Chapter 12: Don’t Give Your Right Name!
Jamison Handy himself was already (to me) an old guy when I was there, and he reigned rather than ruled over the JHO roost. The actual creative head honcho was Grant Harris. He was also a Hollywood import, and was supremely self-confident. He never doubted for an instant that he was right in all of his thoughts. I didn't reach that level of creative authority until years later, but I did learn from my relations with Grant that a certain humility is necessary to get the most from your staff. A director, and certainly a studio creative director must be clear and definite in his or her conceptions, but still there must be room to accept the ideas of others, as long as they fit into the perceived pattern. Even when I later did become creative director of large studios, and even as director of individual films, I never got over the awe I felt when I walked through the studio. I said to myself: "My God, all of these people are working away on a project I set up. Their livelihood depends on my being right! - And I am committing my client's money!" I gave a lot of though to what I was doing, and had to believe that in fact I was right!
It amazes me that I manage to be mentioned in most of the animation history books, and yet the largest portion of my work over the past 50 years is either obscure to the point of invisibility, or never even got out the door. Much of it is children's films, tucked into cozy little school libraries, and of virtually no interest to animation film buff historians. And so it is with the first film I directed. It was a paean to capitalism, produced at Jam Handy, - the quintessential capitalist film studio, and titled, "Building Friends for Business." Now what history of animation mentions that film? And yet it was in early UPA style, and I herewith show you the one surviving set up from that first film I ever directed.
As with any young director's first film, I went out of my way to dazzle, and I took extraordinary risks. In order to smoothly suggest the development of businesses and technology from the birth of the USA, I devised a panorama background that unrolled out to 19 feet in physical length. (I forget how long it ran, but it was several minutes.) As it slowly panned under the camera, Paul Revere galloped through on his horse, carrying one of his teapots, oil wells were dug and began pumping, carriages animated into automobiles, villages grew into towns and cities, etc. It alarmed the hell out of the JHO animation cameraman, Larry Lippman, but he shot it at one go - no intercuts - and everything worked. There wasn't a dry seat in the house when the brass screened it.
What is interesting about "Building Friends For Business," (black & white, 1950), is that it is also the first film designed by Cliff Roberts. I would say that my biggest success in the two years I spent working in Motown was my discovery there of two young geniuses, Cliff Roberts and Fred Crippen. Cliff was a rolypoly, gag-spouting jazz fan who showed up at our weekly record sessions, which we carried over from Hollywood. He loved to bang on things to the rhythm of our jazz records, as did I, and we loved to spend the nights hand-drumming together. It also turned out that he was a precocious graphic designer, so good that I got him hired as my assistant at JHO. Fred Crippen was a chunky blonde kid, a friend of Cliff's, who had a great talent for visual gags, and quickly learned to animate. Cliff and Fred both later joined me in New York at UPA, and ended up as writers for H&B.
But while still at JHO and still on a roll, I wrote and directed "The Mite Box," a simplistic trifle about how church contributions bring color into the gray life of poor African natives, (my first experiment with color film), "Roger Windsock," for the US Air Force, and a film for the Otis Elevator Company, announcing the first computer controlled lifts. Talk about obscure films!