Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

A blog dedicated to the making of the first animated Christmas special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Commercials at UPA

My last post featured Sam Clayberger's color work at UPA for some of the theatrical Magoo cartoons.  Concurrent with those shorts, UPA was also producing a high volume of television commercials and in fact, that division was the only one making money for the studio. 

Due to the technology of the time, i. e. black & white TV, the spots were executed in shades of gray rather than color.  While it might appear simpler to paint in a monochromatic medium, the challenge is in making your values read crisply so items don't blend into the background.  Below are few of the thumbnails painted by Sam for some of the myriad commercials done during his time at UPA.  Vintage B & W TV ads are difficult to find so none of these have been identified as of yet.  If anyone can ID the spots these are from, please let me know.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sam Clayberger, designer at UPA

Sam Clayberger painting at UPA
I first met designer and painter Sam Clayberger as part of my research for my book, The Art of Jay Ward Productions.  As it eventually turned out, Sam became quite a resource for art for that book, having been Ward's principal background painter for most of the Ward studio's history.

Readers of my book may recall that most of Jay Ward's staff came from UPA after having left the studio as it was collapsing in 1959.  While many of the directors at Ward were already old pros by the time they arrived at UPA, most of what would become the design crew at Jay Ward Productions were recent grads of the LA art schools.  A prime example of that was Sam Clayberger who, sometime after graduating from Chouinard Art Institute, got a phone call from Chouinard instructor Don Graham informing him of a short term  opportunity at UPA moving desks.  Sam took the gig and parlayed that "quickie" into a full time job doing layout and later background painting.  He left employment at UPA after a few years in order to paint but kept money coming in as a freelancer first at Hanna-Barbera in their early days and later working for Ward as a full-time freelancer so he could continue to paint, later adding teaching at Otis Art Institute into his already full schedule.

Sam recently came across a small stack of his color thumbnails from his brief time at UPA where he worked on a number of Mr. Magoo cartoons, some of which are reproduced here for your enjoyment.  First up, Magoo's Cruise from 1958, in which Magoo arrives on a pier for a reunion cruise with old friends but is mistakenly taken on board what appears to be a Soviet submarine. Sam is credited with design and color, which would mean he designed and laid out the backgrounds as well as keying and painting them.  (Brief footnote here, one of the animators on each of the shorts listed here was Casey Onaitis, who animated on Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.)  The last image is an actual production background of the interior of the submarine.

Next, 1957's Magoo's Private War, in which he is credited for design (layout) and co-credited with Ervin Kaplan for color.  The color styling was all Sam's making it likely that Erv followed up on the backgrounds.  In the cartoon, Magoo mistakes a theatrical war film for an invasion and tries to calm the audience, telling them that "General Clayberger" will be coming to save them.  Most of the beginning shots are painted quite hot in contrast to the bulk of the film which takes place in either a darkened theater or on nighttime city streets.  The currently available transfer of this film is on the murky side in comparison to these color keys.

Finally, Merry Minstrel Magoo from 1958 wherein Magoo heads down to a TV station to audition for a talent show; Sam is credited with both design (layout) and color:

Unfortunately, these cartoons are not available online so if you'd like to see them to compare them to Sam's originals, you'll have to pick up the boxed set from The Shout Factory which is available here on Amazon.  Up next will be some of Sam's keys for black & white UPA commercials.  On March 23rd, be sure to check out my Jay Ward blog here for some examples of Sam's beautiful color keys for Jay Ward.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lee Orgel and The New Three Stooges

While it couldn't be considered a high point in either Lee Orgel's or The Three Stooges' career, this minor series, which was both developed and produced by Lee, might be the first animated TV series to feature live characters as animated renditions of themselves.  To tie the show into the past, the Stooges themselves appeared in live-action wraparounds directed by former Stooge director, Edward Bernds.  Lee followed this show up by developing an Abbott and Costello series, which was produced at Hanna-Barbera, and before too long Saturday morning shows abounded with live-action knock-offs--Lassie, Partridge Family 2200 AD, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Planet, Star Trek, The Addams Family, ad nauseum.  Apparently, familiarity was a winning formula with the networks.

Nevertheless, the animated Stooges kept a lot of animation talent employed in the mid-1960s, including such key contributors to Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol as production designer Lee Mishkin, background painters Bob Inman and Gloria Wood and layout artist Corny Cole.  The show was produced in West Hollywood at Cambria Productions (the same folks who gave us Clutch Cargo) from 1965-66.

Character layouts by Corny Cole
The first episode in the series, That Little Old Bombmaker (which was a play on the Italian Swiss Colony wine commercials of the time, "that little old winemaker, me!"), was laid out by Corny Cole.  A small sample of his layout drawings for this episode were discovered in the same mis-marked boxes mentioned in a previous blog post.  Very little art from the series seems to have survived making these quite rare.  Like most of TV animation from the era, one can see that quality of the drawing in the layouts was seldom reflected in the animation.

The model drawings below appear to be drawn by Lee Mishkin.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A visit by the Ghost of Christmas Past

Followers of this blog will recall the much anticipated re-broadcast of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol for the special's 50th anniversary in December of 2012 and the unanimous disappointment with NBC's editorial skills, hacking 8 random minutes from the film, rendering it completely incomprehensible.  It looked like the first animated Christmas special was doomed to the ash heap of television history, a verdict that seemed sure when the show failed to be broadcast last year.

However, I'm told by multiple sources that Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol will be airing this year, this time on The CW on December 19th, with times variously listed as 7 or  8 PM (check your local listings for station and time).  I've also been told that it will run in a 90 minute slot, which should mean it will be complete.  Not even the most rapacious advertiser should be able to fill up 38 minutes of airtime in 90 minutes.  I can't vouch for the accuracy of the slot/run time so caveat emptor.  If true, we can hope that a new generation of TV viewers will rediscover Lee Orgel's special, Styne and Merrill's timeless songs and the sincerity and faithfulness of Barbara Chain's adaptation of Dicken's original novel.


The special will also air on The CW on Christmas Eve so you if you miss this Friday, be sure to catch it on the night before Christmas. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, live

Douglas Sills, who will be performing the role of Magoo/Scrooge.
It's been talked about for years, doing a live, theatrical version of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and here's what might be the first step--a benefit concert featuring all the songs from the special sung by current Broadway performers.  The event happens December 15th in New York, details can be found here.  I understand it's being sponsored by Jule Styne's widow, Margaret Styne, with several other key players laboring behind the scenes for the last 18 months or so to bring it to fruition.  If any of you are fortunate enough (or well-off enough) to see it, write in with details.  Here's hoping it leads to a full-blown theatrical staging: an animated musical set on the Broadway stage actually being performed on the Broadway stage!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, revisited

As the Christmas season is upon us, it seems only fitting that I should start out the month of December with a new post sharing some recent discoveries from Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

I learned many things researching, writing and publishing three editions of my book on the making of the classic special, but perhaps the most salient thing I learned is that no book is ever complete.  When I put together the 50th anniversary edition, I did everything I could to make it the most complete version of the book using new information, artwork and photos.  After 5 years with the material, it seemed like anything waiting to be discovered had already been found.  And for a couple of years I was right.

However, life is never that simple.  When Lea Orgel, widow of producer and MMCC creator Lee Orgel, needed to move into an assisted living facility because of declining health, I was asked by her daughter, JoAnn, to help her dig through a lifetime's worth of boxes in Lea's storage unit.  We went through all the boxes pertaining to Lee's career in entertainment but found nothing of significance regarding the Christmas special.

Three months ago, JoAnn called me asking me to take a look at several boxes she had discovered that had been marked in such a way as to mislead us as to the nature of their contents.  Because we had already gone through so many boxes, I assumed that what was in these boxes was most likely material from Lee Orgel's later career, and my assumption proved to be largely correct.  There were stacks of art from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, most of it drawn by Corny Cole, everything from The New Three Stooges to a variety of ABC After School Specials, from unproduced pilots to prime time animated specials.  One pilot, the Morey Amsterdam-produced Black, Cloke and Dagga, was the subject of a previous post on Cartoon Research.  (Images from the other projects will be posted in a future blog entry.)

But the most amazing find was hidden in a letter-sized box, which appeared to contain merely a 2" stack of photos from Lee Orgel's Capitol Theater days, signed 8 x 10s from famous and obscure singers and musicians who performed at the theater.  The images were fascinating as a time capsule but also interesting to see well-known performers like Doris Day as they were in the 40s.  However, in the middle of that stack of photos were fifteen 4 x 4" photos taken during the song recording session for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol!  Photos that hadn't been seen since they were taken and had never before been published, photos that I would have loved to have included in the 50th anniversary edition, photos that gave just a tiny bit more insight into that historic day.

As there are no plans to do another edition of the Magoo book, I have decided to post the photos here.  For the first time in 52 years, here are the long lost images:

Jule Styne with Jane Kean, the biggest find in the batch.

Production manager Earl Jonas talks with Hank Saperstein while Jim Backus reads the trades.

Lee Orgel confers with Jim Backus.

Jim Backus chats with Hank Saperstein.

Paul Frees with Jule Styne.  In the background are Royal Dano, left, and Earl Jonas, right.

Walter Scharf conducts a rehearsal as Backus listens.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pitching The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo

Pitch art for Robin Hood, artist unknown
My last post, Mr. Magoo and the Features That Never Were, featured some rare UPA pitch art for the studio's unproduced Mr. Magoo features.  Considering the lineage between the feature concepts and the concept for the 1964 TV series, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, it seemed only fitting to do a post on the artwork produced to pitch the show to NBC.

Pitch art for William Tell, possibly drawn by Bob Dranko

The 1962 broadcast debut of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol had performed well beyond expectations and the network was looking for a followup.  The special had featured Magoo playing a role in a piece of classic literature and considering that all of UPA's previous proposed feature vehicles had done the same, Robin Hood, Don Quixote and 1001 Arabian Nights, it was not a big leap to suggest an entire series based around the premise.  Hank Saperstein was a consummate salesman but despite his skills, he still needed some visuals to clinch the deal.  It was most likely Lee Orgel that put together the art that sold the series, turning to Shirley Silvey, who was on layoff from Jay Ward at the time, and Corny Cole, who had produced the concept art that had previously sold Christmas Carol.

Pitch art by Corny Cole
How many drawings were done by Corny Cole is unknown but about half a dozen have surfaced.  It appears that Shirley did a much larger number of images for a wide variety of stories, although most of the original drawings and setups have been lost.  Below is a scan of many of her pieces that were photographed for early promotion, this image is from a brochure sent to NBC affiliates.

When I was going through the boxes of her surviving artwork, I found photocopies of a few of her thumbnails; it's possible that some of these were never taken to full-sized color artwork.  The quality is poor so click on them to enlarge:

Captain Kidd

Don Quixote

Treasure Island

The final rendering for the left thumbnail for "Treasure Island" is reproduced in the pamphlet image above.  Recently discovered in Ray Bradbury's collection, and sold at auction, was the following piece of pitch art for Famous Adventures, also by Shirley Silvey.  The background is done with cut paper and colored pencil:

The setup below, which was reproduced in my book, was listed as artist unknown.  Looking at the breadth of the art done by Shirley as well as her drawing style and the use of cut-out background elements and color pencil, it appears that this piece can now be attributed to her.

Special thanks once again to the Mago0 Admirer for the idea behind this post.