Toby, in a frame from 'Down South'.

TOBY THE PUP

Medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: M.J. Winkler Studios
First appeared: 1930
Creator: Sid Marcus
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Farmer Alfalfa is not a commercially valuable property today, but at least his owner, Terrytoons, thought enough of him to lay claim to him (last time it was in a position to claim anything at all). Similarly, Flip the Frog isn't worth a whole lot anymore, but everybody who's interested knows he was a product of the Ub Iwerks Studio. And Bosko, another …

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… that's no longer very much in demand, was validly claimed by two big cartoon producers, Looney Tunes and MGM, back when they were separate entities. (They're both owned by Time-Warner now.) But Toby the Pup is an orphan.

Toby was an early product of Charles Mintz's M.J. Winkler Studio, which made cartoons starring Krazy Kat, who was licensed from King Features. Mintz had made his biggest mark on animation by hijacking Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from Disney, then losing him to Walter Lantz.

Mintz's studio was producing cartoons to be released by Columbia Screen Gems (The Fox & the Crow, Flippity & Flop). But he took it into his head to do some moonlighting for RKO, and produced Toby the Pup for the purpose. He hired away a couple of guys then working for Fleischer, Sid Marcus (Courageous Cat) and Dick Huemer (Koko the Clown) to produce the cartoons (Mintz was strictly a money man). The first cartoon in the series, The Museum, was released August 19, 1930. Marcus is usually credited with Toby's creation, but at least one contemporary newspaper account cited Huemer, as the "originator" of Toby.

Not that a lot of creation went into him — he looked and acted just like Fleischer's Bimbo, mostly a supporting character of Betty Boop, which probably had something to do with both possible creators' Fleischer connection. Also, Toby and his girlfriend, Tessie, were designed just like other cartoon stars up until the time were designed — rubber-limbed and circular, with only the ears making them individuals. E.g., Felix the Cat had little, pointy cat ears, while Mickey Mouse had big, round mouse ears. Toby had long, floppy dog ears, To distinguish him from Bimbo, his were squared at the end.

By some accounts, at least, Toby was a success. But RKO already had a cartoon supplier, Amadee Van Bueren's studio (Tom & Jerry, Cubby Bear). Toby wasn't part of the crowd, and got lost in the shuffle. Only a dozen cartoons were made, ending with The Bull Thrower, released June 7, 1931. The personnel involved shifted their attention to Screen Gems' own Scrappy.

With neither Columbia nor RKO inclined to pay much attention to Toby, even to the point of keeping his copyrights up-to-date, he tended to drop off the animation map. He's not completely forgotten, but neither is he the focus of much interest. Most of his films are lost — that is, no copies are known to exist today.

Even those that survive aren't well known. They weren't syndicated on TV when Buddy, Kiko the Kangaroo and the rest of those guys were getting exposure that way. Today, all that's left of Toby the Pup is a few entries in anthology DVDs of miscellaneous public-domain animated shorts. And even those tend not to be available in America.

— DDM

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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Toby the Pup is in the public domain.