Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying your blog! This entry on Shirley Silvey is terrific, I knew she worked on "The King and Joe", but didn't know about her later involvement in stained glass and watercolors. Has her comic strip "Elliot" ever been collected in book form or internet form? She boarded the sequence in "Carol" that my old friend Duane Crowther animated. He never told me too much about her. I really like the series you're doing on Hank Saperstein, too. Almost more than I really should know about the demise of the "good" UPA studio, pretty depressing. Keep up the good work, Mark Kausler

Darrell said...


Thanks for writing, I appreciate the feedback! Elliot has never been collected in any form other than PDF as no publisher expressed interest in the property.

The history recounted in the Bosustow/Saperstein series can be discouraging but I hope that artists in any field can take something positive from it for their own business dealings.


Joel Brinkerhoff said...

Great post on Shirley! Her simple design is deceptively easy in appearance but always appealing. I love her color choices and composition too. Thanks!

I've been hunting "1001 Arabian Nights" for many years and can't find a copy in any format anywhere. Have you ever seen it?

Darrell said...

It's out of print but you might try requesting Columbia offer it as part of their print on demand series:

For that matter, ask them to put out the UPA library as well!

Anonymous said...

I think she did a great job polishing the look for The Mago0 Carol, also the original concept background from The Count Of Monte Cristo is superb, photo very interesting too! Do you own the drawing of the background? Just curious...The Mag0o Admirer

Anonymous said...

Another fantastic post.I love all the artwork you obviously have access to-thanks for sharing.
AND,for me,a bonus:the R&B artwork. (The only place I've seen the animation of the two circus elephants is at the end of the syndicated "Rocky Show".)
Keep up the good work, DJA

Darrell said...

You're the second one to point that out and you are correct, the elephants are from the end credits. I've made the correction in the body of the copy. Thanks for writing!

Chris Jonas said...

Just a few words about my auntie, she was an amazing artist and she was very modest about it. Les Hopkins who went to Art School with my father David Jonas said that Shirley was one of the very best artists he knew. I loved to visit her because I would get to see lots of animation cells and of course Rocky, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do Right, and almost the entire cast of Jay Ward characters. I loved to hear about the trip all three of them made in winter with a car with no heater that blew up and they all had to walk. All three had different stories! I would like to Thank Darrell for the wonderful blog about my aunt!

Darrell said...

Thanks for taking the time to write, Chris! Your aunt was very talented and far too modest about her abilities or contributions to the medium. I was very sad to hear of her passing.

Chris Jonas said...

I am most fortunate to have been sent a copy of Elliot from Beckie. I never had the "talent" but I collected comics for years. I have sold 3 collections. I think my favorites were the Jademan comics from Hong Kong. I remember one time when I spent a few days with my aunt we went to Jay Ward. It was like 1968-9 and the streets were jammed with hippies everywhere. I got to see the calliope and marveled at the statue of Rocky and Bullwinkle. I also have copies of all the Bad Hare cards as well. Beckie has been very sweet to me sending me copies of the work. I also remember the summer in Venice Ca when my brother and I stayed with my father for 2 months. So everyday Loren (my younger brother) and I would skate over to Shirley's to play with Beckie. Again Darrell thanks so much for all the effort you put in!

Pokey said...

Just a quick stupid question-but first, glad to see the blog, and GLAD for the Joan Gardner piece, too! One of the least known voices...but active at UPA alonbe as well as elsewhere, along with another Joan, Gerber, for many years.

TOo bad about Shirley'sa passing but glad to see that she held on till this year - 2010.

Now comes the quick stupid question-is Gloria Wood the same as the singer/actress heard on Kay Kyser 1940s records? Including one animation releated---HahahahaHA, "The Woody Woodpecker Song", or is it another Gloria Wood? Just like the Chuck McCann who was the comic and the one at Total TV.

Steve C.
Be sure to check out my blog, if I may so plug, devoted to the traditional 50s-60s Gumby,as it was with the old Capitol Q and Hi-Q aka John Seely cues-just a plug for any fans of Clokey's clayboy as his show was, and don't worry if you're worried about any of that 1980s Gumby garbage or the's another 1960s animation blog for those interested in the animation of that time.

As if my blog handle didn't clue you in
Steve C.
Facebook page:

Darrell said...

No, I'm afraid they are two different people. Gloria Wood, the animation artist, is still with us and Gloria Wood, the singer, is gone. Thanks for the heads up about your blog-I'll check it out!

Susan Morita said...

I was really sorry when I heard of Shirley Silvey's passing. My father, Roy Morita, was a work colleague and friend. He also worked with Shirley's brother, David Jonas. My father passed away in 1984. I just saw this blog, and noticed that Shirley's nephew had posted in response to it. I also saw an article on another website about an interview that Shirley gave some years back about the years she worked at Jay Ward Productions. She said the kindest things about my father, and it meant a lot to me. I have wanted to express to her family how I appreciated that, and how much both of my parents loved Shirley and respected her talent. I am sorry for their loss. I am hoping that perhaps her nephew will take another look at this site and read this post.

Darrell said...


Thanks for writing! I will pass your comments on to her daughter. Please contact me through the contact info on the blog as I would like to talk further with you about your father.