Suspended Animation #228
Bill Scott through an interesting series of events found himself assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California in 1942 and was given work in an animation unit.
He began by washing cels, inbetweening, and doing layout work. He was eventually assigned to legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas’ unit, where he learned even more about animation.
After his discharge, he became a storyman at Warner Brothers in 1946, where he worked for about a year. He worked for a variety of studios from Bob Clampett to UPA to Jay Ward.
In the 1970s, Scott became active in ASIFA-Hollywood, the International Animated Film Society’s Hollywood branch, where he served on the Board of Directors and as President. He received an Annie Award in 1977.
Bill Scott passed away on November 29th, 1985 in his sleep at his home in Tujunga, California at the age of 65.
I got a chance to do a lengthy interview with him on September 3, 1982 where we spent hours talking not only about his legendary work with Jay Ward but some other things like his time at Warner Brothers and UPA and those excerpts have appeared previously here at Cartoon Research.
Jim Korkis: I know Jay Ward made a live action pilot.
Bill Scott: It was called The Nut House (1964). It was originally going to be an hour but we wound up with about a half hour as I remember. CBS wanted an all-comedy show that was fast and sharp, similar to the later Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
Jay brought in some of the finest comedy writers like Paul Mazursky (“Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills”) and Allan Burns (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “The Munsters”). Burns was a good writer with a wild sense of humor. We did some song parodies for a Bullwinkle songbook. He’s very good and a pleasure to work with because he’s such a sweet guy.
JK: I had heard that The Nut House was initially conceived as a combination of live action and animation.
BS: There were some animation bits but they had to be kept to a minimum because of budget. We knew if the series sold we wouldn’t be able to produce a lot of animation on a weekly schedule, so we stuck primarily to short jokes and live action. Some were very funny and some were simple shaggy dog stories. We had some fine young talents in the thing like Ron Carey, Jack Sheldon, Alan Sues and Anthony Holland. We had some of the best writers doing all kinds of stuff like this Frankenstein cake that terrorizes the whole world.
Some were little throwaway things like a girl drives up to a gas station and tells the guy to fill up her Volkswagen. He puts in the nozzle and is not paying attention and the gas fills up inside the car. The last thing you see is this girl swimming inside her car.
My favorite sketch was this upper crust English couple playing bridge while all these things happened around them like a murder, a gorilla running through carrying a woman, and Tarzan swinging by on a rope. All these outrageous things happen and they still carry on with their bridge game.
We did a whole number that we ended up not using that was called “It’s Fashionable To Be Fat” with lines like “Today you win your laurels by looking like Oliver Hardy”. We had three very good looking girls singing this number with expanding suits on and as the number went on they got fatter and fatter.
JK: Why didn’t it sell as a series?
BS: The network people just did not buy it. They never told us why. I don’t know if it was because it tested poorly or if they didn’t like the material. I just don’t know. I do know that one of the things that hurt us was we didn’t have a host. We needed a central figure like Steve Allen.
Laugh In had Rowan and Martin as an anchor for all the wackiness. The host of The Nut House was an animated squirrel. He was sort of like the Playboy bunny, a symbol of the show rather than being an active part. We certainly could have changed that if somebody had told us.
JK: What happened after the 1967 George of the Jungle series?
BS: We proposed other projects but they didn’t sell. We had asked the salesmen who were trying to peddle our stuff what they really wanted from us. They wanted a holiday special because those could be run over and over every year. We scripted treatments for a Groundhog’s Day special, a Bullwinkle Valentine’s Day special, one for Millard Fillmore’s Birthday, and a couple of other things.
JK: Then you produced a proposal for another animated series with three segments that didn’t sell.
BS: Yeah, it was another three episodes thing. “Rah Rah Woozy!” which was about this guinea pig in college stories. “Fang the Wonder Dog” with a really dumb dog that was parodying “Lassie” type stories. And “Hawkear” which was a Davy Crockett type of thing. Nobody bought them.
I thought “Fang” was a very good entry. “Rah Rah Woozy!” was a guinea pig and a mouse who escape out of a laboratory and they decide they’re going to be just like college students. So it was a springboard to parody all those college stories they did in the movies like the big football game. Alex Anderson wrote that one and I rewrote it heavily. Then we did the pilot.
“Hawkear” I wish had gone because it was an era and a time that nobody had yet gotten into doing, which was early America. We still had guys running around in continental coats and fur caps with coon tails. It was the Davy Crockett period.
I really wanted a slow, dull looking hero with a kind of Gary Cooper-ish voice that Daws did for us. That slightly stupid voice would have just been hilarious, particularly since his faithful Indian companion was the smart one. It was the Whapaho Indians who couldn’t use any violence because we were already in that time period in animation where that was becoming unacceptable. Hawkear was the type of character who could hear a leaf fall a hundred yards away and tell you what kind it was. “Hmm. That um maple leaf….”
JK: Weren’t the networks interested in any of these concepts?
BS: No. We had more unused pilots than the Czech Air Force. The closest we got was when we did a treatment for a Superbowl Sunday special called “The Stuporbowl”. The network said, “It’s tremendous! Let’s do that!” We went ahead and did the pilot, shot straight off the storyboards. “Animatics” is what it is called.
We heard the network was pretty high on the show until they checked with the NFL. They didn’t think it was so funny. We had satirized the football team owners as a bunch of crooks, varlets and idiots. We even had Marlon Brando’s Godfather as one of the owners. They took umbrage at that and we became less than welcome.