Kausler's Closet
September 19, 2018 posted by Jerry Beck

NBC’s “American Inventory” (1953) with Grim Natwick, Al Stahl and Don McCormick

This week my rummaging through Mark Kausler’s film closet yielded this find – a rare early 50s TV appearance by Grim Natwick!

Produced by NBC with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, with the intention of being an on-air “adult education” course, NBC’s American Inventory was initially a prime time in-depth look at different aspects of America and world culture. Launched in July 1951, some of the episodes aired short documentaries or broadcast live performances of classic literature pieces. Later in the series, in the fall of 1952, it began airing on Sunday afternoons with a focus toward showing the work of various professions that supposedly made the world a better place. The show remained on the network through 1955. Don Yowp wrote about another episode at his Tralfaz blog here.

This episode was broadcast on Sunday afternoon May 10th, 1953, and its of interest to us because it revolves around how animation is produced and, in particular, features a rare television appearance of three animation professionals we rarely see or hear from. This show was produced in New York, when Grim Natwick was working at UPA-NY along with Don McCormick, also featured here. Grim uses artwork and drawings from UPA’s Spare The Child to illustrate his points. Al Stahl runs animation from The ABC of The Automobile Engine (1948) – which Jonathan Boschen discussed in a recent Cartoon Research column here.

The third guest is Don McCormick, who brings along a storyboard from what looks like a Navy film (educated guesses encouraged) and the whole group ends up watching and commenting on UPA’s industrial film Big Tim (1949) (profiled recently on Cartoon Research here).

Spare The Rod is a rather odd UPA cartoon, and watching this video reminded Mike Kazaleh of its troubled history. Says Mike: “I am re-reading (below) a letter written by Duane Crowther taken from Mark Kausler’s blog. He speaks derisively of “Spare the Child” the UPA cartoon Grim refers to in the TV show. It is likely that the cartoon was in production by the fall of 1952.

“Spare..” was released in 1955. I am certain that this cartoon was heavily re-worked before it’s release, and Crowther’s description of the story would back up this theory. Director Abe Liss was gone from the UPA studio by the time it was released. I have a theory that this cartoon was source of friction between Steve Bosustow and Liss. I would guess that the cartoon was heavily re-edited, perhaps a few scenes re-animated, most of the voices stripped off, and new narration was recorded by Hal Peary. Probably this was all done in LA.”

(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Mike Kazaleh and Don Yowp)


  • I’m surprised they were using the term “limited animation” this early in the fifties, some four years before H-B began regular production of TV cartoons.

    • The term was in use at least by the late ’40s.
      Remember, Bill Hanna insisted his TV cartoons weren’t limited animation, they were “planned animation.” Obviously the term had to be known for him to refute it.

  • Thanks, Mark, it was really nice to see good old Grim Natwick in action, and he’s pretty articulate in essentially a dumbed-down explanation of the process for general public TV. It just makes me wish there was more of him in the show.

    I’d want a bit more documentation regarding Spare the Child‘s production, surely Adam Abraham would’ve found some while writing his book? It’s a truly unpleasant cartoon—other than the great design of the dad, it looks more like one of those Disney attempts at ersatz UPA that no one actually likes with the usual belabored comedy and creaky music. The idea that the dad would be mad that his kid was going to go out partying and drinking is believably enough to get him to snap and break the unreality – that the director really wanted the catalyst to be that the son was going to fuck his mother is some truly Polanski-level shit. Yeah, “advanced”, “daring”, whatever. Keep yer oedipus complex and gimme Magoo.

    • Honestly, I think Disney would’ve done a better job with a cartoon with this idea (who said they don’t really like their type of stylized cartoons?). I’d imagined Ward would’ve especially knock that concept out of the park.

  • Is there any place where I can find a complete list of american inventory episodes? The IMDB entry is sketchy and utterly incomplete and the episode being discussed here is the only one showing up on youtube

  • Looking for The Mechanical Heart documentary please. Aired February 15,1953. Filmed at Harper Hospital, Detroit, Michigan.

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