From fairytale beginnings to modern miracle, the story of the Dikkers Cartoon Company is the story of the motion picture itself. Since the earliest days of film, the Dikkers studio has been a leader in fine animated entertainment.
Gustav Dikkers, a draftsman at Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park workshops, was "The Lightning Artist" who thrilled theater audiences with the very first animated cartoons in 1893. Unfortunately, this was a full year before the invention of motion pictures, and Gustav forced the audience to sit and close their eyes while he drew each frame.
Gustav Dikkers was ahead of his time, but he had a dream. He envisioned a revolutionary new entertainment medium through which "every man, woman and child in this world might enjoy animated cartoons whenever they want, in the comfort of their own homes, no matter how untidy."
Encouraged by Georges Méliès, in 1910 Dikkers and his sons, Harold and Archibald, signed with Pathé and formed their own studio in Brooklyn, NY. There they produced a series of cartoon short subjects featuring Oliver the Street-sweeping Carriage. Before the Academy Awards were created, their classic "Oliver Collides With a Donkey" was nominated by readers of Photoplay as "Best funny-drawing cinematograph of 1918."
With this success, Gustav retired and the rechristened Dikkers Bros. Studios followed much of the new motion-picture industry to Hollywood. They released their cartoons through the Mutual Film Corp., and found modest success with their series "Top Hat Follies," the crowd-pleasing climax of which featured gentlemen in top hats falling down stairs.
But the brothers were restless. As Variety reported at the time, "Los Angeles’ ever-present sunshine and resulting ebullient spirits are not conducive to comedy," and the Dikkers Bros. returned east. Still, the cartoonists left a lasting mark: Harold personally designed the second "L" in the famous ‘HOLLYWOOD" sign. Not to be outdone, his younger Archibald designed the first and third "O"s.
As silent cinema artists, the Dikkerses were praised for their penmanship and their cartoons’ technical leaps: the first upright walking cat, fine use of erasers, and the first cartoon close-up (in "Oliver’s Streetcar Troubles," of a snout). When sound arrived much later, Harold’s lisping, high-pitched, screeching voice and Bronx accent proved ideal, setting the industry standard for cartoon speech. They built a stable of now-legendary characters, including Drippy the Washboard, Korpulent Kow, Li’l Scrappy, and Ol’ Grumpy Boots.
But they knew they were falling short of their dream of cartoons enjoyed in every home. Archibald complained that in theater, "one could not get up to fetch a lemonade from the icebox, or relax in the comfort of one's own davenport." Further, one had to sit next to people who read titles out loud, would not remove their hats, or were foul smelling.
The problem, as they saw it, was that every home in the world did not have a movie projector. They would change that.
Inspired by Henry Ford's new assembly line process, they spent their family fortune to build a factory and make thousands of theater-quality movie-projection systems for private homes.
But no one bought them.
Despite their efficient production process, each projector was prohibitively expensive at $90 per unit -- the equivalent of nearly $10 billion today! -- and the logistics of delivery were even more cumbersome. Each projector weighed more than 3,500 pounds and took four men and two horses to deliver and install. Worse, their business adventure occurred amid The Great Depression, during which Direct Current for carbon-rod arc lighting in the home declined sharply.
But the brothers were undaunted. While their animation work had dried up, they earned some money selling likenesses of Li’l Scrappy emblazoned on burlap sacks. In 1939 they found work creating animated training films for the military, and won an award for "Pete the Preparedness Pineapple Protects Hawaii." But they would not achieve their dream this way, either, nor with their 1942 masterpiece, the feature-length "Dikkersasia," released by Educational Pictures.
In the 1950s, with the promise of the new medium of television, the brothers set out to fulfill their dream once again. Now renamed The Dikkers Cartoon Co., the studio created a television series, "The Horehound Cough Drop Office Lion Sunshine Theatre Hour." In the program, "Larry the Lion" worked as an advertising rep. for an accounting firm, but secretly dreamed of life as an accountant in an advertising firm.
The brothers were excited that the cutting-edge show would be broadcast directly into people's homes, though they felt that programmers conspired against them to prevent the program from airing at all hours of the day and night, so as to make it available whenever people wanted to watch it. The program was canceled by the DuMont network after two years.
"Why must our audience be forced to watch a cartoon only when the television executive thinks they ought to watch it?" Archibald later asked his grandson Scott with indignation. Scott Dikkers would remember.
Harold and Archibald gave up animation altogether in 1970s, slipping quietly into retirement. For a brief moment in the 1980s Archibald was thrilled at the prospect of FAX technology. It seemed to be the magic key to the universally accessible home cartoon. He came out of retirement (his brother was too ill to join him), and faxed individual frames of a new film featuring the character "Koko the Komputer." After spending six years faxing drawings to a single audience member, an unlucky grandmother in Encino, California, who did not even have a way to string the faxed drawings together to watch them as an animated cartoon, Archibald gave up, seemingly for the last time.
Harold, who died in 1992, had asked Archibald from his deathbed to continue searching for a way to realize their dream.
It wasn't until the early 21st century that the then 103-year-old Archibald discovered, with great interest, a new medium that might finally fulfill his and Harold’s life ambition -- the Internet. Though he was too weak to pursue it, he called on his grandson, Scott, to take over the company and carry on the Dikkers tradition.
And so Scott Dikkers does to this day, offering on-demand viewing of cartoon entertainment to virtually everyone in the world on dikkers.com.
Peace on Earth Film Festival, Chicago, IL 2010
Official Best of Fest
Official Best of Fest
Mountian Film Fest, Telluride, Colorado
Cleveland International Film Festival
San Francisco International Children's Film Festival
Visionfest Film Festival, Brooklyn, NY