August 15, 2014 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #175


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.

"Giddyap" (1950)

“Giddyap” (1950)

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!”

boop-natwick-1Grim 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.”


  • Those Natwick quotes are really interesting.

  • Just a friendly inquiry, Jim, on an aspect I’ve long wondered about re: Animation Anecdotes. Why don’t you cite all the interviewers and media outlets for most of the quotes you republish in these posts? This entry has, I believe, only one interviewer noted—for a Grim Natwick quote (Father John Murphy). Sources for quotes from Joe Barbera, Ralph Bakshi and others go unmentioned.

    I, for one, would love to know when the quotes are from your own interviews or those of such admired experts as Jerry Beck, Fred Patten and Leonard Maltin and from outlets like ANIMATION Magazine, UPI, VARIETY, the LA TIMES, CINEFANTASTIQUE and NEWSWEEK. And (dreaded self-interest here) I’d also like to know when relevant quotes originated in articles I published in STARLOG and COMICS SCENE from 1982-2009, written by such contributors as Patten, Bob Miller, Michael Mallory, Jami Bernard, the late Kyle Counts, VARIETY’s Brian Lowry, the late David Hutchison, David Smith, Kim “Howard” Johnson and others. This isn’t meant as criticism—I love your Animation Anecdotes—but I do think including all quote sources (writer and outlet) in the future would be a plus.

    • Many of these anecdotes come from when I first started collecting this material in the 1970s and 1980s and I was not savvy enough to document most of the material unfortunately. Sometimes I would rip out a paragraph from the L.A. Times or Herald-Examiner or Glendale News Press. People have sent me material over the years as well and again, I was so fascinated with the facts or quotes that I used in a number of different essays (when I determined they were accurate) I wrote for dozens of magazines that it never occurred to me to cite the source. Today, I have copies of those articles but not the original material.

      Once upon a time, no one was interested in the sources and the books about animation in the 1980s/1990s didn’t cite their sources . It was something that was done by stodgy academics and Michael Barrier. When I have the source, I cite it today. Some quotes especially come from events I attended in Los Angeles and side conversations I had where I quickly scribbled down the quotes or notes but felt I would always remember where and when I heard it.

      I greatly miss STARLOG and COMICS SCENE. You did all of us a great service offering us articles on animation in the days before the internet and I am especially grateful and don’t mean to even unintentionally “borrow” from all of those outstanding writers without giving them credit.

      I think a Bob Miller article appeared in almost every issue. To the best of my knowledge I have not used material from STARLOG and COMICS SCENE this last year because my copies are boxed up in my storage unit and inaccessible. However, a quote or two may have slipped into one of the columns I wrote in the good ol’ days that I have referenced for some of the anecdotes I share today.

      I harvested a lot of the material here from my ten years of doing Animation Anecdotes columns for every issue of Animation Magazine and ASIFA’s INBetweener where I did a “Cel Break” column for years as well as columns for MINDROT/ANIMANIA, and a dozen other magazines I wrote animation columns for like Comics Reader, Comics Journal, Amazing Heroes, Animato. That’s one of the reasons I can do a weekly column with such diversity. I have borrowed from myself.

      I felt people might enjoy seeing some of those anecdotes again from those long out of print magazines. I picked the most interesting with five times that number on the cutting room floor because they just aren’t good enough. When I share new anecdotes I try to include the citation and if a citation existed in any of the earlier columns I include that as well. I appreciate you asking. Jim

  • And note that in citing the one source you did note, I inadvertently got his name wrong. It’s Father Robert Murphy, not Father John Murphy. Sorry.

  • After I moved to my present apartment in January, I found that my closet space was greatly reduced from my previous place. During the past months, I’ve been shifting things around and have placed my old Animation Magazines (including number 1) in a cubby cabinet in easy reach. David’s inquiry nudged me into asking if you’d ever need access to your columns in these issues, just let me know. The copies from 1988 and 1989 are particularly interesting since they show the renewed mainstream interest in animation post-Roger Rabbit and the developing work of early Pixar. In the Summer 1989 issue (Volume 3, Issue 1) your column mentions that Bakshi’s HEAVY TRAFFIC was supposed to be a kind of “rock version of FANTASIA”. I love the cover of that issue with the original top-heavy babe from KNICKKNACK. Either I stored these magazines well or they were published on high quality paper because the colors are still true. They don’t even smell old.

  • I know he was supposed to be the cute little good guy, but frankly, I often thought Jerry was kind of a jerk to Tom.

  • Great stuff, JIm! One little note on Abe Levitow, it was actually his mother that was so grateful to Chuck Jones for hiring him that she baked him a cheesecake every year. Abe wasn’t married until 1949. For a more complete bio of Abe Levitow, check out this post from my blog:

  • Thanks for the detailed reply, Jim. That all makes perfect sense.

    And I certainly didn’t mean to imply (or is it infer?) that pieces published in STARLOG, COMICS SCENE and spinoff magazines were uncredited sources for quotes. Frankly, I would be flattered to have material I midwifed into print (and in some cases wrote myself) get quoted, live again, be resurrected. And I do think (unhumbly) that there are a lot of good stuff hidden in those old magazines o’ mine. However, our titles are long out-of-print, individual articles (and whole issues) are generally not (legally) archived on websites and many back issues are somewhat rare (not helped by a warehouse fire that destroyed about 95% of our backlog). So, to some extent, they have vanished from view.

    Thanks for your kind words about STARLOG and COMICS SCENE. They were the major part of my life for (well) the major part of my life. I miss them, too.

    How pleased I was when I was able to give an animated film or TV series the cover of STARLOG or COMICS SCENE. Because, you see, our publisher (who owned the company) didn’t appreciate animation and used his veto power to, among others, derail planned covers for BEAUTY & THE BEAST (COMICS SCENE) and FINDING NEMO (STARLOG—and a story I personally wrote, too!). Sigh.

    It was great to work with such pros as Bob Miller, the much-missed Hutch and Kyle, Michael, Jami and the others—-as well as folks I didn’t mention earlier (film historians Tom Weaver & Bill Warren, Joe Nazzaro, Darcy Sullivan, Ed Naha, CFQ’s Dan Scapperotti, etc.).
    Enough for several teamsof all-star writers.

    As I said, I love Animation Anecdotes. I hope you’ll continue to do it for a long, long time. And I’ll be reading.

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