Animation Anecdotes

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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I have two new books that were released the first week of October for the holiday season that I hope you will consider asking Santa to put them in your stocking Christmas Eve. Both are available on Amazon.

One is The Vault of Walt Volume 3, the latest edition in the popular book series filled with stories about Walt, Disney films, Disney theme parks and miscellaneous topics, including illustrator Norman Rockwell's friendship with Walt Disney and the sad story of Cliff Edwards, who voiced Jiminy Cricket.

The other book is Animation Anecdotes.

Before I was a Disney historian, I was an animation historian. In fact, I still am an animation historian and write a weekly column about animation every Friday.

As a child growing up in the Los Angeles area, I eagerly watched cartoons on television, including getting up early on Saturday morning and gobbling up a bowl of increasingly soggy cereal and slurping up the sugar at the bottom.

Few books existed about animation, and most of them were about the technique, not the history, of animation. While I did take art classes and attempted some simple animation, I quickly realized I was more interested in the topic of animation than actually doing it.

Living in the Los Angeles area, I had the opportunity to go to animation film festivals, comic conventions that had animation programs, gallery signings, animation studios and a variety of other events that had an animation connection. Later, when I was older, I was invited to parties where animators who had too much beer told some amazing stories. I wrote it all down.

My family also subscribed to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Glendale News-Press, all of which often had feature stories about animation that included interesting quotes and stories.

However, verifying that information was always a challenge. In 1971, different sources credited different people with creating Bugs Bunny.

In Funnyworld No.12, director Bob Clampett talks about how he created Bugs Bunny. That same year in the magazine Take One (Vol. 2, No. 9), director Tex Avery tells how he created Bugs Bunny. In the December 19 edition of the Los Angeles Times, director Chuck Jones said he created Bugs Bunny.

That same year, an advertisement for a cartooning course identified animator Ben "Bugs" Hardaway as the creator of Bugs Bunny. However, in Cecil Smith's television column in the Los Angeles Times, he wrote that director Friz Freleng is the creator of Bugs Bunny…as well as Sylvester, Tweety, Porky Pig and the Road Runner.

Animation is a collaborative art with many different people at different levels working to "create" a character or a cartoon. Sometimes a character wouldn't develop until after appearances in several cartoons from different creative teams. Today, it is generally accepted by animation scholars that Avery should be given primary credit for creating the character that developed into Bugs Bunny.

Trying to figure out Disney history was just as bad since I had grown up, like so many others, believing that Walt made all of the animated films himself, as well as doing all the comic strips and comic books and building Disneyland with his own little hammer and saw.

Because so little accurate information existed about animation in print, I began writing a continuing column in the late 1970s with the little bits of information I had gathered and could verify for the fanzine Mindrot (a self-published limited-edition magazine by an editor who was told that watching cartoons and reading comic books would rot his mind by one of his grade school teachers). The column was publicized as "news, notes and quotes to amuse folks" filled with short anecdotes about animation and the people who worked in animation.

Over the years, I wrote a similar column under various titles like "suspended animation," "cel break," and "animated news" for a multitude of other fanzines and magazines.

In 1986, I began writing a monthly column titled "Animation Anecdotes" for Animation Magazine. I continued to write the column for a decade until the magazine shifted its focus away from historical material.

My friend and former writing/business partner John Cawley coined the term "Animation Anecdotes" for me to use and it perfectly described what I had been writing.

At the time, in addition to our regular jobs, we were operating the Korkis and Cawley Cartoon and Comic Company which sold cartoon and animation related items like books, videos, artwork, cels (remember those things?) and merchandise through mail order and at conventions.

We also co-wrote four books about animation: The Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars (Pioneer Books 1990), How to Create Animation (Pioneer Books 1990), Cartoon Confidential (Malibu Graphics 1991), and Get Animated!'s Animation Art Buyer's Guide and Price Guide (Malibu Graphics 1992).

By the 1990s, I was a well-known animation historian and my "Animation Anecdotes" column was enjoyed by top animation celebrities like Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Bill Scott, Ward Kimball, and many others.

From Mouse Tracks Blog posting on November 28, 2010 by film historian and musicologist Greg Ehrbar:

"The newly released DVD Waking Sleeping Beauty is the story of the tumultuous though successful second golden age of Disney animation.

"Take a look at the Waking Sleeping Beauty Bonus Features, and in a section called Studio Tours, you'll enjoy three informal romps through the animation halls with animator/director Randy Cartwright (filmed by none other than John Lasseter, just before he started doing that 'computer stuff.')

"In the 1990 segment, Randy visits director John Musker's office (the Disney animator who co-wrote and co-directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog and lots more) as he is reading the latest issue of Animation Magazine.

"John holds up the magazine and there is the great big name of renowned animation historian JIM KORKIS right in our astonished faces!

"Jim was a regular columnist for Animation Magazine and his exquisite anecdotes, little-known and never-known facts, helped him amass his legion of fans worldwide."

That particular column had an item about Musker talking about how he personally felt that Ursula, the sea witch, in The Little Mermaid was somehow related to King Triton's royal family like an awful aunt who wasn't invited to family gatherings.

I moved to Orlando, Florida, in late 1995 to take care of my mother and father who had developed some health problems. I was hired by Walt Disney World to be a salaried animation instructor for the Disney Institute.

I taught classes on cel painting, history of animation (including teaching how to make antique animation devices like thaumatropes and zoetrope strips), beginning computer animation, beginning stop-motion clay animation, and voice acting for animation.

In Los Angeles, I had done some professional voice-over work, including supplying the voices for seven different germs for a traveling American Medical Association puppet show on health.

In addition, I was a frequent guest lecturer in the Disney Institute Cinema for a series of monthly cartoon programs for the general public. I taught an eight-week course on the history of animation for interns at Disney Feature Animation Florida, as well as several "Acting for Animators" sessions.

When I was hired to work at the Disney Institute, I shifted my focus to primarily Disney history and have produced several Disney-related books in the last few years, as well as being a writer on all things Disney for several websites and magazines.

More than a year ago, I revived doing a weekly Animation Anecdotes column for animation expert (and good friend) Jerry Beck's animation-related website.

The enthusiastic response for its reappearance after several years inspired me to put together a book containing some of the best anecdotes (rewritten and updated) that appeared in now long out-of-print and forgotten magazines and mixing in many new anecdotes that have never appeared before in print.

This is not a formal history of classic American animation like Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons by Leonard Maltin, Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation by Charles Solomon or Animation Art: From Pencil to Pixel, the World of Cartoon, Anime, and CGI by Jerry Beck.

This collection of anecdotes provides an entertaining and informative look at the previously undocumented stories of 20th century animation that do not appear in those type of books or anywhere else.

Since I know many people who enjoy reading my articles are big Disney fans, I have included a large Disney animation anecdotes section in the book. The rest of the book is filled with chapters featuring fun little bits about Warner Brothers, Walter Lantz, Saturday Morning, Ralph Bakshi, Hanna-Barbera and animated films never produced, including one of Walt's dream projects, a serious feature-length animated film about the legend of Hiawatha.

Here are some of the anecdotes from the Disney section. If you find them amusing or interesting, you might want to consider purchasing the book as a holiday present for yourself or friends.

And Another Thing…

In the March 22, 1952 issue of the Saturday Evening Post magazine, there was the story of how Walt Disney was confronted at a dinner party in Palm Springs by a woman with an "overpowering knowledge of American wildlife." With no introduction, she approached Walt and proceeded in great detail to tell him what was wrong in the movie Bambi (1942).

Her main point was that wildlife would not act they way that Walt had depicted them.

"Why in Bambi," she asserted, "the buck steps into the clearing ahead of the doe and fawn to be sure there are no hunters there. Actually, bucks hang back and have even been seen kicking the does out of the brush ahead of them. And the picture wasn't true to life in so many other respects, either."

"How right you are," Walt agreed, "And do you know something else wrong with it? Deers don't talk."

Study Effects.

Cy Young was a Chinese-American (born in Hawaii) special effects artist at the Disney Studio from the early 1930s through 1941. Like other experts in their field who worked at Disney, Young would give occasional lectures on his area of expertise to Disney artists.

At the end of one such lecture about cartoon effects, he admonished his audience of male artists, "Always study effects, even when you go to the bathroom (to do your business at the urinal), STUDY EFFECTS!"

The next day, rather than being hard at work at the drawing board, animator Ward Kimball was gazing out the window of his room as the rain came down. He heard the door open behind him and slowly turned to see that it was Walt Disney. Never at a loss, Ward just smiled and said, "Just studying effects, Walt, just studying effects!"

Want To Know A Secret?

Disney's animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs inspired a hit single almost three decades after its original release. In the film, just before Snow White sings "I'm Wishing," she says, "Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?" Well, those two lines inspired John Lennon to write one of the Beatles' first hit singles in 1963. "Do You Want To Know A Secret?" Lennon's mother would sing the Snow White songs to him when he was a child.

Pig Out.

In 1992, the chairman of the Malaysian Censorship Board screened Disney's animated feature Beauty and the Beast and demanded that a five-second scene of a little pig scurrying around in the background be eliminated before the film could be shown. The chairman felt that Malaysia's fundamentalist regime would "find the pig offensive." Disney executive Kevin Hyson responded, "I guess we won't ever be releasing the Three Little Pigs there."

The Disappearing Jabberwocky.

When the Disney Studio was making the animated feature Alice in Wonderland (1951), there was a planned segment about the dreaded Jabberwocky. Voice legend Stan Freberg was called in to do the voice.

"I was directed by Walt himself and Ben Sharpsteen," Freberg remembered. "There was some animation done, but Walt was concerned that the segment would be too scary for kids and it was pulled from the final film. I've never seen it but somewhere in the Disney Archives it still exists."

Original 1951 pressbooks for the film credited Freberg's voice as the Jabberwocky. In 1992, Disney released a small book with concept art done by Tom Oreb of the planned sequence. The official "cast sheet" for Alice in Wonderland notes Freberg as the Jabberwocky voice, and adds Freberg and Daws Butler as "augmented voices in Jabberwock sequence."

The Other Crying Game Secret.

Actor Jaye Davidson, who played Dil in the movie The Crying Game (1992) and garnered a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, had absolutely no formal training as an actor. Before he got the part, he was best known for dressing up as Pluto and welcoming visitors to Disney's London office.

Food of the Future.

One time in the early days of the Disney Studio, Walt joined his employees at lunch and pulled out a bottle of pills and swallowed a few. "This is the food of the future. Each pill is a meal in itself," Walt boasted. Then he sat down and proceeded to order a regular lunch like the rest of the animators.

Cleaning Up.

In 1991, there was a good deal of publicity when three Florida Day Care centers were forced by the Disney Company to paint over unauthorized depictions of Mickey and Minnie and other Disney characters. While the press tried to make Disney the villain and a bully, the Disney Company was trying to protect its copyrights and trademarks from being violated which they had to do aggressively in order to legally maintain them.

But what happened to those empty white walls? Representatives from Hanna-Barbera and Universal Studios contacted the centers and painted the walls free of charge. Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone and Scooby-Doo frolicked where Disney characters once did. Of course, that artwork did include the suitable copyright and trademarks acknowledgements.

Too Scary.

Tim Curry auditioned for the part of Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). He didn't get it because his performance scared Steven Spielberg and Michael Eisner.

Musical Geniuses.

During a screening of Fantasia in the 1960s, when "The Dance of the Hours" segment came on screen, kids in the audience spontaneously started singing the lyrics of the then-popular Allan Sherman parody song, "Hello Muddah! Hello Fadduh!" that used the same tune. Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Ron Haver told the Los Angeles Times that they were "little Philistines."

Father or Mother?

"The thing I wanted to do in Luxo Jr. was make the characters and story the most important thing, not the fact that it was done in computer graphics," animator and director John Lasseter told writer Harry McCracken in 1990.

"After the film show, Jim Blinn, who's one of the pioneers in this [computer animation] field, came running up to me and said, 'John, I have to ask you a question.' And I thought, 'I don't know anything about these algorithms. I know he's going to ask me about the shadow algorithms or something like that'.

"And he asked me, 'John, was the parent lamp a mother or a father?'

"Here's one of the real brains in computer graphics was concerned more about whether the parent lamp was a mother or a father. That question keeps coming up. I always envisioned it as a father, but it's based greatly on my mother.

"To me, if it was a mother lamp, she would never let the baby jump on that ball. But the dad is like, 'Go ahead, jump on it, fall off and break your bulb. You'll learn a lesson.'"

If you enjoyed these short anecdotes, the book contains many more Disney anecdotes, followed by stories of Bugs Bunny, Mr. Magoo, Tom and Jerry, Betty Boop, Bullwinkle Moose, Scooby-Doo, Woody Woodpecker and many other childhood favorites.

On Saturday, November 8, I will be the guest speaker at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco speaking about Walt Disney's work with Werhner von Braun on the three Disney outer space television shows produced in the 1950s for Walt's weekly television program. You can find out more information at the museum website.