Animated Hope. Popular comedian Bob Hope had a very distinctive face and he was always joking about his “ski slope” nose so you might think he would have been a common caricature in animated cartoons.
However, compared to some other celebrities, a cartoon Hope only appeared in a handful of animated shorts. I believe his first appearance was in Warner Brothers’ Malibu Beach Party (1940) where if you blinked you might have missed him among the many other stars at Jack Benny’s party.
Then he popped up as a picture in a star in the Little Lulu cartoon A Bout With A Trout (1947) when Lulu sings the song “Would You Like To Swing On A Star?” and in the 1947 Little Lulu cartoon The Baby Sitter as another celebrity at the famed nightclub, The Stork Club.
He is an animated penguin in the Little Audrey cartoon The Case of the Cockeyed Canary (1952) and in a role mirroring his long running hosting role for the Academy Awards ceremonies, he emcees a special award ceremony for Popeye the Sailor in Popeye’s 20th Anniversary (1954).
Henny Backus Speaks. Henny Backus was the wife of Jim Backus who voiced the character of Mr. Quincy Magoo. They were married in 1943 and wrote several books together. She provided the voice of Quincy’s mother, Mother Magoo, who was in her late Eighties and raced cars but still had to endure the misguided attentions of her son who thought she was a helpless old woman.
Henny did the original voice in the cartoon Meet Mother Magoo (1956). Voice actress June Foray later took over the role.
“Magoo, according to Jim, is a raunchy, lecherous, ultra- conservative, mildly racist, skirt chasing, old bastard,” laughed Henny when she was interviewed. “We’ve always felt that an X-rated Magoo, done with a bit of taste, would be a blockbuster. Can you imagine that nearsighted old curmudgeon mistaking a house of ill repute for a car wash?
“Jim was in the 1952 film Don’t Bother to Knock with Marilyn Monroe. He came home one night during the filming and told me that Miss Monroe in her most seductive breathy voice asked him to meet her in her dressing room. His curiosity got the better of him and he went. Once there, she exclaimed like an excited child, ‘Do Mr. Magoo!’ And Jim did.”
Freleng on Bugs Bunny. In 1990, animation legend Friz Freleng said, “I think (Bugs Bunny) is really more popular now than he was in the 1940s. I see some that, to us, were big flops at the time but now there are no failures at all. Some just get more laughs than others. They’re paying to see them (on a big theater screen) when they’ve seen them a hundred times on television.
“We used to go into meetings every once in a while and say, ‘Look, we’re losing Bugs. He’s not bright and mischievous as he was.’ And we’d look at some of the new pictures, then look at some of the old pictures and say, ‘He’s slowed down. He’s getting to be an old man. Let’s bring the kid back’. As we were getting older, Bugs was getting older without our realizing it. We had to remind ourselves to snap him up and get him a little peppier and brighter. We were continuously reminding ourselves we could lose the character very easily.”
Bradbury’s Fantasia Deal with God. In 1980, author Ray Bradbury who was a huge fan of Disney animation wrote the following: “Selling newspapers on a street corner, aged twenty. I told God that if He allowed me to be run over and killed by a car before (Disney’s animated feature film) Fantasia premiered (1940) I would cease being a Baptist on the spot and find some other, more considerate, Supreme Being. Needless to say, I survived to run about telling the world that one of the greatest films ever made was right there before them.”
Price Drop. Are any of you old enough to remember the furor at Christmas 1985 when Disney Home Video dropped the price on the “Pinocchio” videotape from $79.95 (with over 150,000 copies being sold at that price a few months earlier) to $29.95 for a holiday sale without any prior notice given to video dealers? When Benn Tenn, Vice President at Disney Home Video was asked it the lower price would spur more sales, he replied, “It better”.
The Animated Lantz Feature Film Never Made. “There were times when I would have liked to have produced a feature cartoon but I couldn’t get anyone to put up the money I required,” recalled producer Walter Lantz in 1980. “In the 1940s, Universal had the rights to the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and I thought it would make a wonderful animated feature.
“I was going to treat it like a comedy. I wanted to use caricatures of Abbott and Costello who were Universal’s top stars at the time. And I was going to have four or five thieves act like real burlesque comedians. But when we got down to figures, Universal only wanted to spend $400,000 and I needed at least a million. We could have done things Disney did but no one had his money. Disney had his own studio while I was on a weekly salary.”
LaVerne Harding. LaVerne Harding (1905-1984) was one of the first female animators and worked at the Walter Lantz Studio from around 1934-1959. In fact, she was responsible for the re-design of the popular character that most people know today. However, she also illustrated the Woody Woodpecker comic strip in the 1950s and even occasionally drew Woody in the comic books like the story in Dell’s Woody Woodpecker #20 (1953) where Wally Walrus is set to barbeque a chicken at home.
After leaving Lantz, she animated for Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as Yogi Bear. She later worked for DePatie-Freleng Enterprises on Pink Panther cartoons, and was briefly employed at Warner Brothers and Filmation.
Reportedly, she lived a quiet, conservative, religious life and never married.
When Walt Lantz learned of her death he remarked “most producers thought women could draw only birds and bees and flowers. They were wrong of course.”
These 1952 strips attributed to Bill Wright are actually done by LaVerne Harding: