April 5, 2013 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #104


Fritz the Cat Problems. Back in 1971, Ralph Bakshi was having trouble with some of the animators working on the X-rated Fritz the Cat animated feature. Bakshi said the people who didn’t work out on “Fritz” were of two types: the guys who came in with “a leer wanting to be very dirty and draw filthy pictures” and those who were “too prudish and not with it enough to draw reality”. A female cartoonist walked out because she couldn’t bring herself to draw an exposed nipple. Another woman assistant quite because she couldn’t explain to her children what she was doing. Still, another cartoonist quit because he couldn’t bring himself to draw a black crow shooting a pig cop. In Bakshi’s view, animators who quite merely showed their own sexual hang-ups. When an animator asked whether the sex scenes were in good taste, Bakshi replied, “Would you call a cat that chases a crow into a junk yard to f**k her, good taste?”

When Libby Simon was Linda Ronstadt. Singer Linda Ronstadt appeared as an animator during the music video “Somewhere Out There”, the popular song from Bluth’s “An American Tail” (1986). Unfortunately, Miss Ronstadt didn’t know how to draw so the hand that people see on the screen belongs to Libby Simon. It includes not only her hand, but her pen and desk, too, because the production people were so enthralled with her original animation equipment.

Just the Facts, Mr. Disney. The late actor-writer-producer-director Jack Webb is perhaps best remembered as the tough, no-nonsense cop Joe Friday on the TV series “Dragnet”. Amazingly, in his youth, he wanted to be a cartoonist. “I was convinced that Walt Disney was combing the country for a fellow like me,” said Webb. “I made up a portfolio, took it to the Disney Studios and sat back to wait for the big offer.” All of this took place in the mid 1930s and that big offer never came so Webb found other work. Later, Webb became a friend of Walt and even shot some “Dragnet” episodes on the Disney back lot until the noise of Walt building things for Disneyland drove the production company to other locations. By the way, Roy E. Disney’s first professional film work was as an assistant film editor on “Dragnet” in 1951.

chipmunk_albumChipmunk Names. After his success with the song “The Witch Doctor”, Liberty Records asked Ross Bagdasarian to come up with another novelty tune. Bagdasarian came up with three singing chipmunks who went on to great success as both recording stars and animated cartoon characters. As an inside joke, he named the three chipmunks after executives at Liberty Records. Alvin was named after Al Bennett, the label’s president. Simon got his name from Si Waronker, the vice chairman. Theodore owes his moniker to Ted Keep, Liberty’s chief recording engineer. However, when Bagdasarian played the song for Bennett, the president fumed, “We need hits, not chipmunks!” But Liberty Records took a chance and in the next seven weeks, they sold four and a half million records.

Ponsonby Britt. In 1961, at a publicity gathering celebrating “The Bullwinkle Show”, Jay Ward and Bill Scott went on at great length about Executive Producer Ponsonby Britt, the man they considered the most important to their operation. “We needed him,” claimed Ward as he produced a prepared biography of the Chairman of the Board. “He had the money. He’s head of the Widows and Orphans Benevolent Fund.” A publicity man quickly jumped in to assure reporters that Britt did not exist even though he was listed as executive producer on all the Ward shows.

Chuck Jones Says. In a 1978 interview, animation legend Chuck Jones stated, “The sadness of the Saturday morning animation is that the characters are what they look like. They are not created from within, and it doesn’t matter how they act. The harm being done to young people is that the cartoons tell them to judge people by how they look, not by how they act or what their character is. That’s a dangerous lesson to be teaching kids. Not only that but the animation is awful. The greatest work is not drawing pictures but defining character. To do that and to make it work we had eight to ten drawings per second of film. Saturday morning animation has two drawings per second.”

Roll ‘Em Smokey. In the Bugs Bunny short, “What’s Cookin’, Doc?’, Bugs Bunny shouts to an unseen projectionist, “Okay, Smokey, roll ‘em!” That was an inside reference to Smokey Garner, a nice little man from the Ozarks, who had first worked for Leon Schlesinger at Pacific Art &Title. At Warners, he was the one who shot, developed and projected the pencil tests for the animators. Often when he was pressed to have the tests ready as soon as possible, he would moan, “Oh, agony, agony!” which became a catch phrase in some of the Warner cartoons.

The Cat’s Meow. The late voice artist Mel Blanc said that the first animated cartoon he ever remembered seeing was the silent Felix the Cat cartoon, “Felix Saves the Day” (1922) when he was fourteen years old. Supposedly, Blanc was so impressed with the cartoon that he came up with a voice for Felix to use. Blanc never did get to do the voice of Felix but Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye, did supply Felix’s voice for the first television cartoons. However, Blanc did go on to voice several animated felines including Sylvester and Heathcliff.

panther_headPink Panther Speaks. In 1990, a pilot for a new live action/animation Saturday morning show for CBS using the Pink Panther was rejected because CBS head Jeff Sagansky disliked the fact that the Panther talked like Jack Nicholson. The premise of the show was that to help a journalist caught in a burning theater, the Panther stepped out of the cartoon and found himself interacting in the real world, much like the situation in the popular movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988). However, when the Panther was first created, he did speak in two shorts: “Sink Pink” (1965) and “Pink Ice” (1965). He used a very proper Rex Harrison style voice reportedly supplied by impressionist Rich Little. “We tried several voices with him but nothing ever worked,” stated animation legend Friz Freleng at the time.

Editor’s Note: Jim Korkis’ Animation Anecdotes appear here each Friday on Cartoon Research. Korkis is the author of two recently published must-have books about Disney animation: Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South and The Revised Vault of Walt. Both are highly recommended. – Jerry Beck


  • Looks like Smokey married one of the ink and paint girls. The 1940 lists his wife as Evelyn and her occupation as “artist, motion pictures.”
    Leon was only paying him $100 a month. His wife was making almost as much. The Census said he had a Grade Eight education.

  • Re the “Roll ’em, Smokey” scene in “What’s Cookin’, Doc,” the bit where a “Stag Film” title-card shows up on the screen seems suspiciously like an inside-joke about what may have been actually screened after-hours in the sweatbox at Schlesinger’s studio.

  • Coincidentally, I’ve been watching the Pink Panther cartoons the past couple of weeks. (Found the DVDs in a bin at Big Lots.) I think the problem with the character is that he has no real personality. His cartoons are only as strong as the gags.

    • I would argue that the panther had a personality, but it’s one that doesn’t require a voice.

    • That’s pretty true of the character itself. The strength was in the gags and pacing over any real need to understand the character behind his usual status.

    • The problem with the cartoons, to me, is that they’re just not good. They have a bit of design flair, but even that seems improvised to turn out the greatest amount of product, not to make the best possible cartoon. Some of the original shorts were passable and could have led in a positive direction, but there was no one there to receive the inspiration. It certainly never made it to the show, despite some of the good work some artists/animators did.

    • Pink Panther had a few different characters, like Bugs Bunny (the wise guy or the intellectual prankster) or Daffy Duck (the goofball, the con man or the selfish neurotic). But the Warner characters seemed to be defined by who was directing that particular short, and the different takes on a character usually didn’t clash (goofball Daffy was largely phased out early on). Panther, in contrast, was whatever the current script dictated. He was variously:
      — The too-cool cat with the famous walk, effortlessly driving opponents nuts
      — A basic funny animal, capable of being intensely silly or stupid
      — A well-intentioned mock Chaplin, trying to be a nice guy
      The only rule after the first few was that he not talk — he could and would do anything so long as it put the gag across. He eventually lost the dancelike walk and the self-aware coolness until the movie series returned, where he suavely tormented a cartoon Clouseau in the credits.

    • I also really disagree that the cartoons were ‘not good’. Heck, most were ten times better than most of the stuff that Warners was doing during winding years (mid-60’s-69).

    • I must agree with Jay that the Pink Panthers are only as good as the gags, but I also agree with DBenson that there’s an air of suaveness to the limited animation that I find absolutely appealing. Generally, the best drawn, animated, and gagged cartoons were directed by Hawley Pratt, Freleng’s right-hand man for most of his Warner output. THE HAND IS PINKER THAN THE EYE, PSYCHEDELIC PINK, and EXTINCT PINK have some truly inspired humor, design, and direction. As my friend Greg Duffell said to me, EXTINCT feels as though they knew it was going to be the last PP cartoon, so they went all out. After that, all at DFE is darkness, save the brilliant John Byner giving life to the inspired concept of Jackie Mason chasing Dean Martin.

    • The best personality in the Panther shorts tend to come from big-nose guy, who in essence was used as the stand-in for the Panther tormenting Clouseau in the original film’s title credits. Most of the best ones were during the initial 1964-69 run, but there were still a few decent efforts out of the first revival in 1971, like Art Davis’ “Pink Tuba-dore”. But the bright spots were harder to find in the 1975 series, and the less said about the 1977 series done for ABC the better.

    • Darkness is not one of the words I would use to describe DFE. Although I admit that most of the studios’ output in the ’70’s was under par once Pratt mostly stopped directed in 1971.

  • It’s interesting that Mel Blanc toyed with a possible voice for Felix, but Felix had a voice in his Van Buren shorts. Who was the person providing that voice?

    • Wikipedia claims it was Walter Tetley – “a popular radio actor in the 1930s and 1940s (“Julius” on the The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and “Leroy” on The Great Gildersleeve, however best known later in the 1960s as the voice of Sherman on the Bullwinkle Show’s Mister Peabody segments” – citation apparently needed…another source says it was Mae Questel…

  • The Jack Webb connection with Disney is less superficial than described. Stage 2 at the Disney Studio in Burbank was built and financed as a joint agreement between Walt Disney and Webb, who used the stage for the filming of the first “Dragnet” television series from 1949 to 1954. (The 1953 Rosalind Russell feature “Never Wave at a WAC” was also shot on the stage and used the Disney Studio facilities.)

  • Can I just TELL YOO how much I adore the Anecdotes Day!!

  • Before his deadpan Dragnet fame, Jack Webb worked in radio as a comedian. Hard to imagine now.

    • He’s practically the comedy relief in “Sunset Boulevard”, William Holden’s happy buddy in that acidic movie.

  • Jack Webb is fascinating. I often wish I could interview him.

    Gary Owens (another would-be cartoonist) told me that after seeing the DRAGNET parody “Dragged Net” in the four-color version of MAD, he became particularly interested in the comic book storytelling of Harvey Kurtzman. Watching the second DRAGNET series, but especially in his outstanding films such as -30-, PETE KELLY’S BLUES and my favorite, THE D.I., I’d swear that Kurtzman was a direct influence on Webb’s unique directorial style.

  • There’s also an episode of the second DRAGNET in which Joe Friday goes to Disney to confer with cartoonist Al Bertino about designing some “hip” anti-drug posters for teenagers. A young actor played Bertino, but Al must have done the hand-drawing closeups. Al Bertino was also supposedly the visual inspiration for “Big Al” in the Country Bears Jamboree attraction at Disneyland.

  • Fascinating story about Bakshi. Employees quitting on principle – how quaint!

  • Mel Blanc voicing Felix would have been quite interesting! One of Blanc’s earliest roles was voicing Gideon the Cat for Disney’s Pinocchio in 1940. However, most of his dialogue (save for a few squeaks and hiccups) was deleted when Disney decided that they liked the character being used more for silent comic relief.

  • Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) also provided the voice of Pink Panther in a TV series in the 1990s.

  • Was “Smokey” Gamer any kin to A. C. Gamer, who is credited with effects animation on some WB shorts?

    • As Jim K. indicated his name is GARNER, not GAMER, the two wouldn’t be related.

  • Chuck Jones criticizing animators of the time is laughable. At some point Jones turned everything he drew into cutesy pie, curled up grin characters, like his wretched version of Tom & Jerry.

    • Some people don’t always practice what they preach.

  • Mark Evanier showed me this once, many years ago before there were CDs. He took a 45 RPM Chipmunks record and played it at 33. And there, clear as anything, was “David Seville’s” voice doing all the Chipmunk voices. Well, of course, when you think about it, that would be about how it had to be done, Bagdasarian speeding his voice up. Still, I hadn’t realized it would be so… *obvious*.

    • It didn’t seem all that mysterious to me however (having grown up in those days when playing an LP at 45 or 78rpm was the thing you did as a kid.

    • Still better than the current Auto-Tuned Chipmunks.

    • “Still better than the current Auto-Tuned Chipmunks.”

      God knows anything’s better than that!

      I’ve said this before, but I still stand by it, The Alvin Show needs a full DVD set, pronto!

  • To continue a little more Chipmunk trivia. Sy Waronker’s kid,Lenny,would produce lots of Warner Bros. recording stars of the ’70s,and eventually became president of the company when they ruled the music biz.
    And look around for original Chipmunk 45s for the B-side,which many times was a quirky instrumental from Bagdasarian with titles like “Almost Good”,”Mediocre”,”Flipside” & “Copyright 1960”.The tunes seem as dashed off as the titles,but reveal Ross’ gentle,self-depreciating humor.IFAIK,never collected onto an album and the later pressings of “Christmas Song” use “Alvin’s Harmonica”as the flip side.

    • I have those 45’s and can attest to it! You can’t get more self-depreciating than that!

  • To be fair, Bakshi was said to be horrific to work for; he’d scream and shout and leave grown men in tears if their scenes weren’t acceptable. His employees regularly worked overtime to ridiculous hours and Dale Baer even describes how Bakshi fired then rehired him after Baer requested a week vacation as a break from the stress.

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