Chapter 11: The UPA Experience
In the twisting labyrinth of time and acquisitions, Magoo blundered his way into the camp of the enemy! In 1998 The Walt Disney Studios released a morosely misguided live-action feature film version. What a tragic comedown! The UPA studio was staffed by Disney-haters, who had left Disney to establish their own "anti-Disney" approach to animation. But ultimately, UPA's most successful character was usurped by that very empire...
By the time I made full-fledged production designer on my own, Bobe Cannon was in the studio full time, and I became his designer, still on the Flight Safety series. We were on the verge of the greatest UPA period, but in 1949, before it reached full bloom I received an unexpected offer that required a wrenching decision.
After my discharge from the Air Force in 1944, but with the war-effort still on, I was working in the Visual Aids department of Lockheed Aircraft. My boss was a man named Bill Murray. He developed the first automatic filmstrip projector. We made simple 16mm training films and other visual aids for the wartime aircraft factory workers. After the war, Murray had taken a job as film director for an obscure commercial film company, The Jam Handy Organization, in, of all places, Detroit, Michigan. There really was a man named Jam Handy, Jamison Handy, and his large organization had a bread and butter connection with General Motors - they did all the GM sales-promotion films. Murray was successful with them, but his films suffered from the primitve quality of the Jam Handy animation department. He kept up a propaganda blitz with Jam that JHO needed fresh blood. He had heard that I was with UPA, and he built me up as a bright young animator. So, out of the blue, one of those doors opened for me.
I received a letter from JHO, offering me a job. Ordinarily, it would have been laughable. Was I, having achieved my boyhood dream of a job in a Hollywood animation studio - THE Hollywood animation studio - going to swap Hollywood for Detroit? But Bill Murray urged that this would be a chance for me to spread my wings, and become a director. It was true that I was in UPA, that I had gotten into the Union, and that I was Bobe Cannon's layout man - er, production designer - but I could see that it would be years before I could ever hope to be a director at UPA. The studio was constantly on the verge of financial collapse, and there was John Hubley, Bobe Cannon, and free-lance directors of the highest level all around me. How could I ever make it in the midst of these gods? I talked it over with Hub. I was secretly hoping he would plead with me. "Don't leave us, Gene! Your future is here!" No such luck.
He valued me, but advised me to take the offer. Sooner or later, I would have to fly out of the nest, and here was the chance to shine on my own. He assured me that I would always be welcomed back if it didn't work out. Could I risk that?
*NOTE: The covers and "CAT-toons" I made for The Record Changer magazine 55 years ago, as I write this in February, 2001, have become collectors items, and R.Crumb, the great comix artist is now planning to publish a complete collection of my work on the RC in a full color book!