Talking with legendary animation icon Ralph Bakshi for the book The Mighty Heroes Declassified was an educational experience. He brought me back to 1966 when I was age 9. Back then, I was one of the countless children who became fans of the new Terrytoons’ cartoon on CBS, The Mighty Heroes. What I didn’t know then, and do now, is it was a time of celebration for Bakshi, but also disappointment.
Terrytoons had been dying for years as an animation studio. Not even CBS, who bought Terrytoons a decade earlier to create TV cartoons for their network, was buying anything from them. At a meeting in early 1966, Terrytoons failed to sell even one show pitched to program director Fred Silverman.
Just when it looked as though Terrytoons producer Bill Weiss, and his small entourage, were about to walk away with empty pockets, Ralph Bakshi, who was standing at the back of the room, spoke up. It happened just as Silverman rose to his feet to conclude the meeting. It was then that, “a call went out for The Mighty Heroes.”
Bakshi, who was merely there to help set up Terrytoons presentations around the room, shouted from the back of the room, “Mr. Silverman, I have an idea.”
Those in the meeting were stunned, and silence gripped the room. Silverman sat back down. “So, what have you got?”
Bakshi then pitched The Mighty Heroes off the top of his head. It wasn’t anything he had thought of previously. But all five characters came out. Silverman liked it and bought it. What transpired was a victory for failing Terrytoons, thanks to Bakshi. Silverman stipulated he’d only take the series if Bakshi were the director and oversaw the entire project.
But back at Terrytoons, that didn’t transpire. Bakshi was in the middle of a departmental tug of war. The series didn’t fully develop into what he imagined. But, he loved it just the same. Just as I did, at age 9. I even bought the comic books issued by Dell. I couldn’t get enough of The Mighty Heroes.
“In a way, The Mighty Heroes were my heroes,” Bakshi told me. “They got me out of Terrytoons and with that in my resume, I got the job at Paramount.”
According to Bakshi, The Mighty Heroes was the springboard for his subsequent fantastic animation opportunities and achievements. The lessons he learned because of The Heroes were crucial to his career. If you speak up at the back of a room, sometimes you move to the head of the class. And while Bakshi seemingly pulled the idea for the super quintet out of nowhere, he understands “nowhere” isn’t a void.
“Let me tell you about ‘nowhere,’ because I’ve thought about this often,” Bakshi explained. “I don’t want to come off like some magical genius, okay? But nowhere was everywhere for me. You can’t be a 24 or 26-year-old cartoonist and not be aware of the world you’re living in. So this wasn’t out of nowhere, it was out of a young man’s experience as a cartoonist.”
I agree that nowhere is actually a pretty enormous place, but disagree with Bakshi concerning his intellect. He is a genius and created a lot of magic on film. And somehow, some day, another call will go out for The Mighty Heroes.