Chapter 13: UPA: Back To The Future
UPA again, and this time as creative chief! Bosustow beckoned and I was beamed to the Big Apple, the city of my youthful dreams. "If you can make it there…" etc. And I made it. Here are the vital statistics of that Golden Age studio.
Clearly, the lure of UPA again had me dazzled. I took another chance. By 1951 UPA had achieved a tremendous artistic and critical - if not financial - success. Tee Hee had replaced me as Bobe Cannon's designer, and together they had come up with one great film after another, exploring new graphic and story-telling ideas. Bill Hurtz had designed Gerald McBoing Boing and directed James Thurber's story, "The Unicorn in The Garden." Hub had launched Mister Magoo, and had directed the landmark classic, "Rooty Toot Toot." UPA was now BigTime.
Within two years, UPA had come back to me. Steve Bosustow had decided to open a branch in New York, 3,000 miles closer to Madison Avenue, to be able to latch on to the blooming market of television commercials. He flew to see me in Detroit, and made me the offer that indicated I was no longer an apprentice. I was so thrilled to be called back to the fold, and to be sent to New York, that I agreed to back off from my so recently acquired director status, and to start as production designer in the founding cadre of UPA-NY. Here was the opening team:
We came in with a hail of publicity, and were expected to lure the Madison Avenue bucks on the basis of the UPA name, which by now had sparkles shooting off it in all directions. We opened with a very nice bang.
There may have been a reason why Steve sent Abe to New York that I didn't know about, my having been off in the Detroit outlands for two years. But from the very beginning, Steve began to undermine Abe's position. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. Steve began to criticize everything Abe did, and after only a few months he was out. Steve named me Creative Director, and of course, I didn't fight it. I enjoyed a real blossoming.
Ted Bethune, the background painter, was a Canadian, and wanted to go home. That presented us with our first crisis, and I got on the phone several times with Steve, imploring him to send me a replacement. Orders were coming in, and we didn't have a background artist. As my desperation mounted, Steve put his hand over the mouthpiece, but I could still hear him ask someone, "Can you paint backgrounds?"
"Uh-oh," I thought. "What are we going to get?" Shortly, a handsome 20-year-old with bright black eyes showed up. He painted the worst backgrounds I had seen up to that time. "What else can you do?" I asked plaintively. I could not throw back a fellow Steve sent me.
"I have this reel I animated when I was 18," he said. I led him into the projection room with no real hope. The animation was sensational. Here was a natural born animator! He became my star. He was Duane Crowther.