December 27, 2013 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #142

Animated Ziggy. Ziggy is the loveable loser lead character in a newspaper comic panel of the same name. “Ziggy” first appeared in small books from the American Greetings Company in 1968. Three years later, June 1971, he was a newspaper strip star. Cartoonist Tom Wilson turned over the strip to his son in 1987 and it continues to appear today.

In 1982, a half hour Christmas animated special, “Ziggy’s Gift” was released featuring the character taking a job as a street Santa to raise money for the poor. Tom Wilson wasn’t interested in getting involved in animation, but ABC ran a popularity contest among 100 cartoon characters and Ziggy came in fifth. He was the only character ranking so high who had not appeared on television.

This special was directed by legendary Richard Williams and featured some animation by Eric Goldberg and Tom Sito. Music was by Harry Nilsson. The show won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. It was the only Ziggy special ever made.

In 1983, Wilson did produce a sampling of ten 30-second spots in which Ziggy (voiced by Will Ryan) could be seen on daily newscasts dealing with things like inflation and the energy crisis. It was not picked up nor was a similar project a few years earlier that would have featured an animated Andy Capp. Wilson was also the head of a creative team that created and developed the Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears characters and licensing.

The Rarely Seen “Uncle Walt”. “Uncle Walt” was the name of an independent animated film made in 1964 by Bob Swarthe who started working on the film while he was in high school and was part of the UCLA Animation Workshop. Swarthe went on to greater success as a professional animator, even being nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “Star Trek – The Motion Picture” (1979).

As the film began, pictures of Walt Disney at various ages were followed by a pan across a graveyard showing the graves of hundreds of Perri’s (Disney produced in 1957 a live action fantasy about the life of squirrels titled “Perri”), then there are scenes with very early-style Mickey and Minnie Mouse with racial caricatures and outhouse gags, a “Fantasia” sequence including the female centaurettes working a red light district with Goofy as a pimp, a scene of frightened little rabbit children looking at scenes from Disney cartoons like the transformation of the queen into the old hag in “Snow White”, and a scene of the Seven Dwarfs gathering to worship Mickey Mouse in a “Mouse-ka-mausoleum” reminiscent of a similar scene in “Snow White”.

nimh-owlThe Carradine Owl. Animator John Pomeroy shared with animation historian and producer John Cawley how actor John Carradine inspired his work on The Great Owl character in the film, The Secret of NIMH (1982).

“Remembering how he walked onto that stage,” recalled Pomeroy, “left the impression on me that gave me the ideas of how to animate this owl. And it was a particular scene where he says, ‘It is night. I have to go.” And he walks out on the limb of the end of the tree, opens his wings, and then lifts himself up into the wind.

“John Carradine was wracked and riddled with arthritis. He could barely walk. He would walk with a limp in a sort of hunchback fashion. And at first, it’s a sad-looking impression that you’re getting. Afterwards, after you put the man together with the physical appearance, suddenly he’s very majestic in some strange, supernatural way. So all of these qualities I wanted to put in this scene.”

How DePatie-Freleng Lost a Job. “(The legendary film director) Billy Wilder called me up and said ‘Could you come over? I have a title I need for a picture (“Kiss Me, Stupid” 1964), and I’d like you to do it as animated title for me’,” animation legend Friz Freleng told historian Jerry Beck in 1989. “So I went over there, and he gave me a script. I came back, and I was reading the script. Meanwhile, all these write-ups came out about ‘The Pink Panther’ (1964). And one of the articles said the title did better than the picture. Billy Wilder calls me up right away and says, ‘Cancel it! I don’t want any title to be better than my picture!’ He cancelled out because of the success of ‘The Pink Panther’.”

A Tale of Two Tails. Rolf Harris, the popular Australian performer and artist was a cartoon buff and hosted a BBC show called ‘Cartoon Time’ that ran classic cartoons and he encouraged his viewers to spot mistakes. “I’ve just been looking through a Tom and Jerry called Muscle Beach Tom (1956) and its amazing what happens to the cat’s tails. They keep vanishing. In some shots they’ve got them… seconds later they’ve disappeared,” stated Harris in 1989.

Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood. In 1982 at the Fantasy Faire in Fullerton, California, Thorton Hee (“T. Hee”) talked about the Disney Oscar nominated short, “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” (1938). “My partner, Ed Penner and I wrote the script and I designed the characters. We had more money and time to make this film (than the Warner Brothers cartoons with celebrity caricatures). The music was better, too, and we had more things to do quality work. It took us about eight weeks to do the storyboard, and eight or nine weeks for the animation. A lot of time and love went into this film. I questioned Walt (Disney) about the characters pictured in the film and how the actors and actresses would react to them. ‘Don’t worry. They’ll like it,’ he said. They did.”

Officially, others were credited with writing including George Stallings, Webb Smith and Isadore Klein and others were credited with animation including Ward Kimball and Grim Natwick. It is a shame that because of some ethnic entertainers in the film that this short has often been severely cut or just not shown. Although, I wonder how many people today who don’t watch TCM would know any of the caricatures.


  • Not the best time to be mentioning Rolf Harris right now.

    • At least he got mentioned at all regardless of current events, but yes, sad how that went down.

    • I had to look up Rolf Harris to find out what you meant…. eesh, it’s Jimmy Saville all over again.

      But on his comments about “Muscle Beach Tom,” he’s right. It’s particularly noticeable during the dance sequence. I wonder if that was rotoscoped.

      I wish the soundtrack for that short had been included on the album of Bradley’s work. I love the music that plays during that sequence and it’s quite different from Bradley’s standard style.

  • Well, it wouldn’t have been that hard for Freleng, Pratt, et. al. to top a ’60s Wilder picture. John Wilson’s trailer for IRMA LA DOUCE was better than the actual film.

    • Kiss Me Stupid became a notorious bomb once the Roman Catholic Church gave it a “Condemmed-Morally Objectionable for All”rating on the Church’s Legion of Decency list,basically telling RC members that it was a sin to see the film.With that kiss of death for Kiss Me Stupid,even distributor United Artists shielded themselves by distributing the film through their art house division.

    • Oh well, at least it wasn’t like DePatie-Freleng lost much there.

  • “In 1983, Wilson did produce a sampling of ten 30-second spots in which Ziggy (voiced by Will Ryan) could be seen on daily newscasts dealing with things like inflation and the energy crisis.”

    I recall seeing one of those spots, the one with the answering machine seashell, appearing as a PSA of sorts (as I think there was narration added to it), while watching TV either in Cleveland or another city out of town in the late 80’s.

  • Now I need to see Uncle Walt, which is apparently virtually impossible. THANKS A LOT!

    • Nice to know the animator behind “Kick Me” had such a twisted mindset!

    • The synopsis is better than “Uncle Walt” the film. It was distributed in 16mm for years to colleges and such by Films Incorporated and/or other educational film organizations. Legend is that Walt Disney wanted to know who made it, so he could legally go after the guilty party. “Uncle Walt” however contains zero titles, main or end, so that proved impossible during Walt’s lifetime. This “Cartoon Research” article is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone credited as its director.

  • That cancelled animated title for the 1964 movie “Kiss Me, Stupid” would never had been seen anyway. The film itself was cancelled during production after it’s star Marlyn Monroe was found dead.

    • I think you’re a little bit off. It doesn’t look to me like the film was cancelled:

      If Marilyn Monroe was indeed meant to star in the film (and she died in 1962), then Wilder obviously recast her part with Kim Novak.

    • I think this is the film you’re thinking of, Duane-’s_Got_to_Give

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