Book Review - Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation
This history of Filmation Associates is an animation studio history with a difference. Most are objective histories, well documented and footnoted, by animation historians who were not personally associated with the studios. Creating the Filmation Generation is by Lou Scheimer, who co-founded Filmation and was its president for the twenty-six years of its existence. Also, it is a detailed anecdotal reminisce rather than a detailed academic history. Nevertheless, it is engrossing reading with lots of details and publicity graphics. It will satisfy all but the most demanding of animation historians.
Actually, it is Lou Scheimer’s autobiography. Most people probably won’t be interested in Lou Scheimer’s autobiography, but if Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, and other animation luminaries can have their whole lives documented, it is good that there is at least one book that covers Lou Scheimer’s origins. His earliest claim to fame was vicarious. In 1921 or ‘22 his father, who was a World War I war hero and Jewish activist in Germany at the time, punched Adolf Hitler unconscious during one of Hitler’s earliest racist beer hall diatribes in Würzburg. Hitler set his Nazi street thug bodyguards looking for Salomon Gundersheimer, who prudently immigrated to America.
Scheimer was born in Pittsburgh on October 19, 1928; joined the Army in 1946 and was honorably discharged in 1948; entered Carnegie Tech to study art; got married in 1953; and moved in 1955 with his wife Jay to Hollywood to get a job painting backgrounds in the animation industry. Scheimer’s first job was at the Kling Studio, a little commercial art company in the former Charlie Chaplin Studio. Scheimer’s art desk was in what had been Chaplin’s personal bedroom. From Kling, Scheimer went to work at Warner Bros. Animation, then after a few months moved on to the new Hanna-Barbara Studio. In 1957 Larry Harmon bought the rights to Bozo the Clown and hired Scheimer among other animators to produce a series of TV cartoons around him. It was while working for Harmon that Scheimer met Hal Sutherland, his longtime Filmation partner, and others who became the original Filmation staff. In 1960 Harmon closed his animation department and Scheimer went to work at a tiny studio, True Line, where Sutherland was already working. A couple of years later True Line got a contract to produce a TV cartoon called Rod Rocket. True Line could not handle the job, but Scheimer and Sutherland thought that they could, so they incorporated as Filmation Associates in 1962 and took over the series. Three years after that, Rod Rocket was finished and they could not get any TV animated commercial jobs. They were packing up, set to go out of business when they got a telephone call from DC Comics in NYC asking if they could produce a Superman cartoon series for CBS’ new Saturday morning Children’s TV lineup. And that is how Filmation became “the king of Saturday morning TV cartoons”, as they have been called.
“I got a phone call from Norm [Prescott, the third Filmation partner], and he said, ‘Lou, do you think we could do this series ourselves?’ I said, ‘How much are they offering?’ He said, ‘$36,000 a half hour.’ Well, I knew then that Hanna-Barbera was getting about $45,000 a half-hour for animation. I said, ‘Sure, we can do it. What the hell? We’re out of work anyway. …’ I had no idea what we could do it for, but I knew that was better than we were getting.” (p. 45)
Year by year, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 … to 1986, 1987, 1988. Superman and Batman and Aquaman and lots of other costumed superheroes. Archie, The Groovy Goolies, the animated Star Trek, Fat Albert, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down, The Brady Kids, The Lone Ranger and Lassie and Tarzan and Flash Gordon and Zorro, The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty, Blackstar and BraveStarr, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Gilligan’s Planet. A tremendous list of shows. Filmation’s live-action TV series, and the studio’s foray into theatrical animation features. The many colorful Filmation staff members. A few risqué incidents: “Waldo Kitty was a good idea. […] It started out live-action with a cat and his girlfriend – Waldo and Felicia – and a big bulldog named Tyrone that was always after them. When Waldo would get into real trouble, and the bulldog got close to him, Waldo would imagine himself turning into one of the characters that he liked from television. […] The live-action segments were mostly filmed in and around a yard and a house, and we had to work with real animals. The cats were fine, but the problem was with the damn English bulldog. We were usually shooting him from the back because he was chasing the cat and all you could see were giant testicles! Every time he turned around, these monster balls were hanging down there, swinging back and forth. […]” (p. 118)