Fritz the Cat Problems. Back in 1971, Ralph Bakshi was having trouble with some of the animators working on the X-rated Fritz the Cat animated feature. Bakshi said the people who didn’t work out on “Fritz” were of two types: the guys who came in with “a leer wanting to be very dirty and draw filthy pictures” and those who were “too prudish and not with it enough to draw reality”. A female cartoonist walked out because she couldn’t bring herself to draw an exposed nipple. Another woman assistant quite because she couldn’t explain to her children what she was doing. Still, another cartoonist quit because he couldn’t bring himself to draw a black crow shooting a pig cop. In Bakshi’s view, animators who quite merely showed their own sexual hang-ups. When an animator asked whether the sex scenes were in good taste, Bakshi replied, “Would you call a cat that chases a crow into a junk yard to f**k her, good taste?”
When Libby Simon was Linda Ronstadt. Singer Linda Ronstadt appeared as an animator during the music video “Somewhere Out There”, the popular song from Bluth’s “An American Tail” (1986). Unfortunately, Miss Ronstadt didn’t know how to draw so the hand that people see on the screen belongs to Libby Simon. It includes not only her hand, but her pen and desk, too, because the production people were so enthralled with her original animation equipment.
Just the Facts, Mr. Disney. The late actor-writer-producer-director Jack Webb is perhaps best remembered as the tough, no-nonsense cop Joe Friday on the TV series “Dragnet”. Amazingly, in his youth, he wanted to be a cartoonist. “I was convinced that Walt Disney was combing the country for a fellow like me,” said Webb. “I made up a portfolio, took it to the Disney Studios and sat back to wait for the big offer.” All of this took place in the mid 1930s and that big offer never came so Webb found other work. Later, Webb became a friend of Walt and even shot some “Dragnet” episodes on the Disney back lot until the noise of Walt building things for Disneyland drove the production company to other locations. By the way, Roy E. Disney’s first professional film work was as an assistant film editor on “Dragnet” in 1951.
Chipmunk Names. After his success with the song “The Witch Doctor”, Liberty Records asked Ross Bagdasarian to come up with another novelty tune. Bagdasarian came up with three singing chipmunks who went on to great success as both recording stars and animated cartoon characters. As an inside joke, he named the three chipmunks after executives at Liberty Records. Alvin was named after Al Bennett, the label’s president. Simon got his name from Si Waronker, the vice chairman. Theodore owes his moniker to Ted Keep, Liberty’s chief recording engineer. However, when Bagdasarian played the song for Bennett, the president fumed, “We need hits, not chipmunks!” But Liberty Records took a chance and in the next seven weeks, they sold four and a half million records.
Ponsonby Britt. In 1961, at a publicity gathering celebrating “The Bullwinkle Show”, Jay Ward and Bill Scott went on at great length about Executive Producer Ponsonby Britt, the man they considered the most important to their operation. “We needed him,” claimed Ward as he produced a prepared biography of the Chairman of the Board. “He had the money. He’s head of the Widows and Orphans Benevolent Fund.” A publicity man quickly jumped in to assure reporters that Britt did not exist even though he was listed as executive producer on all the Ward shows.
Chuck Jones Says. In a 1978 interview, animation legend Chuck Jones stated, “The sadness of the Saturday morning animation is that the characters are what they look like. They are not created from within, and it doesn’t matter how they act. The harm being done to young people is that the cartoons tell them to judge people by how they look, not by how they act or what their character is. That’s a dangerous lesson to be teaching kids. Not only that but the animation is awful. The greatest work is not drawing pictures but defining character. To do that and to make it work we had eight to ten drawings per second of film. Saturday morning animation has two drawings per second.”
Roll ‘Em Smokey. In the Bugs Bunny short, “What’s Cookin’, Doc?’, Bugs Bunny shouts to an unseen projectionist, “Okay, Smokey, roll ‘em!” That was an inside reference to Smokey Garner, a nice little man from the Ozarks, who had first worked for Leon Schlesinger at Pacific Art &Title. At Warners, he was the one who shot, developed and projected the pencil tests for the animators. Often when he was pressed to have the tests ready as soon as possible, he would moan, “Oh, agony, agony!” which became a catch phrase in some of the Warner cartoons.
The Cat’s Meow. The late voice artist Mel Blanc said that the first animated cartoon he ever remembered seeing was the silent Felix the Cat cartoon, “Felix Saves the Day” (1922) when he was fourteen years old. Supposedly, Blanc was so impressed with the cartoon that he came up with a voice for Felix to use. Blanc never did get to do the voice of Felix but Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye, did supply Felix’s voice for the first television cartoons. However, Blanc did go on to voice several animated felines including Sylvester and Heathcliff.
Pink Panther Speaks. In 1990, a pilot for a new live action/animation Saturday morning show for CBS using the Pink Panther was rejected because CBS head Jeff Sagansky disliked the fact that the Panther talked like Jack Nicholson. The premise of the show was that to help a journalist caught in a burning theater, the Panther stepped out of the cartoon and found himself interacting in the real world, much like the situation in the popular movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988). However, when the Panther was first created, he did speak in two shorts: “Sink Pink” (1965) and “Pink Ice” (1965). He used a very proper Rex Harrison style voice reportedly supplied by impressionist Rich Little. “We tried several voices with him but nothing ever worked,” stated animation legend Friz Freleng at the time.
Editor’s Note: Jim Korkis’ Animation Anecdotes appear here each Friday on Cartoon Research. Korkis is the author of two recently published must-have books about Disney animation: Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South and The Revised Vault of Walt. Both are highly recommended. – Jerry Beck