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Birthdays: P.T. Barnum, Beatrix Potter the creator of Peter Rabbit, film director Jean Cocteau, Admiral David Farragut, avant garde animator Len Lye, Huey Lewis, Milburn Stone (Doc on Gunsmoke), Warren Oates, Edie Falco-aka Carmela Soprano

1935- The Wagner Act passed Congress, decreeing all American workers have the right to collective bargaining and to form unions, and that you could not be punished or fired for wanting a union. Dave Fleischer in retirement complained often that the Wagner Act prevented him from firing those pesky strikers he felt were ruining his studio. When Walt Disney fired animator Art Babbitt for agitating for a union, the Wagner Act was invoked to get him re-hired.

1954- Tomoyuki Tanaka announced the beginning of production on the movie Godzilla, called in Japanese Kohjira. The name is a combination of Gorilla and Whale. The famous roar was done with the modified sound of a bear followed by smearing a riff on an upright string bass fiddle using a rubber dishwashing glove.
-------------------------------poster courtesy of movieposters.com------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yesterday I had lunch in Taipei with James Wang, the president and founder of Cuckoos Nest Animation. When the President Emeritus of the Hollywood Animation Guild and the head of one of the largest animation studios in Asia get together, what did we discuss? Global trade? Protectionism? No, we talked about Raggedy Ann.

We recalled how we all began together thirty years ago in New York City. It was the Bicentennial Summer of 1976. Operation Sail was in New York Harbor, Disco Duck on the radio, Disney studios was finishing up the Rescuers, Bakshi was beginning the Lord of the Rings, Hanna & Barbera was doing Scooby Doo.

In New York City Pat Thackeray and Joe Raposo had written a Broadway musical about the Raggedy Ann dolls of Johnny Gruelle. in 1914 Gruelle entertained his fatally ill daughter by making up stories about her rag dollies. Raposo was the composer of the theme music of Sesame Street and hits like "Its Not Easy Being Green." They convinced Broadway impresarios Richard Horner and Lester Osterman to bring the musical to the screen via animation. The deep pockets of IT&T were to fund the project. UPA veteran Abe Levitow was set to direct and Shamus Culhane to manage the production. But Levitow died suddenly and Culhane withdrew after creative disagreements. Academy Award winning director Richard Williams was brought in to head the productions. He create a Shangri-La of quality animation in New York and an amazing opportunity for young talent not seen in Manhattan since the days of Max and Dave Fleischer.

Listen to the animators roster: Grim Natwick the creator of Betty Boop, Art Babbitt the creator of Goofy, Tissa David one of John Hubley's top animators backed by young assistant Eric Goldberg, Gerry Chinniquy the animator who defined Yosemite Sam assisted by Barney Posner, who cleaned up Ken Muses animation of Jerry the Mouse dancing with Gene Kelly, Emery Hawkins the great Warners animator assisted by Dan Haskett, UPA stalwart Willis Pyle, Corny Cole, John Kimball, Art Vitello, Jerry Dvorak, Warren Batchelor, John Bruno who would win an Oscar for the visual effects for James Camerons True Lies, Crystal Russell, later Klabunde, Jim Logan, Doug Crane, Tom Roth and more. Dick Williams himself animated many key scenes of Grandpa and Raggedy Andy.

For us young artists just starting this was the greatest constellation of animation talent seen outside of the Mouse Factory. Young artists getting their first big breaks included future Warner director Russell Calabrese, Future Simpsons title animator Kevin Petrilak, Future Beavis & Butthead director Carol Millican, future interactive games pioneer Glen Entis, director-animator Gian Celestri, future Oscar nominee and studio head Michael Sporn ( our head of cleanup), Sue Kroyer,Dave Block, Lester "Skeets" Pegues, Louis Scarborough, William Frake III, Judy Levitow, Peggy Tonkonogy, Mitch Rochon, Sheldon Cohen, Alissa Mayerson, Patty Hoyt, Ellen Cooper, Judy Hans, James Davis, Jeffrey Gatrall, Karen Marjoibanks, Harold Brown, John Butterworth, Karen Peterson, Claire Williams, and many many more. The production was administered in New York by Bakshi veteran Cosmo Anzilotti and in LA by Carl Bell.

Watching on the sidelines writing a book about the effort was future Oscar winner and writer John Canemaker.

Then in Spring 1977 the film was done and the studio disappeared. Dick returned to the Thief in London and the rest of us scattered. I bought a Camel with the Wrinked Knees doll at the Odd Job Traders second hand store. So much for merchandising. I still have it today. Raggedy Ann & Andy was not a blockbuster success, but it did make memories for many children.

And it was a lasting memory for us. James Wang and I laughed and reminisced. For us animation folks, we will never forget that summer of '76 when Raggedy Ann was our common mother. No matter where we all go, we have that shared experiance. We were young, full of potential, and could conquer the world. The Cartoon World, anyway. Such crews existed before- The Iron Giant Crew, the Ferngully Crew, the Roger Rabbitt Crew. I hope you some day experience the camraderie of such a group. So I send out a greeting around the world to my Raggedy bros. and sisters.

As Ann herself said :" It was real for shure strange!"


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