American Cartoon Production Company
Animated cartoons grew up with the film industry in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. These early works, mostly shown before longer movies, came in a lot of varieties: entertaining short subjects, novelty pieces, and commercial advertisements. As the market for animated shorts began to explode in the 1910s, men like Jules Pfeiffer, Max Fleisher, and Windsor McCay became well-known, and cartoons like Felix the Cat and Betty Boop were hot properties.
In 1919, a young auteur named Walt Disney signed a contract with the Kansas City Newman Theatres to make a series of cartoons advertising local merchants. The short films which Disney and his partner, Ub Iwerks, created were called Newman's Laugh-O-Grams. The art style and clever sense of humour made the cartoons a huge hit, and Disney founded Laugh-O-Gram Films. Demand was high, so in 1921 they ran a want ad for more artists. Among the new hires were a pair of artists named Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising.
When Walt Disney moved to California to start a studio, Harman, Ising, and Carmen Maxwell stayed behind to try their hand at organizing their own production company. They worked on a series of cartoons based upon the Arabian Nights. The organization lasted only a year (until 1923), before Disney begged Harman and Ising to come west and join him. But from these roots came the studio that would change the face of American cartoons many times over in the short span of two decades.
During the 1920s, the two men worked for Disney, creating many clever and memorable characters and cartoons. They eventually split with him, and in 1929 began work on a series of short features with a cartoon character of their own creation. Fortunately for them, the duo had the foresight to copyright their creation—the history books are full of examples of creative people from this era who did not do so.
Their character, Bosko, was featured in the cartoon Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid, which was the first sound cartoon featuring dialogue. In it, Bosko interacts with his animator, plays music, sings, and dances—it shows many of the gags that would become familiar tropes later in the history of cartoons. This short film wowed producer Leon Schlesinger who took it to Warner Brothers studios. Harman-Ising productions was put on hold at this point, as the men were busy creating Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes alongside some of the most famous names in the early history of cartoons.
After a series of jobs for Warner and other studios, the Harman-Ising company came back in 1933. This time the duo put animation legend Fred Quimby at the helm, and it was during this period that they enjoyed some of their biggest successes. MGM studios took notice of the Bosko character, and the prolific pair created a series of cartoons based around him for MGM.
During the 1930s, the Disney studio absolutely dominated the Academy Awards. Of 27 nominations between 1931 and 1939, Disney's cartoons received 15 of them, and won the Oscar every time. Among the non-Disney nominees were Harman-Ising, three times. First in 1935 for the Calico Dragon, in 1936 for Old Mill Pond and in 1939 for the absolutely stunning Peace on Earth, a bittersweet story of war and survival told as the Second World War began to unfold.
The men parted ways after that point, each going on to blaze further trails in the animation world. Harman started a studio with Disney's old partner, Mel Shaw, while Ising went into the United States Army, creating training films for them during World War II. In the early 1950s, they teamed up again, making a number of industrial and commercial films.
The medium moves on and times change, Harman and Ising were never to see the sorts of successes they enjoyed in those heady days of the birth of cartoons. As the elaborate world of animated short features was eclipsed by the birth of the television cartoon, they collaborated one more time, hoping to create a television cartoon of their own. The Adventures of Sir Gee Whiz on the Other Side of the Moon was quite a twisted tale. According to the website Cartoon Brew, the plot revolved around "A little old gnome who knocks out adults and takes little girls to his home — on the moon. Because it concerns the moon, the whole show has an unpleasant, dark, look." Needless to say, Sir Gee Whiz was not aired, and the final curtain fell on the Harman-Ising brand.
Beck, Jerry, editor, "the 50 Greatest Cartoons" (Atlanta, Turner, 1994).
research for myHugh Harman and Rudolf ising nodes
Harman and Ising at Answers.com http://www.answers.com/topic/harman-and-ising
Harman's bio at Turner Classic Movies: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/participant.jsp?spid=353984
Cartoon Brew, October 20, 2007—Cartoon Dump #6: Sir Gee Whiz