Saturday 22 February 2014

Commercials by Pencil

We’ve asked this before on the blog, but have you been checking out Mike Kazaleh’s series of posts over at Cartoon Research on animated commercials of the 1950s? Chances are if your favourite animator vanished from the credits of theatrical shorts for a period of time, he ended up working for one of the many commercial or industrial studios around then. Tex Avery, Rod Scribner, Ed Love, George Nicholas, Emery Hawkins, the list is a pretty long one.

The Golden Age of Television was the Golden Age of the Cartoon Commercial. How can you not like those old animated spots? The designs were varied and creative. They were funny. And cartoons sold everything. Eventually, someone must have listened to the tired old mantra that cartoons are only for kids because by the ‘60s, most of the animated commercials were for cereal and other stuff aimed at children (the great Alka Seltzer stomach spot being a notable exception).

There have never been very many articles in the popular press about commercials of any kind (excepting the overhyped Super Bowl ads, I suppose), but here’s one from the Pasadena Star News of Saturday, March 16, 1957. You’ll notice a few names are incorrectly spelled.


STARR REPORT: A new group of television stars has emerged from the ever fertile and creative minds of artists responsible for those animated advertising cartoons you see on television all hours of the day and night. The trade knows them as the “pencil point stars.” A 60-second animated film costs about $15,000 ($250 a second) and takes eight weeks to complete. Does that sound expensive? Well, it is! But it is just what a sponsor might pay if he approached Don Quinn, president of Ad Staff, Inc.; Adrian Woolery, owner of Playhouse Pictures; Walt Disney Productions; or U.P.A.— just a few of the many specifically designing clever television cartoon commercials to capture your attention, imagination and to pull out your purse strings!
A shorter animated commercial may be acquired for as low as $4,000 and require only four weeks to complete, having less animation, complexity of color, dialogue and music.
“Gone is the day of a thrush-throated announcer excitedly telling you to rush to your neighborhood store and buy the last carload of his sponsor’s product. Sponsors today merely suggest the advantages of their products against a background of soothing or novelty music, trick voices and animated characters. It seems Mr. and Mrs. Public part with their money easier if they can laugh while doing it, and this accounts for the increase cartoon advertising,” says Adrian Woolery.
A staff of more than people is needed to process the commercial film. Every presentation has a writer, director and “pencil point star”—the star being the figment of the artist’s imagination. The picture is about to roll. The artists are alerted! Find a star—one with warmth, a strong personality, sense of humor and above all, saleability! And from the point of a pencil a star is born! When the sponsor approves the “pencil point star,” another kind of talent hunt is launched to find a voice for the star. A long list is screened of Hollywood’s finest cartoon voices headed by Stan Freeberg, Jim Backus, Eddie Mayehoff, Mel Blanc, June Foray and Dawes Butler. When a decision is made the “voices” meet in a recording studio to pre-record the dialogue.
The “star” now goes to wardrobe and makeup departments; that is, he is permanently transferred to a celluloid slide in ink, and what has been a drab black and white drawing is brought to life by color. He is given flashing blue eyes, gray dimples, rosy cheeks, a shock of long blonde hair—and is then worthy of the title “star.” Meanwhile, in another building the scenic artists are preparing the “sets,” or the painted backgrounds against which the animated characters will appear.
“Camera! Lights! Action!” is the next call for this miniature production. When the filming is completed it is processed, edited and previewed for a select audience of the firm’s staff. If there are retakes, the artists return to their desks and begin over again. When final approval is authorized, the film is turned over to the sponsor for public consumption.
When will we see our “pencil point star” again? Constantly for the next six months; on station breaks and in the middle of our favorite TV programs. But at the end of that time he’ll return to a dank film storage building where he’ll lay in all his faded glory while another “star” is born from another pencil point.

One sentence in the story may make you scrunch up your face in confusion. Included in the list of top cartoon voices is Eddie Mayehoff. He’s pretty much unknown today. Mayehoff was a bandleader-turned-comic. In the ‘40s, he appeared in New York City night spots doing impressions and character sketches. He hosted his own radio show on WOR/Mutual starting in late 1940 and then emceed “Beat the Band” on WEAF/NBC radio in 1944. He surfaced on TV throughout the ‘50s and appeared in comic supporting roles on movies and on stage. Among the products he sold as a cartoon was Falstaff Beer in 1956. I don’t recall whether he provided any voices in theatrical cartoons; if anyone knows of one, leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. Live TV ads of the 1950 were, for the most part, outgrowths of the live read ads on radio, and tended to be very formal and straightforward. By going animated, the ads of the period (and the writers) seemed to feel liberated in that since the characters weren't real, there was greater liberty to play with both humor and the pacing of the ads.

    Once you get into the 1960s, the mindset that live-action ads had to be more formal seemed to fall by the wayside, which at the same time made the need for animated ads to break the monotony of the message less important.