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Layout Artist Maurice Noble Didn’t Get Along With Chuck Jones

In their new episode, the podcast 99% Invisible profiles legendary layout artist Maurice Noble. Noble made significant contributions to Disney films like Dumbo and Bambi, but he is better known for his layout and design work with Chuck Jones on memorable Warner Bros. shorts like Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, Ali Baba Bunny, What’s Opera, Doc?, and the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote series.

That’s why it may be surprising for many readers to learn in this podcast about the personality battles between Noble and Jones, and how the two men weren’t particularly fond of one another despite their frequent collaborations. The subjects who were interviewed for the podcast are reliable authorities on Noble: his biographer Bob McKinnon; Tod Polson whose upcoming book about Noble’s techniques will be a must-own; and Pixar artist Scott Morse, who worked with Noble early in his career.

(Thanks, Bob Flynn)

  • mick

    In truth it’s a none issue if these dedicated fellows got a along. What is important is that they remained professional and delivered great results. Perhaps they recognised that the job at hand was worth more than coddling their egos. A lesson we could all benefit from?

  • Alex Irish

    If the two men had huge artistic egos, which is well documented with Charles M.’s tight control of his artists in the 1950s, this doesn’t surprise me

  • MaskedManAICN

    Before he passed away I heard Chuck give a talk, and he spoke very highly of Maurice. So I doubt it was that bad.

    • Eric

      During Chuck’s last years Maurice often made appearances at Chuck’s Gallery and the two worked together on Chariots of Fur, Pullet Surprise and Timber Wolf. So whatever differences they might have had were clearly patched over or deemed unimportant.

  • Ken Martinez

    Jones also kept Noble in his employ long after he left Warner. It’s Noble directing the Oscar-winning Dot and the Line, BTW.

  • Eric

    Maurice didn’t have an ego, he was about the most humble artist (and man) you could hope to ever meet. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his opinions on what worked and what didn’t creatively. And while there may have been creative differences between Maurice and Jones, I think they respected each other as artists very much. I can tell you that a big source of frustration for Maurice was the Dot and the Line. The short won an oscar in 1965. Maurice co-directed the film but it was Jones and Les Goldman who accepted the award. Maurice told me he got ~ZERO~ recognition for his contributions. He really resented that, right up until his passing.

  • Bob McKinnon

    To state that “Maurice Noble didn’t get along with Chuck Jones’“ or “that the two men were not particularly fond of one another” is inaccurate and somewhat inflammatory, in my opinion. I interviewed Maurice for his biography rather intensely over a period of several years. It’s fair to say that I came to know him quite well and that I became a close friend. As stated in my book, Maurice was an extraordinarily brilliant artist and a complex man. His feelings toward Chuck were somewhat complex as well. His respect and regard for Chuck’s vast talent is best represented in this direct quote from Maurice: as published in Stepping into the Picture:

    “Chuck was and is a superb director. Besides his extraordinary ability for putting over a story through his expressive drawings, he has a top-notch talent for giving structure to a film. The thing that’s quite amazing about animation is that it’s preconceived. You can’t film from different angles and select the best shots and edit it all together as in live action. That would be too costly and time consuming. The animation director must pre-think it so that each frame of film will tell the story in the best possible way. It’s his responsibility to see the production as a whole, and it’s his vision that ultimately determines it’s outcome. And we were on strict budgets, so there was no room for waste. Chuck handled this incredibly complex role beautifully. In addition, he had a little daring, he wanted to do something different, and that is what made it attractive for me to work with him. He was able to talk the front office into letting us do some of the more innovative, interesting films. As I’ve told him, he gave me the opportunity to stretch my wings. And from that standpoint alone, I’m greatly indebted to him.”

    During the first (roughly) fifteen-year period during which they worked together at Warners and then, MGM, were there instances when Maurice became peeved at something Chuck did or that happened at the studio? Probably, and it’s not that hard to believe, given the fact that two monumental talents were collaborating, always on a strict deadline, to produce a significant number of superb motion pictures. However, I never got the impression that Maurice and Chuck ever argued or had ‘words’ with one another. When Maurice left Warners in the 1950’s for a brief period to work on industrial films at Sutherland, he had been lured only by the prospect of making more money. Maurice never indicated that his leaving had anything to do with problems with Chuck or anyone else at the studio (except perhaps Eddie Selzer, who initially turned down his request for a raise). In fact, I believe Maurice was creatively invigorated and challenged when working with Chuck (and the rest of the wonderful Jones unit, including Mike Maltese, Ben Washam, Ken Harris, Abe Levitow, Phil DeGuard, etc).

    Maurice once told me that his relationship with Chuck was “all business” and they were not “buddy-buddy”. Maurice may have expressed this for a number of reasons, but I do think Chuck may have inadvertently hurt Maurice on a few occasions, and it ‘stuck’ with Maurice. Nonetheless, I believe they were always cordial with one another, and I challenge anyone to find one word in print where Chuck is critical of Maurice in any way, on a personal or professional level. In an interview I conducted with the legendary director, his detailed description of Maurice’s talents and contributions to the films was absolutely glowing, 110% positive.

    Here is an excerpt of that interview where Chuck talks about Maurice:

    “There is no question that my collaborative relationship with Maurice was different than it had been with previous layout men, because he was so much more intelligent and devoted. He was willing to accept that artistry can be found anyplace. I don’t know anybody that equals him. There were some marvelous things done in film, particularly in features at Disney, but nobody was as good as Maurice. I think he’s the best that ever worked anyplace in animation. Some people built reputations on a consistent style, like John Hubley, but Maurice was much better. And Eyvind Earle did beautiful work, but it was always the same. Maurice would shift gears into anything”.

    To my knowledge, Chuck was always overwhelmingly enthusiastic and laudatory regarding Maurice. Jones was a forthright individual who essentially said what he thought, and I don’t believe he had, or at least, ever held onto, one single ‘beef’ with Maurice, personally or professionally, right to the end. Wasn’t it Chuck who gave Maurice co-director credit on a number of cartoons? At Maurice’s home I saw a number of Christmas cards that had been sent to Maurice by Chuck over the years. They were always personalized, warm, humorous, and often flattering.

    Tod Polson, also interviewed for the “99% Invisible” podcast, is a highly talented artist in the animation field, a protege of Maurice, and a most affable individual. He was probably as close to Maurice as anyone. (Tod’s new book, The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design, available this October, should be wonderful, by the way.) Maurice never mentioned to me the particular incident on the Dot and the Line as described by Tod in the podcast. I do recall that Maurice was understandably miffed when he was not invited to the Academy Awards, as his work was obviously integral to the film and he was credited as co-director. Nonetheless, any differences Jones and Noble may have had must have been ‘patched up’ pretty quickly and without fanfare, as soon after they successfully (and without incident) collaborated beautifully on several projects, most notably their inspired take on Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

    I suppose my main point is that, aside from the story that Tod relates on the podcast, I never heard Maurice say he had any difficulty working with Chuck, or that it was unpleasant in any way. As I’ve previously expressed, it’s my opinion that Maurice wished he had been personally closer to Chuck, which may have led to him having some unresolved feelings about him. But to state that the two men had “personality battles” or “were not particularly fond of one another” is simply inaccurate.

    Some of the greatest, most lasting artistic collaborations were composed of individuals who did not socialize to any real degree. For example, Laurel and Hardy, though they liked each other, didn’t really socialize until very late in their career, when they were traveling together to Europe to perform. I believe Rodgers and Hammerstein also did not socialize, despite their long and highly productive relationship.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that very few ‘marriages’, or partnerships, have no ‘blips’ or bumps in the road. It’s almost inherent in human nature. Let’s be thankful that Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble, two mega-talents, did frequently mesh their extraordinary talents on so many memorable, richly entertaining films.

  • tod

    I once asked Maurice about his relationship with Chuck Jones. Maurice said that though his relationship with Chuck was often strained. (Maurice left Jones more than a few times over his career) He liked working with him because; “…Chuck was always working on interesting material” and let him “have a free hand in design. Something that few directors were willing to let me do.” One of the biggest reasons we know Maurice’s work today is because Jones trusted Maurice’s artistic vision. Allowing him to develop his own personal style and method of working during his years at Warner Bros. This fact wasn’t lost on Maurice. Despite the differences the two artists may have had; even in the worst of times, Maurice was grateful to Chuck for trusting his vision… and allowing him to explore it.