A personal memoir by Linda Jones of how she and her father got started in producing and selling animation art.
My involvement in the sale of cels from animated cartoons began with a phone call in the mid 1970's from Don Foster, an 18-year pillar at my father's studio in Hollywood. "Hey, Linda. Your dad asked me to call and see if you might help us out with something."
The "something" turned out to be a project Don and my father were working on with Neiman Marcus. The prestigious Christmas Catalogue was about to have its first cartoon character cover: Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. My father had designed and drawn a superb scene with Wile E. chasing a Roadrunner weather vane across a snow-covered roof. The miniature silhouette of Santa and his reindeer flew across the distant, star-studded sky. Don had produced the cel and background, inserted the lettering and mechanicals. It was a thing of beauty, indeed.
Now that Neiman Marcus had accepted the artwork, my father's discussions with the marketing director had brought up the question of ancillary products which might support the cover.
My husband, Jim, and I were, at the time, the proprietors of a small manufacturing company south of Los Angeles. Although the business was unrelated to the entertainment or animation industry, I had continued my involvement with part-time research, writing and clerking at the studio when time permitted. Our children were almost all grown and off "doing their own things" in the jargon of the day.
A Limited Edition
I agreed to help out and flew to Dallas where discussions with the marketing director resulted in the decision to produce a limited edition "print" of the cover. Because of the particular (and somewhat peculiar) technique used to produce the original art, we decided to produce the "print" in the same way. It would be, in the strictest sense of the word, a fine art limited edition. The line image was transferred to clear acetate via a specific photo-transfer process and each image was hand-painted on the reverse side. The acetate sheets (commonly called a "cel" in the animation industry) were numbered "one" through "fifty" in the time-honored style of the limited edition. Each cel was signed by my father. They were beautiful!
It had been decided that the matted and framed cels would be sold from the gift departments of the Neiman Marcus stores throughout the country. It was with great satisfaction and delight that I discovered #25/50 hanging in a place of honor and prominence in our brand new NM store at Fashion Island in our hometown of Newport Beach, California.
Around that same time, Ed Summers interviewed my father for a television segment for a local New York program. Ed came to Hollywood with his crew and shot the interview in the offices of Chuck Jones Productions, Tower Twelve, in the Sunset Tower building at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Vine Street. During a break in the shooting, Ed talked about his little gallery/memorabilia store in New York on Lexington called Super Snipe Gallery. He and George Lucas were co-owners and were constantly on the look-out for interesting and unusual additions to their inventory.
"Why don't we sell some of the cels from the cartoons from the 40s and 50s?" suggested Ed.
"Good thought," Chuck probably replied, "but, unfortunately all the stored cels and drawings from those films were destroyed."
"No!" Ed must have responded, sitting down with a thump.
"Yes," my father may have replied. "However, the Valkyries are awaiting those who did it, I'm certain. But, how about if I draw some new drawings and we can make limited editions? I'll sign them and you can sell them?"
The Duck Dodgers Group
So the first of a series of limited editions was designed (entitled "Duck Dodgers Group") and I was again recruited to oversee the production, distribution, and sales. (It was at that time, by the way, that I learned how to "make" stars on a night sky. Don Foster showed me how to spread the sheets of Pantone paper on the floor, squeeze white paint on a hair brush, draw a toothbrush over the surface, spattering a white shower of paint over the firmament . . . what a rush! It worked! And I had "stars" all over my shoes, as well!)
We hand-produced each background with speckled stars and cut paper planet surface.
We quickly discovered that an edition of 500 was overly optimistic, but the seed had been sewn and the idea of the signed limited edition cel had been born.
It was an opportune time, for various reasons (including the impact of the oil crunch on our recreation-based business), for me to investigate the possibility of a new career. Edith and Burt Rudman of Gallery Lainzberg had visited us on their visits to Hollywood looking for cels for their first animation art catalogue and I had met not only Ed Summers, but Jerry Muller and a couple of other animation art dealers, who believed that my father's work would be an addition to the market.
I received support from Murray Altschuler of LCA which handled the licensing of Warner characters in those days. He arranged for us to have a restricted license for the limited editions while the legal department tried to determine how we might become agents to sell the production cels from the current (1970s) films my father had produced for Warner Bros.
In the meantime, I was able to begin sorting, selecting, evaluating and distributing cels from the television specials which are owned by Chuck Jones Productions: Mowgli's Brothers, Rikki Tikki Tavi, The White Seal, The Cricket in Times Square, A Very, Merry Cricket and Yankee Doodle Cricket. The first Gallery Lainzberg catalogue featured an image of the wonderful Chuck Jones character, which to this day has no official name, called the Connecticut Cat from A Very, Merry Cricket. A mouse's tail dangles from his mouth.
Of course, the development of the cel business could not have been accomplished without the incredible support and help of my beloved and extraordinary father, Chuck Jones. His financial support made it possible for my efforts to succeed during the first years and his artistic contributions were, without getting too flowery, simply brilliant.
For the first couple of years, I did almost all the grunt work myself. I sorted cels, designed and produced backgrounds for limited editions, handled the orders, deliveries and books. I had part-time help from many dear friends, including several of my children and their friends who gave of their hearts, minds and sweat. I could not have done it without their help.
Animation Art as Fine Art
In 1983, shortly after splitting off from Chuck Jones Productions and incorporating my own cel art business called Linda Jones Enterprises, Inc., I approached Jack and Caroline Solomon of Circle Fine Art. Together we worked out an agreement which, I believe, was the logical next step in our separate, but mutual efforts to establish animation art as fine art. CFA had been displaying and selling Disney cels for some time and by introducing the art of Chuck Jones, a living artist, beside the production art of the Walt Disney company, as well as popular and established fine artists such as Agam, Vasarelli and Peter Max, animation art took it's rightful place as an American art form.
Over the years, I was able to realize many of the dreams and visions which seemed unattainable in the early days. Animation art had become known to many non-collectors. I was thrilled, surprised and delighted to overhear a young mother, passing by a gallery window in Las Vegas, point out to her curly-headed son, "See, that's a cel of Bugs Bunny . . . that's how they make cartoons!" What a change from the early days when I overheard someone at a comic convention, who was passing by a table where cels were being displayed, remark to a companion, "Wonder why they're selling that plastic stuff and how come it's so expensive?" (Those rather spectacular cels, by the way, at that convention, were selling for $25.00, if my memory serves me well.)
In the late 1970s, LCA and Warner Bros. worked out a ground-breaking license agreement for us so that we could sell the production cels my father had used in producing recent films of Bugs and Daffy and Roadrunner and Wile E.
Among those approaches to animation art which we have developed and to which we have contributed are the signed limited edition, recreated backgrounds for production cels, and one-of-one animation art (utilizing the original drawing to reproduce a one-only limited edition). We were the first independent cel-art producer to exhibit at Art Expo, and have tried always to maintain an integrity to full, character animation which has always been exhibited by Chuck Jones' life and work.
During the next decade and a half, I contributed everything I could to make certain that animation art, cel art, maintained its place in the fine art spectrum and did not slip over into the realm of merchandise. There were many of us working in that direction and looking at the industry today, I am pleased that, for the most part, it still maintains that integrity.
It is with gratitude that I acknowledge my association with this industry. Cel art brings a special and unusual delight to the many thousands, perhaps millions, of people who love animated cartoons in a special way. Each cel seems to spark a special memory or moment of delight and bring a lightening of the inevitable stresses and challenges everyone faces.
My son, Craig Kausen, is now president of Linda Jones Enterprises and my son, Todd Kausen, is president of Acme Cel Construction, the production house for the animation art for our company.
We own and operate two wonderful retail galleries: The Chuck Jones Show Room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and The Chuck Jones Show Room in Corona del Mar, California. Both are staffed by dedicated, intelligent and caring consultants and supported by a strong and skillful staff at our corporate offices in Irvine, California and Woodinville, Washington.
This industry has evolved and grown over the past eighteen years and I am pleased to be part of it. As long as those who love the art continue to protect and revere it, the world of animation art should have a long and healthy future.
Linda Jones is COO and producer for Chuck Jones Film Productions in Burbank, and serves as CEO of her own company, Linda Jones Enterprises, in Irvine, California.