|Founded||1920 (As Fables Pictures, Inc)|
|Founders||Amedee J. Van Beuren|
In 1920, the Keith-Albee organization formed Fables Pictures for the production of the Aesop's Film Fables cartoon series with Paul Terry, who himself owned 10 percent of the studio. Producer Amedee J. Van Beuren bought out the studio in 1928, retaining Terry and renaming the business after its new owner. Van Beuren released Terry's first sound cartoon Dinner Time (1928) (a month before Disney's Steamboat Willie) through Pathé Exchange, which later became part of RKO Pictures. Terry ran the animation studio while Van Beuren focused on other parts of the business. In 1929, Terry quit to start his own Terrytoons studio and John Foster took over the animation department.
Van Beuren released his films through RKO Pictures. The early sound Van Beuren cartoons are almost identical to the late silent cartoons: highly visual, with little dialogue and occasional sound effects. Bandleaders Gene Rodemich and Winston Sharples supervised the music. The company's main cartoon characters were "Tom and Jerry", a tall-and-short pair, usually vagrants who attempted various occupations. They share no relation to MGM's more successful Tom and Jerry, a cat and mouse, and the older series has been renamed "Van Beuren's Tom and Jerry" and "Dick and Larry" in various future incarnations. Van Beuren was keenly aware that successful cartoons often featured animated "stars," and urged his staff to come up with new ideas for characters. Cubby, a mischievous little bear, resulted.
In 1932, Van Beuren purchased Charlie Chaplin's 12 Mutual Film Company comedies for $10,000 each, added music by Gene Rodemich and Winston Sharples and sound effects, and re-released them through RKO Radio Pictures. Chaplin, not owning the rights to his Mutual Films, had no legal recourse against Van Beuren or RKO.
The Van Beuren Corporation acquired and produced live-action features such as Adventure Girl (1934) and shorts (including Frank Buck's Bring 'Em Back Alive, 1932). Other Van Beuren live-action productions included a "Van Beuren Vagabond" travelogue series, a series of novelty shorts narrated by the radio comedy team Easy Aces (Goodman and Jane Ace) and musical comedy shorts featuring Bert Lahr, Shemp Howard, among others.
Van Beuren remained unsatisfied, and agreed to license the popular comic-strip character The Little King and the radio comedy act, Amos 'n' Andy to adapt into animated cartoons. Neither series was successful. Van Beuren then hired Walt Disney director Burt Gillett and animator Tom Palmer to create a new series of color cartoons. These "Rainbow Parade" cartoons featured established characters: Felix the Cat, Parrotville Parrots, Molly Moo-Cow, and the Toonerville Trolley gang.
These Van Beuren efforts were well received, and Van Beuren had finally succeeded in sponsoring a popular cartoon series. However, RKO ended its distribution of Van Beuren cartoons in 1936 when it entered a deal to distribute those produced by industry-leader Walt Disney. The deal went into effect one year later.
The Van Beuren library was sold by RKO to various television, reissue, and home-movie distributors in the 1940s and 1950s, including Unity Pictures, Walter Gutlohn/Library Films, Commonwealth Pictures, and Official Films. The library eventually lapsed into the public domain.