June 7, 2013 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #113


Michael Jackson: Take One. Back in 1971, one of the series on Saturday morning television was the “Jackson Five” which featured animated versions of Michael Jackson and his singing brothers. “Creem” magazine ran an article on the series showing model sheets done by “MAD” magazine artist Jack Davis. The magazine described the show in the following way: “In the series, Michael is generally into mischief just like in real life, often accompanied by his friend, Rosie the Snake.” (In the series, Michael also had two mice named “Ray” and “Charles”.) Record producer Berry Gordy also appeared in animated form in the series with his voice provided by the legendary Paul Frees.

Michael Jackson: Take Two. According to Judge Hugo Alvarez who married Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley in a secret ceremony in the Dominican Republic, “It was one of the weirdest weddings I’ve ever performed. Michael showed more enthusiasm for my tie than for his wedding! I was wearing a tie featuring Fred Flintstone playing golf that I had bought at Universal Studios in Florida. Michael told me, ‘It’s a great tie! I love Fred Flintstone!’ But I never heard him say he loved Lisa Marie.”

flintstones_mailbox200Another Flintstone Fan. Actor Rob Lowe was also a rabid The Flintstones fan. In 1987, to prove her love for him, his then girlfriend actress Melissa Gilbert gave Lowe a present of fifty pieces of animation art from the show.

Toon Pride. Back in the 1980s, lovely “Wheel of Fortune” hostess Vanna White was a guest on “Late Night with David Letterman” and admitted she was such a big fan of the animated The Flintstones that she had seen each episode at least five times. “You say that as if you were proud of it,” laughed Letterman. “I am,” firmly replied Vanna.

Bakshi and Blade Runner. One of the things that I love about Ralph Bakshi is all the different projects he announced with hyperbole and enthusiasm over the decades but never developed further than the initial announcement. In 1987, Bakshi negotiated with comedian Richard Pryor for two films to be directed and co-written by Bakshi and starring Pryor. One would be a live action film while the other was to be a combination of live action and animation. At the same time, he was planning on producing an animated version of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” for television. In 1981, Bakshi had announced his next animated feature would be “Crime” from Richard Hammer’s book “Crime in America” followed by an animated version of “The Canterbury Tales”. None of these films were ever made.

Food of the Future. One time in the early days of the Disney Studio, Walt joined his employees at lunch and pulled out a bottle of pills and swallowed a few. “This is the food of the future. Each pill is a meal in itself,” boasted Walt. Then he sat down and proceeded to order a regular lunch like the rest of the animators.

KT-10Artoo-Detoo in Love. The forty-eight minute animated television special The Great Heep (1986) was a follow-up to the animated “Droids” Saturday morning television series. It was written by Star Wars’ sound effects wizard Ben Burtt who gave Artoo-Detoo a girlfriend named KT-10 (Katie, get it?). Her creation was inspired by the rebel pilot briefing in the live action film A New Hope (1977) where another droid whistled at Artoo. In the original script, KT-10 is killed but George Lucas stepped in. “He came to me and said, ‘You can’t kill KT-10. She’s such a good figure. Can’t you find a way not to destroy her?’ He was right. Having her live was much better,” said Burtt in a 1987 interview. By the way, the special was originally supposed to air December 13, 1985 on ABC as part of the holiday season but was delayed until June 7,1986, right after the series was cancelled. An estimated $500,000 was spent on the special.

Run, Bambi, Run. America’s hunters have always felt they were given a bad rap by Disney’s animated feature, Bambi (1942) as the killers of Bambi’s mother and the ones who started the fire that destroyed the forest. In a 1942 edition of the magazine “Outdoor Life”, editor Raymond Brown denounced the film as “the worst insult ever offered in any form to American sportsmen”. An adult Bambi and his friends became the spokes-animals for the “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” campaign before the introduction of Smokey the Bear.

A Foray Voice. In December 1995, voice actress June Foray announced that she had started writing her autobiography and had completed almost four chapters. (With help from Mark Evanier and Earl Kress, it came out in July 2009 from Bear Manor Media). She also told the interviewer that voice over work had changed since she first started doing it in 1950. “Sometimes the network likes a voice and that voice isn’t particularly talented, but that’s the voice that gets the job. Things are altogether different than they used to be. It was easygoing and the directors of the shorts that we did like a Chuck Jones or a Friz Freleng or a Tex Avery, they didn’t have voice directors like everyone has now. Chuck would do it himself. I’d read a line and he’d say, ‘Okay, that’s fine’. So it was fun, not much pressure and not so much like work.”

noahshoesBook Hunt. In a 1987 interview, animation storyman Bill Danch claimed that he wrote a book on animation with Dave Fleischer and that Fleischer took full credit for it. He was not confusing it with the book written by Max Fleischer, Noah’s Shoes (1944, S.J. Bloch Publishing). I have searched for any further information on this book for over two decades but then again, I have also searched for storyman Roy “Big Mooseketeer” Williams self-published autobiography that I know exists. His estranged daughter confirmed that her mother had a copy but didn’t know where it was and apparently a copy was in the Disney Feature Animation Florida library before it became extinct. Anyone reading this know anything about these two lost books?

What’s In A Name? According to Steven Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, her son called her one day and asked ‘What was Dada’s (her father) Jewish name?’ She replied, ‘Fievel’ and then didn’t hear anymore about it until An American Tail (1986) came out with a little Jewish mouse named Fievel.

MEET JIM KORKIS: Besides several appearances in the Orlando area this summer, Jim will be at the Dayton, Ohio “Plane Crazy” chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club Show and Sale on June 29th and 30th. It’s open to the general public and besides speaking, he will be selling and signing copies of his books. Here is the link.

Then the Southeast Michigan Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club has him at the Redford Theater movie palace on July 12th and 13th. Jim will be doing a half hour presentation before a screening of the Disney live action feature Mary Poppins about the secrets behind the film and then a question and answer session afterwards where again he will be selling and signing his books.


  • My grandfather never liked Bambi for the exact reason you mentioned. He is an avid hunter (Well at least he was, he’s almost 90 now!). I still remember an April Fool’s joke my mom pulled on him. She blindfolded all six of his stuffed big horned sheep heads. I thought it was hilarious. Needless to say, Grandpa was not amused!

  • I guess when you look at it again, there is a little Jack Davis in the MJ cel. It’s just that the head looks so misshapen.

  • It is amazing to me that animation is so underrated as a genuine art form, like David Letterman’s snotty comment and reactions that I’ve gotten when I want to discuss the history with anyone. Sure wish I knew how to overcome that. Those Bakshi projects sound like they would have been fantastic. I wonder why the Richard Pryor project never got off the ground. Seeing him on “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” as host and listening to his movie concerts, I think the two (Pryor’s humor and animation) might have been a terrific match.

    • I’ve long suspected the reason that the Bakshi/Pryor project never made it beyond the expanded treatment phase involved its opening scene. In late 1987 Richard Pryor had fairly recently come back from his near death experience in a freebase explosion at his Northridge, California home. The event made global headlines and Pryor took months to recover, enduring numerous bouts of painful plastic surgery. The first scene of “Jack in my Pocket” involved Pryor’s character in an escalating argument with his belligerent cartoon rodent co-star, who ends up setting the wooden shack they cohabit ablaze. My guess is that Pryor didn’t care to go through anything so close to that experience that might be played for comedic effect. He had previously re-staged his alcohol lamp ignition accident (as an overtly deliberate suicide attempt) for his 1986 semi-autobiographical “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling” live action feature and may have figured that one realistic looking fire gag in a film after having survived the real enchilada was enough.

    • Letterman may actually feel that way, but sometimes people react that way about cartoons and Disney also in mixed company to avert being seen as “not cool.”

      Back when John Davidson was appearing in “Airport 75 or 77,” he told Johnny Carson, “I’ve been in two Disney movies…but this is the first REAL movie I was ever in.”

  • I wouldn’t have guessed Jack Davis did designs for the Jackson Five show. I always equate Davis with a much heavier and angular look, even when simplified for animation. The Jackson show — and the Osmonds show that followed — seemed to have a simple and weightless approach.

    It’s easy to imagine the stop-motion characters in Rudolf and Mad Monster Party as Davis drawings. I can sort of see Michael Jackson’s face as a stylized version of a Davis caricature, but not the body. The snake and mice don’t say Davis at all.

    Did Davis render the characters in such a different style from his usual work? Or were his originals thoroughly reworked to fit the studio’s style?

    • Jim is a wonderful fellow for building momentum, because I’m planning to do a review of the Jackson 5ive DVD set in the coming weeks on this site. Unlike most Japanese-animated series for Rankin/Bass, this series was animated in England by Halas and Batchelor, so the designs may have been modified by their team from the Davis sketches.

      This is fascinating series that did well enough for ABC to order additional episodes for its second season.

    • I am not proud but I have to confess that I adapted the illustration characters done by Jack Davis of the Jacksons into a more “animatable” style that would be easier to be followed by the many animators who worked in the series. Guilty as charged…I never liked the series, nor then nor now…It was just a job and then I needed it, that’s all. Bye!

  • At least one of the Ralph Bakshi/Richard Pryor projects from late 1987 was indeed developed beyond an initial press announcement. Ralph and I worked over the phone expanding a multi-page written treatment (illustrated with line drawings by animator Louis Scarborough) involving the working title “Jack in my Pocket,” featuring a cartoon protagonist mouse named Jack living with a live action Richard Pryor during the interlude after Ralph had closed his North Hollywood studio in late October 1987 and moved back East, prior to the firm pickup he would later receive for a short second season of “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures.” Why a Bakshi/Pryor pairing? The late Richard Pryor was a huge fan of Bakshi’s “Coonskin” feature. As Richard Pryor put it, “I about fell out of my chair when I learned that Ralph Bakshi was white!”

    In 1984 when working with John K. at Ralph’s Sunland studio, I noticed that Ralph’s announced “Crime in America” project was then represented by several pieces of leftover presentation art, much of it painted on large, mounted cels. That one was to have been a rotoscoped picture following “American Pop” and “Fire and Ice” but somehow never made it to production. It may seem amusing in 2013 to announce several projects at once which end up not being made but Hollywood and American show business in general enjoy a rich history of having done just that. Remember that the early 1980s were a time when animated filmmakers could not depend on the massive corporate backing that would make itself available a few short years later.

  • Date correction: It was spring of 1982 that John K. and I worked at Bakshi’s Sunland studio.

  • Vanna White actually co-hosted the Flintstones 25th Anniversary Celebration prime-time special, along with Tim Conway and Harvey (Gazoo) Korman

  • June Foray’s first cartoon voice may have actually been for Chuck Jones in 1942 for THE UNBEARABLE BEAR (released in ’43).

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