July 26, 2013 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #120

charlieBrown_phoneTelephoney. Back in the 1960s, producer Lee Mendelson who was working on all those “Peanuts” television specials spent a lot of time on the phone. However, even he was surprised when, one day, he received over three hundred phone calls. It seems that Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz used Mendelson’s real phone number, as a gag, in one of his comic strips and hundreds of people dialed it, hoping to hear Charlie Brown.

Acting Star Wars Style. In 1985, Miki Herman who was executive producer of “The Ewoks/Droids Adventure Hour” (1985) stated in a “Bantha Tracks” interview that “George Lucas wants to raise the standards of Saturday morning programming for children. His main complaint with most of the current programming is the acting. Everybody sounds alike whether it’s a crisis or a happy event. And all the same voices are used again and again. Good acting can even save a cartoon that doesn’t have really sophisticated animation.” Miki had been with Lucasfilm Ltd. since 1977.

Chuck Norris, The Karate Kommando. Known for his violent movies, actor Chuck Norris wanted a less lethal approach when he signed up to be converted into a cartoon character for his 1986 syndicated animated five episode mini-series from Ruby-Spears, Chuck Norris, The Karate Kommando. At the time, Norris told the press, “The cartoons give me a chance to speak directly to the kids like I did when I taught karate. In the series, I work for the President of the United States. Unlike my films, nobody ever dies in cartoons.” A live action Norris gave a motivational talk before and after each episode.

College Magoo. Why was Rutgers University chosen as the alma mater of Quincy Magoo? According to UPA President Hank Saperstein, “Well, he was definitely East Coast and he was Ivy League but I knew Harvard and Yale weren’t quite right. Then it came to me in a flash! Rutgers!” Of course, when Saperstein stated this fact, he had just unveiled sketches for a possible Magoo feature which recounted the myopic hero’s early days at Rutgers as a football hero. Rutgers Magazine finding no connection between the creators of Mr. Magoo or actor Jim Backus to the university stated UPA wanted Magoo to be “a college alumnus who was still fired up with the old school spirit, and [they felt] Rutgers was the embodiment of the ‘old school tie’ in America.”

plaguedogs200The Plague Dogs. The animated feature The Plague Dogs (1982) was based on author Richard Adams’ popular book of the same name. The same animation team had also made Watership Down (1978) based on another book by Adams. During an interview with “The Daily Express” in October 1982, Adams confessed that he “never really cared for the film of Watership Down. I felt they were not really my kind of rabbits. But these dogs are my dogs all right. I think it is a good enough film to make a considerable public impact.” The film’s premiere in October also marked the resignation of Adams from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals because he felt they were not doing enough about the treatment of laboratory animals.

Speechless. When Walt Disney’s animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released, actress Adriana Caselotti who voiced the main character was hoping it would be the springboard to a performing career for her. She was offered other work, including an appearance on the Jack Benny radio show, but Walt Disney stepped in when he heard about the offers and according to Casselotti said, “I’m sorry, but that voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.” He did, however, send her out on promotional appearance for the film over the years.

Animated Anatomy. When Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became a huge hit, the Warner Brothers animators pleaded with Leon Schlesinger to let them work on an animated feature. “I need an animated feature like I need two assholes,” replied Schlesinger according to two different reliable sources.

Sea Sick. Warner Brothers producer Leon Schlesinger made so much money from the animated theatrical shorts that he bought a yacht from actor Richard Arlen. Schlesinger appropriately christened the ship the “Merry Melody”. When Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and others who worked at the studio asked when Schlesinger was going to invite them for a cruise, Schlesinger firmly replied, “I don’t want any poor people on my boat!”

Lusty Peasant Humor. In 1987, animator Shamus Culhane stated, “I have called the gags in the Fleischer cartoons ‘lusty peasant humor’ and I stick by that definition. I never said that all of the cartoons were not funny. Just some of them. Mostly when they tried to do something like romantic dialog….I reject the idea that Max (Fleischer) had a great influence on the animation profession. He, and later his staff, had a very personal view of filmmaking. I can find no evidence of any kind of influence on any other studio.”

What’s in a Name? One day animator John Fajnor was visiting John Kricfalusi and began laughing at a name on the mailbox of Kricfalusi’s apartment: Ren Hoek, the apartment manager. The name later was used for the Chihuahua character in The Ren and Stimpy Show. The name Stimpy supposedly came from one of Kricfalusi’s old college roommates whose nickname was Stimpy Kadogan.

The Birth of The Chipmunks. There are lots of “media friendly” short stories about the birth of characters like Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker (who couldn’t have been created on Lantz’s honeymoon trip since the character appeared a year before he was married). In the “Family Weekly” supplement for February 13, 1983, the birth of Alvin the Chipmunk was recounted: “It all began in 1958 when a struggling songwriter named Ross Bagdassarian was fooling around with his new tape recorder. He came up with a distinctive new sound but couldn’t figure out just what to call it. He considered alligators, reindeer, and hippos. Then, while driving, he saw a spunky little creature jump onto the road seemingly daring him to cross. It was a chipmunk.”



  • Apparently,Adrianna got past “Uncle”Walt at least once.She wasn’t credited,but in The Wizard of OzJack Haley’s solo (as The Tin Man) had a line from Shakespeare that lyricist Yip Harburg included “wherefore art thou,Romeo?”that apparently was uttered by Adrianna.

  • Didn’t Magoo mention Rutgers in a cartoon well before Saperstein bought UPA?

    • Yep. In “Hotsy Footsy” (1952) , I believe.

    • I think the first mention of Rutgers goes back to 1950’s “Trouble Indemnity” where an insurance salesman gets Magoo to sign a policy under the falsehood of being in a Rutgers alumni organization, the only video copy I could find online of it is in Brazilian Portuguese but it’s out there.

    • Hi Chris,
      I THINK I have that …recorded from a videodisc.

  • The only problem with the Ross Bagdasarian story (aside from the spelling of his name) is that he had used the technique on two hit records prior to The Chipmunk Song: Witch Doctor and The Bird On My Head.

    And really. Alligators and hippos?

    • …and potato bugs,gophers and butterflies,too,according to Bagdasarian’s son,Ross Jr..He recounts those possibilities along with the “chipmunk in the road”story,(so at least family lore continues)in the liner notes to the Capitol CD Alvin & The Chipmunk’s Greatest Hits.Great package,with early”realistic”artwork and 26 cuts.

  • Oh wow, I’d love that Alvin sliding puzzle! Problem is, I’d want to actually play with it, and show off other possible arrangements of the characters. I think, as long as Theodore is the second or fourth character, it’s possible to get the others in any order. (And the microphone can be over either Simon or Theodore, regardless of the positions of the characters.)

    • Scratch what I said about the microphone; it does have to stay over Simon.

    • Why does the mic have to stay over Simon? I also can’t figure out why the “impossible” pattern is impossible…

    • Please, Geoff–“mike” is the correct spelling, not the lazy and, frankly, nonsensical “mic,” which looks like an Irish slur, and has no precedence older than the year 2000 (thanks, probably, to usage in ROLLING STONE by some illiterate) despite microphones and “mikes” being around for at least eighty years. In order to make “mic” into an adjective, it requires an apostrophe (“mic’d”) which is even uglier than “mic”–otherwise you’re being “miced.” Besides, we don’t spell it “bic,” or “tric,” do we? That would just be depic!

  • Here’s that Peanuts strip:

  • One other problem with the Magoo story–Rutgers isn’t Ivy League. Rutgers is the state university of New Jersey and during the period when Magoo would have attended (presumably the 1920s, based on his wearing that beaver coat) it was unaffiliated with any league or conference. Its principal athletic rivals are, however, the Ivy League schools of Princeton and Columbia.

  • When I first saw the Plague Dogs I was shocked that it had an unhappy ending. The book ends with a happy ending. This, I thought was surely a first, a movie that substitutes a sad ending for a happy one. I recently found out that the first edition of the book ended as the movie did. The happy ending was substituted in later editions. But those editions of the book were out long before the movie and I have to think that the movie would have been better received with the more upbeat ending. For what it’s worth, I prefer the happy ending to the book. It is more in line with the spirit of Watership Down’s ending and the unhappy ending makes the tone of the pretty unrelentingly depressing.

    • Yeah it was pretty low how it went. The US version of the film also makes more edits to the content seen originally when it was first released in the UK (the only uncut version of Plague Dogs I know of was released in Australia 8 years back though the UK probably got it too). I had to pick up one of the original VHS releases from it’s UK release back in the 80’s during my eBay binge.

  • “When Walt Disney’s animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released, actress Adriana Caselotti who voiced the main character was hoping it would be the springboard to a performing career for her. She was offered other work, including an appearance on the Jack Benny radio show, but Walt Disney stepped in when he heard about the offers and according to Casselotti said, “I’m sorry, but that voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.” He did, however, send her out on promotional appearance for the film over the years.”

    He also claimed he “owned” her voice or something.

    Leon apparently did eventually let some of the Looney Tunes crew on his yacht at some point…. but not without leaving them with a bill for the beer and gas.

    • Walt sounds a little creepy in this story. I hope it is false.

  • As far as Magoo and Rutgers—check out “Trouble Indemnity” (1950). A fly-by-night insurance salesman is able to sell our nearsighted friend a BIG bogus policy only after getting Rutgers clothes and accessories out of Magoo’s closet and convincing him he is “Roy Rutgers,insurance salesman”. Rutgers is also featured prominently in “Magoo’s Homecoming” (1959).
    I can’t see how Mr. Saperstein could have decided(“in a flash” or any other way) on Rutgers unless he had input on the 1950 cartoon?

    • There are other cartoons that had Magoo mention Rutgers in some way or another (one I recall had him going to a place to meet an old Rutgers pal of his and recount a former event in his life in “Magoo’s Young Manhood”. I’m sure it was probably already well known by the 60’s that he went there and he (Saperstein) merely wanted to capitalize on it further.

  • There was a Peanuts Sunday page where Snoopy was fantasizing himself as a smiling, chatty supermarket checker. I seem to recall a him greeting a “Mrs. Mendelson” with a cheery “Has your husband found work yet?” I also recall reading that Schulz had Snoopy disguising himself with a huge fake mustache in one of the specials as an inside nod to Bill Melendez, who sported similar facial hair.

    Always wondered if there was some backstage joke behind Spike receiving and wearing Mickey Mouse’s shoes for a long time. It seemed awfully random, even in Spike’s world.

  • As with Caselotti, didn’t Disney exercise the same control over Cliff Edwards?

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