For The Love Of Cartoon Animation
November 18, 2019 posted by Gene Deitch

The People At Terrytoons

CBS 1956 press release announcing the hire of Gene Deitch to Terrytoons

My short but dramatic Terrytoons tenure has been well enough documented, but here I’d like to credit the names of those who helped (and or hindered) that tipping point in my line of cartoon film work.

After the short and disappointing stint with my idol, John Hubley, I was quickly hired as an “Idea Man,” by Robert Lawrence Productions. No sooner had I settled into Lawrence’s Manhattan studio, and was working on my first project, when a gent named Newt Schwin rode up on his virtual bicycle. Newt was from the Schwin bike family and an executive at CBS FILM SALES, INC., the merchandising section of CBS Television. He told me that they had recently purchased the Terrytoons studio and film library, and they were offering me the position of creative director of the studio to replace Paul Terry!

Terrytoons was then the largest animation studio in America, still producing. Even Disney was barely producing animation at the time. CBS realized that Terrytoons was probably the worst animation studio in America, but was hungry for cartoon programming, and Terrytoons had a tremendous library of films. Not great ones but usable, until decent new product could be developed up to the CBS standard. Based on my UPA/New York reputation, they wanted me to do that for them. It was the opportunity of a lifetime!

How could I turn down such an offer and such a challenge? But how could I just walk out on Bob Lawrence after only a few weeks? My first credit in this chapter goes to Lawrence, who, though disappointed, immediately realized that this offer to me was the closest thing to destiny in the life of a cartoonist, and he gave me his blessing.

But there was “a slight obstacle” blocking this highway to dizzying destiny. Newt delicately mentioned that I would need to meet the Terrytoons studio manager, William Weiss. So he drove me up to the New Rochelle studio, assuring me that this was merely a polite formality. Meeting Weiss was like being introduced to a Mafia godfather, with a pistol in his lap. He came across as a semi-literate thug, almost bragging about his dubious methods of keeping the animation staff in line, etc. etc.. On the way back to Manhattan I sadly told Newt that I could never work for such a man. Trying to hold onto me, he explained the following: When Paul Terry sold Terrytoons to CBS he insisted that Bill Weiss be granted tenure for five years.

CBS management clearly saw that Weiss was a primitive, and would be a drag on progress, and it was against CBS policy to give tenure contracts to executives, but Terry had demanded this concession as a condition of the sale. This news made it clear that I would no chance against this dragon unless I had an equal 5-year guarantee. Newt told me sadly, that could not be done. That they regretted having to grant it to Weiss, but as an alternative he, Newt, would be assigned as a Terrytoons board member, and would attend every weekly management meeting to protect me against Weiss, and that we would sweat out the five year Weiss contract until it would be possible to dump him. In the meantime I would have full CBS support for my production plans.

Gaston LeCrayon

My problem was that I was drooling to have this job. I went along with this risky verbal promise. It did work for the first year… until Newt Schwin himself, as a crackerjack TV show salesman, got an offer he couldn’t refuse, and after a lame apology to me, he pedaled off to less poisonous pastures.

No new Deitch protector was assigned to our meetings. I realized that my Terrytoons days were numbered. My success would be Weiss’ doom, and he had to get rid of me well before his contract would expire. The first thing he did was to change the venue of the weekly meetings to New York, knowing that I would be too busy to regularly attend. On his part, he never failed to tell the CBS brass how my new style films were going over budget. Obviously, new methods required experimentation, and new characters in movie cartoons have always needed years to gain popularity. The average movie theater viewer might see one or possibly two Clint Clobber cartoons in a year, whereas a short time later TV cartoon characters were seen once a week, and even daily, and celebrity came quickly.

The stinger was something Newt Schwin never told me, and possibly never knew about himself, something I was told too late to save me from falling into Weiss’s trap. It was revealed to me by the TT story veteran, Tom Morrison, and I’m revealing it here for the first time: In the early days of the studio, according to Morrison, Paul Terry had a partner, Frank Moser, whom he wanted to dump so he could gain total ownership. Terry sued Moser, acc using him of financial finagles, and pushed his young accountant, William Weiss, to testify against Moser in court, actually to commit perjury. In order to buy his silence in any counter suit by Moser, Terry promised Weiss a significant share of any sale of the studio in the future. Over the years, Terry repeated his promise to Weiss, thereby keeping him silent and subservient.

Portrait of William ‘Bill’ Weiss, producer and studio head at Terrytoons. Image dated January 22nd, 1957. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

When the time finally came, Terry secretly made a deal with CBS that would allow him to welch on his promise to Weiss, by throwing him a 5-year tenure bone! No one – not Weiss – not anyone at the studio knew that Terry was in fact negotiating to sell the studio to CBS. When it happened, and when Terry came into the studio to pick up his personal things, Tommy Morrison, who was one of the other studio staff who was promised to “be taken care of” in the event of a sale, spotted him leaving, and ran up to him.

“Paul!” he gasped, “I just read in this morning’s paper that you’ve sold the studio to CBS! Is that true?”

“It’s none of your goddam business!” said Terry and walked out, puffing on his cigar. He did not share a single cent of the millions he got from the sale!

In his effort to reneg on his long-time promise to divvy any sale money with Bill Weiss, Terry got himself off the hook by insisting in his sales contract with CBS, that Weiss be given a guaranteed 5-year tenure. All of that, and the gangster methods common in Terrytoons’ early years, when film prints were often lowered out the window, away from contesting partners coming with police to claim ownership, made my situation crystal clear. Tom Morrison himself, who filled me in on all of that, had been nursing his own bitterness at being cut out after all his years of low-paid service. He claimed to be rooting for me. But with the history of such ruthlessness, bitterness, and self-preservation, I was theone to be sacrificed.

With the clear realization that a state of war now existed between Weiss and me, I felt that my only hope was for a big success of Tom Terrific, now in the final stages of editing. If TT would strike gold it would be impossible for Weiss to unseat me. But he had an uncanny instinct for self-preservation, and had spies among several of the old timers whom he’d convinced that I was planning to fire them. I was not.

I just put all my efforts into getting Tom Terrific out and on the air. If a TT success could then be built on, and I could last until Weiss’ mandate ran out, I might survive. But Weiss also realized that TT would be a hit. He had to act to pre-empt before TT was aired. He had prepared the way with his propaganda that my budget overruns, (which he could easily manipulate), and my far-fetched ideas, (which he could not understand), would bankrupt the studio. All of that went down well enough with the CBS brass, who just didn’t want to be bothered with unrest in their insignificant cartoon studio. All I could was attempt to cross the finish line before Weiss moved on me. Tom Terrific did become the most successful thing I ever did, but it was after I was out.

Tommy Morrison was actually very helpful to me during my time at Terrytoons, He was a genuinely good writer, never able to do his best under Terry, We worked well together, and I felt I had his support. However, in the clutch, as far as I know, he did not stand up for me.

Click to Enlarge

Frank “Sparky” Schudde, the studio production manager, who made everything work, was extremely helpful to me, and outwardly friendly. He was in Weiss’ office when the bomb was dropped on me, and he meekly backed his boss. He was clearly brought into the scene specifically for that purpose. That sealed my fate. I was naively shocked at the betrayal, as he’d given me every indication that he was on my side.

I always knew that the competent and seemingly sinecured old timers like Connie Rasinski, Art Bartsch, Ed Donnelly, and Manny Davis, all highly skilled, but ossified drudges, were unhappy that I had landed on their airstrip, upsetting their comfortable lives. Only the marvelously maverick animator Jim Tyer, drove full speed onto the highway I was opening up. My “new gang,” Jules Feiffer, Al Kouzel, Ray Favata, and Eli Bauer, fully backed me, but they were equally targeted by Weiss, and they all left.

Phil Scheib. The long-time tightly limited composer, who did his best work for me, Larz Bourne, the great professional gagman, and skilled animators, Johnny Gentilella, Bob Kuwahara, Vinnie Bell, and others, all helped me. It was a tragedy that a fearful predator was able to pull the plug on such a well-positioned outfit, and allow it to go down the drain in a desperate knee-jerk attempt to save his own scabby skin. It was just before the technical and marketing revolution that would change everything, but which he could not understand nor foresee. The death of Terrytoons was his doing.

OK, without such an outfit to work with, I was forced to lower my sights, to do what was do-able. Yeah, another door opened for me, leading to a smaller and more remote garden, a new wife and a new life I won my Oscar and grew some nice little flowers, and did well enough financially, but I’ll never get over the idea, that given half a chance at Terrytoons, I could have caught the tech tidal wave and surfed into the future Big Time. But Newt Schwin welched on his promise, leaving me easy prey to a cigar sucking predator. But would I have been happier? I doubt it, as I’m happy with what I was able to in the following years, kick-started by the Oscar win just a year later. But that doesn’t let Newt Schwin entirely off the hook. I hope he had good luck in his new job. He doomed Terrytoons, and soon enough, Bill Weiss.

19 Comments

  • I never knew there was such intrigue in the animation world. So who owns the Terrytoons library now and will the toons ever see the light of day?

    • CBS Paramount owns the Terrytoons…….they will NEVER see the light of day again because of that said company.

  • A history of Terrytoons resembling the one done for Famous/Paramount here might be interesting. I am particularly curious about the studio’s final days since so many animation textbooks are shady there. From the bits and pieces that I found in books and vintage periodicals online, it appears that there was still some activity there involving the final TV pilots and possibly the last Sad Cat cartoon as of July 1968. According to Wikipedia, the New Rochelle facilities weren’t sold until December 1972. Yet were there possible TV commercials done during all of this time? 16mm educational work? Even Disney did some interesting work there that was ignored by historians for so long, prompting many of us readers of animation history to incorrectly assume there was nothing else going during the era of BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS and ROBIN HOOD. Maybe independent animators contracted the place and use their equipment? Was anybody still on the payroll?

  • Thanx, Gene.

    What an incredible story. Looks like Terry was an even bigger jerk than I’d imagined. It would stand to reason that he’d align himself with a similar lowlife in Weiss.

    It’s tempting to imagine you and Tyer forging a new path with your own independent studio, but the TV environment, with even more draconian budgets than theatrical studios, wouldn’t allow it.

    Art hates commerce, commerce hates art.

    Same as it ever was.

  • Doug Crane told me Paul Terry still came into the studio regularly through the end of 1956, coming around and meeting the new talent to “ease the transition”. Crane remembered him as a “nice old guy”. So I would take Gene’s story, which allegedly came from Tom Morrison, with a grain of salt. Yes, certain artists such as Mannie Davis were extremely irritated by Terry selling out, but others such as Jim Tyer considered them foolish for even believing Terry would split the sale with them!

    I have also seen much documentation that Paul Terry remained connected with managing Terrytoons through the 1960s, including a letter to Bill Tytla existing in the John Canemaker collection where Tytla’s secretary mentions that “his friend Paul Terry” called to praise him on a Hector Heathcote cartoon that Tytla had recently subcontracted. Weiss and Terrytoons inc. also produced the “Social Security and You” segment on Paul Terry in the 1960s, and Weiss appeared at a city of New Rochelle tribute to Terry in 1970, shortly before his death.

    Personally, I would enjoy this period of Terrytoons more if they had made more cartoons with Spoofy…. and if Doug Moye had been allowed to continue voice acting.

    • I really enjoyed your Terrytoons medley of Phil Scheib music. I would be interested to read your views about his talents.

    • Paul Terry had no activity whatever with Terrytoons production during the time I was there. He did once invite me to lunch at a posh restaurant,loadling me with his cartoon theories, mainly that Charles Lindbergh was the greatest hero in history, and that I should create a character modelled on Lindbergh ,He forgot that the former hero of the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean, who later earned the nation’s sympathy when his son was kidnapped and murdered, had blown it all by becoming a fervid supporter of Adolf Hitler! I could not fathom Terry’s adoration of Lindbergh at that time.

  • Paul Terry was a survivor. A survivor does what s/he has to do. In retrospect what we do to survive may not look so great in the eyes of those who have never passed through such a fire.

    As a kid I hated the black and white Terrytoons when they appeared on TV.

    When I stated doing four hour animation marathons in the 1970s I not only was surprised by the applause they often got, which was a big shock the first time, I began to like them.

    I have always loved the Mighty Mouse cartoons particularly the operettas.

    Paul Terry was not the only one in early animation to get shafted by his partners. Otto Mesmer did. Max Fleischer did. Walt Disney did. Walter Lantz did. The love these men had for what they were doing made them vulnerable.

    We are lured into these situations with the promise we can do anything we want and that new ideas are needed but as Chuck Jones was fond of saying the single most common phrase he heard from producers was, “THAT’SNEWTAKEITOUT!” expressed as one word.

    Times have not changed.

    I never cared for Gene Deitch’s films when I first encountered them.

    Now I find myself enjoying his work. I am happy to report that.

  • I wonder – can Disney bring back Terrytoons cartoons? Were they sold to Disney in the 20th Century-Fox deal?

    • As explained above – Terrytoons have been owned since 1955 by CBS (which is part of the Viacom conglomerate). 20th Century-Fox simply had the theatrical distribution rights for about four decades. They no longer have those rights – Disney has no rights to Terrytoons or any of its characters.

  • Wow, what a story! Thank you very much for sharing it with us, Gene.

  • The bicycle business is Schwinn,not Schwin. Still this guy Newt Schwin was part of the Schwinn family? Hard to trust anyone named Newt since the ’90s..

  • Great post!

  • Gene you are way too talented to have been treated the way your were at Terrytoons. I wish you had never worked there. They didn’t deserve you.

  • Thank you again, Gene! I had no idea about the intrigue and resentments while I was enjoying Tom Terrific, et al. I was in the animation biz briefly (IF Studios), and rarely encountered such goings on, except union-related stuff, and a hot-shot producer who jumped ship, starting his own studio, resulting in IF eventually closing.

  • Never understood why types like Terry & Weiss picked on cartoons instead of more glamorous ventures, such as gambling or prostitution.

  • Gene, thanks for such a great article. I can’t wait to show this to my dad (Doug Crane) today. He had a policy of keeping his mouth shut publicly while he was actively working in the industry and joked about writing a book of his ‘adventures’ in animating (including some amazing an almost unbelievable stories) once he wasn’t looking for work anymore. Since he’s 84 now I maybe he’ll get to that book. And Charlie, I’ll ask him again about how often Paul was at Terrytoons after the sale. He was there around that time.

    • Doug Crane was an enigma for me. I could never figure out what he thought of my being suddenly dropped into his patch; whether perhaps he had hopes of winning Terrytoons leadership. Just a guess. He did great work for me; never a close personal relationship, but no obvious conflict. But it was obvious to me that I, a Terrytoons outsider, was given the job that perhaps many had assumed they might get. What was difficult for me to get across, was that I had in no way sought the job! Terrytoons was nowhere on my list of ambitions. I happily assumed it was because I was a success at UPA-New York, or a longshot, that is was because of my earlier success as assistant art director at CBS-Hollywood. Whatever, no way had i sought a job.at Terrytoons.

      Out of the blue, a CBS-TV executive, Newt Schwin, who I’d never heard of, knocked on my door and made a
      financial and creative offer I could not refuse. Perhaps I could say now that it was like an offer from Satan, with a hidden. price to pay. I fully realized that I could be seen as an intruder, and did everything I could to make them feel that they were part of a creative revolution, and that I was in fact freeing them to stretch their own creativity. I’m sorry to have been forced on them, but proud of what we did, however crudely, to try things that in some way contributed to the coming animation revolution.

  • Great post. Incidently, Mannie Davis told me Terry persuaded him and other directors to cross the picket line during the 1947 strike by the Screen Cartoonists Guild, promising them a share of the proceeds when he sold Terrytoons. This, of course, never happened and Davis was rather bitter about it.

    Your reference to the time “Terry sued Moser” is not quite correct. It was the other way around. Terry persuaded Moser to let him buy him out when the studio seemed in danger of losing its distribution contract. Moser, feeling he had been had, filed suit but lost. The Terrytoons artists who were around at the time generally sided with Moser.

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