Chapter 13: UPA: Back To The Future
I solved the background and design problem by getting permission to call in Cliff Roberts and Fred Crippen from Detroit. I began to have a group of talented people around me that made me look very good. Here is how our staff developed, with the inevitable departures and arrivals:
Barbara Baldwin, ink & paint supervisor
Howard Beckerman, assistant animator
Bill Bernal, sales and story collaboration
Peter Cooper, camera
Hedy Cramer, secretary/receptionist
Ed Cullen, business manager
Fred Crippen, animator and designer
Duane Crowther, animator
Tisa David, assistant animator
Gene Deitch, creative director
Ken Drake, production manager
Marvin Friedman, design and layout
Steve Frankfort, designer
Lu (Lucifer) Guarnier, animator
Wardell Gaynor, cameraman
Jack Goodford, designer, director
Chris Ishii, designer, director
Edna Jacobs, inker/painter, (and studio sex-object)
Irwin La Pointe, incredibly eager and efficient production assistant
Don McCormick, studio manager (orig. asst. animator)
Grim Natwick, animator
Cliff Roberts, designer
Pat Ward, ink & paint supervisor
Bard Wiggenhorn, animator
Even George Dunning worked with us for a while before taking off for London.
My sincere apologies to any I have forgotten, and my great thanks to Marvin Friedman, whose sharp memory reminded me of some on the above list. He even remembers my garish plaid shirts, and the exact way I hired him. (The dummy asked for the minimum wage!) He didn't mention my daring and ridiculous attempt to raise a beard. It just wasn't done in those days, and nearly cost me some clients!
Marvin also remembers the surprise visit to our studio of Ernie Kovacs, the great conceptual genius of early comedy television. We had a large UPA logo in our window facing 5th Avenue, that attracted Kovacs' attention, and he was waving at us. Marvin signaled him to come up, and he did, giving one and all a great kick.
Meeting and working with the great Grim Natwick was a revelation. I had been previously unaware of his existence, and was charmed by his laconic manner and amazing stories. Just now, after the recession in 2001, I'm reminded of something Grim Natwick told me when I first got to know him at UPA-New York in 1951. He said, "In the early 30s I was making really good money in animation, and I didn't even know there was a Depression on until my family began writing me and asking for money!" Of course. During the Depression of the 1930s people's only escape from the grim reality was going to the movies. Times were bad, but animators had work!
We UPA-New Yorkers quickly became the darlings of the Madison Avenue ad agencies, and created some of the early classic TV commercials.
We did the first commercials ever with Saul Steinberg, working with him personally. I was dazzled at the chance to visit my cartoon idol in his wondrous clock and rocking-chair filled apartment. The spots were for Jell-O Instant Pudding, of all things, but they won me my first New York Art Director's Club Gold Medal.
Our biggest commercial success was in the long series of "Bert & Harry Piel" beer spots. The beer was dreadful, but the commercials boosted its sales phenomenally. (When Piel's finally switched to another ad campaign, the company quickly collapsed!) The characters and dialog were actually created by Young & Rubicam writer, Ed Graham, and were voiced by the phenomenal Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding, Bob & Ray, but my design and direction of the series won me my second NY Art Directors' Club Gold Medal and a lot of career points. The most hilarious fall-out was from the original name of the series, "Harry & Bert." A woman viewer wrote a scathing letter to the Piel's Beer company, castigating them in a fierce diatribe for their "fascist advertising campaign about 'Aryan Bert!'" The company flipped out, and were demanding we immediately cancel the series, until we saved the situation and our hides by simply reversing the order of the names to "Bert & Harry." (Two of my Bert & Harry model drawings are in Chapter 8, "Make Luck Happen.")