What can I say about Bill Littlejohn? He was one of my favorite animators. His work was always friendly, expressive, and honest, which is also good description of Bill himself.
His career has been talked about elsewhere on the web, but briefly, he began animating at the Van Beuren studio working on Tom and Jerry (the human ones) and later the Burt Gillett Rainbow Parade cartoons until the studio shut down in 1936. He moved to the west coast and worked at MGM on The Captain and the Kids, Count Screwloose, and Tom and Jerry (the cat and mouse.) During World War II he became a trainer of pilots for the military. Bill didn’t return to the cartoon business until the fifties, but when he did, he became very busy for the next thirty-something years.
During this period, Bill worked for almost every studio. He was one of John Hubley’s favorite animators. Jay Ward loved him too. He also worked for John Wilson, Jack Zander, Bill Melendez and even Friz Freleng. Bill animated commercials with characters like Bullwinkle Moose, Captain Crunch, Count Chockula, The Freakies, The Quick Bunny, and the Uniroyal Tiger Paws car to name just a few.
Bill Littlejohn was also one of Ade Woolery’s favorite animator’s as well. In this post we will be concentrating on Bill’s work for Playhouse Pictures.
Howard Morris meets The Limeliters in this folksinging epic! From 1963. A few years earlier Playhouse had done a separate series of Folgers commercials with a talking coffee bean voiced by Mel Leven.
Peanuts Falcon Rap
Made in 1962 to plug the 1963 Ford Falcon. Playhouse had been animating the Peanuts characters since 1959. They continued to animate the characters until 1965, when director Bill Melendez left the studio and took Peanuts away, along with most of the staff.
Playhouse produced the first spots for this venerable campaign beginning in 1963, when this one was made. These were produced for the Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample agency, who also handled the Falstaff account. Littlejohn animated the commercial up to the product shot. The rest was animated by Herman Cohen.
The Old Pro – “Pointer”
One of a long series of Falstaff Beer spots featuring character actor Eddie Mayehoff as The Old Pro. This one is from 1958. There is a tangible link here between Littlejohn’s animation of The Old Pro’s dog Searchlight (“Bright as a beacon!”) and his animation of J. R. the Wonder Dog from the earlier MGM cartoons.
When I was working for Ralph Bakshi on Cool World, I had two large model sheets of The Old Pro that were made up from Bill Littlejohn’s animation drawings pinned to the wall for inspiration (below – click to enlarge). One day Ralph was giving Bill a tour of the studio, so I asked Bill to come into my cubicle to see his own drawings. Bill looked at the drawings a moment before he recognized them, and said, “That was from the spots we did for that beer… Flagstaff?”
Mars Candy Man
Hal Smith gets to laugh it up good here. From 1960.
From 1956. Daws Butler uses a voice here similar to the one he would later use for Mr. Jinks in the Hanna-Barbera cartoons!
This spot from 1957 promoting gas ranges features a stove dealer (voiced by Frank Nelson) having trouble getting a word in crossways. Studio records indicate that Pacific Gas & Electric was the client for this commercial. Look closely at the end and you will see a tiny note appearing near the bottom that simply indicates the spot was presented by “Your Gas Company.”