I was often confused by claims that he took too much personal credit for things because everytime I interviewed him, he always effusively gave credit to others and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone, including those who criticized him. However, most of the old timers I interviewed often had trouble with nomenclature, chronology or only knew of their contributions to a project.
After Robert McKimson passed away on September 29, 1977, I visited Bob Clampett at his studio to talk about McKimson so that I could write a tribute to the animator and director. In those days, almost no information existed about McKimson and very little about the people involved with animation at all.
I have already shared that discussion I had with Clampett earlier at this link.
One of the things I quickly learned about Bob Clampett was that he was as invested in my writing as I was and wanted me to have accurate information. So, if something occurred to him even days after an interview, he would contact me. In the days before the internet, the only communication I had with some animation legends was by phone calls or written correspondence (either typed or written out in cursive – something most people don’t do these days).
Concerning McKimson, here is the letter I received from Bob Clampett dated March 28th, 1978 to provide me with further insight to include in my piece. I never got around to incorporating it because I already had more than I needed and only limited space. Recently, I re-discovered this gem and felt Cartoon Research readers might enjoy it as much as I did when I first received it nearly two decades ago:
Bob McKimson joined us at the Harman-Ising Studio in time to help animate the third Merrie Melodie ever made, You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’.This was in the first part of 1931. You might want to correct the records including Bob’s recent obit which says “Starting his career in 1932 as an animator for Leon Schlesinger”. And, of course, that is wrong, too, since Bob had already worked a short time for Walt Disney and on the “Goofy Goat” cartoon made by Zane Grey’s son, Romer. (Note: Actually the 1931 Goofy Goat Antics was directed by Ted Eshbaugh, Clampett must have been referring to Grey’s “Binko The Bear” in Hot-Toe Molly).
McKimson and I had our desks in the same room. A short time later we had an illustrious room mate – Jack Zander. (Note: The official list of animators working for Romer included Preston Blair, Pete Burness, Ken Harris, Jack Zander, Bob McKimson, Tom McKimson, Cal Dalton, Bob Stokes, Al Gordon, Paul Allen, Stanley Overton, Lou Zukovsky, Volney White, Andy Partridge, Frank Powers, Bob Simonds, Bruce Smiley and Riley Thompson but no indication that Clampett worked there.)
I will never forget the spectacular entrances that Bob and Tom McKimson used to make, marching in in perfect step – dressed in their matching polo outfits complete with long black polo coats and berets. They would hang up their coats, turn on their desk lights and then Bob would put his head down on the glass and nap until noon. You might wonder why this was allowed. Well, you see, our boss Rudy Ising did the same thing, and was famous for the red peg-hole imprints on his forehead as we left for lunch.
And, then a most unbelievably “fortunate unfortunate” thing happened (yes, “fortunate unfortunate”). In the wee hours of the morning, Bob totaled his car in a crash that almost ended his life. We put up daily bulletins detailing his progress during the crisis and recovery period, and then after what seemed like an eternity McKimson returned to his desk at the Studio.
But, he was a changed man. He no longer slept all morning. And the konk on his noggin caused startling changes. He could now turn out twice as much animation with the greatest of ease. It was as if he now had a computer installed in his head. And I’ve watched him do something that I have only seen one other cartoonist capable of doing.
He could make a final detailed drawing of a character without first sketching in a single rough guide line. It was as if he was tracing an invisible drawing starting at the top and on down to the bottom with great precision. The other cartoonist, I have watched do this was the creator of Jiggs and Maggie, George McManus.
During those Golden Years that Bob McKimson animated for me on the Bugs Bunny, Porky, Daffy and Tweety cartoons that I directed, he was a great pleasure. I would always earmark the most difficult under-played acting scenes of Bugs Bunny for him. And when I gave him his scenes I never felt it necessary to make as many layout sketches and action roughs as I made for the other animators. I would mainly stand up and act out each action for him (each little facial expression, finger action, etc.) as he stared intently at me.
Sometimes he would ask me to go through it two or three more times and then he would go to his board and return with a fully animated set of drawings so exact to what I hoped to see that you would swear he had in some way photographed them in his head and miraculously Xeroxed them on to the sheets.
I always felt that Bob was too great an animator to leave animation – even for direction. But, direct he did and he always spoke proudly to me of his having first introduced Speedy Gonzales to the screen, and the Tasmanian Devil and, of course, Foghorn Leghorn – which he told me he had patterned after a voice that he had first heard of local radio called “Dynamite Gus” which the same actor Kenny Delmar later performed on network radio as Senator Claghorn.
I have always felt that Bob McKimson has never received the applause he deserved. We should join in standing and applauding Bob McKimson.