Larry Harmon, the actor and animation producer who acquired the rights to Bozo the Clown and turned him into a long running TV franchise and cash cow, died yesterday of congestive heart failure. He was 83.
Harmon purchased the licensing rights to the Bozo character, created by Alan Livingston and first portrayed by Pinto Colvig, from Capitol Records in 1956. In 1958, Harmon produced several Bozo TV cartoons. He later acquired the animation rights to Laurel and Hardy and produced a series of Laurel and Hardy cartoons through Hanna Barbera in 1966. Harmon also produced several Popeye cartoons for King Features in 1960.
Another discovery, for me, at the recent Book Expo was this new book from University of Michigan Press. Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is not about an animator, but is the fascinating true story of a female black comic strip artist who achieved considerable success between the years 1937 and 1956. The author has set up a nice website devoted to Ormes with samples of her comics work, excerpts from the book (by Nancy Goldstein), and images of the Patty-Jo doll, inspired by her most popular strip. Publishers Weekly has an in-depth article about how Ormes’ work was rediscovered and turned into this biography. If you are interested in the history of comics, Ormes’ story is a long-forgotten part of its legacy.
This Wednesday, July 2nd, Stuart Shostack will broadcast a rare, new, interview with Max Fleischer’s nephew, Bernie Fleischer. Joined by Fleischer Studios historian Ray Pointer, Stu promises that the interview will cover everything from the invention of the Rotoscope and the Helen Kane lawsuit, to the 1937 strike, the move to Miami and the eventual Paramount takeover. Plus, Bernie will talk about visiting the studio during the 1930s and recording his voice tracks for the Fleischer’s 1940 two-reeler, Raggedy Ann and Andy (he was Andy). The show will be broadcast over internet radio live (which means no downloads), beginning Wednesday July 2 at 7pm Eastern, 4 pm Pacific. It’ll be rebroadcast each day for the next six days at the the same time. Listen to it here.
Anime website Digital Manga once again sponsors Pop Japan Travel’sMind Over Manga Tour from Aug. 21st through August 27th. This year the tour will include a meeting with anime art director Nizo Yamamoto and a visit to Nippon Animation, the studio that helped give Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata their start. Yamamoto will also introduce the group to the art staff he directed on this year’s acclaimed anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Yamamoto has served as art director on many acclaimed anime, including Princess Mononoke (above) and Grave of the Fireflies. His background art has also appeared in Spirited Away, Perfect Blue, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro and more.
Mind Over Manga also includes a backstage visit to the Comitia indie manga event, plus Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli Museum, and a tour of Tokyo, plus a few excursions outside the city. Optional tours of Hiroshima, Kyoto and Osaka are also available.
The Mind Over Manga tour, including round-trip airfare from LAX to Tokyo, full hotel accommodations, transport in Japan, entry fees, bilingual guides and customized guidebook, is $2,198 plus a $235 fuel surcharge. The Kyoto and Osaka option is $898, while Hiroshima is $100. Considering the price of gas these days, this seems like a bargain. More information on the Pop Japan Travel website.
Heads up on yet another animation event at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The Sound Behind The Image II: Now Hear This! is an evening celebrating the art of sound in animated films. It will take place at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills on Friday August 8th. Hosted by sound editor Mark Mangini (Looney Tunes: Back In Action, Runaway Brain, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.), the presentation begins at 7:30. You can order tickets ($5./students $3) here.
Here’s a rare treat: El Mono Relojero (The Clockmaking Monkey – Argentina, 1938) is only surviving film by the creator of the first animated feature (El Apostol, 1917), Quirino Cristiani (who also created the world’s first animated sound feature, PeludÃ³polis in 1931). The rest of his films perished in a fire in 1962. Oscar Grillo says the voice is by Pepe Iglesias (aka “El Zorro”), the actor who later dubbed into Spanish the voice of the fox in Disney’s Pinocchio. A few months ago Jorge Finkielman posted a rare cel from this film on the Animation Show forum. For more about Cristiani, read Giannalberto Bendazzi’s 1983 article on AWN.
Billy Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate, writes about his love for Warner Bros. Cartoons in today’s Wall Street Journal. This quote sums up the jist of the piece:
Bugs would do the impossible by jumping out of the frame and landing on the drawing board of the cartoonist who was at work creating him. This freedom to transcend the laws of basic physics, to hop around in time and space, and to skip from one dimension to another has long been a crucial aspect of imaginative poetry.
Collins life long enthusiasm for Looney Tunes is evident. The article has several nice illustrations, plugs for several essential reference books and a concise illustrated timeline of the golden age of Hollywood cartoons.
Several years ago I curated a program of CinemaScope cartoon shorts from the 1950s, which I screened at the Ottawa Animation Festival, the Museum of Modern Art and several other venues. While researching the subject, I came upon a small article by Ward Kimball, from Films In Review (March 1954), in which he discusses the subject.
Kimball makes several interesting points referencing his work on Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom and shows the thought Disney’s animators put into using this unique, new screen shape. Kimball notes how wide shots and longer scenes play better in wide screen and how, in CinemaScope, “cartoon characters no longer perform in one spot against a moving background, but are moved through the scenes.” He also makes note of the use of directional Stereophonic sound used in these shorts. (Grand CanyonScope will be released letterboxed and in stereo on the forthcoming Disney Treasures: Donald Vol. 4 later this year).
Kimball’s piece is preceeded by an overview by writer Ed Lubin entitled “Disney Is Still Creative”(!) which touts the studio’s relevancy during the changing animation scene of the early 50s. Click on the thumbnails below to read both articles.
Big news for New York anime fans: acclaimed Japanese animation director Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Perfect Blue, etc.) is coming to New York City this week to personally host a retrospective of his films for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Kon will be participating in an onstage interview opening night, Friday June 27th, to kick off the series, and will be introducing all the films for the duration of the screenings (June 27-July 1).
Bedrock City, the kitschy little theme park in Custer, South Dakota, was created in 1966 by a coalition of local concrete makers.
Now, artist/photographer Todd Oldham has discovered the park’s inner coolness. Oldham has been creating a series of art books, called Place Space, devoted to unusual environments, covering a variety of subjects – from John Waters quirky Baltimore home to the creative living spaces of art students at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Ammo Books has just released Oldham’s latest, Bedrock City, a collection of photographs of the funky stone age recreation area with an essay (wrapped around the book on the poster/dust jacket) by architect/designer Michael Graves.
This book isn’t for everyone. It’s an art book that’s a piece of art in of itself, but the subject matter is a lot of fun (the book even comes with a set of souvenir postcards). Recommended to all sophisticated Flintstone connoisseurs out there.
Oh, and if minimalist books about the citizens of Bedrock turn you on… I’ve got another one in the works I’ll be telling you more about in a few months.
Was privileged to see two new CG shorts last week: Disney Animation’s Glago’s Guest and Pixar’s Presto. Both films couldn’t be more different, yet both succeed in accomplishing their modest goals with style to spare.
Glago’s Guest is the second film from Disney’s new shorts unit, established by John Lasseter when hne took over the studio. The sole intent of producing new shorts at Disney is to experiment with style, test new techniques, and to develop new directors. Chris Williams was a story artist at Disney (Mulan, etc.) for fourteen years. His original tale of a Russian soldier stationed in a remote Siberian outpost is so far removed from what a Disney cartoon has been, it’s just what the staff needed to flex their muscles. To tell you what happens, or who his guests are, would ruin the experience – but the short is layered in luscious detail, and filled with more heart than most features ten times its length. It’s being released in 3-D on November 26th with Disney’s Bolt and it looks incredible in that format.
Pixar’s Presto is as perfect as any homage to classic Hollywood cartoons could be – especially with it’s opening title tribute to Disney shorts (against burlap) and MGM cartoons (note the type style). The story is a mash up of UPA’s Magic Fluke (1949), Avery’s Magical Maestro (1952), and Jones’ Case of the Missing Hare (1942) – magician versus his adversarial rabbit, who gets revenge via a magical hat. It’s the fast pace, strong poses, appealing characters and visual gags that turn this into a charming original entertainment – top notch fun from first frame to last. An absolute winner from Pixar. Catch it on the head of Wall-E this weekend at a theatre near you.
These shorts are special – that’s something we can’t usually say about short form films. I’m delighted Disney is producing films like these. Could a modern day equivalent of Melody Time grow out of such a program? After seeing these two, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Hope to see you on Tuesday June 24th when we welcome this month’s special guests: Dana Gould (Simpson’s producer writer and comedian), actor-comedian-cartoon voice actor Ron Lynch and the original Tom Servo, J. Elvis Weinstein, as “Dumpster Diver Dan” (pictured with me above). If you haven’t been to the show in a while, we’ve got lots of new material (both comedy and animated) – and the Steve Allen Theatre is air-conditioned! Buy advanced tickets here!
Tom Hignite, the Wisconsin home builder who thinks he’s Walt Disney, is back – in a series of local infomercials which ultilizes lush character animation created by a team of former Orlando studio animators he hired a few years ago. Since his misguided plans for making 2D animated features went bust, Hignite is back to building houses, using poor Flash animation (pictured above) to move his characters, and pretending he’s Uncle Walt in these TV spots. You can read the full story of Hignite’s wacky true-life adventures in this Milwaukee Magazine article – and, if you can stomach it, watch one of his informercials here.