Chapter 13: UPA: Back To The Future
A gaudy cowboy, wearing a bejeweled 10-gallon white hat is riding a bucking bronco. Howdy is watching with admiration. If he only had that hat, he could ride a bronco too. Suddenly a gust of wind blows the hat off the cowboy's head. Howdy chases after it. The hat swirls off into a deep forest. It lands on a dejected eagle's head, and instantly, the eagle is transformed into our national symbol. Then the hat blows off again and lands on a sleepy lion's head, and he is transformed into a heraldic icon. Etc. The hat finally lands on Howdy's head, and he is now full of confidence. He rides the bronco, but again the wind blows away the hat. Can he do it without the Magic Hat? He does it.
The film surfaced once on UPA's pioneering color TV serial, The Boing-Boing Show, and then sank from sight forever. I would give hugs and kisses, and a good deal more substantial to anyone who could come up with a print of that one, my first entertainment cartoon! In 30 years of trying, I have been unable to track it down.
It is devastating to me, as I write this, that Bill Bernal, Grim Natwick, Bud Bazelon, Duane Crowther, Cliff Roberts, and others are gone. All of them did so much to make me look good.
Our TV commercials were the first ever shown at the New York Museum of Modern Art. I suppose that "MOMA" show was our greatest moment - actually a month-long-moment. It was in 1954 when the museum, just down the block from our Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street studio, presented the month-long series of screenings of our films. Steve of course showed up for the opening, and gave me a glorious introduction. So all was splendid.
Introducing each daily screening was a kinescope film of the nationwide CBS-TV show, "Let's Take a Trip," which was a visit to our UPA-NY studio. I was the "guide" on the show that featured Sonny Fox and two tykes name Pud & Ginger. That "kinnie" is another lost film I would love to see again. (MOMA has staged shows of my films twice more, the latest was in 1996, titled "A Tribute to Gene Deitch and Rembrandt Films," but of course the one in 1954 was the one that put us on the map.)
We rode high in New York, but yet slid the financial slopes. Steve continuously siphoned our TV commercial profits to support the artistic efforts of the Hollywood studio, and we were entirely dependent on UPA-Hollywood for our rent and pay checks. We had to lock ourselves in the office every payday, hoping to God we'd receive the checks before the staff would beat the door down. What we did receive were almost daily pep-talks from Steve on the flexible Dictaphone belts which came in the mail. No e-mail in those days either, but we got lots of vocal advice from Steve on those belts!
Fred Crippen, who was brought in by Cliff, was a fabulously funny guy on paper, but had a difficult time expressing himself verbally. When he got excited about something, he became almost inarticulate. During one of the many frustrating long-distance phone calls to Steve Bosustow, Fred became increasingly agitated, flailing toward the telephone, blurting out syllables, and wanting me to let him get in his two-cents worth. It was so hilarious, that I attempted to jot down Fred's half of the exchange as closely as possible:
"Look, Steve... I mean you gotta....there's a... I mean, Man, how much?.... When are we?... Look, this place.... All of us.... I mean, we're all... It's gotta... Christ, Man... you know... Christ!....
Oh shit!" He hung up, still heatedly cursing under his breath. "I guess I told him!" he said.
Somehow, we survived. Of course, no one outside the studio knew anything except of our roaring success. We were at the corner of 53rd and Fifth, with a Fifth Avenue address. (The building went down a few years later, supplanted by the shiny 666 5th Avenue Building.)
The UPA idyll came to an end under the pressure of Senator Joe McCarthy. I had survived at JHO, but John Hubley was squeezed out of the Burbank studio. Steve did little to save him. In the studio I idolized, originally built on Left-wing camaraderie, there was less honor than at the JHO temple of the Right. I was depressed. My illusions about UPA faded. Hub went on to set up Storyboard, Inc. When my idol took me out to lunch and invited me to join him, I felt it was my greatest moment. He who had so easily let me go to "try my own wings," in 1949, was now calling me back to his nest in 1954. So I left UPA once again, this time for good. But six months later the dream was shattered again. Hub really didn't let me do anything. He did everything himself. I got the feeling that he had hired me away from UPA just to get revenge against Steve Bosustow, who he felt had fed him to the red-baiting wolves.
But there was no going back. I took up an offer from Robert Lawrence, who ran a large all around commercial studio in New York. It was good money, but it wasn't UPA. Then, after only a few weeks, the biggest door of all opened for me, and through it walked a man named Newt Schwin. He was sent by CBS television to find me and make the offer I could not refuse!