Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Phill Norman, titles

On an irregular basis, I will be doing a few in-depth profiles of some of the cast and crew since the special was only a tiny part of their careers.  First up, as befits a title artist, is Phill Norman.

Phill Norman, 2007
The iconic title lettering for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was done by Phill Norman, who also painted the title cards and all the lettering in the special, although he’s listed as a “color stylist” in the credits for the film. (For you font-a-holics, Phill’s hand-done work is most closely approximated by Latino Rumba for “Mister Magoo’s” and Ed Benguiat Interlock for “Christmas Carol” with a smattering of Coop Condensed thrown in for good measure. The second font was fairly commonplace during the early 60s-other examples can be found in The Alvin Show and My Favorite Martian.) 

In fact, Phill was responsible for all the title work, credits and lettering that ran through the studio but would occasionally paint backgrounds. Norman had one of the more unusual entrées into the animation field as he told it:

I had a friend that I had gone to high school with who worked there (at UPA). He had come out to California before me. I came out here on vacation and had lunch with him and some other guys from the studio. For some reason or another, in talking, they offered me a position and I didn't go back. I didn't finish the vacation. I went to work there a couple of weeks after that and I worked there for I think about 2 ½ or 3 years, something like that. I worked on a number of projects there. From that I went into doing main titles for movies and TV.

Phill had no prior experience painting, either for titles or for animation, although he had attended art school in Indiana for three years before accepting the job. His timing, though, couldn’t have been better. UPA had just ramped up production with 130 Magoo shorts and 130 Dick Tracy shorts, all of which needed titles and credits. Phill not only did the lettering but designed the title cards for each short as well. Owing to the fast pace of production, design, approval and execution for each of these were done in hours, rather than days.
A sampling of Phill's Magoo title work

When production ceased on the shorts, Norman left UPA to work at the John Sutherland studio for about six months doing industrials. (At one time or another, many of the field’s top talents worked for Sutherland-Eyvind Earle, Tom Oreb, Maurice Noble and Irv Spence to name a few.)

Phill came back to UPA to work on Gay Purr-ee, where this time, in addition to his title and lettering chores, he painted backgrounds. After Christmas Carol, Norman left UPA and freelanced for Pacific Title on the feature, Days of Wine and Roses. They liked his work well enough that he was asked to join them and spent the next three years there doing title design (once there, he left the hand lettering to those with an especially deft touch). He decided to strike out on his own in 1965, and despite a rocky start, he began to make a mark doing titles for television shows. Not long after he hung out his own shingle, he was outside talking to his across-the-street neighbor:

We started talking and he said 'What do you do?' and I said 'I design main titles.' I said 'What do you do?' and he said 'I produce television shows.' I said 'Really? Like what?' and he said 'Well, I produce 'The Fugitive' and I got one coming up called 'The FBI'. It was Quinn Martin.

He said 'Do you have anything on film?' Luckily by that time I had a few things on a reel and he told me to send it over. People say these things but you never know if they mean it. Next day I get a call and he said 'Where is that reel?' and I said 'Well, I will get it over to you right away.' I did and I did all his work after that, main titles for his shows. 'The FBI' was done, but I did 'The Streets of San Francisco', 'The Invaders', and all the stuff he did after that. He was a great guy to work with, he really was. It was just one of the few times when one person had a say about things. The word got quickly around for TV. In fact I had so much TV work that I had trouble having time to search out some of the movies I wanted to work on. It worked out okay and I did a lot of 'Kojak' all that kind of pop stuff in that period.


Phill Norman went on to do the main title design for dozens of TV shows like Dynasty, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat and feature films like The Way We Were, Ordinary People, On Golden Pond and even What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (see page 97 in the book for more info on the UPA tie-in). He was nominated six times for Emmys and won three-for QBVII, The French Atlantic Affair and Shogun.

Phill retired in 1999 and died unexpectedly July 11, 2009 after a short illness.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had often seen Mr. Norman's credits in TV shows and the films he worked on; but always wondered what is background was. So this article is most welcome.

Does anyone have background information on Sandy Devore ? I'm only aware of his credits for "Blacula" and it' sequel and "The Dunwich Horror'

And finally whatever happened to the greatly anticipated large book on Saul Bass ? It was originally scheduled to appear with an exhibit of his work in London in 2004; but the publication has been postponed over and over again these past 6 years.

Anonymous said...

Very nice to have a blog about Magoo and the men&women who worked on some of his projects. Keep up the good work, we'll be looking in.
And by the way-your MMCC book is a remarkable addition to my animation library.. Thanks,DJA

Jerry B. said...

Thank you for putting up the Magoo website. I had the opportunity to talk with Phil Normann once about how he enjoyed his work at UPA.

Phil was my mother's cousin's cousin-in-law. One summer ('79) while in engineering school in WV, my mom and her cousin gave me Mr. Normann's contact info, and while I worked for Lockheed on L-1011 wiring drawings in Burbank, I had the privelege of getting together with him for breakfast near his office in Beverly Hills. I told him about our side of his cousins family, and mentioned my interest in filmmaking, which was an avocation throughout my teen years. Video is a strong hobby today, using PC and Mac editing software. I had read his credits, which his cousin sent our family once, and I admit I was partially beside myself while talking with him.

I remember him to be a very generous, friendly person, who enjoyed answering my questions and telling me about how he went about his work. I asked him about the Love Boat show, and he went into some fun details about how he did the show titles. He explained to me that titles are their own mini-productions, with production design, arranging of film crews and lighting, hiring of musicians, photographing artwork, and post production. All of our family is very proud of Mr. Normann and that side of my second cousin's family. His opening and closing titles for a very long list of hit shows through the years continue to provide people in my generation with memorable tunes, images, and impressions of perhaps the golden age of TV when color first appeared and for a long period thereafter.

I have worked as an engineer in the east through the years in telecommunications and wireless, and by coincidence later became involved in ENG electronics (microwave HD links for sports) for a while.

Phil had a knack when working on the TV show titles for coming up with just the right "tone" that must have pleased the show producers. The style of the program, as yet not aired, was setup as a direct impression through his work, which was a significant creative accomplishment.

A few anecdotes - He told me about his involvement with the titles where Maxwell Smart drops through the phone booth, the cast of Gilligans Isle is introduced on their three hour tour, and when the airplane flies up to the barn that says "Green Acres." Also he explained that it was a nominal matter to include a small comedy element in the actors personality, such as when Dick Van Dyke side stepped the piece of furniture that he had tripped over during the first season of that show. Then there was a story about his involvement with the uplifting beginning of the MTM show, where she worked with Lou Grant, and his meeting Bob Newhart and their cast for his first show titles. I can't imagine anyone having been involved with a more fun set of projects for years than Mr. Normann. The fact that so many are part of an evening of family viewing in my memory makes them even funner to recall.

Jerry B. (Central NJ)

Darrell said...

Jerry,

Thanks for taking the time to post your memories of Phill! I also found him to be a very friendly person and unaffected by all that he had achieved with his work.

I pushed production of the first edition very hard in order to meet my goal of having it out before any of the surviving artists or crew passed away. While I technically achieved that, Phil died unexpectedly before I could put a copy in his hands. I was very sorry he didn't live to see it.

Tell us more about the title sequences you mention in your comments-I'm sure others would like to hear more about this untouched area of the entertainment business.

Thanks again for writing,

Darrell

Doug S. said...

I wish Mr. Normann had written an autobiography. It would have been fascinating.