May 13, 2016 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #262

Searching for Sylvester. As difficult as it is to find some animated gems, it is almost impossible to find animated commercials and not just because of their short shelf life. Many animated commercials were simply thrown away after their initial run because neither ad agencies nor advertisers wanted to invest into having an archives. Years ago, I personally helped 7-UP to locate some Fresh Up Freddie commercials from the 1950s since they had no copies and no idea how to locate any.

In 1982, during a period when Warner Brothers’ Sylvester the Cat was a spokes-cat for 9-Lives cat food, there were also animated commercials. The first three spots (in which legendary animator and historian Mark Kausler did two or three scenes) were only shown in limited test market areas of the country and then revised extensively (taking out a lot of Mark’s animation!). So as difficult as it is to find copies of those commercials, it is pretty much impossible to find the original unedited versions.

PBDCHJO EC004Bob Godfrey on Chuck Jones. In 1990 BAFTA held some Master Classes with animators like Peter Lord, Brian Cosgrove, Greg Boulton and others including Bob Godfrey. Here are some excerpts of what Godfrey shared with the small group of students: “If you’ve ever met Chuck Jones, as I have, you can see he is a rabbit. Big feet and his mannerisms. He is Bugs Bunny. I’m reading his book now and it’s a little disappointing. You get the feeling that it may have been ghost written.

“Speaking as an animator, I would have liked more of a breakdown of how one of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons were made. The scripts in the book are good but only illustrated with stills, no storyboards. I’m still waiting for the one great book on animation that goes from first script to the finished film.”

Scott Shaw! On Cartoons. “I worked on a program called Popeye and Son. We had to show Popeye doing the dishes.”

popeye-son“I only have my own experience to compare it to but when I was a kid seeing a character jump off the roof, or seeing Popeye punch Bluto and he’d go through three walls or something — maybe I was an especially intelligent kid but I never went out and tried to do any of those things or thought that it applied to real life. I’d just think ‘Gee, this is a great cartoon’,” said Scott Shaw! to the L.A. Times in June 17, 1990.

“All of us in my generation are kind of like time bombs in the business, ticking away, waiting to unleash something of quality. I try to work on shows where there is at least the possibility of skewing some of the story lines and some of the performances so that adults could sit down and watch and not be bored out of their skulls or offended at the treacly sentimentality. I know a lot of adults who watch cartoons in the morning when they’re getting ready instead of the Today show.”

mel-shaw-black-cauldron.-tinyjpgWisdom of Mel Shaw. In New West magazine December 1978, Mel Shaw, who started in animation when he was sixteen years old in 1932, was working on the story for Disney’s The Black Cauldron. When asked about what Disney was like at the time, Shaw said, “The old joke around here is that there used to be 2,000 artists and 50 bookkeepers and now there’s 50 artists and 2,000 bookeepers and not one of those bookkeepers can draw.”

Get the Lead Out. In August 1998, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC), Pyramid Accessories Inc., of New York, N.Y., recalled about 3,700 of Mulan backpacks and about 1,800 units of Mulan rolling luggage. The backpacks’ and rolling luggage’s artwork contained paint with high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by children.

Two styles of the backpacks were involved in the recall, each bearing artwork depicting the Disney character Mulan. One style had a fan-shaped, exterior envelope that partially covers Mulan’s face. The other had a rectangular, exterior envelope below a standing character. The backpacks were sold in two colors: pink and purple. The rolling luggage was pink, about 18 inches long and had the standing image of Mulan.

Retail stores nationwide sold these items from June 1998 through July 1998. The backpacks sold for about $12 and $14, and the luggage sold for about $25 to $30.


The Birth of the Halloween Tree. An incident in 1966 while talking with animator and director Chuck Jones inspired acclaimed author Ray Bradbury to write a script for an animated cartoon that Jones was going to direct. When the project fell through, Bradbury rewrote it in 1972 as a novella entitled The Halloween Tree (that was later animated by Hanna-Barbera in 1993 as a ninety minute television special for which Bradbury won an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program – a clip is embed below).

2010-10-17-halloweentreeIn October 1993, Bradbury told the whole story: “Run back with me to the day after Halloween 1966. While sharing drinks with Chuck Jones, creator of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, he described an amazing encounter from the night before.

‘Some kids rang my bell,’ Chuck said, ‘and when I opened the door they cried ‘Trick or Treat!’ I yelled back, ‘Trick!’ which stunned and surprised them. So one little boy ran out on the lawn and stood on his head! In the old days, if I hadn’t handed out treats, they would have soaped my windows or firecrackered my mailbox. I stared at all these kids, dressed up as witches, mummies, and ghosts and asked them why they dressed that way. No one knew. They had no roots in the past!’

“I countered with my own tale. “Every Halloween for years,’ I said, “I go visit my father’s grave. Friends protest, ‘Don’t you have any respect for the dead?’ To which I reply, ‘It’s because I do respect the dead that I go.’ That’s what Halloween is, but we have forgotten.

‘Shucks,’ said Chuck, ‘why don’t we make a cartoon to teach people why they wear bones and sneeze mummy dust?’

“We did.”

A longer limited-edition “author’s preferred text” of the novel, compiled and edited by Donn Albright, was published in 2005. This edition also included both the 1967 and 1992 screenplays and a joint interview with Bradbury and Chuck Jones discussing that original screenplay. On October 31, 2007, Bradbury attended the presentation of a Halloween Tree at Disneyland in California, that is now included as part of its annual park-wide Halloween decorations every year.


  • Oh gawd Popeye & Son was considered (in my and almost everyone else’s opinion) on of the worst of the entire Popeye franchise! As I posted earlier Popeye had a outfit that it was stolen from Bob Hope’s leisure wardrobe closet, Olive Oyl now wears a jogging suit,running shoes and a perm (almost like Olive’s unnamed sister in the Popeye comic strip and books), Bluto now sports a pinstripe business suit wears eyeglass and his hair is slicked back, he also married a woman that looks almost like Drill Sargent Blast from Private Olive Oyl and has a tough looking ruffian of a son named Tank sporting a Punk Rock look including a Mohawk hair style.

    What I don’t get is why did they replace Swee’Pea and Popeye’s nephews (Pipeye, Poopeye, Pipeye & Peepeye) for a “son” who (in my opinion) doesn’t have the right to be part of the Popeye Universe. Also since Maurice LeMarche replaced Jack Mercer (the longtime voice of Popeye) after he passed away didn’t fell in favor with the Popeye purist thus Popeye & Son was cancelled after one season.

    PS Popeye and Son was the second foray having a long standing popular cartoon character going through the trials and tribulations of fatherhood. The first one was of course the disastrous Pink Panther &’Sons. Followed by the Captain Caveman (from Captain Caveman & The Teen Angels and the Superman parody Captain Caveman on The Flintstones Comedy Show with Wilma Flintstone & Betty Rubble working as reporters at The Daily Granite) and Son segments on The Flintstone Kids and the more popular Droopy and Dripple (who is the son of Droopy) segments on The Tom & Jerry Kids Show.

    • The 1980’s certainly saw a trend of either classic cartoon characters being rendered as babies or kids, to also sticking them in parental roles. I barely saw Popeye & Son myself (a local CBS affiliate apparently saw no need to air it and stuck in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in place when it aired). I just remember Popeye’s kid being bratty and actually hates spinach (He would always yell “Yuck!” just after scarfing a can down when he had to use it). Recall a lot of 80’s California speak in this as well.

    • I believe that was all done to Muppet Babies. It was a big hit and then ‘kid’ version or ‘sons’ became all the rage. They even did a James Bond Jr (I think it was the real James’ nephew or something)!?

    • It was also Hanna-Barbera’s second foray into Popeye, the first with Jack Mercer himself. Still not worth my time. Arf-Arf!

  • Seconded on Popeye & Son. One of Hanna-Barbera’s worst shows. Elsie Segar must have been turning in his grave over it.

    • It was so bad that it made the 1960’s KFS syndicated version of Popeye watchable even with Bluto’s doppelgänger Brutus, Olive Oyl looking like a “Frankensteinish Nightmare” with the head from the Famous Studios version of Olive and the Segar Classic body of Olive and Swee’Pea talking like a smart mouth brat (at least they KFS brought back the classic Swee’Pea instead of that Famous Studios nightmare in pink!)

    • For Wikipedia’s Popeye and Sons entry, I edited in the info that any of Hanna-Barbera’s Popeyes are unaninmously considered the worst (even, as BIGG3469 said, that it clearly made the 1960s ones watchable, actually to me, they reminded me of how watchable they were as I never so lowly regarded the KFS early 1960s ones the way others did.)

      BTW Ever eaten at a Popeye’s chicken lately?:) I did, at Las Vegas! Delish.

  • Why couldn’t the son’ve been Swee’pea? He was his son. What does that say to adopted kids?

    • Really, that’s al they would have to do, if not call him Swee’Pea, the kid could get renamed just like Blondie’s Alexander.

    • That’s what inquiring minds want to know!

  • Somebody working on the Black Cauldron sure wanted to be Mike Ploog. Check out his Ringwraith designs for Bakshi’s LOTR.

  • Recall “The Halloween Tree” (the Hanna-Barbera special) also received a nice LaserDisc release that featured audio commentary by Bradbury himself. Unfortunately the current DVD offered by Warner Archives lacks this bonus.

  • Hi Jim,
    The Nine Lives Dry Cat Food spots with Sylvester were directed by Duane Crowther at Duck Soup Produckions in Santa Monica. Corny Cole did layouts and model sheets for them and sometimes Toby Bluth painted the backgrounds. Bob Carlson did some of the animation and Amby Paliwoda also worked on them. It was a chance to do some funny animation on Sylvester and the bulldog. I didn’t know that the spots were re-worked and my animation was changed, but I’m not surprised. I’ll never forget how happy Duane was to be directing some Warner style cartoon animation.

    • Hey Mark!
      Thank you SO much for commenting and adding all that additional information about the spots. As you well know, very little if any of this stuff was ever documented. You have had such a rich and varied career that you keep popping up in these anecdotes. I wish you would write a book or several books. Thanks also for recently sharing with me information about Back to Neverland and Jerry Rees.that will be appearing here shortly. Additional thanks from all the animation historians and writers you have helped over the decades with getting the accurate information they needed and could find no where else. You have certainly never hesitated to help me and it is much appreciated. You have always been such a talented and nice guy that you have been an inspiration to me.

  • “Are you getting more cat food lately… but enjoying it less?”

  • I could be wrong but I believe Sylvester took over Nine Lives because the Morris the cat had died.

  • So many TV commercials were lost to time, not only animated ones, and I guess I understand the reason–no one expected this video age when we’d want to compile anything that we remember, even though so many of us complained when it came time for advertising, but in some cases, the advertising world was on its own drug and some of the strangest ads came out during the 1960’s and, as far as I know, none of the ones I recall had been saved. I’m so glad that some thought it wise to save some remnant of all the Jay Ward ads. Those are among my favorites. Someday, maybe someone will write a book on the strangest commercials and who directed them, because I remember some images that left me wondering how they were achieved, and we all know of situations where now great directors began their careers by making some of the most twisted advertising you will ever see. I dimly recall, too, the SYLVESTER ads taking over for the deceased first Morris the Cat. I didn’t know Mark Kausler animated on those. I wonder why Pussyfoot wasn’t used, too.

    • There are animated commercials I remember as a kid and, even in this era of internet video, have never seen since. One was for a hair tonic called Hair Arranger, with a sexy blonde (I think she was blonde…) who would coo to her prospective lovers, “Hey there, stranger, use Hair Arranger!’ (The bottle and the box it came in were labeled with the huge letters HA…maybe it only ran in the midwest?) Another was for Brillo and featured a little granny-type lady named “Prudence Potts the Pan Inspector.” And another was for Winston cigarettes, with “personified” matches in a matchbook vying to light up a Winston.

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