For The Love Of Cartoon Animation
September 30, 2019 posted by Gene Deitch

Bob & Ray, Bert & Harry… and Grim Natwick

Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding (aka Bob & Ray). These two guys gave my early career the greatest boost by taking on the voices of Bert & Harry Piel. The writing by Ed Graham was superb, and maybe the commercials could have gotten by without our animation, but not without Bob & Ray. They nailed it.

The Piels Beer commercials we did put us at UPA/NY on the map. Of course we got plenty of help and leeway from the Cunningham & Walsh agency and their art director Jack Sidebotham. (He was so inspired by the success of the series that he later took off for Africa and became a Christian evangelist. Really!)

Viewers in the New York area watched the commercials as entertainment, but did not drink the beer, which was blah. That was the irony. Our commercials were so popular that the Piels Beer company finally ordered them taken off the air, and replaced them with live action commercials; the standard poop of happy people drinking Piels beer at parties. Really!

In revenge the public bought even less Piels beer, and the company shortly went out of business. Really! Look it up!

So apparently our Bert & Harry commercials did in fact come across to viewers as parodies, and the obviously unplanned, twisted effect, was that they actually succeeded in destroying the miserable beer they were supposed to be selling!! Is that a success story, or what? Isn’t it amazing what we all got away with?

And isn’t it amazing that both the Cunningham & Walsh ad agency and the Piel’s Beer company goofed it with the casting of Bob & Ray in the first place. The duo’s entire shtick was satire and send up! I can’t imagine a client going along with such a suicidal self-destruct today; maybe only only if the product was so good that they could afford to kid themselves.

One thing we didn’t get away with was a gaff we hadn’t noticed. In the original Agency scripts the characters were “Harry & Bert.” A woman viewer wrote a scathing letter to the Piel’s Beer company, castigating them in a fierce diatribe for their “Nazi” advertising campaign about “Aryan Bert!” The company went ballistic, and were demanding we immediately cancel the series, until we saved the situation and our hides, at least temporarily, by simply reversing the order of the names to “Bert & Harry.”

Grim Natwick was my principal animator on our Bert & Harry beer commercials. Along with the marvelous voice acting of Bob Elliot & Ray Goulding, it was Grim’s animation that gave life and charm to those characters.

Grim was a rare animation master who didn’t think it necessary to blow his own horn; a true native of Wisconsin! Stupidly, I had never even heard of him when he was assigned to our fledgling squad at UPA New York. In 1951. At first glance I thought that Steve Bosustow was sending him to us as a way of putting the old guy out to pasture! I only gradually discovered that Grim, (and what a stern nickname for the creator of Betty Boop! His real name was Myron, but no one called him that.) He was truly one of the greatest classic animators of all time! In the early Walt Disney studio of the 1930s he was just about the only animator with formal art schooling. He became the principal animator of the Snow White character, the first animation of a human figure that conveyed charm, and life. It was a monumental achievement!

As a person, I labeled Grim “taciturn,” supposedly typical of Wisconsin folk. It was hard to get him to say much, but when he did say something, it was often surprising. Once he told me that during the 1930s, he wasn’t even aware that there was a Depression going on! He was working at Disney’s, he told me, making $150 a week, a really high salary at the time. It was only when he visited his family that he heard from them about the Hard Times. He was a guy sealed in a cocoon of his work!!

At a happy reunion of some of our UPA New York stars, Grim and the others signed a napkin for me with my caricature drawn by Cliff Roberts. That was the last time I saw him, but he was unforgettable.

15 Comments

  • Piels Bros. ceased being an independent company in 1963; it was the victim of large national brewers taking over its turf, and as you say, the taste didn’t help matters. For a while, F & M Schaefer brewed it, something of an irony, since Schaefer was a keen arch-rival in New York City. The brand still exists, having gone through a number of owners and a brief “death” a few years ago.

    Bob and Ray, around this time, also had issues with CBS, which suspected (rightly) that they were the target of some of Bob and Ray’s barbs. It is amazing how well their stuff — including the beer ads! — holds up, which is something of a tribute to the folks who made the ads. I always liked the one where they extol the virtues of the beer, while in the dark.

    • “You’re pouring it down my sleeve, Harry!”

  • I might add that the photo of Bob and Ray is from their short-lived stint hosting a panel quiz for ABC called The Name’s The Same.

  • I’m old enough to remember the Bert & Harry commercials (great) and Piels beer (awful). I’m also old enough to remember when Bob & Ray had a radio show on WOR in New York.

  • Imagine a campaign like that today. No way would cartoon beer spokes characters fly in this day and age. Very entertaining, though.

    • Or, even more so, the cartoon animals that were used, such as the bear for Hamm’s, or this commercial, for Schmidt’s of Philadelphia:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA17cxsWz5o

    • This was a golden age I wish never ended.

    • Very well said, Tony. But even as late as late 80s, one of the decade’
      s FEW characters that this non-drinker enjoyed, Spuds MacKenzie! (I still evenm have a stuffed dog of him. Target would later use that bull terrier breed for their dog mascot, Bullseye.)

      Ed Graham would later with Linus the Lionhearted and company go from commercial to show (Mark Kausler covered this several times.)

  • First I want to thank Mr Deitch for sharing his memories with us. Good stuff.

    I do have to say though that maybe it’s me but at least watching the commercials in the YT video supplied, I’m not seeing those commercials as parodies of the beer. It’s also my understanding the Bert and Harry campaign ran for like 5 years. Doesn’t sound like it was treated like a brand killing campaign. They’re kidding each other, shooting out lights and so forth but I can’t catch the satire against the product that led to it’s “destruction”.

    An example of the live action commercial that replaced it was this one featuring Jimmy Breslin where he even refers to Bert and Harry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2X-VL69ctg0

  • Two radio guys. No visuals needed. A mike,some writers(this stuff wasn’t improvised. Fun fact that many probably know-Bob married their staff writer Ray Knight’s widow, just months after Knight’s death and Bob’s divorce from his first wife) the occasional sound effect and music sting and hilarity enthused. Yet, they did lots of TV,the occasional film appearance.these ads,Broadway,late night TV guest shots and a great one shot of the original SNL Not Ready For Prime-Time Women special,where they were the only males onscreen. Loved ’em. Thanks to Larry Josephson,there is a bunch of Bob & Ray saved because there will never be another Bob & Ray. Especially in this age of a President unable to read,let alone create a declarative sentence,spell properly and speak while his dentures loosen up and destroy brain cells,Bob & Ray are needed more than ever. Remember the groundhog meat recall.

    • “Bob and Ray: Keener Than Most Persons” by David Pollock is as close to a biography of them as one can ask. No sketch material in the book just lots of interviews with family and associates. Ray Goulding Jr told me that Mr. Pollock spent an entire day at Liz Goulding’s home in Hyannis and him and his brothers were there to help out as well. Yes the jabs at CBS are hilarious and can be heard in the Bob and Ray CBS 1959-1960 section at archives.org. Write if you get work….
      https://archive.org/details/BobRay–bobRayPresentTheCbsRadioNetwork1959-60

  • Piels Beer was also associated with another radio favorite of mine – the early, WOR/Mutual version of “It Pays To Be Ignorant.”

    This was back in the early 40s.

  • I recall the Bert and Harry characters surviving, at least on billboards, until the Piels rebranding as “Piels Real Draft,” which was around 1965-66.

  • Great article, and so nice to see the picture of Grim Natwick circa 1951! I never knew he animated these famous television commercials (and many more I suppose!). Twenty-two years after this photo was taken, I would meet Grim Natwick in London, England as he swept into Richard Williams’ Studio to became a welcome fixture for six months. So in the supplied photo, Grim Natwick was 61 years old. I had the honour of having a desk right outside his office in the latter half of 1973, so I saw and heard a lot of Grim, and learned so much from him. He tutored me on a little film I did there and he was very encouraging and protective. Grim was very tall and lanky, and extremely fit. He would bound up the three stories of Williams’ Georgian mansion studio effortlessly. Seeing the photo here makes me realize how much I miss him.

  • Hey, Gene,
    Since you’ve been kind enough to follow comments and answer them, I’d like to ask a few things:
    Can I assume the UPA crew also did the Mister Magoo commercials for Stag and Rheingold beers (along with GE and other sponsors)? The GE spots would have been on the “Mister Magoo Show,” but since the two beer brands were in different regions, I would guess they aired on local stations? I’d think Magoo might be the only “established” character to have been shilling alcohol, as one of the few “adult human” cartoons of the 50s.
    And if by chance you might guess which studios did other animated beer commercials, that’d be great. I’m especially thinking of the Naragansett and Jax spots done with Mike Nichols & Elaine May, in a very clear imitation of the Bob & Ray spots.

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