“The Tales of the Wizard of Oz” was produced in 1961 by Crawley Films of Ottawa for Videocraft International. By the mid-1950s, Crawley was the largest maker of filmed commercials in Canada, had created industrial shorts and, by 1957, worked out a co-production deal with the CBC and BBC for a TV series called “R.C.M.P.” Eventually the company expanded into features and ran into money trouble. You can read more about the company and its founder HERE.
Videocraft eventually became Rankin-Bass Productions. So much has been written about the company, I need not say much more (other than to suggest buying Rick Goldschmidt’s books on the studio). Rick explains that Videocraft International was begun in 1959, and trade ads show it was one of three subsidiaries of Video Crafts Inc. Broadcasting-Telecasting, in its July 6, 1953 edition, mentioned that Rankin had quit as head of ABC-TV's graphic arts department to join Video Crafts. Variety reported some history in its weekly issue of June 25, 1958:
Japanese Telefilmers Go Into Production On TV Blurbs for U.S. UseVideocraft’s deal gave birth to a series featuring what was originally called “dimensional puppetry;” a form of stop-motion animation. Here’s Variety to talk about it in the March 15, 1961. And this is where we find the first mention of the “Oz” cartoons.
Japanese animation and stop-motion producers have produced their first tv blurbs for American consumption. Via Paris & Peart, Illinois Baking, A& P and Vanity Fair Facial Tissues account for four full-length blurbs and a show opening and closing. Six of the major animators and puppet filmers in Japan formed recently, into the Japan Animation Producers Assn. and are doing their U. S. biz here via Video Crafts Inc.
Rankin's organization, holding an exclusive tie-up with the new Oriental outfit, has assigned them production of new tv program animations. Show, broken into three-and-a-half minute segments for the most part is being called "Willy McBean & His Magic Machine." Ultimately, the Japanese telefilmers will have 100 ready for syndication. Rankin also bought 60 animated and puppet films that had already been produced for Japan. They will be cut from half-hour lengths into five-minute segs and Rankin is doing new sound tracks for all of them. [omit remainder of the article]
‘Pinocchio’ Tees Off Videocraft's New Approach to Vidkid EntriesVideocraft’s original intention was to have “Oz” done in Japan. But plans changed. This is from the weekly Variety of June 14, 1961.
A new approach to children's programming—though actually it's the oldest of all kiddie forms—has been undertaken by Videocraft Productions, a firm heretofore confined to production of commercials and industrial pix.
Videocraft's Canada TV Animated SeriesAnd why did plans change? Simple. Canadian laws were changed all but guaranteeing a spot on television for any Canadian-made animation. I suspect Arthur Rankin wasn’t one to turn down a guaranteed sale. Plans to do the soundtracks in New York changed, too. What was Allen Swift’s loss was Paul Kligman’s gain (it’s sheer speculation on my part that Swift would have been cast, but he seemed to voice all kind of cartoons and untolled commercials in New York at the time). Weekly Variety again, from July 26, 1961:
As with "Pinocchio," Videocraft's Nippon production, the N. Y. company will supply the creative work, designs, characters, storyboards, scripts and soundtracks, while Crawley does the actual physical production.
‘55% Canadian Content’ Crawley's Big Plus in Wooing TintedThe names of the voice actors should be recognisable to any Rankin-Bass fan. Several can be heard in the stop-motion “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and even later on the TV Spider-Man cartoons produced by Grantray-Lawrence and Steve Krantz. And if I have to explain to you who James Doohan is, you’ll be attacked by Trekkies/Trekkers faking a Scottish accent.
The strongest factor, along with proximity, that won Crawley Films Ltd. here the 260-stanza color tv-film series "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" away from Japan was Board of Broadcast Governors' “55% Canadian content” rule. It comes fully into effect next year on all Canadian stations, CBC and indie.
Two pilots for the five-minute series were made in Japan for Vide[o]craft Intl. Inc. [sic], but Crawley got the nod for the $300,000-plus deal for world distribution. (It's actually for 130, with another 130 optioned.) BBG reportedly promised Videocraft a “55% Canadian” seal for its Japanese-made “Pinocchio” as well, if “Oz” was made in Canada.
Crawley Films will do all the visuals, with soundtrack made at RCA-Victor studios in Toronto by Bernard Cowan Associates Inc., with Canadian actors Pegi Loder, Paul Kligman, Larry Mann, Alfie Scopp and James Doohan in leads, directed by Cowan. Thomas Glynn, vet Crawley director, is helming the visuals and all technicians are Canadian. So are five-of the six key animators and as many others of the 35 needed as can be hired in Canada, the rest to come from U. K. (Crawley has rounded up 25 so far.) Firm has had a small animation unit for years for its commercial films, headed by Vic Atkinson. Dickie Horn, w. k. U. K. animator, is another of the key men, who also include William Mason, Barry Nelson, Dennis Pyke and English-born Robert Dalton, all Canadians.
Story boards are being done by Tom Peters and Jules Bass, both of N. Y.; latter a member of Videocraft directorate. Script is based on the Frank Baum characters, partially renamed Rusty the Tin Man, Dandy the Cowardly Lion, Socrates the Straw Man. Dorothy and the Munchkins, however, remains the same.
The Willie McBean project and another planned by Videocraft soon after are quite interesting and we’ll try to get to them in a future post.