Jakob Gimpel and Tom and Jerry. Interviewed in 1990, animation legend Joe Barbera said that when it came to the Tom and Jerry short cartoons, “I love ‘Cat Concerto’ (1947) at Carnegie Hall. The other one I love is ‘Johann Mouse’ (1953) where he lives in Johann Strauss’ House. We used Jakob Gimpel and he’s a first class concert pianist. He did all the playing and loved it. He came down there and played all that Strauss music.” Both cartoons won the Academy Award.
The Birth of Tom and Jerry. In 1990, Joe Barbera shared how little faith people had in the early Tom and Jerry cartoons. Barbera said, “Everybody said it was stupid because cats and mice had been done. You had Felix the Cat and Terrytoons had four million cats and mice shooting each other with machine guns all the time.
“So we did the cat and mouse and it was nominated for an Academy Award. People said, ‘Come on. How many of those can you do?’ The M.G.M.’s brain guy said stop making any more of those cat and mouse cartoons. What happens? A letter came in from a woman named Bessa Short. She was the head of a big Texas movie chain. She said, ‘When are we going to see any more of the delightful cat and mouse cartoons?’
“So we started making them again. We made nothing but Tom and Jerry for twenty years and won seven Oscars.”
Green Hornet. In 1990, the property that Joe Barbera had been pursuing for four years for animation was The Green Hornet. “We want to bring that character back as a major motion picture,” stated Barbera.The Animated Hoofer. Animation legend Art Babbitt studied dancer Fred Astaire’s routines in the film Flying Down to Rio (1933) while he was drawing the horse in the UPA short Giddyap (1950). A broken down iceman’s horse does a complicated dance combination down a street, banging out a staccato rhythm on a manhole cover, tapping up and down steps and finally sliding to a halt.
Disney Dancers. Three stars of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo worked with the Disney animators on the “Dance of the Hours” sequence for Fantasia (1940): Irina Baronova (who posed for the ostriches), Tatiana Riabouchinska (the hippos) and David Lichine (the alligators).
“We were in Los Angeles in the middle of our season,” recalled Baronova in a 1981 interview. “And we got to know Walt Disney because he came to many of our performances. One day, he told me he was doing this film and asked if I would pose for pictures. So I went down to the studio and put on the costume they had—a black tutu with feathers here and there and a big bow in my hair—and did various steps for them, pausing at key points.
“I was very impressed with how observant the artists were. They brought out funny aspects of our movements and mannerisms through exaggerations—rather like a fine caricature. When I see those ostriches today, I can still recognize certain small things that I do. I remember laughing a great deal when I first saw the film, and I still laugh today.”
“It was great fun,” agreed Riabouchinska, “to do a step or a pose and see how they could turn it into a cartoon. I didn’t mind being turned into a hippo at all. In those days, I was so skinny my mother had to dress me in two pairs of tights.”
Riabouchinska and Lichine returned to Disney to work on a sequence in Make Mine Music (1946) where footage of them dancing in silhouette was combined with rotoscoping for the “Two Silhouettes” sequence. The couple was also at Warner Brothers in 1941 filming ballets. Animation director Chuck Jones used those films for reference when sixteen years later he worked on What’s Opera, Doc? (1957).
Call Me Moose. Why was Abe Levitow’s nickname “Moose”? It started at Warner Brothers where Levitow used to draw caricatures of himself as a moose with a very big nose and antlers according to his daughter Judy. “He sent my mom Mother’s Day cars and Valentine’s cards with himself as a giant awkward moose and my mom as a dainty damsel. It really fit him. He was tall, gentle, shy and funny.” Levitow’s wife was so grateful for Chuck Jones bringing her husband into animation in 1940 that she baked Jones one her European cheesecakes every Christmas for as long as she lived.
Animated Fantasies. In a September 1982, animator and director Ralph Bakshi stated, “People who go to animated features, I would suspect, get into their childhood fantasies. The animation medium as I do it disrupts the child-like vision of what animation should do. People tend to overreact to it. Had ‘Heavy Traffic’ been done live, I don’t think it would have gotten the backlash that it did. I suspect it’s the power of the medium. I never intended to disturb anyone’s childhood fantasies!”
Grim Natwick Talks Betty Boop. In 1990, animation legend Grim Natwick talked about Betty Boop: “Well, the average person thinks she is sexy. I suppose that is because I had drawn several thousand nude women, illustrated a few books and brought that background to the drawing of Betty Boop. Now, Betty, if you analyze her is not a well-drawn character. She doesn’t have a chin. She has lips right at the bottom of her head, which was cute but why that should make her sexy, I don’t know. The success of Betty Boop kept the studio going for ten years.”
Natwick Liked Tytla. In a 1990 interview with Father Robert Murphy, animation legend Grim Natwick talked about another animation legend, Bill Tytla. He said, “I very much liked Bill Tytla. He often would lay out the song sheets, make one-inch sketches above every word with the expression that he wanted a particular character to have during every song. I copied that from him. It was a good idea, because you forget from one day to the next.
“Bill would really work over his characters until he got just what he wanted, and when the five o’clock bell ran at the Disney studios, the waste baskets were half full of drawings. All of the young animators would dive for Bill’s waste basket, empty it out on the floor and fight for the drawings that they wanted. Nobody ever dived into my waste basket.”