“Science is some folks’ calling
Others pilot a ship
My mission in life stated simply is…
A mustache on every lip!”
Since this cartoon was his directorial debut, this column will discuss Bob McKimson’s beginnings and career in animation. Many, if not all, of the Warners cartoons that received the “breakdown” treatment thus far belonged to him.
Born in Colorado, McKimson and his two brothers, Tom and Charles (whom later both served as artists at Warners), learned to draw from their mother Milfred, and supported their father Charles Sr.’s newspaper and printing business, including illustration work, at a young age. In 1926, McKimson’s parents sold their newspaper in Texas and moved to Los Angeles. (The family briefly re-located there in 1921, before moving back to Colorado.) After Bob graduated high school, he worked as a linotype operator in Hollywood.
In the summer of 1929, McKimson was offered a job at Disney’s as an assistant animator to Dick Lundy, while his brother Tom apprenticed under Norm Ferguson. No contemporaneous evidence proves the two McKimson brothers worked at the studio. Lundy attested their employment in later years. In spring, 1930, both Bob and Tom were offered a job at a higher salary to animate for a new studio launched by Romer Grey (son of famed author of Western novels Zane Grey.)
Four cartoons starring Binko the Bear Cub were animated, with two ready to be processed. Besides Romer’s extravagant spending on yachts, foreign travel and hunting trips ultimately withholding animator’s salaries, the studio was unable to negotiate a distribution agreement and closed by the summer of 1931. (Only one Binko film, Hot Toe Mollie, has surfaced in recent years, which you can see on Tom Stathes’ Cartoon Roots DVD/Blu-Ray set.)
The two brothers moved over to Warners, and animated for Harman-Ising. During that time, they animated the normal amount of footage the studio required, approximately 25 to 30 feet of animation. After Bob was hospitalized from a car accident, he returned with a sharp perception, producing almost 80 feet a week without much exertion. After Harman and Ising broke their agreement with producer Leon Schlesinger in the summer of 1933, he was left to establish his own studio, and Bob remained with him. (Tom would leave with Harman and Ising over to MGM.)
After animating for various directors, McKimson was offered a chance to direct in 1937, but declined, deferring to Chuck Jones for the position. McKimson was highly respected for his work as an animator at the studio, and was promoted to head animator, in which he would oversee the consistency of the animators’ scenes to keep them “on-model.” During the early ‘40s, while McKimson animated for Bob Clampett, director Frank Tashlin left Warners around September 1944 to direct stop-motion animated films produced by John Sutherland, known as Daffy Ditties. With that, McKimson saw the opportunity of Tashlin’s absence, and transitioned from animating to directing.The dialogue recording for this film, under the working title “Mustache Maniac”, with Mel Blanc and Robert C. Bruce (as the opening narrator) occurred on September 16, 1944—around the time Tashlin left. Another session was held on June 30, 1945—now called its unalterable title—possibly for a dialogue change or pick-up line. Daffy Doodles wasn’t his first official cartoon release for the studio, having directed The Return of Mr. Hook, intended for and shown to Navy audiences in 1945. Given the priorities and quick turnaround for the Hook film, released before McKimson’s early cartoons as a director, it could have overlapped between production of the regular theatrical shorts. Contrary to popular belief, Daffy Doodles was never slated as a Frank Tashlin project; McKimson confirmed it was his film as soon as he started directing.
McKimson inherited animators from Tashlin’s unit, including Dick Bickenbach, Art Davis and Cal Dalton. Other animators credited in the draft are Izzy Ellis, Don Williams, Anatolle Kirsanoff, and one shot (scene 44) presumably animated by Ray Patin, credited as “Ray.” The scene moves fluidly with an almost Disney flavor; Patin was a former Disney animator—one of several artists fired during the studio’s strike in 1941, after they gained approval to join the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild. By the time he worked at Warners, he had been elected as head of the Guild. The Top Cel union newsletter, and a column in Warners Club News (“What’s Cookin’?”) written by Tedd Pierce, one of the main principal writers, Patin took a leave of absence from the studio by late November, 1944. He went over to free-lance in funny animal stories for Sangor Shop, and returned to Disney’s as a story artist two years later.
With Daffy Doodles being his first true directorial effort, McKimson and writer Warren Foster were confident in considering their opportunities with a simple premise. For instance, the opening scenes portray Daffy’s nefarious deeds as murderous, until it’s revealed a more juvenile crime— painting mustaches on various advertisements, including send-ups of Campbell’s Soup and Fisk Tires. Daffy (as animated by Art Davis) explains his life’s purpose through accented and rhyming dialogue. In a later sequence, as Daffy hangs upside down, vandalizing a billboard, he sings an ersatz version of Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby’s “She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter.”
The draft indicates more comedic subtext—scene 33, the after-effects of Daffy being struck on the head by policeman Porky, is modeled after vaudevillian and screen comedian Leon Errol. He starred in a series of two-reel comedies for Columbia and RKO in the ‘30s and ‘40s, where his comic trademark (also onstage) was an erratic and rubbery walk, as if he is inebriated.
Also, the last page of the draft is missing, though it isn’t entirely a loss, since it would’ve only contained the final section of the film, which is undeniably Art Davis’ work.
This is one of the few Warners cartoons where the information on orchestration dates are missing. Being a Blue Ribbon re-issue, the original cue sheet indicates that the opening cue underneath the opening titles is Sunny Skylar’s “All The Time.” Click the video embed at right to imagine what it might have sounded like – utilizing an instance where Carl Stalling used it for the opening titles of Art Davis’ Bone Sweet Bone (1948).
Enjoy the breakdown video, ya crazies!
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott, Frank Young, Thad Komorowski and Yowp for their help.)