“I’m gonna have CAT…fish.”

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Howdy folks, here’s the 10-7-1938 to 10-13 Kats. This week we have the finish of the Kolin Kelly phone-in story line and the beginning of a somnambulistic story. Ignatz and Offissa Pupp are so ingrained in their respective mod-ii that they can do it in their sleep! I like the “speed lines” in 10-13 as Ignatz does an animation style zip-out in the last panel.

It’s been a good week, Cathy and I got over to the Pasadena City Hall on Thurs. morning to paint the tower and stately dome of the City Hall with our group. Cathy painted a beautiful oil with a limited palette of yellow ochres for the City Hall dome and violets and greens for the foliage in front of it. I did a watercolor basically imitating Cathy’s colors. She suggested that I make the shapes of the clumps of tree leaves in the foreground darker and to connect the shapes. I think I did one of my more successful trees because she cared enough to give me some advice. Painting trees is a balancing act between trying to draw the branches and leaves realistically, and abstracting the tree at the same time so that it looks like light is filtering through the leaves and there is good contrast between light and dark shapes.

If you are near Pasadena,  California through August 11-26th, come to the Pasadena Museum of History on 470 Walnut St. There you will see a beautiful new show of paintings called “Contemporary Masters”, consisting of local scenes of Pasadena in all media. Look for an oil called: “South Pasadena Farmers’ Market”, it is by my favorite Contemporary Master: Cathy Hill! We go to that Farmers’ Market almost every week, and Cathy was inspired to do a study of the produce stands and the customers. It’s a great honor to be in this show, you will see a lot of good work in it. Please come if you are able!

I am now on the last third of the first run-though of Sc. 26 on my new Cat cartoon. In this part of the scene, the cat flies through the air and lands on a cactus which “kisses” him. It’s another “high-mileage” shot, but I will keep at it.

I broke down and bought the new Woody Woodpecker DVD set. I am a lifelong Walter Lantz fan, I started with his 1930s Oswalds on TV and then got hooked on the Woody Woodpecker show sponsored by Kellogg’s in the mid 1950s. Despite a lot of censorship and editing of the old cartoons, Woody’s spirit came through and has endeared him to me forever. This new collection has all the Woodys from 1941 to 1953(?) in order and almost fully restored (Banquet Busters does not have the original UA titles, for instance). All the cut scenes have been put back, such as the alphabet soup gag in The Reckless Driver and all the ration book dialog from Ration Bored. The revelation for me was to see most of the 1948-49 releases with the original United Artists credits restored! The cartoons start out with no logo, but go immediately to the tree trunk that Woody bursts out of and that great “over the seats” truck in to a painting of Andy Panda on stage. Can you imagine how good these must have looked in the theaters with the curtains timed just right to finish opening as the main titles came on? Scrappy Birthday has a title card that I’ve never seen before!

I helped Jerry Beck pick some of the cartoons for the set, such as the Oswald titles “Hell’s Heels” and “Spooks”. “Hell’s Heels” is a take-off on “The Three Godfathers”, I love that loose walk that Bill Nolan animated as the baby boy drags Oswald along by the hand through the desert. Bill Nolan also animated the “I am the Queen of the May” song that Kitty sings in “Spooks” with the record player strapped to her back. Lantz’s studio was a haven for the highly individual approach to animating characters practiced by Alex Lovy, Emery Hawkins, Bill Nolan, Ed Love, Fred Moore, Don Patterson and Les Klein among many others. In The Merry Old Soul (1933), La Verne Harding put her comic strip charater, Cynical Susie into a scene as an incidental courtier, I never noticed that before until I got this set. The Walter Lantz animation “talks” from the Woody Woodpecker show are here, six of them, and all interesting. The prints on these are a bit faded and beat-up, but where else do you get to see Alex Lovy, Paul Smith and Homer Brightman jamming on story sessions with a trombone?

When I first arrived in Los Angeles, one of the first studios I tried to get a job with was Walter Lantz. His studio was on Seward Street then, and I’ll never forget the conference room with two beautiful Fred Brunish oil paintings of Woody and Andy hanging on the far wall. (Fred Brunish should be mentioned in the same breath as Hardy Gramatky and Phil Dike as a great American watercolorist.) I was always turned away, though. Usually they would tell me, “You’re gonna have to wait til these guys DIE before we’d ever hire YOU!” I thought to myself, how wonderful to have a boss like Walter Lantz who was so loyal to his employees that he would give them lifetime jobs! I later found out that he kept Paul Smith employed even though by the early 1970s he was legally blind! (His daughter helped him to make out the exposure sheets.)

At the second Annie Awards banquet, they gave one Annie only, this time to Walter Lantz. I was the projectionist at that affair, and I put together a special reel using some cartoons borrowed from the Lantz collection. I had to bring them back to the studio the next day, and I really was looking forward to getting to speak with Lantz one-on-one. I waited in the lobby with fannish trepidation! Walter came through a wooden door on the far side of the room, in my mind’s eye it was almost like Woody himself had popped through that wooden door! I tried to say something, I think it came out like “I’ve always loved your cartoons…” or words to that effect. Lantz just took the 16mm prints from my hands, looked me in the eye and said: “Just let the old man get back to his spaghetti, will ya?” He turned on his heel, walked back through the door and slammed it shut! Evidently, he was having lunch. End of meeting.

Years later, I heard the transcript of a lecture Lantz gave at a theater retrospective of his cartoons. One of his remarks was a classic: “I’m just a little old cartoonist, tryin’ to make a buck.”

I finally got to pick up a job from the Walter Lantz studio, AFTER it closed down! By this time, Abe Levitow and Milt Schaffer had opened a little commercial studio on the second floor and I picked up a scene on a Count Chocula spot from them. It was a thrill to enter that building again, the wood panelling looked as beautiful as ever. (No Fred Brunish oils around anymore, though.) Abe and Milt were very cordial and fun to work with, too bad the Count  Chocula spots were so tough to work on! The agency art director was a bear for on-model drawing, and didn’t like ANY squash and stretch or “drag” on his characters. I won’t mention his name, but he was arrested one time by the LA police for urinating in public! (He was no Thomas Kinkade, YUK YUK!)

5 Responses to ““I’m gonna have CAT…fish.””

  1. Hey, Mark—

    Thanks for the extended tales of your visits to/workings with the Lantz studio. If Lantz was really “tryin’ to make a buck,” didn’t he realize that his vaunted loyalty to Paul J. Smith was one of the things holding him back? Lantz had a great stable of characters, almost all of whom went unused after the early 1960s as Smith churned out one Woody Woodpecker western after another.
    You’re not the only one who suggested HELL’S HEELS and SPOOKS be included. (-: Am I the only one who’d like MARS and Pooch the Pup’s BUTCHER BOY if there’s a second set?

  2. Hey, I suggested Hell’s Heels and Spooks too! Glad they made it. (And also Fish Fry, Apple Andy, and Scrappy Birthday.) It’s a good set despite the DVNR.

  3. Larry T says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who suggested “MARS” be on there… oh well, maybe next time.

    Mr. Lantz sounds pretty short-tempered…. even if he is loyal to his employees.

    Now you got me wondering who that agency art director was…. ????

  4. Kathy Emerson says:

    Hi Mark,
    I got your blog address from Don Hahn. Hope it’s okay to contact you in this way. I am helping Don with the editing on two volumes of drawings, illustrations and notes of Walt Stanchfield.

    I would appreciate it if you could please email me back so I can explain further about how you could possibly assist.

    Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Warm regards,

    Kathy Emerson

  5. Franci Allen says:

    Dear Mark,

    Finally looked at your website from the Xmas card you sent. What fun you guys had on your trip. I have patented a portable animation deskttop device that I teach with at schools and Art Stores up here in Washington State. I also hand paint cels and teach that as well. All on office size paper and transparencies. It is rewarding to see kids show their parents and friends the little flip books and a cel set up they make at my classes. The setups are a Background and foreground element and a character level that they create. We frame them and they have a great little art piece. I need to market this little animation kit somehow. Anyway, I still keep my hand in incase there is traditional work out there. I love painting cels I make from cleanup drawings.

    Take Care and Thanks for the nice card,

    Franci Allen
    Nellie Bee Art and Animation

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