Some Thunderbean news:
Wednesday was a busy day! Johnathan Boschen is out here this week, working on unearthing Jam Handy materials as well as interviews for his upcoming Jam Handy documentary. While he was taping on one side of town, we were over at the school, working on taping footage for the Flip the Frog animated ani-jam Kickstarter (we’ll talk more about that soon). The Cubby Bear discs are making a steady stream out this week, and I hope to have all out this week. Jerry Beck was on Stu’s Show yesterday (always a good listen!) so I gave him a list of the things in progress (that I can talk about). There’s eleven projects in progress in one form or another here, all getting worked on when there’s time. Several others are in the category of ‘We have some of this but need more than four to make the set good’ category. The sneak peek at Flip is getting dubbed right now, a little late, but they’ll be on their way soon.
Since Cubby is out the door, the Flip project has been dominating my time. More scans are being done this week, and each time I’m astonished at how beautiful this stuff is.
A few days back we were showing Jonathan around Detroit, thinking about Jam Handy and industrial films in general, and Ted Petok and the Crunch Bird Films came to mind, made in Detroit in the 70s.
Detroit is making an astonishing comeback right now, from New Center (where the Jam Handy Studios were in more than one building) all the way into downtown and stretching further and further each year. The last five years have been especially surprising if you were used to seeing large sections of of Detroit dilapidated. Seeing the pieces come together and whole areas growing and looking great is something that will make almost any Detroit smile. There are still areas that need a lot of work of course, but it doesn’t look like the bombed out city of 10 years past these days. Then again, if you travel outside of the areas that are now growing and developing into new small centers, you’ll find some of the same blight- it’s very hard for a city to lose more that 70% of its population and survive at all.
The place is so big that it’s impossible for all of it to come back more than slowly- but that is also an asset in that there’s areas that are affordable to do all sorts of things, from tiny start ups to art studios to rebuilding neighborhoods. Funny enough, the scruffiness of Detroit is one of its assets, along with the ability for small businesses to affordably grow. The art and music scenes are quite strong and getting stronger- with lots of younger folks that can’t afford New York moving here. There’s a lot of youthful energy in Detroit, and a lot of my students decide to stay and build the creative community. I’m hoping conditions will be conducive to opening an animation studio that produces more than spots here. Maybe I’ll have to do it if no one else will!
Ok, back to The Crunch Bird! Ted Petok (1917-2010) lived to the ripe old age of 93. I met Ted a few times over the years and always enjoyed his stories, especially those of the old ad agencies and working in production. He collaborated with John Hubley’s studio and UPA in New York when he worked for some of the agencies here, hiring them to produce animation. He boarded most of the spots here (agency boards) that were then done there, eventually opening his own shop right in Detroit to produce small ads.
The Crunch Bird (1971) is a small gag short that actually went on to win an Oscar! Ted was as surprised as anyone else that this little film won. It was made on a whim to put as a gag on the end of a commercial show reel (to rep the studio’s work). Someone locally liked it and suggested it be shown at one of the local movie houses. From there it spread across the country as a little gag film. Ted said he honestly never expected the film to win anything. It did help the studio quite a bit. They ended up producing a lot of spots over the years, and some really cute and memorable segments for Sesame Street.
These types of things seem less likely to happen this way as in the past. I remember thinking how similar the story of this film is to the Benny Bell song “Shaving Creme”, produced as a dirty gag record in the late 40s, then become famous (MUCH more famous) in the early 70s, even hitting the Billboard charts as a single. It’s popularity spread from independent radio station to radio station, eventually becoming so popular that it was released as a single, Funny, hearing it now, it’s just as sort of innocently dirty as I remember it being as a kid:
I’ve never heard an unkind word about Ted Petok in this town- he was well known for working on the industrials here in later years. I have ea few cels from some of the stuff he did, rescued from the piles going in the trash years back at Grace and Wild, one of the production houses here. I had dinner with Ted many years back, and very much enjoyed his candor about the industry and the Crunch Bird films in general.
Here are three of the films in a nice HD transfer- The Crunch Bird (1971), The Golfer (1972) and The Crunch Bird 2 (1975). All have a similar format, and are good if somewhat cheesy fun. Ted had a huge smile on his face when I showed him some of my animation. He made a comment that I don’t have to do so many drawings to get over the business of my scenes, just drawings that work. In some ways that’s the best advice, but I sure like rubbery stuff.
Have a good week everyone! Abbott and Costello finally next week if I can find the time to give this space proper treatment!