Saturday, 20 June 2015


Nobody goes on line or writes books to debate the merits of the Pacemakers shorts put out by Paramount. Or the Pathé Sportscopes released by RKO. Or Universal’s Variety Views. But you’ll find huge numbers of people endlessly lavishing attention upon animated cartoons released by the various movie studios at the same time as the previously mentioned shorts.

In 1947, all of those series—and many more—served the exact same purpose. They were short subjects that theatres could put on the screen and then send back the reel to the exchange and forget about it forever. But television changed that. The cartoons filled airtime directed at children, and were run over and over countless times. Kids who admired the cartoons wanted to learn more and became the first generation of animation scholars. They learned about, and told of, the people behind the cartoons. As result, today, many of the names of front-line people associated with cartoons could be considered part of pop culture.

One of the many is Friz Freleng.

Freleng lived into the era mentioned above so he was around to receive honours within the “animation community” and recognition of fans. He made the rounds in the glory days of seri-cels, when drawings from cartoons were re-created and signed by old time artists or directors. Making the rounds meant doing interviews and here’s one from the Chicago Tribune of January 31, 1989. Freleng deserves credit for making some of the best cartoons at Warners but the writer of the story goes a little too far. Freleng had nothing to do with assembling Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin or Mel Blanc at the studio. And we’ll leave the sub-head of “creator of...Bugs” alone. And saying Freleng did Roadrunner cartoons is like saying Dave Barry was the voice of Elmer Fudd. But it’s nice to see Freleng get accolades in the print medium.

Animated genius
The creator of Porky and Bugs is still quite a draw

by Deborah Sroloff
“Eh, what’s up, doc?”
“Thufferin’ thuccotash!”
“I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”
These catchphrases—uttered by Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Pie—have become such part of our collective lexicon, it’s easy to forget that those critters are cartoon characters not real people. But, of course, there is real person behind all these celluloid crazies—Friz Freleng, resident genius of animation at Warner Bros. from the 1930s through the ‘60s.
In a 65-year career, Freleng was present at the birth of the animated cartoon, and still keeps his hand in exhibiting his limited-edition animation cels in 40 galleries nationwide, including the Circle Gallery in Chicago, where they are on continuous display.
Did he have any idea at the outset of his career that he would someday be an exhibited artist?
“No! We were making a living. We were just happy to do that kind of work. Now it’s considered art,” he says, shaking his head in bemusement.
Freleng, 82, was born in Kansas City, Mo., the birthplace of another animation giant, Walt Disney. He never lost his childhood interest in drawing, and in his teens intended to become a newspaper cartoonist.
“By the time I got out of high school,” he recalls, “I was looking for a job, and saw an ad in the paper for an office boy who could draw. . .It happened to be where Walt Disney had been working, [United Film Service].
“Walt had left for California, and one of my high school friends, Hugh Harman was there, getting ready to join Walt.
“ ‘Gee, I don’t know anything about animation,’ I told him—I didn’t even know how you got the drawings onto film! Well, he showed me little bit and told me to get a book called ‘Lutz’s Book of Animation,’ saying I’d learn everything had to know from there.
“Hugh left me there alone, and I was doing the animation, transferring paper drawings to celluloid, painting the cels. They didn’t have inkers and painters so I did everything myself. And, believe me, sometimes they came out pretty wrong! Then Hugh told Walt about me, and I came out to California.”
Though the association with Disney didn’t work out—“Did you ever try working for genius?” Freleng asks. “You do exactly what the genius wants. And you can never satisfy him, because you can’t do it as well as he can or as well as he’d like it done.”
He eventually set up a California production company with Harman, Rudy Ising and Ham Hamilton. In 1930, the dawn of talkies, they came up with a talking cartoon, “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub,” starring a character named Bosko. Warner Bros. then hired Freleng and thus began its golden age of cartoons: cartoons that were more wild, freewheeling and tongue-in-cheek than anything put out by Disney.
Freleng assembled a legendary group of cartoon men—Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Frank Tashlin (who later went on to direct many of Jerry Lewis’ films) and, of course, the chameleonic-voiced Mel Blanc. And so were born a riotous of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
One of Freleng’s first creations was Porky Pig. “He was the first character that really took hold,” Freleng says. “That little, stuttering pig. How I came up with him was I had two fat playmates as kid, one we called Porky and one we called Piggy. To make him different, I had him stutter.”
The unit produces 10 to 12 cartoons year—an unaffordble feat today. “We figured they’d just run in the theaters and then disappear,” he chuckles. “Cartoons were like newspapers—you print it, you read it, it’s gone. Nobody even thought about TV; you never thought you’d see them again.”
With the use of the Warner Bros orchestra and cadre of irreverent writer-directors and animators, Freleng churned out laugh riot after laugh riot, starring Porky, Sylvester, Tweety, Daffy, Bugs, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam (Freleng’s personal favorite), the Road Runner and Wile Coyote.
“They really were personalities,” Freleng says of his creations. “People have asked me, and I ask myself, why can’t they do now what we did then? But we had the time and the patience and the desire to make those things come alive.”
And a studio. As Freleng is sadly aware, the cost of animation today is prohibitive.
“ ‘Roger Rabbit’ luckily had a producer and a director and a cartoonist who could think the same and believed in one another. But that’s very rare. The reason you see what you see on Saturday morning is that they can’t afford to make the cartoons here. You have to ship the story board off to Taiwan, where somebody you have no communication with is going to make it.

1 comment:

  1. Friz gets credit for stabilizing the ship in 1933 after Harman and Ising left and when Tom Palmer's cartoons left something to be desired, along with having a strong narrative story structure when he returned from MGM -- if a gag was going to be in one of Friz's cartoons, it had to come out of the personality of the characters and not simply be stuck in at random. That would be the foundation the studio would build on over the next few years -- strong story lines tied to strong gags tied to strong personalities. Friz wasn't a groundbreaker, but there was a fluidity and a rationality behind the gags in his cartoons that made the gag make sense, no matter how out-of-the-blue it may have come from.