No Starch. Pat Sullivan, the producer of the silent Felix the Cat cartoons, would make only infrequent visits to his cartoon studio. However, when he did decide to put in an appearance, he would often bring a bunch of dirty clothes and toss it to the nearest person, usually an animator, who was expected to rush off with this burden immediately to the nearest laundry. Any hesitation on the part of the victim would result in Sullivan flying into a rage and firing the person on the spot. The fired employee usually took the rest of the day off, and then returned the next morning by which time Sullivan had forgotten that he had fired the person and someone else had done his laundry.
The Divine Ursula. Originally, the villainous sea witch Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” was to be based on actress Joan Collins’ nasty character in the TV series “Dynasty”. However, when co-writer and director John Musker saw an amusing caricature done by animator Rob Minkoff, he changed his mind. The joke cartoon was of the late Divine, a drag actor who appeared as a woman character in a handful of John Waters’ cult films like “Pink Flamingos”. Musker felt the look had the right creepiness needed for the character. At one point, the character was even going to have a Mohawk hair style but Jeffrey Katzenberg vetoed that idea as too extreme.
Cels Stacked High. During the production of “An American Tail”, director Don Bluth had his staff collect the number of cels necessary for two minutes of animation in a typical Saturday morning TV show. They placed the cels on the floor next to Bluth’s shoe. The pile came up to his shoelace. Then they gathered the cels produced for two minutes worth of “An American Tail” and the pile came up close to his eyes. “And I’m 5’ 11’’!” exclaimed Bluth.
Bullwinkle Homage. Matt Groening, creator of the Simpson family, chose a unique method of honoring one of his cartoon heroes. “I always loved Bullwinkle,” claimed Groening. “So that’s where the ‘J’ comes from in Homer J. Simpson. It’s from Bullwinkle J. Moose.” Bullwinkle was given his middle initial from his producer, Jay Ward, who also supplied the middle initial for Bullwinkle’s partner, Rocket J. Squirrel.
Lost Droopy. Tex Avery’s Droopy is a favorite of many cartoon fans and while Avery was at MGM, there were several Droopy story proposals that were either rejected or abandoned. However, few people know that in 1962, animation legend Chuck Jones was intending to direct a new Droopy short when he was working on the Tom and Jerry shorts at MGM. Entitled “Trooper Droopy”, one of the early scenes shows Droopy as an intrepid trooper riding through the North Woods. The camera pulls back to reveal him riding a unicycle. Droopy turns to the audience and says, “I know it’s degrading but I save a lot of hay.”
Cartoon Censorship. In May 1937, Warner Brothers cartoon producer Leon Schlesinger complained about cartoon censorship. He claimed that the children who saw Looney tunes would invariably make full reports to their parents and the parents would often write and complain to him. Schlesinger claimed he wasn’t going to use scary characters anymore because in one cartoon, a monster who frightened Porky Pig also scared the kids and their parents wrote in. The letters of protest looked like a star’s fan mail, he claimed, because there were so many of them. Schlesinger felt it all amounted to censorship.
Mel Tillis To the Rescue. In 1978, the National Stuttering Project was trying to ban Porky Pig because they claimed the aging Hollywood cartoon star was setting a bad example for kids because of his speech impediment. Singer Mel Tillis, who made a fortune incorporating his own stutter into his act, stood up for Porky, stating, “As a kid, I’d get ridiculed when I stuttered but when he (Porky) stuttered, he’d made people laugh. That’s why my hero is P-P-Porky Pig.” However, the protests by the N.S.P. did cause several televsion stations to stop showing Porky Pig cartoons.
Disney Rubber. Disney sound effects expert Jim MacDonald always found unusual solutions to difficult problems. For one cartoon short that had bees, MacDonald made the sound of the bees by blowing through a rubber tube and rubbing on an attached taut rubber membrane stretched across an old wooden spool. “This condom, which I had my young assistant buy for me at a drugstore, is the only thing exactly the right thickness and resonance that worked. I’m sure the manufacturer never thought it would make the sound of bees for a Walt Disney movie,” stated MacDonald when he was interviewed.
Triple Trouble. In 1990, there was some heated discussion in Los Angeles about which of Donald Duck’s nephews wore green. The debate sparked a letter from David Wiemers, the producer and writer of the “Duck Tales” animated feature who wrote: “I (along with my associates) went to great lengths never to differentiate between Huey, Dewey and Louie. What made them unique was that they were one personality in three bodies.”
Girls and Glasses. When DIC was producing episodes of “The Real Ghostbusters”, in season three, the network demanded some changes in the character of Janine Melnitz, the secretary to the group. They insisted that the pointed frames on her eyeglasses become more rounded because a study supposedly showed that pointed frames are too aggressive and would alienate children. In addition, her Brooklyn accent was considered too abrasive.
Bugs Bunny Meets Freud. In the book, “Subliminal Seduction” by W.B. Key (Signet 1974) is the following passage: “Hundreds of animated rabbit cartoons have been produced by Hollywood which portray the rabbit as a clever, though physically weak character, who puts down or castrates cartoon animals of greater strength and power, often in an overtly sexual struggle for dominance of territory. In one Bugs Bunny cartoon titled ‘The Barber of Seville’ the energetic Bugs played the title role, dashing about, cutting off other animated characters’ ties in a symbolic castration ritual. The tie is one of the most obvious phallic symbols.”
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