Saturday, 26 May 2018

Sidney's Golden Moment

Terrytoons weren’t exactly witty or magnificently animated into the 1950s. Then Gene Deitch came along in 1956 as creative supervisor and changed that.

He succeeded in some ways. Deitch invented Tom Terrific for television, little bare-bones cartoons that were imaginatively animated and occasionally dry in humour (thanks, Manfred). And his most enjoyable new creation for theatres, at least in my estimation, was Sidney the elephant. Sidney was well-defined. He was clumsy, helpful, neurotic and occasionally obsessive. He wasn’t a complete winner, like a Bugs Bunny, or a loser, like Wile E. Coyote. He got support from a giraffe that sounded like Carol Channing (both characters were played by Lionel Wilson, who was also Tom Terrific). And his beach-ball design was pretty clever, too.

Sidney outlasted Deitch at Terrytoons and appeared in 19 cartoons. It doesn’t seem like there were that many, but perhaps it’s because whoever owns these cartoons won’t put them into home video circulation (“Tusk, tusk,” as Sidney might say).

The Terrytoons, as Leonard Maltin opined in his still-valuable book Of Mice And Magic, suddenly got noticed. Around the world, too. Animated films appeared for the first time at the London Festival in 1959. Sidney’s Family Tree was screened along with animated features from Czechoslovakia and Japan, and cartoon shorts from Yugoslavia, Romania, East Germany, Canada and England’s Halas and Batchelor studio (The Insolate Matador). In other words, the kinds of films you’d expect at an international festival. And Terrytoons belonged there. This was the same studio that was foisting Dinky Duck on people just a few years earlier.

Why all the Terrytoon talk? Note this short article in Picturegoer, a British publication, of January 16, 1960.
Move over, Magoo
A FEW years ago the critics were raving about the wit and stylishness of UPA’s Magoo shorts. Today, if they bother to comment, it’s only to deplore the way the series has got stuck in a rut. Meanwhile Terrytoons—a name that once caused shudders in other animation studios—comes up with so many inventive productions that it’s won the place that UPA held as the most imaginative of American groups.
Films like Flebus and Sidney’s Family Tree have been the talk of international film festivals. They offer something new—animated psychology. The characters have complexes—and the studio uses artists like cartoonist Feiffer to explore them.
There’s even a line in crazy mixed-up animals. The elephant in Sidney’s Family Tree may be forty-four, but he still so pines for mother love that insists on being adopted by two very small monkeys. The dog in The Tale Of A Dog is mistaken for an employee by a frankfurter company and works his way up to be president. . . .
Bob Godfrey, a director of Britain’s own off-beat Biographic Cartoon Films, comments: “Terrytoons uses to turn out the worst American cartoons. Now it’s about the best. But I don’t that kind of psychological humour will be imitated over here. We’d call it sick humour.”
Sick . . . or sophisticated. Does Magoo need spectacles to read the writing on the wall? It’s time he got the opposition into focus, particularly after 1001 Arabian Nights, not on release. Or are the men behind Magoo short-sighted too?
Unfortunately for Magoo, things got worse for him, not better. Hank Saperstein soon bought UPA and started churning out television dreck, including cartoons featuring the almost-blind old man saddled with an outrageously unfunny Asian stereotype houseboy. (Magoo, in a way, recovered to star in the first animated Christmas special for television). Terrytoons then decided it didn’t want “a different approach to animated subjects,” as a PR flack for the studio put it when Gene Deitch was hired. Deitch was out (he moved on and won an Oscar). Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle were in (and looking cheaper). People went to theatres to see them. But critics weren’t talking about Terrytoons any longer.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Jolly Juggler Bullwinkle

“Time for that jolly juggler, Bullwinkle!” we’re told by a rather dense moose. He manages to catch the first two balls in his head. The third lands on his head first. Animation on twos.

“And now here’s a feature you’re sure to like,” Rocky assures us. “Three,” counts the moose.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Jets

Little Johnny Jet and his dad whizz past the Statue of Liberty in their Oscar-nominated short. In fact, they’re going so fast, the breeze lifts the statue’s skirt.

I’m not sure what Johnny is thinking after he looks back, but here’s his reaction.

Exhibitors liked this cartoon. It was their second choice in Boxoffice Barometer’s 14th annual shorts poll, only behind Disney’s live-action Bear Country

Heck Allen helped Tex Avery with the gags while Ray Patterson was borrowed from the Hanna-Barbera unit to help Avery’s usual crew of Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton, Mike Lah and Bob Bentley. Daws Butler and Colleen Collins, uncredited, provide voices. Patterson, incidentally, told animation historian/writer Earl Kress late in life that he didn’t recall why he ended up working in both units.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Selling Sausage and Singing to a Cow

In the 1950s, there was almost one way to guarantee success. By failing. As host of the CBS morning show opposite NBC’s “Today.”

Walter Cronkite went on to be the Most Trusted Man in America. Dick Van Dyke went on to star in one of the classic TV comedies of all time. Jack Paar went on to a memorable turn hosting the “Tonight” show. And Jimmy Dean went on to a number-one record, a gigantic meat empire and helped popularise Jim Henson in North America with his chats with Rowlf on an evening variety show.

And the tale of how Dean’s big, bad song came about is remarkable in its own way.

But, first, let’s look at Dean’s network TV break. He had been hosting a local morning show in Washington, D.C. that CBS decided to pick up. It had nothing to lose. None of its attempts to make a big dent in “Today” had worked. And, after all, hadn’t CBS seconded a Washington D.C. morning man named Arthur Godfrey and watched the money roll in? It hit the network on April 8, 1957. This story from six months down the road is from the United Press.
Jimmy Dean Music Gives 'Today' Jolt

NEW YORK, Sept. 14 (UP)—It appears that the Columbia Broadcasting System finally hit upon the right formula for getting an early morning TV audience opposite NBC's entrenched "Today" show (Ch. 17) when it put singing Jimmy Dean in charge of its 7 a.m. programming (on Ch. 4) and let him cut lose with that "country music."
The lean and likeable Jimmy and his company of expert vocalists and instrumentalists have lost little time since they took the air in April in making an impression on the early-morning ratings. For whatever ratings may be worth, the show has been able to get slightly ahead of Dave Garroway's "Today" in recent weeks.
"Country music's been national popular for years and years," Dean said, "so it's not so surprising that folks like to listen to it even early in the morning. We didn't have to break any new ground when we started this show."
Dean pointed out that so far as radio and television are concerned, much is owed to Station WSM in Nashville for spreading knowledge and appreciation of hillbilly or country or western songs around the land.
"I feel that our acceptance by the public in such a short time is due to the pioneering done by WSM and other radio stations like it over the years. Why, right after our first week on CBS-TV, we got over 40,000 letters.
"This response was something of a surprise because we figured that, although we knew there was a big audience for such entertainment, the early hour might be something of a handicap.
"Folks never really used to stop me on the street except, of course. In Washington, where we had a local show, but now I have to watch my manners wherever I go. Can't pick up the fried chicken in my fingers when I eat in a restaurant now."
Jimmy and his group have latched on so well that CBS recently spotted them also in a 30-minute night-time spot carried at 8:30 Saturday nights on Ch. 4 for the summer.
The 28-year-old Texan, who's sort of free and easy himself, said the performer he most admires is Bing Crosby.
"It's the way he relaxes when he sings that makes all the difference," Dean explained.
Dean and his family live near Arlington, Va., close to the National Capital where his telecasting originates.
"I'm teaching my two children to play the piano," he said. "One of the nicest things about country music is that the notes don't go too high or too low, so the whole family can have a sing-song whenever we're of a mind to."
After December 13th, Dean was replaced with dead air (affiliates filled their own time), but CBS kept him on Saturdays at noon. In September 1958, the network switched him to a half-hour daytime show from New York. But he was told to dump all that yokel stuff. The show didn’t last. By the following June, he was replaced with a soap opera and muddled around with some guest shots (on The Chevy Show, Dean sang while he milked a cow).

But then came “Big Bad John,” released in September 1961, racking up the best sales for Columbia Records in two years within weeks and parking at number one on November 6th after six weeks on the chart. Soon, the Newspaper Enterprise Association came knocking for an interview. This appeared in papers starting November 26th.
Big Bad John Born in Plane

NEW YORK - (NEA) - Out of a chorus singer, a flight certificate, a hunk of steel and a quonset hut has come the first big popular record hit in three years. Not since the late Johnny Horton yelled out "The Battle of New Orleans" has there been a record which has sold as fast as Jimmy Dean's current Columbia smash, "Big Bad John." Not so much a song as a recitation, it was written by Dean himself.
“Big Bad John" tells the story of a mighty miner who gives his life to save his fellows. Although it has the flavor of folk music, it is a complete fiction. It came about when Dean toured the summer stock circuit last year in "Destry Rides Again.” In the chorus was a 6-foot-5 singer named John Mento. "What else do you call a man that big whose name is John except Big John?" says Dean.
Let You Experiment
The two became friendly and one day Dean gave him a ride. To while away the time, he made up a story about Big John — and promptly forgot all about it. This fall, Dean was summoned to Nashville, the second capital of the recording industry, to do a session. For some reason the saga of “Big Bad John” flashed into his mind while he was flying to Tennessee. He called the stewardess and asked for some paper.
All she had was a flight certificate the airline gives out to babies commemorating their first flight. Dean scribbled the words of "Big Bad John" on the back. "What I like about recording in Nashville," Dean says, "is that they let you experiment."
So they let him put "Big Bad John" on wax. The recording stadio he used is a converted quonset hut. In it, Dean, five singers, a rhythm section and famed country pianist Floyd Cramer went to work.
Opens TV Doors
“We'd done one or two takes," Dean says, "when Cramer says, “You don't need a piano on this, but I've got an idea.” He took a hunk of steel they had been using for a door stop, hung it from a coil rack and began hitting it with a big bolt. That's the clang you hear on the record."
The result was something—nobody knew exactly what—which was an immediate hit (Dean originally preferred the ether side, a little number called "I Won't Go Hunting With You, Jake, But I’ll Go Chasing Women.")
For Dean, the huge success of "Big Bad John" has meant a 75 to 100 per cent increase in hit salarv for in-person engagements and, “It's opened some TV doors." Indirectly, it will mean the completion of a dream. Dean, originally from Plainview, Tex., has long wanted to build a certain kind of house on a particular plot of land. He already owns the land—75 acres in Loudon County, Va., not far from Leesburg.
"This coming summer,” he says, "I’m going to build that house. I’m going to dam up the creek and have a fishing pond about seven acres and stock it with trout and bluegill.
As for John Mento, the cause of it all, Dean would like to know where he is.
“I’d like to take him home and give him a steak dinner,” Dean says. “I owe him that much, any how.”
It took a little time for Dean to land a TV deal. He signed with ABC for the 1963-64 season and, despite mixed reviews for his debut, the show lasted 2 1/2 seasons. Dean told Lawrence Laurent of the Washington Post that a time slot change opposite “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was the main thing that killed his show. He went back to guest shots (none involving a cow) before adding to his wealth when he jumped into the pork sausage business in 1969. The friendliness he projected in his TV commercials sold a lot of meat.

Dean jumped back into television in 1973 with a syndicated show but had a lucrative contact in Vegas, so he really didn’t need the small screen any more. He died in 2010 at the age of 81. His TV shows may be long gone, but his sausages live on.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Radio Catchphrase Time Again

Flip and his dog manage to capture escaped convict Chow Mein (and a parrot) in Chinaman’s Chance. Flip defers credit to the dog. The animator gives various expressions to both.

The dog bashes the heckling parrot, whose feathers all fly off in a gag we’ve seen elsewhere. After Iwerks’ patented radiating lines and flashing question mark, the parrot ends the cartoon with “Wass you dere, Sharlie?”

The phrase belonged to Jack Pearl as Baron Munchausen, teller of tall tales, who would say it at least once every show to Cliff Hall as Sharlie, whenever his straight man would express scepticism about what he was hearing. They hit the airwaves in September 1932 (though both had been around for years in vaudeville) but hadn’t worn out their welcome yet when this cartoon was released in 1933. Flip was about to wear out his, though. Only two more cartoons were released later in the year before he was retired by the Iwerks studio.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Duck For an Oscar

Daffy Duck pretends to be an Oscar to try to get past the security guard of Warmer Brothers Productions in Hollywood Daffy (1946).

Who else but Mike Maltese would come up with this concept?

A desk and a mechano man (or is it just a glove) dispatches the duck,

This is from the Friz Freleng unit, so Manny Perez, Virgil Ross, Ken Champin and Gerry Chiniquy are the credited animators.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Dennis Saves The...

It’s hard to believe there was a time that Dennis Day wasn’t connected with Jack Benny, and that Day’s hiring was a real gamble on Benny’s part.

In 1939, Kenny Baker was the singer on the Benny show. Baker was also singing on another programme, The Texaco Star Theatre starring Ken Murray. Suddenly, almost at the end of the radio season, Baker decided to sign an exclusive, $2000-a-week contract with Texaco. He was a no-show on the last Benny show.

Baker was a popular and valuable asset to the Benny show. Replacing him would be difficult. What if the public didn’t accept the replacement?

As it turned out, it turned out for the better. Dennis Day grew into his role on the show and proved to be even more valuable and versatile than Baker, demonstrating that he was a fine comic actor and had a good ear for dialects and a few impressions.

Day’s hiring was utterly improbable. He had a bit of radio experience—on a Thursday afternoon show on the CBS station in New York, then on a network show that was batted around the CBS schedule in 15 and 30-minute formats. He was not someone a lot of people would have known. Here’s a story from the Buffalo Evening News, less than two months after Dennis arrived on the Benny show, to explain how he got there, with a bonus revelation about actress Verna Felton, who played his mother. And he stayed with Benny, military service excepted, until the radio show went off the air in 1955 and for more years in television after that.

By the way, Dennis’s birthday is tomorrow. That makes this post (get ready, folks) a Day early!

NEW YORK, NOV. 11.—The big town boy who's making good in a great big way as Jack Benny's tenor discovery Sunday evenings on NBC-WBEN had never sung a note professionally five months ago.
As recently as last November he hadn't even considered earning a living as a singer.
More than a few New Yorkers will remember Dennis Day as one Eugene Dennis McNulty, son of a city engineer, choir boy at St. Patrick's Cathedral, second ranking honor student at Manhattan College, president and soloist of that school's glee club, and winner of Mayor LaGuardia's vocational scholarship upon his graduation in 1938.
To most of the United States, however, he was an unknown until a few weeks ago.
"Mac," as he was better known in those days, chose to exercise the scholarship by accepting a job at WNYC in New York. His four amateur appearances with Larry Clinton's NBC Campus Club the previous Spring had whetted his appetite for radio.
• • •
But far from becoming an immediate tenor sensation, Mac put in his time at WNYC as a glorified office boy, saving every penny he could toward the day when he could afford to enter law school.
In October, an appendectomy upset his well-laid plans. When he was released from the hospital, his savings were gone and he was faced with the necessity of making money quickly to regain lost ground.
Spurred on by Rudolph Friml Jr., who recognized his vocal talent after hearing him at a party, McNulty took a more appealing professional name, Dennis Day—his own middle name plus his grandmother's maiden name.
Then began the heart-breaking routine of auditions. He was rewarded finally in June, when Del Peters of CBS signed him for the tenor spot on Ray Bloch's Musical Varieties.
He started at the stupendous salary of $21 per week, of which an agent got 10 per cent.
• • •
A faux pas made during the second and last broadcast with Bloch made Dennis believe that he had snuffed out a promising career.
After singing one song, Dennis stepped out of the studio momentarily for a drink of water. Maestro Bloch, crossing him up, went immediately into the introduction of Day's next song instead of a band number.
Dennis reached the mike on cue, but his first note should have been put through a wringer.
The error wasn't as tragic as Dennis had assumed, however, for he next was given the vocal berth on Leith Stevens' series, Accent on Music, and was making his debut on this CBS series when Mary Livingstone heard him.
She located his manager, obtained a record of the broadcast, and flew with it to Jack, who was then in Chicago. After playing the record, Jack returned to New York to audition Day.
• • •
All in all, Jack listened to more than 100 of the nation's best tenors during the Summer, and his radio producer, Murray Bolen, heard that many more. But Dennis, a shy youngster who came along about number 50, had the inside track from the moment Jack heard him.
Funny thing, too. Last June, when Day heard that Kenny Baker wouldn't be with Jack this Fall, he stroked that piece of Blarney Stone without which he wouldn't feel completely dressed, and immediately was seized with the feeling that he was destined to be the next Jack Benny tenor.
Common sense told him that it was a crazy idea, since he had only one professional broadcast behind him at the time, but a few weeks later, when Jack Benny asked him to audition, Dennis felt as if he'd known about it and had worked toward it all along.
Jack spent the month of August auditioning more singers in Hollywood. Then he sent for Dennis, who arrived early in September and made an immediate hit with the rest of the gang.
But still no contracts were signed. On the spur of the moment Jack embarked for Treasure Island, at San Francisco, pushed on to New York, Detroit and Chicago, and headed home with his mind made up to send for Dennis and give him a trial.
But when Jack reached Hollywood, he found that Dennis was still in town. No one had told him to go home.
Dennis, figuring that he ought to stay under cover lest the cat get out of the bag and spoil his chances, had been practically hiding out for four weeks—and was he homesick!
• • •
Homesick—mother—stage mother! Jack had an idea. Why not introduce Dennis by means of a hard-boiled, domineering stage mother who'd see to it not only that Dennis was protected from Hollywood but also that Jack's life was made characterisically [sic] miserable?
Benny, Harry Baldwin, his secretary; his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin; Mary Livingstone and Producer Murray Bolen began auditioning "stage mothers," with Dennis sitting in.
They finally eliminated all but two, voted, and wound up in a three-three,' deadlock. "Dennis, it'll be your mother," said Jack. "You cast the deciding vote." Thus Dennis Day, probably the only lad on record who's had the privilege of choosing his own mother, said, "I like Miss Felton, Mr. Benny. She sounds like she'd be a world of protection to me."
So Verna Felton, who had been mother to Phil Harris, Don Wilson and "Tom Sawyer Benny," became the bass voiced maternal protector of Dennis Day.
• • •
Now that he's been made a regular member of the Jack Benny gang and is succeeding in one of the toughest spots so young a singer ever had to fill, there is just one question that's uppermost in Dennis Day's mind:
"Mr. Benny, will we do a show or two from New York this year?"

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Commercial Pintoff

You can probably imagine the reaction by the old-timers on the Terrytoons staff. They had been making lacklustre shorts starring Dinky Duck and Little Roquefort that didn’t have the sophistication or polish of a Walter Lantz cartoon, let alone one by Walt Disney. And then the studio made something called Flebus that looked and felt like nothing the studio had ever done before. It could have come from another planet.

In a way, it came from another studio. Creative director Gene Deitch arrived at Terrytoons and decided changes had to be made. So he brought Ernest Pintoff over from UPA, and Pintoff put together Flebus.

Pintoff didn’t stay. He left in March 1957 to form Pintoff-Lawrence Productions with Bob Lawrence in New York to make television commercials. To no surprise, the highly-creative Pintoff clashed with Lawrence. Their partnership died at the end of the year. Pintoff went on to create The Violinist and then The Critic, which won the Oscar for best animated short subject in 1963. Both films were darlings of the festival circuit, but you can’t make money at festivals. So Pintoff made his money in TV spots.

Broadcasting magazine profiled two of his advertising works in 1960. Whether these spots are available for viewing, I don’t know. The first story is from August 23rd.
A fresh approach to an old story
U.S. Steel and BBDO, its agency, lightly ribbed steel's best customer — the automobile industry — on television in an unusual fresh approach to an old need.
The need as felt by advertiser U.S. Steel has been to remind the country's automobile buyers and riders that it's steel which makes the four-wheeled vehicle so sturdy and safe.
The new approach: a 2½ minute animated commercial that pokes a litde fun at the foibles of the auto industry while ramming home the idea that the use of steel in bumpers, in wheels and even in auto trim makes for a vehicle that's better looking, safer and more practical.
The commercial's debut on U.S. Steel Hour (CBS-TV) on June 15 pleased client and customer Detroit. Result No. 1 : the commercial, called "Materials Salesman," was repeated on Aug. 10. Result No. 2: another animated cartoon about autos is being prepared for U.S. Steel's tv spectacular "Step on the Gas" that will be networked in October.
The choice of producer and talent for the commercial was regarded in this instance as part of the agency's creative effort. With this encouragement, the BBDO team — Jack Goldsmith, a tv art supervisor, and James Huff, a tv copywriter — went to work.
In reviewing their experience with the commercial the team recalled this unusual development as illustrative: Comedian Don Adams, who had been selected for the character voice of the materials salesman, became so enthused in the briefing that he took the commercial script home the night before the recording session.
When Mr. Adams appeared at the studio the next day it was obvious he had memorized the script (ordinarily all he would have had to do was read the lines) and had marked those lines he would suggest for gags or for change of emphasis. Such creative development inevitably gained theatrical quality when combined with the drawing skill of Ernie Pintoff who was producer-director via his Pintoff Productions, New York.
The "star" of the commercial is a salesman who is a sharpster with a likable quality despite his aggressiveness. He appears at the Colossal Motor Car Company (in Detroit) to sell his bag of substitutes for the steel used in automobile manufacture.
The hard-boiled president of the company, secure in the "yessing" of three vice presidents, won't take china for the steel bumper; gingerbread mix for the stainless steel auto trim or flexible putty for autos' rugged steel wheels. Consequently the salesman is forcibly ejected from the sacred domain of Colossal Motor Car Co.

This story was published September 26th.
Cocoa Marsh turns to zoo for ad salesman

Cocoa Marsh's friendly lion has leaped off the label and onto the television screen, bringing son LeRoy with him (in picture, LeRoy is stalling curfew with the drink of Cocoa Marsh dodge). The illustration is taken from a series of new animated minutes that represent a sharp departure in selling style for a company that has had dramatic success with local live pitches backed by strong promotions.
The new commercials premiered this month in some 20 markets. If they work, it could mean Cocoa Marsh business in as many as 30 more.
The switch in strategy was no light decision for Taylor-Reed Corp., the Glenbrook, Conn., manufacturer of Cocoa Marsh, and its agency, Hicks & Greist, New York. Cocoa Marsh built its present distribution on a hard-hitting live tv technique that paid its way from market to market, spreading from the Northeast to cover four-fifths of the country since 1956. (The company goes back 22 years and also produces E-Z popcorn, Fluffomatic rice, Q-T frosting Yum-Berry syrup.)
Now the very young audience Cocoa Marsh addresses is ready for a change, the advertiser is persuaded. The decision to animate the message grew out of research on many fronts — cartoon ratings, commercial testing at agency, factory and independent researcher levels — and, of course, in the homes of the company's board chairman (Malcolm P. Taylor has his own five-member children's panel), his ad manager and agency account people.
Little LeRoy only lately has sprung to the tv screen, but he's the result of a gradual evolution. The lion label was developed just prior to the company's tv debut for a new jar designed by President Charles M. D. Reed, co-founder of the company, who handles production (Mr. Taylor concentrates on sales). "Name the Cocoa Marsh lion" was one of many local promotions to encourage identification in a market where many of the consumers cannot yet read. Today's LeRoy did not grow directly from that promotion but this is the lion of descent.
LeRoy has a large assignment for one so young. Client and agency are ever mindful that children are easily bored. LeRoy and his papa are expected to give the little ones a laugh — mothers, too — while conveying the flavor and health message. The commercials run in children's shows where Taylor-Reed maintains year-round schedules.
Theodore J. Grunewald, senior vice president of Hicks & Greist, and his agency colleagues spent six months developing the character. Currently they have three 60-second situation plots on the air (schedules vary up to 30 spots a week in big markets).
Hicks & Greist conceived the campaign and got Pintoff Productions, New York, to execute animation considered worthy of battle with the food giants the company competes with. The agency's Len Glasser did story boards and Richard Rendely produced.
Mel Blanc was brought from the West Coast for the voice assignment. Now it's up to LeRoy to show what a lion he can be in the marketplace.
Pintoff talked about his career in print. Here’s a story from the Rochester Democrat of August 8, 1963. No mention of Flebus or Terrytoons at all. His work at the Actors Studio later translated into the short film The Shoe.
New Kind of Movie Cartoon Pays Off for Pintoff
NEW YORK — A new kind of movie cartoon, sophisticated, funny and informal with a civilized malice, has became the pride and joy (not to mention the meal-ticket) of Ernest Pintoff, a tall, dark, mustached cartoonist-painter of 31.
A recent Pintoff film, "The Critic," is a wry commentary on both the uninformed viewer of modern art and on its ultra-serious practitioner. Mel Brooks, comedian famous for his "2000-year-man" impersonation, is the narrator, and for the brief film Pintoff has drawn a series of abstract shapes that brilliantly parody today's non-objective painting.
Despite his own success, Pintoff thinks the animated cartoon is currently at its lowest ebb. "First off, there's really no profit in it, and creatively . . . . well, there are more exciting things being done in TV commercials. The really good talent goes to advertising. Cash is hard to resist."
* * *
PINTOFF got into cartooning by way of painting, which he studied and then taught at Michigan State University. Soon after, in 1955, he joined UPA, the outfit that immortalized Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo. There he learned his cartooning ropes, designing, directing and writing tackling every phase of the business.
"By 1958, I decided I’d had it with UPA. I wanted to go it on my own. So I started Pintoff Productions, and entered the television commercials field, something I'm still very busy at. We make about 250 commercials a year."
Not satisfied with the anonymity of commercials, which have won him a string of awards, Pintoff embarked on his first independent cartoon, "The Violinist." None of the major studios wanted to touch it. "Too special."
But it was this "special"—quality that attracted the late Ed Kingsley of Kingsley International. His company bought and distributed the film, which went on to win the British Academy Award, a Hollywood Oscar nomination and the Edinburgh prize for best Animated Cartoon of 1959.
* * *
ALMOST all of Pintoff's films deal in basic concepts: Friendship, love, hate, loneliness. Pictorially, the films are models of economy. The drawings are bold, direct and, in the rendering of human, shapes—never fussy or overly-animated.
Pintoff has managed to invest his cartoons with serious ideas. He makes his points but he also leaves you laughing. It's a rare and refreshing combination. The future is filled with all sorts of Pintoff projects. More cartoons are on the agenda. A major TV network is negotiating for a cartoon series.
Pintoff is currently enrolled in the playwriting unit of The Actors Studio and is happy over the success of some scenes of a play which the Studio has put on. He hopes the play will reach Broadway in the near future.

If old editions of Variety are correct, Pintoff first contributed to the The Boing-Boing Show, directing “Fight on For Old” (1956) not long after his arrival at UPA. It’s great if you like simple designs and really limited animation. View a beet-red print of it below.

Pintoff died of complications from a stroke at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, on January 12, 2002. He was 70.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Spear-Riding Jerry

Time to dig out the Van Beuren checklist for Jungle Jam, a 1931 Tom and Jerry cartoon. Arbitrary dancing and music? Check. Inconsistent animation? Check. Stereotypes? Check. Meandering pseudo-story? Check. General feeling of “What did I just watch?” Double check.

A bad cartoon? Yes, but no. I can’t dislike the early Van Beuren cartoons. They’re too odd to dislike. And you have to admire the weirdness of some of the gag attempts. Here’s one from Jungle Jam, where African natives are throwing spears at our heroes. Jerry rides one of the spears, which inexplicably grows the head of a native, and bites him. Having done its job, it resumes being a spear and zooms away.

There’s at the very least one enjoyable piece of music in every Van Beuren cartoon when Gene Rodemich was running the studio. This cartoon has a nice opening piece with a piano, xylophone and saxophone as Tom and Jerry row their boat. I wish I knew my early 1930s music better as I don’t know the title.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Limited Tex

Tex Avery has a reputation among animation fans for overblown, outrageous takes, but he could come up with reactions that were a little more subtle, but equally effective.

The frames from Crazy Mixed-Up Pup below don’t give you an idea of Tex’s great timing in the scene, but they do give an indication of the style he was using. The milkman calmly asks Maggie to call off her dog. The milkman lifts his leg. The surprised Maggie realises it’s not a dog, it’s her husband. The milkman then realises who it is. Sam turns back into a bit of a human and lifts his hat in greeting. Cut to the “wild” reaction.

Tex is using limited animation to its best effect. Only the characters that need to be reacting are the ones who are moving. The others are held in place. Your attention to directed to what Tex wants you to see as there is no extraneous movement. He saves movement for the scenes where there really needs to be movement, such as the dog/Sam fight.

Tex’s unit at Lantz was La Verne Harding, Don Patterson and Ray Abrams; Abrams had worked for him at MGM earlier.