Saturday 27 December 2014

Hugh and Rudy

For at least a decade, whatever Walt Disney was doing in cartoon shorts, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising were doing in cartoon shorts. It was quite understandable at the start. Both worked for Disney in Kansas City and then on the West Coast. They took over for Disney when Uncle Walt was punted off the Oswald series by middle-man Charlie Mintz in 1927. Then came their own studio in 1930 where they made Bosko cartoons for Warner Bros. that were reminiscent of Disney’s Mickey Mouse shorts. They were fun and bouncy and are still entertaining today. When they moved to MGM in 1934, the Warners cartoons suffered.

By the late ‘30s, Harman and Ising larded their MGM cartoons with large numbers of characters on the screen (or large numbers of shingles in “A Rainy Day”), stopping the plot for little gestures or expressions. The motto seemed to be “More characters than Disney!” “More gestures than Disney!” “More Disney than Disney!”

The cartoons looked nice. They showed creativity. There was one problem. Audiences wanted to laugh; they didn’t go to the movies to be impressed with artwork. Leon Schlesinger realised it. Walter Lantz realised it. And Fred Quimby at MGM realised it, too, but found he needed Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and Tex Avery to give him laughs, not Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising (Ising’s cartoons were more of the smiles-and-chuckles type). By this time, even the critics barely paid attention to Disney shorts. They weren’t going to pay attention to imitation Disney shorts.

The war interrupted Ising’s professional career, while Harman made military shorts and dreamed dreams that never quite got off the ground. After the war, the reunited Harman-Ising sunk into obscurity. The theatrical animation business was starting to slide and studios had all the cartoonists they needed. New commercial studios came along and snapped up the increasing (and lucrative) TV ad business. Harman-Ising did try to get into the TV cartoon business, and before Hanna-Barbera, too. But it got bogged down over money. Variety revealed on May 23, 1957:

State Intervenes In Cartoonists' Labor Dispute
State Division of Labor Enforcement will hold hearings Monday on dispute between seven cartoonists and animators, and two associated cartoon firms, Harmonising Enterprises and Nasser-Bien Productions, Inc. Dispute revolves about sum of approximately $3,000 owed the cartoonists for work on two telepix pilots, "Pokey" and "Emmett Kelly," and whether this work could be done on speculation

Here’s a story found in the Buffalo Courier-Express of November 19, 1939, when Hugh and Rudy had returned to MGM after new studio boss Fred Quimby made a complete shambles of things when he refused to renew their contracts. You can read their attitude toward cartoons.

Filmland Rambles

Peering into the byways of Hollywoodland at this long distance is hard work but it does develop ideas and even by mail—you meet the most interesting people. This week, for instance, we finally put the finishing touches on a story of the guys behind the animated cartoons—in person, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising. It has been our aim to present the little written of geniuses and certainly Hugh and Rudolf fit the bill. Those sad-eyed gents who have been busy mourning the passing of "color" in Hollywood just haven't looked in the right place. Hugh and Rudolf have been there all the time. To those who have wept that stars have become business-like to a painful degree, we introduce Hugh and Rudolf a couple of zanies who are everything the lovers of "screwball" folk could wish.
Working side by side with the hard-headed folk at MGM's big studio lot they are nevertheless Hollywood's dream children, living in a world of fantasy and perpetual childhood. Yet, they have a concrete and successful theory on why the world likes cartoon films and how to give the world what it wants.
They read profound literature on psychology, philosophy, biography and sociology. But, they are just as likely to be found immersed in a book of fairy stories. They can't tell you a thing about what goes on in the War Zone, or Washington politics, but their pictures are as timely as tomorrow's newspaper. They can figure out an animated effect to the nth degree of accuracy, yet, in their personal lives, they are so impractical that they find It necessary to hire personal business managers. Music carries them clear off this earth and art is a tender thing of inspired beauty to them, yet one of them gets keen delight in a session of vicious boxing and the other rides bucking broncos.
On one hand they may create a truly spiritual subject, like animated paintings to describe Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," and on the other they milk dry the field of slapstick and burlesque comedy with a ludicrous bear who can't go to sleep.
Professionally, they work separately, yet actually they have to be considered as a team. On the screen, it is either a Hugh Harman or a Rudolf Ising production and each is sole creator of his product with his separate staff. Yet, each knows what the other is doing and exchanges advice. If you want a concrete example. Ising is the Wallace Beery-like voice for the popular Papa Bear in one series of Harman's pictures!
Their personalities are as different as Garbo's and Judy Garland's but their minds are like twin motors. Ising is quiet, serious, dark and built like a fighter. Harman is an easy talker, perpetual smiler, and small and wiry. Strangely, he's the one that likes fighting in the ring. Ask them for a theory and they'll both come up with the same answer simultaneously.
Although they do use human characters occasionally, animals are their popular stand-by, also for definite reasons.
"Through animals, humans can be caricatured more expertly," they state. "Animated cartoons stress the faults and limitations of persons rather than their strong features. To an audience, it is like looking into a strange world, yet recognizing themselves and their acquaintances.
"The public would rather see animals do human things than human drawings do the same. Every animal unless played for comedy menace, can be made to look lovable and cute. There is also the advantage of being able to give our animal characters all of the individualities in actions and thought of animals plus the same actions and thoughts of humans. We really have a two-barreled gun to shoot."
As long as cartoons are strictly fantasy, the unreal is valuable, but never possible with human characters. Hence, the two point out, a real character can never be a prolonged cartoon star—eventually all the limitations will be used up and the character will begin repeating his adventures because he can't do impossible things which animals can do.
They realized this when "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" was made. Goldilocks was just a stooge for the bears, which turned out to be the stars. Harmon is now making more with the Bear Family, treating them as a cartoon counterpart of the Hardys. Papa Bear is the main character, his character patterned after a cross between Edgar Kennedy and Oliver Hardy, with Beery's voice.
He is a "fall guy," unemotional, suppressed, lazy, slow-moving and continually irritated by events that mount to the unbearable. The next Bear picture will be "The Bear Family," in which they again do the unconventional. The subject will open with a hand stretching Papa Bear. Gradually, the public will see how he is made to move and then he goes into his story. Papa Bear will also be treated as an unwilling actor on a stage through the use of a heckler, always brought in merely by his shadow looming from an "audience" and an off-screen voice.
This will be followed by "A Rainy Day" and an untitled fourth now in preparation (it takes eight months from story idea to completed subject). "A Rainy Day" will illustrate one of their principals—always base fantasy on realism. Papa Bear tries to repair a tiny hole in the roof, eventually wrecking the roof. As a storm comes up, the shingles blow away, forming themselves into billowing waves, into which the bear plunges and starts swimming. They have probably the largest and ever-changing cast of cartoon characters in the business. That is because they continually experiment. If a star is created—as in the case of Papa Bear—they make a few more with him. Having no strict star characters, they don't have to work a certain one into every cartoon.
The present "talk of the department" is Peace on Earth, story of animals joyously living after man has succeeded through war in killing off the human race. The story is told by Grandpa Squirrel, a prototype of the late Chic Sale in his old man characterization. They lean heavily in their brilliant satire on this character's provincial mannerisms, wisdom of speech and homey truths.
Tom Turkey will be Harman's next introduction. He'll be human, all right—a small-town "slicker" in mail order suit and yellow shoes. He's the peppy fellow everyone knows, the guy who has an answer for everything and never seems to learn a lesson. Surrounding him will be a "stock company" of fowls representing small town folk. At the same time, Ising is readying a little calf character for introduction in Home On the Range.
What of the future of cartoons? Well, "the boys" sincerely believe that animated cartoons eventually will express other emotions than the basic ones now used, but this will depend on technical advancement.
They believe pathos, tragedy, love, drama, suspense and many other emotions will some day be as easy to express as comedy and irritation are today. "After all," they say, "animated cartoons have come a long way. Why it was only ten or twelve years ago when figures only moved. Today our cartoon characters really are individuals."
Yes, Harman and Ising have "color" but also common sense; they picked a field where their actors can show no temperament.

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