Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

The above drawing was done by Abe Levitow as pitch art for a never produced episode of The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.  May you and your family have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

And if you're in Los Angeles this weekend, don't forget about the screening of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol with Marie Matthews, Jane Kean and Bob Singer at the Egyptian Theater.  If you'd like a copy of the book signed by the panel participants, you can pre-order a copy here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christmas Belles

One of the biggest pleasures in writing the book was finding out how many people loved the special and were excited to read about its genesis.  One of those was a fellow animator, who visited me at my office to buy a copy of the book last year  and whose interest in animation dated back to his teen years in the early 1960s.  He used to haunt the dumpsters in back of the various animation studios around Los Angeles and his rescue efforts paid off in some rather unique and  interesting finds. 

At UPA, for example, he discovered Abe Levitow's original model sheet drawings for the 1960s Mr. Magoo model in the trash,

as well as some of the most unusual items from the special to come to my attention.  As he went through his stack, he showed me some cels from the show-not just the standard production cels but cels which had a very different version of Belle on them.  This Belle was the one designed by Tony Rivera,

and not the one we know from the special, as designed by Lee Mishkin.  

Unlike the cels of the Tony Rivera’s three ghosts depicted in the book (p. 84), these were not suggested model cels of Belle but the same model from three different scenes, sequentially numbered, indicating they were random cels from those scenes.  These were production cels!

To say the least, it was a rather stunning find.  Later, another collector showed me a character layout with the same model of Belle, yet more evidence of a mid-production change.  Recently, I had the chance to examine the original scene folders for this sequence and found notes on them indicating that the scenes had indeed been re-animated.  There's no doubt this sequence was first animated, inked, painted and shot using the Tony Rivera model of Belle.  

I mention this in the audio commentary track on the new DVD release but here you have the opportunity to see the difference first hand. Tony's model of Belle, while simple, is still appealing but the animator for these scenes seems to have completely lost the charm inherent in the original design.  As the DVD feature "From Pencil to Paint" shows, the animators relied heavily on the character layouts as guides for their animation, consequently the layout artist for this sequence also shares some responsibility.  Rivera's clean graphic design has deteriorated into a series of undulating lines defining virtually nothing.  A sensitive hand was needed to translate his graphic sensibility into animation; lacking that, a new approach was required. 

Arguments could certainly be made regarding the quality of draftsmanship in the revised scene but this version of Belle is more feminine and far easier on the eyes.  What was difficult to comprehend is that on a film which clearly did not have a luxurious budget, an entire sequence would make it all the way through the production process to final color, only to be redone.  Making the decision to completely redo it was an expensive one although it also appears to have been the right one.   To compare it to live action, it was as if the sequence had been shot with one actress only to realize there was no chemistry and it had to be recast and reshot with a new actress.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bob Singer, layout artist

In 1960, job opportunities abounded at UPA due to the studio’s sharp refocus from theatrical shorts to TV animation.  The Mr. Magoo Show and The Dick Tracy Show , each with an order for 130 five minute shorts, necessitated a hiring binge.  Corny Cole had called ex-roommate Bob Inman to come over and around the same time, layout artist Sam Weiss told his friend Bob Singer of an opening in the layout department.  Singer, who was working at Warner Bros. as a background painter, was just beginning to cross over into layout and jumped at the chance to pursue it full time.  He spent the next five years as a layout man at UPA.  

Bob Singer started his career as a background painter for Shamus Culhane on the Bell Science films and also painted on the titles for Around the World in 80 Days.  He was recommended for a storyboard job on the Bell films at Warner Bros. by Ben Washam, an animator in Chuck Jones’ unit, who had freelanced for Culhane.  When those films finished, Bob began painting backgrounds for the McKimson unit, occasionally painting for the Jones unit and finally for Abe Levitow on A Witch’s Tangled Hare.  He had just moved into layout and was about to join Freleng’s unit in that capacity when Sam Weiss made his fateful call to join him at UPA.

Between the conclusion of the TV shorts and the ramp up on Gay Purr-ee, Singer filled his time doing layouts for General Electric commercials featuring Mr. Magoo.  On Gay Purr-ee, he was handed sizable sections of the film to stage and layout.  Bob remembers:

Since Chuck Jones wrote the story as a writer's storyboard, it was not suitable for production. We had to re-board most of it. I was assigned to do all the sequences occurring in the loft in Paris where our heroine was kept captive by the bad guy.  Then I did all the layouts for that area, including following Musette as she escaped and ran through the streets. Another area I boarded and laid out began in a cafe where Jaune-Tom and his sidekick (Robespierre) were drinking and had a drunken spree that introduced a song sequence ending in a burst of fireworks. Also, near the end of the picture there was a sequence in Alaska, ending on a ship at sea which I again boarded and laid out.

When production began to wind down on the feature, Bob was picked to move on to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the film that was moving through the studio right on the heels of Gay Purr-ee.  Sequences Bob laid out were the titles, credits, the prologue with the song "Back on Broadway", Scrooge’s office, the graveyard and the epilogue after the play ends.  Singer’s character and background layouts are highlighted throughout my book.

The year 1963 was a slow one at UPA and appears to have been primarily filled with the production of GE commercials.  When The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo was given the greenlight at the beginning of 1964, Singer was asked, along with Marty Murphy and Corny Cole, to help board the premiere episode, William Tell, and also laid out a chunk of the film.  Bob worked on many of the episodes such as the four part Robin Hood, Paul Revere, Treasure Island and several others.  Production had begun in January and although there were 26 episodes in the series, they were all completed and the entire artistic staff was laid off before the series made its debut in mid-September that same year.  The last man out was Bob Singer, who fell back on his background painting skills to finish up a GE spot on his way out the door. Below is a page of Bob's storyboards from the William Tell episode and a layout from the Robin Hood episode.

From there, he briefly went to Tower 12, Chuck Jones’ operation which became the new incarnation of MGM, but left after a few short weeks due to what he felt was a creatively constrictive atmosphere.  In October 1964, Bob began the longest stint of his career, at Hanna Barbera, eventually rising to the head of layout there.  He worked on dozens of shows from Jonny Quest to Scooby Doo and everything in between.  Of all the productions Singer worked on at HB, the one he was most proud of was art directing the feature, Charlotte’s WebBob finally decided to retire from the business in 1993.  

Since then, he has kept active by writing and self-publishing a book on storyboarding and doing commissioned art featuring the Hanna Barbera characters.  Although the book details the television production model for storyboarding, it’s recommended for its solid approach to production boarding, still applicable even with today’s technological methodology.  If you would like to order a copy of the book or inquire about a personalized commissioned piece of art, you can contact Bob here.

In looking back on his career, Bob felt the artistic high point of his career was at UPA:

Abe (Levitow) was fortunate that he had assembled an excellent staff of artists who did good work in a timely fashion.  Being an excellent artist himself, we all had a great deal of respect for him. With a boss like that you worked hard to please him and there was a good working environment in the studio, although filled with deadlines. I have worked in at least 16 different studios around town, as we all did, but I look at my time at UPA as the most pleasant and rewarding.  Abe allowed his artists to have the freedom to invent, contribute and create without feeling the heavy hand of supervision and the ego that goes with it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Joan Gardner, actress

She was a key performer in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and a staple of TV animation in the 60s and 70s yet today she is almost totally forgotten.  Of all the cast members in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, perhaps the most difficult to find biographical information for was Joan Gardner.  There was almost nothing on the internet, she had not been written about in any books and even newspaper articles were extremely difficult to find.  To add to the confusion, there was also a British actress in Hollywood with the same name.  However, with persistence, I finally was able to locate her cousin who was able to flesh out her story and provide me access to some of Joan’s personal memorabilia.  Here, for the first time anywhere, is an overview of Joan Gardner’s life and career.

Joan, born in Chicago on November 16, 1926, came from a rich heritage of performers on both sides of her family.  Her grandmother and mother, both named Adelaide, had a stage act, "Adelaide and Baby Cline" (Cline being her mother’s maiden name) and Joan began her show biz career appearing with them on stage at the age of five.  Her father was famed jazz pianist, “Jumbo” Jack Gardner (so named because of his girth-at one point he was rumored to have weighed 400 pounds), who became one of the original members of Harry James’ big band.   Her parents divorced when she was but a toddler, probably due to her father’s drinking habits (he was later fired by Harry James for drunkenness), and she and her mother moved to Los Angeles.

Soon thereafter, her mother married Edward Halpern, who, although he never adopted her, became the only father Joan ever knew.  Joan Gardner continued her stage and musical training through her high school and college years and even had some bit parts in movies including a deleted scene in the 1947 Cecil B. DeMille film, Unconquered.

Her career in television began in January 1948 when she became an assistant production supervisor and writer for Stokey-Ebert TV Enterprises, the company that produced Armchair Detective (CBS, 1949) and Pantomime Quiz (1947-1959, CBS, NBC, Dumont and ABC).  Both shows were filmed at KTLA, a local Los Angeles television station, which is how she ended up joining former Looney Tunes director, Bob Clampett, in December 1949 as a writer and performer for his television puppet show, Time for Beany, also filmed there.  Joan provided the voice of Beany’s girlfriend, Susie, as well as the vocals for all the female characters. 

(Below is behind-the-scenes look on the set of Time For Beany.  You can see more images from this photo session at the Life Magazine photo library.)
Her mother, Adelaide Halpern, also contributed to Time for Beany, writing songs and special material including “Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent” and “Beany” (i).  Joan’s next gig with Clampett was in 1950 as head writer, puppeteer and assistant producer on another of his puppet series, Buffalo Billy, which originated out of CBS in New York; writers on the series were Bob Clampett, Don Messick and Gardner. (Adelaide Halpern also made musical contributions to this series).  Many of the characters on Buffalo Billy later showed up on the 1962 animated series, Beany and Cecil, where Gardner once again found herself providing voices for Bob Clampett. 

She took time off from her career when her stepfather passed away in 1952 but rejoined the work force in earnest a year later to help pay off the debts left from her stepfather’s sudden passing.  Gardner re-signed with Clampett in 1953 to work on Flyboy, another daily puppet series out of the KTLA studios, where she supplied the voice of Flyboy himself as well as miscellaneous female characters.  (The second photo below has Joan posing with legendary Hanna Barbera voice-over artist, Don Messick.)

Joan Gardner finally entered the animation field in 1958, voicing the character of the boy, Spunky, in Spunky and Tadpole for producer Ed Janis, whose Beverly Hills Productions produced the low budget animated show.  The character of Tadpole was played at first by Don Messick, with whom she had worked on Flyboy, and later by Janis himself.   The show lasted only three years although her association with Janis would continue for the rest of her life; they married in 1960.  

Also in 1960, Gardner began her fortuitous relationship with UPA, doing voice work for The Mr. Magoo Show, the new TV cartoon series ushered in by Henry G. Saperstein.  Next up was Gay Purr-ee for producer Lee Orgel, which led to her roles as Tiny Tim, the Ghost of Christmas Past, etc. in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  For 1964’s The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, she contributed female voices for over 10 episodes, alternating between children, ingĂ©nues, matrons and villains for Sherlock Holmes, Noah’s Ark, Frankenstein, Don Quixote Parts 1 & 2, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Count of Monte Cristo, Snow White Parts 1 & 2, Rip Van Winkle and The Three Musketeers.
Gardner continued her writing career and made her big screen debut in 1965, penning the low budget beach party/horror film Surf Terror for producer husband, Ed Janis.  The film saw release as The Beach Girls and the Monster, later running on TV as Monster from the Surf.  (Newspaper articles during her lifetime would credit her with writing three different movies, using all three titles, although they were all one and the same.)

Between animation gigs on such other shows as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Valley of the Dinosaurs and Snorks, Joan found work doing radio commercials and on camera roles in television commercials.  As the 60s rolled into the 70s, Joan started working with Rankin-Bass on their TV specials, providing voices for The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, the second of her animated Christmas specials, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail.

Her last writing effort to make it to the big screen was the little known 1973 Western/horror film, A Man for Hanging, also produced by her husband.  There was a later effort by Ed and Joan to film another one of her scripts, Scavenger’s Gold, but funding eluded them and it was never produced.  (Right, Ed Janis and Joan Gardner, ca. 1973)

Joan Gardner died December 18, 1992, thirty years to the day from the debut of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  Sadly, Joan, her mother and grandmother all died fairly young from the same cause, cancer.  Although her passion was writing, immortality seems to have eluded her there but she will always be remembered for her vocal performances in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Christmas perennials viewed with fondness each holiday season by succeeding generations.

(i) There were announcements in the trades at the time that Halpern was to provide the theme song for a feature film version of Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent, to be sung by Danny Kaye. The film was to be directed by former Looney Tunes director, Frank Tashlin.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sneak peak at the new DVD

The newly re-mastered version of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol will hit the shelves next Tuesday.  Some of you may be wondering if it's worth buying another copy of a film you already own; here are some images from the new standard def version of the DVD to help you make an informed decision. 

You'll notice that the color is richer and has more depth; perhaps for the first time ever, the film more accurately reflects the original artwork.  If you'd like to see screen grabs from the Blu-ray edition, click here.

Additionally, you can read about the bonus features here and you can pre-order the DVD here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Part four of a four part series

     In the years immediately following his departure from the studio, Stephen Bosustow was prohibited from producing in the Los Angeles animation industry due to a non-compete clause in his contract with UPA.  He spent the next few years in Hong Kong, helping a faltering animation studio and trying to drum up work for them from the US.  On his return to the states, he began consulting for an educational film company, Film Associates, and eventually segued into producing educationals for them under his own label, Stephen Bosustow Productions.  Several Christmas Carol alums worked with him in those later years including Sam Weiss and Lee Mishkin, who directed the 1970 Academy Award winning animated short, Is It Always Right to Be Right? produced by Bosustow’s son, Nick.  Mishkin left soon after that and Sam Weiss took his place, directing most of the studio’s later output.  In the mid-70s, Bosustow Entertainment was formed to produce ABC After School Specials, Sesame Street animated inserts and work for other television clients.  Stephen Bosustow died of pneumonia July 4, 1981 at the age of 69.  Four years later, his son Nick closed down the studio.

     UPA continued on for several decades but largely as a distribution and licensing organization.  When animation was needed, usually for television commercials, it was farmed out to ex-UPA staffers and vendors.  In later years, former UPA production coordinator, Paul Carlson, would produce the commercials under the banner of the eponymous Paul Carlson Cartoons.
     Saperstein closed the studio in 1983 and continued to live off the income generated by his diverse portfolio of licensable properties.  He occasionally tried to sell off those assets, either in part or as a whole, but could never come to an agreement with potential suitors.  The John Lautner-designed studio facility was razed when it was sold that same year, ironically enough, to Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, who built the headquarters for his company, Shamrock Holdings, on the property.
     In June of 1998, Henry Saperstein passed away from cancer.  His widow, Irene, sold the UPA assets to Classic Media in 2000, finally ending the story of the controversial and once highly regarded studio.

     As a footnote, it should be mentioned that Stephen Bosustow did not like Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  He felt that the concept of Magoo as actor had been tried once before in 1001 Arabian Nights and didn’t work.  While that may be a technically accurate assessment, it’s questionable as to whether any audience saw Magoo as an actor in a role in that film.  Bosustow’s opinion was likely colored by the high profile failure of the feature that he had hoped would save his company.  It's also not inconceivable that any good fortune Saperstein had with UPA would have been a bitter pill for Bosustow to swallow.  Ironically, the Christmas special became one of UPA’s most financially successful properties.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol soundtrack

The single most requested item since the book came out last year was a soundtrack release of the songs from Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and now, after 48 years, I'm pleased to announce that you can finally buy Styne and Merrill's classic songs from the special! 

Due to the economics of manufacturing and distribution, not to mention the lead time for the distribution pipeline, Classic Media determined that the fastest and most cost effective solution was to release the songs as digital downloads rather than as a single CD. 

So starting today, all the songs are available for download from Amazon and iTunes.  Classic Media went back to the original source material to get the highest possible quality for this release.  It's been a long time coming and kudos to Classic Media for finally making it happen.  You can leave feedback for them here.

Alas, neither Walter Scharf's gorgeous musical score nor the super rare Overture made it to this collection but if you would like to see a future release of that material, you can contact Classic Media here.