Saturday, 28 March 2015

We're Not in Kansas Any More, We're in Ottawa

Canadian content rules have resulted in many things, including endless playings of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” on the radio in the early ‘70s. They also brought about a cartoon series that has its charms for some despite very limited animation.

“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. Use
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.
Art Rankin topper of Video Crafts (begun in 1950 as a tv graphics house before expanding into the general commercial field a few years later), said that production on the Paris & Peart blurbs was begun approximately six weeks ago. His contention is that the Japanese are excellent animators and that most of their work shows a different approach from domestic animation styles. Moreover, animation production in Japan, done in just about the same amount of time as here regardless of the trans-Pacific-continental shipping, is generally one-third less expensive than American-made product.
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]
Videocraft’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.
‘Pinocchio’ Tees Off Videocraft's New Approach to Vidkid Entries
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.
The approach is the creation of series based on fairy tales and other traditional kidstories. First show out of the Videocraft hopper is "The New Adventures of Pinocchio," series of 130 five-minute segments filmed in a new process called "Anamagic," [sic] utilizing animated, puppets. Next up will be an animated series of five-minute segments, "Tales of the Wizard of Oz," employing the original Frank Baum characters. Both shows are syndication entries; "Pinocchio" is already sold in over 20 markets, with Videocraft handling its own sales.
Videocraft’s original intention was to have “Oz” done in Japan. But plans changed. This is from the weekly Variety of June 14, 1961.
Videocraft's Canada TV Animated Series
Videocraft Productions, already producing one animated series in Tokyo, has now slated another for Canada. Company has set a facilities deal with Crawley Studios in Toronto for production of 260 five-minute color episodes of "Tales of the Wizard of Oz," based on the original Frank Baum book.
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.
And 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:
‘55% Canadian Content’ Crawley's Big Plus in Wooing Tinted
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.
BBG chairman Dr. Andrew Stewart is quoted as saying the concession was made to encourage formation of a Canadian animation industry. This is the first major cartoon series made in Canada. Three have been shot, three are in production and 40 are expected to be in the can by Oct. 31.
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 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 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.


  1. Larry Mann later relocated to LA in the late 1960s. He became a regular voice actor for DePatie-Freleng, both on the television and theatrical shorts front.

    1. And his name is in the end credits of Filmation's "Sabrina the Teenage Witch".

  2. 3/28/15 wrote:
    I remember seeing both of these early Rankin/Bass (then known as Videocrafts Animation Inc.) on Channel 9 in Windsor, Ontario, and televised across the border on the East side of Michigan on the Huron River side. Even back then, I thought these series were cheaply animated, but cheerfully pleasant at the same time. Once the company made "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer two years after these shows debuts, the R&B "Animagic" legend was on. R&B didn't rely much on celebrity voices at the time,but on Canadian-based voice overs. Once General Electric,sponsor of "Rudolph" suggested using Burl Ives as a voice over (after failing to get original voice-over idea Gene Autry),the reliance on celebrity voices then became a standard tradition for R&B animation.

  3. Interesting to see Storer Programs, Inc. was behind distributing this show, another Canadian classic they were involved in was "The Littlest Hobo". The parent company itself was HQ'd out of Toledo, OH (my hometown), who also operated Toledo's first station, WSPD (later WTVG before they got out of the TV biz).

  4. To this day, Paul Soles IS the "Voice of Canada" - at least in MY head.