Snagglepuss Is Straight. One of the things guaranteed to irritate animation producer Joe Barbera was when some of the younger staff at the studio would tease him in later years that Snagglepuss must be gay.
“He was modeled after Bert Lahr!” Barbera would roar. “He was anything BUT gay. He beat his wife.” Jokingly, Barbera would indicate something horrible to anyone who suggested the pink mountain lion was not straight.
Snagglepuss’ frequent exclamation, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” was first uttered by Bert Lahr in the movie Meet the People (1944).
Snagglepuss was advertising Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies on television at the same time his “voice inspiration” Lahr was pitching for Frito’s Corn Chips. In 1963, Lahr sued for $500,000 (against Kellogg’s, Screen Gems and Hanna-Barbera), claiming that audiences would be confused and think that he was recommending the cereal.
The result was that the Snagglepuss commercials featured the on screen credit “Snagglepuss voice by Daws Butler”, the first and perhaps last time a voice artist was credited on screen for a commercial. By the way, Lahr had been suing companies since 1958 claiming that various commercials were doing imitations of his voice.
Mrs. Sullivan’s Cat. Who created Felix the Cat? Well, until 1932, everyone in the world thought it was Marjorie Sullivan, the wife of cartoonist Pat Sullivan.
When Felix started being syndicated as a comic strip by King Features, the company produced the following press release: “Pat Sullivan, creator of Felix the Cat… was a lucky gentleman who preferred a blonde…and married her. But the plot thickens! She was a girl who loved black cats! Contrast for her blonde beauty? Maybe! Anyhow Mrs. Pat gets all the credit for Felix the Cat. This tale of a cat which has no end is just like the story books. They lived happily ever after.”
In a visit to Australia in 1925, Pat Sullivan told The Argus newspaper that “the idea was given to me by the sight of a cat which my wife brought to the studio one day.”
Just like the tale of Mickey Mouse, there were many variations on the story in the early years from Mrs. Sullivan adopting a black stray cat to just being a cat person. However, with her death in 1932, her involvement with the origin of Felix the Cat was dropped completely from any future re-tellings.
In 1967, at the Cinematheque Quebecoise Retrospective of Animation Cinema, for the first time animation legend Otto Messmer was credited with the creation of Felix the Cat.
Supporting that claim were fellow honorees Dave Fleischer, Paul Terry, Walter Lantz, Ub Iwerks and John R. Bray, a pretty prestigious bunch of animators who worked in the earliest days of animation. Staffers at the Sullivan studio like Al Eugster and Hal Walker (Messmer’s assistant) also supported the contention that Messmer created Felix.
Animation historian John Canemaker followed up on the claim that Messmer was the creator of Felix (with a documentary film and a book) and concluded the Felix would not have been born without Messmer but would not have received the recognition and success without Pat Sullivan.
In 2005, a museum in New South Wales, Australia made a very public attempt to “reclaim Felix the Cat” as the creation of Pat Sullivan with Messmer as just a “hired hand”, one of several artists Sullivan employed to work on the character.
Brad Bird and Curious George. In November 1999, director Brad Bird was at Universal Pictures working on a feature film version of the popular children’s story “Curious George” which was to be done in a combination of live action and CGI animation. “There was a great script done by Brad Bird before he got a call from Pixar and had this amazing opportunity to direct his story of The Incredibles,” said producer David Kirschner. Bird had pitched the idea of The Incredibles to his friend John Lasseter in March 2000. It was based on a concept he began developing in 1993.
Other writers had struggled with the “Curious George” screenplay over the years including William Goldman (The Princess Bride), Pat Proft (Police Academy), Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (A League of Their Own), Joe Stillman (the first two Shrek features) and Daniel Gerson and Rob Baird (Monsters Inc.).
The Hanna Barbera Drop. It wasn’t just the Disney Studio where animators did pranks. In the early 1980s, there was a tradition at Hanna-Barbera called “The Drop”. The animators worked on the second floor and directly below were the cel painters who were not allowed to talk or make noise because it would distract from the work that needed to be done.
Whenever animator Tony Rivera would randomly sneeze, it would trigger the rest of the animators to do “The Drop”. It would start with pencils being dropped on the floor, perhaps followed by a coffee mug or two. It would escalate to larger objects including a metal sign and animators picking up an animation desk and dropping it to the floor.
The laugher stopped when they heard footsteps. The head of ink and paint was a woman with no sense of humor at all and she would walk sternly up to the second floor and glare at the animators while asking what was going on. She was greeted by looks of innocence, blank stares and puzzled denials.
The Moving Michael. Animation Producer Joe Barbera had an autographed poster of performer Michael Jackson on the wall of his office. As Jackson got into more and more trouble, the poster slowly migrated from being prominently displayed to further away from the entrance and eventually disappeared.
The Sleeping Beauty Fairies. Live-action film reference for the three fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather in the Disney animated feature Sleeping Beauty was made to help lead animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.
That footage featured top film character actresses like Spring Byington (perhaps best known for the December Bride television series in the 1950s), Madge Blake (who played Aunt Harriet in the Batman TV series) and Frances Bavier (who was Mayberry’s Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show) among others.
Amelia’s Cord. Legendary animator Ed Benedict purchased the 1936 Cord Sportsman Convertible Coupe previously owned by famed aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart shortly after her disappearance in 1937. The only change he made was to paint the roadster black. At the time, Benedict was animating at Universal Studio on Walter Lantz’s Oswald Rabbit cartoons.