Clarence Nash Is Not Mel Blanc. In 1977 when I talked with him, Clarence Nash was not happy. “Everybody thinks Mel Blanc is Donald Duck! He’s not. I’m Donald Duck. We’ve had some problems with people who say they’re the ‘original donald Duck’ and we’ve even had some problems with them at the Disney Studio in the past. Every once in a while, we hear that I died and we get Christmas cards saying they’re sorry I passed away during the year.” Nash passed away in February 1985. When I was researching my book, “Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South”, I learned that Nash, who was an accomplished bird call imitator, did the bird whistles for Mr. Bluebird on Uncle Remus’ shoulder.
There Is A Difference. When Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, appeared on the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” in 1968, Carson was fascinated that she also did animal voices in cartoons. He asked her, “How would you do a rhinoceros?” Mae responded with a straight face, “Male or female?” Carson was speechless.
Gulliver’s Troubles. Max Flesicher had pitched an animated Popeye feature to Paramount as early as 1935 but Paramount was extremely budget-minded. They decided to test the waters with three two-reel Technicolor Popeye featurettes in1936 (Sindbad the Sailor), 1937 (Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves), and 1939 (Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp). In fact, the first pitch for Fleischer’s “Gulliver’s Travels” (1939) animated feature would have featured Popeye in the lead (and later a live action Bing Crosby taking the role of Gulliver was considered). One of the major challenges with the “Gulliver’s Travels” feature was it was green-lit when the Fleischers were in the process of relocating to Florida and the staff was split between New York and Miami, with the Miami studio being unable to get the necessary help they needed when something like a camera broke down.
The Tolkien Battle. Lawyers representing Saul Zaentz’s Fantasy Films and Tolkien’s estate filed suit to prevent Rankin-Bass’ The Return of the King (1980) from being televised, charging Rankin-Bass with copyright violations.
An angry Ralph Bakshi stated, “They’re (Rankin-Bass) not going to stop us from doing The Lord of the Rings and they won’t stop us from doing The Hobbit. Anyone who saw their version of The Hobbit know it has nothing to do with the quality and style of our feature. My life isn’t going to be altered by what Rankin-Bass choses to do badly.”
Jules Bass replied, “I liked Bakshi’s version. There were some interesting and exciting sequences. But I don’t see any problem or confusion with our doing The Return of the King. There were six versions of “A Christmas Carol’ on the air last December (1979). People take each on its own terms. If Bakshi does a sequel in two or three years, it will just be his version.”
The suit went to court but was settled “amicably” although no specifics were released. Rankin-Bass’ The Return of the King aired May 1980. Orson Bean was the voice of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins with John Huston doing the voice of Gandalf.
Dog Gone. President Franklin Roosevelt had a dog named “Fala” who was a favorite with the American public. Bob Clampett was preparing a cartoon that would feature the popular canine (“For He’s A Jolly Good Fala”) in 1945 when President Roosevelt died and the project was abandoned. Chuck Jones’ cartoon, Fresh Airedale (1945) had to undergo some last minute emergency revisions as well to remodel the dog character to look less like “Fala”.
Chuck Jones on June Foray. In 1995, animation director Chuck Jones told the press, “June Foray is not just a ‘voice’ which so many, many members of the ‘voice-over’ trade proudly and sadly are. June steps into a role with all the devotion of an Olivier or a Helen Hayes. She expends the necessary effort to find out not what character is but “who” she (or he) is… the most demanding of the acting art… the uniqueness of the particular individual.”
Giving Disney the Business. ”We’re businessmen. Walt Disney’s an artist. With us, the idea with shorts is to hit ’em and run. With us, Disney is more of a Rembrandt,” stated Warner Bros. producer Leon Schlessinger in “Time” Magazine dated December 27, 1937.
The Origin of Joe Barbera. Jack Bogle, the artist who ghosted the “Felix the Cat” dailies from 1927-1931, claimed that he gave Joe Barbera his first job as an animator at the Van Bueren Studios at about fifteen dollars a week salary.
What Almost Happened. Animation Legend Joe Barbera’s official studio biography in 1975 had two interesting quotes. Apparently, while working in New York, Barbera wrote a letter to Walt Disney requesting a job. Disney answered, writing he would interview Barbera on his next trip to New York. “He never did,” said Barbera. “And in a way, I’m delighted he didn’t. I probably would have become a devoted member of his staff and still be with Disney Studios today.”
To me, another quote in that same authorized biography was equally interesting about what happened when Barbera was teamed with Bill Hanna at MGM and developed their first short. “We asked ourselves what would be a normal conflict between characters provoking comedy while retaining a basic situation from which we could continue to generate fresh plots and stories. We almost decided on a dog and a fox before we hit on the idea of using a cat and a mouse.” That cat and mouse became Tom and Jerry.
The King Was a Girl. Cammie King’s acting career only spanned four years when she was a child before chicken pox and her mother put an end to her cinematic dreams. She appeared in three films: “Gone With the Wind” (1939) as the ill-fated daughter of Rhett and Scarlett, “Blondie Meets the Boss” (1939) and “Bambi”(1942) as the voice of the doe Faline. Her stepfather was Herbert Kalmus (the co-creator of Technicolor) and her father-in-law from her second marriage (Judd Conlon) was a musical arranger for many Disney films including “Alice in Wonderland” (1951) and “Peter Pan” (1953). She told fans that she “peaked when I was five years old.”