Chapter 14: The Terry-fying Challenge
Flebus Flebus was created by Ernie Pintoff, another new talent I had recruited. He came in from UPA Hollywood. He originally called the character "Willy," but I didn't think that name funny enough. On my way to work one day I heard a talk on my car radio about the disease, Phlebitis. Never having suffered from the pain of that ailment, I thought the word was funny, and suggested the name Flebus as a funny and original non-sequiter name. Ernie suddenly left the studio while the film was still in the early pencil test stage, so I had to take over and finish it according to the color models Ernie had left. Jim Tyer did some of the funniest animation in the film, and of course it was a totally new image for Terrytoons. Weiss hated it.
Ernie was a "Rara Avis" in the Terrytoons studio. He had little to talk about with the majority of the old guard, and pretty much kept to himself in his little director's cubicle.
He always had his trumpet with him at work, and would play the blues, while waiting for inspiration. Of course I didn't care how crazy or other-worldly he seemed to the older animators. What was important to me was the new breath of creativity he brought to the place. One animator with whom he bonded, and who caught the challenge Ernie presented, was Jim Tyer. Jim did the key animation on Flebus.
I was saddened when Ernie suddenly decided to leave. I took over the Flebus project, and even over Bill Weiss's dead body I was determined to see it brought to completion just as Ernie had laid it out. I still feel it was one of our landmark productions at CBS-Terrytoons (1957).
It was the CBS name and image that drew me to take up the offer to join Terrytoons, One of my first jobs after WWII was as assistant art director at CBS Radio in Hollywood. They had a magnificently modern building, and the highest graphic standards in the business, guided by their great art director, William Golden, designer of the famous CBS-eye logo. I was proud to work for CBS. I had always held them in awe. Times change, and they let me down at Terrytoons, siding with Weiss, a man of the past, rather than with the promise of the future I was building for them.
With the mighty CBS backing us, we were easily in a position to be ready for the possibility of prime time animation when the time came. We coulda bin a contendah, with something on the level of The Simpsons. We actually had in preparation, at the time of my ouster in 1958, a brilliant serial being worked up by Jules Feiffer. It was about a group of tiny kids with large perceptions, forty years in advance of The Rugrats. I was a great fan of ragtime music, and had a ragtime musical theme planned for them, so I named the serial after a Scott Joplin piece, The Easy Winners. But as with me at that moment, it was a loser - a great loss for the development of TV animation. I don't say this with any satisfaction at all, but Terrytoons did decline and die, perhaps for a variety of reasons... "apres moi."
In 1958 Jules Feiffer drew a marvellous gag storyboard for a "documentary on the aging Tom Terrific." I rescued it from his Terrytoons office wall. It has never before been published, and I present it here for the first time.