Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

1962 Christmas card drawn by Xenia DeMattia, one of the animators on Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol-see if you can guess which sequence she animated.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Forty nine years ago tonight...

...Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol made its broadcast debut.  And speaking of being broadcast, I'm pleased to announce that after an extremely long absence from the airwaves Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol will finally be back on television this year!  Word from Classic Media is that it won't be on one of the major networks but syndicated through either the ME TV network or This TV network.  The special will be broadcast December 24th, Christmas Eve at 9 PM.  To find out which of your local channels will be airing the show, click here for ME TV or here for This TV. May this be the beginning of a trend!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

50th Anniversary

Those of you keeping track will know that next year will be the 50th anniversary of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.  There are preliminary discussions to put out an expanded, commemorative edition of my book on the making of the special which would incorporate pertinent information from these blog posts as well as new artwork that has been uncovered since the last publication.  It would be a deluxe, premium priced limited edition of the book available next fall.  I'm putting out an all points bulletin soliciting additional information and images that would appropriate for this book and encourage those with material to contact me at  Due to my workload, I may not respond immediately so please bear with me.  I also hope to get a rough head count of those who might be interested in owning a copy of the proposed book in order to determine the edition size so please write if you have an interest.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Walter Scharf, composer

While the songwriters Jule Styne and Bob Merrill were responsible for the emotional anchor points of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the man who tied the various themes together and underscored the emotions between the songs was Walter Scharf.  Like any good film composer, his music was there to heighten the story’s emotions without ever calling attention to itself.  He was the consummate craftsman; his cues for Christmas Carol are so subtle yet so well written and arranged, one is never consciously aware of how much they enhance the film.   Despite his impact on the final product, he never once mentions the film in his autobiography, Composed and Conducted by Walter Scharf, or lists it in his filmography.  He even includes a picture in the book from the Christmas Carol scoring session, in which he is conducting with Jim Backus at his side, but gives no indication of what project it’s from.
His involvement in the process was significant although relatively short.  At the beginning, Scharf was there for all the vocal auditions, accompanied the candidates on the piano and consulted with Jule Styne on final choices.   At the song recording session, he repeatedly rehearsed the singers while Styne meticulously listened in on the performances and Scharf conducted the live orchestra as the performers laid down their tracks to tape.  Much later, after production was complete, he wrote the score that bridged the spaces between Styne and Merrill’s well placed songs, conducting the final scoring and choral sessions.  

Although he overlooked his work on the first animated Christmas television special, Walter Scharf sailed right through the heart of American popular entertainment in the twentieth century.  He began his musical career in New York playing the piano when he was 4 and by the age of 16, orchestrated Manhattan for Richard Rodgers; at 20, he orchestrated Girl Crazy for George Gershwin.  He worked with future film star Alice Faye in New York and soon followed her to Rudy Valle’s radio show, later ending up in the Hollywood film business when Valle came west to make a film for Warner Bros.   While at Warner’s, he worked with Al Jolson and Marion Davies, as well as scoring a number of films.

Before long he headed over to 20th Century Fox to work with his old friend, Alice Faye, who had suggested him to Darryl Zanuck for use on musicals.  It was there that he met Jule Styne, whose job was coaching singers for movies, and the two began a friendship that would endure for the rest of their lives and result in a number of collaborations over the years.  Styne eventually ended up at Republic Pictures and several years later, Walter Scharf rejoined his old friend when he was brought in as head of the Republic music department.  While running the department, Scharf still managed to score well over a dozen features including some with John Wayne and Roy Rogers.  Tired of his role as administrator, Scharf wanted to get back to composing and left for Universal Studios, where he worked on a variety of films, some starring the likes of Abbott and Costello and Francis the Talking Mule.

After a brief stint for Howard Hughes at RKO and then for Sam Goldwyn on Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye, he moved to Paramount in the 1950s, working on films starring Bing Crosby.  There he met Irving Berlin, who, according to Scharf, began writing “White Christmas” in Scharf’s office with Walter taking down the first notes; he was the first to hear Berlin play it.  Others he worked with while at Paramount were Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (including the 1963 classic, The Nutty Professor,  Frank Sinatra on The Joker’s Wild (which was the debut of the song, “All the Way”, written  by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn), and several Elvis Presley films starting with the second film, Loving You.

The 60s saw Walter Scharf re-unite with his old friend, Jule Styne, first on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, later on The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood and finally on the film version of Funny Girl.  Television scoring began to dominate more of his schedule and film score buffs will likely remember his work from the mid-60s series, The Man From Uncle and Mission: Impossible.  He next turned to documentaries when David Wolper engaged him for the Jacques Cousteau specials; soon he was also scoring National Geographic specials as well.  He was incredibly prolific scoring for TV, doing over 500 shows in his career.  Scharf admitted to having no problem working weekends and holidays.

In the 70s, Walter Scharf worked with Lee Orgel and Mr. Magoo one more time, scoring the NBC special, Uncle Sam Magoo.  Shortly thereafter he contributed to the pop culture classic, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which he orchestrated and arranged from a score by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.  His next film, Ben, was the sequel to Willard, the movie about a loner obsessed with rats.  To sing the title song he composed (with lyrics by Don Black), he brought in the Jackson 5, led by 13 year old Michael Jackson; within 2 months of making the track, they were #1 on the pop charts.  Both the song and score were nominated for Academy Awards and although neither one won, the song did net him a Golden Globe.  Over his long career, Scharf was nominated 11 times for an Oscar, won 4 Emmys, 2 Radio awards and 1 Golden Globe. 

In addition to composing the score for both Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and Uncle Sam Magoo, Walter Scharf worked on two other animated projects-he was an uncredited orchestrator for the Fleischer feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town and wrote the music for Filmation’s Journey Back to Oz!

In his later years, after he done just about anything and everything in film scoring, it was clear that Walter Scharf still retained values in a business that often overlooks them.  Interviewed by a newspaper reporter he said, “…composing for documentaries is what I love to do most.  The creative challenges are varied and endless.  In addition, TV documentaries offer clean, family entertainment, and I’d rather be associated with that kind of project than any other.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gift Giving Guide

Take a cue from Mr. Magoo, the surest way to warm the heart of that special someone is with a gift of heat lamps from General Electric!  However, if you’re looking for something a little less exotic, try one of the suggestions below.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol Special Edition DVD-A two disc set featuring the groundbreaking special in both standard and Blu-ray formats.  The show has been remastered from the original negative and looks better than it ever has before.  Bonus features include commentary by actresses Jane Kean, Marie Matthews and Laura Olsher, layout artist Bob Singer, Lea Orgel, wife of producer Lee Orgel and myself; a montage of production art; a rare song demo of “Ringle, Ringle” sung by Styne and Merrill; and two storyboard sequences synced to the final soundtrack.  It also comes with a 12 page illustrated booklet and a reproduction movie still signed by Jim Backus.  Order here.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special-The definitive book on the making of the Christmas classic, featuring dozens of images of rare art and behind the scenes photos of the song recording session.  Available in three editions-signed by the author, signed by Marie Matthews and Bob Singer and the deluxe edition signed by nine of the original cast and crew.  Order here.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol song folio-The long awaited sheet music of Styne and Merrill’s classic songs, collected in one book with images from the film.  Now you can play and sing the songs at home!  Order here.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, songs from the original soundtrack-Unfortunately only available for download but finally available after almost 50 years.  Includes complete versions of “It’s Great to Be Back on Broadway” and “Winter Was Warm”.  Order here.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol-Limited edition cels based on scenes from the film are available, including some signed by the artist.  Order here.

Mr. Magoo TV boxed set-A jaw dropping 11 disc set covering Magoo’s career on television.  Bonus features include a documentary on Magoo and the UPA studio during its TV days, a commemorative booklet and audio commentary by a number of artists who worked on the various films-Bob Singer, Don Morgan and Paul Carlson.  Order here.

There’s plenty to choose from, enough to please any fan of Mr. Magoo.  Be a hero and get the complete collection!  However, if your intended recipient already has all of the above, here are some other suggestions.

The Whimsical Work of David Weidman-I profiled David in a previous post and this book on his life and career is one of the art world's best kept secrets.  As an option, you can even get a miniature silk screen print with a signed copy of the book or one of his full size prints, which are very reasonably priced.  Order here.

Funny Face Kooky Kushions-You can't go wrong with large stuffed images of your favorite fruit soft drink mix characters from the 60s and 70s!  Funny Face merchandise is rare so get Goofy Grape, Lefty Lemon and Jolly Olly Orange and be a part of the new wave of Funny Face fans.  Spice up that dreary living room or bedroom.

Handcrafted pens-If you haven't clicked through on that flashing pens logo on the right, now is the time to do it.  There are dozens of handcrafted designer pens there, made from various exotic materials that just might make the perfect gift.  Order here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Titles for The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo

The title sequence for Famous Adventures, newly released on DVD, is an enjoyable romp through history featuring Mr. Magoo in classic artistic and historical tableaus.  If one could trace its genesis, the concept might have had its beginnings in UPA’s feature, Gay Purr-ee.  Within that film is a memorable sequence in which one of the key production designers, Corny Cole, painted the cat Mewsette into a number of French Impressionist paintings by Lautrec, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rousseau, etc.  A few years later, when asked to create a title sequence for the new Magoo series, two UPA production designers expanded the concept, painting Magoo on a Greek vase, into a Japanese painting, rendering him as the Mona Lisa and dropping him into several other well-known styles and works of art.  It’s a witty beginning for the show and sets the tone for Mr. Magoo to appear in literature through the ages.  The two artists, Jacques Rupp and Don Morgan, received credit for the title sequence on every single episode although they did much more on the series.  Hank Saperstein had a rule that each person could only receive one credit so they opted for the credit that would appear every week, giving them the most exposure.

Jacques Rupp
Jacques was the more senior of the two, having already spent a decade in animation, while Don Morgan had only recently entered the business.  Rupp started at Disney in 1953 as in inbetweener and moved into the layout department as an assistant on Lady and the Tramp, working on sequences at the dog pound, the zoo and the classic spaghetti eating sequence at Tony’s restaurant.  He spent time in the Disney commercials unit as a background painter and also worked in Ward Kimball’s unit for the Man in Space series and Magic Highway USA.   

Rupp was moved off of production to work on the new theme park, Disneyland, and is credited with designing the Snow White shuttle bus which ran from Los Angeles to Anaheim, logos, popcorn boxes and cups used throughout the park and selecting costumes for the Jungle Cruise, Canal Boats and Frontierland.  Jacques went on to become something of an immortal in the Disney pantheon, designing the classic Disneyland logo as well as the opening titles for the Disneyland TV show featuring Tinkerbell and Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

One of Jacques Rupp's layouts from the Cyrano episode
Jacques probably left Disney during its mass layoff in the late 50s and arrived at UPA in time to design the title sequence and promotional materials for the Magoo feature, 1001 Arabian Nights.  When that picture finished, he went on to do television commercials for one of the many animation production houses in Los Angeles, Animation, Inc.  Many artists working in animation during the early 60s have recounted how difficult the job market was at the time and artists often found themselves hopping from studio to studio picking up work wherever they could.  Rupp was no exception and finally landed at Hanna Barbera as a layout artist working on The Flintstones, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!, Ricochet Rabbit, Punkin’ Puss and early development on The Jetsons.  When that gig ended, he found himself doing animated titles for Pacific Title before coming back to UPA for The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.  As mentioned above, he and Don Morgan collaborated on the title sequence but both also laid out episodes for the series, Cyrano De Bergerac being one of Rupp’s episodes.

One of Rupp's personal works
Unlike theatrical animation, the television animation business was largely a freelance affair and it became more so as time went on.  Jacques continued to move from studio to studio, next stopping at Lee Orgel’s production of The New Three Stooges , then to Depatie Freleng for The Super 6, and Super President, Filmation for The Batman/Superman Hour and finally back to Depatie Freleng for The Pink Panther series before leaving the industry altogether.  Rupp moved to Seattle where he worked for the University of Washington doing graphics and storyboarding and later freelanced for the Seattle Times, where he designed their masthead.  He retired in 1986 and passed away in 2000.  You can see some of Rupp's Disney print work here.

Don Morgan
Don Morgan got his first job in animation when he went to apply for a job at Bob Clampett’s Snowball Studios only to find that it had closed.  Fortunately, another animation studio had opened in the same space, one run by Dave and Phyllis Bounds Detiege (Walt Disney’s niece and later wife of animator Milt Kahl) to produce the animated feature, The Man from Button Willow.   He began as an assistant animator to Ken Hultgren and, due to his background in industrial design, was pushed into layout by Phyllis Detiege.  His tutors there were Erni Nordli, Tony Rivera and Bruce Bushman.  When layout ended, Tony Rivera recommended him to Abe Levitow at UPA, who was just starting up The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. 

Morgan and Rupp conceived and executed the title sequence for the series and Saperstein was so taken with the titles that he asked Don to paint a series of 8 images inserting Magoo into famous paintings for use as corporate gifts. In addition to the title sequence, Morgan did the individual episode titles and worked on the Moby Dick, Frankenstein and Dick Tracy episodes, among others, and would also design or paint on any episode that needed a helping hand.   During production on the series, Morgan also picked up freelance on the Magoo GE commercials, earning a little extra on the side.  When production was complete on Famous Adventures, the entire staff was laid off and Saperstein closed the studio.  Abe rejoined his old friend, Chuck Jones, over at Tower 12 Productions, which soon became the newest incarnation of MGM Animation.  Don followed Abe over there to lay out Tom & Jerry cartoons under Maurice Noble’s tutelage.

Morgan continued to work with Noble on the studio’s next project, the classic Christmas special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, laying out sequences such as the Grinch’s thefts in the village, the sleigh sequence on the top of the mountain and the end sequence with the Whos singing in Whoville.  Later, he was excited to work with longtime comic strip hero, Walt Kelly, on The Pogo Special Birthday Special, in which he laid out the entire picture brush inking all the layouts in the style of Kelly’s iconic strip.  Morgan also served as a friendly ear for Kelly, who was less than enchanted with Jones’ interpretation of his characters and would blow off steam over drinks with Don.  When Walt Kelly later fell ill, Morgan ghosted Walt Kelly’s Pogo strip until he died, when Walt’s widow, Selby, took over.

Morgan worked again with Abe Levitow on Off to See the Wizard, The Phantom Tollbooth, ABC’s The Curiosity Shop and later back at UPA for Uncle Sam Magoo.  After a few turbulent but stimulating years working with Ralph Bakshi on three features, he served as layout Supervisor at Hanna Barbera for all the Saturday morning TV productions; while there, he worked with director Gerard Baldwin on developing The Smurfs animated series.  In later years, he worked at Marvel as Studio Art Director and at both Turner Animation and Nickelodeon as Layout Supervisor.  Don spent his last years in the animation business at Dreamworks, working on such hand-drawn features as The Road to El Dorado and Spirit, Stallion of the Cimmaron before retiring to a ranch in central California where he and his wife, Maggie, teach the arts and skills of Early American frontier living to their many grandchildren.  You can see Don interviewed in the featurette, Oh Magoo, You've Done It Again!, included on the Magoo on TV boxed set.

Special thanks to Gord Wilson for his Jacques Rupp interview