Gertie

GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1914)

Summary: Winsor McCay, cartoonist and director of this 1-reel (20-minute)1914 film, piles out of a car with cartoonist George McManus andhumorist Roy McCardell in front of a natural history museum, wherea 70′-x-20′ “dinosaurus” skeleton is on display. McCaybets a dinner he can make a dinosaur live again by a “seriesof hand-drawn cartoons.” Six months pass, during which time10,000 cartoon drawings have been drawn and photographed. Somecomic business involving colossal piles of papers is followedby the long-awaited dinner. McCay reveals a hand-drawn landscapeon a large screen.

Gertie, a brontosaur, emerges from a cave,eats a rock and a tree, and bows to the audience. McCay requeststhat she raise her right foot. She does, looks at a sea serpent,is supposed to raise her left foot, is called a “bad girl,”eats a pumpkin, finally raises the left foot, and eats a stump. Jumbo, a relatively small elephant meanders by; Gertie flingshim into the lake, gets sprayed when he returns with a trunk fullof water, and rests on her side. A four-winged lizard passesoverhead. Gertie drinks the lake. McCay appears in cartoon formon the screen and rides her back into the distance. The realMcCay wins his bet.

History: Gertie was supposedly the most popular cartoon character of thisearly era. It seems that at the time, McCay (or another “ringmaster”)would actually accompany vaudeville theater showings of his cartoonand walk behind the screen at the right time so as to appear incartoon form on the screen. Throwing fruit to Gertie would involvea similar trick. In 1915, Bray Studios plagiarized this film,calling it Gertie.


GERTIE ON TOUR (1917)

Summary: Only a few moments of footage survive of Winsor McCay’s 1917 sequelto Gertie the Dinosaur. (John McCay and John Fitzsimmonsare also listed as animators, and the animation is more detailedthan the line figures in the previous film. A 1921 date appearswith the Rialto studio fragment.) When we cut in, we are toldthat in Gertie’s day, toads were ten feet tall, so a modern smallone disturbs her. After she plays with a train (much more gentlythan Kong will), Gertie rests. “As she sleeps she dreamsof other days when she was the life of the party.” She dancesamong a crowd of brontosaurs.

Commentary: It is worth noting that despite filmdom’s inclinations as regardsdino-pix, these early pieces offer us a personable and relativelymild dinosaur with a “pet” name. Leonard Maltin assertsthat “McCay’s efforts during the first ten years of thiscentury are widely considered to be the pinnacle of American comicart. McCay combined the abilities of a superb draftsman withthe imagination of a master storyteller.” Both Gertie filmsinvolve performance in front of an adoring crowd, and one wondersabout the nostalgic tone in the fragment of the sequel: an autobiographicalimpulse on McCay’s part?