Chapter 15A: Terrytoonery
Dave Tendlar. A gentle and likeable veteran.
Art Bartsch. Basically the creator of Mighty Mouse. Art was a skillful director and one of the best draftsmen in the studio.
Larz Bourne. One of my favorite people in the studio, a long-time member of the story department. Larz was the most prolific of the classic animation gag creators. I felt him to be a sympathetic gentleman, and he came through for me with terrific Clobber and Gaston material.
Jim Tyer, one-of-a-kind animator. In the dead-hand roster of Terrytoons animators, Jim was the odd-man out. He didn't hold to models; he did quirky, eccentric actions; he didn't stick to the numbing norms of Paul Terry's regime. In other words, he was exactly what I was hoping against hope to find in that stodgy arena. Jim did amazing things with my elephant character, "Sidney," and with "Tom Terrific, and "Flebus." Sometimes his animation was weird, but it was always inventive, and always funny. In a 1981 article, Will Friedwald summed up well, my relationship with Jim. I quote part of it here:
"Deitch brought with him many UPA methods and concepts. Many of the Terrytoon old-timers must have resented what seemed like bold and radical changes at the time, but it was just the opposite with Jim Tyer. That was because, in a sense, Tyer had been working in the "UPA style" all his life. Instead of doing the usual Disney/Hollywood type of animation that most American animators of the Thirties and Forties were expected to do, Tyer's animation had always tried to caricature real life movement rather than imitate it. This was the point that UPA and Deitch tried to stress, not only in their animation, but in their design and layout as well. Tyer would have fit in well with UPA-Hollywood or UPA-New York, and when Deitch tried to turn Terrytoons into "UPA-New Rochelle" it was just as well.
For one of the first times in his life, Tyer was not only permitted to draw and animate in his wildest fashion, but actually encouraged to. For once, he didn't have to wait until the less creative minds who ran the studios were looking the other way to draw the way he wanted. He could take it as far as he wanted with Deitch's blessing. "My father and Jim got along fine," said Gene Deitch's son, Simon, "and they made some good pictures together. He often said that Jim was the most flexible of the older guys at Terry's." The picture one gets of Tyer at this point is vastly different from the Tyer who stubbornly refused to change his style at Famous a decade earlier. Tyer had matured both as an animator and a human being. Deitch also insisted on giving animators the full screen credits they deserved, which Terry had, of course, never done. Tyer's name appeared on the screen for the first time since he had left Famous.
Deitch assigned Tyer to work on an idea for a new series starring a "neurotic elephant" character. The character was originally called "Sick Sick Sidney," which was the title of the first cartoon in the series (in which Tyer animated several scenes), but the name was soon changed to "Silly Sidney." It turned out to be Deitch's single most successful effort at Terry's. Although they came up with at least half a dozen new characters, only Sidney is remembered today. "They put him to work on Sidney," artist Doug Crane reminisced,...It was just beautiful what he did with that character, Sidney. Almost everybody in the studio loved it; it just seemed like the most incredible thing."
Tyer worked on some of Deitch's other projects as well, most notably the character "Clint Clobber," and the highly successful TV show "Tom Terrific," but it didn't last long. There were bad feelings between Deitch and Bill Weiss, the "official" businessman who had ultimate control of Terrytoons. It was decided by Weiss and CBS to revert back to Terry's original idea of "the cartoon as mass-produced product" rather than Deitch's meticulous care for each individual film. Deitch was out by mid-1958, and Tyer left on November 18 of that year. With Deitch gone, the studio was going "limited" the same way that Paramount had already gone. In fact, it looked like New York animators would be turning out limited animation from here on out. Tyer had no reason to stick around."
R.O. Blechman. Bob of course was not a member of the studio; quite the opposite. He was the most hard-to-get talent I ever went after. I was dying to do his "Juggler of Our Lady" from the moment I saw the book. I spent night after night on the phone with him for nearly a year, trying to persuade him to let us do the film, but the schlock reputation of Terrytoons had turned him off. He was a shy, seemingly remote and strange fellow, with a nervous, bashful smile, but hard as nails concerning the integrity of his work. Finally I succeeded. I promised him my most advanced staffer, Al Kouzel, to be the nominal director, and that I would personally oversee the project to ensure absolute fidelity to his book. Here is where Phil Scheib also came through for me, creating a classic baroque music track. My greatest inspiration for this film was to get Boris Karloff to narrate. I had heard him do classic roles on the radio, and I wanted to present him out of type, as the gentle, literate man he really was. It was a pleaure working with him, and the film turned out to be my highest achievement at Terrytoons. I am proud that I was the first to bring R.O.Blechman to the screen.