Bob Clampett directed some of the wackiest and funniest cartoons ever made at Warner Bros. He also created the series Time for Beany, which would later evolve into the cartoon series Beany and Cecil. I spoke to Ruth Clampett about her father and what it was like growing up with one of the greatest directors in animation history. By day, Ruth currently runs Clampett Studios, which publishes fine art and limited editions for Warner Bros featuring Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes, DC, and Harry Potter characters. By night, Ruth is a romantic novelist and has written many books including, Animate Me and Mr. 365.
Ruth Clampett: I think I learned in stages what a unique and extraordinary father I had. I remember things like when we as a family rode in the Santa Claus Lane Parade in Hollywood. Everyone was cheering on either side of the street, and I thought, wow, this isn’t really what my other friends are doing. Every birthday I went to, Dad would decorate a special Beany and Cecil card. In the schoolyard, kids would sing to my brother, sister, and I “A Bob Clampett Cartoon”. I knew our experiences were unique and that we had this really cool dad. But honestly it was in my 20s when he tragically passed away and the Academy did a big tribute to him that I began to fully grasp his place in animation history. Soon after Mom established Bob Clampett Animation Art, and I got involved in running that business for her. So it’s been a build-up over my lifetime and now that I’m researching and writing a book about my dad, I know how incredibly unique he was and how lucky I was to have him as a father.
KS: You were the model for Baby Ruthy on Beany and Cecil.
RC: Yes, I love that; in fact, I have an animation cel in my office of Beany and Baby Ruthy walking down the street. I was a baby during the production period for Beany and Cecil, and there are pictures of my brother Rob and I at the studio. There is one picture of dad at the studio where they presented him with a big birthday cake. I think it was in the ink and paint part of the studio. All of the production team was there and my brother and I are sitting at the table next to the cake.
As for Baby Ruthy, I was too young to do the voices in the cartoon, but he had me giggle, which is in the cartoon. My mom and brother, Rob also did voices in the series. Mom was the co-producer on the television series, and she was very involved in helping write a lot of the songs used in the cartoons. It really was a family affair, and my mom worked with my dad side by side for their entire marriage. Dad also had fun ideas like the time he had the animators in “Dirty Pool” come to our house and sketch it and put it into the cartoon. That cartoon, Dirty Pool, was based on our real-life experience of the swimming pool being built in our backyard. When the construction of the pool was finished, he had an artist paint all the characters in Beany and Cecil around the edges of the pool. Then when they were pouring the cement around the pool, he had Mom, my brother Rob, myself, and himself put our names, hand and footprints into the cement like at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
RC: My dad actually owned it with his mother before he met my mom. And then when he married Mom they settled in and had us kids. We grew up in that neighborhood and it was great because it was full of kids. Then in 1981, when we were all grown, they bought a house right under the Hollywood Sign. My mom had always wanted to move up into the hills. They had a very special marriage and he wanted her to be happy so that’s where they lived until he passed.
KS: I’m curious to know what happened to the pool art.
RC: The amazing thing is that the characters were painted on the cement. It amazes me how many years they lasted because they used animation cel paint, which sticks to anything because it’s like liquid plastic. It lasted for years. As for our Grauman’s theater hand and footprints, when they sold the house they were thinking of pulling the cement squares out and taking it with us. After several decades though, it was just too worn down. It was fabulous when we were young to have such a fun backyard.
RC: It started in the late 70’s when Bugs Bunny Superstar came out. Dad shared a lot of his archives and knowledge in the making of that film, and it was one of the events that started the renewed interest in the classic Looney Tunes cartoon. And things just built from there. The year after Dad died there was a Looney Tunes exhibit and cartoon series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. A few years later Warner Bros. started a catalogue business selling Looney Tunes and DC Comics merchandise, which led to the opening of the Warner Bros. Studio Stores. Meanwhile compilation videos hit the market making the classic cartoon accessible for fans who could now watch the cartoons whenever they wanted.
All of this resulted in a real resurgence of excitement about Looney Tunes’ characters and cartoons. I was in the middle of it with the animation art business when it really exploded and I was sad knowing Dad missed it. He would have loved to see how their cartoons were still relevant and appreciated. Then when Warner Bros decided to open their stores, they had really liked what I had done with Bob Clampett Animation Art, so they offered me the job to be the art director for the gallery. I was there when the stores were being built and was brought into many exciting projects. I was involved in doing several large murals for the flagship store in New York City. It was a great experience for me because I got to work with the other directors like Friz Freleng, as well as other properties like Harry Potter, DC, and Hanna-Barbera for Warner Bros.
Although Dad missed these great Looney Tunes times, he did in his final years have his own moment in the spotlight. My mom in the mid-70’s had the idea for him to do a college lecture tour on his history in the world of animation, and she helped Dad develop it. She had the idea because he loved talking to animation fans and had an incredible memory of his long career. At those lectures he would speak to auditoriums full of fans, show slides of art and photos from the period, and also screen many of his best cartoons. Around the same time he was being invited to comic conventions, and in both series of experiences he got to meet countless cartoon fans, and up-and-coming animators, while often being reunited with co-workers from his past. They even did some museum shows in Europe He loved every minute of those experiences and he and Mom made friends all over the world.
RC: My mom had been looking into it while my dad was still alive. At that point though they just put out Beany and Cecil on VHS and were focused on promotion at the time. So we were devastated when we got the call that Dad passed away while they were on their promo tour.
Mom was always by Dad’s side, and she believed in his gift as an artist and storyteller so much. She was one of the strongest and most admirable women I’ve ever known, so when we went to pick her up at the airport on her return home from the tour she was already thinking about how to keep Dad’s work alive. One of her ideas was to start an animation art business based on dad’s cartoons.
In the early days it was just a very small business and we gave scholarships to animation students. When it started I had a photography studio in their building in Hollywood, so I was there to help her with the editions because I had a design background. She took dad’s original drawings and had their friend Libby Simon teach us the intricacies of cel painting. I got more and more involved because Mom was already very busy managing their business, so I ended up running the art business for her. Bob Clampett Animation Art was set up in the same studio where they made Beany and Cecil. I knew achieving success in the animation market would be tricky because at that time most limited edition cels on the market were signed by the directors. For instance Chuck and Friz signed their cels, and we were offering unsigned cels. So what I did was a little different than the other WB limited editions that were more stylized drawings. I made my Dad’s art exactly the way it looked in the original cartoons. They were very authentic to the frame, and to my surprise and delight, they sold very well.
Part 2 of this interview is posted HERE.