Seeger’s Koko the Clown. “Out of the inkwell, comes Koko the Clown. He’s so gay and he’s so jolly. He will make you laugh, by golly” went the theme song for Hal Seeger’s version of Koko the Clown. As animator Myron Waldman remembered in 1994, “Hal (Seeger) wanted to produce a new series based on the Fleischer Brothers Classic series ‘Out of the Inkwell’. I did a layout for the pilot episode so he could get backers. One of the changes we made in the series was that I updated Koko’s look and since we couldn’t use Betty Boop and others, we created new characters like the female Koketee and Koko-nut, his dog. We completed over one hundred episodes (in color in 1960-61 with the voice of actor Larry Storch).
“A lot of the work was done from my home studio and the finished work was sent back to Manhattan. I had come full circle. I had done animation on the last Inkwell cartoon produced at Fleischer and now thirty years later, I was directing one of my favorite characters and one of the major influences that pushed me into animation.”
Seven of Them! In 1994 at an art gallery signing, Disney Legend Frank Thomas remembered working on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) wasn’t always a “happy” experience. “In the beginning, we would walk down the hallways shaking our heads, muttering ‘Seven of them!’ This was the first time we’d ever had to delineate seven distinct individuals at one time,” said Thomas.
“If you had to do even a simple thing like backing the dwarfs up, you had to do each one differently. Now how many ways are there of backing up? You do the first four, and do them great, then you get to Sneezy and you’ve run out of ideas. It got to be a problem.”
The Birth of Filmation. Why did producer Lou Scheimer create Filmation Studios in 1962? According to Scheimer in a 1995 interview, “I didn’t want to find out who was going to fire me next. I figured if I was going to lose another job, it would have to be me firing myself.”
Fat Albert. In 1971, Filmation and comedian Bill Cosby were represented by the same agent which is how they got together in developing a Saturday Morning animated televsion series. “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” ran for twelve (not continuous) years, receiving several Emmy nominations and the prestigious Peabody Award. The character of “Fat” Albert Jackson was voiced by Bill Cosby and is based on Cosby’s childhood friend Albert Robertson. The show was first offered to NBC but was turned down for being too educational.
As producer Lou Scheimer remembered, “Fat Albert was the best show I ever worked on. I’m not talking technically. I’m talking about the quality and depth, and what it did for kids.
“And it was a job getting something like that sold. Bill and I went to CBS with ‘Fat Albert’ but they wanted him to do an evening variety show instead (“The New Bill Cosby Show”). That show only lasted one season. Bill was a terrific guy to work with. As far as content, Fat Albert was my favorite show. It was something worthwhile and appropriate for kids. You can keep it commercial and worthwhile at the same time. That’s the reason for doing an animated series and it’s terrific.”
Bugs’ Buddy, Harry Truman. Bugs Hardaway, who inspired the name of Bugs Bunny and worked on early Woody Woodpecker cartoons, was a veteran of World War I. His unit was the infamous “Wild Irish” Battery D and his military commander was Harry Truman. By the 1940s, Truman became Vice President of the United States but whenever he came to Los Angeles to view a shipyard or some other function, he got together with the “Battery D Boys” including Hardaway for an evening of poker and bourbon.
As animator Milt Schaffer recalled, “I’ll never forget the day we sat in our little story room and it comes over the radio that Roosevelt died and Bugs is just sitting there saying ‘Harry’s the President. Harry’s the President’.”
Bully for Eddie. As animation director Chuck Jones remembered, “(Producer Eddie Selzer) came storming into the room where Mike Maltese and I were agonizing over a story idea and yelled, ‘I don’t want any gags about bullfights! They aren’t funny!’ Mike looked at me and I said I never thought bullfights were funny either but since Eddie’s never been right…So out of this came ‘Bully for Bugs’ (1953), one of the best Bugs our unit ever produced.”
The Great Spirit of $17.76 Revolt. Animation legend Bill Melendez loved working at the Disney Studio. As he recalled, “I loved working there and I was very thankful for what I learned. My happiest moments in animation were those first years at Disney. Everything was so stimulating and exciting. It was like, golly, what a way to earn a living!”
However, when he started there in 1938, he earned about $16 a week. Eventually, his pay, like many others, increased to $18. However, with deductions, the take-home amount was only $17.76.
“We were working in what was called The Annex, a big room full of in-betweeners,” remembered Melendez. “We were all fairly new apprentices. One of the guys, Curtis Barnes, had this great sense of humor, so when he looked at the check, he said, ‘Seventeen seventy-six? Holy cats, we’ve got to do something about this!’
“The guys got some red, white and blue decorations and on the next payday, the room was filled with signs saying ‘The Spirit of ‘76’. When the paymaster came in, he was shocked. He didn’t say a word but went to talk to the powers that be. A day or so later, they pinpointed Barnes and fired him.”
Seaman Hook. Many animation fans know that cartoonist Hank Ketcham worked at the Disney Studio and then went on to create the popular “Dennis the Menace” cartoon panel for newspapers. However, in 1943, he was serving in the Navy in Washington, D.C. and was flown to the Walter Lantz studio in Hollywood for six weeks to supervise the production of a seven minute war bond commercial starring Seaman Hook. It was also a reunion of sorts since Lantz had given Ketcham his first animation job in 1938. Ketcham had done the storyboards for several Hook bond selling films – three more were produced by Warner Bros. in 1945.