MOONLIGHTING ANIMATORS IN COMICS: Hawley Pratt
Hawley Pratt was a graduate student from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Like many budding artists in the early ‘30s, he headed to the West Coast to work at Walt Disney’s studio. Pratt was an assistant animator by the early ‘40s—an animator draft confirms his presence in The Nutcracker Suite’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes” segment for Fantasia (1940). He befriended fellow assistant animator Bill Melendez, and the two developed their own “naval game,” consisting of toy ships made from cardboard, smudge sticks, nails, glue and other materials. The game was played on the floor, as the players moved their makeshift fleet. (This continued on into the early ‘50s, and included Melendez’s two sons.)During the 1941 Disney strike, Pratt was fired from the studio. He went to Warners as an assistant animator to Dick Bickenbach, in Friz Freleng’s unit. Owen Fitzgerald was Freleng’s layout artist when Pratt arrived at the studio. When Fitzgerald left Warners around 1944, Pratt became Freleng’s layout artist, designing backgrounds and polishing the director’s rough character layouts. In the case of Hollywood Daffy, released in 1946, Freleng disliked the story and refused to draw the animation layouts on the film, leaving those duties to Pratt. He drew the overall character layouts for the cartoon, as opposed to cleaning up Freleng’s rough drawings. (Though Pratt was the de-facto director, Freleng provided the animation timing.)
Pratt continued as Freleng’s layout artist throughout the mid-‘40s and the early ‘50s. When Warners’ animation department suspended its productions on June 1953—in response to the latest 3-D trend in films—Pratt was among the small number of staffers that remained, since his contract was still in effect. Pratt’s layouts changed significantly, after the influence of UPA’s cartoons led to the “modern” stylization in character/background design in animated films of the ‘50s.
In the early ‘60s, Pratt served as a co-director on several of Freleng’s cartoons, and illustrated on several Golden Books, featuring animated television characters Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Bozo the Clown, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Wally Gator, The Jetsons, and Bob Clampett’s Beany and Cecil. Pratt drew illustrations of Golden Books based on adaptations of animated features Gay Purr-ee (1962) and Disney’s The Sword in the Stone (1963)—the latter storybook centered on the wizard’s duel with Merlin and Madam Mim. Pratt also drew a Golden Book based on the marionette-operated science-fiction show Fireball XL9 (1962-63).
Pratt directed on only one film at the original Warner Bros. cartoon studio — Senorella and the Glass Hurache (1964), released long after its 1963 closure. Freleng left Warners in 1962 and moved to Hanna-Barbera to work on their feature film Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear. As the Warner studio struggled to keep afloat, Pratt worked with Bob McKimson on directing animated sections for The Incredible Mr. Limpet, after Bill Tytla, its original supervisor, became ill. Pratt briefly worked at Hanna-Barbera with Freleng, then followed him when Freleng decided to run his own animation studio with David DePatie.
Pratt helped design the Pink Panther at the DePatie-Freleng studio, a character intended to appear only in the opening credits of the titular Blake Edwards film. After the immense public response to the animated titles, the Panther starred in his own series of animated films, starting with The Pink Phink (1964), which earned an Academy Award. Freleng directed the first few DFE cartoons, with Pratt as his co-director. Pratt soon became a full director by 1965, directing many theatrical cartoons, and several television productions and specials (namely, The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss on the Loose and The Lorax).
In 1973, Pratt retired from DePatie-Freleng; he walked out of the studio and never returned. By that time, the studio was producing its series of Dogfather theatrical cartoons – a takeoff on Francis Ford Coppola’s adapation of The Godfather — which heavily recycled stories from earlier Warner Bros. cartoons. Uninspired material with smaller budgets, which was not unusual in DePatie-Freleng cartoons around this period, might have exacerbated Pratt’s departure; The Goose That Laid a Golden Egg, the second Dogfather cartoon, is a blatant retread of Golden Yeggs, a 1950 Freleng Daffy, copying its dialogue almost verbatim. He retired from drawing altogether, even turning down a chance to take over the drawing duties for Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace comic strip. (Pratt had previously worked with Ketcham at Disney’s, and illustrated a Golden Book featuring Dennis.) He passed away in 1999, at the age of 87.
Pratt seemed to have a sporadic career in moonlighting for “funny animal” comics for James Davis’ shop, while working as a layout artist at Warners. I’ve only found four featured stories – along with a small number of 1-page gag comics – to my knowledge, as of this writing. Nevertheless, Hawley Pratt’s artistry in animated films and illustrative work cannot be ignored.
“The Ratz Brothers” — Barnyard Comics #2 (September 1944): [COMIC PAGES]
“Spencer Spook” — Giggle Comics #29 (May 1946): [COMIC PAGES]
“Hustle and Bustle” — Barnyard Comics #13 (August 1947). Jack Cosgriff, an MGM and Lantz story-man, is credited for the writing: [COMIC PAGES]
“Chuck and Charlie Chipmunk” — Happy Comics #24 (March 1948): [COMIC PAGES]
• Here are the one-page gags with “Homer”, from Ha-Ha #37 (January 1947), Ha-Ha #38 (February 1947), and Ha-Ha #44 (August 1947). [COMIC PAGES]
Author’s Note: Frank Young, who has helped with the writing of these columns from the beginning, is currently in the hospital, undergoing several tests due to health issues. Among his other creative accomplishments, Frank’s two blogs — one profiling the comic books of John Stanley, and the other, analyzing Tex Avery’s cartoons from Warner Bros. – are vital reading. If you’re friends with him on social media, send him your regards — you’re also welcome to send them in the comments below.
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Greg Duffell, Charles Brubaker and Frank Young for their help.)