Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Gerard Baldwin, a life in animation

Readers of either of my books, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special or The Art of Jay Ward Productions will instantly recognize the name Gerard Baldwin.  Baldwin was responsible for directing and animating the highly memorable, show-stopping sequence featuring the Despicables in Christmas Carol.   For Jay Ward, he directed and animated many of the best episodes of Fractured Fairy Tales, Aesop & Son and Dudley Do-right at Jay Ward as well as animating several pilots such as Hoppity Hooper, Super Chicken and George of the Jungle.  Baldwin had a flair for turning the limitations of low-budget animation into assets while squeezing out the highest possible entertainment value.

Now, you can learn a little bit more about the master himself in his new book, From Mister Magoo to Papa Smurf, A Memoir by Gerard Baldwin, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Beginning at his beginning, Baldwin recounts growing up in New York, his decision to become an artist and his sideways move into the medium that would define his career, animation.  You'll read about his early days as an inbetweener at UPA, his military service, his return to UPA and his rise as an animator and director in the TV animation industry, culminating in becoming a producer on Hanna-Barbera's The Smurfs.  Between his stories from the animation trenches and his wry observations, there are a number of charming drawings illustrating anecdotes from his life.

During it's baby boomer heyday, television animation was usually looked down upon, especially by those in the industry.  Consequently, very few animators and directors from that era put their experiences and thoughts down on paper; this is rare insight into the art and commerce of 1960s animated cartoons that is of interest to not only those that grew up with the cartoons but for anyone who follows pop culture.  You can buy it here.

Friday, June 5, 2015

D-Day, 71 years later

Victor Haboush at Disney, photo courtesy of Amid Amidi
Since tomorrow is the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II, it seems appropriate to commemorate the event with this post.  During the research process for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, I interviewed many artists who had worked at Hank Saperstein's incarnation of UPA in order to get a sense of the studio once it changed hands. One of those was Victor Haboush, an amazing artist and designer who had worked at both Disney and UPA and who could have given fellow Disney designer Walt Peregoy a run for his money as the angriest man in animation (undoubtedly due to the events recounted below). Somehow the conversation turned to his experiences as a sailor on a Landing Craft-Infantry ship on D-Day; even 60 plus years later, the fear was still palpable in his voice as he described his experiences from that day. Below is a transcript of his memories of the D-Day invasion, edited for continuity:

I was just one of these guys that wouldn't tolerate bullshit. I had gone through World War II. I was at Normandy Beach, I landed troops on Normandy Beach. I got out of the service and I didn't want to take any shit from anybody. It just wasn't worth the kind of crap they pulled, they handed out to you.

Soldiers taking cover behind Rommel's hedgehogs
We hit Omaha beach, Easy Red, 30 minutes after H-Hour. Where we were going, there had been a storm and it had washed this real deep gulf, about six feet high, all the soldiers were hiding behind it, and there were iron bars (Rommel's hedgehogs) in the water. They were killing everybody in the water and our guys were trying to get past those things and make it to the other side so they could attack them on the hill. They were just machine gunning the soldiers, it was like a movie. There were bodies in the water. American soldiers floating in the water all over the place because they had machine-gunned them going down (the ramps). It was chaos. I don't think any of them made it on shore. We barely made it off the beach.

Landing Craft-Infantry, Haboush would have been in the rear conning tower
We started hitting it and we took a German 88 right in our steering engine room. Then the shrapnel went down and killed one of the guys who was coming up the steps and the other two were blown to bits, there was nothing left of them. The 4th guy I don't know where he was. My little landing craft, we were 30 people, 10 were injured and 4 were killed. We lost our left ramp. You had these 2 ramps on Landing Craft Infantry; when you hit the beach, these iron arms go out with cable on them and drop 2 ramps on each side. The soldiers go down on both. We had about 200 soldiers on board that we were letting off.  There was a small Landing Craft-Personnel, LCP, up next to us and the guy yelled up for a line so he could get up. He was going in to catch the line and he was shot right off that thing. It was like he was never there, it was a strange thing.

My station was up with the old man. I was on earphones with the skipper and he would give the orders. You know, 3 forward, 4 back, reverse, all that stuff. I would repeat it in the phone. Thank God I didn't have to get off, I wouldn't be here today. I was right on the conning tower with the skipper right next to me. I had this huge helmet on and I had these earphones under it. I had that helmet up right down my forehead and I could just see 2 inches out of it. I had a perfect seat for that whole thing. I could watch the whole thing going on.

We pulled (D-Day photographer) Robert Capa off the beach. He wrote (to me), telling me my picture was in Life magazine. You would never know it because you just see a piece of me, my helmet and little bit of my big nose. There was this one kid (in the picture) who died just a few minutes after I was holding a big compress on him. Anyway it was in Life Magazine.

This appears to be the photo he describes above.

One of Robert Capa's iconic D-Day invasion photographs
After we landed infantry, we finally got off (the beach) after we got hit. Then we went back and dropped Capa off at one of the ships. He said that our ship sunk when we dropped him off, which is not true. He just totally lied about it, he said he got on the ship and the captain was crying. The first mate had been blown up and blood was everywhere. That was all bullshit. He came on board though. I had to laugh. It was bad enough, he didn’t have to exaggerate. That is how he gained his reputation. He was a brave guy, he went in on the first wave. He stood by those iron things (Rommel's hedgehogs) and he took those pictures. There is nothing cowardly about the guy. But why he would make up a story, I will never know. I guess that was his art form.

We lost that one ramp when we got out there. I was just so happy to get off the beach finally, we were there way too long. We got these orders that we were to pick up these 2, a little bigger than an LCP. It was another landing craft. I think it had about 80 guys on there, they were Seabee's [C.B., slang for Construction Battalion] and they were going to put them on the beach so they all came on our ship. My new station was at the front of the ship and we were headed in there again. I got to tell you, this time I was scared shitless. I was up there with my little friend, we called him Murphy, his name was George Weisberg and we were cussing the skipper out and calling him all kinds of names, ‘You glory happy son of a bitch, turn around you are going to get us all killed!' He was steaming in there with only one ramp. Our radio broke down, it was chaos. The only way to communicate with each other, we had these radio boards with all these wires, they would cut us off and so we'd go back. 'Another ship will take it in, we heard you lost your left ramp.' The skipper said 'Yeah.' The skipper was going to go in and boy we were so relieved. So we let the guys off on another ship, a different one. That was like getting a pardon.

Afterwards, when we finally got off the beach, I was the only one on my ship that could clean those guys up. I was picking them up. We put blankets in these wire things you carry people in and I was scraping them up with a scraper and dumping their bones and everything in there. Nobody else could do it. All I did was think about my Dad's meat market and cleaning off the butcher block. It was really quite something, I think it really has affected me for a lot of years after.  

Amid Amidi's Cartoon Brew has more on Victor Haboush's life here.

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!