Saturday, 17 April 2021

Another Looney Tunes Background Mystery

Little Kitty doesn’t want to go out in front of the classroom to recite “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and gets shoved onto the makeshift stage in the Merrie Melodies short I Haven't Got a Hat.

Wait a minute! There’s a phone number on that blackboard. Whose number is GR 7358? It’s someone who was never credited in a Warner Bros. cartoon—the person who likely painted the background and left his number on it. The number belongs to Griff Jay.

Jay was never credited because no one painting backgrounds got their name on the screen until the mid-‘40s. So you’ve never seen Art Loomer’s name, or Peter Gaenger’s, or Nic Gibson’s, or a bunch of others. We gave a biography of Jay in this mouldy old post. Jay might appreciate the mould. Chuck Jones once told interviewer Greg Ford “In the first few pictures I worked on, we used a man by the name of Griff Jay, who was an old newspaper cartoonist—and he did what we called ‘moldy prune’ backgrounds. Everyone used the same type of thing back then.”

Both Griff and his father Will S. Jay were newspaper men. He grew up in Nebraska and was a cartoonist on the Lincoln Journal when he was married in 1905. The new couple spent most of 1907 in Spokane. By 1912, Griff drew illustrations for the Kansas City Post in an era before artwork gave way to photos. However, he was working in the ad department of the Jones dry good store in Kansas City in 1909 when his brother Merwin shot and killed himself. Death seems to have followed the poor man. Both his father and mother died (separately) at his home and his wife passed away at their residence in August 1924. By October that year, he not only was living in Los Angeles, he had remarried.

It’s unclear when he got into animation. In 1926, he was an artist for the Wurlitzer Company, later had his own business in the Metropolitan Theatre building and then worked for commercial artist S. James Marsh, apparently for a year. In 1933, the City Directory records his occupation as “salesman” but in 1934, he’s an artist once again until 1936 where he’s listed as “writer, Columbia Pictures Corp.” Two years later, he’s back to being an “artist,” so it could be he worked at Schlesinger’s, went to Columbia for the better part of two years, and returned. In 1939, the Directory shows no occupation and the following year, he had set up an art studio in his home.

Jay died in 1951 and you can read his Los Angeles Times obit to the right. Jones may not have been impressed with Jay’s style, but someone in the “Mid West Musician” of Kansas City wrote in 1912: “Lovers of art will, without doubt, take immediate notice of the beautiful design upon the front page of our cover and some perhaps will wonder who ‘Griff’ Jay, the designer, is. Mr. Jay is one of the staff of high class artists employed by the Kansas City Post and is considered one of the most original and creative geniuses among the craft in the west. A careful inspection of his study for the ‘Mid-West’ cover will reveal a wealth of detail work seldom bestowed even on such high class magazines as ours.”

1 comment:

  1. I had known about there being two ink and paint artists' names being on the chalkboard...but I had never known about this. Good eye.