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The 'Charlotte' Papers — Part 1

Gene Deitch continues the hairy tails of eventually not making Charlottes Web.

For Deitch, the ultimate lesson in Charlottes Web is devotion to another magnifies ones self.

For Deitch, the ultimate lesson in Charlottes Web is devotion to another magnifies ones self.

An excerpt from Gene Deitchs How to Succeed in Animation (Dont Let a Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).

Here is the complete documentation of possibly my greatest creative loss. But my loss was nothing compared to what befell E.B. Andy White. Letters from him and his wife indicate the depressing effect the debacle had on his health. I know one thing for sure. No one ever saw the storyboard we created. No one rejected it. It was irrelevant to the powers that ignored it.

Charlotte began spinning with all eight legs. Right off the bat, Andy White started sending me some wonderful material. I can never be sure that he would have accepted my screenplay of his book; he was obviously put off by what little he saw of my preliminary development. But I believe that if only I was allowed to work with him personally, on the basis of our positive personal relationship, that the small conflicts could have been worked out, compromise could have been arrived at, and a far truer version of his work would have reached the screen.

Under the titles of course, would be seen the slow, diligent weaving of an entire spider web. In developing this idea, which I am happy that you like, I would like to see the spider rest from time to time, moving off to the side, pausing as if to survey the work in progress. And once, when a strand of the web is drawn askew, thus breaking the otherwise perfect symmetry, the spider actually undoes the line, and re-spins it to conform to the overall pattern! In this action, we are suddenly aware of a consciousness, a personality.

Then, when the titles are at last over, and the web is complete, a pure thin voice, speaking a disciplined New England dialect, would be heard to say:

Its not bad, really. But I expect I will do better still before I am done.

Without our yet knowing it, this line would tell us in advance the whole story of our film, and the determination of its heroine.

Then we would pull away from the glistening new spider web, and begin a visual/musical poem on the annual renewal of life, which is spring.

In addition to the dramatic/structural premise I have chosen, I would add what I feel to be the overlaying parallel themes of the story; the expression of the interdependence of all individuals to one another, (friendship), and of all to the land, (ecology). The story is in fact a paean to Life, and the film too must convey a feeling of joy of life, and an acceptance of its patterns. Further, the story impels tolerance for other ways of life, (and by inference, other cultures). After all, we are dealing with a PIG who sloppily slurps garbage, a RAT who scavenges anything he can get for himself, and a SPIDER who drinks blood.

Well, these are some excerpts from 12 pages of notes, which I have typed up so far. Also, I have collected some very interesting samples from several artists here, and am waiting impatiently for Mike Campuss arrival to either confirm or condemn my basic filmic approach. He should be here any day, according to his last phone call. Then, I hope I will really be off on the great adventure.

As I said before, I will be in need of any and all photographic material, as detailed as possible, dealing with New England farm life. In the meantime, Zdenka and I wish you and Kay the very happiest of new years. Now, I must run to the snow before the corner post office closes for the year (its Dec 31st by now!) Lets hope that during the next year, more people will get a little sip from those front teats! (Gene)

To read more about Genes adventures in the animation world, visit Genes online book.

Gene Deitch is one of the last surviving members of the original Hollywood UPA studio of 1946 and the instigator of the CBS-Terrytoon renaissance of 1956-1958. He was also: animation department chief of the Detroit Jam Handy Organization; 1949-1951, creative chief of UPA-New York, 1951-1954; director at John Hubleys Storyboard, Inc., New York, 1955; president of Gene Deitch Associates, Inc., New York, 1958-1960; creative director for Rembrandt Films, 1960-1968; and star director for Weston Woods Studios, Inc., Weston, Connecticut, 1968-1993. He has worked for more than 40 years with the Prague animation studio, Bratri v Triku.