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.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad Pintoff's career ended with sleazy drive-in fare such as "Lunch Wagon" and episodes of "Dukes of Hazzard."