Chapter 23: Self-Help For Nudnik
To get the feel of a series, we unified the drawing style of all the films to more or less an extension of what Chris Jenkyns did in the "Cowards" book. "Cowards" went over big in art-house distribution, and won an Oscar nomination in 1962. "Friendship" was nominated in 1964. We had a lot of fun with the idea, and I was accumulating ideas to go on with the series. But Paramount was wishing for a new single character, and Snyder was pushing me to come up with something pronto.
At Terrytoons I had created Foofle, an inept clown, as a burlesque of my own physical clumsiness, but I didn't have enough time at Terrytoons to fully develop the character, and had been frustrated ever since, thinking up ideas of what I could have done with him. But having a new opportunity thrust at me, I started cooking hard on it. Not being able to use a character copyrighted by Terrytoons, even though I had personally created it, I had to take it into another form. I wanted to make him more human, more sympathetic, even lovable - a lovable loser. Whereas Foofle was drawn with smooth lines, and too clean looking, I made the new character more raggedy, with lots of scratchy pen lines. We were ready to do a looser style of animation. I made what I thought was a funny drawing of my revised character, and needed a new name. It was the time when the Russian word "Sputnik" had entered the American language. Being in Czechoslovakia, another Slavic nation, I learned that many Czech words also had the "nik" ending, "chodnik" (sidewalk), "pilnik" (file), "podnik" (work place), etc. All these words seemed funny to me, and suddenly I remembered the Yiddish word, "nudnik." A great name! But I am not only a clumsy person, I am also an inept Jew. In Yiddish, a nudnik is a bore, but I didn't know that at the time. I was thinking shlemiel. But nobody told me I was wrong. Everyone thought the name "Nudnik" was funny. It sounded funny. It stuck. Paramount liked it, and Nudnik too went on to win an Oscar nomination 1964. That was a big year for us. I had two films nominated in 1964, "How to Avoid Friendship," from my Self-Help Series, and "Nudnik #2" later renamed,"Here's Nudnik." For many years I have been proud to believe that I am the only animation film director to have two cartoons nominated in the same year. (Nick Park managed it more recently.) Of course, our vote was split and neither of my films got the Oscar.
Nudnik is homeless in an unrelentingly hostile and ugly world. Every person, every animal, and even every object, inexplicably hates him on sight. Yet he is constantly cheerful, helpful and hopeful, trying yet failing spectacularly at even the most simple tasks, even in opening a can of beans or tying his shoelaces. A game loser, he is the opposite of my best known character, Tom Terrific, the cocksure winner. So it was perfectly in character for Nudnik to fail to win the Oscar.
Once again, a failure. Not failing to win another Oscar. That didn't crush me. What was crushing was timing. Nudnik hit the movie screens under Paramount distribution too late. It was the time that movie theater cartoons were being fazed out. We managed to make 12 Nudnik cartoons, my most satisfying and most personal character creation, but that was the end of it. Paramount and every other studio was out of the movie cartoon business. Nudnik, the, hapless hobo, never had a chance to fully develop into a truly world class loser. This modest, dusty ne'er do well gathered ever more dust in the Rembrandt Films basement for thirty years. Bill Snyder's son Adam, whom we knew as a little boy, was now grown up and a successful magazine writer. He decided to revive Rembrandt Films, and discovered many treasures in his basement. Amazingly, Nudnik arose from the ashes, and Sunbow Entertainment of New York packaged him with other classic Rembrandt items into a short series now in international distribution, with the amazing title, (their insistence!) "Gene Deitch presents The Nudnik Show!" Could the little tramp be just a bit of a winner after all?