Chapter 20: Tom & Jerry: The First Reincarnation
I knew that story would be the vital ingredient, so I called on my old colleagues, Larz Bourne, Eli Bauer, Tod Dockstader, and even some T&J veteran gagmen for storyboards. I also did some, and I reworked those that came in. I was the only one present who could draw American style cartoon characters and their facial expressions, so I personally drew all the layouts and key poses. (So there, I am taking the blame for those vital elements! But it was a struggle to get the non-violent Czech animators to hold to them.)
But even though our Tom & Jerrys were never good enough for the animation history mavens, Joe Vogel and his MGM team were well-satisfied with our results. They were only nervous about the communist Czechoslovak connection. We were able to use the classic MGM roaring lion logo to head up our T&Js, but the originals always had the line, "Made in Hollywood, USA" on the end titles. Obviously, we could not put, "Made in communist Czechoslovakia" on our titles! We were not even allowed to credit any Czechs with their true names. To belatedly set the record straight, here are some examples:
"A. Booresh" was actually: Antonín Bure_, animator
"Victor Little" was actually: Václav Lídl, composer
"S. Newman" was actually: Zdenka Najmanová, production mgr.
"M. Clicker" was actually: Milan Klikar, my premier animator
"V. Marsh" was actually: Věra Mare_ová, animator
"Dennis Smith" was actually: Zdenek Smetana, animator
Before we had even finished our first 12 cartoons, Joe Vogel, who had seemed to me to be the very symbol of the powerful movie studio tycoon, was booted out of MGM. Thus we lost our T&J patron. The new bosses wanted the production closer to home. So just as we felt we were beginning to get the hang of T&J, we were not allowed to develop further, as had the original Hanna and Barbera crew. Just look at the first 12 Tom & Jerry films they did, and tell me they were hilarious classics!
I am confident that whatever failings our 12 Tom & Jerry cartoons had, they were very close to the H&B originals in appearance. The great master, Chuck Jones, the next to try continuing Tom & Jerry, went his own merry-melody way with the character models, and I don't think they survive as examples of the series, nor were necessarily funnier than some of ours. The later attempts by others went back toward the same models we followed, although dressing the cat and mouse in trendy duds, and taming them way down to the point of palship.
Today, our T&Js are mixed right in with the earlier Hanna-Barbera's on the Cartoon Network, and I am confident that few viewers find them that much out of synch with the originals, whereas Chuck's are easily spotted as odd. Chuck himself wrote me that he simply remade the characters as his own.
And hey, they sure did work for me. Our T&J tenure was wholly supported by the then head honcho of MGM, Joe Vogel. When he was ousted, so were we. But the project had served its purpose for me. Along with the following Popeye and Krazy Kat series for King Features TV, it kept me in Prague long enough to marry Zdenka, and assured us of enough work to keep me busy here quite possibly forever!
A wonderful sidelight to my Tom & Jerry films occurred in the year 2000, when I was told that an 11 year old American boy named Pietro Shakarian actually put up a web page honoring my T&Js, pronouncing the "best of all."