On November 18, 1928, at the Colony Theater in New York City, two cartoon legends make their debut in the world’s first sound synchronized cartoon. The Walt Disney cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” launched the careers of Mickey and Minnie Mouse and was the start of the Disney empire. The cartoon short was an instant success and quickly eclipsed the silent cartoons of the time. One of these ill fated cartoons was another of Walt’s creations known as Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, which was basically Mickey with longer ears. Unfortunately (or fortunately) a year earlier, the studio who owned the rights to Oswald tried to cut Disney’s pay due to the economic strains of the time. Disney, who thought he deserved a raise due to the success of the cartoon, quit his job and together with his brother Roy and fellow animator Ub Iwerks struck out on their own to seek their revenge.
Now we all know that Mickey and Minnie stood the test of time and lead to a major cartoon empire for Disney Studios. However, they were not the only popular characters of the time. Here are two your grandparents might remember:
In early 1929, German cartoonist Fritz Richter (great grandson of the renowned German painter Adrian Ludwig Richter) introduced the world to “Fritz the Falcon”. A hapless bumbling bird of prey, Fritz the Falcon saw brief success in the United States by playing on post World War I German stereotypes to entertain the masses. With the Great War already over a decade behind them, Americans quickly lost interest in Fritz’s antics. The cartoon lingered on for a few years, but most cartoon historian say the final nail in Fritz’s coffin came when the Nazi Party chose the falcon to be the symbol of its “Third Reich”. Frankly, I think it failed because a creepy bird shouting at everyone in German scared the crap out of little kids. Fritz Richter put cartooning behind him, but continued in the entertainment industry and in the mid 1950’s became a pioneer in television talk shows. A tradition that his grand-nephew Andy carries on to this day.
In 1931, capitalizing on the success of the scantily clad Betty Boop, Toontown Productions introduced their character “Tina Tart”. It quickly became apparent that Tina’s sex appeal was to much for the American public to handle, as the cartoon sparked riots and religious revivals across numerous American cities. The Hays Code, which set moral guidelines for the film industry at the time, quickly killed the cartoon. Fifty seven years later, the cartoon became the basis for the “Jessica Rabbit” character in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”.
On November 5, 1605, the British revolutionist Guy Fawkes, is discovered lurking in a cellar below the British Parliament building just hours before Parliament and King James I were scheduled to meet. During a search of the premises that followed, 20 barrels of gunpowder were found hidden directly beneath the Parliament building. In what became known as the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes, along with other revolutionaries, had intended to replace the Protestant dominated Parliament with a Catholic leadership buy blowing up the whole lot of them. November 5th is now celebrated annually in England as Guy Fawkes Day to celebrate the failure of this terrible plot.
Here’s what you generally don’t hear:
- On the night of November 3, 1605, Guy Fawkes’ wife, Gal Fawkes, overhears her husband and his cohorts finalizing their plans for the destruction of Parliament. Knowing it may be the last time she will see him, Gal spends the following day preparing a feast for her soon to be “hero” husband. During dinner, Guy explains to his family how difficult it was to move the large barrels of gunpowder and his exaggerated hand gestures knock over a glass of wine, which Gal quickly soaks up with a piece of paper she takes from the table. The paper happens to be Guy’s one and only map of the cellar and is rendered unreadable. Unable to find his way back to the barrels early the next morning, Fawkes is spotted wandering aimlessly along the cellar corridors. Today November 4th is designated Gal Fawkes Day in England and people celebrate by cleaning up their messes with only their most important documents.
- After his arrest and ensuing torture, Guy Fawkes was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which seems quite unpleasant. Fawkes must have thought the same because as he climbed to the gallows he did a swan dive from the ladder, breaking his own neck. This dive technique known as the Fawkes Flop, was briefly resurrected by the British Olympic high dive team in the early 1900’s, but was quickly banned due to its high risk level and “extreme lack of decency”.
- The Guy Fawkes mask has become popular in recent years as a symbol of public dissent (i.e. during the Occupy Wall Street debacle). It is mostly worn by ignorant hipsters who don’t understand that it represents a failed terrorist (these are the same folks who were wearing the Che Guevara shirts fifteen years ago because he was such a swell guy). In actuality, Guy Fawkes was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask at the time of his arrest. When asked why he would wear a mask resembling his own face to commit the crime, he responded, “If I can’t blow you up, I’ll at least blow your mind.”
*The Guy Fawkes mask.