The Secret Origin of John Lasseter, Animator! “When I was a freshman in high school, our library had a copy of the Bob Thomas book, ‘The Art of Animation’, the one about ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I got that and I read it,” animator and director John Lasseter told writer Harry McCracken in 1990. “I can tell you exactly when I realized that I wanted to be an animator. It was at a screening of ‘The Sword in the Stone’ (1963) at the local theater. I don’t know if in your town there’s a theater that, if a movie is playing there, you know that’s it; after it plays there, the movie’s gone. It was the end of the release. Forty-nine cents. It was the Wardman Theater in Whittier. So I saw ‘Sword in the Stone’, got out, my mom picked me up and I said, ‘I want to work for Disney. I want to be an animator.’ And luckily, my mother was an art teacher at a high school for thirty-eight years, and she was always supportive of being an artist as a profession.”
Cutting Corners. Animator Pete Alvarado shared a great story with Disney Legend Floyd Norman. While working at Warner Brothers, studio boss Leon Schlesinger called one of his many “cost consciousness” meetings. “Boys and girls,” said the thrifty businessman, “we gotta start cutting corners”. So, all the artists began clipping corners off their animation paper. Some even went so far as to saw off the edges of their drawing boards.
Gulliver’s Travels Premiere. The premiere of the Flesicher animated feature “Gulliver’s Travels” (1939) was held in Miami, Florida on Monday, December 18, 1939. Some officials from Paramount were there along with Florida politicians and some minor entertainment celebrities. The film debuted at two theaters: the Sheridan and the Colony. A special unit of police held crowds behind rope barricades. According to Fleischer expert G. Michael Dobbs, “overhead floated a balloon with the theaters’ names and banners reading ‘Gulliver’s Travels. World Premiere’. Max Fleischer showed up in a tuxedo.” Gulliver himself showed up, not the voice actor but an unidentified man nearly seven feet tall dressed in a Gulliver costume.
Felix the Cat’s First Interview. In May 1926, Felix the Cat supposedly gave his first interview to writer Edwin Gallinagh for the magazine “Paris and Hollywood”. Felix was asked to what he attributed his great success. “Hard work, simple living, and Pat Sullivan, my director. He makes one live his parts. I am sure that I could never continue my screen work so successfully under any other director. My one ambition is to give the screen my own interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. My life is my work. I intend doing bigger and better things,” the feline said. Of course, there was no mention of Otto Messmer, who many believe was the true father of Felix, despite complaints from Sullivan’s family.
Movies That Never Were. In 1992, animator Chuck Jones was working with director Joe “Gremlins” Dante on adapting Jones’ book “Chuck Amuck” into a live action feature film about life at Warners Termite Terrace.
Naming Feivel. Animators working on animated feature sequel, the first film produced by Amblimation, “An American Tail: Feivel Goes West” (1991) submitted several alternate titles for the film including: “A Fistful of Mice”, “Little Mouse on the Prairie” and “Feivel Get You Six”. At one time Feivel was the mascot for Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation animation studio before it shut down in 1997. “Feivel Goes West” was released ten days after Disney released “Beauty and the Beast”. “Forming Amblimation,” Spielberg once said, “was like the Americans and the Russians competing to get the rocket scientists out of Berlin after World War II.”
Where’s the Sugar? One of the most successful animated series of the 1960s was “The Archies”. In 1969, at the height of the cartoon show’s popularity, the “Archie” comic book title alone sold over a million copies a month while many other best selling comic books were only selling about 300,000 copies. Part of the reason for this popularity was the idea to market the Archie characters as a “Monkees”-style singing group. Don Kirschner, the man behind the Monkees’ song hits, was brought in to supervise the music. The Archies’ biggest hit was their second single “Sugar Sugar” (1969) which was a song that the Monkees supposedly had turned down recording in 1967.
What’s In A Name? Peter Noone was a member of the popular British singing group Herman’s Hermits. The producer of the group thought the band would do well in America because Noone resembled John F. Kennedy. However, the other members of the band thought Noone looked more like Sherman, the boy sidekick of Mr. Peabody the dog from “The Bullwinkle Show”. Somehow the name got jumbled from Sherman to Herman and a record success was born.
What’s In A Name? In the Disney live action film “Spaced Invaders” (1990), the little girl tries to hide the true identity of the Martians by telling an adult that their names are Clutch, Spinner and Paddlefoot, the names of the three main characters on the syndicated “Clutch Cargo” cartoon show from 1959.
I’ll Write the Book for Half That Amount. Kitty Kelly, renowned for her unauthorized biographies of Frank Sinatra and Nancy Reagan told a reporter in April 1991 that “Hell, for a million bucks, I’d write about Donald Duck.”
Bloogle and Vroop. The Fox live action television series “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” (1990) utilized sound effects from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon library. Many of the sound engineers who worked on the show came from a background in animation and were familiar with sound cues like bloogle, whistle splat and vroop.
Coal Black Research. “I worked on ‘Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs’ and I think it was one of the best things I ever worked on. I worked mostly on the Prince,” recalled animator Virgil Ross in an interview with John Province in 1990. “Bob (Clampett) took us into downtown Los Angeles, into the nightclub section, to watch the latest dances and pick up some atmosphere. Some of it was pretty funny stuff that we actually used in the picture: real tall guys dancing with real short little women, and they’d swing their legs right over the tops of their heads!”
The Archies song SUGAR SUGAR, according to Billboard magazine, was the top selling single for 1969.
Love or hate Archie Comics, you have to admit that for a small publisher to still be around over 70 years later, and somehow manage to keep themselves in the public consciousness (in both positive and negative ways) is quite an achievement in today’s world. Radio shows, TV, pop music, super hero comics, a gay character, the “Married Life” series, 1000 page digests and zombie comics, they are always willing to try something new to get people’s attention.
It’s even more surprising since Archie is really the only “teenage life” comic series to really become a multimillion dollar franchise. Not modern teen comics, but the golden age sort which were huge in the 40s and 50s. Archie somehow rose above the glut of Georgies and Margies that flooded comic shelves, competing series which are largely forgotten today.
I remembering hearing a lot about the future of Archie comics while listening to a Minnesota NPR program a few years back when the creation of the homosexual character generated a mild and brief amount of buzz when it happened and discussing how the series previously tied the same things earlier like introducing the Muslim(?) character who eventually faded into the background over the years. It was interesting to hear how the comic staff worked hard to keep some relevancy in the comic without changing the entire series dynamic or tone. It was also pretty refreshing in how unpretentious they were over the series, the spokesperson audibly laughing when he referred to the “Archie mythos”
Wasn’t Sugar Sugar the last song to be completely recorded on vacuum tube equipment?
“So I saw ‘Sword in the Stone’, got out, my mom picked me up and I said, ‘I want to work for Disney. I want to be an animator.’ And luckily, my mother was an art teacher at a high school for thirty-eight years, and she was always supportive of being an artist as a profession.”
Unlike mine who merely took a few art courses at an art museum.
I remember that “Art of Animation” book, too. It was focused on “Sleeping Beauty”, or seemed to be because I was just old enough to be intrigued by Princess Aurora. Ah, those pre-Internet and pre-VCR days, when the best you could do was keep re-checking-out old art books from the library and hoarding any magazine articles you could find.
Did that ALL THE TIME!
I can’t be the only one glad the Dante CHUCK AMUCK movie never happened.
Well, he would’ve done a better job than that one guy who did a poorly done adaption of the controversal John Beliushi biography, “Wired”.
I.for one, think that a Termite Terrace movie would have been cool.
When I was nine my parents took me to a Disney traveling museum exhibit “The Art of Animation,” and bought me the Bob Thomas book that accompanied the show. I read it a thousand times, still have it, and for a while I did home-made animation. Came down to L.A. and had a long career as a film editor, and knowing a lot about Disney cartoons was a big factor in my success.
Early example of “twerking” by So-White at 1:54?
The Wardman was where I saw “The Sword in the Stone.” Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same effect on me that it had on Lassiter …
“Feivel Get You Six”? I had a belly laugh at that one!
Makes “Feivel Goes West” seem rather bland though it gets the point across I suppose.
The man who portrayed Gulliver at the Miami premieres may have been the 8-foot-tall Dave Ballard, seen on this webpage in a 1939 photo with Jessica Dragonette:
The Sheridan Theatre can be seen in a slideshow on this webpage (“Image #32”):
It apparently had a curved screen which gave an early panoramic effect.
Here’s the Colony Theatre:
I still have my copy of “The Art of Animation.” It’s somewhat worn and tattered, but it’s a treasure. And, it’s signed by Walt Disney.
I bought the Hanna-Barbera CD box set years ago, and when I got to the sound effects I couldn’t imagine what a “bilp” was. So I played it, and sure enough, it goes “bilp!”