Paul Terrytoons ad in The Film Daily, 1932 by Educational Film Exchanges, Inc.

Educational Pictures, also known as Educational Film Exchanges, Inc. or Educational Films Corporation of America, was an American film production and film distribution company founded in 1916 by Earle (E. W.) Hammons (1882–1962). Educational primarily distributed short subjects; it is best known for its series of comedies starring Buster Keaton[1] (1934–37) and the earliest screen appearances of Shirley Temple (1932–34). The company ceased production in 1938, and finally closed in 1940 when its film library was sold at auction.

Success with silents

"Toyland" produced by Frank Moser and Paul Terry-Toons, 1932

Hammons established the company to make instructional films for schools, but making comedies for theatrical release proved more lucrative.[2] Educational did issue many educational, travelogue, and novelty shorts, but its main enterprise became comedy.[3] Educational's heyday was the 1920s, when the popular silent comedies of Al St. John, Lupino Lane, Lige Conley, Lloyd Hamilton, and Monty Collins complemented many a moviehouse bill as "the spice of the program." During the 1920s, most of the comedies were produced by Jack White. In 1924 Educational quietly hired two leading figures in the comedy community who had been disgraced in a scandal: comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (who became a director at Educational under the pseudonym William Goodrich) and director Fred Fishback (under the pseudonym Fred Hibbard).

Educational also released silent cartoons, including the Felix the Cat series. In 1930, cartoonist Paul Terry signed with Educational to distribute his Terrytoons animated cartoons in America and British countries.

Sound films

Educational made a smooth transition to sound movies by handling the early talking comedies of pioneer producer Mack Sennett. Sennett also introduced singing star Bing Crosby to movie audiences. But Sennett soon became plagued by financial problems, and he left Educational in 1932.[4] Most of Educational's silent stars made only a few talkies for the studio: Lupino Lane left the company in 1930, followed by Lloyd Hamilton[5] and Al St. John in 1931. Most of the earliest Educational talkies feature silent-comedy veterans with stage experience: Vernon Dent, Harry Gribbon, Raymond McKee, Edward Everett Horton, Daphne Pollard, and Ford Sterling. Educational's most prolific comedian in the 1930s was the Sennett star Andy Clyde, who made 54 comedies.

Educational Pictures ad in The Film Daily, 1929

Educational replaced the Sennett films with star-name comedians.[6] Andy Clyde and Harry Langdon led Educational's release schedule for a few years, and then Buster Keaton headlined a series that yielded 16 popular two-reel comedies.[7]

Production and releasing arrangements

Educational's short comedies sometimes show their low budgets, with noticeably limited sets and facilities. This is because Educational didn't have its own physical plant. Earle Hammons, rather than purchasing, equipping, and maintaining a studio, found it cheaper and easier to send his crews to suburban locations where scenes could be photographed outdoors, or to rental studios that offered both space and equipment to independent producers. Outdoor shooting continued until the very last Educational comedy, released in 1939.

For a time Educational filmed its comedies on both coasts. The Hollywood productions, in addition to those of Clyde, Langdon, and Keaton, hosted comedy stars Moran and Mack, Edgar Kennedy, Billy Gilbert and Vince Barnett, and Ernest Truex. Educational's east coast productions were based at Eastern Service Studios, now known as the Astoria Studios, and starred New York-based talent from Broadway, vaudeville, and radio: Charlotte Greenwood, Joe Cook, Willie Howard, Lillian Roth, Will Mahoney, Tim and Irene Ryan, actor-singers Sylvia Froos and Warren Hull, Tom Howard and George Shelton, the Sisters of the Skillet (Ralph Dumke and Ed East), and Stoopnagle and Budd.

Educational had been releasing its own product until 1933, when Fox Film took over distribution.[8] Fox's successor Twentieth Century-Fox continued the arrangement. This resulted in Educational becoming Fox's "farm team", introducing new talent that Fox would take over for feature films. Shirley Temple, The Ritz Brothers, Joan Davis, and Leah Ray all won Fox contracts after starring for Educational. Many stars made debuts in Educational shorts: Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Warren Hull, June Allyson, Imogene Coca, Danny Kaye, Barry Sullivan, and Robert Shayne in New York; and Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers in Hollywood.


Educational also produced animated film shorts. This 1918 short features Happy Hooligan.

Like other short-subject producers, Educational Pictures marketed its assorted offerings in individual series. Among these were [Robert] Bruce Scenics (travelogues, 1918–1920), Lyman Howe's Hodge Podge (miscellaneous human-interest shorts; the series outlived its creator); Treasure Chest (miscellaneous subjects); Coronet Comedies (one-reel subjects, 1929–1931 and 1934–1936); Lloyd Hamilton Talking Comedies (two-reel, 1929–1931); Cameo Comedies (one-reel, 1931–1932); Tuxedo Comedies (two-reel, 1924–1931 and 1935–1936); Ideal Comedies (1930–1932); Vanity Comedies (1931–1932); Baby Burlesks (Shirley Temple; one-reel, 1932–1933), Frolics of Youth (Frank Coghlan, Jr. and Shirley Temple, two-reel, 1932–1934), Star Personality Comedies (Buster Keaton, Joe Cook, Willie Howard; two-reel, 1934–1938); Young Romance Comedies (two-reel, 1934–1935); Song and Comedy Hits (one-reel musical comedies, 1935–1938); and Col. Stoopnagle's Cavalcade of Stuff (Educational's last and briefest series – only two one-reel comedies issued just before the studio closed its doors, 1939).

Perhaps the most controversial series was the Marriage Wows (1934–35), comprising only three two-reel shorts starring husband-and-wife comics: Dumb Luck with the Easy Aces, and Domestic Bliss-ters and How Am I Doing with Chick York and Rose King. How Am I Doing featured a faithful transcription of York & King's successful vaudeville sketch "The Sleigh Ride", but the team's racy dialogue ran into trouble in small towns. A Maine exhibitor reported, "I didn't dare use it [but] I showed it to some of my friends and the staff and they laughed until they cried. It's a corker, but don't show it in Sunday school."[9] The series was dropped without fanfare.

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton, despite a successful feature-film career, had experienced personal problems and was fired from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1933. He accepted an offer to make a film in Europe. Upon his return to Hollywood in 1934, he made a screen comeback with Educational in a series of two-reel comedies. Most of these are simple visual comedies, with many of the gags supplied by Keaton himself, often recycling ideas from his family vaudeville act and his earlier films.[10] The high point in this series is Grand Slam Opera (1936), featuring Buster in his own screenplay as an amateur-hour contestant.

By 1936, for economic reasons, Educational had been concentrating its production in New York. Earle Hammons invited Keaton to make comedies there, perhaps in a bid for Keaton to relocate. Keaton agreed to three New York productions, but returned to California where he finished out his Educational series. Buster Keaton was Educational's most expensive talent and Hammons, forced to economize, could no longer afford the comedian's services. Hammons discontinued west coast operations after the last Keaton short was completed.

Ambition and failure

During its last year of production (1937-1938), Educational confined filming to New York. The technical staff was a small, close-knit crew: producer-director Al Christie; writer-director William Watson; assistant directors Robert Hall (promoted to director in 1936), Chris Beute, and Johnny Graham; writers Parke Levy, Arthur Jarrett, Marcy Klauber, and Billy K. Wells; and the New York studio's staff cameraman George Webber.[11] Webber was such a fixture at Astoria that the trade press noted it in print: "with George Webber, naturally, at the camera."[12]

Earle Hammons replaced Buster Keaton with Broadway comic Willie Howard, who appeared as the Hebrew Frenchman "Pierre Ginsbairge." Hammons also signed Bert Lahr for two-reelers, and continued his musical-comedy series with dancers Buster West and Tom Patricola. Illustrator Jefferson Machamer starred in a series inspired by his "Gags 'n' Gals" newspaper cartoons. Character comedian George Shelton was now working solo; he and partner Tom Howard reunited on radio's It Pays to Be Ignorant. Most of the later Educational series focused on youth; besides being less expensive talent, they lent a high level of energy to their performances. Educational's freshman class included the comedy/dance team of Herman Timberg, Jr. and Pat Rooney, Jr., singers Niela Goodelle and Lee Sullivan, mild-mannered comic Charles Kemper (reminiscent of Educational's bygone star Lloyd Hamilton), wisecracking comedian Harriet Hutchins, ingenues June Allyson and Sally Starr, juvenile singing group The Cabin Kids, rubber-faced clown Imogene Coca, and up-and-coming dialect comedian Danny Kaye, who began as a supporting player and soon received starring roles.

Twentieth Century-Fox had been distributing Educational product to theaters. It has long been thought that Fox dropped its line of short comedies in 1938 and withdrew its financial support from Educational, but in fact it was the other way around: it was Earle Hammons who discontinued Educational's short-subject production, allowed his agreement with Fox to expire, and declined to renew it.[13] Other studios approached Hammons with similar distribution deals for short subjects, but Hammons was anxious to enter the feature-film market. He joined forces with the financially troubled Grand National Pictures, in the hope of producing both full-length films and short subjects for that studio.

Hammons had stockpiled enough shorts to keep Educational going through June 1938; these films were distributed by Fox. The last two Educational shorts appeared in January 1939, released through Grand National; these were newsreel satires with radio and screen comic F. Chase Taylor as "Col. Stoopnagle." Hammons spent most of 1938 and 1939 in negotiations to secure financing and reimburse creditors. He remained optimistic, announcing a new slate of 26 one-reel films and 18 two-reel comedies for 1939-40 under the Educational banner,[14] but the drain on his finances forced both Grand National and Educational into bankruptcy.

The film library was sold at auction in 1940. Most of the Educational sound shorts were obtained by Astor Pictures, which shrewdly timed its re-releases to cash in on certain performers' popularity. Astor compiled four feature-length comedies showcasing, in turn, Shirley Temple (Our Girl Shirley, 1942), Danny Kaye (The Birth of a Star, 1945), Bing Crosby (The Road to Hollywood, 1947), and Bob Hope and Milton Berle (It Pays to Be Funny, 1948).


Much of Educational's silent film library was lost in a 1937 fire at the 20th Century-Fox film storage facility,[15] but the sound comedies survive today. On October 21, 2017 CineMuseum LLC, a consortium of film archivists, secured exclusive rights to the Educational sound comedies,[16] with plans to restore and re-release them to media outlets.

Selected filmography

Silent film Schoolday Love (1922) by director William S. Campbell for Educational Pictures. Running time: 21:57. A short comic children's film about a boy and a girl who experience all manner of adventures with a dog, a horse, a monkey, and other animals.


  1. ^ The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton by Robert Knopf
  2. ^ The Great Movie Shorts by Leonard Maltin
  3. ^ Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952 by Ray Zone
  4. ^ A History of the Hal Roach Studios by Richard Lewis Ward
  5. ^ Lloyd Hamilton: Poor Boy Comedian of Silent Cinema by Anthony Balducci
  6. ^ Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood, by Charles Foster
  7. ^ The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton by Robert Knopf
  8. ^ Pete Harrison, Harrison's Reports, Mar. 11, 1933, p. 1.
  9. ^ Sam A. Kimball in Motion Picture Herald, June 1, 1935, p. 72.
  10. ^ Gill, David, Brownlow, Kevin (1987). Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow. Thames Television. pp. Episode three.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Film Daily Product Guide and Directors' Annual, 1937 edition, p. 87.
  12. ^ Film Daily, Apr. 27, 1938, p. 26.
  13. ^ Film Daily, "Expect Hammons New Releasing Deal This Week," Jan. 31, 1938, p. 1.
  14. ^ Motion Picture Herald, "Ample Supply of Financing in Sight: Hammons," Mar. 25, 1939, p. 34.
  15. ^ This Film Is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film, International Federation of Film Archives, 2002.
  16. ^ Announcement on Facebook by Paul Gierucki of CineMuseum, 2017.