George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, as I mentioned last week, was a strange and somewhat exotic comic strip that’s been highly regarded but never really popular. In 1916 and 1917 William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service made somewhere around 26 very short cartoons, for inclusion in news reels, that probably satisfied the requirement for “cartoon starring characters that look like this comic strip” at least.
The weird thing is this wasn’t the only attempt to animate Krazy Kat. In 1920 and 1921 ten cartoons were made in the series by Bray Productions. That studio was founded 1914 by John Randolph Bray, and while the studio might be fairly described as forgotten it was a pretty solid nexus for cartoons and comic strips and some miscellaneous other features. Max and Dave Fleischer made their first Koko the Clown cartoons at the Bray studios; Paul Terry, later of Terry Toons, made his first Farmer Al Falfa cartoons there; Walter Lantz directed the Dinky Doodle series (you may remember Dinky vaguely from a mention in Who Framed Roger Rabbit) as well as some others; and Jamison “Jam” Handy — renowned for slightly odd educational/informational/advertising short subjects, often celebrated on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and for competing in the 1904 and 1924 Olympic Games — formed the Chicago-Detroit branch of the Bray studios. And, what the heck, Carl Anderson, later of fascinatingly odd comic strip Henry fame, was one of the studio’s first directors.
Sad to say I can only find one of the Bray Studios Krazy Kat cartoons online. This one, “Love’s Labor Lost,” was released at the end of January 1920, and I can only see the original comic strip from this cartoon if I squint really hard. Krazy barely figures into the story; it’s much more about Ignatz terrorizing an elephant in the hopes of wooing a lady hippopotamus.
The most interesting scene, I think, is one where the elephant goes off and drinks a barrel of Beevo — a riff on Anheuser-Busch’s Prohibition-era near-beer, Bevo the Beverage — and gains muscles in what sure looks like a precursor to the spinach-eating sequence in Fleischer Brothers Popeye cartoons.