Editor’s Note: Animation Historian Jim Korkis began writing columns of animation anecdotes in the Spring 1977 issue of Mindrot (issue #6) published by David Mruz. Jim went on to write hundreds of similar columns for a variety of magazines including Animania, Animato, Animation Magazine, ASIFA Inbetweener and others for two decades. The title “Animation Anecdotes” was coined by Jim’s friend and former writing partner, John Cawley. Now, exclusively for Cartoon Research, Jim has gone back into his dusty archives to revive the column which will be appearing here every Friday. Jim shares the often forgotten stories and quotes that never appear in the official animation history books.
Popeye’s Theme Song. Songwriter Sammy Lerner and animator Dave Fleischer were on their way to Yankee Stadium to see the World Series in October 1932 when Fleischer asked Lerner to write Popeye’s theme song. Lerner quickly forgot all about the assignment until several months later when he received a call demanding the song by noon. Lerner wrote the famous theme song in less than two hours. Everybody loved it except Lerner. “I knew the song had to be illiterate and not in the peak of melodic taste to be in character for the subject matter,” stated Lerner. “but when I saw that first cartoon, I wanted to crawl in a corner. ‘Just do me a favor,’ I said, ‘don’t put my name on the screen’. Now one of my professional pains is that my name doesn’t appear on the screen.”
The Earliest Motion Capture? In 1970, the Xerox Corporation received a patent for a method of producing animated cartoons with the aid of a computer. In the procedure, a live actor goes through the motions that are expected of the cartoon character and the performance is recorded. If the animated character is to be Bugs Bunny, characteristic images of Bugs Bunny are recorded in the computer’s memory. The actor’s recorded movements and the images in the storehouse are then combined inside the computer to create an animated Bugs Bunny picture. Artists can add special details and background. The patent was granted to Van Haney, a scientist at the Xerox plant at Rochester, and to the best of my knowledge a film was not produced using this particular method.
Cartoon Opera. In the March 30, 1935 issue of “Motion Picture Herald”, Warner Brothers cartoon’s Leon Schlesinger commented that he would be eliminating all black-and-white funny cartoons his studio produced. He was very excited about a special project: operas in cartoon form. Three musical one-reel cartoon specials were planned for 1936, including a version of “Carmen”.
Jim Backus Talks Magoo. In a 1978 interview, actor Jim Backus complained that his association with doing the voice of the character of Mr. Magoo prevented him from getting other roles. “Magoo has been very good to me but I certainly don’t think of him as myself. He is a pian in the posterior. We made up a complete biography for the little jerk. He graduated from Rutgers in 1901. But now, I make it 1916 or he’d be too old. Magoo studied to be a zeppelin commander but never made the grade. He’s a card-carrying Republican and was on the Committee to Re-elect William McKinley. The only thing left to do is an X-rated Magoo picture.”
What’s In A Name? Actor Peter Strauss, the voice of the character of Justin in Bluth’s “The Secret of NIMH” so enjoyed his work and character in the film that he named his son Justin.
Castro and Fantasia. In the late 1970s, a California trade delegation visited Cuba. Cuban Premier Fidel Castro said he was especially interested in seeing American children’s films. His first choice was Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”. In a letter, Disney Productions President Card Walker huffed that the Cuban government had not paid royalties for “Fantasia” since 1959, though the film “had been screened frequently” in that country. Walker did not reveal how he knew how often the Cubans were viewing a by now pretty beat up print of “Fantasia” but added, “I just feel it’s best for our company not to get involved in a most universally unpopular political situation.”
Putting on the Dog. In 1980, when Hanna-Barbera decided to develop an animated television series based on the popular “Happy Days” sitcom, they were faced with a problem. They needed a “cool” dog character to add to the cast but all the submissions they got from H&B artist resembled previous H&B dog stars like Scooby-Doo. As a joke, animator Scott Shaw! who was amused at the fact that no artist could come up with a truly different looking dog character, decided to use his vast knowledge of cartoons to create an outrageous character. He took the head of Wile E. Coyote and grafted it onto the body of Walt Kelly’s Pogo Possum and submitted it. The design was accepted and after some reworking it became Mr. Cool, the dog companion of the Fonz.
Prehistoric Death. One of the scenes that were trimmed before “Land Before Time” was released was the death of Littlefoot’s mother. Supposedly, it would be too intense for children. John Pomeroy, who helped produce the film, commented in an interview, “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence. We considered eliminating the whole sequence, but that produces a lot more problems when you’re trying to show a small boy going through his rites of passage to manhood. You must eliminate the parent in that cycle. Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be best depicted. On their advice, we ended up adding another sequence with the Rooter character. He is a mole-like reptile that Littlefoot falls into company with just after his mother’s death. That sequence softens the blow, showing that death is a reality that Littlefoot and the audience have to deal with.”
Did you know? Film historian Leonard Maltin once appeared on the television show “To Tell The Truth” and no one guessed he was the film expert. I appeared on “The Gong Show” with my brother and a friend as the “Quasimodo Belairs”, singing-dancing hunchback bell ringers and we won.
Cartoon Chauvinist. Fred Quimby, the Executive Producer of MGM cartoons, had this advice for women interested in the animation industry in 1950: “If it is a woman who had had some art school experience and is fairly adept with the pen and brush, she might find employment in the painting and inking department. The apprenticeship stage for a man whose goal is animation would be in the in-between department. MGM does not have room for training centers, and, therefore, insists on experienced people with the exception of girls in the painting and inking department.”
Make sure to come back next Friday and every Friday to step back into animation history for some more forgotten anecdotes!