L-r: Jerry, Tom.


Original Medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: The Van Beuren Studio
First Appeared: 1931
Creators: George Stallings and George Rufle
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Long before MGM released a single picture about its most famous pair of toons, Tom and Jerry were a familiar sight to American moviegoers, especially those who fancied the cartoons. They …

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… were stars of a series of animated shorts produced by The Van Beuren Studio, which came to be when Amadee J. Van Beuren got into the cartoon business by buying out Paul Terry's partners. The ever-frugal Terry, who had only a minority interest, went off to form his own studio in 1929, after Van Beuren announced he'd follow in Disney's footsteps by springing for enough cash to add sound to all future releases.

After Terry left, Van Beuren continued the "Aesop's Fables" series (no relation) that had sustained the studio since its beginning. A couple of minor stars emerged as part of that series in 1930, a tall cat named Waffles, who had been seen occasionally in the silent days, and his short pal, Don Dog. They were dropped the following year in favor of a similarly built humanoid pair. a "Mutt & Jeff"-style duo teaming tall, skinny Tom with short, chubby Jerry. Tom & Jerry first appeared in Wot a Night, released August 1, 1931.

They'd been developed by George Stallings (no relation to Looney Tunes musical director Carl Stalling) and George Rufle, both of whom had been animators in the New York area for years, and had recently joined the Van Beuren staff. They worked with director John Foster, who had handled all of the studio's output since Terry's departure. History doesn't record who did the stars' voices.

Neither Tom nor Jerry had a whole lot of personality, but the situations they got into were often imaginative, sometimes surreal enough to remind the viewer of Fleischer (whose studio was across the street, by the way). They achieved a modest degree of success, 26 cartoons over a two-year period. The last one was The Phantom Rocket, released July 31, 1933.

Cubby Bear (a Felix/Mickey look-alike) became the studio's big star, but he's even less well remembered today. Then there were Molly Moo Cow, Parrotville, and similar luminaries. The biggest stars Van Beuren ever had were Toonerville Folks and The Little King, both licensed from somebody else. It closed its doors in 1936, leaving little or no legacy.

Its cartoons were briefly brought back into commercially viability in the early days of television, when everything was in black and white. Since there was already a Tom & Jerry, they were re-dubbed Dick and Larry. As color came in, they faded into complete obscurity.

By the way, they weren't the first cartoon characters to use the names, either. Tom and Jerry were also the names of the twins born in The Teenie Weenies in 1916.


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Text ©2006-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © This version of Tom & Jerry is in the public domain.