Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tony Rivera, designer

Tony Rivera was the first of two character designers to work on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and probably the very first artist to work on the film.  As discussed in the book, before the storyboard artists could begin to delineate the story they needed character designs, most of which were provided by Rivera.   Some of his preliminary designs were later modified for animation production by designer Lee Mishkin.  Tony's work on the special is highlighted in the book on pages 59-61.

Unlike many of the other staffers on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Tony Rivera was already a long time veteran in animation, having started at Disney in 1934 as a 21 year old.  He worked his way up through the apprentice system there, eventually becoming one of Grim Natwick’s assistants for the character of Snow White.  Tony was apparently a strong draftsman with a facility for drawing pretty women, elevating him above many other assistants at the time. 

 After the notorious Disney strike in 1941, Rivera returned to work there for a few months but ultimately left the studio for a life of freelance, in an era when that was far from commonplace.  He spent most of the war years working in layout at Screen Gems, MGM (Hanna Barbera’s Tom & Jerry unit) and Walter Lantz.  For the rest of his career, he managed to work at virtually every commercial, industrial, television and theatrical studio in the business, a testament to his skills and versatility. 

During the 50s, he picked up from John Sutherland, Shamus Culhane, Tempo, Ray Patin, Playhouse, Quartet, Norman Wright, Frank Capra and UPA as well as many others.  UPA became a return customer, with Rivera working there in its theatrical shorts era in 1951 and later returning for a longer period to do design and story sketch on their first feature, 1001 Arabian Nights, which was his first gig with director Abe Levitow.  

Tony did layout on Hanna Barbera’s early TV efforts, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw, before Abe called him back to UPA to design and layout the last two Magoo theatrical shorts, which were later included in the TV package, Magoo Meets Frankenstein and Magoo Meets McBoing Boing.  Levitow made use of Rivera’s talents many times after that, on such films as Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol , The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, The Phantom Tollbooth, Uncle Sam Magoo and finally at Levitow Hansen films on BC: The First Thanksgiving TV special.  Other production houses that made use of Tony’s skills were Depatie-Freleng, Ed Graham for (Linus the Lion Hearted) and Ralph Bakshi.

Tony was honored by the animation union in 1985 for 50 years of service to the industry and passed away in 1986.  By all accounts, Tony Rivera was a quiet unassuming man who simply did his work and did it well.  Floyd Norman (who has also worked at most major studios, most recently Disney and Pixar) remembers working with Tony at Hanna Barbera:

I was lucky enough to work with Jose "Tony" Rivera at Hanna Barbera.  It was Tony's final years in the cartoon business yet he was still in top form. It was such a joy to work with a guy who had made so many of the cartoons I saw as a child. He was on my layout crew, but I could hardly call myself his supervisor. Tony had forgotten more than I would ever know.

I wish I had some great stories to tell, but the only thing Tony did was sit at his desk and do great work. Sometimes he would come to Scott Shaw or myself and ask us a layout question (as if he needed to). Scott and I felt that Tony was trying to make us feel like we were doing our jobs. What ever question he would ask - he clearly already knew the answer. That's the kinda guy Tony was. A very sweet man.

When Tony passed away, Scott and I attended his memorial service.  There were mainly family and friends in attendance. Not many from the animation business. Sadly, most of those who had worked with Tony had already passed away.

I'll never forget Tony Rivera. No assignment we handed out would ever stump him. He always did a masterful job and completed it ahead of schedule. He was a fantastic layout artist. . . he could do anything - and often did.
You can see more of Tony's work and drawings of him by his colleagues at his son's website here.  Click on Pop's Cartoons.


Anonymous said...

Great post Darrell--I'm a (nearly)60 year old life-long cartoon fan and I've always loved the Magoo/UPA product. Yeah,I've got all the books(including yours)but it's still nice to have this "current" info of this "ancient" stuff being presented. Thanks,DJA

Darrell said...

Glad you're enjoying it! There's much more ahead so keep coming back.

Unknown said...

Nice Blog. Tony was my uncle and I love finding new stuff about him on the web. Thank you all for sharing these bits of information, my wife and kids love hearing about them; confirming family stories I have shared with them already. -JohnR