Educational Pictures, also known as Educational Film Exchanges, Inc. or Educational Films Corporation of America, was an American film distribution company founded in 1916 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. The studio also distributed short comedies starring Lloyd Hamilton, who employed the blacklisted "Fatty" Arbuckle as a writer-director under the pseudonym William Goodrich.
Hammons established the company to make instructional films for schools, but making comedies for theatrical release proved more lucrative. Educational did issue many educational, travelogue, and novelty shorts, but its main enterprise became 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 Terrytoons animated cartoons in America and British countries.
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. 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 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 undoubtedly the Sennett star Andy Clyde, who made 54 comedies.
Educational replaced the Sennett films with star-name comedians. 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.
For a time Educational maintained studios on both coasts. The Hollywood productions, in addition to those of Clyde, Langdon, and Keaton, hosted comedy stars Moran and Mack, Edgar Kennedy, and Ernest Truex. 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 comedian 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 (with radio and screen comic F. Chase Taylor as "Col. Stoopnagle") 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 (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 laboratory fire in 1937, but the sound comedies survive today.
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 (single-reel subjects, 1929–1931 and 1934–1936); Lloyd Hamilton Talking Comedies (1929–1931); Cameo Comedies (single-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), Marriage Wow Comedies (comprising only three two-reel comedies, starring husband-and-wife comics, 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, 1939).
Buster Keaton's career suffered a major downturn in the early 1930s and he was fired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1933, after which he embarked to Europe. Upon his return to Hollywood, he made a screen comeback in a series of 16 two-reel comedies for Educational Pictures. 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. The high point in the Educational series is Grand Slam Opera, featuring Buster in his own screenplay as an amateur-hour contestant. When the series lapsed in 1937, Keaton returned to MGM as a gag writer.
Educational Pictures's logo consists of a genie's lamp, above which the words "Educational Pictures" appear formed by the smoke from the lamp. Below the lamp, enclosed in quotation marks are the words The Spice of the Program.
The use of the logo in film credits was 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 then appear full screen. Normally, 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)
- The Hitch Hiker (1932, with Harry Langdon and Vernon Dent)
- I Surrender Dear (1932, with Bing Crosby)
- Krakatoa (1933, narrated by Graham McNamee, produced by Joe Rock)
- Million Dollar Melody (1933, with Lillian Roth)
- Two Black Crows in Africa (1933, with Moran and Mack)
- Dora's Dunkin' Doughnuts (1934, with Andy Clyde and Shirley Temple)
- Going Spanish (1934, with Bob Hope)
- Hotel Anchovy (1934, with The Ritz Brothers, directed by Al Christie)
- Three Cheers for Love (1934, with Sylvia Froos and Warren Hull)
- Dumb Luck (1935, with the Easy Aces)
- Grooms in Gloom (1935, with Tom Howard and George Shelton)
- Hail, Brother (1935, with Billy Gilbert and Shemp Howard)
- 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)
- The Bashful Ballerina (1937, with Imogene Coca)
- Dates and Nuts (1937, with Herman Timberg, Jr. and Pat Rooney, Jr., and June Allyson)
- Jail Bait (1937 with Buster Keaton)
- Love Nest on Wheels (1937 with Buster Keaton)
- Montague the Magnificent (1937, with Bert Lahr)
- Playboy Number One (1937, with Willie Howard)
- All's Fair (1938, with The Cabin Kids)
- Getting an Eyeful (1938, with Danny Kaye)
- Col. Stoopnagle's Cavalcade of Stuff #2 (1939, the final Educational comedy)