Gene Deitchs Charlottes Web starts to go south as Bill Snyder writes a letter that turns E.B. White sour on the project.
An excerpt from Gene Deitchs How to Succeed in Animation (Dont Let a Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).
Just when the good vibrations had me enthralled, who had to pee in the soup but none-other than good ol Bill Snyder. The following letter, full of bombast and falsehoods, was enough to turn off Henry White totally. Now he not only had his fear of producing behind the iron curtain, but possible trouble from a blowhard like Snyder. I got a copy of this letter from Mike Campus, who was confronted with it by White. Mike refuted it point by point, but who listens to facts when fear rules his heart?
Mr. Henry White Sagittarius Productions 375 Park Avenue New York, New York
Dear Mr. White:
I am astonished by your letter of January 18th which did not reach my eyes until my return from California.
These are the facts:
That at a meeting with you arranged by Seymour Mayer, I urged you to abandon the ridiculous idea of making Charlottes Web in Copenhagen and suggested that you produce same in conjunction with me through facilities that I had available in Prague and under the direction of Gene Deitch.
That upon your request, I sent you samples of several cartoons that I had produced in Prague, prints that you have yet to return.
That you phoned me several days later and asked for another meeting to explore my suggestion further.
That at this second meeting, in the presence of Mr. Edgar Bronfman, we arranged to meet in Prague on a specific day.
That subsequently you advised me that a Mr. Mike Campus would meet with me instead of yourself.
That Mr. Campus arrived in Prague several days in advance of our scheduled meeting and, after a series of frantic phone calls, I arranged for him to meet with Gene Deitch and explore the facilities I had suggested and could arrange.
That Mr. Campus met with Mr. Deitch, initiated a private deal with Deitch, and when Deitch asked what the position of Snyder was, told Deitch, Dont worry about Snyder, we will take care of him, or words to that effect.
That upon my arrival in Prague, after the departure of Campus, I initiated an arrangement with Czechoslovak State Film for their facilities for the production of Charlottes Web.
That you subsequently pursued independently with Czechoslovak State Film your own arrangements that would exclude my participation.
That all of the above actions are unethical, illegal and prejudicial to my relationship with Czechoslovak State Film, which has existed for more than 20 years.
I await a prompt response to the above.
Very truly yours,
William L. Snyder WLS/ab cc: Mr. Seymour Mayer Mr. Edgar Bronfman
Mirko Hanák's model of Fern.
Two obvious facts were that my contract with Snyder had ended in 1967, and that Snyder owed so much money to Czechoslovak Filmexport that he was virtually run out of town, and could only continue to produce if he paid off his enormous debt, and paid cash in advance for any future production. When Henry White, wanting to check out the production conditions in Prague met with Snyder, Bill immediately saw gold, as he did in 1968 with Morton Schindel. He quickly began to weave his own web. Henry White immediately blamed Campus for getting him into what appeared to be a troubled scene, and started to undermine our project. I was apparently still in, but the production in Prague looked less and less likely.
Mike had to convey to me two pieces of bad news. 1) I was forbidden to show any more of my script or discuss my treatment with E.B. White, and 2) Mike was leaving me and going to Copenhagen to direct a film. I dispatched a registered letter to Henry White, pointing out that I would henceforth be working in the dark, with no feedback from the author, and no counseling or approvals from my producer! I pointed out to him that the studio was turning away work from the following year in order to make room for Charlotte. This was the curt reply:
SAGITTARIUS PRODUCTIONS INC.
375 PARK AVE. - NEW YORK, N.Y. 10022-758
HENRY S. WHITE cable SAGITTAR, N.Y.
president May 3, 1971
Mr. Gene DeitchMostecka 273BPrague 1, Czechoslovakia
This is in response to your registered letter of 26th April.
It is suggested that you continue working with your sketch artists on the storyboard with the laudable intention of completing these elements by the agreed upon date. We shall look forward to seeing it.
We think you and the studio are making a mistake in rejecting or delaying all other projects through the end of 1972 because of the expectation that Charlottes Web will be produced in Prague.
To date we have complied with all our contractual obligations and made all the payments which have come due. We cannot and will not be rushed into a final production commitment at this time. If this means that you and the studio wish to make other commitments, we can only urge you to do so.
We do not wish to commit ourselves any further to Czechoslovak Filmexport at this time. Our major objective is to keep all of our options open. It may well turn out that with this material in hand, we could develop a satisfactory arrangement on this side of the Iron Curtain.
We hope all of this is clear.
Cordially, (Henry White)
Crystal clear. And I loved that cordially. Not only must I not show any more of my adaptation development to Andy, but I must not even tell him I must not! Andy was confused, and he developed a fear that I was going to turn his book into a musical. He did not know that I was ordered by Sagittarius to create songs. But my songs were to be background, voice-over songs, and not sung by the characters. My hands were effectively tied.
Gene Deitch Mostecká 273/B Prague 1, Czechoslovakia
Mike sort of panicked when I told him that I had sent you a few trial pages of script, and he asked me not to mail the answer I had written you, (in answer to yours of March 10th and llth).
In the meantime, Mike himself is having some pretty hard times on his other (live-action) feature film, and I feel rather uncomfortable about being out of touch with you. The fact is that your comments and criticisms were extremely helpful to me, and as a result o£ them, I started over again.
Now I have finished the entire screenplay, and am working on the visual storyboard version. I honestly believe that I have been true to the meaning and spirit of your book. The fact is that I love Charlottes Web. You may or may not be able to picture the problem of adapting a book, however perfect in its own terms, to the complex medium of film.
Only one fact will help you to understand the basic starting problem: Your own sure and true reading of the book on to phonograph records takes three hours and 20 minutes, give or take a groove or two. Our film must hold to a running time of just 90 minutes. This, plus the inherent nature of the motion picture medium, requires adaptations, which are difficult to explain to an author. The aim however, in my view, is not to mimic the book, nor to create a substitute for the book, but to illuminate the book, supplement the book, and at best to lead people (who havent) to want to read the book, to hopefully get more out of reading. Or, having read the book, to help them appreciate the book all the more; to underline what is in the book, and not to add something unnecessarily which is not in the book. At least, those are my aims.
I hate to spoil your image of me, but the fact is that I am a word man too. I love words, and I know that part of this story of yours is to show the power and effectiveness of the written word. Your words are beautiful, and I have maintained as many of them as I possibly could.
I imagine that what you would really like is if somehow your whole book, word for word could be transferred to the screen, just as you transferred it to those record grooves. But Andy, I am sure you would be disappointed in such a film if you saw it. What I aim to do is to use a combination of your words, with images) movement, juxtapositions, music and sounds, to project the essence of the book, within our financial and technical means. No film can ever realize a 100% of our dreams in planning it, but what is important is our aim. If it is high enough, even if we fall somewhat short, we are still a good ways off the ground.
Let me assure you that I as intensely aware of my responsibility to all those readers who love and know your book line by line, I have tried, and will try to maintain all the love that is in it. There will be no Disneyfying, no betrayal of character (Incidentally Avery is definitely not scratched!)
Dear Andy, have faith, keep well. The last thing I would wish to do is to add to your physical or mental distress. Be assured that I will always remove my hat when entering the barn!
Love conquers all, (well, sometimes.) 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.