April 19, 2014 posted by

UPA Advertising


Throughout the 1950’s, television commercials were an important part of the UPA cartoon studio’s output. In fact, it’s widely believed that commercial work kept the company afloat, as their Columbia-released shorts often went over budget. Spots were produced at the main studio in Burbank, as well as the New York studio. Here are just a few of the many advertising films they made…

Big Tim

Ten minute sales film from 1949 for the Timken Roller Bearing Company. Fully animated in Technicolor, it features the voice of Stan Freberg as Big Tim.

Webster’s Cigars

One of four Webster’s Cigars spots directed by Pete Burness in 1950. Pat Mathews animates. The great Marvin Miller narrates, trying to sound as Latin as possible. Of course this was before the revolution…


Three spots from 1955. These are from the New York studio. Directed by Gene Deitch.

Traveler’s Cheques

A tale of two love birds. Humorous limited animation by Fred Crippen.

Magoo – GE

Mr. Magoo was often enlisted to be a product spokesman. The longest running Magoo campaign was for General Electric lightbulbs. Jim Backus is Mr. Magoo, and Jerry Hausner is the voice of Waldo. Take a look at the comic book that Waldo is reading.

Mars – Zoo

It’s 1959, and we’re getting near the end of the era. The director here is probably Rudy Larriva. Shortly after this, a series of events including the departure of Herb Klynn (and several of the remaining key staff members) and the non-renewal of the Columbia shorts contract conspired to put control of UPA into the hands of the infamous Hank Saperstein.

Magoo – Flying Saucer

This is from the Saperstein period. Magoo is still selling lightbulbs in this kinetic spot by Abe Levitow.


  • I love gene deitch, but this is my favorite kia ora ad …

    • I kinda like this one!

    • Jerry, I was blown away by the news from Charles Brubaker about the Kia- Ora rip-off. Yeah; amazing, but not surprising, I wrote him back that in 1957, I was in Terrytoons. We received a request from a visiting Japanese group of animators, requesting to visit the New Rochelle studio. At the time, I knew absolutely nothing of the Kia-Ora ripoff, and being proud of what we were doing at Terrytoons, I naively welcomed them. Between all the smiles and bows, as I led them on a tour of the Terrytoons studio, I saw too late what they were up to. They all had cameras, and were snapping everything in sight, leaning over animators’ desks and photographing not only the discs, but closeups of exposure sheets, photographing the Oxberry camera compounds, Asking dozens of very specific technical questions about our procedures…. there was no way I could politely stop them, the whole flock of them clicking like a field of crickets. I learned fast, but too late, to never let a Japanese animation group into the studio at that time. Ironically, nowadays, we should be sending “tour groups” to the Japanese studios, which are way ahead of us now technically! But in that postwar era, the Japanese were energetically copying the entire spectrum of American technology and manufacturing processes, and as in the Kia-Ora case, even our finished films, frame-by-frame!!! I remember that in those days there was a cheap Japanese copy of nearly every American product!. Now it’s the Chinese, but they don’t have to sneak around, we send it to them directly, shunting aside American workers. … Yes, I know, perhaps I was doing the same thing in my early days here in Prague. I’m still trying to formulate my excuses, like, “He made me do it!!!” Boo-hooo..

    • An honor to have you here Gene! I see this “Ribbon-chan” character even got an anime series a few years back, though I’m sure it strays greatly from your original brilliance. Seeing a few frames, I can tell it’s one of those ‘fanservicey’ shows that don’t amount to anything.

  • It was interesting in the final UPA-GE spot to see Levitow put the Chuck Jonesian-like reaction drawings on the faces of the spacemen (GE being a nice, big, rich company, the animation budget here is pretty much on-par with the 50s stuff, even though we’re a decade past the original studio’s prime).

    UPA also did the animated ads and buimpers for The Danny Thomas Show, which IIRC, covered both the end of the Bosustow-Klynn period of the late 1950s and into the Saperstein era. of the early 60s..

    • The late Chuck Jones influence on those aliens is certainly uncanny.

  • i always found it hysterical that someone with near-nill eyesight would be a light bulb spokesperson. And DID they make Gerald comix?… that i’d be VERY curious to see!!

    • To Uncle Wayne: Well, Cartoon Network nce allowed a total blind mantobe the “spokesperson” if you will for eclectic animation tastes and avid collecting! Yup, come to think of it, it is hilarious, but it was fun for me. Incidentally, I am unfamiliar with Kia-ora and, since nothing in the ad describes what the product is, I just have to ask, what is it? Also, I wonder if there were any of those MAGOO G.E. ads as special feature on the MR. MAGOO TELEVISION COLLECTION set from Shout! Factory. If so, I haven’t located those special features as yet. Where are they?

    • “i always found it hysterical that someone with near-nill eyesight would be a light bulb spokesperson.”

      At least it worked. I suppose they still had their little fun otherwise the way Magoo’s slogan is printed on an eye chart.

      And DID they make Gerald comix?… that i’d be VERY curious to see!!

    • Kevin: No, there were no bonus Magoo commercials on the Magoo TV cartoon collections. For more
      “bonus” UPA cartoons, commercials and pencil tests keep checking Cartoon Research on a regular basis.

    • “For more “bonus” UPA cartoons, commercials and pencil tests keep checking Cartoon Research on a regular basis.”

      Thanks so far Jerry!

    • Uncle Wayne, here is a complete “McBoing Boing” issue for your perusal:

    • Just for Kevin, Kia-Ora is a fruit drink. Not sure though if it was ever sold in the US but was very popular in the UK.

  • I found another 16mm UPA commercial that I hadn’t transferred yet…

    • Should get around to doing that!

    • @Chris: Clicking his name leads to a YouTube upload of a UPA ad, uploaded the same day that he posted his comment. I would guess that’s what he’s referring to.

  • Dig the Mars Bars ad here. Even if not knowing it was UPA, you could still tell courtesy of their logo being placed at the very bottom right of the screen even though I’m sure normal TV’s would’ve cropped that out anyway. That’s something you really don’t get in ads otherwise, that sort of production credit to whomever put out that spot. (whether an ad agency or production outfit). I noticed in Europe there was a tradition for a number of decades that an agency or production studio were often credited for their spots, oftentimes as just a “bug” in the first few seconds of the ad itself.

  • Magoo also peddled beer, which opens up other avenues of sarcasm. There’s some art on this site somewhere.

  • I know I’ve seen the Kia-Ora spots before. And it’s because Japan ripped it off! Sapporo, a drink company in Japan, sells “Ribbon Juice”, which has a mascot named “Ribbon-chan”. They lifted directly from the UPA spots Gene Deitch did.

    • Makes you wonder how they found out about these in the first place. Perhaps a demo reel of UPA’s work that was sent there?

  • I’m curious about the Aurora Kia-Ora adverts. Are you sure they are by Gene Deitch?

    An article that appeared in the British press in December 1958, celebrating the success of ‘The Little Island ,’ credited Richard Williams as her creator. The voices are distinctly British, and moreover I remember them from British TV.

    They could have been UPA — if they were made in the 7 months that UPA’s London studio was operative, under the direction of George Dunning and Leo Salkin. Otherwise they could have been produced by Dunning’s subsequent company, TV Cartoons — both companies that Dick Williams worked for.

    The facts in the newspaper article are not very reliable — he is credited as having worked for Disney, which was not correct. He is also credited with having done the preliminary sketches for ‘Mr Magoo’s Arabian Nights’, which I suppose is possible, working for Salkin at UPA London 1956-7.

    • As a follow-up I notice that ‘Aurora Kia-Ora’ is mentioned in ‘The Animator’s Survival Kit’. It suggests that the character already existed, so it seems most likely that the first commercial was designed in New York, and probably animated there, and that Dick Williams worked on the second and/or third one. Although it is always possible that only the modeIs and layouts were done in New York, sent from London by Salkin for the authentic UPA touch.

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