Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Lost Cartoons of Carl Urbano

This is a story about discovering some truly lost, unknown and forgotten theatrical quality cartoons directed by Carl Urbano, and a description of those cartoons. I am certain more of these cartoons are out there, so please comment about ones you know and we will update the Urbano filmography in a future “Part 2” of this article in 2016.

Animation director Carl Urbano is widely known and well respected for his Hanna-Barbera television cartoon series and features from 1977 to 1992: The Godzilla Power Hour, Super Friends, The New Fred and Barney Show, Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, The Smurfs and many more. In this case, “many more” is an understatement. Just look Carl Urbano up on the IMDB. His early history mentions that he directed “industrial cartoons” for John Sutherland Productions in the 1950s. However, a complete list of the Urbano/Sutherland cartoons from this period does not exist.

Industrial films were produced by major industries and distributed, often for free, as propaganda films to promote their product, such as A is for Atom about our friend atomic energy. They were shown at sales conventions, given to libraries that loaned out 16mm prints, to schools for educational purposes, to TV stations for filler in the 1950s and ‘60s and were sometimes even shown in movie theaters. Even though free, they had to be pretty entertaining and professional or no one outside of car salesmen would watch them. John Sutherland took pride in producing excellent films that theater audiences would enjoy. The purpose and use of such films is excellently stated in this review of Rhapsody of Steel (1959) at IMDB:

The 35mm print was booked into theaters -- that was at a time when cinemas actually SHOWED short-subjects before the feature instead of TV commercials. The 16mm prints (also dye-transfer IB Technicolor) were given to 16mm non-theatrical distributors which specialized in loaning industrial type films like this free of charge to schools and institutions and other non-profit entities. The arrangement benefited the companies that produced them (getting name recognition and sometimes including not-so-subtle advertising content) and it benefited the end-user as it gave schools and the like an inexpensive and welcome means to put together screen entertainment.

Here is how we found 3 lost Urbano cartoons. "We" is me and two partners I work with in a project called "Lost and Rare Film and TV Treasures." Under this banner we have issued DVDs of extremely rare films that are not available anywhere. Our first thematic DVD collections were Sports Immortals, Lost TV Pilots and Golf Mania. The first partner is Bob Campbell, who produced Matinee at the Bijou for PBS in the 1980s. Second is Derek Myers, a film collector and Producer-Director and Senior Video Editor at WGGS TV-16 in Taylors, South Carolina. Derek has a particular knack for finding obscure 16mm films on ebay or private collections that become otherwise available. All three of us specialize in public domain films. 

Early this year Derek acquired a small group of industrial films, which led to us putting six films into a Lost and Rare collection called “Industrial Strength America.” This includes The Columbia (1942) about the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in the state of Washington, featuring three original songs by Woody Guthrie.Unfinished Rainbows (1940, color) tells the story of aluminum and features actor Alan Ladd in his first credited role. Both of these are from the Bijou collection, while Derek supplied the other four films. Born in Freedom: the Story of Colonel Drake(1954, color) is a half-hour story about the drilling of the first oil well and stars Vincent Price. Asphalt Through the Ages (1957, color) tells the story of ... you guessed it ... Asphalt, and is the only routine industrial on the DVD, where in a mere 13 minutes one can learn the fascinating uses of asphalt in building the Tower of Babel and Noah’s Ark, not to mention roads, roofing, etc.

Two Carl Urbano cartoons rounded out the collection. The first is Destination Earth(1956, color) about a martian flying to earth where he discovers the power source of our mobile vehicles - gasoline! This John Sutherland cartoon directed by Carl Urbano is the only one of the six ISA films that is NOT rare, having been issued in numerous cartoon collections and is easily found on youtube. The cartoon is still one of the most entertaining industrials with Hollywood-style animation and many funny cartoon jokes. You can watch Derek’s print here:



The second cartoon that Derek acquired much by accident in that batch of industrial films is Fill ‘Er Up (1959, color). This lively animated tale presented by the Du Pont Chemical Co. blends petroleum history and propaganda along with cartoon gags starring a genii/muscle-man oil drop character. Fortunately the 16mm print had a copyright notice and date on it since many of them do not. It was never registered and so is in the public domain. Here is where the story gets interesting. We tried to research Fill ‘Er Up online but found no information at all - no listing on IMDB by title or under Carl Urbano or John Sutherland. In fact, Jerry Beck was totally unfamiliar with it as well. Long for a cartoon at 12 minutes, the extra time is used to first entertain and then expound on the many benefits of gasoline after you get hooked. Here is the opening that may leave you wanting to see more:




The discovery that Fill ‘Er Up was lost and unknown led us to look for other Urbano/Sutherland industrial cartoons in the collection. Derek says he has boxes of shorts he hasn’t even opened and who knows what treasures might be inside? He does have 16mm copies of these:

Why Play Leap Frog? (1950, color, 10m.) Harding College. No copyright notice or date. Not rare, can be viewed on youtube.

The Devil and John Q (1951, color, 10m.) 1951 copyright on the film, but never registered. RARE.

It’s Everybody’s Business (1954, color, 20m.) Copyrighted by Chamber of Commerce of the United States in cooperation with E.I. du Pont de Nemours. Not rare; on youtube.

Destination Earth (1956, color, 14m.) Produced for American Petroleum Industry. 1956 © notice on the film but not registered. Not rare; on youtube.

Dear Uncle (Color, 9m.) Harding College. No copyright notice or date. No info on Internet. Not on youtube. RARE! Several researchers have found it was made in 1952 or 1953.

Fill ‘Er Up (1959, color, 12m.) © notice on the film by E.I. du Pont de Nemours, but never registered. Previously RARE, but now available on “Industrial Strength America.”

The films fall into two categories. Two are obvious propaganda for the petroleum industry, while the others are public service films sponsored by Harding College. A foreword to Why Play Leap Frog? explains: “This is one of a series of films produced by the Extension Department of Harding College to create a deeper understanding of what has made America the finest place in the world to live.” Another title card says “Fun and Facts About America.” These films were likely aimed at schools since they truly have educational value about american business and economics.

Here is an excerpt from Dear Uncle, which we only recently discovered that we had. Can anyone suggest the year it was made? I would guess early 50s since it has more of a 1940s animation style than the sleeker look of Fill ‘Er Up. The subject is as timely as today’s headlines -- the need to pay taxes.




The third unknown Urbano/Sutherland cartoon that we have is the most interesting one of all. The Devil and John Q (1951) opens with a vivid cartoon depiction of Hell. The Devil himself wants to vex America by spurring inflation and he takes several guises in our world to work his devilish ways. His final disguise is as a southern Senator (a Republican?) who blows his stack. The hero is a meek economist who preaches the need to control inflation.

Derek had two prints of John Q, but only recently did we notice that they were different versions. Producer Jerry Fairbanks acquired the film in the 1970s for the National Education Program (whoever they were) and planned to update and reissue it with different dialog. The revision does not have a date and we don’t know if it was ever released. Fairbanks’ last production was in 1972 and he died in 1995 at the age of 90. The story goes that just a few years ago one of Fairbanks’ storage facilities was being emptied; some friends found out and rescued this film and many priceless early TV shows from a dumpster, then put them on ebay where Derek found them. Yes, that dumpster thing still happens.

Here are the openings to both versions. The 1951 version references Communism, the atom bomb and the Cold War, which have all been removed for 1970 audiences.



Here is a list of Carl Urbano/John Sutherland cartoons that we have been able to compile so far. Since we have in our possession 3 “unknown” ones, we suspect there are a number of others out there. Please comment in this post with corrections or titles and descriptions of additional films. If we get substantial feedback, we will update the list in “The Lost Cartoons of Carl Urbano, Part 2.”

Make Mine Freedom (1948) Harding College. The dangers of Communism. On youtube.

Going Places (1948) Harding College. The profit motive. On youtube

Why Play Leap Frog? (1949, color, 10m.) Harding College. About economics. on youtube.

Meet King Joe (1949) Harding College. Economic propaganda. On youtube.


The Devil and John Q (1951, color, 10m.) 1951 copyright on the film, but never registered. RARE.

Inside Cackle Corners (1951) Co-directed by Urbano and George Gordon.  on youtube

What Makes Us Tick (1952) The New York Stock Exchange. On youtube

A Is For Atom (1952, 15m.) by General Electric Co. on youtube.

It’s Everybody’s Business (1954, 20m.) © by Chamber of Commerce of the United States in cooperation with E.I. du Pont de Nemours. Business economics. On youtube.

Destination Earth (1956, color, 14m.) Produced for American Petroleum Industry. 1956 © notice on the film but not registered. Not rare; on youtube.

Working Dollars (1956) New York Stock Exchange. On youtube

Dear Uncle (1952-'53, color, 9m.) Harding College. No copyright notice or date. No info on Internet. Not on youtube. RARE!

Fill ‘Er Up (1959, color, 12m.) © notice on the film by E.I. du Pont de Nemours, but never registered. Previously RARE, but now available on “Industrial Strength America.”

Rhapsody of Steel (1959) US Steel company  on youtube

And what did Carl Urbano do between Rhapsody in Steel in 1959 and Scooby’s Laff-A Lympics TV show in 1977? 

My thanks to Jerry Beck for encouraging me to write this story for Cartoon Research. Please check out the article there for numerous reader comments about Carl Urbano and John Sutherland.

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