THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
January 23, 2014 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Michael Sporn Remembered: His Interview With Jack Mercer

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I was shocked to hear of Mike Sporn’s passing on Sunday. He has left us much too soon, but not without making an amazing mark in the history of animation. (photo above, from last summer’s Animation Block Party in Brooklyn, left to right: Jerry Beck, J.J. Sedelmaier, Michael Sporn and Emily Hubley)

Mike must have had some idea of how many lives he touched, and how many people’s careers he helped, especially young New York animators. In so many ways, Mr. Sporn WAS New York animation; he carried the torch from the animators of the golden age through now, and onto the next generations. His influence will continue to be felt throughout the animation industry and independent animation.

There is a gentleness to so many of his films, both in artistic style and timing. It was wonderful seeing The Man Who Walked Between the Towers with an audience of adults and children at the Ottawa Animation Festival. I still smile when I think about that film, and I think about an especially intrigued child that was sitting near us, reacting with delight at the film.

Mr. Sporn was a great animator and supporter of animation history. He was a wonderful writer as well, giving his insight and sharing his recollections (and collections) of animation art on his Splog. Over the years the Splog featured material you couldn’t find any other way, from animator’s drafts to whole sequences of drawings to pencil tests, many form his personal collection. The Splog is a tribute to so many beautiful pieces of work, set in their proper historical context by someone who truly loved animation. Mike’s comments were never pretentious or self aggrandizing; they were only meant to share the art and love of animation and art, a simple and elegant goal.

I had known who Michael Sporn was since I was as a child, reading John Canemaker’s Making of Raggedy Ann and Andy book. As a 10 year old, this book had a huge influence on me; I had no idea that I would be lucky enough to meet any of them.

A few years back, Mike was kind enough to have one of my students intern at his studio. Josiah enjoyed his time working with Mike in his small studio, and was amazed at his knowledge in so many areas.

Mike Sporn and Mike Barrier were kind enough to allow me to use Mr. Sporn’s recorded interview with Jack Mercer on the Thunderbean DVD Popeye Original Classics. The interview was originally included as a little plastic record in an issue of Funnyworld in the late 70s. The Popeye disc was the first of the Thunderbean DVDs, soon followed by Cubby Bear and so many more. My friend Lenny Kohl was kind enough to make a recording of it for the disc. Here it is – a wonderful document of animation history:

MercerQuestelBeck47

Above: Jack Mercer (Popeye), Mae Questel (Olive Oyl) and Sid Raymond (Katnip, Baby Huey) clown around at the recording studio in 1947.

Below: Jackson Beck (Bluto), Mae Questel (Olive Oyl) and Jack Mercer (Popeye) clown around in character during a recording break in 1978.

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On a personal note, I was quite happy that Mike enjoyed the Thunderbean DVDs and was even able to line up frame grabs that matched drawings he had from the Van Beuren Studio on a few of the Splog Posts. None of us are here forever, and losing the wonderful Mr. Sporn is a reminder that we can, and should, each do something amazing in our lives. He sure did. Spend a little time on Mike’s blog this week; I’m sure he’d like that.

Billy Joel is right; life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.

8 Comments

  • That Jack Mercer interview is also included in “Popeye the Sailor: Volume Two” from Warner Bros.

    • Yes… I worked with Warners on the bonus features for the set and suggested they include it- thanks to Jerry!

  • Great posting, Steve!

  • Well said, Steve.

  • Oh, that was a fascinating interview. I didn’t note the date of the interview, but this must have been done just as Jack Mercer became the voice of Felix the Cat as conceived for TV (my actual introduction to the character, before realizing that he’d been seen theatrically in the sound era in Van Buren toons, voice by someone else of course). The fact that Mercer could act out his own cartoon, utilizing his many voices, is proof enough of his talent. Thank you, Michael Sporn for this terrific memory!!

  • Mr. Sporn was probably more encyclopedic than John Kricfalusi and Steve Worth* combined when it came to animation history and came off as easily approachable. (*As much as I like and respect these guys, they let their personal biases get in the way of informing the uninformed.) He will be missed by many animation and cartoon fans.

  • Wow. What an interview. Jack’s voice epitomises the Fleischer studio as Michael epitomises NY animation. Both are greatly missed.

  • It was interesting hearing Jack Mercer speak in his own natural voice, first time I’ve heard it. I love that the interview begins and ends with him speaking as Popeye. Sounds so different. I’m a little puzzled by the 1978 publicity photograph of Mercer pretending to fight with Jackson Beck (Bluto) while Mae Questel (Olive Oyl) pretends to look on in horror. Puzzled in that around 1978, Jack Mercer was voicing and writing for Popeye at Hanna Barbera studios but Beck and Questel did not speak for Bluto and Olive on that series; it was Allan Melvin and Marilyn Schreffler. Was this for some kind of commercial, special or educational film? Also, they look much older so it would have been much later. Again, enjoyed listening to the interview very much. Jack Mercer was the best Popeye ever.

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