Chapter 12: Don’t Give Your Right Name!
So that's the secret! Never admit you can't do anything! Brazen it out! Analyze the problem, and you can figure out how to do it!
As The Jam Handy Organization was one of the more obscure corners of movie making and animation production, and there may be no one left around to tell you about it, I will. It was a truly amazing place, run by this crusty old devout Christian Scientist, with the top echelon mainly made up of the followers of that faith.
"Organization" was the proper name for the place. It was the classic paternalistic and slogan-saturated work place. Above every "member's" desk was a framed list, titled, for example: "Gene Deitch, duties and responsibilities: 1. Reports to Grant Harris, studio producer. 2. Creates and organizes animation projects. 3. Acts as director and scenarist of animated films 4. Co-ordinates the work of the animation department. 4. Consults with the leaders of other branches for projects combining live-action sequences. 5. Co-works with story department where required. 6. Consults with musicians, actors, and technicians for the completion of his projects... etc. etc. It didn't include helping to clean the men's johns, or organizing studio softball teams, but it might have. I got a kick out of these framed duty lists, and I imagined that should a worker come in drunk or zonked from lack of sleep, and wonder what in the name of heaven he was doing there, all he had to do was swivel his chair and read the sign!
In fact, the place was loaded with helpful signs, mottos and exhortations. One I remember showed a large block of ice, held up by iceman's tongs. (They still had iceboxes then.) Large letters informed us that "IDEAS ARE LIKE A BLOCK OF ICE. THEY MELT IN TRANSIT!" Do keep that in mind. It was claimed that the famous motto, "The difficult we do right away - the impossible takes longer," was coined at Jam Handy. I wouldn't dispute that.
You old time animators will be interested to know that the nominal head of the Jam Handy Organization's animation department during part of the 40s and 50s was old Max Fleischer himself! Jam had him on retainer, assuming Fleischer's name would add class to the joint. Max actually showed up once during my two-and-a-half year stay at JHO, presumably called in to look at my first film, "Building Friends For Business." We had a pleasant chat, and I never saw him again.
The studio's greatest claim to animation fame up to that time was the original animated version of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." It was so early, in fact, that it didn't even incorporate the hit Christmas song of that name, which was apparently written later.
One of the great features of JHO life was the annual 4th of July Picnic. The staff numbered about 500, so real big-time picnics were staged in a country setting. Jam himself went all-out for these picnics. It was all part of his grand paternal plan. There was plenty of food and root beer from barrels, greased pig chases, kissing booths, volley ball, fireworks, and of course, pep-talks. Jam himself displayed his great condition and commonality, playing volleyball with the underlings, er, "associates." Great stuff.
The head animator when I came on board was chap named Ted Vosk. I didn't know from Slavic in those days, but I soon learned that there was a large Polish city named Hamtramk, plopped like a huge wad of poppy seeds right smack in the middle of the Detroit coffeecake. Many of the JHO staff were of Polish extraction. Ted Vosk was a refugee from the old Fleischer studio, still passionately devoted to early-20s "rubber-hose" animation. His name hasn't appeared in any list of Fleischer greats that I have seen, but he was the star animator at Handy's. He is the very one, who after seeing some of the outrageous UPA-influenced design I was importing into JHO animation, and sizing me up as a post-pubertic upstart, who advised me, "Gene, when you've been in animation as long as I've been, (10 years at the time), you'd know you can't get away with that sort of stuff!" However, I did get away with it.