An interview with....Nelson Hughes !
Do you recognize this man? I don't think so. However, animation aficionados would have to thank him with all their strenghts. In fact, Nelson Hughes is one of the unsung cartoon researchers of these days.
I'm honored to call him ( and to be called by him ) friend.
Mr. Hughes, one year ago, announced trough the pages of the GAC forum " The Termite Terrace Trading Post" ( both yours truly and Nelson Hughes are members of the GAC ), none other than four lost discovered post 1925-1929 Charles B. Mintz/ George Winkler Krazy Kat cartoons, that were collecting dust and remained unseen for more than 70 years.
Let's speak about this exciting discoveries with the man himself. Nelson was so kind to let me interview him. We both had a lot of fun and I hope you'll like the following interview.
DD: PLEASE, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF !
NH: Okay Andrea, I can tell you that I'm 38 yrs of age, born & raised in Florida and I have been living here in New York City for the past twenty four years.As for my hobbies, film wasn't what I really wanted to do in life, as music was my first love growing up.My muscial tastes was Heavy Metal and I played in several speed metal bands with some good results, but sadly, the last band I was in, we were together for seven years, but broke up due to musical differences, but during the last decade, I began to take major interest in classic film and began studying the art form and learning the history behind the films.
DD: WHEN YOU FELT IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD OF ANIMATION ?
NH: It all started when I was a kid back in the 70s. When I was growing up, I would see the more famous(and well known)cartoons on televison, with the likes of the Warner Bros., Terrytoons, MGM, Disney and the Walter Lantz cartoons which were a part of my childhood. During the summer when I attended the Boys Club, I would be the projectionist and I would screen cartoons, that you wouldn't see on televison, featuring the Ub Iwerks(Flip The Frog), Van Bueren one reelers, the old b&w Terrytoons and the Columbia Krazy Kat one reelers, so I was very fortunate to see these other rare treasures. But what really got me into animation, was when I took animation courses, I became more fascinated on their history, what studio made them, who animated them and that's when I decided I wanted to study the art form and to become,someday, a film historian.
DD: PLEASE, COULD YOU PROVIDE SOME DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MAGNIFICENT DISCOVERIES ?
NH: Sure. My discoveries of the silent Krazy Kat cartoons goes back five years ago. Of course, I was always a fan of George Herriman's comic strip of the antics of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse, by seeing reprints of the strip, as a kid.But on the other hand, I enjoyed the theatrical screen verison of Krazy(most notably the Columbia Krazies) from the silent era up to the dawn of sound and that's where I became a bigger fan of the feline.
On how this discovery became about, this was at a time I was working hard on a "Terrytoons" website, when I heard the news that a dvd collection of "Krazy Kat" cartoons were going to be released.Not much detail was given on the collection, but I was getting excited on what I would hope would be the silent Krazy Kat one reelers from the 1910s and the 1920s, but it was the made for tv verison from the early 1960s.A few months later, Ray Pointer(of Inkwell Images)was going to put a out a collection of the silent Krazy cartoons and I wanted to find out if the shorts made from the mid twenties would be included...But once again, it would be mostly the Hearst and Bray verisons of these shorts and at that point, I didn't know if the shorts that were made from the mid twenties would be included.
Before I continue any further, fans should know on a very "brief" history behind these missing films.Throughout the complete history of the theatrical Krazy Kat cartoons, there were four different verisons of the animated feline, and they began back in 1916.Here are the following list of studios..
1.The Hearst Studio(1916-1919)
2.The Bray Studios(1920-1921)
3.The Winkler/Mintz Studios(1925-1929)
4.Columbia Pictuers Corp.(1929-1940)
Out of all these studios that produced Herriman's famous feline character, the films that were produced between 1925 to 1929, were among the "hardest" to see, much less find and were the only ones that I never seen from the silent era.Out of all the entire silent Krazies that was made, the Winkler/Mintz studios produced the most out of any of the other two previous studios and it became a personal goal of mine to locate any prints of these films.
DD: WHAT IS BEHIND THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST WINKLER KRAZY KAT CARTOONS ?
NH: In 1925, animation poineer William C.Nolan went out on his own to become an independent producer and he was looking for a new series to start.He came across the idea of staring a new series of "Krazy Kat" cartoons, since Krazy last appeared on the silver screen four years earlier and Nolan thought that Krazy would be an ideal choice for a new series for Nolan to create.
One of the first steps that Nolan did, was to make a serious change to the design of the character, by doing so, Nolan transformed Krazy(call it an animated sex change)into a male, something that was not a part of Herriman's original concept design of Krazy and the only thing that Nolan kept on Krazy, was his trademark bow ribbon.Although there are no surviving evindence on Nolan's decison, but my guess (and theory) is that maybe Nolan felt the Krazy would be more appealing to moviegoers as a male than a female, but it can be anyone's guess at this point at why Krazy became a male feline.
DD: SO, WHAT STUDIO DID NOLAN SIGNED WITH ?
NH: Nolan found a distibutor in M.J.Winkler aka Margaret Winkler and was able to secure a deal with Joesph P. Kennedy's FBO Film Booking Office in 1925.When you look at the history of cartoon producers/distributors such as Schlesinger, Mintz Quimby and Lantz, Margaret Winkler was a very powerful cartoon producer and today, she's very overlooked in this modern day and age.Winkler was the "first" female producer in the animated cartoon world, this at a time when the industry was a male dominate system.Margaret produced and distributed some of animation's biggest names in the industry, including Max Fleischer, Pat Sullivan and a young lad by the name of Walt Disney.
Here you have a picture of Margaret Winkler :
From 1925 to 1929 the Times Square based cartoon studio turned out 93 silent shorts, and during the four years, changes were made.First, Bill Nolan left the studio in 1927, as he left to direct and animate a new series for Educational Pictures, while Margaret's husband Charles B. Mintz took over the series and producer of the Krazy Kat cartoons.Soon after Mintz was running the studio with George Winkler(Margaret's brother) Mintz hired animators Ben Harrison and Mannie Gould to take over the series and basically Harrison and Gould would direct every single Krazy Kat one reeler from 1927 to the end of the series in 1940.
DD: AND HOW DID YOUR DISCOVERY COME ABOUT ?
NH: My search actually began two years ago, when I decided to launch a worldwide search for the missing silent Winkler/Mintz cartoons, as I first mentioned my project to my good friend, Jerry Beck, he told me that such a project won't be easy, but he gave me his full support and then I got started.My first goal,was to check with the film archives here in the states, as I contacted the UCLA Film And Televison Archive, The George Eastman House, Museum Of Modern Art and the Library On Congress, just to name a few.But also, I sent mail to lesser known archives, private collectors(Kit Parker) and I also wrote to archives over in Europe.What I did was, that I gave each archive, the complete listings for the 1925-29 Krazy Kat cartoons and while some film houses would kindly respond, others didn't.
During the first three months of my search, I found out and shocked to learn on exactly what happend to the original film elements.Since the Winkler studio had distribution contracts with FBO and two years later, Mintz was able to score even a bigger deal with Para/Famous Players/Lasky for his Krazy Kat cartoons.On how things worked back in the 20s, if you were an independent contractor and has a deal with a major studio(such in the case of Paramount) and after the film ends it's week run, then the studio would give back the films back to the independent producer.So fast foward to 1948, when Margaret Winkler stored and housed all of the original 35mm nitrate negatives of the silent Krazy Kat pre 29 cartoons.At this point Winkler could not afford the storage to the films and she had no choice but to destroy all of the film elements.The Winkler's next door neighbors was animation legend Dick Huemer and when Huemer's son(Richard, Jr.) got word about the films, he quickly stepped in and offered to purchase all of the 1925-1929 silent Krazy Kat cartoons from Winkler.But sadly, Winkler declined the offer and told Huemer that the films themselves were dangerous cause they were on nitrate film stock and had to be destroyed, as it's very possible that Huemer saw the value on these films and wanted to preserve them, but he had no such luck and the films were never seen again, so after hearing about this, I knew I had a uphill battle on my hands and made my search much harder than I already expected it would be.
Around the spring of 2004, I received an important e-mail from the folks at the British Film Inst. and enlcosed was that the archive housed four restored 35mm prints of the Winkler/Mintz Krazy Kat cartoons and I knew that I had to find some way to obtain the cartoons.My biggest problem was convincing the BFI(which was no easy task) that there was no current owners of the cartoons and then I had to do a massive research on the copyrights to these cartoons.With the great help from my friend Ray Pointer, it was discovered that nobody owns these films and how the owner burned the original film elements and sent the archive proof of the copyrights and with a stroke of luck, the archive granted me my wish and went into the archive to transfer the four shorts onto video and last year, my search finally ended and had the long lost discovery of these missing Krazy Kat cartoons in my hands.
DD: WHICH ARE YOUR OPINIONS ABOUT GEORGE HERRIMAN'S KRAZY KAT AND THE ANIMATED VERSION ?
NH: A very good question, Andrea! This has been one question surrounding the entire Krazy Kat series since day one.In the entire film's lengthy run, Herriman really had no impact on the actual theatrical verison of his mous famous creation, nor did he actually work on the shorts himself.Like I said in a previous answer, there was four different verisons the series for which never captured Herriman's wonderful and original art design and that was a major setback in the cartoons themselves.But in due part that never meant that Krazy was never popular among moviegoers.
The closest series that tried to stay true to Herriman's design, was the Bray cartoons and soon after when Nolan took over the series in 1925, as in "SEARCHING FOR SANTA"(1925)Krazy looks a little bit like Herriman's design, but that really didn't last to long.(Lauhging)Now's here's where a debate might start, but everyone says on how Krazy became to look a lot like "Mickey Mouse", well I don't think so and I'll explain why.
By the time Mintz managed to get a great deal with Paramount in 1927,Harrison and Gould gave Krazy another makeover, this time having the feline look more like "Oswald The Lucky Rabbit" in "THE STORK EXCHANGE"(1927).When viewing this short, you can easily look and see that Krazy does look like Oswald and this basically, this new look for Krazy, carried right into the sound era.So watch this short and then check out the Columbia verison and you'll notice that not much has been changed to Krazy look.About the Mintz design of Krazy, as Krazy's head has become rounder, his squared looking ears have been shorten, he sports a small round button nose, but in closeup shots, his nose is longer, as he still has his pair shaped body and he sports razor sharp knees and squared feet..All of this, when you see the late silent and early sound shorts of Krazy.
DD: ARE YOU PLANNING TO MAKE THESE CARTOONS AVAILABLE TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC ?
NH: My answer is yes!It took me two long years to to find the films and now that I have four of these newly dsicovered gems, my plan is for fans to see these long lost treasures.My first plan, is to have them seen the way they were meant to be seen..On the silver screen, as I currently working with the Museum Of Modern Art here in New York City, to have the films showcased in a animation festival, possibly this summer and I wan't to explore the other possiblities of having them shown on the west coast.But I want to look for a video deal to make them widley available for everyone to see is another goal of mine, as I hope to work with Ray Pointer to get them released on dvd.
I present the four lost missing Winkler/Mintz Krazy Kat cartoons, that survive and are fully restored.
"SEARCHING FOR SANTA"(1925)
"THE FROLICS THAT FINISHED"(1926)
"THE STORK EXCHANGE"(1927)
In regards to the first two titles, "SEARCHING FOR SANTA" and "THE FROLICS THAT FINISHED", it should be noted that Pathe saw the overseas distribution and as a result of this, changed the original names to these cartoons, which makes it very dificult to track down the original American titles for these two shorts, as this has been a nightmare for me, to find.The last two titles, are intact, complete with original Paramount opening and closing titles and what's interesting, is that Mintz made sure to include Herriman's name on the title credits....Something I would hope that would be included.
Regarding "Sleepy", this is one of the films that I cherish, cause it was not only the last Paramount release, but it was also the last silent Krazy Kat cartoon ever made and I'm proud to have this in my film library.People have asked me, on why I did this project and I say that I'm a huge fan of Krazy Kat and I really did this for the fans who love classic cartoons and I want to share my discoveries with everyone.Only several people have seen my discoveries as some of my good friends, Jerry Beck, Cole Johnson, Ray Pointer, Mark Klauser David Gerstein, Larry T. and Pietro S. have all view these four shorts and it seems that "Sleepy Holler" is the leading favorite.
There are still many unanswered questions to the entire output of Krazy Kat cartoons such as, why didn't Herriman have more creative input on the theatrical verison of his creation and what did he think of the Mintz/Winkler and Columbia verisons?There are some that might not be able to answer.
DD: ARE YOU STILL RESEARCHING FOR OTHER GEMS TO BE DISCOVERED, FOR OTHER UNKNOWN PRODUCTS OF THE "GOLDEN AGE OF CARTOONS" ?
NH: I would love to to again but not anytime soon, as I have some other comitments in the works.I'm currently working on an article on silent screen comedian, Harry Langdon and his brief stint at the Hal Roach studios, for a magazine that's devoted to slapstick comedy and I hope that I may finish my Terrytoon project that I started out not too long ago.
Another important reason on why I did this project, was to make a special place for Krazy in the fields of the theatrical cartoon world.Krazy is a comic strip legendary icon, but in the movie world, he's still very unknown, with even some people not even knowing that there was actual Krazy Kat cartoons released to theaters.Even though Krazy never match the success of "Felix The Cat" during the silent era, nor did he match up to Mickey Mouse", but Krazy did managed to hold his own ground and that explains on why Krazy lasted for twenty five years on the silver screen, outlasted his silent film rivals(during the transition to sound) and has appeared in 222 one reelers from 1916 to 1962, more than any of his other animated screen counterparts in the history of the animated cartoon.
And this also mark the 90th anniversary of Krazy's screen debut this year, so it's time to see Krazy make a big comeback with today's modern audience.
DD:WHICH ARE YOUR OPINIONS ABOUT MODERN THEATRICAL ANIMATION ?
NH: To be totally honest, I'm not much into on today's current state of theatrical animation.The only films that I enjoyed recently was Nic Park's "The Curse Of The Were-Rabbitt" and Tim Burton's "The Corpse Bride" and I think it was great to see these two films receive Academy Award nominations for best animated feature, anything better than CGI animation, for which, I'm not a fan of.
The other problem with theatrical animation in today's society, is that animators of today, can never capture the true sprit and magic of an animated cartoon, as a good amount of animators targets an audience with gross-out humor, something that has been played to death in the last 15 years or so.I believe that as long as we live, we will never see another Ub Iwerks, Bill Nolan, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Walter Lantz, as no one can ever match the success their forefathers had.Another problem in not about theatrical cartoons, but the movies themselves, are the problem here.Forget about the price of a movieticket today, it's what you get for your money, as now the studios crams down twenty minutes of tv commericals and a few previews soon after, as going to the movies today, is not worth writing about, as many people would love to see the movie theaters they way it was, the way it should be, when going to the movies was a true movie exprience, when you got a newreel, a cartoon, a comedy short and much much, more....Which is sadly, a thing of the past!
DD: THANKS NELSON, IT WAS FUN TO INTERVIEW YOU. I WILL NOT EVER THANK YOU ENOUGH !
NH: Thanks to you, Andrea! It was fun to do this interview.
And now , here you have some wonderful screenshots from the ending sequence of one of Nelson's discovered cartoons, "SLEEPY HOLLER". I want to close this post with these images because they show a funny way to end a cartoon , and they are a funny way to close an interview too! ( Thanks to Laurence Tremblay for every single pictures posted in this interview )
KRAZY UPDATE : More pictures! This time from "THE STORK EXCHANGE"(1927),another one of Nelson Hughes' discovered cartoons. Thanks again to Laurence Tremblay for providing these screenshots.
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