Sunday, September 02, 2007

Another Take on a Forgotten Studio

Mintz, mid-1930s

Back row, left to right: Sid Glenar, Al Rose, Ben Harrison, Manny Gould, Charles Mintz, Joe DeNat, unknown, Jack Carr; rest of back row unknown. Front row, left to right: Jimmy Bronis, Harry Love, unknown, Mike Lah, Frank Webb.

Another group shot -- this time larger -- of the Charles Mintz studios in 1930. (Here's the one we ran a little while back...)

Slightly incorrect. Walt created Oswald, but Mintz held the copyright. And copyright holders win. (Just ask the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster...)

But the point here isn't that a nasty businessman named Mintz shafted the noble artist/creator Disney. The point is: fate can be capricious, cruel and random...

Mintz flamed out in the late thirties and died young at the tail end of 1939. He is pretty much forgotten today. It's generally acknowledged that many of the cartoon shorts his company turned out were mediocre.

So Charlie got what he deserved, right? Failure, poverty, and anonymity.

Well, yes and no. We can all think of artistic mediocrities who scale the heights of glory and end up rich. We all know people who are brilliantly talented, yet beat their heads against corporate walls and cruel fate, and end up teaching high school art classes in Iowa.

I'm telling you, it wasn't pre-ordained that Walt Disney was going to end up a cultural icon, his name fronting the third or fourth largest entertainment conglomerate in the world. Walt Disney Productions came close to extinction any number of times.

Like in 1940 or 1941, when the foreign markets were drying up and the pictures weren't knocking them dead at the box office and the Burbank lot was swimming in red ink. (Thank God for war-time contracts!)

Like in the early fifties, when profit margins were thin and Disneyland was a cash drain as it was constructed rather than a cash cow welcoming crowds through its front gates.

Or in the mid eighties, when corporate raiders were itching to break an under-performing, medium-sized company into pieces and sell them off.

If fate had pirhouetted a little differently, Walt Disney Productions and its founder might today be almost as ghostly and forgotten as the man who stole Oswald.

Correction: Mark M. points out that it was Universal and not Mintz who controlled Oswald. What I get for fast and furious posts late at night.


Mark Mayerson said...

For the record, Mintz didn't hold the copyright on Oswald, Universal did. That's how Mintz lost the contract to make Oswald cartoons so that Universal could make them in-house under the direction of Walter Lantz and Bill Nolan.

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