Friday, 15 June 2012

Hairpins and Ernie Nordli

Maurice Noble was lauded so much by Chuck Jones, his other layout artists at Warners through the 1950s at Warner Bros. get little attention. Jones leaves you with the impression they weren’t even on the same level of creativity as Noble. Indeed, Ernie Nordli originally came up with designs for “What’s Opera, Doc” which Noble immediately discarded when he returned to the studio.

But Nordli doesn’t seem to be a bad fit for Jones at all. Jones was into UPA-ish stylisation going toward the mid-‘50s, and that’s what Nordli gave him. He did it better than UPA at times. Here’s a nice background from “Broom-Stick Bunny” (released 1956). It mimics the UPA stylisation but still has a sense of depth.

Overtop the background are some animated bobby-pins in the air. Mike Maltese used them in the first Witch Hazel cartoon, “Bewitched Bunny” (released 1954) as kind of a running gag; in this cartoon, the pins even fall out when Witch Hazel is riding a sweeping broom by mistake. Here are some more pins atop Nordli’s background layouts, rendered by Phil De Guard.

There are a couple of places on the internet with more background work from this cartoon. The credited animators, by the way, are Dick Thompson, Abe Levitow, Ken Harris and smeary Ben Washam. Which ones drew the hairpins, I couldn’t say.

Nordli went back to Disney after his stay at Warners. When “Sleeping Beauty” finished production, the studio laid off all kinds of people and they made their way to other studios. Nordli worked on television cartoons for a bit. He died in San Francisco on April 22, 1968. He was 55.


  1. Just a minor correction -- Tedd Pierce got story credit on "Broom-Stick Bunny", though the hairpin gag was already in place for the initial Witch Hazel short, "Bewitched Bunny", which Maltese did write.

    As with the Noble-Nordli situation, reading about Jones' unit in the mid-to-late 1950s you'd think nobody but Maltese could pen a good story for Chuck. But the best-known of the Witch Hazel 'toons wasn't done by Mike, and the Pierce-Nordli combo here pretty much indicates that while Jones did his best work in the decade in tandem with Noble and Maltese, he was perfectly capable of making funny 'modern' cartoons without them.

  2. Voice actor Spike Spencer made special mention about these pins when he recalled his meeting June Foray.

  3. Has anyone found Nordli's work for "What's Opera Doc"?