MOONLIGHTING ANIMATORS IN COMICS: Warren Foster
Born and educated in Brooklyn, Foster’s living seemed at first tailored to music. The 1930 NYC Census lists him as a music teacher, he played piano on a local radio station and managed a “cut-rate” music studio on Broadway. After his music shop closed, Foster joined the Fleischer Studios around October 1935 as a cel opaquer. Foster moved to the story department by July 1936, according to the in-house newsletter Fleischer’s Animated News. Later issues of the newsletter also confirmed his contributions on at least two Popeye cartoons—The Spinach Roadster (1936) and Proteck the Weakerist (1937).
Mike Maltese, who befriended Foster at the Fleischer studio, recommended him to Bob Clampett and business manager Ray Katz at Warners. Evidently, Clampett and Katz liked the gags in the Popeye cartoons the Fleischers produced, so Foster moved to the West Coast to write for Clampett’s black-and-white Looney Tunes, around 1938. Foster became Frank Tashlin’s story-man by 1943, and reunited with Clampett after Tashlin left the studio. After Clampett’s departure in 1945, Foster moved to Bob McKimson’s unit. Many cartoons with Foster’s story credit—especially the McKimson films—relied on brash, street-wise characters, unmistakably stemmed from his East Coast upbringing,
and brutal slapstick.
When Warners shut down its animation department, for about six months with the advent of 3-D films in 1953, Foster—along with Freleng and layout artist Hawley Pratt—was one of the few staffers that remained. One of the cartoons Foster wrote during the shutdown was Speedy Gonzales (1955), starring a character previously used by McKimson—in Cat-Tails for Two (1953)—but re-designed by Pratt. The resulting film garnered the studio an Academy Award.
Foster remained as Freleng’s story-man after the studio re-opened, and when a new studio was re-located and built around to Burbank, finished by the summer of 1955. He left Warners on November 1957, to work at John Sutherland Productions. His stint at Sutherland was brief—Foster was hired at Hanna-Barbera in April 1959, becoming one of the principal writers, along with Mike Maltese, on The Huckleberry Hound Show.
He continued to work at Hanna-Barbera into the mid-‘60s, writing stories for Loopy de Loop, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Secret Squirrel, Peter Potamus, and Atom Ant. Foster passed away in 1971, at the age of 67, shortly after the appreciation for individuals who worked during the Golden Age of animation cultivated.
Lloyd Turner, a story man for Art Davis’ unit in the mid-’40s, recalled writing comic book stories with Foster in his apartment, while drinking beer, usually on Saturdays. Foster and Turner would each have their own ideas for stories, though it’s difficult to discern Turner’s stories since his weren’t signed, like Foster’s. After their stories were finished, the two sent their scripts to James Davis and received their pay, which Turner recalled was $10 a page.
Here are the known comic book stories written by Warren Foster that I’m aware of (information of other stories by Foster is most welcome). Presumably, Sangor/Davis’ Ha-Ha Comics #28 (April 1946) has a story credited to Foster, but this issue isn’t available to me, as of this writing. (I will update the column with the story if that occurs.) It’s also unknown if Foster wrote comic book stories with the Hanna-Barbera characters during the ‘60s, as Maltese did.
“A Bear Living” — Ha Ha Comics #28 (April 1946). Foster had touched upon the struggles of characters sleeping, in such cartoons as Clampett’s The Sour Puss (1940). (Thanks to “wundermild” for notifying me of an available source.)
“Cluck’s Luck”—Coo Coo Comics #25 (May 1946). Foster re-used the idea of an eccentric hen obsessing over a special egg, following a delivery truck into the city, for An Egg Scramble (1950), directed by McKimson. This story is drawn by Owen Fitzgerald, who was Freleng’s layout artist in the early ‘40s, before Pratt took over.
“Oink and Yoink”—Coo Coo Comics #31 (January 1947). Note the references to “red points,” used for meat, fish and dairy items in wartime rationing—the backlog of comic book stories from Sangor/Davis might have caused the story to be slightly dated, in that regard.
“Homeless Hector”—Happy Comics #23 (January 1947). Foster previously used this material of a homeless puppy meeting with his more successful friend, who explains how he earned a master through different “routines” in Clampett’s Porky’s Pooch (1941). Chuck Jones re-used this idea in Little Orphan Airedale — debuting the Brooklynese Charlie Dog—released the same year as the comic story. (This continued in other subsequent appearances with Charlie, all directed by Jones.)
(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier, Yowp, Thad Komorowski and Bob Jaques for their help.)