Wednesday, December 7, 2011

K.A.C. 2011 - T - 18 ...

    After the shock and awe of Rudolph yesterday, I think it's time to reel it back and look at something a bit calmer, so here are some more Christmas shorts - our theme today is the King Features Syndicate, the entertainment powerhouse begun by William Randolph Hearst and the originator of licensing popular characters. Hearst built up a stable of characters in his daily newspaper strips that ran around the country, and as their fame increased, he would license the characters out for all sorts of tie-ins (toys, books, dolls, etc.) - some of his most famous early licensees included Popeye, Flash Gordon and Betty Boop. The syndicate is still going strong today and you would be surprised at what current strips fall under their aegis (to see who belongs to them, check out their Wikipedia entry).

     One of the more profitable collaborations began when Hearst got his characters into the movies, specifically animated cartoons. Today we will spotlight four cartoons featuring some of his more well-known characters. The first is Otto Soglow's 'The Little King', a character who never spoke and whose humor relied on pantomime. The Little King is not as well-known or remembered today, but back in the 1930s and '40s, he was a perennial favorite. The cartoon is called CHRISTMAS NIGHT (aka PALS) and was made in 1933 - enjoy!

     Next up is someone MUCH more familiar and a cartoon legend, Popeye the Sailor. Star of a long-running comic strip by E.C. Segar called 'Thimble Theatre', he truly came into his own in a long-running, highly profitable cartoon series made by the Fleischer Studios. Here is one of his earliest hits (also starring Olive Oyl and Bluto) from 1933 called SEASIN'S GREETINKS!

     Finally, we close out our celluloid candy cane grab bag with my personal favorite character: the delectable Ms. Betty Boop! Her evolution has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, and even though her last 'official' cartoon was made in the 1940s, she is more iconic and popular than ever, with her licensed image on every product imaginable ... she is instantly recognizable around the world and has proudly graced my Christmas tree for many years!

     It is interesting to see the bootlegged images of her from non-licensed properties in other countries ... I remember seeing not that long ago a soda can from Mexico with her image on it (see left) - she is known as 'Lulu' there, but if you take a look on Google Images for 'Lulu Cola', you will see Ms. Boop on bottles and tin trays, etc.  

     Betty had exactly the opposite career from most King Features characters: she started out as an animated cartoon (first as an anthropomorphic poodle, with her ears eventually morphing into her signature hoop earrings) and went through various phases through the years: everyone's favorite and beloved Boop is the 1930's version, the saucy and precocious flapper/entertainer who is always getting into sticky situations (and giving the Hays Office fits) - by the 1940s, she had been tamed down and saddled with various sidekicks (Pudgy, Grampy, etc.), who stole the magic from her earlier surrealistic offerings. Having said that, it's ironic that the penultimate Fleischer Christmas cartoon doesn't even have Betty in it! Instead, it is a solo effort featuring Grampy, an eccentric inventor who was featured in a number of her 1940's shorts. It's from 1936 and is called CHRISTMAS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR ...

     Betty never made a successful transition to the printed page as a comic strip, although there were various attempts to do just that. I'm fine with that, as I prefer her as the merry movie minx she is famous for. And just to make sure we don't end this thread without ANY appearance of La Boop, here she is from a cartoon originally released on December 1st, 1933, entitled PARADE OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS!

     More tomorrow!

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