The Superchicken That Never Was. There were actually two pilots made for the Jay Ward cult classic, “Superchicken”, but neither were ever shown to the general public. In the first version, actor Don Knotts did the voice of Superchicken and his secret identity, Nelson G. Cluckefeller. In the second version, the secret identity was changed to Hunt Strongbird with Bill Scott doing the voice in a variation of Jim Backus’ Thurston Howell III’s voice. The final version seen by audiences had Scott voicing both Henry Cabot Henhaus II (Superchicken’s alter ego) and Superchicken.
Good Answer. Actor William Conrad, known for a variety of acting roles including the lead in television’s “Jake and the Fatman”, was at one time under contract to Warner Brothers studio, even though he was making at least a half million dollars a year doing freelance voiceover work. One day, studio head Jack Warner confronted Conrad and told him that Warner’s wife had been watching “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and thought she heard Conrad doing the narration. Warner didn’t want any moonlighting and demanded to know if Conrad was connected with the show. “Yes, sir,” responded Conrad. “But what you don’t understand is that the voiceovers, that’s what I do for a living. And what I do for you, that’s my moonlighting.” According to Conrad, Warner “broke up, and never mentioned it again.”
Brand Confusion. In the 1930s when famous writer William Faulkner met boy genius producer Irving Thalberg at MGM studios, he innocently drawled, “Ah don’t believe ah know which pictures were yours. Do you make the Mickey Mouse brand?” Animation legend Chuck Jones was always fond of telling the story of his meeting with Jack and Harry Warner of Warner Brothers Studio. “Friz Freleng and I had a meeting with the two of them. We were taken to the private executive dining room. Jack looked over at us and said, with a mouthful of food, ‘You know, I don’t even know where our animation studio is.” Harry nodded and said, ‘The only thing I know about our cartoon studio is that’s where we make Mickey Mouse’. They didn’t realize we didn’t make Mickey Mouse. When they finally found out, they closed the studio.”
Nun Fun. Monica Baldwin, a Catholic nun, spent roughly thirty years totally secluded in a convent. In her 1949 book, “I Leap Over The Wall”, she described her first visit to a movie theater after those decades of isolation. She watched a Donald Duck short. “In all my life, I had never dreamed of such lurid colors, undreamed-of situations or amazing technique,” she wrote. “People ought not to be taken to see their first Disney film without suitable preparation. The shock is too overwhelming. I sat there with my tongue cleaving to my dried up palette, and my eyes popping out of my head.”
Bakshi the Fighter. In a 1972 interview, director-producer Ralph Bakshi explained, “I boxed for the Police Athletic League between the ages of 13 and 16. I don’t think it’s on the record. I was too young for them to put me on record. But because I was the only Jew in the neighborhood who was willing to fight the Italian and black kids, they let me fight. To keep us from fighting in the streets, they got us into the gym. I love fighting—boxing, you know, switchblades weren’t my thing.” Another animator who boxed before he decided to pursue art? Disney Legend Jack Hannah. After graduating high school, he considered a career in professional boxing but a broken nose in a Golden Gloves competition changed his mind.
Making It Big. In 1936, Bob Wian opened his first restaurant in Glendale, California. One day, his friend, Warner Brothers’ animator Ben Washam (who worked with Chuck Jones for decades) was sitting at the counter and began doodling on his placemat a rather chubby six year old boy in droopy overalls named Richard Woodruff (who used to sweep up in exchange for a free hamburger and Wian had nicknamed him “Big Boy”) who was sitting down at the other end. Washam gave the sketch to Wian and suggested he use the character as the mascot for his new food place. In exchange, Wian gave Washam his meal for free. The Washam design was revised in 1956 to be cuter and that is the more familiar “look” that people remember today. The very first Big Boy comic book was produced by Timely Comics (now Marvel Comics) and written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett. As animation historian Stephen Worth has pointed out: “Years later, when Big Boy had become a familiar figure to the entire country, Washam admitted to his fellow artists at Warner Bros that he was the cartoonist who had created the character. They laughed and teased him, saying, ‘Benny, you should have been heir to a hamburger fortune, but no! Your lot in life is to toil day and night making animated cartoons!’”
Another Reason To Eat Oysters. The late Jimmy MacDonald was the voice of Mickey Mouse for over three decades. When he was eighty-two years young, he appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” to demonstrate he could still do the famous mouse’s voice. “I had the best Mickey Mouse voice I’d had in a long time,” commented MacDonald after the show. “It must have been the raw oysters I ate before I went on air.”
Quantum Animation. At the 1993 convention devoted to the cult favorite television series, “Quantum Leap”, I got to ask Executive Producer/Creator Don Bellisario about his reported plans to do an entire episode in animation if the series was renewed. Bellisario assured me he’d already written the script and would feature caricatures of actors Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell done in what he termed “adult animation”. “Sam Beckett will leap into an animated adventure searching for his dad. There will be action packed scenes like a boat careening down a river in Peru, a plane crash and more,” claimed Bellisario. When I asked him why he wanted to use animation, he answered, “Anything is possible in animation. If you want to blow up the world, you use animation.”
What’s In A Name? In the popular “Felix the Cat” television series, there was a brainy little kid named Poindexter. The character was named after Emmett Poindexter, producer Joe Oriolo’s lawyer at the time he was the doing the 1960s series. Reportedly, Emmett was a pretty brainy guy.
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