I’m amazed how many things that I would have thought were of very long duration, or which crystallized over a long period of time, actually were created in a brief period of about four years. These include not only seminal characters, but also classes of characters and entertainment.
First big feature-length cartoon – There were other cases of feature-length cartoons in Germany and South America, but Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 was the first all-color feature length cartoon , and it was a major event. It was followed by Pinocchio and Fantasia (both 1940), again ground-breaking for various reasons. 1937 also saw the first use of the Multiplane camera in the short The Old Mill before it was used in the feature films, giving an improved three dimensionality to the cartoons. Again, there were similar devices used in other cartoons, but the Disney multiplane would see much greater and broader use than the other systems.
Comic Book Superheros – Yes, there was The Phantom slightly earlier, and other heroes with incredible powers earlier, but 1938 saw the introduction of Superman, 1939 saw Batman and the Human Torch and Namor the Submariner. There were lots of other, lesser heroes (who endured) introduced at the same time – The Sandman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, etc. Captain America got a slightly later start, in 1941, but I’m not lengthening the time period just for him. The point is, you had a series of not only iconic, long-lasting characters, but the whole idea and milieu of super-heroes all coming together in that brief period.
Big Budget Color Movies – Yeah, there were big movies and color movies before, but, besides the above-mentioned Snow White and the Sven Dwarfs, you also had The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, both 1939. Both game-changers.
Warner Brother cartoon characters – Warner Brothers had its big characters before – most famously Porky Pig (1935), but their other creatures – Foxy, Beans (Porky’s original “teammate” – “Porky and Beans”), Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid – really didn’t catch on, nd weren’t much of a match for Disney’s stable of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, The Goof 9later “Goofy”), and others. Then lightning struck in rapid succession , giving them first Daffy Duck (1937) and then Bugs Bunny (1938-1940. He took time to develop).
Abbott and Costello – They’d been a team since 1935, but first appeared on radio in 1938, then in film in 1940. They weren’t headliners in their first feature, and the studio still wasn’t sure about them in Hold that Ghost, but they quickly took over and became major money-makers for Universal, and continued until the mid-1950s
The Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys – and lots of other names in between. It’s hard to believe they started out in a serious drama, Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End in 1935. This got turned into a serious film with Humphrey Bogart in 1937. The original kids, from the stage play, were a hot property and made a series of semiserious films with the likes of Jimmy Cagney and John Garfield. Then various combinations of them made films with carious studios under names like East Side Kids, Little Tough Guys, and finally The Bowery Boys. Through these some or all of the original bunch stayed together, – Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Bernard Punsley. I grew up watching The Bowery Boys on Metromedia channel 5 out of New York City. I think Huntz Hall is the only one who continued on to the series end with poverty-row producer Monogram in 1957 (by which time I had been born).