Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Hail His Majesty the Sun!"

For the earliest members of the TV generation, this cartoon was omnipresent.

In his book, Of Mice and Magic, Leonard Maltin wrote that his childhood included "countless viewings" of The Sunshine Makers (1935). No less an authority than my mother vividly recalls it as one of the very first things she ever watched on television in 1952 - and that it was on practically all the time. Even after having not seen the cartoon for a half-century, she could still sing "Hail His Majesty the sun" perfectly.

The listing is from a New York City edition of TV Guide for June 1956, three years before I was born. I grew up in the NYC Metro area, but I don't recall Sunshine Makers, "Uncle Joe" or any kiddie shows on WABC, except maybe on Saturday mornings. I also don't remember cartoon titles being listed in TV Guide. It's nice to know that they once did that, just as it's nice to see that the stations had something for everybody during that half-hour - too bad there was only one set per TV household back then.

Once the major studios sold their cartoon libraries to TV, and stations got their hands on actual "stars" like Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Mighty Mouse, shorts like Sunshine Makers were consigned to oblivion.

Sunshine Makers was apparently produced independently by Ted Eshbaugh in 1933 for the Borden company. I don't know an awful lot about Eshbaugh, except that he was one of the earliest animation directors to work with color, and that he'd done a lot of independent work - including a cartoon version of The Wizard of Oz, which I understand is an extra on Warner Brothers' DVD release of the classic Judy Garland feature.

Two years later, the Van Beuren Studios in New York City

released the film to theaters - their output was distributed by RKO Radio Pictures and Eshbaugh was now working there as a director - as part of their "Rainbow Parade" cartoon series. The ad shown is from April 1935 for the Ritz Theater in Anniston, Alabama.

Fifteen years before U.P.A. was hailed for breakthroughs in the use of light, color and shadow in animation, this little gem was blazing the trail. Granted, it was hamstrung by the Cinecolor process, which only utilized blue and red tints. But I suspect that if a pristine 35mm print were to emerge, a few prominent film historians might sit up and take notice.The story is simplicity itself. The happy elves harness the sun to produce "bottled sunshine." The gloomy elves ("We're happy when we're sad") that live in the dark forest next door try to stir up trouble. This leads to a full-fledged battle that they are destined to lose, for goodness and light will always triumph.

Van Beuren went out of business in 1937, just after RKO Radio signed a distribution deal with Walt Disney. The cartoon library was divvied up between several interested parties - Guaranteed Pictures, Commonwealth Pictures, Official Films; all ancient history now. Eventually, the Van Beuren films fell into the public domain, but thanks to the dollar DVDs you can find at Wal-Mart, Target or almost any $1 store, Sunshine Makers is once more omnipresent. Look for it - if you enjoy cartoons, it's a title well worth owning.


michael Sporn said...

Interesting to note that the ad you post for the "Uncle Joe Show" features Joe Bova who died of emphesema at age 81 in NYC March 21st. I remember sitting sharing my lunch with him daily on local NY tv where I undoubtedly saw "The Sunshine Makers," a film that influenced me deeply. I also remember reading somewhere in an interview that Bill Littlejohn did some of his first animation on that film.

Rob G. said...

Wow. Yeah, I have this toon on several $1 DVDs and I've always wondered the history of it. Since so many of the PD toons come from TV libraries, I assumed there was a connection, yet it also looked like an advertising film to be shown in a theater.

Thanks for the info. Cool blog, btw.

JimTex said...

That brings back memories of "Sheriff John" in the sixties in L.A. Are there any stations anywhere nowadays that show cartoons at lunchtime any more? The last time I remember was around '73 or '74 when a Bakersfield (Calif.) station had Popeye at noon weekdays.

Gee, the wonderful world of cable has brought the 24/7 Cartoon Network to the masses and all its, um, again just what is it that CN has done other than help proliferate bad animation and bad cartoons. OK, there are a few exceptions, but you know what I mean.

Boomerang does this too. Mostly they overshow and overhype the garbage and literally BURY their treasures. *Sigh*

Anonymous said...

This cartoon was most likely originally commissioned by Borden's, rather than acquired at a later date. I don't know if Borden's retained ownership as it began to be shown on TV.

I've found on a lot of old animation that was commissioned by companies and produced by animation studios for theatrical release as advertisements for everything from cars to cereal.

The last noontime host I remember on local tv was perhaps in the late seventies ("Cowboy Bob" on WTTV, Bloomington / Indianapolis, IN).

Michael J. Hayde said...

Thank you, Anon... At his Cartoon Brew blog, Jerry Beck also said that the cartoon was produced specifically for Borden's. I don't recall that being mentioned in Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic, but then, that book is over 25 years old now. Sure wish Mr. M would prepare another revised printing!

Argus said...

Van Beuren cartoons were purchased by several companies. Official Films, Commonwealth, Gutlohn, Library Films, Unity Pictures, and others. At one time, Columbia Pictures' TV division was even syndicating some Van Beuren cartoons!

Jerry Slack said...

"Sunshine Makers" was my favorite cartoon. We got our first TV in '51 and my Mother would call me in when it was on, which was often."I don't want to be happy, I want to be sad",was the chant of the evil gnomes, or whatever they were,I can still hear and see it 50 years later!!!

Dave the Locust said...

Although I grew up in the NYC TV market and saw my share of obscure cartoons, this one escaped my consciousness until I saw it played during the intermission at a GRATEFUL DEAD concert at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic NJ.

Obviously someone was making an unsubtle analogy between LSD and the "liquid sunshine" the little elves were bottling.

IMHO, I viewed the cartoon as a definite precursor to the story of the Beatles' psychedelic classic "Yellow Submarine" as the happy and sad elves resembled the denizens of Pepperland as well as their archnemesis, the Blue Meanies, even down to the part where the forces of sadness are conquered and converted to hapiness at the story's end.

Another point of note...the print screened at the Dead show was in Black & White (obviously a TV print) and I didn't realize until I read Leonard Maltin's "Of Mice and Magic" that it was actually produced in color!

Of course I now have a copy on a budget DVD.

All hail digital technology!

tbonemankini said...

Found this here in the UK on budget DVDs of PD material....obviously it passed me by years ago even though Bordens was still a big name in milk cakes.