy MacDonald (1947-1977).
– Wayne Allwine (1977-2009)…Allwine died from diabetes in 2009, and was replaced by…
– Bret Iwan, who is the current voice of Mickey Mouse, and who has been voicing him since Allwine’s death in 2009.

Mickey’s use of white gloves on his paws (which has since become a rather common sight in animated animal cartoons) was so that audiences could distinguish between Mickey’s paws and the rest of his body (since both were black), so that viewers could tell where his hands were when they were placed against dark backgrounds.

Minnie Mouse

Created in 1928, Minnie was originally an unnamed Disney cartoon mouse, but as the months progressed, she was eventually established as Mickey’s girlfriend by mid 1929. Minnie has been voiced by no less than seven voice-actors over the past eighty-odd years, ranging from Walt Disney himself, to Mae Questal (more famous for voicing Betty Boop) and currently, Russi Taylor, who has provided her voice since 1986, and continues to do so.

As Mickey’s girlfriend, Minnie made several appearances on-screen, either as Mickey’s girlfriend, or as an unnamed female mouse as a partner for Mickey. In early cartoon shorts from the 1920s and 30s, it was a common joke that Minnie’s skirt would flap up or be blown up, showing off her undergarments, just one of the several things that was changed in the mid 1930s with increasingly tight censorship standards, enforced by the Hays Code of 1934.

Donald Duck

Famous for his raspy voice, clumbsiness and incredibly short temper, Donald Duck has been one of Disney’s greatest creations, since he first appeared in 1934. Donald’s distinct, raspy duck-voice was skillfully provided by Clarence Nash from 1934, right up until 1985, when he died of lukemia, aged 80. Since 1985, Donald Duck has been voiced by the equally-talented Tony Anselmo.

In the 1940s, Donald Duck starred in several WWII propaganda films, most famous of these was probably “Der Fuhrer’s Face”.

Donald Duck’s biggest claim to fame is probably his incredibly large extended family, something which not many other cartoon characters had. Apart from Donald, Disney also created…

Scrooge McDuck (named after Ebeneezer Scrooge), who is voiced by Alan Young, who is Donald’s exceedingly wealthy Scottish uncle.

Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald’s three, mischievious nephews, who first appeared on film in “Donald’s Nephews” in 1938.

Grandma Duck, Donald’s grandmother, and…

Gus Goose, Donald’s cousin Gus…a goose…with an enormous appetite who causes him all kinds of strife in the short film “Donald’s Cousin Gus” (1939).

Daisy Duck, created in 1940, although not part of the Duck family, nonetheless made several appearances in cartoons of the 1940s and 50s as Donald’s longsuffering girlfriend.


Goofy Goof was created in 1932 and he, Mickey and Donald appeared in several successful and highly humorous cartoons during the 1930s and 40s. Goofy is famous for being rather dim, making mistakes and several blunders and also for his distinctive chuckle (“Aaah-hyuk!”) and his catchphrase “Gawrsh!” (“Gosh!).

In later, TV cartoons, Goofy has a son, Max, although Goofy’s wife is never identified. Television cartoons of the 1990s often had comedy coming from Goofy struggling to raise his troublesome son, who was often portrayed as a difficult teenager. Max Goof has the distinction of being one of the few Disney cartoon characters who has actually aged in real-time.

In some cartoons from the 40s and 50s, Goof was often used as an ‘everyman character’, to be a representative of the common working man. In these shorts, his name was often given as “George Geef”.

Betty Boop

Created by an animator working for Fleischer Studios in 1930, Betty Boop has remained one of the most famous and popular cartoon characters of all time. I won’t mention her in this article, since she already has her own article.

Bugs Bunny

“Eeeeeeeh…what’s up, dawc?”

Bugs looking smart in his white-tie tux

Created in 1937, Bugs Bunny is Warner Bros’. most famous cartoon character ever. He made his official screen debut as Bugs in 1940 and was voiced, originally, by the highly talented Mel Blanc. Bugs’ cartoons often depicted him being a source of trouble for either Daffy Duck or the hunter, Elmer Fudd. When voicing Bugs, Blanc blended the Brooklyn and Bronx accents of the American Eastern Seaboard to try and come up with the ultimate, tough-guy, wise-cracking voice for this new cartoon character, which had been described to him as such, by the Warner Bros. studio executives.

One big challenge for Blanc was recording Bugs’s catchphrase: “Eeeeh…what’s up, doc?”. The words weren’t the hard part. What Blanc found difficult was having to crunch on an actual carrot and to chew it to produce the proper sound-effect for just before Bugs speaks. The problem was that Blanc hated carrots! In the end, he reached a compromise with the recording-crew, whereby he crunched on the carrot, stopped the recording, spat the carrot out and then continued with the rest of the catchphrase!

Bugs’s fame skyrocketed during WWII. His easygoing nature and casual speech made him popular as a screen-star and several propaganda films were created with him as the main character between 1942-1945.

Tom and Jerry

Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse were two famous cartoon characters who originally starred in a series of highly successful shorts from 1940-1958 created by the animation department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Like several cartoon characters of the period, they used exaggerated cartoon violence to incredible and hilarious effect and the original series of cartoons was only stopped because MGM closed its animation department in 1958.

Tom and Jerry returned in 1962 in even more series of cartoon-shorts, which were shown on television, and there continue to be revisions of the comic duo right up to the 21st century.

Less well-known Characters

Not all characters were amazingly famous, though. How many of these can you remember?

Clarabelle Cow? Horace Horsecollar? How about Private Snafu?

Clarabelle and Horace were both Disney cartoon characters, although not as well known as some of the others. A full cast of classic Disney characters can be seen in the immensely funny cartoon-short “Symphony Hour” (1942).

Private Snafu was created in the 1940s to star in a series of educational cartoons for the US. Army. Given the intended audience of the Snafu shorts would be young men going into armed services, Snafu cartoon-shorts were a bit more raunchy and politically incorrect than other cartoons of the period. Snafu’s name comes from the army acronym: “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up”, although this was changed to ‘Fouled Up’ in the cartoons. In the later war years, of 1944 and 1945, SNAFU was supposed to be teamed up with his brothers, ‘Tarfu’ (Things Are Really Fucked Up) and ‘Fubar’ (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair), in additional series of educational cartoons for the Air-Force, Marines and Navy, however, the war ended before these series could begin (save for one lone Tarfu cartoon)…which was probably just as well for the censorship department!

That’s All, Folks!

Well, this concludes my little writeup on the history of classic, animated cartoons. So, as Porky Pig says:

“Th-th-that’s a…that’s…that’s all, folks!”

If you want to see classic Disney, MGM or Warner Bros. cartoons (such as Tom & Jerry, Betty Boop, Snafu or Mickey Mouse), dozens of them are available for viewing on