Margaret Kerry visited Orlando over the December 12th, 2015 weekend and I got to spend a few hours with her on Sunday December 13th where I took her to lunch and asked her some questions about the under-documented West Coast animation studio Cambria Productions that produced such unique series as Clutch Cargo and Space Angel.
Jim Korkis: So why was the studio called Cambria?
Margaret Kerry: That was the name of Richard’s (her husband producer Dick Brown) A.P.A. ship when he was in the Coast Guard during World War II. He was stationed on the Pacific Coast. At one time he was patrolling the beach at Bodega Bay with a watchdog. We all tried to convince him to name the studio after himself but he was just so stubborn. I still think it was a big mistake.
JK: I found an article in a trade paper that stated that in 1965 Cambria was going to take Hanna-Barbera to court for $1,050,000, claiming the Jonny Quest series “uses, copies and appropriates substantial parts and portions of Cambria’s ‘Clutch Cargo’ and its pilot film, ‘Captain Fathom,’ including their principal cartoon characters.”
MK: No, we never sued. We never had the money. We wanted to sue. We were developing this action series with this young boy with red hair. Kay Wright was working with us at the time and he was working at Hanna-Barbera and he told them about the project and the next thing we knew they had hired some of our artists and took some of our concept art. You know that they were sometimes referred to as “Heist and Borrow” in the business.
We didn’t have the money to do the project so I doubt we sued. We were syndicated so we were always operating in deficit. People forget we were the first studio to do animation on television with human characters rather than squashed cats and mice.
JK: At that same time it was announced that you had a co-production deal with Canawest Film Productions of Vancouver to film a Three Stooges animated feature film at a budget of $250,000.
MK: We were producing the New Three Stooges animated series at the time with Norman Maurer, Moe’s son-in-law. I appeared in the live-action segments that open and close the 139 episodes as well as in the animated portion voicing all the kids, females, and various odd characters.
We were hooked up with this crooked character named C.J. Verhalen. Around that time, he came in and took over the studio one weekend and padlocked all the doors. We sued him 22 times and won 22 times but never saw any money. His relative was this clever lawyer.
During this time, we got a call from a friend that they were dumping everything out in the trash bins and we only had two days to get down there to pick through things and rescue cans of film, artwork and other things.
JK: I know you announced many different animated projects that never got made like one with actor Cliff Arquette playing his “Charley Weaver” character in 1965.
MK: That was called “Get Cracken!” Cracken was the name of the mayor of this small rural town like Weaver’s Mount Idy but he was never where he was supposed to be so when something went wrong people would shout “Get Cracken!” Joe Cutter and Dave Detiege scripted the pilot and Clark Haas did the art direction. Charlie Weaver was going to narrate the thing. I still have a piece of artwork for the Weaver character design.JK: And then Golden Eagle in 1967.
MK: How do you know all these things? That was about this young blonde World War I pilot. Again, it would be five minute segments but this time we were not going to use Synchro-Vox. We had a deal in place with Trans-Lux. My kids were playing with a Ouija board at the time and it said we would never start production on it and we didn’t.
Ed Gillette had these eight foot glass platens that moved by motors so the clouds could go one way and the planes the other. We were over on Melrose when we were working on that. He didn’t feel it was steady enough so he drilled down to anchor the device and hit the aquifer and gallons of water gushed up and it took two and half days to cap it.
JK: Any other oddball projects?
MK: I wrote a script called “The Company We Keep” about life in an animation studio and then another company produced “The Duck Factory” that was so similar. We did some animation of a wiseacre football called Freddy the Football voiced by Hal Smith for some Superbowl and we still own the rights to that character. We had a contract with The Human Fly, the Canadian stuntman who was briefly popular at the time. We were also pitching a Laurel and Hardy show and some other comedy team I can’t remember now.
We also did a pilot based on the comic strip “Moon Mullins”.
JK: Didn’t you work on a public service spot?
MK: That’s right. It was a fifteen minute animated film for the state of California on earthquake preparedness. I saw they were offering a grant and I figured I had been in an earthquake so I submitted and we got the job. My son came up with the name “A Quake…Don’t Let It Shake You”.
I haven’t seen it since. I wrote the script. Kay Wright did some work on it. Later the local CBS television station wanted us to do something similar for them.
JK: Of course, everyone wants to know about Clutch Cargo.
MK: We had a budget of only $3,600 for each five minute episode. Here’s something interesting. Dick Cotting who did the voice of Clutch could not say “Whew!” He would struggle with it and I can’t even imitate how it would come out so Hal Smith stepped in and would do it.
For one episode, Hal and I did eight different characters. Things were so tight money-wise that Hal and I stood at the same microphone.
I never got paid for any of my work on Clutch Cargo. My husband just assumed it was the family business and I should do it. I did get paid for Space Angel and Captain Fathom.
My husband had a falling out with Clark Haas and there was bad blood but I never knew what it was all about because he never said. I think Haas’ son took some Clutch Cargo artwork to Mike Van Eaton at his gallery and told him the story but I never heard it.
MK: It’s finished! But the person who was going to do the layout and scan the pictures decided not to do it so I have to find someone else. I did get back all the original photos and art. The book is over 300 pages. I still have 33 chapters I wrote that I had to leave out so maybe once this comes out I will do a sequel with those chapters and a few more I wanted to write.
JK: Thank you, as always, Margaret.
MK: Thank you for lunch. But you didn’t order any vegetables. We have to talk about that.
[ EDITOR’S NOTE: You can now order Margaret’s book directly from her – Click Here. ]