Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the studio largely lay fallow through 1963. Once again, as was (and still is) common for animation studios, most of the staff had been let go at the end of production and only a few key artists stayed on, in this case, to handle the demands of the General Electric TV commercials featuring Magoo. Mr. Magoo was considered an “in” property at the time and continued to generate income through licensing and merchandising even if he wasn’t actively utilized in production. Saperstein expanded his Magoo empire by developing and selling a Mr. Magoo comic strip to the Los Angeles Times Syndicate around this time. (Above, a panel from the strip, drawn by the versatile Pete Alvarado.)
Some of the answer to what happened in 1963 might be in a letter recently discovered in Abe Levitow's files. Although it seems like a natural progression to take the central conceit of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, Magoo as an actor in literary classics, and expand it into a series, this letter indicates that the path was anything but a straight line. The letter, dated June 6, 1963, addressed to Abe Levitow, is from Chris Hayward, one of the staff writers at Jay Ward (Hayward is credited as the creator of Dudley Do-Right and future co-developer of The Munsters). It's unusual for competing animation studios to collaborate, but in my book I note the frequent interchange of personnel between UPA and Jay Ward throughout the 1960s. Now, it appears that the relationship between the two studios might have been even closer than first realized.
I think we can now generally agree that depositing Magoo in a proper and saleable vehicle provides with us what we can label one hell of an enigma.
When the character first erupted on the screens, he was dug by kids but I think mostly by adults, appealing to that select group of connoisseurs who now rapture joyously over the Hubley and Pintoff offerings.
In his next paragraph, he nails the central problem with the then current incarnation of Magoo:
The five minute cartoon TV series wiped out the avant garde fans, capitalizing instead on the tousled haired set from five to fifteen.
He continues to analyze the situation and then begins his proposal:
Currently in vogue is the dashing James Bond character, hero in sundry novels and recently in motion pictures. Bond is the epitome of the secret secret service agent, thriving on deadly action, good booze, and an unending stream of delectable broads.
At no point was Hayward suggesting that UPA continue to capitalize on Magoo's nearsightedness. Instead, he saw Magoo as an adult level character again, although he may have been overreaching by pitching Magoo's involvement with the three Bs, booze, broads and bad guys. It was an intriguing notion but once a character has crossed into the juvenile market, it's virtually impossible to bring them back. Most likely UPA realized that as well, as the matter appears to have been dropped. Hanna Barbera later capitalized on the Bond craze, albeit with less panache than Chris Hayward was suggesting, with their feature length film, The Man Called Flintstone. And Hayward did get to explore his takeoff on the James Bond films when he wrote for the spy spoof TV series, Get Smart.
Eventually, the studio did adopt the idea of Magoo starring in literary classics, which became The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. This correspondence makes one wonder, though, what other proposals were explored during that year to capitalize on the success of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol?