Paul Houlton Terry (February 19, 1887 - October 25, 1971) was an American cartoonist, screenwriter, film director and one of the most prolific film producers in history. He produced over 1,300 cartoons between 1915 and 1955 including the many Terrytoons cartoons.
Terry was raised in San Francisco and in 1904, he began working as a news photographer and a cartoonist for the newspapers (San Francisco Bulletin, San Francisco Call-Examiner). He later transferred to the New York Press, a Hearst newspaper in New York City.
In 1914, Terry became interested in animation after seeing Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur. While still working for the newspaper, he made his first film, Little Herman, which he completed and sold to the Thanhouser film company of New Rochelle, New York in 1915. Later that year, he completed his second film Down on the Phoney Farm. There is a story, perhaps legendary, that Terry attempted to sell his cartoon to a producer who made a small offer for the film. When Terry told him that the offer was less than his production costs, the producer supposedly replied, "I'd had paid more if you hand't put those pictures on there!"
J. R. Bray Studios
In 1916, he began working at the J. R. Bray Studios, directing and producing a series of eleven Farmer Al Falfa films. Before the end of the year, Terry left Bray, taking the rights to Farmer Al Falfa with him.
Paul Terry Productions
In 1917, Terry formed his own production company, "Paul Terry Productions" and produced nine more animated films, including one Farmer Al Falfa film. Paul Terry closed his studio to join the Army and fought in World War I.
In 1920, Terry entered into a partnership with Amadee J. Van Beuren, and started the "Fables Studios." During this time, he began producing a series of Aesop's Film Fables as well as new Farmer Al Falfa films. Terry experimented with sound process in a Fable Cartoon called Dinner Time, released in September 1928, two months before Disney's Steamboat Willie was released in November 1928. Terry's partnership with Van Beuren lasted until 1929, when Terry and Van Beuren disagreed over the switch to producing films with sound. Terry and much of his staff started up the Terrytoons studio in suburban New Rochelle, New York. Van Beuren retained "Fables Studios" and renamed it "Van Beuren Studios."
Paul Terry's Terrytoons produced a large number of animated films, including Gandy Goose, Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, Little Roquefort, Barker Bill and many other lesser known characters. Theatrical distribution was at first through Educational Pictures, then, after it was acquired in 1937, through 20th Century Fox.
Paul Terry was quick to adopt techniques that simplified the animation process, but resisted "improvements" that complicated the production. He was one of the first to make use of "cel animation" including animation of separate body parts. His studio was slow to switch to synchronized sound tracks and to color. While this may have sometimes prevented his films from achieving the technical excellence of Disney or Fleischer Studios, he did manage to keep his studio profitable, while others went out of business. Terry was once quoted as saying, "Disney is the Tiffany of animation. I'm the Woolworth."
Retirement and legacy
Paul Terry retired after selling his animation studio and film library to CBS in 1955, a bitter surprise to his long-time employees. CBS appointed Gene Deitch, who ditched the grand old characters, replacing them with lackluster characters such as Sidney the Elephant, Gaston LeCrayon, Fleibus, Hector Heathcote, and John Doormat. Deitch departed after three years. Only Tom Terrific was considered to have above average writing. After Deitch's departure, Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle returned, as well as new characters such as Deputy Dawg. CBS made the Terrytoons library of films a mainstay of its Saturday morning programming and continued operating the studio making both new theatrical films and series for television until the late 1960s.
Terry died on October 25, 1971 in New York City.
Terry's nephew, Alex Anderson, was a producer of Crusader Rabbit, and is the creator of the Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Bullwinkle, and Dudley Do-Right characters even though Jay Ward is usually given credit.