Bosley Crowther, New York Times motion picture critic, recently credited UPA, headed by 41-year-old Steve Bosustow, with “Imposing what amounts to the spirit and style of modern art upon the traditionally romantic and restricted area of the movie cartoon.”Crowther, though, wasn’t the first one.
Stories in the popular press about the studio were understandably few when Bosustow worked out a commercial release for the company’s cartoons. Hedda Hopper had these words about UPA in her column of December 5, 1950.
James Thurber’s cartoons and short stories will be brought to the screen by United Productions of America in a full-length picture with John Houseman producing and John Hubley as supervising director. The picture will be partly live action and partly cartoon. The animation characters will include Thurber’s famous seal and bloodhound. Stories under consideration are “You Can Look It Up,” “The Unicorn in the Garden,” “The Topaz Cuff Links Mystery” and “Mr. Preble Murders His Wife.”“Unicorn” was the only one made, and then as a short. Perhaps the studio’s perennial money troubles quashed any other plans.
By the time of Heppa’s little blurb, UPA had released the first Mr. Magoo cartoon, “Ragtime Bear.” Yet it wasn’t until “Gerald McBoing Boing”—and its Oscar nomination—that critics and columnists noticed what UPA was doing and started dragging out the Disney comparisons. We reprinted Aline Mosby’s United Press column of February 22, 1951 HERE. And you can read Gilbert Seldes’ review in the Saturday Review from May 31, 1952 by going HERE. As you might expect if you know Seldes’ reputation, he delights in a bunch of the studio’s releases to date.
Just as Mickey Mouse’s popularity gave birth to stories about the man who put him on the screen, so reporters became curious about the head of the UPA studio once little Gerald won his Academy Award. Here are a couple of stories about Steve Bosustow. First, from the Associated Press of October 12, 1952.
By GENE HANDSAKER
HOLLYWOOD — A mild-mannered, slender man with brown eyes, heavy black brows, and the unpronounceable-looking name of Stephen Bosustow has quietly upset the movie-cartoon business.
Most film funnies are still content to involve mice, cats, dogs, and birds in frantic battles and chases. (And who's complaining? Not us fans.) But Bosustow (bo-SUSS-toe) has given cartoons a new concept, new technique, new story-ideas.
His “Gerald McBoing-Boing,” about a little boy who spoke in sound effects, won an Academy award. Another favorite character from his drawing-boards is “Mr. Magoo,” a near-sighted, potato-nosed little man who always comes out on top but never knows how close he has come to disaster.
His techniques are suggestive of some modernistic works of art. Backgrounds contain only the bare minimum of props and scenery. A sidewalk crowd of people is drawn in outlines only, with just the central character — and the ladies’ handbags!—filled in.
“We caricature human situations rather than try to be realistic about them,” Bosustow says. “First we reduce a chancier to the simplest form, and then the action. You get your point over faster, funnier, and with greater impact.”
His firm, United Productions of America, occupies a modest, modernistic building in Burbank. Bosustow, 40, a one-time trap-drummer, poster artist, and Disney animator, employs six units artists, each headed by a director. Six to 15 artists work in each unit.
The place is thriving, with sketches of cartoon projects thumbtacked to walls, and Bosustow’s stable of ink characters is growing. His “Jolly Frolics” series, six a year, deals humorously with such subjects as rivalry between a brother and sister and parental over-protection.
Another project for UPA is the preparation of cartoon sequences inserted in other studios' live-action feature films. Eight sequences link the episodic action in “The Four Poster,” which, stars Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer. In a Dan Dailey-June Haver film, a Bosustow cartoon will depict a small boy’s dream.
Bosustow wants to produce a feature-length film himself, possibly Don Quixote or a James Thurber story. He says: “We’ve brought into the industry a modern approach to art and have proven that cartoons can be made for adults. The cartoon field is in its infancy.”
This story comes from the Oakland Tribune, Saturday, May 22, 1954.
Movie Cartoon Expert Predicts Rosy Future
By THERESA LOEB CONE
“The time isn't far off when theaters will show as many full-length animated movies as those with live actors,” says Stephen Bosustow. If anyone can make this rather startling prediction, that man is Bosustow. He’s the organizer and president of United Productions of America (UPA) and he has advanced cartoons in a spectacular fashion these past few years.
As a matter of fact, UPA has plans in the hopper for several feature-length cartoons right now. They've completed George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” hope to do Milne’s “Winnie, the Pooh,” some of the Thurber yarns, Gordon Jenkins’ “Seven Dreams,” and a musical comedy, for starters.
Speaking in San Francisco’s Museum of Art Thursday night on the “Revolution in the Animated Film,” the tall, dark and very handsome Mr. Bosustow also presented a program of 10 UPA cartoons, many of which have the power of enticing audiences into movie houses where the feature offering might not be so attractive.
Some of the program’s items were “Gerald McBoing-Boing,” “Christopher Crumpet,” “Unicorn in the Garden,” “The 51st Dragon,” “Rootie-Toot-Toot” and “Madeline,” all fairly familiar to moviegoers as typical UPA fare—vastly amusing in an adult fashion, yet having at the same time tremendous appeal for children. Not shown was an even more familiar UPA character, “The Great Magoo,” presently being afforded festival treatment at Oakland’s Globe Theater.
Bosustow, who has made such strides in his field, is still in his early forties but has behind him over 20 years of movie making experience. He has tried his hand at all phases of movie production—writing, cutting, music, etc. But principally he is known as an artist who abandoned what is known as a “serious” art career long ago in the understandable interest of wishing to eat regularly and be housed satisfactorily.
Canadian-born but transplanted with his family to Los Angeles when he was 11, Bosustow was an art major, got a job with the old U.B. Iwerks’ studio working on “Flip the Frog” cartoons in the 1930’s. Next he was on the Universal lot with Walter Lantz. Then on the list of Bosustow’s bosses was the king-of-cartoons, Walt Disney.
WORKED FOR DISNEY
Bosustow (it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled, if that’s any help) stayed with Disney for seven years, writing scripts, doing story sketches, helping with the first animation on “Snow White” and providing most of the story adaptation on “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”
But in 1941 he was a victim of a Disney Studio payroll slash and went to work for the production illustration department at Hughes Aircraft. He was also teaching industrial art at the same time. His drawings attracted the attention of Frank Capra and children's story writer Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
The up and coming cartoonist then did Army and Navy training films. By war’s end he launched UPA on the way to fame, fortune and Academy Awards.
100 ON PAYROLL
The original organization boasted eight on the staff of a payroll that now has reached 100 They have two studios, one in Hollywood, one m New York, do not confine themselves to theater shorts or full lengths, for that matter.
They’re doing TV commercials, and documentaries for industrial firms. Heywood Broun’s story “The 51st Dragon,” by the way, was the first cartoon written assignment for TV, was originally shown on the Ford Foundation’s Omnibus program.
Bosustow’s talk was the seventh in the “Arts in Cinema” series which will take a break for the summer, will be resumed in September.
And here’s Bosustow again, in a TV column by the Associated Press dated December 15, 1956, on his major TV endeavour that ended in an unfortunate failure.
‘Boing Boing’ Show Features All Cartoons
By BOB THOMAS
HOLLYWOOD (AP)—A new kind of show debuts on TV Sunday afternoon. It is all-cartoon, unsponsored and simply wonderful.
The name of it is “The Boing Boing Show” on CBS. Do you remember the little boy in the Oscar winning cartoon short who spoke only in sound effects like “boing” and “ah-ooga”?
Well, Gerald is the emcee of the show, and his noises are interpreted by Bill Goodwin. Together they introduce a variety of subjects. On the first show are Gerald’s own story, a treatment of the life of the French artist Dufy and two songs done in hilarious style.
Sold On Project
The series has been put together by United Productions of America Pictures, Inc.
CBS is so sold on the project that it is putting the show on without a sponsor. It shouldn’t be sponsorless long.
The guiding force behind the show is U.P.A. President Stephen Bosustow, whose imaginative ideas have revolutionized first the cartoon industry and then TV commercials.
The U.P.A. technique of wacky immobile characters against impressionist backgrounds was born of necessity, he told me.
“When we started out with the company in 1943 we couldn’t afford the expense of trying to make cartoons look like live action,” he said. “We had to invent new methods that were cheaper. What we developed wasn’t new; it had been done for years in magazines and by cartoonists like Virgil Partch.
Native Of Canada
Bosustow was born on Victoria, B.C., and sought his fortune in Hollywood as a musician and cartoonist. Laid off at Disney’s in the movie depression of 1941 he was unable to find work at other studios. So he deeded to start his own. Two years later, his dream came true.
U.P.A. struggled along making training films and cartoon shorts, then burst into prominence with characters like Boing Boing and Mr. Magoo. It has since helped bring with and imagination to TV commercials.
“About 40 per cent of the work in our studios here and in New York and London is in commercials,” said Bosustow, a tall, good-looking man with a dark mustache. "With this as a basis, we have been able to branch out into other fields such as the CBS show. Our next plan is to make all-cartoon features.”
Bosustow did move into features. One of them, anyway. A Middle Eastern version of Mr. Magoo was somewhat shoved aside in a story surrounding Aladdin, a princess and a Wicked Wazir in “1000 Arabian Nights” (1959). But it was the studio’s real last hurrah. Director Pete Burness left unhappily during the feature’s production and perennial money troubles finally resulted in UPA being sold to Hank Saperstein. By then, the giddy critics at the beginning of the decade had long let the bandwagon play on without them.