Sunday, August 18, 2013

BLUE RIBBON BLUES




By April 1943, Leon Schlesinger realized he could no longer keep up the pace.  The producer who’d delivered 39 cartoons annually for the previous four seasons was looking at a staff sharply reduced by war service coupled with an obligation to provide “Private SNAFU” cartoons for the Signal Corps, plus his own declining health, and decided to cut his theatrical output by a third.  However, his distributor, Warner Bros., wanted to keep 39 reels in the annual pipeline.  Thus was born the BLUE RIBBON HIT PARADE.

The Blue Ribbon releases are the bane of animation historians and purists.  At least 279 cartoons were reissued under this banner, and of these, 160 were completely shorn of their original title and credit cards.  In fact, no credits whatsoever appear on these eight score, and the cuts were evidently made on their original negatives - a fact that sent the earliest Warner animation scholars into conniptions that still resonate in their nervous systems.  Yet the series has its own story, one that speaks to the strength of Schlesinger’s output.

For one thing, thirteen annual Blue Ribbons carried a lower price tag than the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series.  This enabled independent houses that otherwise couldn’t afford a Warner package to score some of the funniest shorts on the market.  The first series, introduced in September 1943, was particularly golden: nine of the thirteen titles had been directed by Fred “Tex” Avery, currently tearing up Loew’s theater screens with his MGM output; and the group even included two Bugs Bunnys: HIAWATHA’S RABBIT HUNT (1941) and A WILD HARE (1940), each an Academy Award nominee.

In order to make up the lost revenue, new Bugs Bunny titles were removed from the standard Merrie Melodies program beginning in February 1944, and given a series of their own: the Bugs Bunny Specials.  These, naturally, sold for a higher price.  Furthermore, Bugs’s output was exempted from the reissue series; if you wanted one of his older titles, you could just book it separately at full price.  After the first season of releases, the wascally wabbit wouldn’t return to the Hit Parade until 1957.

Blue Ribbons were the first cartoons to be reissued in a program of their own, and their success led others to draw from the same well.  Paramount tried reviving the Max Fleischer Color Classics in January 1945, but this didn’t last beyond four titles.  Next, Columbia’s Color Favorites debuted in October 1947, as did reissues of Disney cartoons by R.K.O., which were not part of a separate series.  MGM followed suit in November with their Gold Medal Reprints series.  Starting in 1948, Universal-International reissued Walter Lantz “Cartunes” during the period Lantz was contracted to United Artists, and continued doing so after he returned.  That same year, 20th Century-Fox began mixing reissues into their program of Terrytoons releases.  In October 1949, Paramount tried again, inaugurating the Champions series, consisting mainly of Noveltoons from earlier in the decade.  After a year, color Popeye cartoons were substituted, and the series was eventually renamed Popeye Champions.

At the conclusion of production for the 1943-44 season, Schlesinger sold his studio directly to Warner Bros.  The company initially announced that the “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” monikers would be dropped in favor of a “Warner Bros. Cartoon” logo for all.  That idea was scrapped, but from this point on the two series would be interchangeable.  Although the Tunes had graduated to full color the year before, Schlesinger had kept Porky Pig and Daffy Duck as their stars, while Bugs headlined in the Melodies.  The Blue Ribbons would eventually reissue color Looney Tunes titles, but the series itself would always be heralded under the Melodies banner.

During the course of the 1955-56 release season, Warner Bros. sold off their pre-’48 library, including color cartoons, to a television distributor, Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.).  Some of the titles included in the deal were then in distribution as Blue Ribbons.  With the 1956-57 season, the reissues would be limited to those copyrighted during or after September 1948, and it was at this point the decision was made to keep the original title and credit cards on view; only the opening rings and Merrie Melodies cards would be replaced.  Original end titles could remain, even if they closed under the Looney Tunes banner, because there was no longer a need to replace cards that had credited Schlesinger.

Beginning in September 1957, the season Bugs returned, the annual Blue Ribbon output would grow to 16 titles.  The series kept to this schedule until (apparently) the 1961-62 season, when it shrank back to thirteen.  The Hit Parade, along with all classic Warner cartoons, finally came to an end after the 1963-64 release season.  After this, the cartoon studio closed its doors for a while, reopening briefly in the mid-1960s for some mostly abysmal productions that mercifully ceased at the end of the decade.

Following is hopefully a complete list of Blue Ribbon releases, mostly in order of reissue date.  Eight titles received two separate Blue Ribbon issues, which are noted.  Most of this information, including production numbers, derives from the “Shorts Chart” published in the pages of BOX OFFICE magazine, with the following exceptions: 

Beginning with the 1955-56 season, the Shorts Chart only published release month for the cartoons.  For this and the following season, the exact release dates were taken from David Mackey’s excellent WARNER BROS. CARTOONS FILMOGRAPHY AND TITLE CARD GALLERY website.  Mackey’s listings also identified the final three titles of the 1956-57 season and the first three titles of the 1957-58 season, which never appeared in the Chart.

BOX OFFICE also did not publish the last five titles of the 1959-60 season and the first five titles of the 1962-63 season.  The list concludes with 12 titles that Mackey has identified as Blue Ribbons from the 1959-64 period, ten of which presumably slot into the open spaces.  The two “leftover” titles are, at present, a mystery.


1943-44 ("Blue Ribbon Cartoon Reissues"): 
9301: A Feud There Was  (11-Sept-1943)
9302: The Early Worm Gets the Bird (02-Oct-1943)
9303: My Little Buckaroo (06-Nov 1943) mis-titled “My Little Buckeroo”
9304: The Fighting 69-1/2th (04-Dec-1943)
9305: Cross-Country Detours (15-Jan-1944)
9306: Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (12-Feb-1944)
9307: The Bear’s Tale (11-Mar-1944)
9308: Sweet Sioux (08-Apr-1944)
9309: Of Fox and Hounds (13-May-1944)
9310: Thugs with Dirty Mugs (03-Jun-1944)
9311: A Wild Hare (17-Jun-1944) mis-titled “The Wild Hare”
9312: The Cat Came Back (15-Jul-1944)
9313: Isle of Pingo Pongo (19-Aug-1944) 

1944-45:
1301: Let It Be Me (16-Sep-1944)
1302: September in the Rain (30-Sep-1944)
1303: Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time (28-Oct-1944)
1304: I Love to Singa (18-Nov-1944)
1305: Plenty of Money and You (09-Dec-1944)
1306: The Fella With a Fiddle (20-Jan-1945)
1307: When I Yoo Hoo (24-Feb-1945)
1308: I Only Have Eyes for You (17-Mar-1945)
1309: Ain’t We Got Fun (21-Apr-1945)
1310: I’m a Big Shot Now (04-Jun-1945)
1311: Speaking of the Weather (21-Jul-1945)
1312: Old Glory (25-Aug-1945)
1313: Busy Bakers (20-Oct-1945) 

1945-46 (Now called the “Blue Ribbon Hit Parade”):
2301: A Sunbonnet Blue (17-Nov-1945)
2302: The Lyin’ Mouse (22-Dec-1945)
2303: The Good Egg (05-Jan-1946)
2304: The Trial of Mr. Wolf (09-Feb-1946)
2305: Little Lion Hunter (23-Mar-1946)
2306: Fresh Fish (06-Apr-1946)
2307: Daffy Duck and Egghead (20-Apr-1946)
2308: Katnip Kollege (04-May-1946)
2309: The Night Watchman (18-May-1946)
2310: Little Brother Rat (08-Jun-1946)
2311: Johnny Smith & Poker Huntas (22-Jun-1946)
2312: Robin Hood Makes Good (06-Jul-1946)
2313: Little Red Walking Hood (17-Aug-1946) 

1946-47:
3301: Fox Pop (28-Sep-1946)
3302: The Wacky Worm (12-Oct-1946)
3303: You’re an Education (26-Oct-1946)
3304: Have You Got Any Castles? (01-Feb-1947)
3305: Pigs is Pigs (22-Feb-1947)
3306: The Cat’s Tale (29-Mar-1947)
3307: Goofy Groceries (19-Apr-1947)
3308: Doggone Modern (14-Jun-1947)
3309: The Sneezing Weasel (26-Jul-1947)
3310: Rhapsody in Rivets (16-Aug-1947)
3311: Sniffles Bells the Cat (20-Sep-1947)
3312: Cagey Canary (11-Oct-1947)
3313: Now That Summer is Gone (22-Nov-1947) 

1947-48:
4301: Dangerous Dan McFoo (30-Jan-1948)
4302: Hobo Gadget Band (14-Feb-1948)
4303: Little Pancho Vanilla (20-Mar-1948)
4304: Don’t Look Now (10-Apr-1948)
4305: The Curious Puppy (24-Apr-1948)
4306: Circus Today (22-May-1948)
4307: Little Blabber Mouse (12-Jun-1948)
4308: The Squawkin’ Hawk (10-Jul-1948)
4309: A Tale of Two Kitties (31-Jul-1948)
4310: Pigs in a Polka (14-Aug-1948)
4311: Greetings Bait (28-Aug-1948)
4312: Hiss and Make Up (18-Sep-1948)
4313: Hollywood Steps Out (02-Oct-1948) 

1948-49:
5301: An Itch in Time (30-Oct-1948)
5302: Fin ‘n’ Catty (11-Dec-1948)
5303: Bedtime For Sniffles (01-Jan-1949)
5304: Prest-o Chang-o (05-Feb-1949)
5305: Swooner Crooner (12-Feb-1949)
5306: Hop, Skip and a Chump (05-Mar-1949)
5307: He Was Her Man (02-Apr-1949)
5308: I Wanna Be a Sailor (20-Apr-1949)
5309: Flop Goes the Weasel (21-May-1949)
5310: Horton Hatches the Egg (18-Jun-1949)
5311: The Egg Collector (16-Jul-1949)
5312: The Mice Will Play (06-Aug-1949)
5313: Inki and the Mynah Bird (20-Aug-1949) 

1949-50:
6301: Tom Thumb in Trouble (24-Sep-1949)
6302: Farm Frolics (15-Oct-1949)
6303: The Hep Cat (12-Nov-1949)
6304: Toy Trouble (31-Dec-1949)
6305: My Favorite Duck (28-Jan-1950)
6306: The Sheepish Wolf (04-Mar-1950)
6307: Double Chaser (25-Mar-1950)
6308: Fifth Column Mouse (22-Apr-1950)
6309: Inki and the Lion (20-May-1950)
6310: Tick Tock Tuckered (03-Jun-1950)
6311: Booby Hatched (01-Jul-1950)
6312: Trap Happy Porky (05-Aug-1950)
6313: Lost and Foundling (26-Aug-1950) 

1950-51:
7301: Fagin’s Freshmen (16-Sep-1950)
7302: Slightly Daffy (14-Oct-1950)
7303: The Aristo-Cat (11-Nov-1950)
7304: The Unbearable Bear (09-Dec-1950)
7305: Duck Soup to Nuts (06-Jan-1951)
7306: Flowers for Madame (03-Feb-1951)
7307: Life With Feathers (03-Mar-1951)
7308: Peck Up Your Troubles (24-Mar-1951)
7309: Odor-Able Kitty (21-Apr-1951)
7310: Book Revue (19-May-1951) mis-titled “Book Review”
7311: Stage Fright (23-Jun-1951)
7312: Sioux Me (21-Jul-1951)
7313: The Stupid Cupid (01-Sep-1951) 

1951-52:
8301: Holiday for Shoestrings (15-Sep-1951)
8302: The Lady in Red (13-Oct-1951)
8303: Sniffles and the Bookworm (10-Nov-1951)
8304: Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears (01-Dec-1951)
8305: Of Thee I Sting (12-Jan-1952)
8306: From Hand to Mouse (09-Feb-1952)
8307: Brave Little Bat (15-Mar-1952)
8308: Snow Time for Comedy (12-Apr-1952)
8309: Hush My Mouse (03-May-1952)
8310: Baby Bottleneck (14-Jun-1952)
8311: The Bug Parade (12-Jul-1952)
8312: Merrie Old Soul (02-Aug-1952)
8313: Fresh Airedale (30-Aug-1952) 

1952-53:
9301: A Feud There Was (13-Sep-1952) 2nd BR release
9302: Daffy Doodles (11-Oct-1952)
9303: A Day at the Zoo (08-Nov-1952)
9304: The Early Worm Gets the Bird (29-Nov-1952) 2nd BR release
9305: A Tale of Two Mice (10-Jan-1953)
9306: The Bashful Buzzard (07-Feb-1953)
9307: The Country Mouse (14-Mar-1953)
9308: Little Dutch Plate (11-Apr-1953)
9309: Ain’t That Ducky (02-May-1953)
9310: Mighty Hunters (13-Jun-1953) (1st BR to retain the original title and credit card)
9311: The Fighting 69-1/2th (11-Jul-1953) 2nd BR release
9312: Sniffles Takes a Trip (01-Aug-1953)
9313: Wacky Wildlife (29-Aug-1953) 

1953-54: 
1301: Old Glory (12-Sep-1953) 2nd BR release
1302: Walky Talky Hawky (17-Oct-1953)
1303: Birth of a Notion (07-Nov-1953)
1304: Eager Beaver (28-Nov-1953)
1305: Scent-Imental Over You (26-Dec-1953)
1306: Of Fox and Hounds (06-Feb-1954) 2nd BR release
1307: Roughly Squeaking (27-Feb-1954)
1308: Hobo Bobo (03-Apr-1954)
1309: Gay Antics (24-Apr-1954)
1310: The Cat Came Back (05-Jun-1954) 2nd BR release
1311: One Meat Brawl (10-Jul-1954)
1312: Along Came Daffy (24-Jul-1954)
1313: Mouse Menace (14-Aug-1954) 

1954-55:
2301: Rhapsody in Rivets (11-Sep-1954) 2nd BR release
2302: Inki at the Circus (16-Oct-1954)
2303: Foxy Duckling (06-Nov-1954)
2304: The Shell-Shocked Egg (27-Nov-1954)
2305: The Trial of Mr. Wolf (25-Dec-1954) 2nd BR release
2306: Back Alley Oproar (05-Feb-1955)
2307: You Were Never Duckier (26-Feb-1955)
2308: House Hunting Mice (02-Apr-1955)
2309: Crowing Pains (23-Apr-1955)
2310: Hop, Look and Listen (04-Jun-1955)
2311: Tweetie Pie (25-Jun-1955)
2312: Goofy Gophers (23-Jul-1955)
2313: What’s Brewin’ Bruin? (20-Aug-1955) 

1955-56 (final season in which credits were eliminated):
3301: Doggone Cats (10-Sep-1955)
3302: The Rattled Rooster (22-Oct-1955)
3303: Fair and Worm-er (5?-Nov-1955)
3304: The Mouse-Merized Cat (26-Nov-1955)
3305: The Foghorn Leghorn (24-Dec-1955)
3306: Bone, Sweet Bone (21-Jan-1956)
3307: I Taw a Putty Tat (25-Feb-1956)
3308: Two Gophers from Texas (31-Mar-1956)
3309: Kit for Cat (21-Apr-1956)
3310: Scaredy Cat (02-Jun-1956)
3311: A Horsefly Fleas (07-Jul-1956)
3312: Little Orphan Airedale (04-Aug-1956)
3313: Daffy Dilly (18-Aug-1956) 

1956-57 (First with original title cards and credits intact):
4301: Mouse Mazurka (15-Sep-1956)
4302: Paying the Piper (20-Oct-1956)
4303: Daffy Duck Hunt (17-Nov-1956)
4304: Henhouse Henery (01-Dec-1956)
4305: Swallow The Leader (19-Jan-1957)
4306 For Scent-imental Reasons (02-Feb-1957)
4307: Mouse Wreckers (09-Mar-1957)
4308: Dough for the Do-Do (06-Apr-1957)
4309: Fast and Furry-ous (27-Apr-1957)
4310: Bear Feat (18-May-1957)
4311: Each Dawn I Crow (15-Jun-1957)
4312: Bad Ol’ Putty Tat (29-Jun-1957)
4313: Hippety Hopper (24-Aug-1957) 

1957-58:
5301: Hare Splitter (Sept? 1957)
5302: Pop ‘Im Pop! (Oct? 1957)
5303: His Bitter Half (Oct? 1957)
5304: The Leghorn Blows at Midnight (Nov 1957)
5305: The Pest That Came to Dinner (Dec 1957)
5306: The Hypo-Chondri-Cat (Dec 1957)
5307: Home, Tweet Home (Jan 1958)
5308: Mississippi Hare (Feb 1958)
5309: Caveman Inki (Mar 1958)
5310: It’s Hummer Time (Mar 1958)
5311: A Fractured Leghorn (Apr 1958)
5312: The Scarlet Pumpernickel (May 1958)
5313: All A-bir-r-r-d! (Jun 1958)
5314: Awful Orphan (Jul 1958)
5315: Rebel Rabbit (Aug 1958)
5316: Stooge for a Mouse (Aug 1958) 

1958-59:
6301: Bowery Bugs (Sept 1958)
6302: An Egg Scramble (Oct 1958)
6303: Wise Quackers (Oct 1958)
6304: Two’s a Crowd (Nov 1958)
6305: Canary Row (Dec 1958)
6306: Dog Collared (Jan 1959)
6307: Fox in a Fix (Jan 1959)
6308: My Bunny Lies Over the Sea (Feb 1959)
6309: Golden Yeggs (Mar 1959)
6310: Scent-imental Romeo (Mar 1959)
6311: Canned Feud (May 1959)
6312: Early to Bet (May 1959)
6313: Boobs in the Woods (Jun 1959)
6314: The Bee-Deviled Bruin (Jul 1959)
6315: High-Diving Hare (Jul 1959)
6316: Doggone South (Aug 1959) 

1959-60:
7301: Drip-Along Daffy (Sept 1959)
7302: Often an Orphan (Oct 1959)
7303: Putty Tat Trouble (Oct 1959)
7304: Hot Cross Bunny (Nov 1959)
7305: A Bear For Punishment (Dec 1959)
7306: A Bone For a Bone (Jan 1960)
7307: The Prize Pest (Jan 1960)
7308: Tweety’s S.O.S. (Feb 1960)
7309: Lovelorn Leghorn (Mar 1960)
7310: Sleepytime Possum (Apr 1960)
7311: Cheese Chasers (Apr 1960)
7312: ?
7313: ?
7314: ?
7315: ?
7316: ? 

1960-61:
8301: Room and Bird (Sept 1960)
8302: Cracked Quack (Oct 1960)
8303: His Hare-Raising Tale (Oct 1960)
8304: Gift Wrapped (Nov 1960)
8305: Little Beau Pepe (Dec 1960)
8306: Tweet Tweet Tweety (Dec 1960)
8307: Bunny Hugged (Jan 1961)
8308: The Wearing of the Grin (Feb 1961)
8309: Beep Beep (Mar 1961)
8310: Rabbit Fire (Apr 1961)
8311: Feed the Kitty (Apr 1961)
8312: The Lion’s Busy (May 1961)
8313: Thumb Fun (Jun 1961)
8314: Corn Plastered (Jul 1961)
8315: Kiddin’ the Kitten (Aug 1961)
8316: Ballot Box Bunny (Aug 1961) 

1961-62:
9301: A Hound for Trouble (Sept 1961)
9302: Strife With Father (Sept 1961)
9303: The Grey Hounded Hare (Oct 1961)
9304: Leghorn Swaggled (Nov 1961)
9305: A Peck o’ Trouble (Dec 1961)
9306: Tom-Tom Tomcat (Jan 1962)
9307: Sock-a-Doodle-Do (Feb 1962)
9308: Rabbit Hood (Mar 1962)
9309: Ain’t She Tweet? (Apr 1962)
9310: Bye Bye Bluebeard (May 1962)
9311: Homeless Hare (Jun 1962)
9312: A Bird in a Guilty Cage (Jul 1962)
9313: Fool Coverage (Aug 1962) 

1962-63:
1301: ?
1302: ?
1303: ?
1304: ?
1305: ?
1306: Dog Pounded (Jan 1963)
1307: Cat-Tails for Two (Feb 1963)
1308: Easy Peckin’s (Mar 1963)
1309: No Barking (Apr 1963)
1310: Upswept Hare (May 1963)
1311: Bell-Hoppy (Jun 1963)
1312: Satan’s Waitin’ (Jul 1963)
1313: Big Top Bunny (Aug 1963) 

1963-64:
2301: Yankee Dood It (Sept 1963)
2302: Gone Batty (Oct 1963)
2303: From A to Z-z-z (Nov 1963)
2304: Tweet Zoo (Dec 1963)
2305: Weasel Stop (Jan 1964)
2306: Tabasco Road (Feb 1964)
2307: Greedy for Tweety (Mar 1964)
2308: The High and the Flighty (May 1964)
2309: Pests for Guests (May 1964)
2310: Birds Anonymous (Jun 1964)
2311: Raw! Raw! Rooster! (Jul 1964)
2312: A Kiddie’s Kitty (Aug 1964)
2313: Fox Terror (Aug 1964)


Leftover Blue Ribbons from the 1959-64 era, per Dave Mackey (shown in original release order): 
Knights Must Fall
A Ham in a Role
Hurdy Gurdy Hare
8-Ball Bunny
The Ducksters
Chow Hound
French Rarebit
Who’s Kitten Who?
14 Carrot Rabbit
Fowl Weather
Muscle Tussle 
Design For Leaving

5 comments:

Precious said...

This is great!

Anonymous said...

Correction on the BR reissue date for "A Tale of Two Mice": It's January 10, 1953, not October 10, 1952.

Michael J. Hayde said...

Corrected! Thanks, Anon.

Anonymous said...

So no connection between these cartoon Blue Ribbons and the Blue Ribbon awards given by Boxoffice Magazine?

Michael J. Hayde said...

Not unless Schlesinger and/or WB were inspired by the awards to appropriate the term. They were certainly devouring BOX OFFICE and its short subject tally that was putting Bugs Bunny on top.