Saturday 3 June 2023

The Venerable Vinci

Is there something about the cat’s expression that looks familiar?

This is from the rather weak Spike and Tyke cartoon Scat Cats, released by MGM several weeks after it closed its cartoon studio. The expression reminds me of Sourpuss or some other character at Terrytoons. That’s no coincidence.

One of the animators of this short was one of Paul Terry’s former star animators, Carlo Vinci. The “surprise” look by the cat on the right also resembles something in a Mighty Mouse cartoon.

(You know, if you put a blue bow tie on that orange cat, he’d look awfully familiar).

This post isn’t intended as a biography of Carlo Vinci. You can find that elsewhere on the internet. This is a collection of random items found here and there. Carlo was born Carlo Vinciguerra, but decided to shorten his name. When? The answer is to the right. It’s a legal notice printed in the New Rochelle newspaper during his time at Terrytoons. You can click on it to read it.

Carlo spent the last six years of his life in Ventura County, passing away at the age of 87 on September 30, 1993. Before that, he and his wife lived in Van Nuys. He was born February 27, 1906 in New York.

He recalled to historian Harvey Deneroff that he was an in-betweener at the Van Beuren studio in New York. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment there lay elsewhere. Joe Barbera, in his autobiography, told of his first day at Van Beuren. He was given a desk next to another in-betweener, who noticed Barbera’s bewilderment of the whole animation process. "You don't know anything about it, do you?" said his roommate, who was one Carlo Vinci. Barbera got instant quick lessons from Carlo on the rudiments of making characters move.

Before long, Barbera and Vinci became assistants to animator Reuben Timmins, who had worked in the early ‘30s for the Fleischers. “Timmins would rough out — and I mean rough — the animation. Carlo and I would do the breakdowns and the in-betweens as well,” Barbera wrote. “We also had to clean up Timmins’s roughs, making sure they were neat.”

Van Beuren closed in mid-1936. Both Barbera and Vinci were hired at Terrytoons. Barbera left about a year later when Fred Quimby was looking for people to start the MGM cartoon studio. Vinci stayed.

Terrytoons were “the crassest of unadulterated crap” in the eyes of Gene Deitch, who determined to modernise its cartoons when he arrived in the later 1950s. And working conditions weren’t any better. Tom Sito’s book “Drawing the Line,” an examination of unions at cartoon studios, relates how Vinci and four other artists were fired on May 16, 1947; this was after a two-week labour dispute involving 36 employees “ended” earlier in the month. The Screen Cartoonists Guide set up picket lines. Unfortunately for the union, Terry held all the high cards in this game. He had finished cartoons on shelves waiting to be released. Sito relates the locals in New Rochelle thought Terry was terrific and yelled “You dirty Reds! Go home to Russia!” at the strikers. Summer came. Fall came. Winter came. The striking employees’ bank accounts shrunk. Says Sito: “Terry had secret meetings with a number of key animators. He told them he was old and was planning to retire. He promised them that if they broke ranks and went back to work, he would sell them his studio. On November 15, Terry's remaining striking regulars—Jim Tyer, Joe Rasinski, Carlo Vinci, and Theron Collier—crossed the picket line and went to work. The rest of the strikers thundered and called for expulsion and fines, but they were helpless.”

Carlo carried on working under Paul Terry, perhaps hoping the old man wasn’t lying when promising to make him part-owner of the studio. While carrying on with his animation, he also continued his education in the field of art. The picture to the left is from the Sept. 15, 1948 edition of the Standard-Star of New Rochelle. You can see the back of his head.

The same paper reported on Aug. 24, 1949 that Carlo was fined $10 for speeding; he was going 44 miles an hour.

Vinci never got screen credit for any of his work on Terrytoons. And he never got ownership of the studio. Variety reported on Dec. 28, 1955 that CBS was wrapping up the purchase of all assets of Terrytoon, Inc. for $5,000,000. Terry got every cent (after taxes). It was about this time Carlo got out. Animation author Thad Komorowski has remarked there was still some bitterness against Carlo for crossing the Terry picket line in 1947.

Margaret Vinci related her life story on reaching 100 years of age to the Ventura County Star on April 14, 2012. She and Carlo met at a dance in 1938 and married a year later. She talked about going to California: “Leaving my family behind didn’t bother me while we were traveling, but once we arrived in California, I went into a deep depression. My husband said ‘Let’s try it for two years, and if you still feel that way, we’ll go back.’”

They didn’t.

The inexperienced animator he once mentored, Joe Barbera, was now the top cheese with Bill Hanna at the MGM studio and offered Vinci a job. Daily Variety reported he was hired February 15, 1956. The first production Vinci was assigned to was No. 313, Give and Tyke, released on March 29, 1957. At MGM, Carlo was criticised privately by his own assistant animator, who remains unidentified. Dan Bessie’s autobiography of his time at MGM and elsewhere in animation, “Reeling Through Hollywood” (published, 2006), quoted the assistant “that his animator, hired on from Terrytoons, ‘draws all his Toms like the alley cats chasing Mighty Mouse, so I spend all my time changing them.’” Vinci isn’t mentioned by name, but it couldn’t possibly be anyone else.

Carlo’s timing wasn’t that great. MGM announced at the end of 1956 it had a huge backlog of cartoons, so it was going to wrap up the operation. Dick Bickenbach claimed to historian Mike Barrier he was laying out Ruff and Reddy during the last week of the studio’s existence, so it’s obvious Joe and Bill planned to go into business for themselves. The story goes that Barbera got Walt Disney to hire Vinci to work on the Disneyland TV show until Hanna-Barbera Enterprises got off the ground.

He also found freelance work at a commercial studio owned by Paul Fennell; the studio designer was Ed Benedict, who had landed there after the MGM closure. Thanks to Mike Kazaleh, here is a Vinci spot for Ipana.

H-B Enterprises went into business on July 7, 1957. On December 14, Ruff and Reddy debuted on NBC. Carlo Vinci settled in for the long haul.

I like a lot of his work on the first season (1958-59) of The Huckleberry Hound Show. There are fine poses in a number of Huck cartoons, including Hookey Daze, and he invented Yogi Bear’s butt-waving bongo walk. His animation is distinctive and easily recognised. Perhaps the H-B cartoon most people talk about when they mention Vinci is The Flintstone Flyer (aka “The Inked Disaster,” according to Jack Gould of the New York Times), specifically the tippy-toes bowling scene.

Hollywood Studio Magazine of July 1969 reveals a side benefit Carlo received at Hanna-Barbera. He won two first-place prizes in the studio’s third annual employees art show, one in the Portrait and Figure category (a self-portrait) and the other in the still life category (his painting was called “Still Life”). Judging took place in Bill Hanna’s office and Hanna handed Vinci two $50 cheques.

Carlo was also one of the veteran animators hired by Ralph Bakshi to work on Heavy Traffic, released in 1973. One of the more junior members of the crew was one of the animation world’s most helpful people ever, Mark Kausler.

Any post on Carlo Vinci cannot ignore his top-rate animation for Paul Terry. Whenever a dance was required, especially one involving a sexy female character (almost always a mouse), Vinci was handed the footage. His animation holds its own with anyone’s. One of the remarkable things about Vinci’s dances is their variety. No two are the same. Here are two collections of his work.

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