Sunday, July 09, 2006

Reg Hartt Speaks

Below are the intros for this week's Tex Avery/Friz Freleng programs. Decide for yourself if they fit the description "verbal diarrhea" some fans give them.--Reg Hartt.

Friz Freleng:

Animation fans, like STAR TREK fans, tend to be Peter Pans (boys who have never grown up). That is why the most adult of all the Warner animation directors is their least favorite. It is also why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted him his five Academy Awards (TWEETIE PIE, 1947; SPEEDY GONZALES, 1955; BIRDS ANONYMOUS, 1957—the most adult oriented cartoon ever made; KNIGHTY KNIGHT BUGS, 1958; THE PINK PHINK, 1964—the most seriously adult blend of animation and jazz ever. It is so subtle most folk don’t really catch on to what is going on. That is the first sign of a real master at work; we never see his/her hand..

Friz’s film speak to the adult concerns of sex, status and survival; things that us grown-ups deal with every day. Kids spend their lives pretending these thing do not exist. That’s why we have a generation that refuses to get out of school.

He began his career as an animator at the Kansas City Ad Company (where Walt Disney started). He came to Hollywood to work on Walt’s OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT series. When Walt lost the series he joined Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising in their search to find a producer for their BOSKO, THE TALK-INK KID, the first sound synchronized cartoon character. Said Friz, “We all thought Walt was going broke. He fooled us by going broke in reverse.”

Leon Schlesinger picked up their series which he got Jack Warner to release (at a key moment Schlesinger had loaned Warner the money to finish the ground breaking film THE JAZZ SINGER with Al Jolson)as LOONEY TUNES.

By 1933 Freleng had become an animation director. “We never had the kind of Academy Award budgets Disney had so I thought we would never win an Oscar,” Mr. Freleng told me.

In 1947 Friz won the first of five Oscars for TWEETIE PIE, his first film with Bob Clampett’s Tweety and his own baggy pants clown character, Sylvester. The story goes that cartoon producer Eddie Seltzer told Friz to pair Sylvester with a woodpecker (Walter Lantz’s Woody was then a huge star). Friz was set on using Tweety. A fight ensued. Finally, Friz gave Seltzer the pencil, said, “You do the picture,” and walked out. That was on a Friday.

That Monday morning Friz got a call from Seltzer who told him to do the picture his way.

More than any other director Friz Freleng summed up the feistiness of spirit which is the hallmark of Warner animation in this period.

His films are impeccable examples of comic timing. Freleng is the only animation director gifted with the comic spirit of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and latter day clowns like Woody Allen (again the least audience appreciated and the most adult of modern film artists).

In 1980 when I invited Friz Freleng to Toronto to lecture on his career I asked him if he would care for a fee. “Can I bring my wife?” he asked. I wondered what made him ask a question like that. “Of course,” I said.

“In that case, there is no fee,” he replied. I found out later that the art galleries, colleges, museums, schools, theatres and universities all said there was not enough money in their budgets to cover the cost of his wife, Lily. Friz would then charge them a fee ($10,000.00) that covered first class air fare for Lily and gave her shopping money when she was out of town. I learned from him that when we meet cheap people we must become expensive.

He was surprised to discover we were not going to show any of his films. “People can always see the films,” I told him, “they won’t have the chance to meet and learn from you up here but this once. I do not want to waste a moment of it.”

“I don’t think people will be interested in me without my films,” he said.

“Trust me,” I told him.

It was a marvelous three days. It was like having Picasso or Pietro Annigoni as a guest lecturer.

“I am only going to talk for half an hour,” Mr. Freleng told me the first night. Three hours later he walked out on a crowd hungry to return. They did for the next two nights.

You will know why when you see the wonderful films in this program. No adult can watch a film like BACK ALLEY OPROAR (1948) and not gasp as Sylvester’s musical repertoire runs the gamut of the “Largo Al Factotum,” from “The Barber Of Seville”; la-la-la-la-ing the “Second Hungarian Rhapsody”; a multitrack falsetto “Sextette from Lucia Di Lammermoor” at the climax, to rousing choruses of “Moonlight Bay” and “You Never Know Where You’re Going ‘Till You get There!” to an incredible (at first Sinatra-ish then Spike Jones-ish) show stopper of ‘Angel in Disguise.” (Kudos, by the way, to Will Friedwald and Jerry Beck from whose book, THE WARNER BROTHERS CARTOONS (Scarecrow Press edition, not the later one) I was able to glean this information. Jerry’s love for the field shines through all his work. If you are going to appreciate this series at its fullest buy his books and do your homework. The more you know the more you will enjoy the work.

Then, just when we think we have seen everything, we encounter the absolutely brilliant CLEAN PASTURES (1937) a loving ode to the music of Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and more that leaves us on the right side of Paradise when it’s done. Unfortunately, this cartoon today is banned. The reasons for this are silly. The film is too damned good to stay banned. The print in this program comes from totally first rate pre-print materials. This is a rare chance not only to see the film but also to see the film in a print that does it justice. When you walk out after this program you will agree with me that Friz Freleng may well be the best director of adult animated cartoons ever to grace the medium. He was a helluva nice man and a real sweeetheart. He loved the medium. I am fortunate I was able to call him a friend.—Reg Hartt.

A Reg Hartt introduction to The Films of Tex Avery:

“Make your pictures as much like Walt Disney as possible,” producer Leon Schlesinger told Tex Avery when he arrived at the LOONEY TUNES/MERRIE MELODIES CARTOON STUDIO in 1935. Avery figured the only person the audience wanted to see make pictures like Walt was either Disney or Lantz. Certainly not him. His chief rule became to ask himself what Disney would do. Then Tex went as far as he could in the opposite direction.

Avery had begun his career on the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series at the Walter Lantz Studio where he was working under director William Nolan. Nolan had long ago grown tired of creating animated films. He spent most of his time in the bar across the street from the studio leaving Tex free to do as he pleased. With him from the Lantz Studio Avery brought animators Virgil Ross and Sid Sutherland.

Said Avery in Joe Adamson’s excellent TEX AVERY: KING OF CARTOONS , “Bill Nolan, who was Lantz’s partner, had a crew, and Walter Lantz had another crew; there were two crews. I’d sell Bill a few gags once in a while, and he said, “’Why don’t you do a story?’ I wrote two, and he said, ‘Go ahead. Make them.’ …It was that loose. I was having money trouble at Lantz’s. I heard there was going to be a change at Warners, and I applied, I said I’d directed two cartoons. Looking back, I don’t know why or how Schlesinger gambled on me. Evidently he was quite desperate…He said, ‘I’ll try you on one picture. I’ve got some boys here—they’re not renegades, but they don’t get along with the other two crews. They’re not satisfied with the people they’re working with.’…He gave me Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Bob Cannon. Chuck was creative; so was Bob. Bob Cannon was a terrific draftsman. And they were tickled to death; they wanted to get a ‘new group’ going, and ‘we could do it,’ and ‘let’s make funny pictures.’ It was very encouraging, and a wonderful thing to step into, since I had so much enthusiasm in the people and they were on my side. Most of the time, you go into a new studio and, boy, they start cutting you up!

“We worked every night—Jones, Clampett, and I were all young and full of ambition. My gosh, nothing stopped us! We encouraged each other, and we really had a good ball rolling. I guess Schlesinger saw the light; he said, ‘Well, I’ll take you boys away from the main plant.’ He put us up in our own little shack over on the Sunset lot, completely separated from the Schlesinger Studio, in some old dressing room or toilet or something, a little cottage sort of thing. We called it Termite Terrace. And he was smart; he didn’t disturb us. We were all alone out there, and he knew nothing of what went on.”

When Avery left Warner Brothers in 1941 after an altercation with boss Leon Schlesinger over a gag cut from his picture HECKLING HARE he had laid the foundation for what we now think of as the Warner Brothers’ cartoon and created the pictures in which the characters of Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny were perfected. He had enriched Warner Brothers animation beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. He had also signed a contract on arriving that gave the studio right of first refusal and sole ownership to all his ideas while in their employ. While others made fortunes Avery was not to profit from his creations. Neither were Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson nor any of the other great creative talents that worked on the creation of these brilliant films. The day would come, in fact, when they would find themselves, after years of dedication, out on the street without a job.

When I was in Hollywood in 1990 for Grim Naqtwick’s 100th birthday party Sody Clampett told me about the difficulties John Kricfaluswi was having with his new ted series (REN AND STIMPY). I said to Sody, “I do not see the point in doing creative work for anyone unless we own our ideas.” “I agree,” she said. When I had Friz Freleng in Toronto in 1980 he was asked which character was his favorite. “My wife likes Bugs Bunny but I like the Pink Panther. He is making money for me,” said Friz.

This isa the one lesson young people working in animation should learn and refuse to learn from these old masters. You must own your ideas. Thankfully, most young people in the music industry have learned this. A young musician stopped me one day and said, “Boy! Am I ever glad I listened to you!”

“What did I tell you?”

“You said to never sign a contract unless you are given ownership of your work. My band was approached by …….They all signed the contract. I remembered what you said. I took it to my dad’s lawyer. He read it. He said, ‘If you sign this contract you will give up all your rights in perpetuity and you will not make a nickel. Everything, from the limo on down will be charged as an expense. Do not sign this contract.’ Boy, am I ever glad I listened to you.’”

“Hang tight, kid. Hone your craft. A better deal will come along. As NAKED LUNCH writer William S. Burroughs put it, “The Devil’s bargain is a fool’s bargain. We think we are getting something for nothing and wind up giving up everything for nothing.”

Tex Avery arrived at Fred Quimby’s MGM Cartoon studio in 1942. Said writer Michael Maltese, “The day I met Fred Quimby, he says, ‘I hear you’re from Warner Brothers Cartoons.’ I said, ‘Yes, Mr. Quimby.’ He says, ‘Well, look, if you’re going to work with Avery, have this understood. We will not stand for any of that Warner Brothers rowdyism in our (MGM) cartoons!’” Avery added, “Heh, heh, heh! We had heard it, too.”

Well, Tex figured it would not be cool to quit so he set out to get fired. He shot off a series of brilliant films beginning with THE BLITZ WOLF featuring a wolf as Adolf Hitler (The name “Adolf” actually means wolf in German and Wolf was Hitler’s favourite nickname), DUMB-HOUNED in which the character of Droopy was introduced and climaxing with the brilliant RED HOT RIDING HOOD which was the rowdiest cartoon made anywhere up till then. The film was a huge hit. The army ordered copies of the film for the troops overseas. The censor cut the film. Said Avery, “Actually, we were thinking of the army when we made the first one in that RED RIDING HOOD group. We had the sergeant there to help plan the training films, and when we finished cutting and dubbing the first RED RIDING HOOD, we got it down to the projection room where we always ran the picture for the producer and the whole group. And the sergeant spotted the thing and he roared. We had it rather rough on the reaction of the wolf, you know, steam coming out from under his collar and all that. When the censor saw it, he said, ‘Boy, he’s getting too worked up,’ so we had to trim and juggle and cut back. It got back to Washington, to some colonel or whatnot, that the censor had cut out quite a bit on us. Finally, Louis B. Mayer got a telegram from the colonel, saying he wanted an uncut version of a RED RIDING HOOD cartoon for his personnel overseas. The studio dug around, and I don’t know how many prints they gave him but, man it went over great overseas!”

Naturally, it is an uncut RED RIDING HOOD you’ll be seeing in this program.

Continued next week…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

uncensored cartoons

For info on cartoon censorship go to:

For a chance to see these films as we are meant to check out these animation master tributes:TEX AVERY
This program offers over 200 uncut 16mm prints of some of the wickedest animated cartoons ever made!

Wednesday, July 5;
9pm: TEX AVERY Fest # 1;

Wednesday, July 12;

Wednesday, July 19;

Wednesday, July 26;

Wednesday, Aug. 2;

Wednesday, Aug. 9;
7pm: WALTER LANTZ FEST Walter Lantz

Wednesday, Aug. 16;

Wednesday, Aug. 23;

Wednesday, Aug. 30;

At The Cineforum, 463 Bathurst Below College Across From The Beer Store. B.Y.O.F.D. 416-603-6643
WARNING: Some people may be offended. If you think you are one of them, stay away.

For info on Reg Hartt use google.