Monday, May 16, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Animal Wise Cracks

Sorry about the lack of posts since Thursday. Blogspot sorta had a little existential crisis last week, sending some of my posts into slumberland for a time. Thought I'd give it some time to get over its hiccups rather than risk the loss of my deathless prose.

So anyway, today we've got Animal Wise Cracks by Ralph Wolfe. This was a New York Evening Graphic strip, begun in September or early October 1929, that didn't fit the mold of their usual material. The Porno-Graphic readership was pretty much limited to adults (we hope), so why run an animal strip obviously aimed at children (and rather dull ones at that)?

Well, to ask why the Graphic did anything is to assume a level of intelligence and planning that simply didn't exist at that zany paper. So I'm also not going to ask why the strip was renamed Animal Wisecracks in 1930, or why it was advertised in E&P as Animal Antics. Or why the strip was apparently distributed both by the Graphic (as MP Inc.)  and McNaught Syndicate. No, I'm just going to say that it expired sometime in 1930, and that it seems to have been Ralph Wolfe's last syndicated newspaper strip.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!


Part 1

Ralph Allison Wolfe was born in Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) on August 19, 1894 as recorded in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. His father, James, was Caucasian, and his mother, Kate, was half-Cherokee. Ralph was recorded as "three-quarter white"; he was the fourth of six children.

In 1910 Wolfe's older siblings had moved; he and two sisters remained with their parents in Vinita, Oklahoma at 101 Miller Street. Some time later, the family moved to Los Angeles, California. Wolfe signed his World War I draft card on June 5, 1917; his occupation was caddie at the Los Angeles Country Club. His description was medium height and build with green eyes and light hair.

Wolfe's mother was the head of the household in 1920; they lived in Los Angeles at 1260 West 51st Street. His occupation was cartoonist in the moving pictures industry. Apparently in the late 1920s he moved to New York City where he worked on a number of comic strips.
Part 2

In the 1930 census Wolfe was a lodger at 14 West 68th Street in Manhattan; his occupation was cartoonist for a newspaper. Who's Who of American Comic Books, 1928-1999 lists his animation employment at Disney, Warner Bros., and Fleisher studios in the 1930s; when he returned to Los Angeles is not known. During his time at Warner Bros., his name was "hidden" in the cartoons, Have You Got Any Castles?,; and Speaking of the Weather,

Wolfe wrote "and now — The Painted Voice" for the Watson-Guptill publication, Art Instruction (1939); "an article describing the new 'shorthand' of hand-drawn sound invented and patented by Dave Fleischer of Fleischer Studios, Inc., Miami, Florida…" Edan Hughes (Artists in California, 1786-1940) wrote, "…He worked for 40 years as a cartoonist for Disney Studios."

According to Who's Who, Wolfe free-lanced in the comic book industry during the 1940s into the early 1950s. The date of his marriage to Enola Richardson (1905-1987) is not known. Wolfe was 90 years old when he passed away on June 20, 1985 in Los Angeles; he was buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

These are Wolfe's animation credits as they appear on my "Albertopage" website:

WOLFE, Ralph Ellison (19 Aug 1884-20 June 1985)

Inbetweener: DISNEY 31-33

Animator/Story: DISNEY 33-


I'd like to add that at Warners Wolfe's name inspired the character Ralph Wolf, who appeared in several Chuck Jones-directed cartoon shorts along with Sam Sheepdog.

Apparently Wolfe was in California before 1915; here is his entry in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. Part 4. Works of Art, Etc. 1915, New Series, Volume 10, No. 1:

Wolfe (Ralph) Sawtelle, Cal. [653
Chollychap. [Grotesque drawing of statuette of man wearing derby hat,
tight-fitting coat and large trousers, standing with heels together and
toes turned outward.] © 1 c. Mar. 16, 1915 ; G 49221.

In the mid-1920s Wolfe was involved with producing stop-motion animation shorts under the name, Plastic Art Productions Presents Ralph Wolfe's Mud-Stuff. Three shorts can be viewed here:

Green Pastures,
Long Live the Bull,
The Penwiper,
It sounds like the "Chollychap" statue is an unlicensed Charlie Chaplin figure.
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