Excerpts from Jack Bradbury's Autobiography
Including his start at Disney's, animation work at Warner's and other studios,
and many, many years of drawing comic books
[This excerpt starts about a year after Jack graduated from high school. He had just returned home to Seattle, from a job thinning apples in Chelan, Washington.]
Back home once more, with absolutely no prospect of a job in sight, things looked grim indeed. I was beginning to understand what my poor father had been going through for too long. The anguish of being unable to find much needed work could soon lead to despair.
Before going to eastern Washington, I had looked everywhere for work and had begun to feel pretty hopeless, where else could I look? It was out of desperation that I had taken the job thinning apples, rather than sit at home idle, but I had been able to send part of my earnings home. Every bit helped.
One sunny Sunday a few weeks later, having nothing better to do, I went out to Longacres [race track], just to watch some beautiful animals in action. I don't recall whether it was one of those free admission days, or whether I had a pass, for I wouldn't have been out there otherwise. Another neighbor, the sports editor of The Star, sometimes gave us freebies.
At the track I ran into some friends who had been to the 5th Avenue Theatre the night before and were raving about a new cartoon they'd seen, Walt Disney's "Three Little Pigs". "Be sure and see it, Jack," they said. Needless to say, I managed to see it as soon as possible. And in the days following, everyone in town seemed to be singing that catchy tune from the picture, "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
Ben Sharpsteen, a director from the Disney studio, had recently visited friends in town, telling them about Disney's great need for new talent, he was planning to build up his staff and produce a feature length cartoon. My sports editor friend passed the word on to me.
Well now, this sounded almost providential to me. It wouldn't cost more than a 3 cent stamp to write and find out about this, something that could be the opportunity of my lifetime.
With no job prospects whatsoever, you can imagine how something like this would give me hope. I sat down immediately and wrote to the studio, enclosing samples of some recent work. There were no cartoons among them, just a few wash drawings: A proud aged Indian, a dog, the head of Primo Carnera, the giant Italian boxer, and several others I can't recall. Not an impressive lot, but I hoped they could tell from these whether or not I had any talent for their kind of work. [art samples]
For more than ten days I waited impatiently, not knowing if I'd get an answer or not. But one did come, and while excitedly reading it, a wonderful glow of hopeful optimism came over me. The letter said to come down and "try-out" for two weeks, at my own expense, of course. I was cautioned to have enough money to live for the two weeks and enough to get home, in case I failed to qualify. [letter]
That seemed fair enough. The "fail to qualify" part was sobering, but I now knew I had to go to California and see whether I could make cartoon movies or not.
This sudden, wonderful opportunity coming out of nowhere seemed like an improbable dream, but pinching myself, OUCH! convinced me I was not only awake, but also sensitive to pain.
I was ready to leave immediately, my only problem was...no money. Checking bus fares, I found they were cheap enough, but living expenses for two weeks would cost a little...I was pretty sure I could do it all for about 50 bucks.
Apparently I was the only one in the family excited by this very sudden and rather questionable opportunity that would cost the family fifty dollars...dollars we did not have....
Dad wrote to his father, and by return mail came the money. WOW! Now I really was going to California! Whether I made it or not would depend on me now and I was prepared to give this big chance everything I had. No one outside of the family was told of my plan to leave town, then I wouldn't have explanations to make if I came back jobless.
[describes the bus trip south]...
"These," he said, "are called 'extremes.' They are the important or key drawings in the scene. The animator creates the movement by drawing the character moving through the scene as prescribed by the director. His main key drawings are the extremes of the action. Then an assistant breaks it down to simple in-betweens, which are done in this department. That's what you will be learning to do here."
As he said this, he placed the two key drawings, number 43 and 47 on the two pegs that held the drawings in place. Turning on a light beneath, we could now see the bottom drawing through the top one. He then put a blank sheet of paper on the pegs over the other two. Then flipping the top two separately, he began to draw a drawing that was half-way between the two. He again flipped the two top drawings separately to show me the bit of movement between the three drawings. "See how it works?" he said.
"Always leave the bottom drawing still, just flip the top two and do it constantly as you draw, to see just where to put the lines as you make the middle drawing, called an in-between."
He pointed to a little vertical line drawn in the corner which was divided in half, then in half, then in half again. Each division was numbered. The middle one between 43 and 47 was numbered 44, the next one dividing 44 and 47 was 45 and the final drawing between 45 and 47 was 46.
"You see," George explained, "here the animator has indicated he wants the in-betweens done this certain way, which will slow the action into 47. Do you understand?" George smiled at me scratching my head. I didn't quite get it, not until later. "Think you can do that?" he asked. I wasn't at all sure, but I wasn't going to admit it. "I'll sure give it a good try." I grinned not too confidently. He gave me an old scene from a past production, from which he'd removed all the in-betweens. Then he handed me a metal eversharp pencil and a small box of long, thin HB leads.
From his office in the rear, he walked me through the large, well lit in-betweener's room of five or six rows of animation desks, each row having three or four in-betweeners cheerfully busy at their work. They seemed like a happy crew and glanced up, smiling as we walked by. In the front end of the big room, was a row of four desks kept only for those "trying-out." I was the only one at present, but soon I'd see others come and go, most of whom would leave again disappointed, never to return.
"There's plenty of paper above you there on the shelf, Jack. So go to it. And if there's anything you don't understand, or if you have any questions, just come back and see me." I thanked him and sat down to look at the scene on which I'd be making that so important "try-out". I tried holding it in one hand and flipping the pages with the other as George had done, but I was awkward and clumsy. I switched hands and got the same result.
Finally I got so I could flip the pages well enough to see the action more clearly and as I sat studying the movement, it suddenly occurred to me that this scene, created by one of the talented animators, had already been seen on the screen by millions of people. A little chill of excitement ran through me.
Placing the scene on the shelf, I took the first two extremes from the stack of drawings, number 1 and 5 and placed them on the pegs, then a blank sheet of paper on top of both. Then taking out a thin HB lead I inserted it into the eversharp and I was ready to go. No, not quite. As thin as the lead was, it still had a blunt point, so I took another sheet of paper and worked the point sharp. Now, I was ready.
Trying to flip the two top drawings as George had so easily done, was difficult to do. And there was no sense trying to draw the in-between until I could flip the drawings well enough to see where to put the darn in-between lines. For a long time I sat just trying to flip the two top drawings properly. Unable to perform this simple requirement right off, I felt like a clumsy dummy, never suspecting that everyone seated behind me in that big room had also probably gone through the same thing. I don't know why, but I was positive they'd all been able to master this trick right away.
It took me a couple of days and a lot of wasted paper to get a decent start, but as I got into it, I began to see how many things you could do wrong on a simple in-between. It is so easy to get the size of the head, or the hands, or the body of your in-between character wrong. Yours might be smaller, larger, too thin, or somehow unlike the other two drawings. It is difficult to see at first and being able to do in-betweens right, comes only after working hard at it for quite some time.
Still sitting alone in "try-out" row, I could hear the other in-betweeners behind me working away happily, talking and singing as they banged out their drawings. I knew I could learn to do this and I wanted badly to become one of them.
A couple days passed and another try-out hopeful showed up. It was quite lonesome in that front row working alone and I was happy to have company with whom to share my in-betweening woes. The new man was Jack Miller from New Rochelle, New York. He was a little older than I and it was soon very obvious he possessed a lot of talent and had had considerable art training, for he drew so easily and well. Going through this trial period together gave us a common bond and we became and remained good friends from then on. As he lived in the west part of Hollywood and had a car, he kindly gave me a ride to and from work each day.
Although new to this unique kind of work, Miller was a good example of the fine talent needed and sought for this business. With such great natural ability, they would always be able to find a place for him somewhere. In the wide spectrum of talent here, Miller would soon prove himself high on the scale, and I could probably be found in the middle somewhere.
Some of the others that came to "try-out" showed considerable talent also, yet they either didn't like the work or couldn't do it for one reason or another and left. I didn't feel I had the option of liking or not liking the work, I had to make it, for I had nothing to go back to in Seattle.
Just before Miller showed up and I had been in try-out for a day or so, all the employees were rounded up for a group staff picture to be taken in the front patio, all 250 of them. Just newly arrived, I didn't think I had any right to be in the photo, but George, as he passed by on his way out, told me to get out there with the rest of them and I did. So, standing in the very back of that picture somewhere, can be seen the hopeful countenance of Jack Bradbury, the anxiously hard-working trainee. I wish today I had a copy of that picture, but I was too short of money at that time to buy one. But with my face forever pictured on that historical photo as part of the Disney staff, maybe I was meant to stay on and become part of that great, exciting, industry.
Now there were two of us on "try-out" row. A few others would come and go, but none would stay long.
Not having done any drawing for many months, I was now struggling with an inability to make my hand and brain coordinate properly. But I kept at it, hoping and praying I'd soon be able to do this work. Miller, however, had no such problem, for drawing came so easily to him. He did have some difficulty with this strange business of making one drawing work between two others, but only because he'd not done it before.
My new friend seemed not at all concerned about the work we were supposed to be learning to do, for while I strove diligently on my in-betweens, he spent most of his time drawing everything but in-betweens. One of his lovelier bits of idle work was an attractive young woman gracefully reclining on a fancy Victorian settee. It was beautifully drawn and done so quickly and effortlessly. Another was a funny caricature of me hard at work as a bent over old man, still in-betweening in the year 1989. He was ribbing me about being so earnest and hard working, not knowing what this job meant to me. Had I his talent, I too, could have been less serious and more light-hearted about the try-out.
At the end of my first week I was still having problems, so I took my efforts in to George, got some helpful criticism and suggestions and went back to work again.
In just a short time, Miller's exceptional ability was recognized and he left try-out row to work as an assistant to an animator named Grim Natwick. Remember, this was back in 1934, and amazingly enough, this same animator was still animating a year or so ago at the grand old age of 100.
Miller's quick advancement made me more determined than ever to make it also, and toward the end of my second week George again checked my work and found it much improved. In fact he congratulated me and said with a smile, "You made it, Jack, we're putting you to work!"
HALLELUYAH! George had said the magic words! I was now beginning my career in drawing...even though I started at only $15 a week. I could hardly wait to write home and tell them that my chase after that dubious golden opportunity had not been in vain, or foolish after all. Look out, family, son/brother Jack was now on his way!
The other Jack's quick leap ahead neither surprised nor discouraged me, for the more I saw of the high caliber of talent all about me, the more I realized how hard it would be for me to stay on here. In high school art classes, some of my classmates had better than average drawing ability, yet seldom was there anyone with unusual or outstanding talent. Being the only cartoon-minded one in my class, I did my work a little differently, so it stood out a bit from the rest...making me a medium sized frog in a tiny pond.
At Disney's, however, where there were so many with impressive ability, mine seemed quite insignificant. Most of those around me not only possessed great talent, but much formal training and professional experience. I later actually wondered what the hell I was even doing there. Believe me, to an untrained minor talent, finding your niche in a place like this was a worrisome thing to even contemplate. But I wanted so badly to stay and be a part of all this, to learn to draw well, and to become an animator if possible. I yearned to learn everything I could about this very fascinating business. Could I make it? I didn't know, at times I doubted it very much. If I did stay, I hoped I could become more than just an in-betweener, but only time would tell.
So I kept on working hard, first learning to do in-betweens well, and before too long I was doing break-down work, another step in the right direction.
Some of the others who had come and gone while Miller and I were on "try-out" row, were very sincere in their efforts to succeed, yet others seemed not to try hard at all. Most stayed only a day or two, never a week.
We didn't get to know any of these others well at all, yet when they left, a few had farewell get-togethers to which Jack and I felt we should go. It seemed a bit silly, having known them only a day or two, but perhaps they felt their presence there had been quite significant. The young men already employed and now working in the big room I was in, were, for the most part, a great bunch, each with his own special sense of humor.
There was a strange feeling throughout the studio that everyone was in a state of euphoria, all on an exciting flight to a super level of high achievement. After the remarkable success of The Three Little Pigs, they knew this outfit was going to the top and they were going right up with it. Although everyone worked hard in the big in-between room, they had fun along the way. There was plenty of horse-play and practical jokes were common, but the work got done well and on time.
A number of times when a picture was nearing completion, we were asked to put in an evening of overtime. And though we did not get paid extra for this, everyone cooperated cheerfully. We were given a voucher for our evening's work, one that bought us a 50 cent dinner at Leslie's, a restaurant on Vermont just north of Hollywood Boulevard. At that time, believe it or not, Leslie's served a good T-bone steak dinner for only 50 cents. We'd also have a glass of good California wine before dining and return to the studio full and happy, sometimes singing old Negro spirituals while we worked.
The recruiting of new talent to beef up the staff had been going well and an excellent instructor from Chouinard’s Art School in L.A., Don Graham, was hired. Don soon had us trainees in a two hour life sketching class twice a week and at the Griffith Park Zoo two mornings a week sketching live animals.
I was awfully happy to be a part of this, for advanced art training was something I'd not had, but wanted and needed badly. The life classes were held from three to five in the afternoon using nude models, something else I'd never done before, but found most interesting.
Sketching at the zoo was done from about eight-thirty to noon, when we'd return for lunch. Some January and February mornings were awfully cold at the zoo because it was located in a canyon shaded from the morning sun and sketching was quite difficult until your hands thawed out. It was a surprise to me that California got this cold. When not at the zoo or in life class, we kept very busy working on the current shorts in production. And now between the classes and production work, I could tell I was shaping up well. Drawing was coming so much easier to me now and that gave me a new confidence, something I'd very much need if I ever wished to become an animator....
As the months flew swiftly by, my work began to show constant improvement and many little tricks of the animation trade were now being stored away in my eager little head-bone. Learning much by just studying the work of each animator on whose scenes I worked, I was now becoming a solid and useful member of the Disney staff.The instruction by our fine teacher, Don Graham, was of tremendous help to me, both in life class and animal sketching. In both, Don came around to each of us individually, making valuable suggestions on how to improve our drawing skills and checking on our progress. I found him always patient and extremely helpful.
Though feeling increasingly good about my progress in both training and production work, I certainly would never have expected what happened next. We had gone to the zoo that Thursday morning and had what I considered an average session with our animal sketching. Don had given me his usual help and encouragement. Having just gotten back from the zoo, I was about to go to lunch, when two of the older trainees, Frank and Mac, hurried up to me excitedly. "Hey, it looks like you're really in now, Jack!" one of them exclaimed. Both seemed much too earnest to be kidding. "What do you mean," I asked. "We rode back with Don Graham," Frank continued excitedly, "and he says you're coming along so well, he's recommending you for a contract!" HOLY TOLEDO! I couldn't believe it! Don had not said one word to me lately about my progress, but I knew it was part of his job to send in a report on how each of us trainees was coming along. Showing no signs whatever of envy, Frank and Mac were happy just being able to bring good news to a friend. They were that kind of men. Frank was killed a year or so later in a plane crash, returning to the studio from a Christmas Holiday in San Francisco. Mac later became a fine layout man and was with the studio many years. I wanted so badly to believe such great news, but I didn't dare say a word about it to anyone until I heard something officially.
Things were going so much better than I had ever hoped. Just seven months ago, returning from the apple orchards, my job prospects were nil, nonexistent. Now my future was bright indeed. I could now look confidently ahead to a drawing career a good paying future and all the nicer things that came with it, even marriage and a family of my own if I wished. Department head George just couldn't be nicer to me now, I had become one of the "fair haired boys" and was given a choice working spot in the big in-betweener's room, one next to a window and more comfortable during the hot summer months. I hadn't been there long enough to rate a regular vacation, but George arranged for me to get a week off with pay anyway. I felt on top of the world, this was certainly a high point in my young life....
At about this time I became an assistant animator working with Bob Wickersham, a very fine shorts animator. I was with him for about a year. During this year I received my contract raises every three months and was now able to purchase my first new car, a 1937 Dodge four-door sedan. Total cost $1070....
Back home and at work again, I finished out my year as assistant to "Wick", then left him to join a batch of others being readied for work on our future feature, Snow White."Wick" was about to leave Disney's for the Max Fleischer Studio in Florida. They were offering considerably more money, hiring animators away from other studios and Wick had decided to go. Fleischer was obsessed with the idea of finishing his feature cartoon, Gulliver's Travels, and releasing it before Snow White. It seemed terribly important to old Max, that his name go down in history as producer of the first animated cartoon feature.
Gulliver was released shortly before Snow White, but it did Max little good. Comparing his rushed-to-completion product to the meticulously crafted Snow White was ridiculous. After its initial run, Gulliver disappeared and was forgotten, but Snow White goes on forever. While working for Fleischer in Florida, Wick came back out to the west coast while on vacation. He called me one day, inviting me to have lunch with him.
It was nice to see him again, but Wick had another purpose in mind, he was recruiting for Max. Though not yet an animator, Wick was offering me more money and a chance to animate down there. But the idea of packing up and moving clear to Florida didn't appeal to me at all. Also, I wasn't quite ready to animate yet. And when I did, I wanted to animate where quality of the picture was most important. As Snow White was being readied for production, people were being moved about the studio constantly, there didn't seem to be quite enough room for everyone.
Most of the break-down and in-between work was now being done in the new annex, a separate building put up across the street from the main studio on Hyperion Avenue. This was where I was now working. Two apartment buildings next door to the studio were purchased and turned into story departments. The studio was literally bursting at the seams and this was probably when the idea of a new, larger studio became a necessary requirement for the studio's future. Then one day the word came, animation on Snow White was to begin and back to the main building I was sent.
Three of us assistants, Don Luske, Ken Hultgren and I were assigned to assist three animators, Milt Kahl, Eric Larsen and Jim Algar. These animators were to do all the animal animation in the picture and we three were to do the clean-up and break-down work.
There were certainly a lot of animals in Snow White, in some scenes I counted as many as 34 little "critturs" on every drawing. It was difficult to do more than three or four clean-up drawings a day. While working on Snow White, I decided to try and get myself into animation when the feature was finished, I was beginning to feel confident and ready.
What I would have to do was this: Animate a test scene using any characters I wished and in any kind of action I thought would best show off my ability to animate. This test would have to be done on my own time, outside of work. I could make changes and have it shot as many times as I felt necessary, until it looked good enough to show to a director or someone else in charge. Portable animation desks were made available to anyone wishing to take one home for this purpose. I did and so began my test scene for possible entry into the hallowed brotherhood of animators. It would take many hours of week-end work, but I felt now was the time to start....
After being back at work several weeks, I almost got derailed from my original plan of a future in animation. A studio friend came to me with news of something I felt compelled to look into. It concerned Edgar Bergen, the well known ventriloquist, who was then at peak career. A tremendous hit on radio and also appearing in films, he was now contemplating the syndication of his dummy characters in a daily comic strip.
His publicist and a writer friend worked up story and gag material and needed someone to draw up sample strips. My director friend, knowing of my interest in comic strips, had recommended me for the job. So I contacted the publicist and arranged to meet with her and Mr. Bergen for a talk. This happened so quickly I hadn't had time to evaluate the possibility of my leaving Disney's. However, I was so intrigued with meeting Bergen and doing a strip with his famous Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, I temporarily forgot about animation.
I invited brother Ed along so he too, could meet Mr. Bergen. We met the young woman publicist near Bergen's office on Hollywood Boulevard, then went to his office and were introduced to the very popular entertainer. We sat and talked while waiting for Bergen's friend, comedian Ken Murray, to arrive. When Ken showed up, we all walked over to the Hollywood Pantages to see Bergen's latest film. The movie was very ordinary and easily forgettable, Bergen himself seemed very unenthusiastic about it. From there we walked down Vine to the Brown Derby to sit and talk some more.
The result was: We'd draw up a week of dailies to submit to the syndicate, and his publicist gave us photos of Bergen, Charlie and Mortimer, from which to work. They wanted it as soon as possible. I recruited my good friend, Hank Porter, to help us. With Ed sketching in backgrounds, I doing the characters and Hank inking, we knocked out the six strips in two days. [see this odd little strip]
Now with the work finished, I began to have misgivings about leaving the animation business. Even if the syndicate took the strip, it might not prove popular enough to last long. No successful radio show had ever before been made into a comic strip. Besides, I hadn't animated yet and needed to know if I actually could or not.
A week or two passed and I was still uncertain what to do. Then word came to meet in Bergen's office again, this time with syndicate men only. The syndication of the strip had been put on hold, but they were very vague about why. If it was our presentation they did not like, they would have said so, but they offered to pay us for our work, saying the strip's future was indefinite. I was quite surprised they offered to pay for work done on speculation, perhaps it was Bergen's decision, but I was relieved to have my future decided for me. I took the money and we left. I split it three ways, to which Hank and Ed were quite agreeable. With my share I bought a little Bell and Howell 8 mm. movie camera, something I'd wanted for my vacation trips.
Quite awhile later, the strip appeared in the papers, drawn by an artist I met later when we both worked for Western Publishing. The strip lacked interest both pictorially and gag-wise and lasted only a short time. I was quite content that things had worked out the way they did.
With strips off my mind, I now decided to work seriously on an animation test, which I had already begun, but had not gotten very far into yet, having worked on it just a few week-ends. The test scene was of a beginning tennis player. It is best to animate something your familiar with, then you'll have a better feeling for the action and I had played a lot of tennis. I animated this bumbling beginner, staged on his side of the net only, showing his inept attempts at returning the ball each time it was fired at him. I was trying for a convincing tennis action, yet done in a broad, comic way.
When finished, I sent it out to be shot. It came back quickly and when run on a moviola, I saw it needed some timing changes, speeded up in places and slowed down in others. The character's comical action looked pretty good. I wound up the scene with the player in a frenzy of fast, wild action. When shot and returned the second time, it looked much better, at least I thought so. We still hadn't quite finished Snow White, so I put my animation test aside and didn't look at it for some time.
Finally with our work on Snow White out of the way, I again looked at my test. Now with a fresh eye, I saw that it needed more punch, both in the drawing and timing and it was back to the old animation board for me. Corrections made, again it was shot, and this time I was satisfied with it...I felt it was now ready to show.
With S W production pressure off, I thought this a good time to show my test scene to Ham (Hamilton) Luske, the director under whom we'd been working. Ham, a top animator before moving up to director, was also a genuinely nice person. It was he who got me into animation, he was my mentor. With some hesitancy I approached him, asking if he'd look at my animation test when he had time. "Sure," he said, and took it with him. For several days I walked around in a state of nervous anticipation, having trouble working with my fingers and eyes all crossed for luck. I saw Ham around often and he'd say, "Hi," but little else. Then one morning Ham came into our room smiling broadly. He had shown my test to another director and together they'd shown it to Walt. I WAS TO START ANIMATING VERY SOON! HOLY COW! That sent the adrenalin shooting through me like crazy! My long-time goal had finally been reached.
A production titled, "The Barnyard Symphony", was readied for animation. Some S W animators, now free, were assigned to this farmyard musical, and several of us trainees were also given one scene to do. Mine was a massive bull in his stall, adding his beefy baritone to the vocal harmony of his barnyard companions. You might guess by the description this was no Oscar winner, in fact it was pretty mediocre. This was probably a short they'd developed and shelved, then dug out again to keep us all busy until something better was ready for production.
My scene wasn't much of a challenge, the bull merely stood in one place and bellowed out musically. The whole picture was pretty dull and there were few, if any, choice scenes done by anyone. However it was a start and Ham, soon to be directing "Ferdinand the Bull", had better things in mind for me. Ferdinand was about ready for production and those assigned to it were called into sweat-box to see bull-fight movies taken in Mexico City by one of the studio staff. Some scenes were disgustingly cruel and bloody, the bulls being allowed to gore the Picador's horses. It was stuff we'd have little use for in Ferdinand. Don Lusk, one of the three assistants on animal animation and I were moved into a four place room with Archy, who was still finishing up some S W scenes.
Then Kelly, a former story and sketch man moved in with us, hoping to leave story work and break into animation. Kelly was a bit different from most of us, coming from the east he always wore a full suit to work, with vest and bow tie. We dressed in a casual California style, sport shirt and slacks. Kelly sat working next to me, puffing happily on what we called a "chin-warmer", a pipe that curved down close to the chin.
I have often thought of Kelly working so diligently on his first animation, and how he later left Disney's, went to New York to become the famous Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo Possum and Albert Alligator, possibly the greatest comic strip of all time.
I picked up work on Ferdinand, scenes of young, hopeful bulls crashing head-on and slamming one another to the ground like human wrestlers. They were showing off to impress the men who had come to pick bulls for the big bull fights in Madrid.
I also animated scenes of Ferdinand, now fully grown, sauntering up to his spot under the cork tree where he sits down...ON AN ANGRY BEE! Stung, he takes off like he was jet-propelled, snorting madly and plowing up the ground with his horns. Don also animated on Ferdinand and while we worked on production, Kelly worked busily on an animation test scene of Pinocchio, which was to be our next feature picture.
Many animators worked on Ferdinand, so as a beginner I had just a few scenes. However, I was now animating and had a good chance to show what I could do. On Ferdinand I also received my first screen credit. Not yet having assistants, Don and I did our own clean-up and break-down work after our animation was okayed. This kept us busy until our next assignment, Pinocchio, was ready.
This came sooner than we expected and we again were moved to another part of the building and put in a unit with Eric Larsen as supervising animator, something new they were trying. Eric was scheduled to do the major portion of animation on Figaro, Geppetto's kitten and I was to animate on Figaro also. Don would be animating Cleo, Geppetto's goldfish.
Our unit was on the ground floor of the main building directly under Walt's office. We were near the main front entrance and could see all who came and went.
Walt Kelly also began animating, working on the funny clocks in Geppetto's workshop.
Now animating full time, the months flew by swiftly and when about finished with my portion of Figaro, it was again time for vacation....
When we returned from vacation, our unit moved once more in the Hyperion building, but Larsen's unit remained intact. Here we stayed until our big move to the new studio, now under construction in Burbank.
Don and I now rated assistants, and Wilbur Streech came to work with me. A little older than I, he was very personable, talented and friendly, a graduate of the UCLA College of Art.
On Beethoven's Pastoral, also directed by Ham Luske, I animated some of the Flying Horses and groups of Centaurs and Centaurettes dancing and parading about in their idyllic countryside.
Then came that great day...the big move to Burbank. We had all been out to watch the new studio in progress from time to time, but many had not yet been inside. We had quite a surprise ahead of us. Moving day was easy, all we did was put our belongings in labeled boxes and they were moved for us, leaving us happily at loose ends. Max Fleischer had successfully beaten Disney in releasing the first feature length animated cartoon, Gulliver came out just before we moved to Burbank.
Of course we were awfully anxious to move into the new studio, but also very curious to see what Gulliver looked like. Several of us decided to play hooky on moving day and go see Max's prideful effort. Gulliver had been rushed to completion and certainly showed it. Max's feature was definitely no competition to Snow White and the write-ups were very critical. Being first had been a rather dubious honor. Snow White followed later to resounding acclaim and we were all proud to have been a part of it.
Now in our grand new quarters on the first floor, section F, we were amazed and delighted. Each animator had a large carpeted and draped room, a fine large animation desk with shelves and drawers to spare and a side cabinet to hold a telephone, extra supplies and personal belongings. In each room was an easy chair in which to relax, or for use by visiting guests. Between two animator's rooms was one for their two assistants, with adjoining doors to each. On the lot was a large separate commissary for lunch or dinner, and a coffee shop across the hall from our unit, from which we could order and have delivered, sandwiches, milk shakes or anything else desired for lunch or afternoon refreshment. The main building had three stories, animation on the first floor, directors, story, layout, and projection rooms on the second and Walt's suite and business offices on the third. All so new and luxurious, it was difficult at first to get down to work. Also being by yourself with no assistant to converse with, took a little getting used to....
I had finished my work on Fantasia and was now busily animating on Bambi, but something ominous was happening at Disney's. That "old studio" sense of well-being and "all pulling together" was fast evaporating and a deep unrest crept over the place. Snow White and Fantasia were not bringing in the revenues expected and the expense of the huge new studio brought great financial problems.
From a distance of so many years, these studio troubles now all seem to meld together. Very disturbing things began to happen. The accounting department sent out constant annoying demands, such as our making out time consuming work record slips on all work done and in quadruplicate. We were becoming bookkeepers not artists.
Then they doubled us up, putting our assistants in the room with us. This we applauded, for now we had company while we worked. Next, someone needed something to deaden the sound in one of the sound stages, so the carpeting was suddenly stripped from our rooms. No explanations came with any of this, making everyone wonder what the hell was going on.
The other two major cartoon studios, Warner's and M G M, had already gone union and when rumors were heard of HIS people wanting to unionize, mighty bellows came from HIS OFFICE. No one was going to dictate salaries, hours and working conditions to HIM.
The unrest continued to worsen, rumors and exaggerated stories flew and spread like wild-fire. Ignored by some, many prayed it would just go away, but problems this big needed more than prayers. The studio's troubled finances soon brought scary rumors of layoffs and before long pink slips began to appear and people gradually left. Union meetings were being attended by more and more and it was soon necessary to find a larger hall. Things were getting worse....
... the trouble at Disney's grew also, but menacingly mean and ugly. The workers had polarized into two camps: "for" unionizing and "against". The latter were Disney elitists who would have no part of labor unions. Only a strike could now settle the dispute. It seems strange today, having been so anxious to work at Disney's, to then find myself ready to toss it all away by joining a union and striking. I can't explain the depth of ill feeling that had developed between management and worker, but I felt so sick at heart I began to care little whether I stayed there or not.
With others from our unit, I now felt compelled to continue attending union meetings. We heard grievances from many and we also found that Disney simply would not hold discussions with union leaders. The resolution of this dispute seemed virtually impossible, leaving us but one choice, we voted to strike.
Our complete unit, six animators, six assistants, plus in-betweeners and checkers, all went out, leaving no one inside, but Eric Larsen. Two of the studio's top animators, Art Babbitt and Bill Tytla struck also, as did other animators, assistants, layout and story men. A number of underpaid, disgruntled inkers and painters, all women, also went out on strike.
So in the summer of 1941 the strike was on. I had just picked up animation on "Wind In The Willows" from director Jack Kinney and when I walked out the scene was left on my desk.
This strike business was new to most of us, but we felt strong, very militant and we had the support of many other Hollywood movie unions. The Painters and Paper Hanger's Union sponsored us and gave us much help and encouragement. The other animation studios were behind us 100%.
A strike camp was set up across the street from Disney's where the hospital now stands. There we held meetings and ate lunches and dinners, furnished and prepared by union donations. Other unions wishing to show support donated money, for we were all without incomes. The union leaders had everything well organized and we all put in time helping in camp and picketing the studio entrances and theatres where Disney pictures were showing....
When we strikers ran out of money to make car and house payments, there was enough in the strike fund to make partial payments to each, but then we had the job of placating those to whom we owed the balance, and it took a good bit of persuasive talking, believe me.
The strike lasted three long months and we were getting mighty sick of it. There were rumors of Eleanor Roosevelt acting as mediator to help settle it, but I can't recall today just how it did end. Disney was finally forced to recognize the union, but he never forgave those who went out on strike....
Shortly after Jack's birth, some of the strikers received telegrams to return to work. I was one of them, yet somehow I wasn't overwhelmed with joy, except for having a new son. With a great deal of anxiety, I returned to the studio, went to 1-F-11 and found the scene from "Wind In The Willows" no longer on my desk. I looked in all the animators and assistant's rooms to say hello to someone, anyone, but no one was around. So I went back to my room and sat down, wondering what would happen next.
A short time later I received a call for all animators to come to a large projection rooms upstairs, for a meeting with Walt. With heightened anxiety I left my room, stopping by the lavatory on the way, then climbed the stairs to the second floor. When I entered the projection room, already seated was a large group of non-strikers, gayly talking and laughing, only a couple nodded a "hello" to me as I came in and sat down.
Though they may have been there, I saw no other animator who'd been out on strike. I could have used a little company about then. There I sat, feeling very much alone and out of place. What sarcastic blast might Walt direct toward me or any other striker when he saw us at the meeting? I had heard his tirades against unions and strikers was something to stay far away from, so I felt just like someone waiting for the roof to cave in.
We waited nearly an hour...to me it seemed like eternity, when suddenly the phone rang. Ward Kimball picked it up, listened, then put it down again. "Walt can't make it, he's tied up," he announced.
What a relief! Never before, was I so happy NOT to see anyone. I walked back to my room and collapsed in my easy chair, wondering what was next. But I didn't have long to wait, a messenger soon came with an envelope, and as I tore it open, I was almost sure what was inside...it
Being fired had come as no great surprise to me. Having heard how Walt felt about unions and strikers, I was certain we'd all get the axe sooner or later. I couldn't help wondering, however, why I had been called back after the strike. I knew Eric Larsen still occupied his room, but I had found no others in our unit that morning. Why was I brought back, just to be fired again? At least now I would never have to worry about an unpleasant confrontation with an angry Walt Disney.
I read my "walking papers" again. It said to remove all personal belongings and leave as soon as possible, the guard at the gate would check us out. The first thing I did was call home. Joslynn was not as surprised nor upset by the bad news as I thought she'd be, saying not to worry, we had each other and our new little son. I said I'd be home shortly and began cleaning out my desk.
A half hour later I left room I-F-11 for the last time. Walking down the hallway I saw no one, until Art Babbitt came out of his unit, also carrying his personal belongings. We both gave a hollow, mirthless little laugh.
"You got it, too," he said and we walked out the entrance and down the avenue toward our cars. On the way Art told me of his plans for a legal battle with Disney. He sued for reinstatement later and won, returning once more to work. Sometime later Art again left, this time voluntarily and for good. In the parking lot we shook hands, wished each other good luck and drove out.
On the way home the full impact of my present situation hit me. Married now, with wife, one child and a dog, I had four mouths to feed and no job.
Today I'm not sure just why I didn't try other studios for work, but the three month long strike and my brief return to Disney's had left me with such bad feelings about the business, I wanted to get away from studios and even drawing for awhile....
When the strike ended, Herb Sorrell, a Painter's Union boss, said if we didn't return to work at Disney's, they'd see we got jobs painting in the shipyards. Hundreds of much needed cargo ships were being built down in San Pedro and Long Beach Harbors and working there meant a very long drive, but it would be a daytime job....
When I had worked at the shipyard for eight or nine months, a call came from the M G M cartoon studio, offering me an animation job. I was quite interested at first, but after considerable thought, decided to stay in defense work until the war was over. Now with a family, I wanted to take no chance on being drafted. When I returned the call to M G M, I talked with Bill Hannah, who was very kind and understanding....
A month or so later I received another call, this time from the Leon Schlessinger studio, whose cartoons were released by Warner Brothers. When I returned the call, I talked with one of their directors, Friz Freleng, who wanted to meet and have a talk with me. I told him of my present job, about having to get four other men to San Pedro and back each day, and he was kind enough to meet with me on a Saturday at the Warner studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
I liked Friz immediately. Showing me the storyboard of his current picture, he went through the whole story for me. It was a satire on Little Red Ridinghood, a very funny treatment of the old fairy tale and something the directors there did so cleverly. Unfortunately Friz needed a layout man and I had had no experience in layout work. We talked for quite awhile and he then asked me if I thought I could get hold of some animation I'd done for Disney.
I called Dave Hand, head director on Bambi, the following Monday, asking if there was any chance of my getting a reel of animation I'd done there. I told him what I wanted it for. "Sure, Jack," he said, "where shall I send it?" I asked him to send it directly to Friz Freleng at Warner's, and a couple days later it was delivered. I thought it mighty decent of Dave to do this for me, he apparently didn't hold any bitterness toward us strikers like Walt and was willing to help someone who needed work. He had also known Friz from earlier Disney days, when both had worked with Walt.
A few days later Friz called me. "When can you come to work as an animator?" he asked. Now after a little more than a year in the shipyards, I was admittedly quite anxious to get back to drawing and animation again. My changing jobs was okay with the draft board, as the film industry was now also deferred from military service....
So, after not having done a bit of drawing for over a year and a half, I was back in animation again. But unfortunately, like my early days "trying-out" at Disney's, I once again found drawing difficult for me. That old problem of getting hand and brain to coordinate plagued me badly.
Then another problem arose, I had been animating animals only at Disney's, and as four legged creatures. Here at Schlessinger's, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the others, though animal characters, were animated as humans, something really quite different for me. I had to work very hard to overcome these problems and thank heavens Friz was patient with me.
Friz soon seemed satisfied enough with my animation to put me on his screen credit list. Here at this studio, only one animator was given screen credit on each cartoon short. And in each of the four animation units, as your name came up on the list, you then got sole credit for the next picture completed, like you'd animated the entire picture yourself. Oddly enough, after I was put on the credit list, the first picture on which my name appeared, was one on which I had not done one single drawing. I couldn't quite understand that.
Leon Schlessinger used to come around and hand out the checks each week himself. He retired while I was there and sold out to Warner Brothers, who as new owners, renovated the studio somewhat. It was much nicer now, but nothing like Disney's new studio in Burbank.
I remained there animating Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd and their other friends for two years.
During my time there we also animated a series of war-time training films. Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss and famous for his books for children, came to Warner's to supervise these army films. As an Army Major he was in charge of this SNAFU series we did. These little shorts, titled from the army saying, Situation Normal, All Fouled Up, pointed up many things a G I should know or needed to learn. One scene that I recall animating was a G I shooting off his mouth to the wrong people. They were teaching the necessity of keeping one's mouth shut and not blabbing to strangers, who might be the enemy. My scene was the loose mouthed G I, whose oral cavity suddenly turns into a cannon as he blasts out information he's not supposed to tell anyone....
Near the end of my two years at Warner's, I became acquainted with Jim Davis through another animator at Warner's, Gil Turner. Gil had been a top animator there for years and had later become interested in a new field of work for cartoonists, now in its infancy, comic books. There were some poorly done comics being published in the east. Jim Davis, who had also done animation for the Fleischer studios in Florida, got interested in this new field and convinced an eastern publisher, Sangor, to let him buy better work from animators out west, for his comic books.
This idea turned out so well, Sangor set Jim up out here and he was soon supplying Sangor's several magazines with better drawn and funnier comic book material.
Gil had been doing an occasional comic book strip for Jim in his spare time and one day at lunch with them, I asked Jim about the work. He suggested I work up a story and show it to him. I wrote and roughly sketched up a little different twist on the old Tortoise and Hare story, and Jim okayed it to draw up and send east. [see story]
First, however, I had to buy a drawing stand on which to work at home. I still have that stand and have done thousands of pages of comics on it since.
With my Tortoise and Hare strip accepted, I was now animating by day and doing comic book work evenings and weekends. The extra money looked pretty good to us.
Besides doing the drawing and inking on the strips, I found I could write my own stories. Only the lettering was done by someone else. There were only six panels to a page then, and with an occasional double panel it made only five. For story, plus drawing and inking, we were paid $15 a page, not much, but a seven page strip done twice a month brought in an extra $210. With that and my animation salary, things were looking pretty good.
To my great surprise, I found I had a knack for writing these simple little stories.
Years ago, in the early days at Disney's, everyone was encouraged to contribute gags and story ideas for the shorts. A brief story outline was sometimes handed out, and any studio employee, even janitors, could turn in story ideas and gags for extra money. Once a week, after work on Friday, everyone gathered in the big soundstage and checks were handed out to those whose gags were good enough to use.
At that time I seemed to have no ability to create ideas. I had come to draw and learn to animate, and the idea of working on gags seemed unnecessary to me. Though I'd not hand in anything, I'd go watch the lucky ones pick up an extra $5, $10 or even $15 for their ideas. Making a mere $15 a week at the time, you'd think I would have tried harder to make an extra buck or two, but I'd read their outlines and my mind would be blank. Somehow it didn't inspire me to create gags or story ideas.
That's why writing comic book stories years later with no difficulty, was such a surprise to me. Of course, this was about nine years later and having been exposed to funny stuff so long, it must have fertilized my creative processes and something was bound to sprout. Anyhow, Jim liked both my story ideas and drawing style and I continued doing as much as I had time for.
As I continued doing work for Jim, I used all kinds of animals in my stories. Later, one of my favorites was Stanley Stallion. A horse character was a bit unusual, as no one cared to draw horses, but I did. Several animators at Warner's were now doing occasional strips and we'd bring them in to show each other before dropping them off at Jim's office. My horse character created quite a little interest and several of the directors came in to see the strip. Frank Tashlin, a director who later left Warner's to direct some Bob Hope movies, got a big bang out of my horse Stanley.
Being war-time, Jim Davis was also doing war-work. He was supervising an animated sequence in a psychological training film being done at the small Carey-Weston studio not far from Warner's. It was here we'd meet with Jim and submit our comic book work.
They needed animators at Carey-Weston and Jim asked me if I'd be interested in working with them, it would mean about $45 more a week than I got at Warner's.
I had to think about this quite awhile. I liked working with Friz Freleng and he'd been so helpful getting me back into animation again. Ray Patin, a former Disney animator now at Warner's, and at that time president of the Screen Cartoonists Guild, was also offered a job with Davis.
To switch jobs like this in war-time was now getting more difficult to do. There had been too much job-hopping, so anyone being deferred from military service by working in essential industries, could not change from one job to another, without appearing before a draft board and explaining why they were doing so.
Ray and I talked it over. He too, had been doing comic book work on the side and felt like I did, when the war was over we'd both probably do comic books full time. We then conferred with Bill Pomerance, business agent for the Cartoonists Guild. Bill checked out the Carey-Weston studio and found we would have no trouble making this change. He said he'd appear at the Draft Board and state our case for us.
I then had a talk with Friz, wanting him to understand why I was leaving. He had seen some of my comics and knew I had become very interested in this new field. He also knew what that extra $45 a week would mean to me, now having two kids.
Ray and I appeared before the Draft Board and with the help of Bill Pomerance, were granted permission to move to Carey-Weston. This turned out later to be a very good move for several reasons, the most important being that Warner's closed down completely toward the war's end and many of their employees came to Carey-Weston looking for work. Cartoon shorts were expensive to make, and with the coming of Snow White, a feature length cartoon, the tolling of the death knell for shorts was sounded in Hollywood.
Carey-Weston was a small studio, a private concern owned and operated by two men. They had contracted to do an animated sequence for a movie directed by Irving Pichel, a well known Hollywood director. This was a strange psychological picture, on which I animated scenes that had to do with a G I's physical reaction to mental fear and stress in wartime.
The Carey-Weston studio had office areas in front and upstairs and sound stages in the back. An expert sound man had leased one of their small sound stages and was developing an advanced sound system. He died not many years later, but his fine sound system was highly rated and became very well known and used among the film companies, In the far back was a large soundstage that was rented out by the day, week, month or for an entire production. Sometimes after a movie was completed, a few scenes needed to be added or retakes made, so the producing company might rent the soundstage from this smaller studio, do the scenes cheaper here and save money. It was interesting to occasionally take a few minutes off from work and watch how live movie scenes were done.
We occupied a few of the offices downstairs while animating, and when the picture was finished we moved upstairs out of the way and worked on comic books until another job came in....
While working on our comics, Jim had been busy scrounging around for work, and surprised us one day by bringing in an animated picture for us to do. This was for Cathedral Films, a religious picture company in Hollywood that made films for rental purposes. Jim had convinced them they needed a nice sweet little cartoon picture in their rental inventory. If I remember correctly, the story was done by Hube Karp, Mike Maltese and Warren Foster. The latter two had been in the story department at Warner's. It was about the coming of Spring and its effect on all the little wild animals.
The group working on animation included, Ken Hultgren, Al Hubbard, Gil Turner, Ray Patin, Lynn Karp, Jim Davis and me. A pretty fair batch of animators. Jim asked me to direct the thing, something I'd not done before, but between the two of us we managed somehow to get it done. Jim took care of recording the dialogue, getting the very talented June Foray to do many of the voices and I timed out the action on exposure sheets and handed out the scenes. When finished, the picture looked pretty good, at least the Cathedral Film people seemed quite pleased with it.
When finishing up the Cathedral picture, the horrible, but decisive atomic bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended abruptly. Our thoughts turned immediately to comic books and working at home, something we'd all looked forward very much to doing.
So we did just that, and I enjoyed getting away from studio connections and having to drive from Glendale to Hollywood and back every day. After just a brief go at this, however, Jim called to see if I'd like to share an office somewhere with Hube Karp and him. In visualizing the idyllic fantasy of working at home, we'd all forgotten we had noisy young kids running loose around the house. A quiet office away somewhere now sounded like an excellent idea.
First we rented a small empty real estate office between Glendale and Montrose, but it had no protection from fire or theft. So we looked elsewhere and found suitable space in Montrose, the community in which both Jim and Al Hubbard lived.
Ken Hultgren was top man in our comic book group, but preferred working at home. He wrote his own stories and could knock out the art work in half the time it took the rest of us. The editor in New York had been buying Ken's work for quite some time and liked it enough to pay him the princely sum of $25 a page.
Even though the rest of us were getting only $15 a page, I was doing fine because I also wrote my own stories and drew fairly fast. Money-wise I was doing much better than I ever had in animation. Bob Wickersham, Gil Turner, Ray Patin, Al Hubbard and Lynn Karp had all left animation and now did comics for Jim, all working at home. After awhile Jim felt that both Wick and I deserved a higher page rate and requested that the eastern office raise us both, which they did. Now at $25 a page I was really doing well....
One day, Jim, Hube and I decided to leave Montrose and look for offices in downtown Glendale. We found suitable second floor space right on Brand Boulevard, the main street in Glendale and we settled in. Having plenty of room, Al Hubbard joined us also. Ken still preferred working at home, but we'd see him every day for lunch. Hube was living out in the San Fernando Valley, as was his brother Lynn, who also remained working at home.
Again it was great working all together, each could come and go as he pleased with no restraints, but we still turned out plenty of comic book pages every week....
Back at work one day, I ran into Ham Luske in downtown Glendale. Ham was my old director friend and mentor from Disney's. He asked me if I'd consider coming back to the studio. I was quite surprised, for although six years had elapsed since the strike, he must have known how Walt felt about strikers. I would have been animating for Ham mostly perhaps, but what would happen if and when good ol' Walt discovered I was one of those "rats" who'd struck HIS precious studio? It wasn't worth the risk, besides I now made much more with comic books than I would have back at Disney's.
One advantage to going back would have been the retirement pay. Free-lancing I'd receive no retirement at all, but peace of mind and freedom from ulcers were worth more to me than returning to Disney's. It had become a prime ulcer factory and I had no regrets for having left there.
We "comic bookers" were very happy working in the offices on Brand, but unfortunately had to move, as the building was about to be modernized. We then found office space just a block's distance away. This was another building being renovated. It had been an old hotel and was in the process of being converted to offices....
Comic book sales had fallen off drastically and the small publishers, like Sangor, were dropping out, leaving only the big boys such as National Comics and Western, who published for Disney. Once again it was "what to do" time. I was quite certain I could get work at Western, being well acquainted with art editor, Tom McKimson, formerly an animator at Warner's. I also had had a lot of experience drawing all the Disney characters.
Since the strike, several Disney men had gone into magazine cartoons, some of them quite successfully: Vip Partch, Dick Shaw, Claude Smith, Sam Cobean, Don Tobin and Roy Williams.
If I went to Western and did Disney comics, it would mean considerably less money. They paid eighteen dollars a page for drawing and inking and it was a larger, eight panel page, using their stories only. Working for them, it would also be necessary to drive clear to Beverly Hills to get my pencil work okayed before inking, a time consuming, much slower process than Sangor's. I was used to writing a story, drawing and inking it and Jim would send it east. Less time wasted, more money.
Before going with Western, I decided to work at home awhile and try magazine cartoons. I still had some money in the bank to carry me for awhile. First, I went to work on gag ideas and though I'd had good success with comic book stories, gags for magazine cartoons were a completely different thing. I studied all the magazines carefully to see what they were buying and tried to slant my humor their way. When a good batch was written and roughs drawn, I started mailing them off several at a time. And as they were rejected and returned, I'd send them off again to other magazines. It kept me busy keeping track of where each was sent, so as not to mail it to the same place twice. Editors hated that.
After several months of "no sales" I had to admit defeat. I just didn't have that kind of gag mind and a different and funny enough style of cartooning. Then, just when I thought I'd have to give up and try Western, something surprising happened.
I received a letter from Jack Sewall, a former Disney artist, striker and fellow shipyard worker. He had originally come from New York and returned there after the war. Looking for work back there, he had seen some of the old Sangor comic book people and was given a message for Lynn Karp and me. Under new management, the company was trying to get back into the market again. The new editor, Joe Greene, wanted us to get in touch with him immediately. We did and the result was our going back to work for them, at least for awhile.
Somewhat earlier I had done a comic book story for them about a young kid out west called Spunky, who had a talking horse named Stanley. Editor Joe Greene said he wanted to try a series just on this kid and his horse, was I interested? I sure was! Immediately I began writing stories and sending them in drawn full size, but on tracing paper. And as fast as they were okayed and returned, I ink-traced them and sent them back. Money coming in again looked mighty good.
Joe had lots of stories for Lynn to do, so he would be kept busy also. At this time Lynn decided he'd like to try working away from home. He and Ann had a baby boy and things were not as quiet around the house as before. We rented office space on the second floor of a building in downtown Burbank, which was about half way between our two homes. We had just gotten started when I got a call from Ray Patin, with whom I'd left Warner's and gone to work for Jim. Ray now ran a small commercial animation studio of his own and asked me to join him. I might have done so and tried animating again, if this Spunky book hadn't come along, but I had committed myself to Joe Greene and rented work space with Lynn in Burbank.
For quite a few months we worked happily doing our strips for Joe. They were very pleased with the Spunky material and I was most happy to be doing it, but it didn't last long enough. It was a tough market out there and their distribution was not at all good. I often had difficulty finding new issues of Spunky on the magazine stands. A few months later it stopped dead again, the comic book market was just too tough for them.
This time out of work, I went directly to Western, I'd fooled around long enough and needed a long-term, steady income.......
At Western, Tom McKimson was very cordial and receptive, he welcomed anyone who knew and could draw the Disney characters well. I picked up a Donald Duck/and Nephews story, and my years working for Western had begun.
It was slow and discouraging at first, not making the money I had before, but I gradually adjusted to their ways and began making better time and before long I was also doing coloring books.
Bob Clampett, a director I'd known at Warner's, developed a kid's TV show of his own after Warner's closed, called "Time For Beany." This was a half hour, hand puppet show and it became very popular. It later won the top TV award, the "Emmy." Exploiting the success of "Beany" meant publishing comic and coloring books of the show's characters and when Bob signed a contract with Western, he stipulated that I do the art work for him.
I now had plenty of work to do and my job at Western became more enjoyable and better paying. Tom also asked me to do a Bugs Bunny Golden Book. On this I did the page layouts and pencil drawing, another artist did the finished color work.
Working for Western on the ever-popular Disney characters had turned out much better than I'd thought it would. And though I missed that free and easy way of working with Jim, I now felt I was on solid ground again.
As I had learned the Warner studio way of animating, I had now adjusted to Western's more controlled way of doing comic books and having an adequate and steady income once more, all was well with my world....
[Many years and many comic pages later]
...the bottom again dropped out of the comic book business. The market had become glutted with comics of all kinds, sales had gradually fallen off and publishing was drastically curtailed. Disney comics were hit just as hard as the rest and the writers and artists with Western were soon out of work. This happened quite suddenly and unexpectedly, working at home I'd had no warning until it happened. ...
Luckily, after a few months of "handy-manning" around the place, I received great news: The Disney comics were making a comeback, European countries had discovered them and now wanted all they could get. I was back working again.
The studio took over the whole operation from Western and we now got our story material directly from Disney's and submitted our art work to a new art editor there. I continued sending my work in by mail, but occasionally drove in to have lunch with the art editor and other comic book men.
It seemed quite strange going back to the Burbank studio again and I stopped in to visit old friends a few times. Although very nostalgic, I felt no desire to be back in animation again. I was a comic book man now, and seemed to have lost my interest in animation.
But comic books had been good to me. The business had had its ups and downs, but so had animation. We would never have been able to live at the ocean if I'd stayed in a studio, and I wouldn't have missed that for anything....
Looking back, as I'm sure we are all prone to do when nearing the end of the line, we tend to reflect on our past mistakes and the few things we think we may have done right.
I truly enjoyed my boyhood years and going to school in Seattle, but I shall never regret having left there when I did, for there were so few jobs available at that time.
And I shall always treasure my early years at Disney's, where I learned how to draw and make animated cartoons. I was very happy there for several years when everyone had such great hopes and expectations for a bright and happy future. But somehow too many bugs found their way into the formula and our grand dreams were spoiled.
My years at Disney's developed what talent I had, into a drawing skill that enabled me to make a living with it, something I had always hoped I could do, and something for which I shall always be grateful to Disney's. They made it possible for me to animate, not only on Disney pictures, but on Bugs Bunny for Friz Freleng at Warner's as well. And later to do the comic books I drew for so many, many years.
At the same time, however, I do not regret for one moment, having left Disney's when the situation became too unpleasant to live with. Had I stayed, I might have become a better animator and enjoyed a nice retirement pension, something I do not now have. But life has its little trade-offs. With the Disney job and its retirement fund, came much stress and often ulcers for many. At Warner's and for years later doing comic books, I did not get retirement pay, but I did get a less stressful, more healthy and certainly happier way of life. I chose the latter because it suited me best.
I am glad, too, for having put in a year at the shipyard, even though my hearing was badly impaired by the ear-splitting din of chipping guns on the metal ships....
Today, nearly sixty years have passed since that day I hopped on the bus for California and prayed I could become a part of the fast-rising Disney cartoon phenomenon. But as I look back, I am not at all unhappy with how it all turned out, nor with the fact that I later left animation.