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Laugh-O-Grams Lost And Found

Today marks the 88th anniversary of the release of Walt Disney’s Puss In Boots – one of his Laugh-O-Gram series of fairy tales. This provides an opportunity to discuss a crackerjack bit of cinematic sleuthing recently revealed by historian David Gerstein. In a tale of celluloid archaeology worthy of Indiana Jones, Gerstein and fellow researcher Cole Johnson have unearthed three previously-lost Laugh-O-Gram shorts. This means that all of the seven produced Laugh-O-Gram films are now known to exist.

Produced at Walt’s Kansas City studio between 1922 and 1923, these films have long been thought lost. It was previously believed that only six Laugh-O-Grams had been produced, with prints of four (Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, and The Four Musicians of Bremen) circulating in the public domain. Goldie Locks and the Three Bears remained undiscovered, and two separate films – Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer – got mixed up in memories over the years and eventually became misremembered as a single short.

The films flitted from owner to owner throughout the years. Walt’s Laugh-O-Gram studio went bankrupt; the shorts were sold to Pictorial Clubs of Tennessee for non-theatrical distribution before they themselves went out of business. Yet the Laugh-O-Grams continued to circulate; they and other shorts from non-Disney studios were re-titled by other distributors for release domestically and overseas, and that’s how these “lost” Disney shorts wound up sitting unnoticed in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and private collectors.

Read the full, fascinating story of how Johnson and Gerstein discovered the lost films at Gerstein’s blog.

The best news is that these films have now been restored, and for those of you living in New York City, they will be screened at MoMA tomorrow, November 4th at 4:30 PM. The shorts, which will be screened with piano accompaniment by Ben Model, include the Laugh-O-Grams Little Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, Puss in Boots, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, The Four Musicians of Bremen as well as the live-action/animation hybrid Newman Laugh-O-Grams that aired as interstitial material at the Newman Theater in Kansas City. Also on the slate will be five later films from Ub Iwerks’s studio; Techno-Cracked (1933), The Brave Tin Solder (1934), Jack Frost (1934), Don Quixote (1934), and Balloon Land (1935). Tickets for the screening are available at the MoMA site.

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