Educational Pictures (or Educational Film Exchanges, Inc.) was a film distribution company founded in 1919 by Earle (E. W.) Hammons (1882–1962). Educational primarily distributed short subjects, and today is probably best known for its series of 1930s comedies starring Buster Keaton, as well as for a series of one-reel comedies featuring the earliest screen appearances of Shirley Temple.
Earle Hammons originally established the company to make instructional films for schools, but making comedies for theatrical release proved more lucrative. Educational did indeed issue many educational, travelogue, and novelty shorts, but its main enterprise was comedy. 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". Educational also released silent cartoons including the Felix the Cat series. In 1930, cartoonist Paul Terry signed with Educational to distribute his cartoons.
Educational made a smooth transition to sound movies by handling the early talking comedies of comedy pioneer Mack Sennett. Comedians Monty Collins, Vernon Dent, Harry Gribbon, and Edward Everett Horton all starred in the studio's early talkies. Educational's most prolific comedian in the 1930s was undoubtedly the Sennett star Andy Clyde, who made 54 comedies. Sennett also introduced singing star Bing Crosby to movie audiences. But Sennett soon became plagued by financial problems, and he left Educational in 1932.
Educational replaced the Sennett films with star-name comedians. Andy Clyde and Harry Langdon led Educational's release schedule for a few years, then Buster Keaton headlined a series that yielded 16 popular two-reel comedies.
For a time Educational maintained studios on both coasts. New York-based talent from vaudeville and radio starred in Educational's East Coast productions based at the Astoria Studios: Joe Cook, Tim and Irene Ryan, Sylvia Froos, Warren Hull, Tom Howard and George Shelton, Stoopnagle and Budd, Bert Lahr, and Willie Howard. Many stars made debuts in Educational shorts: Bob Hope, The Ritz Brothers, Milton Berle, June Allyson, Imogene Coca, and Danny Kaye in New York; and Shirley Temple, Joan Davis, and Roy Rogers in Hollywood. During its last year of production, Educational showcased the young comedy/dance team of Herman Timberg, Jr. and Pat Rooney, Jr., singers Niela Goodelle and Lee Sullivan, comic Charles Kemper, and comedienne Harriet Hutchins.
Twentieth Century-Fox and its predecessor, Fox Film Corporation, had been distributing Educational product to theaters. In 1937 Fox dropped its line of short comedies and withdrew its support from Educational. Earle Hammons tried to keep his company going while trying to enter the feature-film market with the financially troubled Grand National Pictures. The drain on his finances forced both companies into bankruptcy. The final Educational comedies were released in January 1939, and the film library was sold at auction in 1940. Most 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 Shirley Temple (in 1942), Danny Kaye (in 1945), Bing Crosby (in 1947), and Bob Hope and Milton Berle (in 1949).
The quality of Educational's films varied widely in a large part consequent from the low-budget nature of the studio. Many future stars (such as Shirley Temple) made their first few film appearances at Educational, and many former stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Harry Langdon found work with Educational when they couldn't get jobs elsewhere. Because Educational maintained its New York area studio for so long, it also relied on Broadway and vaudeville talent (such as Joe Cook), figures who were famous among theatregoers and New York nightclub patrons but sometimes little known elsewhere.
Educational Pictures had a logo of a genie's lamp, above which the words "Educational Pictures" appeared formed by the smoke from the lamp. Below the lamp, enclosed in quotation marks were the words The Spice of the Program.
The appearance of the logo was somewhat unique to Educational. The shorts would begin with the opening title card, usually having "E. W. Hammons presents" at the top, followed by the title of the short. The Educational logo would appear full screen. Normally, movie studios would have their logos appear before the opening titles, while Educational placed its logo after the opening credits. At the end, there would be a standard end title card with the mini-logo for Educational Pictures appearing somewhere in the end title.
- Air Pockets (1924, with Lige Conley)
- The Iron Mule (1925, with Al St. John, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle)
- The Movies (1925, with Lloyd Hamilton, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle)
- Drama Deluxe (1927, with Lupino Lane, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle)
- Honeymooniacs (1929, with Monty Collins, directed by Jules White)
- The Right Bed (1929, with Edward Everett Horton)
- Honeymoon Trio (1931, with Al St. John, Walter Catlett, and Dorothy Granger, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle)
- Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931, with Jack Shutta and Louise Brooks, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle)
- I Surrender Dear (1932, with Bing Crosby)
- The Hitch Hiker (1932, with Harry Langdon and Vernon Dent)
- Two Black Crows in Africa (1933, with Moran and Mack)
- Million Dollar Melody (1933, with Lillian Roth)
- Krakatoa (1933, narrated by Graham McNamee, produced by Joe Rock)
- Dora's Dunkin' Doughnuts (1934, with Andy Clyde and Shirley Temple)
- Hotel Anchovy (1934, with The Ritz Brothers, directed by Al Christie)
- Going Spanish (1934, with Bob Hope)
- Three Cheers for Love (1934, with Sylvia Froos and Warren Hull)
- Grooms in Gloom (1935, with Tom Howard and George Shelton)
- Hail, Brother (1935, with Billy Gilbert and Shemp Howard)
- Dumb Luck (1935, with the Easy Aces)
- Mr. Widget (1935, with Joe Cook)
- Way Up Thar (1935, with Joan Davis, directed by Mack Sennett)
- Blue Blazes (1936, with Buster Keaton)
- Grand Slam Opera (1936, with Buster Keaton)
- Playboy Number One (1937, with Willie Howard)
- Montague the Magnificent (1937, with Bert Lahr)
- The Bashful Ballerina (1937, with Imogene Coca)
- Dates and Nuts (1937, with Herman Timberg, Jr. and Pat Rooney, Jr., and June Allyson)
- Getting an Eyeful (1938, with Danny Kaye)
- All's Fair (1938, with The Cabin Kids)
- Col. Stoopnagle's Cavalcade of Stuff #2 (1939, the final Educational comedy)
- The theater and cinema of Buster Keaton, by Robert Knopf
- The Great Movie Shorts, by Leonard Maltin
- Stereoscopic cinema & the origins of 3-D film, 1838-1952, By Ray Zone
- Lloyd Hamilton: Poor Boy Comedian of Silent Cinema, By Anthony Balducci
- A History of the Hal Roach Studios, By Richard Lewis Ward
- Stardust and shadows: Canadians in early Hollywood, by Charles Foster
- The theater and cinema of Buster Keaton by Robert Knopf
- This film is dangerous:a celebration of nitrate film