Chapter 14: The Terry-fying Challenge
I also saw an article in Time magazine about Tom Cruise, which was headlined, "Tom Terrific!" Famous baseball star Tom Seaver also got the "Terrific" nickname, as apparently have many Toms in the world.Most amazing of all, in the year 1999, over forty years after TT went on TV, a box of Safeway generic Raisin Bran cereal had a "match-the-dog-to-its-owner" puzzle on the box, and among the pairs were Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog and Tom Terrific! Though the films were in black & white, the Tom Terrific comic books were in color, and at least I can show you how he would have looked on color TV:
Well, I am delighted that a name I made up has become a household phrase, but not so delighted that no one has actually revived the original serial, (which would require colorizing, I suppose), nor attempted a new version. Perhaps my Tom Terrific, which was after all a technically crude production, lives best as an icon of nostalgia for those who were raised with it on the CBSTV Captain Kangaroo show. Who knows if it would be tough enough for today's kids; Crabby Appleton would have to be REALLY rotten to the core!
Even if it were to be revived, I would doubt very much that I would be brought into it. After all, I created it as a CBS employee and have no rights in it. CBS did give me a golden handshake for it when I left Terrytoons, but it was peanuts by today's standards. So it was just another failure...
The lesson for animators: Always insist on copyright ownership of characters you create! Easier said than done. It wasn't possible when I worked for CBS-Terrytoons, but today it would be a must.
Silly Sidney: Sidney was originally the "sick, sick, sick" elephant character in a Tom Terrific episode. I had drawn an elephant with a fat trunk, that he sucked on like an overgrown baby. Lional Wilson, who did all the voices for TT, had a funny Ed Wynn (The old "Texaco Fire Chief" radio comic) voice take-off for Sidney, and we decided to make him a new Terrytoons character. His film, "Sidney's Family Tree" became and extremely rare Terrytoon, actually nominated for an Oscar! And of course it was my own first nomination... I thought! The morning after the nomination was announced, Bill Weiss was waiting for me in the Terrytoons parking lot as I drove in to work. As I got out of my car, he strode up to me and said, "Gene, I want you to understand that if Sidney wins the Oscar, I will be the one to pick it up!" I could hardly restrain an ironic laugh. Weiss wanted to catch me before I got inside the studio and received congratulations from the staff! If it hadn't been clear before, it was then: Weiss was my enemy. Sidney was continued after I left, my most successful Terrytoons theatrical character, with 19 films.
Gaston LeCrayon: A parody on an exuberant, flamboyant, but untalented French artist. Eli Bauer drew the ultimate model for him. I originally wanted to call him "Gaston le Garbage," pronounced as a French word, "Gar-BAZH," but Weiss nixed it.
Foofle. Foofle was my original character, based on my own clumsiness, and of course descending from a long line of pantomime, loser-type characters. One day, only because some important visitors were coming, I was unusually wearing a necktie, and while leaning over the moviola, my tie became threaded into the sprocket wheel, yanking me downward and almost knocking my teeth out. This was hilarious enough to get me started on a disaster-prone character. Anyway, I had the reputation around the studio as a clumsy, arm-waving enthusiast, dangerous to be near. When I entered a directors's room each morning for discussion, he would automatically move his coffee cup out of harms way. So was born in my mind, Foofle, and Eli Bauer refined my original sketches of him. The character continued after I left, but they turned him into a bear. Years later, in Prague, I redeveloped the idea for Paramount, and called my new character Nudnik. We made 12 episodes for Paramount theatrical release. The first one was nominated for an Oscar. When theatrical cartoons died, Nudnik languished in a dark vault for 25 years, but has been revived and packaged by Sunbow Entertainment as "Gene Deitch presents the Nudnik Show." It is now in the process of being sold into international syndication. Stay tuned.