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.