George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

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Wm. Charles Morrow

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George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostMon May 29, 2017 9:49 am

I just finished reading an excellent biography of George Herriman, creator of the brilliant Krazy Kat comic strip. (KRAZY: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand.) The great cartoonist never had much of a connection with any of the animated films made from his strip—some of which had virtually nothing to do with the source material, anyhow. So then, why discuss this topic in NitrateVille? As it turns out, he did have a Hollywood connection. Despite his lack of involvement with the so-called Krazy Kat films, Herriman had a close relationship with various personnel at the Hal Roach Studio, and actually occupied an office on the lot for a number of years, although it appears he didn’t contribute directly to the Roach output.

Herriman’s best friend was H. M. “Beanie” Walker, who, of course, wrote the bulk of Roachs’s title cards, as well as dialog for early talkies. They met in earlier days when Walker was a sportswriter and Herriman, pre-Krazy Kat, illustrated the sports pages. After Walker started working full-time for Roach he invited Herriman to set up shop in his office. So, for many years, Krazy Kat and other Herriman strips were created on the Lot of Fun. Herriman became close to a number of Roach employees, including Tom McNamara, who worked on the Our Gang series, Hal Roach’s brother Jack, and sound engineer Elmer Raguse. In the last known photo of Herriman, taken in the early 1940s, he poses with Raguse and Hal Roach, the latter in his Army uniform.

It isn’t known whether Herriman contributed gags directly to any Roach comedies; I suspect that whenever he came up with a good idea, he’d use it for his strips. But his proximity to Walker suggests that he must have had an influence of some kind. On top of all this Herriman was a great admirer of Chaplin, and wrote a glowing review of The Gold Rush that was reproduced here in N’ville recently.

In any case I loved this book, and can recommend it highly to anyone interested in American pop culture of the early 20th century. I’d imagine that describes a lot of NitrateVille denizens.
-- Charlie Morrow
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Smari1989

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostMon May 29, 2017 10:15 am

I read this book myself a few months ago, and also highly recommend it. About Herriman's connection to Roach, there are reports that he appeared as an extra when needed, though no such appearances have been verified. A Krazy Kat doll appears in Harold Lloyd's I DO, of course, and the name "Ignatz" was used in Roach's films at least a few times.

Herriman also had a larger role in the 1928 feature HOW TO HANDLE WOMEN (not produced by Roach), but sadly no copy of this film is known to exist.
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Wm. Charles Morrow

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostMon May 29, 2017 10:31 am

It’s often been said that Krazy Kat, which was always something of an acquired taste, survived for so many years mainly because Wm. Randolph Hearst liked it, despite its lack of widespread popularity. I thought it was interesting that Mr. Tisserand was unable to find any direct evidence to support that belief, i.e. nothing documented, no direct quotes. Still, it was well known that Hearst paid close attention to the comic strips in his papers, and if he hadn’t liked Krazy Kat, it would have vanished.

Is it a coincidence that Marion Davies had a pet mouse named Ignatz? I think not!
-- Charlie Morrow
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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostMon May 29, 2017 10:34 am

Perhaps it was Miss Davies who liked Krazy Kat!

Bob
Last edited by boblipton on Mon May 29, 2017 7:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.

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Smari1989

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostMon May 29, 2017 1:58 pm

Could be!

It's worth remembering that, at least in its earlier days (10s/20s) the Krazy Kat daily strips differed quite a bit from the Sunday page in many respects. Whereas the Sunday page was duly placed in the Arts section from the very beginning -- as editors recognized that this was likely not something that "everyone" would appreciate -- the dailies tended to rely more on a simpler, "vaudevillian" brand of humor.

I adore Krazy Kat, as my picture may reveal -- I've read literally all of its Sunday pages and a good chunk of dailies -- but I can definitely understand that it's not for everyone. It's a strip that takes some time to get into, but I'm very glad I did.
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Wm. Charles Morrow

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostMon May 29, 2017 5:02 pm

Smari1989 wrote:I adore Krazy Kat, as my picture may reveal -- I've read literally all of its Sunday pages and a good chunk of dailies -- but I can definitely understand that it's not for everyone. It's a strip that takes some time to get into, but I'm very glad I did.


I feel the same way about the strip, I adore it, but I can also understand how it's not for all tastes. Herriman had such a unique, off-beat, occasionally bizarre sensibility. The dialog can be a little difficult to decipher, until you get used to it. And I love the descriptive passages -- Herriman had a real flair for writing, and an amazing vocabulary.

Most of the animated cartoons come nowhere close to capturing that special tone, and most of them don't even try. One of the Columbia shorts, Lil' Ainjil (1936), is an interesting attempt. It doesn't quite work, but it gives the impression that the animators were at least trying to recreate the feeling of the comic strip.
-- Charlie Morrow
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Smari1989

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostTue May 30, 2017 8:39 am

I find the Krazy Kat cartoons of the 20s/30s charming enough, once one accepts that they've got nothing to do with the strip (apart from the one-shot LIL' AJNIL which you mentioned). As Krazy Kat wasn't that famous a comic strip among the general public, I can't help but think that many audiences who saw these animated cartoons believed Krazy to be a Felix the Cat clone -- which of course was true in a way, if we're talking about the cartoons, but the Krazy Kat comic strip actually predated Felix by several years!

I agree that LIL' AJNIL doesn't quite work, but I much prefer it to the TV cartoons of the 60s, which I frankly can't stand, despite being more faithful to the strip's basic theme.
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IA

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostTue May 30, 2017 5:44 pm

Smari1989 wrote:I can't help but think that many audiences who saw these animated cartoons believed Krazy to be a Felix the Cat clone -- which of course was true in a way, if we're talking about the cartoons


Bill Nolan, who directed the Krazy Kat cartoons from 1925 to 1927, had previously worked on Felix at the Pat Sullivan/Otto Messmer studio, and was responsible for re-designing Felix, who went from being an angular fox-like critter to a rounded feline. Not many of the Nolan Krazy Kats survive, but Scents and Nonsense (1926)--available on Tommy Stathes's Cartoon Roots Blu-ray--is a Felix cartoon in all but name.
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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostTue May 30, 2017 7:56 pm

There's a 1920 cartoon from the Bray Studio, The Great Cheese Robbery, which I rather like. The backgrounds don't look much like Krazy Kat (they're urban rather than the Coconino desert), but the characters do resemble the originals from the strip, and the humor is somewhat Herriman-like. As with Lil' Ainjil, you get the sense that the animators were at least trying the capture the flavor of the source material. With some of those other Columbia shorts of the '30s, you wonder if they'd ever even seen it.
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Rollo Treadway

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostWed May 31, 2017 1:00 am

A marvelous biography, Michael Tisserand can't be lauded enough.

In connection with the book's release, he provided this article to The Comics Journal, including a fantastic drawing by Herriman not published elsewhere, depicting the employees of the Roach studios.

http://www.tcj.com/the-gift/
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Smari1989

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Re: George Herriman, Krazy Kat, and the movies

PostSat Jun 03, 2017 6:16 pm

Getting a bit much OT here perhaps, but... I've always been sorry that examples of Krazy Kat's very first years as its own daily strip have been so relatively hard to find, but recently came to realize that a good chunk of strips from November 1913 onwards may be found here, by doing a little search: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages/results/?date1=1913&date2=1924&searchType=basic&state=&rows=20&proxtext=%22krazy+kat%22&y=18&x=18&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=2&sort=date

The KK strips are pretty easy to spot; in those years, it was always presented as a vertical strip, usually placed to the left of the other strips on the comics page. It's striking how incredibly "simple" (but cute) the strip appears here; no wonder readers initially took a liking to it, and why they (to a large degree) were befuddled by the far more complex Sunday pages later on.

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