ANIMATION ANECDOTES
October 13, 2016 posted by

In His Own Words: Bob Clampett Talks About Robert McKimson

Clampett-clippingI really liked animation legend Bob Clampett. When I was a wet-behind-the-ears beginning writer about animation, he was remarkably kind, patient and generous with his time and information.

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’.

Robert McKimson

Robert McKimson

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.

32359305_1_xBut, after lunch Bob would go to work and turn out more animation by 5:00 o’clock than the other animators were able to do in a full eight hours.

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.

bugs-mcKSometimes 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.

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13 Comments

  • Great post today, Jim! I’ve always favored the work of Robert McKimson.

    • Me,too. BTW to one of the posters:
      Carl Stralling was NOT a cartoon director!:)

      I noticed Tom Minton was quoted. He worked on Tiny Toons, which used the 1960s/’Jones and Freleng Daffy for Plucky, which we all know McKimson AND Clampett (though by the mid 50s he was already on his own) FAR strayed from in most shorts. (Ironically, though McKimson had the dis-honour if you will, of helming some of the Daffy/SPeedy’s that helped to shape-read: ruin-the duck.)

      McKimson also liked to do unusual animals for characters, like a kangaroo (Hippety Hopper), (Foghorn Leghorn), or a tasmanian devil (an actual Australian anima)(the title characters).

      Then the all-Blanc//McKimson/Pierce/possum tour de farce from 1950-51, “Sleepy time possum”. Now: when’s the last time a posusm had appeared yet (and no, Pogo would not appear as a cartoon animated film until a certain contemporary of McKimson’s cartoon from Valentine’sa day 1969-aka Chuck’s “Pogo’s Vaneltinew’s special..) Since sleeping was a key in both the story and a real life thing a lot, and playing possum for possums (we have them a lot here as I live near the hills of SOuthern Calif.), maybe it just wasn’t meant to be for possum s.(Oh, forgot,m in the 60s Terry’s Possible Possum on Dep’y Dawg).

      He also used unqiue guest voices like Sheldon Leonard for Dodsworth, a lazy fat, scheming, sleazy, cat, twice, an d another time for a bantyy (first of several, the other being an early 60s beatnik one voiced by Mel which was the last in the series, “Batny Raids”.) In this first of the two banty rooster episodes, it’s “Sock-a-Doodle Doo”, and it seems to borrow the very early Columbia Three Stooges short where Curly (in one of several similiar themed 30s 2-reelers) is a boxer.

      Also for Smokey, a Genie in “Lad in his Lamp”,1947, and the very first lines (which Blanc took over right away) of the wolf in 1948’s “Wind-blown hare”(3 pigs), both Bugs fairy tales spoofs, Jim Backus was brought in to do the voice.

      Edgar Bergen’s radio regular Pat Patrick played the screwball crow in 1951’s “Corn Plastered”(a little more on that below.)

      And McKImson had starring, the main cast (minus the likes of Frank Nelson or Sheldon Leonard) of Jack Benny’s radio and TV show with Mel Blanc costarring (the voice of the Maxwell–unfortunately praised and known to some for the lame hippie Scooby Doo ripoff Speed Buggy from 1973), and a la Friz’s Stan Freberg cartoon (also with the 3 Pigs), from 1956, “3 Little Bops”, full voice credit is given! (Mel also plays the off camera cartoon voice of the famed vault keeper, played by Joseph Kearns–the same guy known a litter later on TV as Mr.Wilson on Screen Gems’s beloved Dennis the Menace, though the vault guard only is heard once, so it was easier to have Blanc do that role). This was the mouse Jack Benny cartoon aptly called, “The Mouse that Jack Built”.1958-59. And finally, spoofing the studio’s own movie based on real-life Bonnie and Clyde, Bob McKImson, as final director of the checkered Seven Arts studio, had Pat Woodel of Petticoat Junction as Bunny-Bonnie, get it-opposite Mel Blanc as Claude-Clyde,mget it, for the last original series that warrented at least a second cartoon.

      McKImson also liked certain phrases, like “Ah-ha”, a comic weak laugh from the lisping duo of Sylvester or Daffy, very well dne by Mel Blanc..and a borrow from the radio show of Edgar Bergen-“Bye Yiii”.In fact another odd appearance was from the very comic involved-Ersel Pat Patrick, in 1951′;s “Corn Plastered”, mentioned briefly above.

      And of course, even more than a nyone else in animation till Hanna-Barbera’s early TV shows (the earlier seasons of “The Flintstones”,especially), Mr/McKimson relied heavily on old-time raido comedy evne more,what with Foghorn Leghorn himself, and Beaky Buzzard (created by Clampett), also an homage to Edgar Bergen (the star’s Mortimer Snerd,itself similiar to Disney’s Goofy despite the Goof having appeared first!), and the one McKimson Beaky short, 1949’s “Strife with Father”, having Ronald and (wife) Benita Colman inspired-English Sparrows as step-parents!

      I’d actually go as far as to call McKimson the fifties’s best of Warner Brothers. At a time when the other directtors-Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng-turned ot either forumalaic or one dimensional (IMHO,anyhow!) versions of some of the major stars, and I'[m not a big fan of most of the most praised of these (What’s Opera included), though their battin g average thru the early 60s did include shorts like (Freleng) “From Hare to Heir” and (Jones) “Lickety Splat”, in the meantime, Robert McKimson[s cartoons incloude quite versatile versions of his characters-and let’s not forget in 1946, right after Foghorn, the rooster’s own doggy nemesis like Jones’s Claude Cat, say, became a multi-talented stock player, even turning up in a few Daffy cartoons (“Birth of a Notion”,1947 to cartoons with the Goofy Gophers, Elmer,Daffy,Porky, in 1958).

      In short, McKimson became the surprising underdog high-but not over- but not underachiever either.

    • One minor note to your comment, SCarras: Considering GDX also listed Mel Blanc, I don’t think he was assuming Carl Stalling was an animation director, but just someone who contributed significantly to the success of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series.

    • While I agree that McKimson’s 1950’s shorts were, for the most part, good and decent, I wouldn’t say he was the best director of Warners at the time (I’m a Jones fan myself). And I’m getting pretty darn tired of the egotistical and greedy version of Daffy being labeled off as inferior just because of those later Daffy and Speedy shorts (though, I admit I thought Mckimson himself did the best ones).

    • I’m often in the minority of opinion…I liked all versions of Daffy. Some prefer the maniacal, screwball Daffy from Tex Avery and Bob Clampett and in some of the early Robert McKimson cartoons and those that prefer that version of Daffy will never recognize the Daffy that emerged in the Chuck Jones cartoons. When it comes to Daffy I think the director that gets overlooked is Friz Freleng, ironically enough, because everyone is focused too much on personality and the debate over which is more enjoyable: screwball Daffy or vain Daffy. Friz’s cartoons with Daffy tended to have an equal balance of screwball and vain.

  • Great article, Jim.

    Always good to see a McKimson shout-out. Even if his own cartoons went soft sooner than the others, his many contributions –especially his 40s films – easily put him in the same league as Jones, Freleng, Blanc, Avery, Clampett, Stalling, Tashlin etc.

    That morning nap was a fun tidbit I’d not heard before.

  • I remember how Speedy Gonzalez first looked like in his debut in Cat-Tails for Two. He had a pageboy type hairdo, beady eyes, a buck toothed grin (one of his teeth was gold plated) and wearing a red polo shirt. After Cat-Tails for Two Robert McKimson gave Speedy a total makeover by eliminating the pageboy haircut, the beady eyes, that buck toothed grin and the red polo shirt in favor of a Mexican Peasant costume, and a cowlick do on his head for his second appearance in the self titled cartoon Speedy Gonzalez.

    • I don’t think Robert McKimson was responsible for the re-design of Speedy. In numerous essays and in interviews I’ve read about the Golden Age of Warner Brothers cartoons it’s Friz Freleng and his layout artist, Hawley Pratt, credited with the re-design of Speedy. That doesn’t mean Friz is now considered the character’s creator, though. Robert McKimson will forever hold that distinction. Although a lot of websites proclaim “Cat-Tails for Two” to feature a prototype Speedy the fact remains the character was addressed by name in the cartoon and his mannerisms are introduced in that cartoon as well. I seen one website refer to Friz’s cartoon, “Speedy Gonzales”, as the character’s official debut…but actually it was the debut of the re-designed Speedy given the character itself had already debuted in “Cat-Tails for Two”. After Speedy’s re-design both the Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson units worked on Speedy cartoons and so it wasn’t a situation where Friz had exclusive usage (like Sylvester and Tweety). I think the reputation that’s been created for Robert McKimson (from those that come of age in the years after his 1977 death) handcuffed a lot of his cartoons in the successive decades that have passed…in other words there are people out there who automatically reject a cartoon or have some kind of bias against a cartoon if they see his name listed as director…whether they actually watch the cartoon or not. I’ve seen MANY cartoons and his are just as enjoyable and funny as those from the other directors. I’m always baffled by the mostly negative reactions to McKimson from those that love the Warner Brothers cartoons as much as I do. I think to myself “are they watching the same cartoon as I am?”. I’ll bet that if you were to air Speedy cartoons back to back…leaving off the credits…and ask the viewers which ones they enjoyed the most you’ll get a more honest reply. Why? It’s because there isn’t any influential animators or the director’s name listed on the screen.

  • Bob Mc Kimson also introduced the WB characters Hippety Hopper and Sylvester, Jr. He also stands apart among classic cartoon directors for having laid out, animated and directed an entire theatrical short (“The Hole Idea”) by himself. In the 2016 world of exalted corporate content creation and global branding, few modern individuals can touch what this one man created as a studio employee, doing his job on a daily basis.

  • I thought One More Time was the third Merrie Melodie made. It was the last of the Foxy cartoons.You Don’t Know What You Are Doin introduced Piggy as the replacement for Foxy.

  • Kudos to Tom Minton for mentioning Sylvester Jr., the byplay between him & Sylvester was marvelous. Interesting that Clampett agrees with Jones that his true skill was animation over direction, but such gems as “Gorilla My Dreams ” proves he had the chops!

    • I’ve always thought of it in baseball terms: as an animator, Robert McKimson was like Ruth, Mays, or Cobb, one of the best ever; as a director, he was like Duke Snider, Dave Winfield, or Paul Waner, a deserving Hall-of-Famer but not on the same level as the greatest of the great.

  • I’ve never seen anybody address it, but I’ve always thought that the forgotten gag/gimmick behind the concept of Speedy Gonzales was that he was a FAST MEXICAN. An oxymoron in view of the prevailing caricature/stereotype of Mexicans in cartoons of the time (particularly WB) as slow moving, slow talking, and lethargic. So a FAST Mexican–like Casper being a FRIENDLY ghost, or Loopy De Loop being a GOOD wolf…

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