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”.