September 27, 2013 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #129

A Good Hobbit Is Hard To Break. The November 1977 Rankin-Bass animated television special based on Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” had animation done by TopCraft (a Japanese company that later re-formed as Studio Ghibli). Writer Romeo Muller won a Peabody for his adaptation. Producer Arthur Rankin Jr. said at the time, “The response to the show speaks for itself. Romeo Muller who adapted the book did a spectacular job, giving us a beginning, a middle and an end and characters you can relate to. I believe we will satisfy even the most avid cultist. Tolkien provided excellent physical descriptions of the hobbits, elves and dragons that people his work and in every instance we have followed his descriptions to the letter….down to the color of a character’s beard or his belt buckle, the size of his sword, even to the laces on his shoes.”

Spider-Man’s Secret Identity. Did you know that in the book “Wired” about the life and death of John Belushi, author Bob Woodward revealed that actress/director Penny Marshall called Jeffrey Katzenberg “Spiderman” because of “his looks, his intensity and efficiency?”

Tom and Jerry Escape. In 1978, one hundred and thrity-seven Tom and Jerry cartoons were liberated from MGM’s vaults and were released to local television stations. Why weren’t they released earlier? “Management has always said, ‘Stay away from those; they’re classics’,” explained Ed Montanus, Senior Vice President of MGM-TV, “but financial considerations have a tendency to overcome emotional considerations.” As to the complaints of violence in the cartoons, Montanus responded, “I grew up with Tom and Jerry. I don’t think I’m demented. My kids aren’t demented. I think if we lose our sense of humor, we’ve had it.”

He-Man’s Secret Origin. Arthur Nadel, at one time Executive Vice President of Filmation, revealed the secret story behind their popular He-Man character. “The He-Man toys existed but there was no story about who He-Man was,” claimed Nadel. “We created the story that He-Man was a child of an American woman astronaut and a king who lived on another planet. She landed there, met the king, fell in love and was married. Prince Adam was their child.” (Remind me sometime to tell you the story of the live action game show pilot filmed at Filmation called “Origins” that dealt with the origin of words and phrases and used animation because I was a participant on that pilot and won. However, since the show never sold I never received my $10,000 just AFTRA scale. While I have copies of my appearances on game shows “The Gong Show”, “The Dating Game”, “Family Feud” and “Camoflague”, since the pilot never aired I do not have a copy of “Origins”.)

Tarzoon. In 1976, the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs brought a plagiarism suit against the animated French feature, “Tarzoon, Shame of the Jungle” (1975). A fifteen minute “pilot” had been shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974. Boris Szulzinger, co-director and head of Valisa Films, stated that “We say that our production is an original work in which there are elements of parody and that we did not use the Tarzan myth to make our animated film. Picha’s creations (Picha was a Belgian cartoonist and also the co-director/scenarist for the film) are sufficiently rich to prove that he has no need to steal other people’s ideas.” A French court did indeed determine it was a legitmate parody. In 1978, the film was imported into the United States by International Harmony and Stuart S. Shapiro and released with an “X” rating. After little success in theaters, it was re-edited to an “R” version with new dubbing from performers like Bill Murray, John Belushi, Christopher Guest and Johnny Weismuller Jr. in the lead role.

Terry Gilliam. In the mid 1970s animator Terry Gilliam explained how he developed his unique approach to animation. “I think one guy influenced me without knowing it was what’s-his-name? Is it Stan Brackage or Vanderbeak? I saw this one terrible underground cartoon he made. This was fifteen years ago. It was terrible. He was using all these bits of newspapers and clippings and cutouts, and there was this thing with Nixon talking a foot came out of his mouth, or he started eating his own foot or something. He put his foot in his mouth, anyway. I remember the fact that is was cut outs using just ‘found’ things and making it move. I think when I actually started doing some animation, that was the first thing I went to because I remembered it. It was great to work that way. You don’t have to do all that terrible Disney cel nonsense. I don’t like animation. It’s incredibly boring and tedious and anything I can do to short cut it is fine.”

Happy Apple. Frank Nissen, the director of animation for Nelvana’s “A Cosmic Christmas” (1977) stated in 1979, “Animators have a sense of whimsy. They can play with reality. They can make an apple falling out of a tree into an angry apple or a happy apple. They can make a dragon friendly or horrible. An animator can deal with things that go beyond reality, but it comes from observing life, and knowing how people express certain things—what they do when they’re sad, when they’re surprised and happy. Animators have to do their homework if they’re going to bring eloquence to their work. You may want to make a happy teacup dancing. You have to know dancing, happiness….and teacups.”

Where’s Flash Gordon? Between the 1930s Buster Crabbe serials (not-to-mention a short lived German TV show in the 1950s) and being revived by Filmation in 1979, Flash Gordon has been hard to find beyond his long-running comic strip. He appeared in one made-for-television animated hour, an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie The Man Who Hated Laughter (1972) which featured a plethora of King Features’ characters including Popeye and Flash Gordon. In fact, this was the first time that characters like Steve Canyon, The Phantom, Tim Tyler and Flash appeared in animation. Bob McFadden was the voice of all the male characters except Popeye and Wimpy (done by Jack Mercer). There was also a surrogate animated Flash Gordon in Tommytoons’ The Final Frontier (1975) that seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. Of course, in Yellow Submarine, when Ringo and Fred pass through a hall of heroes, one of those heroes is Flash Gordon done in the style of the legendary artist, Al Williamson.


  • Are you sure that the Japanese animation studio TopCraft was later reformed as Studio Ghibli? The way I heard it was that when Miyazaki and his “Nausicaa” comic-book (in “Animage” magazine) publisher, Tokuma, decided to make it into an animated feature, Miyazaki put together a one-shot studio that included a lot of animators technically employed by Top Craft which was not doing any production at the moment — in fact, it was going out of business. When “Nausicaa” was a bigger success than was expected, Miyazaki persuaded Tokuma Publishing to set up a new permanent studio. That was Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki & Takahata did hire many (or most, or all) of the animators from TopCraft who had worked on “Nausicaa”. But it was a brand-new studio, not technically connected to the older TopCraft.

    • That is interesting and something to ponder of that point in time (the name “TopCraft” still gets mention in Nausicaa’s end credits anyway, perhaps it was a gesture to the employees they were using on the film).

  • Regarding The Man Who Hated Laughter, Bob McFadden was not the only other male voice actor besides Jack Mercer. Dayton Allan, Len Maxwell and Frank Buxton are also doing voices.

  • well there’s NOTHING better to jumpstart our weekend than an x-rated toon. What a RIOT! Thank u!!!

    • Well, we needed it (plus ones from the 70’s have that camp value for added pleasure).

  • Corrine Orr voiced Swee’pea, Mama Katzenjammer, Dale Arden & Lois Flagston.

  • The original Tom and Jerry shorts (and some Droopys?) had a network Saturday morning show, which may be another reason for holding them out of local syndication for so long.

    It felt old-fashioned even then. The opening was a montage of clips set to a lavish full-orchestra theme. It sounded like a Scott Bradley score but wasn’t familiar from any short; if it was original some money was spent. The only new animation seemed to be Jerry standing next to a typewriter where he had typed “Tom and Jerry” several times — no other title card for the show itself. Not even a voiceover.

    Quite a contrast to the other theatrical short shows (Warner, Terrytoon. Lantz, Paramount/Harvey and DePatie-Freleng) that emphatically branded themselves with made-for-TV openings, insistently perky title songs (“Pink Panther. Rinky-Dink Panther . . .”) , and often uniform title cards on the shorts themselves.

    Also seem to recall there were SUNDAY morning network cartoons for a while. Not on a level with Saturday; just a handful of second-string items. I think Tom and Jerry ended up among them.

    • It felt old-fashioned even then. The opening was a montage of clips set to a lavish full-orchestra theme. It sounded like a Scott Bradley score but wasn’t familiar from any short; if it was original some money was spent. The only new animation seemed to be Jerry standing next to a typewriter where he had typed “Tom and Jerry” several times — no other title card for the show itself. Not even a voiceover.

      There were several other wraparound segments seen during the program. All these were produced by Tom Ray (the music is supposedly by Eugene Poddany).

      Speaking of intros, here’s how Tom & Jerry appeared in a couple other countries.

    • Did the cartoons themselves have their full theatrical titles or a TV title card, ala “The Bugs Bunny Show”?

    • CS: Thanks for finding those and making me feel senile. I somehow remembered the closing credit as being the opening and I don’t remember those generic title cards at all. That ghost mouse gag seemed familiar.

      I certainly don’t remember those breaks in the middle of cartoons. And that’s the sort of provocation a toon-watching kid would never forget.

    • Here’s another opening, and the one I remember. When these cartoons went into syndication, the station that ran these things locally used this opening every day. Don’t know if all the 1960s network openings and interstitials were included in the syndication package, or just this one.

      And for those who haven’t seen it yet, the John Wilson Orchestra performs what might be described as a “Tom and Jerry Suite.” From the 2014 BBC Proms. It’s a lot of fun.

    • Here’s another opening, and the one I remember. When these cartoons went into syndication, the station that ran these things locally used this opening every day. Don’t know if all the 1960s network openings and interstitials were included in the syndication package, or just this one.

      New York’s WPIX used this opening for their syndie airings in the 1980’s. Perhaps this was something MGM made available to stations who didn’t want to come up with their own intros instead.

      Apparently there were 8 openings altogether according to someone on YouTube.

  • The (CBS) T&J show i have a (very) vivid memory of, including when it moved, indeed, to Sunday mornings (9am central). The (instrumental) “theme song” always fascinated me, in that it was full orchestra but (like you said) never “stolen” from any particular T&J film, but was totally in that style. A great and grand memory!!

  • And, interestingly enough, opening “b” always commenced with clips of “Johann Mouse”, which was NEVER in that CBS package.

  • I have to say, that King Features TV special was rather decent. It wasn’t great, but at least it was alot better than Filmation’s infamous Looney Tunes cross-over that aired on the same ABC series.

  • There was also a short-lived RADIO version of “Flash Gordon”. It was transcribed, pressed (by RCA Victor) onto sixteen-inch discs, and syndicated to local stations–some of which may also have run “The American Weekly Program” (which was usually on the other side of the disc!)

    After twenty-six weeks (six months), “Flash Gordon” was replaced by “Jungle Jim”, which ran for around eight years, and went through two or three different studios for pressing.

    All of the above-mentioned programs were produced under the auspices of the Hearst company. The comics-derived shows credited their appearance in “Puck, The Comic Weekly” (the Sunday comics supplement found in Hearst newspapers), and both “Flash Gordon” and “Jungle Jim” used the “storm” sequence from Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” as opening and closing music.

  • This article is the first mention that I have seen in years about the 1975 film ” The Final Frontier”. I remember seeing pictures in old magazines about it , but never had the opportunity to see it. It looks really cool, like an angular Sleeping Beauty style Flash Gordon type character, and a “Night on Bald Mountain” looking demon alien. I never saw it, and have no idea if it is well animated or not… but the stills made it look great. I hope it resurfaces sometime.

  • Thanks for posting this. I remember seeing the The Man Who Hated Laughter as a kid but haven’t seen it since though.

    I remember thinking it was cool seeing all these comic strip characters cross over in the same film (Even if I didn’t know who all of them where at the time). Another thing I remember was how funny it was hearing Olive Oyle singing song about how great she looks in a bikini. Decades later when I got the Complete Popeye DVD collections , I would see a classic cartoon where Olive would sing another song entitled “Why Am I So Beautiful?”

    It made me laugh out loud and I thought it must have influenced that writers of that Saturday morning special that I saw as a kid.

  • Jim, this is a totally unrelated question, but Jerry Beck said you might know the answer, and asked me to post it here:

    In 1984, when PSA took over sponsorship of the Circle-Vision theater at Disneyland, Disney made a preshow film called “All Because Man Wanted to Fly”, starring Orville from The Rescuers. But even though Jim Jordan was still alive at the time, he’s clearly not who’s doing Orville’s voice here. To me, it sounds like Frank Welker. Can you possibly confirm if it’s indeed Welker?

    If it is indeed Frank Welker doing Orville here, I have another question: Was this Welker’s first voiceover job for Disney? Though he would go on to do a lot of work for them, at the time the only Disney roles he’d had were onscreen appearances in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t over a decade earlier.

    • Oh, I forgot to point out that there’s a video link if you click on the title. I didn’t realize there’s not a color difference.

      Just in case, here’s the link again:

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