ANIMATION ANECDOTES
May 10, 2013 posted by Jim Korkis

Animation Anecdotes #109

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Two Thumbs Up. In the Disney animated feature, “Aladdin” (1992), when Aladdin pushes through the crowd to see Prince Achmed, he stands between caricatures of producers-directors Ron Clements and John Musker. During the song “One Jump”, these caricatures are watching a muscle man striking poses. Originally the characters were supposed to be caricatures of film critics Siskel and Ebert but it was felt they would need to get permission to do that so Clements and Musker were substituted.

The Disney Stare. During the infamous Disney Strike, animator Emery Hawkins joined the picket line because he was disgruntled that, despite Walt Disney’s assurances, he was not going to be moved into features. One day Hawkins was outside the studio when Walt drove up, got out of his car, walked up to Hawkins and stood, inches from his face, glared for what seemed like forever, then wordlessly turned and walked into the building. Hawkins later claimed, when talking to animator Nelson Rhodes that the impact was so great he laid down his picket sign and left the Disney lot that day, going over to the Walter Lantz studio for work. “I knew my days at Disney were over,” stated Hawkins.

Missing the Point. Scott Bradley, who provided the music for the Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM, was invited to lecture at famed composer Miklos Rozsa’s music class at USC. Bradley explained to the class that music was the most important element in a cartoon because it underlines the gags. To demonstrate this fact, he ran a Tom and Jerry cartoon without music, warning the class that they would find little humor in it. To his annoyance, the class rocked with laughter. Then, he ran the same cartoon with his music to show it would be much funnier. However, a joke is sometimes only funny once and this version was just greeted with polite smiles rather than raucous laughter. An embarrassed Bradley quickly changed the subject.

Horror Hat. The late voice artist Paul Frees was known for his professionalism and for his pride and joy, a green Borsalino hat. During a recording session for a series of Jay Ward cartoons with a tight deadline, Frees was earnestly doing his voice chores when, on the other side of the recording studio glass, Bill Scott, a writer and voice of Bullwinkle, held up a green Borsalino hat. He methodically began to cut the hat up with a pair of scissors as the tortured Frees continued his reading without breaking concentration. When the session was over, Frees rushed out of the booth where Scott gave him his undestroyed hat back. Scott had bought an identical one for the gag.

space_ange_headSpace Angel Credits. When animation fans look at the “Space Angel” animated series with the magic of “Synchro-Vox” (human lips superimposed on animated faces), they usually emphasize the work of legendary artist Alex Toth. In truth, for this series, Toth called on his old friend, Warren Tufts, who was responsible for the newspaper comic strips “Lance” and “Casey Ruggles”, to help him out on the art. Tufts preferred writing some synopses and scripts instead. So, Toth illustrated the series with the help of Ray Vinella (illustrator for Lockheed Missile Division), Hy Mankin (who had illustrated the Roy Rogers newspaper strip since 1957), Jim Mabry (USAF illustrator) and Sal Trapani (a comic book artist Toth knew from Dell comic books). However, it is indeed the Toth style that dominates the series.

Birthday Blues. At UCLA’s “A Tribute to Walter Lantz” held in November 1992, producer Lantz surprised everyone in the audience, myself included, when he revealed that he had been going through some personal papers at his lawyer’s office and saw his birth certificate for the first time. It stated he was born in April 1899, not April 1900 as his parents had always told him. So he was a year older, not 92 years old but actually 93, and all those newspaper and magazine articles for decades were completely wrong about the year of his birth. Lantz offered no explanation why his parents told him the wrong year. This is one of those examples of how animation scholarship is so frustrating (and exciting) because new things about the past are being discovered every day.

Two Geniuses Too Many. At one time, actor-director-writer Orson Welles had obtained the rights to the novel, “The Little Prince”, and approached Walt Disney with a proposal of turning it into a feature that would combine live-action and animation. Walt was apparently not pleased with the fact that his staff paid more attention to Welles than to him. Reportedly, he complained to Jack Leighter, “Jack, there is not room on this lot for two geniuses!” The project died.

Peter Pan Rights. Walt Disney was always interested in acquiring the rights to James Barrie’s Peter Pan as a potential animated feature. In 1937, the year of Barrie’s death and just before the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt sent a memo to Disney’s London representative to obtain the rights to Peter Pan immediately. Walt feared the success of Snow White would drive up the price and that rival Max Fleischer might obtain the rights instead and ruin the project.

The Hunt for Red Bullwinkle. Tom Clancy, the well known author of novels like “The Hunt for Red October”, is never stumped with coming up with advanced weaponry. In his novel, Clear and Present Danger (1989), he devised a “Husha-boom”, a bomb that explodes silently. “I got the idea from Rocky and Bullwinkle,” Clancy stated. “Cartoons are a good source of ideas for me.”

Worst Cartoon Ever. In 1991, Brian Sullivan, the director of monitoring for the Illinois based National Coalition on Television Violence, announced that the Fox Network had the highest network average for cartoon violence since 1980. The show that NCTV found most offensive was the animated “Beetlejuice”. “Our major objection is Beetlejuice’s attitude toward violence,” stated Sullivan. “He is extremely mean for a main character. It’s the worst cartoon ever!”

What Feet Sound Like. Animation fan Tom Knott once shared with me the information that the man who supplied the drumming sounds in “The Flintstones” was Gregory Watson, a drummer with swing bands in the 1930s and 1940s who was also the first editor for the show. That smoking bongo riff that accompanies Fred’s feet when he takes off in his car was not done with bongos. Gregory played the part on a leather couch using his bare hands.

13 Comments

  • I wonder what the person complaining about the Beatlejuice cartoon would have thought about the original movie. Talk about sensitive, yesh!

    • Can’t they go after “Hammerman”, that was extremely bad!

  • Jim, thanks for the note about Greg Watson. All I knew is he had worked at MGM, under Jim Faris, I guess.

  • Marvelous as always. The Bill Scott / Paul Frees story was a killer!

  • In my second column back in March, I said that I remembered Walter Lantz revealing that he was really born in 1899 rather than 1900 at his birthday party that the UCLA Animation Workshop held for him in April, not the UCLA November 1992 tribute to Lantz. He probably mentioned it at both events. It would be something to naturally bring up at a birthday party.

  • Poor Scott Bradley, but it is really true about his music either way, syncing it with anything just produces the same response.

    • Scott did start making Stalling-esque allowances for ‘silly’ passages to enhance the comedy action on the T&Js by the end of the 1940s, and that’s apparently something he fought with Avery about at times. But much of Bradley’s pre-1946 work for Hanna-Barbera (as Michael Barrier noted) really doesn’t interact with the fame-by-frame action on screen as much as it sets a mood for the overall action on screen. If Scott showed the audience something like “Mouse Trouble” or “Quiet Please!” it’s not a shock the audience would laugh the first time around and then see no added gag enhancement from the music to repeat the same sort of laughter on the second go-round.

    • Thinking about it some more, I reminded myself of a film made by animator George Griffin in the 80′s that took audio from a 1944 T&J cartoon “Puttin’ on the Dog” and made up his own visuals to the soundtrack, entitled “Flying Fur”.

    • There are no bad ideas – except this one: “I’ll play the silent version first!”

  • Scott Bradley should have shown his “Mouse in Manhattan,” a short where the music really does add to the visuals.

  • Bradley has written some amazing scores, all the way back to the HAPPY HARMONIES series, and there are scores that he had written that enhance the comedy onscreen. First of all, I wonder what he did show that night as an experiment. But, while I like Bradley’s scores, Carl W. Stalling still remains the score king, because, while we could get laughs beyond the soundtrack, Stalling’s scores are just like icing on the cake and, although the audience would have to listen real hard at little accents, Stalling’s added scorings for just about every tempo change in the actions or emotion of the characters onscreen really did add something. Bradley seems to be more content if the animation director neatly followed the tempo of the score instead of adapting the music to the action and, especially on some Tex Avery titles, this hampered action that might have even been much funnier than it already is if someone a little more versatile had taken over the duties. Tom & Jerry was pretty much dependent on the Scott Bradley scorings in cartoons like “THE MILKY WAIF” and, as someone already stated, “MOUSE IN MANHATTAN”, but these scores added another nice element to the cartoon, with “MOUSE IN MANHATTAN” totally relying on the scoring most times. There was comedy with Jerry rushing around through the streets trying not to get trampled on or run over by vehicles, and that is where the score is just an extra color in the film, but some of his (Jerry’s) trip through a department store was pure fun choreography that needs the wonderful scoring.

    • “Mouse In Manhattan” is actually kind of a throwback to the earlier Harman-Ising days. We have a known character, Jerry, as the star of the cartoon, but he’s really not doing the things he’s known for, which is violent battles with Tom.

      Any Hugh Harman or Rudy Ising generic mouse could have been put into the cartoon and it would have still worked (if not as well) as a comedy mood piece. Which in turn is also why Bradley’s score is so important here and why it works so well. His music stresses the hopes and enjoyment Jerry has at the start of the cartoon and the fears and dangers at the finish.

      It works with what Bradley liked doing in that period, because he’s not dealing with the fast action, turn-on-a-dime type of cartoon where composing to the frame-by-frame change in action on the screen can really enhance the gags. That’s what Scott was doing by the end of the 1940s, and he was all-in on that style by the 1950s, but in the earlier part of the 40s he seemed to think scoring to individual frame motion was a little bit crass or cheesy compared with scoring to the general mood of the scene.

    • Honestly, while I love Stalling’s scores, I have to wonder if much of that is due to Milt Franklyn’s orchestration and arranging. If you listen to Stalling’s scores before he arrived at WB, they’re okay but not that special. I think the team-up of Stalling as composer and Franklyn as orchestrator was a match made in heaven and gave us some of our best cartoon scores in the late ’30s until Franklyn’s death in 1962.

      I like Bradley’s scores, too, and would rank him among the best of the era, but they tended to have motifs that were repeated too often, like the three-note “reaction” cue, or the frantic chase music. By contrast, all of Franklyn’s scores sounded unique for the cartoons he was scoring. Every. One.

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