Here is the second part of my interview with Ruth Clampett. Ruth is the daughter of Bob Clampett. Part One is posted here. Here in part two, we chat about her mom, Sody, her dad’s love of Disneyland, and family memories while growing up.
Kamden Spies: How did your dad meet your mom, and what was there relationship like?
Ruth Clampett: My Mom grew up in Buffalo, Wyoming where her parents owned a little cafe. When her father passed away she moved to Hollywood with her mom and sister to live with an aunt. One night, she was at a club celebrating the upcoming wedding of a friend she’d met at work. But at one point in the evening, the bride-to-be got irritated with her fiancé. Mom took her outside to diffuse the situation, and they took a walk on Sunset Boulevard while everyone else was still inside. My dad, at that time, was driving a convertible down Sunset Boulevard. And true to my Dad, he was very intrigued about what was going on since Mom was walking backwards in front of her friend and was gesturing dramatically. So he pulled over and started talking to her and there were sparks flying.At that time, he was really at one of the greatest peaks of his success. Time for Beany had won an Emmy, the show was a sensation, and it was the beginning of television. He didn’t tell her what he did for their first couple of dates. He just wanted to be liked for who he was. He was completely charmed with her and appreciated how real she was compared to other women and actresses he had dated in Hollywood. She was always such a sincere, down to earth person. Then one night when talking over dinner, somehow they got to the subject about cartoons. She told him that her all-time favorite cartoon was where the flea was living on the dogs back, and he sings, “There’s food around the Corner.” My dad just smiled, and he finally told her, “I made that cartoon.”
Dad realized as they got more involved and he’d become very serious about her, that the only way they could really make it work long-term is if she worked with him. They were soon engaged and from that decision on they were together twenty-four hours, seven days a week. They had an incredible relationship, and I never saw them fight. She really believed in him and supported him even when they went through a few rough times. They created a family life for us that was really fun. We were really lucky because he had his kids later in life. Other than traveling on tour, he was around a lot. He coached my brothers’ football team and did a lot of things with us at school. He even directed us in a puppet show we performed at many occasions. He was very involved in our lives.
KS: What was your mom doing for a living before she worked with your dad?
RC: She was a secretary at an insurance company.
KS: You mentioned that your parents met at the time when your dad was doing Time for Beany. Was she involved in the production of that show?
RC: She was. I know that they got married during the Time for Beany period. But a lot of the business was already set in place. So although she was involved, I don’t think she took on as much of a major role as she did in the cartoon series.
KS: So you grew up in the same house that Time for Beany was developed?
RC: Yes. Dad used the garage of our family home to develop and rehearse how the puppetry would work in Time for Beany. Klaus Landsberg of KTLA actually came to that garage for Dad to present the show to him with Stan Freberg and Daws Butler doing the character voices and puppetry and that’s where Klaus made the decision to put it on the air right away.
KS: Do you remember any notable family vacations? Living in LA, I’m sure you visited the beach.
RC: My dad loved the beach. That’s one great thing about living in LA, we have great beaches within reasonable drive times. When my parents first got married, they lived in Hermosa Beach. When we were growing up, though, they’d rent a place for a month right on the strand during the summer. My dad loved swimming in the ocean and taking long walks on the beach. He was very much a beach kid. Most of our trips were that kind of thing.
We’d go with another family and get a cabin in Lake Arrowhead or go up to Yosemite. One of our most memorable trips was when we went on a road trip from LA all the way to Wyoming. We stopped and saw Mom’s best friend, who was living in Colorado at the time. We also made stops at the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and a lot of other different places.
KS: I’ve also read that your dad loved going to Disneyland. Which I know was the inspiration for Beanyland.
RC: Oh yes, he loved Disneyland! He was a big kid and loved to go. That’s why I love his cartoon Beanyland so much, because it’s a very funny spoof of the “happiest place on earth.” He tended to satirize in his work things and places that left a big creative impression on him. We went to Disneyland at least once a year. He knew a lot of people who worked behind the scenes there, so we often got to see things that not everybody got to see.
KS: Was your dad in control of merchandising for Beany and Cecil? Did he oversee the toys and comics produce?
RC: Yes. He oversaw and approved the art for them. I think that that’s one of the reasons he left Warner Bros. He wanted the chance to own some characters of his own and have more control of what was done with them. We grew up with all the Mattel toys around our house like the Beany-copter caps and talking plush dolls. I still have some merchandise like my Beany cookie jar and lunch box. While going through our Dad’s files recently, my Brother Rob and I learned that Mattel sold over a million of those copter caps within a year.
RC: My favorite Warner Bros. cartoon of Dad’s is Porky in Wackyland. With its artistic and abstract elements, and crazy characters, there is something so groundbreaking and different about Wackyland. It’s hard to narrow my choice down to one since I love so many like The Great Piggybank Robbery and Birdy and the Beast. With Beany and Cecil I love Beanyland, but I have a special fondness for the Wildman of Wildsville. I love fine art, so I love the abstract painting throughout the cartoon and the character Go Man Van Gogh, named after the iconic Impressionist artist. I love that he paints the world as he walks through it. It was a cartoon from the early 1960s, and was very hip for its time.
KS: What do you think was your dad’s favorite?
RC: Well, my dad used to say that he didn’t have a favorite. It was like picking a favorite kid. And with the Looney Tunes cartoons he did such a wide range and loved different things about each one. I know that the Time for Beany period was incredibly exciting for him. And as for the Beany and Cecil cartoons, he also loved Beanyland and Wildman of Wildsville. He also was fond of No Such Thing, and DJ the DJ.KC: Bob was not only one of the greatest cartoon directors – but it seems like he was one of the greatest fans of the medium. Did he save any of his animation art from his days at the Schlesinger studio?
RC: Oh yes. He did! He was a fan by nature. He didn’t just collect and keep his own stuff. Our collection has rare Gertie the Dinosaur drawings, lots of Disney memorabilia, and work from animator friends at other studios. He was as much a fanboy as he was a creator. I think he would have loved the fantastic animation of the last decades years from clever series to features like The Iron Giant, Toy Story, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Lion King.
KS: When seeing photos and watching Bugs Bunny Superstar, your dad’s office looked like a lot of fun.
RC: It was! We had so much fun in that building running around and seeing what everyone was working on. When we were older, we worked on projects too from painting cels to helping in the office. My brother also got to work with puppets on a commercial Dad was working on. Dad also thought it would be fun for us to have a family puppet show. We would rehearse at the studio with him directing and then we’d end up performing for events. The studio was like a second home to us.
KS: I love your dad’s jacket that had all of the patches on it.
RC: We used to make fun of him for wearing that jacket. He loved it, though. My mom sewed all of the patches on it so people wouldn’t forget him (not like he would be easy to forget with his fun personality). After he passed, I was a photography major at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and I was doing a series on what it was like to lose my dad. I took a picture of his jacket hanging up in a stark, empty closet and the Cecil puppet on the shelf right above it. I did that because those two things that were so meaningful to him were almost alive to me. That jacket captured so much of his spirit, and Cecil was always a part of him.
KS: My final question is about people you remember that worked with your dad. Do you have any memories about a specific person that he worked with, this includes those who you may have talked to after he passed away? Maybe one of the other directors or animators.
RC: I remember my first job at Warner Bros as the Gallery Art Director for their studio stores. An important part of my job was working with the amazing artists. I remember going to Friz Freleng’s home a number of times to talk to him about his limited editions to make sure he was happy with the way they looked. He was always so kind to me. While I was there he would tell me stories about Dad, whom he called “Bobby”. He told me that my grandmother used to drop him off because he hadn’t even finished high school and didn’t have his own car yet. He acknowledged that he and Dad’s style were very different as directors, and he thought his cartoons got pretty crazy. But what meant the most to me was when he smiled and said, “He was a really good kid.”
It’s been very meaningful to me that over the years I’ve been able to talk to many artists Dad worked with or befriended, and also meet or connect online with fans of his work. My brother Rob, my sister Cheri, and I are all dedicated to keeping Dad’s work alive. There is still so much for us to accomplish, but we will never stop working towards our goal, ever inspired by our amazing parents and their creative spirit.