ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.6 - SEPTEMBER 1999
Bob Clampett, Boy Wonder Of Stage C
(continued from page 3)
Bob, The Director
Bob Clampett was tall, well over 6 feet, slim, and delicately handsome with a mop of dark hair falling across his forehead. He was a smart, courteous and pleasant man, a perfectionist, who encouraged the best efforts of the men and women who worked with, around and for him. A big part of Bob's personality was a boyish innocence. Some of the people who worked alongside him during those days remember Bob as the scrupulous artist he was. On productions he was directing or otherwise wielding creative responsibility, Bob invariably examined each animation scene and every drawing within each scene for fidelity to character, movement and line-quality.
I T'ot I Taw A Puddy Tat!
Bob created "Tweety Pie," of "I t'ot I taw a puddy tat" fame, the apparently innocuous but dangerously diabolical canary who became an instant star as the continuing source of feline frustration in the lunatic cartoons co-starring a lisping, salivating Sylvester, everyone's favorite feline. Tweety debuted in "A Tale of Two Kitties" (1942). Additionally, about this time, Bob developed our hayseed feathered friend, Beaky Buzzard, who later made his first appearance on the big screen in cartoons often featuring the three, Beaky, Sylvester and Tweety, to the wild acclaim of kids nationwide.
What's Up, Doc?
While Bob Clampett and animator Robert McKimson didn't create Bugs Bunny, they will be forever credited with refining him into the kwazy wabbit all the world knows and loves. With the two Roberts' help, Bugs became one of the handful of most recognized cartoon characters in animation history. Compare a 1930s or `40s Bugs to a Bugs Bunny of today, and you will have some idea of the painstaking refinements of character and movement Clampett and McKimson gave an increasingly popular animated character. In 1947, at what some people called the peak of his creative powers, and against everyone's advise, Bob Clampett left Schlesinger to produce the puppet show of his own design, Time for Beany.
Socks of Another Color
Beany and his friends shared their TV world with a gaggle of subsidiary "hand-puppet" characters, crafted from what were fundamentally socks -- tubes of fabric with an opening at one end, through which the actor-manipulator could thrust his hand, and a fabricated head on the other. Many of Clampett's puppets had sewn-on, rubberized and relatively inexpressive heads and faces, like Beany or Uncle Cap'n, which were both rigid Punch and Judy-style hand-puppets. But Cecil, for example, was fabricated of pale green terry-cloth for skin-texture, with sewn-on eyes, buttons representing nostrils, and a flap or folded "mouth," so fingers inside could make the "mouth" open and close. He could be in sync with the spoken word and expressive in numerous other ways like smiling, grimacing, appearing frightened or amazed, angry or coquettish. For Cecil, all of this was possible. Cecil was the simplest and least sophisticated of the Clampett hand-puppets, but probably the most expressive due to the uncomplicated, flexible construction and imagination and facility of Stan Freberg, who, on monitors installed behind the set, could view what movements and "face" he was giving Cecil as he manipulated the Cecil "sock" with his hand. As a comic and actor, Freberg intuitively knew what best expressed the Cecil character during specific circumstances.
Cecil's mouth and facial design emphasizing a varied capacity for expression with what was simply a sock, was carried over into some of the other Clampett characters as well (a design that was later to become the collective characteristic of Jim Henson's Muppets). Time for Beany included such characters as Hopalong Wong, Clowny, Crowy, and my favorite in name, "Tear-Along, the Dotted Lion," all continuing participants in the puppet show and some later appearing in the animated Beany and Cecil series. The design of one character, Dishonest John, a.k.a. "D.J.," was based on one of Bob Clampett's animation bosses at Warners, Larry Martin.
Time for Beany cast in Leakin' Lena, late 1940s.
Back To Beany
And, you might ask, where did I fit into all of this? I was a twenty year-old college dropout wannabee television professional, with a part-time job at KTTV. My job paid next to nothing, but was the most exciting thing I had ever experienced in my short life. As one of the benefits of my part-time KTTV job, I had the run of the entire studio: I watched the building of a Christopher Columbus-era sailing ship on Stage A, and the subsequent shooting there of a scene from Son of Sinbad, I observed the building of a drawing room suite on Stage B, and watched Carlton Carpenter and Claudette Colbert perform in a scene. But after discovering what was happening on Stage C each afternoon, I became an instant fan of Time for Beany. It became my habit, when not occupied with KTTV duties, to be on the Beany set each night at broadcast time watching production in action. I fell in love with the funny, spontaneous show, became passing friends with Bob Clampett and acquainted with almost everyone connected to the show; I was bitten by the show-biz bug and wanted to be a part. After I had worked at the TV station for about a year, and watched Beany regularly, it occurred to me I could write Beany as well as anyone and writing Beany was precisely what I decided I wanted to do some day.
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