Chapter 14: The Terry-fying Challenge
Obviously, producing new cartoons, and especially trying to create new characters and raise the standard of quality, money had to be spent. The archival shows Weiss was patching together cost virtually nothing to get on the air, and they were getting amazingly good ratings. I was doing 20th Century-Fox Cinemascope cartoons for an increasingly weakening theatrical market, with only a long-range hope of creating enough films to go onto television. Weiss was juggling and switching ancient cartoons from the vault, so as to make each week's installment seem like a new show. Clever.
So while I was working my tail off making a "renaissance," Weiss was taking the train each week to CBS headquarters downstream in Manhattan, and making it clear to the brass just who was spending their money and who was making money for them. I was cooked long before I knew it.
Weiss, along with virtually all of the 125-member staff, had resented my being there in the first place; a young outsider brought in as creative chief instead of one of the long-suffering staff. I am sure that Weiss was working on my ouster from the day I arrived. It took him just over two years to accomplish it.
I inherited a studio full of disgruntled, underpaid old veterans who had been led to believe by Terry that when he eventually sold the studio they would all get a cut. This was especially the case in respect to Bill Weiss. He told me himself that Terry had promised him 10%. In fact, no one got a nickel. Terry negotiated the CBS deal in secret, and just took the money and ran.
The morning it was announced, Tommy Morrison approached Terry saying, "Paul, I just read in the paper that you sold Terrytoons to CBS for $5,000,000! Can that be true?" "That's none of your goddam business!" said Terry. He then put on his hat and walked out. With all this bitterness, I was just another blow to the veterans' position. Many thought I would be firing them all, and they would be out in the cold. No champagne for my arrival.
Terry had years earlier purposely relocated the studio from New York City to New Rochelle, specifically to get out of the cartoonists' union jurisdiction, and thus hold down wages. Having heard about all this, I had actually pledged myself not to dump anyone. As old-hat as many of them were, I was determined to reform them, not replace them. Nevertheless, I was perceived by Weiss to be a threat to himself personally. He was right. If I had been successful at Terrytoons, I would have thrown him out. But he got me first.
The person I most wondered about when I got there was Paul Terry himself. What kind of a guy was he, to have such a low standard of work, and such low regard for the people who worked for him? The animators told me that in the early days he used to go around the studio, from animator to animator, carrying a ruler. He would measure each animator's stack of drawings, and when the pile was high enough, he'd say, "That's enough, put a The End sign on it!"
It took a long time for Terry to show up to look me over. But he did not linger to look at the newly decorated studio. He invited me out to lunch at his exclusive club, and drove me there and back in his big Cadillac. He could barely fathom what I was doing, but he was full of advice, namely that I should create a character based on Charles Lindbergh, "the greatest hero of all time." He seemed unaware that by the mid-50s few knew much about Lindbergh except that his baby was kidnapped. Terry was by that time pretty much out of it, and believed that the style and humor of the early part of the century was still valid. Perhaps he was right, but I didn't think so at the time. He was mainly delighted to be a millionaire, and how he had outfoxed everyone at the studio. A strange old dodo, of very moderate appeal.