Chapter 12: Don’t Give Your Right Name!
I wrote all of this down when I returned from Washington, so I can be sure that is what I said. I assumed I was cooked. After several more tries to get me to at least admit I knew anyone on the list, they let me go, and told me I would be informed of their decision by registered letter within one month. It was probably the longest and gloomiest month of my life. Sure enough, 30 days later a registered letter appeared in my mailbox.
"The Industrial Employment Review Board of the United States Department of Defense informs you that the decision to deny you access to film projects they have or might have in production at the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit, Michigan is hereby reversed." It seemed an agonizingly long eye-span just to get to that last lovely word!
My only guess of the reason for this deliverance was that they must have figured that I was too young, naïve, and nutty to be any real danger to the security of my country.
The affair could have nipped my animation career just as it was budding. The actual truth was that I had indeed been an intense left winger in my teens and early twenties in Hollywood, though never an active communist, and I of course knew that some of our jazz session guests might have been actual communists. I had hoped that my early political orientation would not surface at JHO, which was all-out-right-wing conservative - almost an annex to the mighty General Motors Corp. So it was terrifying and obviously job-threatening. Having privately smirked at what I saw as a jingoistic outfit, I now had to be grateful that the Christian Science veneer did steer the leaders of the company toward tolerance. At least they were not willing to peremptorily dump me until a case against me was proven. I was grateful for their fairness, and dedicated myself to do the best job I could for them. I wasn't at all converted to the worship of Big Business, but I learned that if you have a wife and kids, and the need to make a living, you have to make a fundamental choice. If your beliefs are strong enough, you must take a stand and say to hell with the establishment. But I found that nothing was that clear. Though I despised the McCarthy witch-hunters, I had been equally turned off by the communists I had known in Hollywood, with their rigid and mindless Stalinist acceptance. I learned right there, that finding any creed to believe in unquestioningly is a tough call. There is no substitute for independent thinking.
Resuming my full role as head of the JHO animation unit, I was plunged into the development of a film for the U.S. Airforce, to be aimed at recruitment. It would be shown at schools, with the idea of instilling the romance of flying into their little heads. Mass air travel had not yet taken hold, but was clearly on the horizon, and we were all dazzled by airplanes. In my first wartime job, I had been a parts-catalog illustrator at North American Aviation, in Inglewood, California. I learned to read blueprints, and to draw detailed aircraft parts assemblies in such a way that the thousands of unskilled employees could see how to put them together. Though it seemingly had nothing to do with animation, the understanding of technology I gained in this work was extremely valuable to my later career. Besides peering at blueprints, I also was able to walk through the plant to see how the actual parts were attached to actual planes. Through the din of constant riveting and stamping of aluminum sheeting, I saw the great planes of World War II being assembled. The two main products of the plant were the magnificent B-24 Billy Mitchell bomber, and the elegant P-51 Mustang fighter. What a gorgeous plane that was! I definitely caught the airplane bug, and so I was very enthusiastic about the Air Force film I was about to make at JHO. Still under the UPA influence, I thought about Gerald McBoing-Boing, the parable of a little boy with an extreme speech impediment. "He couldn't speak words, he went 'boing-boing" instead!" It's a basic of movie cartoons that there has to be something extreme about a character. Donald Duck and Daffy Duck both rose to fame on the weird sounds of their twisted tongues. Some kind of impediment or physical extreme has to be there. So I just extended this idea, and created a little boy whose passion for airplanes caused him to actually grow little wings from his shoulder blades. I called him Roger Windsock, "Roger" from the airplane pilots' standard response of understanding, and "Windsock" from the cloth tube that flutters from poles at airports. Rudy Zamora mainly animated the film, but I never saw it finished. This time, my tenure at JHO was interrupted by good news!