BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
October 10, 2018 posted by Devon Baxter

Animation Profiles: Cal Howard

This week, we look into the career of animation/live-action/comic book writer Cal Howard!

Cal Howard with Tex Avery at Universal/Lantz

Born on March 24, 1911, Calvin Henry Howard began his artistic career as a young teenager submitting drawings and comics in The Junior Times supplement in The Los Angeles Times from late 1923 through 1927. Howard first went into animation as an in-betweener at Walt Disney’s studio in 1930, but due to budget cuts, as reported by Variety, he was released from his contract (along with junior animator Ed Benedict) on December 7th, 1931. He and Benedict moved over to Walter Lantz’s studio, where Howard met and befriended animator Fred “Tex” Avery. Around 1933, Howard migrated to Ub Iwerks’ studio but shifted back to Lantz a short time later. When Avery left to head a new directorial unit at Warners in April 1935, Howard assisted him on the storyboard for his first cartoon Gold Diggers of ’49 (released November 1935) at his home while still employed at Lantz.

Cover of Junior Times drawn by Cal Howard (click to enlarge)

Howard joined Avery at Warners as part of the general pool of story men for the cartoons. Each story man contributed ideas for the directors but their names were credited on-screen based on a rotating system. Howard is only credited on story for Little Red Walking Hood (1937) and The Sneezing Weasel (1938), both directed by Avery. He provided incidental voices for cartoons, including Gabby Goat for Bob Clampett’s Get Rich Quick Porky (1937), a character previously voiced by Mel Blanc. In his autobiography Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones recalled Howard’s sidelines at Warners, which included a makeshift commissary with zinc-lined drawers at his desk. Jones recollected that in other cases, refreshments set in baskets would be lowered from his window to a lower floor. One incident involved a party from an adjoining window pilfering a basket to which Howard retaliated by replacing the food with a lit firecracker.

When Friz Freleng left for MGM around September 1937, a new directorial unit was needed. With this, Howard was given his own directorial unit with animator Cal Dalton. This lasted for a brief stint, with the team credited on only three titles—Porky’s Phoney Express, Katnip Kollege and A-Lad in Bagdad, all released in 1938. Howard departed Warners by September 1938 and managed to celebrate his farewell outside of the studio with his colleagues. Bob Kurtz remembered, “When Cal quit Warners, he went to see one guy who was selling ice cream and he paid the guy to put on his outfit and rang the bell, giving away free ice cream to all the Warner artists.” He stopped over to Walter Lantz’s studio for a brief stint. With the success of Disney’s Snow White, Lantz enlarged his story team in preparation for a proposed Aladdin feature that never materialized. Howard’s only credit during this period at Lantz was for the travelogue spoof Crackpot Cruise (released April 1939).

Cal with the “other” Gabby – at Fleischer’s in Miami

Soon after, Howard moved to Miami at Max Fleischer’s studio, where he helped enhance the storyboards for their feature-length production of Gulliver’s Travels with Tedd Pierce, Dan Gordon and Edmond Seward. He attended dialogue sessions, along with Gordon, which were supervised by Dave Fleischer. Howard also served as the live-action model for Prince David, and provided his one line of dialogue in the film. Judging from the few screen credits to his name, he wrote on a few theatrical shorts and was one of the story men responsible for the “screen adaptation” for Mr. Bug Goes to Town, based on an original concept.

By the summer of 1941, Howard moved back to the West Coast to work for MGM as a story man. Not much is known about his career at MGM, since story men were not often given credit in the films. In later years, Howard recalled that he would alternate between the Hanna-Barbera and Rudy Ising unit on stories in the early 1940s. He also claimed to have contributed to an Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon, but could not recall the title; it could be assumed that he worked on either The Yankee Doodle Mouse or Mouse Trouble, if not both.

According to James Tim Walker, during the Christmas holidays, Howard brought alcohol into the ink and paint department—mostly comprised of women—and animator Ed Love took the blame. Love was fired—after which he took a job at Hugh Harman Productions—but presumably, producer Fred Quimby terminated Howard after the mistake was rectified. His hatred for Quimby carried over outside of the studio; evidently, when Howard drove his son’s Cub Scout troop past the building, he taught them to shout: “Quimby is a red-faced jerk!”

According to Bob Kurtz, his grudge extended even into his old age: “I used to go and have breakfast with him every two or three weeks. On the road to the restaurant where we would go, there was a Quimby Street and he would stick his head out of the car every time when we would pass in front of it and say ‘Fuck Quimby!’”

According to union newsletter Top Cel, Howard arrived at Screen Gems as a story man by May 1945, where he is given screen credit on several Phantasies and Color Rhapsodies. He continued to supply incidental character voices in the films, including the homeless homing pigeon in Cockatoos for Two (1947). After the studio folded in 1947, Howard went into early television animation, where he created Brother Goose, a three-minute serialized program that contained still drawings shown sequentially over a music/dialogue track. Howard returned to theatrical animation with a brief stint at Warners in Friz Freleng’s unit by early 1949. (He is co-credited on the story for 1951’s Canned Feud with Warren Foster.) Brother Goose was eventually picked up by NBC without his involvement.

Near the end of the 1940s, Howard wrote for other mediums, penning material for star comedians such as Red Skelton and Abbott & Costello. He freelanced in writing comic book stories—namely, “The Hepcats” (drawn by Jack Bradbury) and “The Kilroys”—for James Davis, who packaged the full magazines to publisher Benjamin Sangor in New York. By the early 1950s, Howard moved to humor magazines for DC, based on popular entertainers such as Ozzie and Harriet, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Sgt. Bilko. Soon, Howard moved to the East Coast in the early 1950s to work in television; his comic book for DC continued through the early 1960s.

Morey Amsterdam and Jerry Lester hired Howard to write sketch outlines for NBC’s late-night comedy-variety program Broadway Open House, which first aired on May 29, 1950. Radio disc jockey Dick Whittinghill, who became acquainted with Howard in later years, remembered his first experiences of live television: “Cal threw up before every show that was good. If it was a bad show, he didn’t throw up. The crew would run around just before airtime and ask if Cal had thrown up yet. If the answer was yes, everybody jumped up and down with delight.”

After the show’s final episode in 1951, Howard migrated back to the West Coast to work with Ralph Edwards (creator/host of Truth or Consequences during this period) to become a producer/director on his new self-titled program, which debuted in January 1952. Edwards replaced himself with Johnny Dugan four months later, and kept Howard on the program. Howard also wrote for Funny Boners, a spin-off of Truth or Consequences featuring children, which aired for a short period on NBC from 1954-55.

At the end of 1956, Ralph Edwards withdrew from hosting a revived version of Truth or Consequences and brought in Bob Barker to host, with Howard as one of the main gag writers. The “consequences” in the aforementioned show usually involved a humiliating stunt, and as such, on a dare, Howard made a television appearance in a 1957 episode of Steve Allen’s Sunday night show where he was struck with breakaway bottles. Following the cancellation of The Adventures of Superman in 1958, producer Whitney Ellsworth enlisted Howard to write a teleplay for a pilot episode of The Adventures of Superpup, intended for younger audiences, but was not picked up by the network. The presentation was shot on the same sets as Superman with little people dressed in dog costumes and Dal McKennon lent his vocals in post-production.

In the early 1960s, Howard went back into animation as a story man for several studios such as CBS-Terrytoons, Format Films (The Alvin Show), and Ed Graham (Linus the Lion-Hearted). Throughout the decade, he wrote stories for Walter Lantz and became the main writer at Warner Bros./Seven Arts, when Herbert Klynn and Bill Hendricks produced the last remainder of the theatrical cartoons. When their animation department shuttered in early 1970, Howard switched back to Lantz, where he is credited on the last of the studio’s output before it folded in 1972.

Cal Howard gag drawing from Format Films (Courtesy of Dale Hale)

Howard returned to comic book work as a story editor for Walt Disney Publications in 1974. He wrote various stories for the foreign market, such as the “Mickey and the Sleuth” series (Mickey as an assistant to a Sherlock Holmes-esque private eye) and “Goofy Classics” (Goofy portrayed as various historical figures). Howard also revived the character of Mortimer Mouse, originally from the cartoon Mickey’s Rival (1936), but unseen in comics since the 1940s. In 1980, he received the Annie Award for lifetime achievement for his work in animation. Howard officially retired from the comics department in 1986. He passed away in 1993 at the age of 82. At the insistence of Howard’s family, many humorous stories that spanned throughout his professional career were shared by many of his colleagues, including Bob Kurtz and Chuck Jones, during his eulogy.

Page from unpublished ‘Goofy Classics’ story

(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Didier Ghez, Bob Kurtz, Keith Scott, Yowp, and Dave Bennett for their help.)

16 Comments

  • Cal also had a credit from Screen Gems’ live action era, from NBC’s “Camp Runamuck” in 1965-66, where Howard was listed as providing the show’s visual gags.

  • The “Mickey and the Sleuth” and “Goofy Classics” stories are some of the most wildly hilarious and offbeat of the Disney comics. In the late 70’s several of these stories were featured in Gold Key’s “Walt Disney Showcase,” beginning with issue #38. “The Case of the Wax Dummy” and “Goofy Fulton Invents the Steamboat” featured in that issue are two of my all-time favorites. In both stories, Mickey is more of a sidekick than a leading player. Apparently, Mr. Howard was a fan of irony, as both stories are laced with it. The stories work nicely in tandem, especially with their contrasting endings. In the first, Mickey helps the Sleuth to send a gang of museum thieves to jail, and in the second, Mickey assists Goofy to pilot the steamboat which runs amok and leads to a disaster that lands the pair of them in jail. The page reproduced above has poses that are strongly reminiscent of the final page or two of the “Steamboat” story (which is, I think, my favorite Goofy-Mickey pairing in Disney comics–one of my top ten, at any rate).

    This is more about Cal Howard than I ever knew before. What a fascinating career! Thanks for sharing.

  • An interesting story guy, but I wasn’t too happy when he took over the writing for the Lantz “Beary Family” from Al Bertino and Dick Kinney. I don’t know if I should blame him or Smith, but it really got screwed up when the series started to lack a sense of story balance and focus on Charlie’s poor decision and getting abuse by Bessie. I do think Cal’s Disney comics after that sort of made up for that fiasco, some of which have not made it to the U.S. yet. His “Sleuth” stories got to be published in the U.S. during the 1970’s in a Disney giveaway magazine that was offered in supermarkets after purchasing certain cleaning brands like Comet.

  • Thank you very much for the very interesting article on yet another old-time animation legend! I remember Cal as Gabby in that third cartoon (Mel Blanc had done the voice before, as also correctly noted..)

  • Another studio Howard briefly moonlighted at was DePatie-Freleng on their SUPER 6 series.

  • I got to meet Cal Howard in 1980 while putting together an “Orange Bird” educational short for Disney which he had scripted. It is the last entry in his IMDb profile, and I remember him being kind of curmudgeonly and irascible . . . but very funny! I had no idea at the time he had such an illustrious career behind him – I only knew that he had written all the ‘HepCats’ stories that Jack Bradbury had drawn, and other comics. Thanks for raising my appreciation of him, Devon!

    • Nice that you knew him at that time, Dave!

  • Excellent article and I am very impressed with the research that you did. Maybe David Gerstein will pitch that Disney reprint the Mickey and the Sleuth stories in a special volume especially during Mickey’s year long 90th anniversary celebration. I am amazed at the variety and quantity of work that Howard did. I must admit, like probably others will, that I really only knew the tip of the iceberg about his output. I think one of the great values of Cartoon Research is an article like this that documents material that has never been gathered together and shared. Thank you for the work it took to produce this column.

  • Huh. And I always thought that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera did all the stories for Tom and Jerry themselves.

    • Well, Homer Brightman received story credit on the last T&J short, “TOT WATCHERS”, plus the two Spike & Tyke spin-off shorts.

  • Cal Howard must’ve been well-liked by Walter Lantz. Maybe it was the revolving-door style of business at Lantz, but Howard was able to come in and out multiple times throughout the near-entirety of the studio’s existence.

  • The early Bob Hope comics, drawn by Owen Fitzgerald, are very well written. They feel like Hope feature films that were never made. I wondered if the writer was someone on Hope’s staff, so I’m glad to have Howard identified as the writer.

  • This is an incredible profile. I’d love to know which Rudy Ising cartoon Cal Howard worked on; I’d hazard a guess, but what good would that do? There were some good ones created in the early 1940’s, but perhaps it is possible that Howard aided on some of the later BARNEY BEAR cartoons shortly before Harman and Ising left MGM?

  • Howard also did the Cool Cat, Merlin the Magic Mouse, Bunny and Claude and One-Shots Cartoons (Except “Cool Cat” From 1967 and “Chimp and Zee” from 1968) during the final 3 years of Warner Bros. Cartoons and the Last Day’s of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Cartoons in the late 60’s from 1967-1969?

  • Interesting stuff, Devon! Loving this series.

  • I consider Howard to be underrated and underappreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *