The Newspaper from Park City, Utah on June 26, 1980 · 15
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Newspaper from Park City, Utah · 15

Park City, Utah
Issue Date:
Thursday, June 26, 1980
Start Free Trial

i Tor By Rick Brough You probably don't know this, but a native Utahn played a large part in the creation of Twetty Pie, the most famous caged birdie in cartoon lore. (How's that for a Dan Valentine opening? ) Tweetie was drawn and animated by Bob Clampett, one of a small group of talents at the Warner Brothers animation studio who put Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd through their paces in the '30s, '40s and '50s. Clampett, a guest at the recent Provo Science Fiction Convention, told The Newspaper the character never would have seen the light of day if it hadn't been for' Payson-born Stewie Strange, a road musician with the Harry Lewis Band who found time to exchange postcards and letters with his good friend Clampett. The animator's letters often were accompanied by a little squiggle or cartoon, and one in particular became the band's favorite a note on an M-G-M letterhead with a little wide-eyed pink bird pictured next to Leo the Lion, gasping, "I tawt I taw a titty tat!" '.'The band had a special, interest in the word 'titty'," Clampett explained. For whatever reason, Stewie Strange often referred to the little bird in subsequent letters. "It would have been one of a million scribblings I did," recalled Clampett. "But because of what he said, the character stuck in my mind." Tweety made his debut in an early '40s Clampett cartoon called "A Tale of Two Kitties," where he appeared as a puny but shrewd little fowl stalked by two bumbling alley cats who were hilariously accurate versions, down to the last hair-ball, of Abbott of Costello. When the two felines crept up on Tweety with glowing yellow eyes, and the little bird, donning his black-out helmet, shrieked, "Put out those lights!!" a star was born. Tweety (and later, the popular '50s puppets Beany and Cecil) were Clampett's creations. But more often, it was harder to say who in the brilliant circle of Warner's animators (Clampett, Rob McKimson, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones) was responsible for this character or that. It was a group effort. "Like constructing the atomic bomb," Clampett suggested. Mel Blanc was not always the voice behind the cartoons either. The voice of Elmer Fudd, for instance, was dubbed by a radio comedian-actor named Arthur Q. Bryan. Clampett recalled the reluctant role Blanc played in the "Two Kitties" cartoon. "One of the writers, Ted Pierce, talked quite naturally like Bub Abbott," Clampett said. "And I saw a guy in a nightclub who had an act doing Costello, but he wanted more money than the studio could pay. Mel said, 'I can't do Costello,' but we studied the discs from the Abbott-Costello radio show they had at the time, and Mel ended up doing the voice." Another "supporting voice" was June Foray, who, as Granny, protected I "TAW Tweety from Sylvester the Cat's clutches. (Foray, who was also a guest at the Provo Convention, will be heard from later on.) Blanc, who joined the unit in 1936, did most of the voices not without some difficulty. He munched carrots in the microphone for the voice of Bugs Bunny, Clampett recalled, but since swallowing them choked up his voice, he was required to spit them into a bucket after every sentence. Facts about the unit tend to get blurred with the years. Clampett remembered how he and fellow animator Tex Avery were headquartered in a rickety wooden shack located next to the larger animation building. As they listened to the strange sounds whipping through the boards, they joked, "Is that the wind, or is it termites?" So was born the legend of Termite Terrace, which has acquired such a mystique over the years that aficianados believe it was the headquarters for the whole department. The little two-man operation at the Terrace, Clampett jokes, now includes everyone who ever worked on Warner's cartoons. Clampett had his first cartoon work published in the "Los Angeles Times" when he was in junior high school, and by age 15 was designing Mickey Mouse dolls for Walt Disney. In 1931, he joined Warner Brothers to work on the earliest of the "Looney Tunes" cartoons. He was one of the first cartoonists to be installed in the Warner's animation department, in a large indoor studio on the old Vitagraph lot. (This was before Tex Avery arrived from the Walter Lantz Studios in 1935, and the two men were teamed-in-exile at Termite Terrace.) Jolson's "The Jazz Singer," had been filmed in the studio, and even then, Clampett said, it was used primarily for shooting Westerns. The animator recalled the occasions when he came to work each morning and had to walk around the young cowboy actor a fellow named John Wayne sitting on the front steps. As Clampett progressed from writer to director to head of his own unit, the characters he helped create evolved along with him. In 1935, producer Leon Schlesinger created an "Our Gang" satire, with animals standing in for the popular '30s tots. The "Spanky" character, a little pig, was teamed with a "Buckwheat" -esque black cat and the pair were billed as "Pork and Beans." "Porky was terribly fat," said Clampett. "After six of the 'Pork and Beans' films, we softened Porky down-brought him out on his own and put him on Weight Watchers." Elmer Fudd started out as a skinny character with an oversized collar and a nose one could easily use for a taxi horn. "The embryonic Bugs Bunny appeared in 1938, and his final form emerged around 1940," Clampett said. Generally, though,, the Warner's animators can't (OCJs of V i pinpoint the time when a character finally appeared as "himself." Said Clampett, "Every time you saw it, you could spot a place here or there where it could be done a little better." The animators were too busy to worry about whether a Porky or a Daffy became a popular personality. "We were turning out a new story every three weeks," said Clampett. "We were making each cartoon to be a hit. We were not out to make a star. " The Warner's cartoons frequently featured caricatures of stars like Robinson and Bogart. "Most of them took it as a compliment," said Clampett, but there were exceptions. Groucho Marx's attorneys threatened suit after his appearance in a Warner's cartoon. And Bing Crosby objected to an animated short called "Bingo Crosbeyana," where he was depicted as a crooning beetle who woos the ladybugs, but turns chicken when a pack of insects attack, and must be rescued by a posse of bug husbands. "He didn't like being shown as a coward," Clampett recalled. The cartoons have survived such assaults, and today, 40 years later, are still playing on programs like KTVX's "Hotel Balderdash," to an audience that 11 i- - a! 1 ; 7 -i-.. E I Animator Bob Clampett and his sea serpent creation, Cecil. -J- might not' understand half the jokes the then-topical references to World War II civilian life, current radio programs, and popular movies. (If one hasn't seen the 1945 "Lost Weekend," where dipsomaniac writer Ray Milland hocks his typewriter for a drink, what does one make of the Warner's cartoon set in a Hollywood bar that shows Milland routinely lugging around typewriters to pay 6 The problem isn't limited animation; it's limited imagination for his setups? "Your change, sir," the bartender says, handing back three little typewriters.) "In 1931, cartoons were considered just for kids," said Clampett. "But when we previewed them, we did it before audiences of fathers and mothers." The animators started throwing in adult jokes "for the 8-to-80 crowd," he recalled. They owed their creative freedom to producer-boss Leon "31 ii 0 Schlesinger, according to Clampett. "He wasn't a writer or a cartoonist; he booked acts for vaudeville," he said. But Schlesinger allowed his staff to stretch their imaginations. (He died in 1950, at the height of Warner's animated Golden Age. ) "Censors wouldn't speak to us directly," recalls the animator, but they made themselves known. "Tweety first appeared as a pink bird, but the censors thought he 5 3 looked too naked, so we put yellow feathers on him." Another cartoon of the period showed Porky Pig and Daffy Duck as inept operators of a Stork Express, who accidentally ship a baby crocodile to a mother pig. The teethy toddler, on arrival, smacks the piglets aside, and is about to latch on to the mother's teat when she swings around suddenly and warns, "Don't touch that dial! "That small j. t A bit of radio parlance converted to double-entendre was cut by the censors, Clampett said. The most unexpected case of political backlash, he recalled, came during World War II, when the Russian ambassador and his entourage were invited to watch two Warner shorts, and were deeply offended by what they saw. The first, "Building a Building" showed a battalion of workmen erecting an enormous skyscraper in time to "Hungarian Rhapsody" only to have a slamming door on the first floor bring the whole building crashing down. The Russians, Clampett said, decided it wasn't proper to show the building collapsing. They also were disturbed by a cartoon called "Russian Rhapsody," where Hitler and his attacking air force are foiled by the little imps the cartoon labels, "gremlins from the Kremlin" ("gremlin" being '40s slang for the mechancial bugs in an airplane). The Easterners protested the gag where a gremlin frightened the Fuhrer by wearing a huge mask of Joseph Stalin. "They asked us, 'You wouldn't put Jesus Christ in a cartoon, would you?" Clampett said. For native-born censors. - t , - I ;-' h Photo by Phyllis Rubenstein The Newspaper Thursday, June 26, 1910 Page 15 Clampett and his colleagues devised certain defense mechanisms, such as the time-honored ruse of proposing a really nasty joke which you can trade with the censor for the material you really want that is, if the scheme doesn't backfire. Clampett, writing some humorous material on dinosaurs, bargained with a word-play on "triceratops:" "Everyone who's tried Cera says she's tops." The result? "They allowed it!" Clampett said. That joke, incidentally, wasn't written for Bugs Bunny, but for a lovable sea serpent and his adolescent pal. In the early 1950s, the distinguished film actor Lionel Barrymore demanded that his studio, M-G-M let him off work early enough at night for him to catch the latest episode of "Beany and Cecil." The studion, jealous of the new medium of television, would not allow a set on the lot. "Sometimes, he'd send his chauffeur to the nearest bar with a TV set to fill him in on the plot," said Clampett. His new creation, which debuted in 1949, concerned a bumbling old salt christened Captain Huff 'n' Puff ("I thought of Captain Horn-blower," said Clampett) who sets sail in his boat the Leakin' Lena in search of adventure, accompanied by his nephew Beany, known for the flat little hat with propellor he sported on his head. Before long, Beany met and became friends with Cecil the sea serpent, who acted as the boy's guardian angel, saving him from assorted perils over the coming weeks. (For the first two years, Huff 'n' Puff never met Cecil, and greeted Beany's stories with the insistent refrain, "There's no such thing as a sea serpent." For 10 years, Cecil & Co. encountered nasty humans like Dishonest John, and nastier monsters such as the two-headed Freep "in the land of the brave and the home of the Freep." (Clampett comes by his talent for wordplay naturally, having spent some time in the Texas Punhandle. ) Clampett sought to give his puppets the same kind of surrealistic energy he had created for his animated characters. "People thought puppets had to be stiff," he said. He didn't want that traditional approach. "I was the first to develop facial expressions for the puppets," he said. "I had sound effects, like when Cecil surfaced out of the water, and we shot bubbles up into the air like Lawrence Welk. I wanted to give them a certain bounce and zip." Clampett's style fostered the illusion that his puppets were full-size characters. "Visitors to the set were astounded to find that Cecil was only an arm's length," he said. Cecil is perhaps closer to Clampett than any of his creations. He made the serpent when he was still in school; appeared with it at one of the earliest television exhibitions the Palace of Science of the 1935 San Diego World's Fair; and was the original voice for the creature, though there have 2 been four others since. In 1959, Clampett's sponsors, Mattle Toys, asked to convert the series into animation, and the resulting collection ran in prime-time and re-runs from 1962 to 1969. Clampett currently holds all the rights to Beany and Cecil. He has withheld the programs in the United States, planning to release them later with new material, but he said B & C are currently the number one weekend show on French-Canadian television. "It started this year in Mexico, London, and Central and South America. It's starting this fall in English Canada. And we're working on a Japanese version," he said. Rising costs have made the old process of drawing and animating more expensive, bringing us the stiff backgrounds and stiffer characters of what we know as limited animation. Is there any good work being done in the field? Clampett acknowledged the good limited work done by Jay Ward ("Rocky and His Friends"), but otherwise, "I'm not the one to ask about that," he said. "The problem isn't limited animation; it's limited imagination!" What can solve the financial squeeze on animation? Considerable attention has been directed lately at rotoscoping, a process in which a live-action sequence is filmed, then projected frame by frame onto glass, then traced onto the glass for the cartoon image. The method, known for its effectively fluid movement, has been noticed in the recent films of . nimator Ralph Bakshi (('Lord of the Rings"), but Clampett said Max Fleischer, creator of Popeye, had invented the process years before. "Max filmed his brother Dave in a clown suit, in the first sales film for his character, Koko the Clown," he said. In any event, rotoscoping solves no problems; the process is more expensive than conventional animation, Clampett said. Another alternative, Clampett said, are computers, which can be programmed to take the beginning and ending drawings of a character's motion, and fill in the motion in between; or they might be programmed to fill in the colors of a continuous scene. The unions fear such modernization may put animators out of work, he said. "I've been following (the computer) over the years, but not with the intent of cutting down workers." Even as Bob Clampett works on the Beany & Cecil cartoons, while he predicts a new generation of wacky animators is just around the corner, he admjjs he still would like to change some things in those 40-year-old cartoons that end with the familiar "Buh-Bee-Buh-Bee-Buh-Bee, That's All, Folks" theme, (taken from a song called "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down.") Clampett won't get the change; his merry-go-round is always moving forward. Next Week: a talk with Rocky the Flying Squirrel, otherwise known as June Foray.

What members have found on this page

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 16,500+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The Newspaper
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free