ANIMATION ANECDOTES
October 1, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

In His Own Words: Bob Clampett on Bob McKimson

Bob Clampett – with a Robert McKimson drawing of Bugs Bunny

Suspended Animation #339

Animator and director Bob McKimson was born in 1910 and passed away in 1977. He died from a massive heart attack while eating lunch with his friends Friz Freleng and David DePatie for whom he was working directing Pink Panther shorts among other things. Ironically, just days before the attack, he had visited the doctor for a complete physical and got a clean bill of health.

He was best known for his work on Warner Brothers cartoons where he created Foghorn Leghorn, Tasmanian Devil and Hippety Hopper the kangaroo among others.

He worked as an animator and as a director. His 1942 model sheet for Bugs Bunny (and his promotional drawing of Bugs Bunny leaning against a tree while eating a carrot for a local Los Angeles store) set the design for the character for many years.

His two brothers, Charles and Tom, also worked as animators at Warner Brothers and later as comic book artists for Dell. In 1980 I interviewed Bob Clampett about his memories of the McKimson brothers at Warner Brothers.


Jim Korkis: When did you first meet the McKimson brothers?

Bob Clampett: I was working with Harman and Ising on the Merrie Melodies and we were starting to animate on the third when Hugh Harman came down and personally told us that Bob and Tom would be joining us. Naturally we were curious about what these guys were like, but we never expected what a grand entrance they would make.

The first morning they came in, they marched right in on the dot. They marched right in as if in perfect step, went to their desks, took off their coats, and sat down exactly at eight o’clock and started to work.

This was all very spectacular like a Busby Berkeley routine. They were dressed in polo outfits which were very flashy-type back then and they had the breeches and boots and so forth. They also wore a black camel’s hair coat and I believe a black beret.

So, the first impression we got of the McKimsons were that they were there to work. They weren’t foolish guys like so many of us at the studio at that time.

Warren Foster, Bob McKimson and Edide Selzer

JK: I know several animators were interested in polo.

BC: The McKimsons were excellent polo players. That’s why they were dressed in those polo outfits. I guess they were going to play after work. Walt Disney organized a little Mickey Mouse team and Bob and Tom were prominent members of that team. Bob told me they used to go play polo with the Disney team in a polo field over in the valley that was near the spot where Disney ended up building his Burbank studio.

JK: How did they approach animating?

BC: They had a different way of animating than we had seen before. They were much more organized than most of the guys at the studio. Some of us called them “The Mechanical McKimsons” because they could turn out a tremendous amount of animation very quickly almost as if they had a blueprint in their mind that they were just tracing onto the paper.

This was particularly true of Bob. He would sit down and be able to produce very clean drawings with little if any of the guidelines most of the rest of the artists needed to use.

McKimson, with Dick Bickenbach. (click to enlarge)

JK: Did anything ever slow him down?

BC: Nothing. Bob was very popular with the girls so sometimes he’d be out real late at night. The next morning he would come in right on the dot, but maybe take a quick nap with his head on the desk. When he got up and started to work, it ended up that he would turn out almost twice as much work as anybody else that day.

JK: In what other ways were they different from the typical Warners animator?

BC: Well, they were very well thought of, especially by Hugh and Rudy. They were considered capable and dependable and they never seemed to indulge in some of the foolishness around them. I remember we’d all sometimes crowd into a little projection room to see pencil tests or dailies and people like Paul Smith and I would do these strange sound effects to the film.

We’d add these silly sound effects to the film and just get a great kick out of it. I think that they always felt very much like a wise uncle with children sometimes. They would tolerate the silly things we would do.

Agewise, they were comparable to the rest of the animators. They were in their twenties which was about the age of the rest of us. If there was a man in his mid-thirties he would have been considered an older person in the group.

JK: Were you still animating at this same time?

BC: Bob and Tom were first-rate animators at that time while I was still sort of flubbing along. They were doing big, important jobs on the pictures. You could just look at their drawings and tell they were different. They’d mark “x”s on any area that was supposed to be colored in black and they would use red lines to indicate a grey line and so forth. They did nice things with their drawings that other people never got around to or never thought to do. They were very distinctive.

JK: What type of training did they have before they got to Warner’s?

BC: Well, I’m not sure of all of it. I remember them telling me that their dad had been in the printing business and they may have worked in the printing shop. I think some of that type of training affected their thinking and their organization. For example, Bob and Tom would have little stamps made up and nobody else had this. They had little stamps saying things like “Scene Number” or “Retrace this Drawing” and other things.

JK: Does any particular story about Bob stick out in your mind?

Robert McKimson in 1961

BC: Yes, and this is a spectacular story. I told you that Bob was quite a fellow with the ladies. Well, one night, he was returning from a date in Glendale, and up on Chevy Chase Drive somewhere he crashed his roadster into a tree or a pole. He was really badly hurt and he was out from the studio for a long time.

We would get a daily report on him and post it on the bulletin board. For a while it was really nip and tuck there. Finally, he recovered and came back to the studio and he still had little stitches and so forth. He told me that the hit on his head had changed his mental outlook, and that he could see things in his work much clearer.

He began turning out twice as much animation as before and he was already turning out a tremendous amount of animation before the accident.

JK: What did you think of Bob McKimson’s animation?

BC: I thought he was a marvelous animator. He moved them around well in those days but he didn’t have the warmth or the personality in the characters that you see in the great things he did on Bugs Bunny later. To me, their animation was very distinctive but of course I was there seeing them draw it and it made an impression on me. I think some of the others at the studio may have thought they were a little, well, conservative in their style of drawing.

But even that kind of thinking wouldn’t phase Bob. He wasn’t one to clown around. If he believed in something, he did it and he did it well and just plowed right ahead. I think he was one of the greats of cartoons.

10 Comments

  • McKimson’s father had indeed been “in the printing business” in the sense that he was a newspaper publisher, who owned a succession of small town weeklies in Colorado, Texas and California. Bob and his brothers took a special interest in the comics section and learned early on how a comic strip proceeds from the drawing board to the printed page. Thus they had attained a high level of professionalism even before entering the field of animation.

    In an interview with Michael Barrier, McKimson said that he did the layout and timing for, and therefore essentially directed, about three-fifths of Clampett’s cartoons. No wonder Clampett held him in such esteem.

    It’s too bad that McKimson never received the accolades and recognition later enjoyed by some of his contemporaries. But with his death from a heart attack at age 66, immediately after receiving a clean bill of health from his doctor, his life, like so many of his cartoons, ended on an ironic twist delivered with impeccable timing.

  • Robert McKimson’s reputation as a great draftsman (look at that Bugs model! if only his own Bugs cartoons had followed that design) tends to compensate for the arguable lack of sparkle in his films. At least for a while he tried to retain Daffy’s daffiness in cartoons like “Daffy Duck Hunt” and the unfortunately titled “Boobs in the Woods,” which were hampered by heavy-handed attempts at Clampett-esque zaniness and a disagreeable Porky. But quite frankly I always hated Foghorn Leghorn and that damn baby kangaroo.

    • Honestly, I thought Foggy was one of his best characters. “I’m just a loud mouth schnook.”

    • But you like Taz, right?😁

  • Bob McKimson is one of the most underrated directors in the history of Hollywood cinema.

  • Of the big 3-6 WB directors, Robert McKimson is without a doubt the most underappreciated director, it’s criminal. Sure his cartoons aren’t the most flashy, but they are still just as memorable. He was a guy who did his job (and did it very well), but didn’t have the same flare for the dramatics that Chuck and Friz did. Heck, compared to Chucks cartoons, McKimson preferred his characters to have fully animated movements. None of this “eyebrow” humour.

    It’s a real shame too. Because of his untimely death, he never saw the newfound appreciation towards animation in the 80’s. Chuck and Friz were still around, thus were able to soak up the attention. With Clampett and Avery coming up behind. And Tashlin was more known for his live-action filmography. McKimson just kinda fell by the wayside.

    Yet, you remember his work. Weather as an animator for both Avery and Clampett. Or as a director, making some of the most beloved Bugs Bunny’s, and Foghorn Leghorn’s cartoons.

    And of course, he introduced the world to the Tasmanian Devil.

    • Yeah, McKimson made great cartoons in the 40s, and often experimented with unusual crazy plots, like Rebel Rabbit. I like to praise the genius of Termite Terrace as a whole, rather than just Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett or Mike Maltese.

      • Rebel Rabbit is certainly a standout. It is just different enough from all the other Bugs Bunny shorts out there. Without a doubt, Bugs at his most aggressive.

  • Bob McKimson was by far my favorite Looney Tunes director. His Bugs had a lot more attitude than other directors’ takes. Characters like Foghorn Leghorn, Miss Prissy, Taz, and Sylvester Jr. rank among the studio’s best. I also liked all the one shot villains he pitted Bugs against, as in Hillbilly Hare, A Lad in His Lamp, and Big Top Bunny.

  • Two time greats indeed, both McKimson and Clampett made hilarous characters, in my opinion all the directors deserved equal praise.

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