By October 1926 Out of the Inkwell was on the brink of collapse, Red Seal Pictures (where Max also served as president) had already filed for bankruptcy, and both companies were embroiled in a web of lawsuits, many directed at their current and former partners. Red Seal filed two lawsuits against its former president Edwin Fadiman for fiscal improprieties. Fadiman, in turn, was among the shareholder-plaintiffs in a suit against Red Seal, Max Fleischer and Hugo Reisenfeld alleging fiscal improprieties. Other legal entanglements included: a lawsuit filed by Spiro Films Corporation against Out of the Inkwell for nonpayment of licensing fees; a suit against both Out of the Inkwell and Red Seal, brought by music publishers Waterson, Berlin and Snyder, relating to the use of the song Alexander’s Ragtime Band in a bouncing ball film; and a suit brought by writer Irwin R. Franklyn against Inkwell, Red Seal and Max Fleischer– ultimately settled out of court - which sought to restrain the production, exhibition and distribution of the Carrie of the Chorus series.
A Knight in Shining Armor
But then something miraculous happened. A savior appeared. At least that’s how it seemed at the time. No one quite knows how it came to pass that Alfred Weiss, like a knight in shining armor, appeared out of nowhere with an offer to take over both Red Seal and Inkwell, pay all their bills and put them back in business. And so, in January 1927, Max signed over control of Out of the Inkwell and Red Seal Pictures to Alfred Weiss. The deal would save Out of the Inkwell but would demand significant sacrifices as well. Weiss would serve as president of both companies with Max staying on as Vice President and Dave as Art Director. And, in exchange for clearing the studio’s debt to the film laboratories, Weiss would retain ownership of the released films.
Weiss and Paramount continued to use the familiar and very popular "Out of the Inkwell" name in promotional materials.
One of Weiss’s first moves was to shutter Red Seal completely. He had his eye on a larger, more powerful distributor with a broader reach and deeper pockets: Paramount. Weiss leaned heavily on the Fleischer name and reputation to score a favorable contract with Paramount, one that provided both distribution and much needed financing.
As for Out of the Inkwell, legal issues related to the reorganization led Weiss to change the name of the company to Inkwell Studios. The studio’s Out of the Inkwell series was renamed Inkwell Imps and finally the hyphen was removed from Ko-ko, making him simply Koko.
These transitions did not happen smoothly, nor with any kind of consistency. To see this, one has only to look at the jumbled variety of title cards for the films released during this period. Weiss released new films side by side with the older previously unreleased films he'd freed from the film laboratories, sometimes merely adding his “Alfred Weiss presents” credit to the top of the film’s original title card. As a result, we see films featuring both “Ko-ko” and “Koko” during this period.
New York Times, October 3, 1926
Motion Picture World, May 1926
Motion Picture World, August 1926
Motion Picture World, October 1927
The educational film Now You're Talking, released in 1927, is one of the first films to carry the Inkwell Studios name.
Koko's Klock (1927), a rarely seen gem from the Inkwell Imps series was also released as Koko's Clock and Koko's Alarm. (courtesy of Max Fleischer Cartoons)
Adding to the confusion, later distributors sometimes replaced the original title cards with their own credits and sometimes took the liberty of inserting, or eliminating, the hyphen. Some even created their own variations such as KoKo and KOKO.
Weiss also wanted to take advantage of the explosion of sound films after the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927. He did this by repackaging and adding sound to some of the early, silent Song Car-Tunes which were re-released as Screen Songs. While Max and Dave's names were slowly eliminated from the Inkwell Imp title cards, Weiss continued to feature the Fleischer name on the title cards for Screen Songsfilms which made use of Max's patented bouncing ball.
We don’t know much about the working relationship between Weiss and the Fleischer brothers, but we do know that it was not long before Weiss’s once-shining armor began to fade.
Weiss continued to feature the Fleischer name on Screen Song cartoons.
By the time Weiss approached Dave asking him for a copy of his contract so he could “look at it,” the brothers were already suspicious of their savior. On the advice of his lawyer, Dave had a photostat copy of his contract made before giving the original to Weiss who, according to a friendly source in accounting, proceeded to tear out an entire page of the original contract and replace it with a new one that would make it easier for Weiss to oust the brothers from Inkwell. Disgusted, Max and Dave resigned forcing Weiss to hire an actor to replace Max in the final six Koko films and foiling whatever plan he had concocted for an underhanded, but tidy, takeover of the studio. In 1929, shortly after Max and Dave’s departure, Weiss declared bankruptcy and, as mysteriously as he arrived on the scene, he disappeared. Rudderless and without any hope of contracts for the coming year, the staff finished what work remained and Inkwell Studios quietly closed.
But Max and Dave weren’t finished and, although they didn’t know it yet, the next amazing chapter of their journey was about to begin. As Max’s son Richard, who was just 13 at the time, recounts in his book Out of the Inkwell:
One of six Inkwell Imp films produced after Max and Dave resigned from Inkwell Studios, Ko-ko's Hypnotism features a stand in "creator" who is decidedly less charming than Max and live action sequences that lack Dave's comic sensibility and timing.
New York Times, January 17, 1930
“…one night, my father came home looking somehow strange. I suppose I’d never before seen him with an expression of shock on his face. He came into the kitchen and said to my mother: ‘Essie, sit down. I’ve got something to tell you.’ She sat down, looking puzzled and a little scared. My father seemed to be fighting back some inner emotion. Then, quietly, he told her the news. A dear friend of his, Frank Goldman, one of the owners of Carpenter-Goldman, a film-processing laboratory based in Long Island City, had heard of the fix Max was in and had offered him space in his company’s quarters for free -and for as long as he wanted it. My mother sat there dumbfounded for a moment, then slowly put her hands to her mouth and started to cry. My father stood there, his lower lip trembling, his eyes blinking as they filled with tears. She got up and embraced him. He was now laughing and crying at the same time, and so was she. It was a tableau that has never faded from my mind.”
It was in this space that, in January of 1930, Fleischer Studios would be born.