Jan 31, 2006

Ward Kimball of Grizzly Flats

When Noel Barrett auctioned off the huge collection of toys and mainly trains Ward Kimball collected over his lifetime, I was wistful, a bit sad, and filled with memories of Ward showing me his collection. He had two rooms--one for european models, one for american. Each room had large tabletop setup in the middle, surrounded by these shelves. You can make out in this photo the labelmaker-listings he affixed underneath each one. I remember the european room had as its centerpiece a breathtakingly big crystal station.
I knew next to nothing about trains large or small, but of course Ward's enthusiasm and the fascination of these beautiful miniatures made it an unforgettable experience. I wish it all could have gone intact to some museum, but I understand the need, and I'm sure each one is a treasure to its new owner. I myself was the winning bidder on a bisque "Skippy" figurine from the 1920s(a then-popular comic strip character).

My childhood best friend, Lara Rossignol, took this picture around 1983 or so--a couple of years after I'd made my own trip to Grizzly Flats, Ward's home/train depot/toy museum/art gallery in Arcadia, CA. Lara was a photography major at Art Center, and needed a special subject for an assignment; she got some amazing shots of Ward from her visit with him.
This particular small print has obviously had water damage(last year's rains here in Los Angeles--ugh--a lot of materials were ruined in my home studio), but I think the pose is good enough that it should be shared.
By the way, if you like cool photography and especially portraiture(as I do), check out Lara's archives. She is a skilled and intrepid shooter; her more famous portraits include Nicole Kidman, Nick Cage, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, June Carter Cash, Quentin Tarantino...to name only a few.
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Jan 29, 2006

On another Sunday, 78 years ago today...

I have to get a better copy of this. But this is the original printout from the microfiche I made at the old downtown L.A. Central Library back in 1981. I knew from his self-penned bio in the "Dispatch from Disneys" booklet ( a one-shot the studio had printed up and intended as a mini magazine for animation staffers overseas in WWII) that Fred Moore "won many shiny Junior Times buttons for his efforts", submitting illustrations for a children's insert the Los Angeles Times had in their Sunday editions. This was the only one I could find; the LA Times' archives are far from complete, and the old photos taken for the archives were often poor quality to begin with.
I almost wasn't going to post this until I noticed the date: it was published exactly 78 years ago today. Synchronicity! Or something.
Fred Moore was 16 in January of '28. His style is obviously influenced heavily by the "Mutt and Jeff" school of cartooning, and it's very adept.
But he came a long way from this to the three little pigs, Dopey and Lampwick within 10 years.

The kid who drew this had never animated in his life...yet. But in another year or so, and his first job in the only profession he'd ever be a part of--animation--he'd find his real metier.
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Still Moore: a Fred Moore original

I have two original watercolors by Fred Moore, done at the same time and owned by the same person(anonymous to me); one is framed and on the wall, the other--this one--is put away. It was done on very thin, fragile paper, and either Fred or his recipient (as I'm sure this was a gift) mounted it onto a piece of cheap cardboard. A few push pin holes at the center top suggest that one artist or another at Disney's or Lantz's tacked this up alongside their working space. It's full figure, but too large to scan the entire thing here, unfortunately.

Of course I'm just making a flying guess but I think this is probably from the mid to late 40s. If you could see the whole figure(damn!), you'd see the lovely weight as she slips on a mule with her left foot...the position of her right leg...it's really faultless. And yet I'm sure, from looking at it, that he really whipped it out. The paper didn't take watercolor too well, but he went ahead and made some accents on her towel, hair, a few shadows, and gave her her skin tone.
While it would seem that after thousands of these drawings, Fred could virtually do them as contour memory pieces, what saves it from being banal as many "girlie" things can and could be is his personal style: the tiniest hint of a belly defined by the towel, the curves in the underarm as it bends backwards--and not least the elusive, bemused expression he gave her. She also seems older then the almost baby-faced child-women he often drew--see the earlier post of centaurette head studies he did for "Fantastia" as a comparison. Certainly her figure is mature.
I apologize for the scan quality--the paper has yellowed a lot, and making some adjustments gives the background that flashbulb look. But I thought others would get a kick from it.
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Jan 27, 2006

More Moore

Apropos of the "Nifty Nineties" drawing below in an earlier post, here's something else I found the other day(the neverending chore of unpacking after a big move has its rewards): the "drafts" for that very cartoon. Disney's kept these records of who did what for all their features and shorts, broken down by scene. The first name listed is the animator, the second(if there is one, in the same box) his assistant. I have the whole thing; this is page one of six which contains the record of the only animation Fred Moore did in the film, a few early scenes of Mickey and Minnie in the park, done in time to "[I Was] Strolling Through the Park One Day". Later pages show that some very streamlined, elegant Mickey animation was done by Walt Kelly, and David "Bud" Swift (or as Ward Kimball kidded about it, "Dave "don't call me 'Bud'! Swift"), later the director of "Pollyanna" and "The Parent Trap", contributed some business with a horse doing a take, and animation of Donald, Daisy and ducklings riding a bicycle. The last scenes, with the mice losing control of their flivver, was done by Claude Smith--later a well-known New Yorker cartoonist who signed his cartoons as "Claude".

This is fairly esoteric stuff but I'm very glad Disney did this; I doubt whether any other animation studio bothered.

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Jan 26, 2006

"It's Been Real": Ernie Kovacs had a birthday this week

He drew, too: the cover of Kovacs' posthumously-published book featured one of his typically odd drawings. He frequently wrote some very funny stuff for Mad Magazine as well

Another wild week pitted with illness (this latest malady being a nasty case of strep throat...how bloody tiresome), and I was trumped by Jeff Pidgeon on a post to note the natal anniversary of a great man and muse of mine, Ernie Kovacs. Better late than never.

Ernie was the greatest thing ever: big, expansive, soft-voiced, singular, Hungarian, an unbridled imagination, always cool. He gained his first fame in Philadelphia about 1952, doing radio and then television...except, his television was...different: a music lover, he'd find a stupid record and draw cards with equally silly cartoons to illustrate the lyric(and the tempo, sometimes), flipping them in front of the video camera; he found a life sized rag doll and dragged it all over the streets of downtown Philly, with a camera pointed outside the window of the studio at him to record his adventures a la "Candid Camera"(except, this was before Candid Camera, so it was that much weirder). He'd make a kaleidoscope from a can and attach it to the end of the camera lens for the hell of it. Mostly he was just himself, sitting around the cheap set, kibitzing with the crew, musicians, and the viewers at home, kidding around with the very idea of himself speaking from an ugly plastic box in someone's living room. His popularity in Philly was such that he was offered a show in the biggest market, NYC, and later went national. While not everything he did was knee-slappingly hilarious(some of his skits and attempts are unfortunately best described as lame), his best suit was always his own persona, and his wonderful imagination. He loved music, and played Esquivel decades before anyone else saw the wildness of it in quite that way: he'd take a record and write a scenario that begged for animation(which he loved, especially UPA cartoons)--but he'd do it in real time, with real props: a can of sardines might untwist itself and stand up to perform the otherwordly "zoom-zuum-zoom-da-da-da-da-daaaaaah!" background voices of an Ferrante & Teicher instrumental...or my favorite(and his as well): a completely serious sort of music video done to Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra", a surreal street scene. And then there was The Nairobi Trio. You've haven't heard of them? There is no explaining them if you haven't seen them. Three people in greatcoats, rubber ape masks, "playing" in time to "Solfeggio", a pop recording of an old timing excercise for musicians.

The Nairobi trio performing their strange, stiff-jointed actions. Kovacs is the one with the banana. In his human guise, he always had a Havana cigar

After publishing a novel about the more ludicrous commercial aspects of television, "Zoomar", Ernie went to L.A., signed a contract for films, made a few good ones("Bell, Book and Candle" has fantastic set design and art direction, Kim Novak, and Jack Lemmon playing Daffy Duck--really), some lousy ones, lived high, played poker with Billy Wilder, Sinatra, Dino and a host of others...and died early one morning in 1962 when his Corvair hit a power pole. He was 42. He had the soul of a cartoonist-- of an animator--and his 'try anything' attitude has been a great source of pleasure and inspiration for me since I saw his shows on PBS long ago.
If his name means nothing to you, look him up. Check out his "Best of" DVDs...give yourself some time and perhaps a dry martini, and let 'er rip. You may love him or hate him, but he won't be like much you've seen before. Egan!(hungarian for "yes!")

January 23rd would have been Ernie Kovacs' 87th birthday.

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Jan 25, 2006

Halloween 1941; the strike's settled--let's tie one on!

Pretty self explanatory. Somewhere out there, in someone's family album there are photos of grandma or great-grandpa cutting a rug at this party. I'll bet it was a blast.
This was tucked inside a folder I have marked "Disney strike 1941" in grease pencil; along with it were the photograph of the picket line posted here earlier, and dozens of the daily mimeographed updates given to the strikers in the park across from the studio(if I'm not mistaken, where St. Joseph's Hospital is now). If anyone's interested, I'll put up an example of one of them later. They're pretty crude, and the small single-panel cartoons(frequently showing Disney with his studio lawyer, the infamous Gunther Lessing) often have captions whose significance is lost on me but surely got a bitter laugh from the strikers.

Jan 24, 2006

the silliest dog in the world

My pointer, Weetie. The Canine Noodle.

Adopted from the Pasadena Humane Society, this nutcase had been found wandering Descanso Gardens. Not a breed one usually finds anywhere in the greater Los Angeles region. We hadn't planned on a second dog(our lab was plenty, and still is), but we were at the Society to volunteer. I was playing with this energetic pup when the guy with the nylon lead came by his run, ready to take him on the long walk from which no dog returns. I made a rash decision. Now it's a 3 ring circus 24/7. (Cintiq drawings)
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Man Alive! a story panel, for a change...

I just bought this storyboard panel from a 1952 UPA production, "Man Alive!", directed by Bill Hurtz(according to the Internet Movie database, that is--someone correct me if it's wrong). Nominated for an Oscar for best documentary short--this was apparently done for the American Cancer Society. I haven't seen the film so I don't know if it was a brief cartoon segment or simply part of a board done for the live action; if so, it certainly is a stylized couple.
Edited to add: Amid Amidi added some information on "Man Alive!" in his comments, including news of a screening of this obscure film in Hollywood in March--worth looking at-click the "comments" link.

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a remarkable day

Through a looking glass. A Miyazaki study of the title character from "Kiki's Delivery Service"

Today's Pixar-Disney news had me thinking of a long-ago evening...

CalArts, 1988: Glen Keane brought a clip of some film by a Japanese filmmaker few of us had ever heard of(anime wasn't big at CalArts), Miyazaki. My Neighbor Totoro.
It wasn't subtitled but the scene didn't need it: two girls waited by a forest bus stop for their father. It begins to rain. Suddenly, an enormous, bizarre, furry creature wearing a plant on his head is standing next to the girls, also, presumably, waiting for a bus. The first bus arrives--a cat-bus. The creature gets in, and gives the girls a present.

It was absolutely magical(hackneyed word, but perfect description). The impact of that short scene was palpable. Everyone--as far as I remember--was awed. Glen explained that they'd screened the film at Disney the week before and that it had profoundly impressed him. He next showed us a drawing he'd made after seeing the film: two lumberjacks in a forest, building houses. One man stands proudly next to his log cabin, assembled from his just-cut trees. The other guy has also cut a clearing; with his logs he's built a fairy-tale palace. With the same materials, how much more could be gotten?

To my friends in both places--this will be an exciting time for you(understatement of the year). I wish you all lots and lots of palaces--and a heck of a lot of fun building them.

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Jan 19, 2006

Fred Moore, Art Babbitt and Larry Clemmons at the Disney Hyperion studio, 1932

Art Babbitt set up his camera to take a time-release photograph of himself(in the center), Fred Moore and their assistant, Larry Clemmons in their space at the Disney Hyperion studio, circa 1932
The New York Times runs a weekly series called "Possessed" where they allow various society doyennes and artist types to write an essay on a particular object they place above all others in their lives. This photograph would be one of mine. It's been with me since 1981, and it has pride of place at every studio I've worked. It hangs now in my office at Dreamworks.
Art Babbitt graciously allowed me to have a negative made from his original. Obviously for an animation artist and a Disney afficionado it's a fascinating picture; what first impressed me was the unbelievably cramped space these men had to share--and two of them were already important artists; that tells you something about the facilities at Disney's at this time. Yet for all the eventual splendor of the Burbank campus(the present site of Disney), most every animator seemed to miss these makeshift quarters, Art included. Crude as it was, they were engaged in making new discoveries on a daily basis.

Their expressions seem uniformly impassive at a glance, but a longer look shows the faint bemusement on Fred's face, the self-possession of Babbitt's, the slightly sullen posture of Larry there in the back, against the wall. This was the first photograph of Moore I'd seen that wasn't a posed studio publicity shot, drawing away in a suit and tie, hair oiled. Here he looks intently out at--the camera, sure, but also across the abyss of time, life and death, success and despair. And he's only 20 years old. Art is 24, Larry is 25.

They're good companions to have on one's wall.

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Jan 17, 2006


We had a lot of old Virgil "VIP" Partch paperbacks lying around the house during my childhood. I thought the drawings were kind of...ugly, but I still liked looking at them(kids!).

So I was shocked to learn, years later during my Fred Moore research, that Partch had started his career at Disney's, of all places, palling around with Ward Kimball(no surprise there)and Fred in the golden age. It's interesting to think, given his utterly unique style, exactly how he fit in at Disney's, but his education at the Chouinard school suggests a great foundation in classical drawing.
He was a huge success a single-panel cartoonist at The New Yorker and elsewhere for the rest of his life, and while there were others with bizarre tastes in humor(Charles Addams, for one), he stood alone, really, and still does.
Here's a rough from VIP, a submission(his home address is penciled on the reverse)that I suppose upon acceptance would have then been cleaned up and inked. The things one finds at the San Diego Comic Con--this went for about 20 bucks. It's in poor shape, but still a fun slice of history. From the man himself!

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Jan 15, 2006

Fred Moore and Ward Kimball-more from the archives

An animation drawing by Ward Kimball from "The Nifty Nineties", a gay 90s themed, plotless Mickey short that served as a gap assignment for some of the "A" animators who were between films (in this case "The Reluctant Dragon" and "Dumbo").
Ward loved doing this vaudeville number, caricaturing himself (on the left) and his buddy Fred Moore dancing to "Swanee River" and telling terrible jokes. They provided their own voices. An example:
Ward: "Hey, Fred! Who was that laaaaady I saw you with last night?"
Fred: "That was no lady--that was my wife!"
Mickey and Minnie dissolve into paroxyms of laughter in the audience

I love looking at this thing--the creases on the left side indicate lots of flipping. When I spoke to Ward about this I was told he cleaned this up himself. The underdrawing(in red)is there but is quite faint.

Riley Thompson directed. Tom Oreb and Walt Kelly also worked on this.
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Walt Disney, a trifle discomfited

Here's another personal find from my days working at Larry Edmunds Bookshop--unpublished so far as I know:

What an expression. That's a pretty uncomfortable-looking man, wouldn't you say? The famous "cocked eyebrow" isn't at full sail but as a story artist I can just imagine the effect this look would produce after an unsuccessful pitch. Wow. Warners better be hiring!

From the presence of the flag behind him, I'd guess this was taken during Walt's testimony during the HUAC hearings--the infamous McCarthy-era search for communists in every facet of american society that resulted in the evils of the blacklist in Hollywood.
One of my rare pre-K memories is of Walt Disney as host of "The Wonderful World of Disney" and his death soon after I started watching it was a huge shock. That evening my family were at the home of two retired university professors, friends of my parents, for dinner and some television. I remember the news coming on with the announcement that "Walt Disney, beloved by millions, has died".
I really lost it at that point. I was four years old, and my father was infuriated that I was making a scene over the death of someone I didn't know. Of course, this wasn't true--I did know Disney, personally as far as I was concerned. It mattered to me that he was dead. His was the first death of any kind I remember understanding and grieving over.
I've always detested the "Uncle Walt" moniker as it's been used so sarcastically and cynically in these po-mo times. He wasn't my uncle, thanks, but a sort of family friend, much like the couple we were visiting, and I was inconsolable.

In the years since I've pondered this emotional reaction and realized that it had to do with a collection of things: the fact that he spoke directly to the television audience from his office, not as a "host" or newscaster but in a startlingly personal and casual way; the ownership and creation of Disneyland, where as a Californian I'd been going since I was born; the films he produced just for me that were more vivid and real than anything else I saw and cared about, excepting the Warner Bros cartoons that were my favorites.
So then, this picture: not a happy guy here...but oddly enough, although I respected and in a way loved Disney as a child, I sensed that he wasn't some fantasy figure of unalloyed sweetness (I mean, how could a late-middle-aged man ever seem to be that to a very small child?). He had a very distinct element of impatience, too, and the possibility of a temper. I'm not saying I analyzed all this at four, but he was definitely intimidating, and I just knew it was in there somewhere.
Had I seen him at Disneyland, I would not have run up to him expecting a hug, exuberant child that I was notwithstanding. But complicated people are attractive and fascinating even to children when their enthusiasm embraces small animated people on their desks under their blotters, or when they show completely genuine excitement while taking us through a boat ride with pirates, or share some "secrets" of animation from a massive tome.
It came as no suprise to me, then, when I eventually read the reminiscences of Ward Kimball, Dick Huemer (again, in Michael Barrier's Funnyworld), Shamus Culhane and others who described the wildly mercurial qualities that Walt possessed.
Creative genius usually comes that way.

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Jan 14, 2006

Virgil Ross, pre-Bugs Bunny

A great cartoonist's business card. How many of these do you see?

I've been exceptionally lucky in my life to have either stumbled upon some amazingly cool stuff, or have it stumble onto me, much of it by way of my pre-CalArts job working at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood.
"Larry Edmunds" was begun as two guys, Larry and his partner Milt Luboviski, selling rare and out of print books to the screenwriters and development execs(yes they had them back then)stationed at the studios in the 1930s; eventually they opened a brick and mortar shop on Hollywood Blvd., more or less across from Musso & Franks, where it still stands today, still selling new and old books on film, theatre and all the attendant ephemera--stills, posters, lobby cards.
On one occasion an elderly man came into the shop to have his collection of materials appraised--much of it having to do with Warner Bros cartoonist Virgil Ross. In gratitude for the appraisal he gave us a couple of items, including this business card. I'd guess it's from no later than the very early 30s.

Jan 13, 2006

3 day weekend, 3 women

Last minute of the day doodles for a Friday:


Jan 5, 2006

Back at work

Yes, it's Rudolph's Shiny New Year, and we're just living in it.
I'm at the moment a living, breathing exponent of some version of Murphy and his law, having arrived back at work with a couple of painful mystery ailments to juggle wth deadlines--so no attention to the Diaries lately. I do have that urge to publish, though. How about this:

So, you busy this Feb. 9th?

I can't quite remember where I got this, but it's one of the original invites. I wonder how many employees of the studio would have been invited to the premiere--probably not many. I'd guess certainly the directing animators and supervisors. Pulling this out of the files creates the urge to wander down to the archives and have a look at the album that must exist for this event down there, but I work across the river now.

Odd only-in-L.A.-note: the doctor I happened to see at the Motion Picture Clinic yesterday turned out to be a serious collector of animation art--and I mean serious, folks: he's very proud of his Felix and Iwerks originals, as well as his early Disney's. Good grief! Nothing like having one's blood pressure taken under a life-sized portrait of Carole Lombard, talking about preferences for drawings over cels with the Dr. C'est la Hollywood!