Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!

The above drawing, by supervising director Abe Levitow, was used in the production of the Frankenstein episode from The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, one of the more interesting offerings in the series due to the dark, German Expressionist styling of the backgrounds by Gloria Wood.  Famed animal draftsman and ex-Disney animator, Ken Hultgren, author of The Art of Animal Drawing, animated a good portion of the episode.  There are a few cels from this episode for sale here.  Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bosustow vs. Saperstein

Third in a four part series
     Due to the new distribution agreement with Hank Saperstein's company, Television Personalities, production demands at UPA skyrocketed.  It was ironic that the studio that had pioneered the limited animation technique as an artistic choice was now consumed by it as an economic necessity.  Artists at the time, though, were grateful for the work since the entire animation industry was in a state of turmoil over the collapse of the theatrical market. 

     Stephen Bosustow, although still at the studio, was nowhere to be seen.   The Magoo and Tracy TV shorts were flying through the studio and a new feature (Gay Purr-ee) was in active development, none of which involved Bosustow’s participation.  As part of his contract with Saperstein, he had been given an office at the studio and encouraged to develop new ideas and properties for UPA.  However on July 10, 1961, a special meeting of the UPA Board of Directors was called; present at the meeting were four directors, M. J. Saperstein, Harold Bell, Stephen Bosustow and Hank Saperstein, who served as chairman of the meeting.  Minutes from the meeting indicate that 78 personnel had been laid off over the last year, with most of those coming as production on the TV shorts ceased.  Saperstein claimed, that in spite of the extreme production demands on those shorts, the studio had been overstaffed when he took over and he asked to be empowered to make further cutbacks as he deemed necessary to maintain the financial health of the corporation.  The motion carried unanimously.

     The very next resolution by Saperstein stated that of all the projects and ideas that Stephen Bosustow had come up with over the last year, “none of the ideas or projects were determined to be practicable or within the scope of the corporation’s activities or its finances.”  As a result, the studio “could not continue the payment to Mr. Bosustow of a salary and substantial expense allowance.”  Bosustow dissented, probably vociferously, but Saperstein had the majority and the motion carried.  His salary and expense allowance were deferred until further order of the Board of Directors.  Bosustow had just moments before, unknowingly, given Saperstein permission to effectively eliminate his position in order “to maintain the financial health of the corporation”.  It seems fair to say that Bosustow had been blindsided by Saperstein’s machinations and five days later, all payments to Stephen Bosustow ceased.  Bosustow immediately threatened to sue, to which Hank reportedly replied, “Well, go ahead but you’ll have to get to the end of the line.” (viii)  

    On July 15, Stephen Bosustow, seeing no other options, left the company he had co-founded and helped to build.  A breach of contract lawsuit and writs of attachment were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 13, 1961.  Listed as defendants, were Henry Saperstein, Peter DeMet, UPA Pictures, Inc., Television Personalities, Inc. and seven “Doe” corporations (ix), all alleged to be controlled by Saperstein and the identities of which were unknown to the plaintiff.  The allegations were many and covered everything from compensation and Bosustow’s creative role to deception and outright fraud on the part of the defendants.  Probably the most salient allegation regarding his departure was that Saperstein had deliberately sidelined Bosustow and told him that he never had any intention of using him in a creative capacity.  He further alleged that he had been told the hope was that he would abandon the agreement out of discouragement.  The fraud allegations concerned the movement of assets to Saperstein’s myriad corporations to avoid fiscal responsibility, forcing UPA Pictures to plead poverty (xi).  The financial loss was listed as approximately $346,000 while the damages requested totaled $1,000,000.

     Stephen Bosustow’s departure was the final break with the old UPA.  Most of the original staffers had left in 1959 and Bosustow himself had not been involved in any meaningful capacity at the studio for at least a year.  His sudden absence barely registered with the staff.  In addition, all eyes in the studio were now focused on their next big project, the feature length Gay Purr-ee.

           Stephen Bosustow had hoped that the hiring of his original law firm, Charles J. Katz, which was known for its fierce reputation, would induce Saperstein to settle.  He didn’t and Bosustow eventually hired a new firm.  It appears that Saperstein’s legal representation was adept at grinding down the opposition, both emotionally and financially.  For Bosustow to prove his case, his legal team had to unravel the financial dealings between each one of Saperstein’s many companies, as well as how they interacted with UPA.  Even clients and sponsors were deposed in the process. The legal actions dragged on for years as Saperstein’s counsel engaged in numerous delaying tactics filing procedural motions every step of the way.  

     It took him five years but Bosustow did finally achieve some satisfaction in his lawsuit with Henry G. Saperstein, although at a considerable expenditure of time and money.  Just as the suit was about to go to trial in September of 1966, Saperstein reached a settlement with Bosustow agreeing to pay him $125,000 over five years, considerably less than $1,346,000 in losses and damages that had been requested, especially once inflation was factored in. Over the ensuing years, Bosustow incurred further legal costs when Saperstein’s periodic payments were late.  The entire process, from the filing of the initial lawsuit to the final receipt of payment, took ten years.

(viii)The Tip of the Iceberg: A Conversation with Lee Mishkin by Leslie Bishko, FPS Magazine.
(ix) In a 1965 lawsuit by Thorton Sargent, Sargent vs. Saperstein, the plaintiff listed 50 “Doe” corporations as being pertinent to his case.
(x) It was later determined that Saperstein received business loans through Television Personalities, Inc. and then loaned the same money to UPA at a much higher interest rate. The diversion of funds to interest payments apparently helped to deplete UPA’s finances.

Next Thursday, Coda

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shirley Silvey, designer

This week I profile Shirley Silvey, one of the unsung designers in animated cartoons.  Besides contributing design work to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Shirley had a key role as one of only two storyboard artists on the film.  Her career in the medium lasted less than 20 years but during that short time frame, she was at the epicenter of TV animation in its heyday.  Most of her career was spent at two shops, UPA and Jay Ward, and she shuttled back and forth between the two for many years.  Born Shirley Jonas, both she and her older brother, David, worked as artists in the entertainment field; he became a production illustrator for live action, she went into animation.

Shirley, like many others who worked on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, was hired as a designer straight out of art school for UPA’s The Boing Boing Show in 1956.  Her first job there was for director Ed Levitt, designing the short The King and Joe.  (Left, one of her concept paintings.) Unfortunately, the series failed to find either a sponsor or an audience and was soon canceled.  After leaving UPA, she had a brief stint at Churchill-Wexler Film Productions, a producer of educational films. 

Before long, Robert Dranko, famed UPA production designer, asked her to come back to UPA and join him on 1001 Arabian Nights, where she really began to blossom under his tutelage, assisting in storyboarding and designing both characters and backgrounds for the film.  When asked about her contributions, Dranko still praised her work 50 years later.

Her assignment complete on 1001 Arabian Nights, Silvey next found employment at the Jay Ward studio, working on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show, again as a storyboard artist and designer.  She joined Roy Morita, who had started slightly before her, and the two would split an entire season’s worth of shows to board and design, each doing an episode in just over three days (approx. 18 pages, six panels per page).  If you've ever wondered why there are continuity issues from the end of one episode to the beginning of another, it's because Shirley and Roy were working simultaneously on back to back episodes in separate locations.  (Below, one of her pages from the Wossamotta U adventure and Silvey's designs for Jay, Filcher and Belcher in the Rue Brittania adventure.)

When boarding ceased, she pitched in doing layouts for other shows in the series, such as Peabody’s Improbable History and Aesop & Son and also served in the same capacities on the 1964 Jay Ward series, Hoppity Hooper.  Shirley worked primarily from home, having been divorced from her first husband, so that she could raise her daughter.  Working freelance necessitates working at a high rate of speed in order to keep the income at a reasonable level; apparently Silvey had no trouble keeping up as she was in constant demand and would jump from one job to another as each job finished.  (Below, Silvey's layout drawing for the Rocky & Friends end credits and some of her character designs for an episode of Aesop & Son)

As mentioned in the book, she rejoined UPA to work on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol doing storyboards and layouts during a hiatus at Ward’s.  When called back to Ward, Bob Singer finished the character layouts for her sequence (the appearance of Jacob Marley).  Some of the sequences she remembered boarding were the prologue, the Cratchit household with the" Lord’s Bright Blessing" song, the Despicables and the deleted sequences with Fan at young Scrooge’s school and at nephew Fred’s house at the end of the original story.

She occasionally did freelance work for UPA in later years; one of her assignments was creating faux "production stills" to help sell The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.  She also freelanced on The Roadrunner Show for Depatie Freleng, who had taken over Looney Tunes production from the defunct Warner Bros. Cartoons division.  Abe Levitow asked her to join him at MGM Visual Arts to storyboard on How the Grinch Stole Christmas but she was unable to do so due to commitments at Ward.  (Below, Silvey's original layout from The Count of Monte Cristo pitch art and the still created from it.  The final character designs bear little resemblance to this preliminary piece.)

Between series’ work at Jay Ward, she would board and layout Cap’n Crunch commercials.  When George of the Jungle came along, Shirley was responsible for laying out the title sequence and also contributed her skills to both the George and Super Chicken segments of the show.

Shirley remarried (and changed her name to Berg) and was able to work in-house in her later years at Ward, where she shared a room with good friend Gloria Wood, key background painter on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  During this period, she conceived and pitched a show called Space Granny for which Bill Scott wrote the pilot and she did the boards; unfortunately it was never produced.  Scott named one of the two children Silvey (misspelled in the boards) in Shirley's honor.

When Ward experienced difficulty selling any more new shows to the networks in the 1970s, the studio devoted most of their efforts to Cap’n Crunch spots.  Shirley herself left animation in 1973 (coincidentally, the same year Christmas Carol alum Bob Inman left the business).  She had just spent a particularly grueling gig at Depatie Freleng on the ABC After School Special, The Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red’s Head.  As her daughter, Beckie, recounts:

In 1973, work at Jay’s was scarce.  She told me she didn't like the direction cartoons were going in.  She didn't like drawing them and didn't think they were funny.  She said she later regretted the decision to retire but by that time it was too late to re-enter the animation industry.  She didn't elaborate further, so I have no idea why she felt that way.  She did begin painting again and took up stained glass but by the late 1970's she had become very ill with severe chemical sensitivities and had to give that up because of the chemicals in the paints.  She was really very ill from that point on until the end of her life.  She was able to sketch and learned watercolors so she could keep going with her art.  One day in the early 1980's she thought she had to find something she could laugh about because her life was so grim, so she began drawing Elliot ( a comic strip) for the next 20 years, and later the Bad Hare (for a series of greeting cards).

Shirley Silvey Berg passed away July 17, 2010 of heart failure.  Her final request was to be buried holding one of her ubiquitous Rapidograph pens in drawing position.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A New Direction

Second in a four part series
     Henry G. Saperstein, or Hank, as he was commonly known, got his start in the entertainment industry when he inherited a small string of Chicago theaters at the age of twenty five.  At some point, the theaters were sold and Saperstein became involved with fellow Chicagoan, Peter DeMet, whose family owned the DeMet’s Candy Co.  DeMet had created the sports show, Championship Bowling, which Saperstein helped him package for network broadcast.  Hank had been quite successful in Chicago but there was a lot more money to be made in Hollywood, where most of the properties available for packaging and licensing were being produced so he moved west.  By the late 1950s, Saperstein would have a hand in merchandising Elvis Presley, Wyatt Earp, Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, The Rifleman, The Three Stooges and last but not least, manufacturing and providing the premiums for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.  It was a diversified portfolio and due in part to tax regulations at the time, Hank Saperstein set up a separate company for each property to administer the licensing or manufacturing.  Ultimately, the companies would number in the dozens.  Those myriad companies would be important to UPA’s fate.

     Saperstein knew Mr. Magoo was a relatively unexploited character and was a good fit for his licensing business.  Sensing an opportunity due to UPA's financial straits, he called up and met with Stephen Bosustow to discuss a proposal for his star property, Mr. Magoo.  Sometime later, on December 31, 1959, an agreement was signed between Bosustow’s UPA and Saperstein’s Television Personalities, Inc. for UPA to produce 130 Mr. Magoo shorts to be distributed by Television Personalities.  Production on the made-for-TV shorts was begun early in 1960, initially under the auspices of Stephen Bosustow.  Shortly after the deal for the Magoo show, Saperstein, making use of his Chicago roots, approached Chester Gould and his syndicate, The Chicago Daily Tribune, with the idea of producing Dick Tracy in animation.  Gould made a visit to the studio and an agreement for 130 Dick Tracy shorts was soon in place.

The studio had been looking into the abyss at the end of 1001 Arabian Nights fearing a lack of production but was now facing a workload larger than anything it had ever seen.  Hank Saperstein had opened the spigot.  In its theatrical heyday, UPA had been turning out a six minute cartoon at the rate of one every five weeks.  Now it would turn out a five minute cartoon every five days.  (It appears that Vice President Herb Klynn, et al., wanted no part of this new direction for the company which would explain why they left before the debut of the feature.  Ironically, their new series, The Alvin Show, had to be produced on an equally time- and budget-constricted basis.)

     As part of their initial business meetings, Saperstein and Bosustow met for lunches, probably at The Smokehouse, the restaurant next door to the studio.  The pressures of running a studio had become overwhelming and Bosustow was looking for a way to get out of it and back into producing.  One day at lunch, he casually mentioned to Saperstein that he was in the process of selling UPA, having signed an agreement on December 22, 1959 for the sale of UPA stock to a group of buyers, Seymour Weintraub & Associates.  Saperstein, seeing the licensing value in the Magoo character, and being a consummate salesman, immediately made him a far more generous offer (iv).  In fact, the first draft of the sales agreement between Saperstein and Bosustow made it clear that Mr. Magoo was “one of the fundamental considerations” in Saperstein’s purchase of the company.  (It also seems likely that Saperstein tendered his offer to protect his distribution agreement for the Magoo TV shorts.)

     Saperstein had cannily sized up his seller’s situation and with only a few pieces of paper, promised to relieve him of all his burdens.  Hank’s offer answered every single one of Bosustow’s concerns, including his liability for backing out of his agreement with Weintraub and Associates (v).  Stephen quickly took him up on it and although there were other stock holders who needed to be bought out, Bosustow was the majority owner and a deal was agreed to.   It was an attractive deal on paper, considering that all that was being sold was a production facility and the rights to two well known characters, Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing, in exchange for financial security.  There were no other assets as the film library had long since been sold back to Columbia as each film had gone over budget (vi).

     As part of his distribution plan, Saperstein approached the Kellogg Company, for whom he had been doing cereal premiums, with the prospect of sponsoring a half hour show featuring the new Mr. Magoo cartoons (Left, rough drawing from a Kellogg's Rice Krispies commercial).  Kellogg was already sponsoring the Huckleberry Hound and Woody Woodpecker shows but was eager to advance their dominance in the lucrative cereal market so they directed their advertising agency, Leo Burnett, to move forward.  A Letter of Intent was signed on May 18, 1960 between Burnett and Television Personalities on behalf of UPA.

     With the agreement in place, Hank next tapped his Chicago connections, Peter DeMet, and La Salle National Bank of Chicago to finance the purchase of UPA.  Having Kellogg on board as the sponsor made the sale quite attractive for the bank and they agreed to help finance the deal; Hank claimed in later years that he personally never put any money down (vii).  The terms of the deal had Bosustow selling the company to Henry Saperstein, Peter DeMet and Television Personalities, Inc. and he was paid $15,000 as a down payment for his stock in UPA with the balance ($58,500) to be paid over time.  It allowed him to continue on as an employee with a salary and expenses on an exclusive basis for five years and on a non-exclusive basis for another five.  He was also encouraged to develop new properties for which he would share 5% of the net profits. 

     The agreement was signed on June 27, 1960 and with it, the UPA once seen as an artistic utopia ceased to exist.  In its place was a licensing company with a production arm.

(iv) Stephen Bosustow interview with Michael Barrier, November 30, 1973 
(v) Weintraub & Associates did file suit against Stephen Bosustow on February, 17, 1961 but the case was closed May 11, 1962 so apparently some kind of settlement was reached. 
(vi) Interestingly enough, Saperstein began buying back the UPA shorts in 1960 but it appears that he might have only been buying back the McBoing Boing shorts.  There were plans to make The UPA Cartoon Show, to be distributed on CBS but it was later listed as being abandoned. 
(vii) Interview with Paul Carlson, May 21, 2007

Next Thursday, Bosustow vs. Saperstein

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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Studio on the Edge

First in a four part series

      How did UPA, the animation studio once regarded as the pinnacle of artistic animation, end up as a factory for TV animation?  Rumors and half truths about what actually happened circulated within the animation industry for so many years that they became conventional wisdom.  Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom contained some disparities and it became a question that I felt needed an answer as I delved deeper into the story of the UPA studio and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  To answer that question, it was necessary to examine over a thousand pages of documents in the Los Angeles County Superior Court records.
      In the original draft for the book, I had posited that four people were responsible for the production of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol-UPA studio chief Stephen Bosustow, executive producer Hank Saperstein, producer Lee Orgel and director Abe Levitow.  Although Bosustow had not been involved with the actual production of the special, decisions he had made years earlier created the situation that eventually led to the film’s existence.  During the book rewriting process, it was determined that those actions “behind the curtain” were not germane to the story of the making of the film and the material was excised. 
      However, I felt it was a fascinating insight into the clash of business and art, not to mention the clash of wills and have chosen to make it available to others as a cautionary tale about the business side of art.

Trouble in paradise 
     As the decade of the 1950s came to an end, there were a number of elements which conspired to challenge the future of the UPA studio, not the least of which was the market for theatrical animated cartoon shorts was rapidly disappearing.   Television had been making inroads into the animation industry and that trend had begun to accelerate in the late 1950s.  The collapse of the theatrical market during that period had essentially closed that revenue stream to UPA.  As devastating as that loss was, it may have been a mixed blessing as the shorts were a financial drain for the studio, being consistently and chronically over budget.
     What paid for the over budget shorts was UPA’s television commercial division.  Years earlier, UPA had branched out from theatrical shorts at their main Burbank studio to open TV commercial production offices first in New York in 1951 and five years later in London, with plans to open yet another office in Chicago.  Apparently 1955 was the financial high point for UPA as the studio boasted of record profits that year and by 1956, television commercials were providing nearly half of their gross income (i).  Although the New York office had been a roaring success and was highly profitable, it was never autonomous and the income it produced was siphoned off to keep the Burbank operation afloat (ii).  That kind of bookkeeping, along with the increased overhead of numerous branches and other management missteps began to compromise the financial health of the studio and in 1958, the New York office closed, followed shortly by the London facility.  The Chicago office never materialized. 

Stephen Bosustow
     It seems that financial issues had always dogged the studio, perhaps not unreasonably for a studio built almost solely on the strength of its artists rather than business acumen.  During the early days of UPA’s existential struggles, stock ownership had been exchanged for weekly paychecks.  When Columbia Studios agreed to distribute their films, paychecks became more regular but the studio was still paying less than the competition.  In 1952, twelve animators walked off the job over the lack of wage increases.  The trade-off had always been artistic freedom but the low pay and lack of raises had begun to rankle many of the staffers.  When Gene Deitch was solicited to join UPA in the New York commercial operation, Steve Bosustow put his hand on Deitch’s shoulder and said, “Gene, you’re a Marxist, aren’t you?” (iii)   It was a clever way to keep a lid on labor costs, appealing to his artists’ left wing sympathies.  Matters weren’t helped when it became apparent to UPA Vice President Herb Klynn and a number of other staffers that while Bosustow was keeping a lid on their wages, he was running personal expenses, like a new swimming pool, through the company coffers.        

      Adding a final straw to the studio’s woes at this time, was the release of UPA’s first feature, 1001 Arabian Nights (featuring their star character, Mr. Magoo), which failed miserably at the box office.  The studio had been banking on the film’s success to dig it out of its financial hole; instead it only worsened the company’s dire predicament.

Herb Klynn
     In October 1959, twenty six artists and administrative personnel left the company, some apparently so angry they preferred to resign via Certified Mail rather than face Bosustow in person.  The timing of their departure was not coincidental.  Herb Klynn, as Vice President, was in a position to see where the company was headed and neither he nor many of the other UPA staffers liked what they saw.  The group had decided to take their fate into their own hands and through the efforts of former Klynn assistant and now head of sales, Henrietta “Hank” Jordan, the group had concluded a deal with Ross Bagdasarian (the writer, creator and performer of Alvin and the Chipmunks) to produce the animated series, The Alvin Show under the banner of their newly formed company, Format Films.    

    Things were looking pretty bleak that fall for Stephen Bosustow and UPA.  The theatrical shorts distribution contract with Columbia had expired mid-year, their first and only feature had bombed at the box-office, most of the staff had just deserted and there were no major projects or contracts ahead to keep the studio afloat.  Word got around that UPA was in serious trouble.  The man who would seemingly come to the studio’s rescue was someone who knew nothing about animation but a lot about selling, Henry G. Saperstein.

(i) "Look, No Humans in Boing Boing Show Making TV Bow Today", Cecil Smith, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16, 1956
(ii) How to Succeed in Animation, Gene Deitch, p. 65
(iii) How to Succeed in Animation, Gene Deitch, p. 60

Next Thursday,  A New Direction

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's new in the second edition

The good news is that the book, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special will be back in print and, pending shipment from the printer, available next week.  The first edition exceeded sales projections and sold out so thank you to all of those who contributed to its success!  This new edition is not a straight reprint of the first one; once the book was published, people came forward with new information, art or documents that helped to refine the story of the film’s production.  There is no new art in the book but for those of you who are completists, here’s a compendium of what you will find new in this next edition:

p. 14-Short identified for background painting.
p. 22,23-New information regarding sponsors
p. 33-New theory regarding changed order of ghosts
pp. 41, 44, 45 & 49-New information regarding who did which voices
p. 48-New picture
p. 50, 51-New information on the dialogue recording session
p. 55-New information on Royal Dano’s role
p. 77-New information on an uncredited sequence director
p. 79-Graveyard sequence director corrected
p. 90-New information regarding NY debut party at the 21 Club
p. 97, 98-1977 paperback mentioned
pp. 116, 117-Credits added and corrected
p. 23, 32, 55, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 108, 109, 111, 112, 113, 126-Production drafts, which UPA staffers told me didn't exist, came to light after the book had been sent to the printer.  I was able to positively ID artwork as a result and have made the corrections in the new edition. 
p. 75, 86, 87-A few of the background paintings have now been positively identified as the work of others.

This edition has a smaller print run than the first so don't wait until Christmas.  You can pre-order the book here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bonus features for the upcoming DVD release

After last December’s successful hi-def screening of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and book signing at the Paley Center for Media in New York, Classic Media decided to re-master and re-package the special for a new Blu-ray collector's edition (a standard-def disc will also be included in the set).  As part of that process, I was asked to suggest bonus features for the upcoming release; following is a list of material I produced for the DVD:

Full length audio commentary-Interviews with Gerard Baldwin (sequence director), Bob Singer (layout), Marie Matthews (young Scrooge), Jane Kean (Belle), Laura Olsher (Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit children) and Lea Orgel (wife of producer Lee Orgel). 
Left, is a character from the sequence in which Scrooge visits the village of his youth; she was designed by Lee Mishkin but cut from the final film.  Scrooge refers to a Mrs. Doolittle when greeting villagers but the script also refers to a Mrs. Halsey so she could be either one.  In the commentary, I refer to this character and identify her as Mrs. Doolittle.

From Pencil to Paint: Production Art Montage-Character and background layouts compared to the final color art or screen images and set to the long lost Overture by Walter Scharf, presumably written for a never released soundtrack album.  This montage shows just how crucial the layout artists were to both the design and performances in the film.

Styne & Merrill Song Demo-A very rare recording of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill playing and singing their own material as a demo for producer Lee Orgel.  The featured song is “Ringle, Ringle” and synced to picture with Styne and Merrill voicing the characters during the song.

Storyboard Sequences-A peek into the process with storyboard thumbnails for two sequences (Lord’s Bright Blessing and Fezziwig’s) by production designer Lee Mishkin, synced to the existing soundtrack and compared against final picture.

Pamphlet-16 pages of text and images excerpted from the book to provide a broad overview of the film’s genesis and production.

Reprint of Jim Backus signed publicity photo from Christmas Carol

The remastered DVD is scheduled to be released Nov. 16, 2010 and you can pre-order it here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bob Inman, painter

Many of the artists that worked in the animation industry from the 1930s through the 1960s were graduates of the highly regarded Los Angeles art schools-Chouinard, Art Center, Otis and Jepson. The first wave of animation talent to go through these schools was during the 1930s due to Walt Disney’s drive to increase the quality and quantity of artists available for his rapidly increasing production needs. The second wave in the 40s and 50s was driven by the GI Bill as many returning vets opted for an art education before rejoining the work force.

One of those returning vets to benefit from this training was Robert Inman, one of the key background painters on Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Bob had joined the Navy just before the end of WWII but saw limited duty. After he was discharged, he attended college but unhappy with the art program there settled on Chouinard Art Institute instead. One of his favorite instructors there was Disney legend, Don Graham, whose philosophy according to Bob was, “You don’t draw what you see, you draw what you know.” Upon graduation in 1952, he took a test at Disney where he was offered a job for $30 a week for the first year (approx. $245 in today’s dollars) but declined the position for a higher paying job at Douglas Aircraft doing technical drawings.

His first job in animation wasn’t until 1959 at Bob Clampett’s Snowball Productions, filling in for a few months for a staffer on vacation. Bob’s career in animation really took off, though, when longtime friend and former roommate, Corny Cole, who was working at UPA, told him of an opening in the background department. UPA paid better than Douglas and Inman spent the next five years there, working on The Mr. Magoo Show, The Dick Tracy Show, Gay Purr-ee, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and finally leaving in 1964 when production shut down after the completion of The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. When I asked Bob what he thought of his tenure there, he replied, “UPA was the only animation studio I worked for that really let me be creative. They never held your hand and made being creative impossible.” (Above, one of Bob's paintings for Gay Purr-ee)

Corny’s recommendation had long term ramifications for Bob as he spent much of the rest of his career working with people he met while at UPA-Lee Orgel, who produced the animated series, The New Three Stooges at Cambria Studios; Abe Levitow at Chuck Jones’ MGM Visual Arts where Bob painted backgrounds for Tom & Jerry shorts, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who, The Phantom Tollbooth, Off to See the Wizard and The Pogo Special Birthday Special (for which he painted every single background despite being stricken with the Hong Kong flu); and fellow painter Gloria Wood, at Jay Ward, painting on George of the Jungle and Super Chicken. He briefly returned to UPA in 1970 to once again work with Abe Levitow on Uncle Sam Magoo (produced by Lee Orgel and scored by Walter Scharf, also veterans of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol).
Bob also painted for Hanna Barbera on many of their late 60s, early 70s TV shows like Arabian Knights, It’s the Wolf and The Roman Holidays (above, one of his paintings for Hanna Barbera). He left the animation business in 1973 to devote his time to fine art painting but continued to pick up freelance work from Bosustow Productions as well as many of the local commercial houses like Film Fair, Quartet and even working again with Abe Levitow at Levitow Hansen Films.

Since devoting his full time to fine art painting, Bob has sold many of his pieces to both private and corporate collections. The Art Rental & Sales Gallery of Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been representing his art over 20 years. You can find some of Bob’s abstract work here. Reflecting on his life as a painter, Bob had this to say:

“I’ve gone through three different stages in my painting career. I started out doing realistic works and ended up an abstract painter. People sometimes ask me “Why did you put that color there?” or “What were you thinking about when you did that painting?” I tell them I don’t think a lot about those decisions when I’m working. I work emotionally not intellectually. After so many years I’ve learned to trust myself---to just let it out.  If I think too much about what I’m doing my work will get fussy or stiff. I work from the belly.”

Bob’s artistic philosophy is evident even in his early career as seen in his work on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol: