Telephoney. Back in the 1960s, producer Lee Mendelson who was working on all those “Peanuts” television specials spent a lot of time on the phone. However, even he was surprised when, one day, he received over three hundred phone calls. It seems that Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz used Mendelson’s real phone number, as a gag, in one of his comic strips and hundreds of people dialed it, hoping to hear Charlie Brown.
Acting Star Wars Style. In 1985, Miki Herman who was executive producer of “The Ewoks/Droids Adventure Hour” (1985) stated in a “Bantha Tracks” interview that “George Lucas wants to raise the standards of Saturday morning programming for children. His main complaint with most of the current programming is the acting. Everybody sounds alike whether it’s a crisis or a happy event. And all the same voices are used again and again. Good acting can even save a cartoon that doesn’t have really sophisticated animation.” Miki had been with Lucasfilm Ltd. since 1977.
Chuck Norris, The Karate Kommando. Known for his violent movies, actor Chuck Norris wanted a less lethal approach when he signed up to be converted into a cartoon character for his 1986 syndicated animated five episode mini-series from Ruby-Spears, Chuck Norris, The Karate Kommando. At the time, Norris told the press, “The cartoons give me a chance to speak directly to the kids like I did when I taught karate. In the series, I work for the President of the United States. Unlike my films, nobody ever dies in cartoons.” A live action Norris gave a motivational talk before and after each episode.
College Magoo. Why was Rutgers University chosen as the alma mater of Quincy Magoo? According to UPA President Hank Saperstein, “Well, he was definitely East Coast and he was Ivy League but I knew Harvard and Yale weren’t quite right. Then it came to me in a flash! Rutgers!” Of course, when Saperstein stated this fact, he had just unveiled sketches for a possible Magoo feature which recounted the myopic hero’s early days at Rutgers as a football hero. Rutgers Magazine finding no connection between the creators of Mr. Magoo or actor Jim Backus to the university stated UPA wanted Magoo to be “a college alumnus who was still fired up with the old school spirit, and [they felt] Rutgers was the embodiment of the ‘old school tie’ in America.”
The Plague Dogs. The animated feature The Plague Dogs (1982) was based on author Richard Adams’ popular book of the same name. The same animation team had also made Watership Down (1978) based on another book by Adams. During an interview with “The Daily Express” in October 1982, Adams confessed that he “never really cared for the film of Watership Down. I felt they were not really my kind of rabbits. But these dogs are my dogs all right. I think it is a good enough film to make a considerable public impact.” The film’s premiere in October also marked the resignation of Adams from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals because he felt they were not doing enough about the treatment of laboratory animals.
Speechless. When Walt Disney’s animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released, actress Adriana Caselotti who voiced the main character was hoping it would be the springboard to a performing career for her. She was offered other work, including an appearance on the Jack Benny radio show, but Walt Disney stepped in when he heard about the offers and according to Casselotti said, “I’m sorry, but that voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.” He did, however, send her out on promotional appearance for the film over the years.
Animated Anatomy. When Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became a huge hit, the Warner Brothers animators pleaded with Leon Schlesinger to let them work on an animated feature. “I need an animated feature like I need two assholes,” replied Schlesinger according to two different reliable sources.
Sea Sick. Warner Brothers producer Leon Schlesinger made so much money from the animated theatrical shorts that he bought a yacht from actor Richard Arlen. Schlesinger appropriately christened the ship the “Merry Melody”. When Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and others who worked at the studio asked when Schlesinger was going to invite them for a cruise, Schlesinger firmly replied, “I don’t want any poor people on my boat!”
Lusty Peasant Humor. In 1987, animator Shamus Culhane stated, “I have called the gags in the Fleischer cartoons ‘lusty peasant humor’ and I stick by that definition. I never said that all of the cartoons were not funny. Just some of them. Mostly when they tried to do something like romantic dialog….I reject the idea that Max (Fleischer) had a great influence on the animation profession. He, and later his staff, had a very personal view of filmmaking. I can find no evidence of any kind of influence on any other studio.”
What’s in a Name? One day animator John Fajnor was visiting John Kricfalusi and began laughing at a name on the mailbox of Kricfalusi’s apartment: Ren Hoek, the apartment manager. The name later was used for the Chihuahua character in The Ren and Stimpy Show. The name Stimpy supposedly came from one of Kricfalusi’s old college roommates whose nickname was Stimpy Kadogan.
The Birth of The Chipmunks. There are lots of “media friendly” short stories about the birth of characters like Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker (who couldn’t have been created on Lantz’s honeymoon trip since the character appeared a year before he was married). In the “Family Weekly” supplement for February 13, 1983, the birth of Alvin the Chipmunk was recounted: “It all began in 1958 when a struggling songwriter named Ross Bagdassarian was fooling around with his new tape recorder. He came up with a distinctive new sound but couldn’t figure out just what to call it. He considered alligators, reindeer, and hippos. Then, while driving, he saw a spunky little creature jump onto the road seemingly daring him to cross. It was a chipmunk.”