Monday, August 17, 2009

The White Glove Test

Not that it will come as a big surprise to anyone out there, but I love "classic" animated cartoons! "Classic" meaning the wonderful theatrical shorts that were made for and shown in movie theatres until television reared its ugly head and killed them all.

I am not fussy. I pretty much like them all. I love the classic Looney Tunes, the Disney shorts, the gorgeous MGM cartoons, and all the others. I can even enjoy the Famous studio shorts and even Terrytoons. (Well, that might be a stretch. I do love Heckle and Jeckle, though!)

By watching cartoons my whole life and reading every behind the scenes book I could find about them, I feel I can answer just about any question on animated shorts posed to me. Who is Shamus Culhane? I know that. Who was the voice of the Baby Bear in the Warner 3 Bears cartoons? Duh, Stan Freberg. I even know all the words to Bugs Bunny's square dance in "Hillbilly Hare"! (You can guess how much fun I am when I am liquored up!)

Even with my vast knowledge of cartoon trivia, there is one question that I do not know the answer to:  


Mickey Mouse wears them. So does Goofy. As do Bugs, Porky, Woody, Mighty and a whole bunch more. Even incidental characters, including politically incorrect African natives wear them, but why?

I know that at the turn of the century, many gentlemen wore dress gloves. More often than the "gentlemen" of today, at least. Did they wear them all the time, though? Were they always white?

There is probably a simple explanation for this. Mutt & Jeff were very popular when animated cartoons were born (they even starred in a bunch), and they wore the gloves. Maybe early animators liked the way they looked on them, so they included gloves on the characters they created. Cartoonists often rely on formulas for drawing, so maybe the white glove became yet another formula they included when they were designing a new character. It could also be an aesthetic choice. In creating "black" characters like Mickey and Goofy, they might have slapped on the gloves so the characters hands stood out. Indeed, Mr. Mouse was glove less in his early films. This doesn't explain Bugs, Woody and the rest though.

We will probably never get an answer to this question, so unless any of you out there have the definitive answer, we'll let this topic rest, and turn our attention to more pressing questions.


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Blogger eeTeeD said...

guess #1) black hands in front of black bodies, limbs, and black items in the background often made for a confusing hard to "read" mess. the white gloves would make things easier to "read" (which is basically what you said about goofy).

guess #2) animated cartoons are made in layers. if the character is wearing gloves, it would make it easier to hide that the hands were on a different cel layer from the arms.

August 17, 2009 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...


Those are as good theories as any, but why WHITE GLOVES WITH STRIPES? There are lots of ways to break up a figure, why this specific thing?

August 17, 2009 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger eeTeeD said...

gloves with stripes might have something to do with the physical construction of gloves. something that would be lost on the casual-clothes wearing people of today, but would have been instantly understood by people of the early 20th century.

as you know, harold lloyd wore a specially made glove to hide that he had lost several fingers in accident with a prop bomb. he would also wear gloves in his films to help hide this. take a look at photo #17 on this harold lloyd site (he is spooning poison in the photo).

you can clearly see that the gloves have 3 black stripes. it must have something to do with glove construction.

August 17, 2009 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger P.L. Frederick said...

I think eeTeeD is onto something, again. I have a pair of white kid gloves that my grandmum used to wear, in the 1950s or 1940s I think it was. On the top side, near the wrist, the soft leather has three thin pleats, exactly matching the placement of the three black lines in cartoon gloves.

August 18, 2009 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger Bruce B said...

For more on this:

August 18, 2009 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Steve Dooner said...

I think there are several contributing factors.

1. Gloves blur the lines between handfs and paws to humanize the figure.

2. White gloves are part of the traditional tuxedo evening dress of nineteenth century gentlemen. So these black bodies necessarily create the contrast that would require white gloves--just as in evening attire. Many cartoon animals are indeed sophisticated gentry who seem to have fallen on bad times just as Chaplin's "Little Tramp" was always a ragamuffin version of a gentlemen.

3. Charlie Chaplin and other iconic silent film icons always used gloves. Before this, Music Hall and Vaudeville entertainers.

4. THE REAL REASON: Black face minstrelsy is the basis of American rascal humor from Br'er Rabbit on. Jolson always wore white gloves to complte his black face character, as did every other black face comedian. Most of the funny animal types have their predecessors in black face minstrel shows. Mr. Bones and the tricker character, etc.

4. Hands are hard to draw (especially five-fingered hands

5. Simple contrast

August 20, 2009 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Steve Dooner said...

That should be "trickster character"

August 20, 2009 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Bill White said...

eeTeeD, P.L., Bruce and Salieri all have valid theories. I will still chalk it up to "lazy cartoonist syndrome".

Until Bud Fisher or Paul Terry rise from the grave, that's the best we can do.

August 20, 2009 at 7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool post you got here. I'd like to read a bit more about that topic. Thanks for posting that material.
Joan Stepsen
Cool geeks

January 16, 2010 at 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Athornton said...

My kids love the classic cartoons too, especially the politically incorrect and "cartoon vionence" ones!

February 17, 2011 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger nab said...

this might be a late post. but wateva. still wanna say it. n some might say it already. the first comment is my answer, n to follow up the question why white gloves with stripes? the stripes might indicate the fold for the darts. like normal white gloves. n why white? since early cartoon ar still in the black n white era if im not mistaken, so they just settle on the white gloves. then white does go with anything. haha

March 10, 2011 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger AdmiralJosephCappuccino said...

1. A lot of cartoon attributes were based on various staples of performing arts. In a lot of forms like mime, clown and commedia having the hand pop out noticeably was very import and (for some more than others) white gloves were used to do so. I think after a certain amount of time so many cartoons had done it that no one would take you cartoon seriously if it didn't have these gloves.

2.P.L. Frederick and Nab both mentioned this and I will too. I always (I'm not sure why, maybe one cartoon I saw somewhere along the line drew them in more detail or something) thought the three stripes were pleats in the gloves.
The real question is, "why don't they make gloves like this anymore?" I would LOVE a pair. Instead of the disney land kind with dumb stripes that fall off.

April 15, 2011 at 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at the movie "The cabinet of Dr. Caligari". The doctor wears a pair of three stripes gloves.

June 14, 2013 at 5:21 AM  

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