Saturday 10 September 2022

That Loafing Mighty Mouse

Terrytoons don’t exactly have a reputation as fine-grained cartoons, but a few people showed long-term dedication to the studio. Directors Connie Rasinski and Manny Davis come to mind. So does background artist Art Bartsch. And then there’s Tommy Morrison, who not only worked on stories, but shouted the words “Here I come to save the day.” (He didn’t sing for Mighty Mouse. That was Roy Halee).

After CBS shut down (rather foolishly, in my opinion) the Terrytoons studio in New Rochelle around 1970, Morrison retired to—where else?—Florida. While Paul Terry, who owned the studio into the mid-‘50s before selling to the network, may have been a cheapskate, Morrison doesn’t seem to have suffered as a result.

A future Associated Press entertainment writer met up with Morrison to talk about his years in animation. This was published (with drawing) in the Fort Myers News-Press of October 20, 1975. Ignore the headline that tries to equate animation with a comic strip. If you’re looking for dirt on Paul Terry, there isn’t any. It’s not quite the point of the story. And Morrison gives no credit to Gene Deitch for Tom Terrific. I’m pretty positive a creative person like Deitch would have had some input into that debut cartoon, especially since the character was his brainchild.

Cartoonist Strips Away Career
Cape Coral Bureau
When he and his wife moved to Cape Coral 2 1/2 years ago, he left behind a flock of cartoon luminaries including Mighty Mouse, Deputy Dawg, Heckle and Jeckle, and Tom Terrific— personalities he helped father during four decades of putting fantasies on film.
Now Tom Morrison, 67, lives the life of a loafer.
That's how he describes his current leisurely existence, based on hardly more than the bounce of a tennis ball from the courts of the Yacht Club, where Morrison spends part of nearly every day wielding his racket.
"I've never had it so good," he declares in his tight New York accent.
Meanwhile, his whimsical compatriots live on in more than 1,000 Terrytoons cartoons Morrison helped produce during a career spanning 41 years.
And if his career is behind him, his affection for the profession lives on.
"It's a challenging art form," he says of cartooning. "It's a combination of music and visual arts and acting. And even math.
"All animation is controlled by math," he explains. "It's a matter of speed how you space the drawings to create the illusion of motion."
From the outset, Morrison possessed an interest in theater and writing and acting.
"But my family had other ideas—they wanted me to go into business. So I went to Wall Street."
He was just in time for the '29 Crash.
"I went through the panic," he recalls, "and I nearly developed an ulcer at an early age.
"I saw a chief order clerk jump off the building because she made a mistake on an order. A junior partner shot himself in his office. People were that high-strung. And I said to myself, 'This isn't for me.' "
It so happened that Paul Terry, a pioneer cartoon producer, was a neighbor. He offered the erstwhile financier a job in his firm, and soon Morrison found himself steeped in the company's frantic effort to polish off a new cartoon every two weeks.
Although for years Terrytoons' product was channelled toward movie theaters, as short subjects began to vanish from the local bijous, television was emerging as the new market. In 1956 the CBS network purchased the entire Terrytoons operation.
One of the first projects Terrytoons tackled under the new ownership was creating for the network a cartoon serial to boost the audience for a new and rather shaky children's show called "Captain Kangaroo."
Morrison also wrote the pilot script for "Tom Terrific" (not to mention the lyrics for its jingle: "I'm Tom Terrific,/The greatest hero ever./Terrific is the name for me,/'cause I'm so clever. . .")
For over a decade the enormously successful "Captain Kangaroo" series was further brightened by the exploits of this precocious lad with the funnel cap and the lackadaisical canine companion named Mighty Manfred.
By then, Morrison's role at Terrytoons was that of creative director. Besides writing, he bought and edited story material from freelancers, hired voice talent, supervised recording, and assisted the music director.
"But I did very little sketching," Morrison says. "People down here think I was primarily an artist—they say, 'Draw Mighty Mouse.' But the actual drawing I had little to do with."
He did nearly everything else, however, and he can still brandish a pencil or pen, sweeping strokes across a sketch pad to make Mighty Mouse or Tom Terrific magically appear.
And as another indication of his numerous abilities he'll demonstrate the voice he lent to Mighty Mouse when that notable rodent chose to speak: "Hi, kids," Morrison says with wide eyes and his finger spearing the air, "we've got a great show for you today."
But these days, Morrison thinks the shows aren't so great. He terms the current generation of cartoons "hackwork."
"TV ruined the art of animation," he says. "The wonderful life-like movements that necessitated so many drawings just couldn't be accomplished on TV economically."
Furthermore, he objects to the indiscriminate banishment of violence for children's programming.
"It was a vicarious release for kids," he says of cartoon violence. "It provided exciting adventure where kids could live it without doing it. It was the little guy winning over the big guy.
"Surrounded by all those big adults telling them what to do," he says, "kids got their kicks over the little mouse beating the big cat."
As a specialist in both kids and cartoons, Morrison should know. He with his wife Betty have two daughters and a son, and boast nine grandchildren.
And then, of course, there are those 1,000 cartoons.
But lengthy friendships are hard to break, and yacht club members are advised not to be thunderstruck on finding Morrison engaged in a frenzied tennis match with a tiny flying figure in a scarlet cape.

Morrison enjoyed retirement for only a few more years. He was born in New York City on April 22, 1908 and died in Cape Coral on March 1, 1978.

1 comment:

  1. I presume one reason why Tom was one of the few staffers that stayed with Terry up until the studio’s dying days was because it was through his parents connections with Terry himself (given that this article and a 70’s Isadore Klein piece say so) meant that he had the job right away. I wonder if Terrytoons had a Harman-Ising situation in which employees that didn’t know Terry beforehand or were friends with the man or someone else felt like they were left out. As guys like Mannie Davis & Eddie Donnelly were longtime Terry staff who went all the way back to 1923-1924 and the like.