In which Chris Robinson asks animation professionals profoundly inane questions about the inner workings of their existence. Today's guest is the renowned animation historian, writer, curator, Jerry Beck.
Jerry Beck is a writer, animation producer, college professor and author of more than 15 books on animation history. He is a former studio exec with Nickelodeon Movies and Disney, and has written for The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. He has curated cartoons for DVD and Blu-ray compilations and has lent his expertise to dozens of bonus documentaries and audio commentaries on such. Beck is on the faculty of both Woodbury University in Burbank and Cal Arts in Valencia.
Jerry agreed to spend a day with me wearing matching Commander Cody helmets while chasing Screwy Squirrel through noted animator Kobe Bryant’s childhood home during the late 1980s in Philadelphia. The day was crisp, grey but relatively pleasant.
I get the greatest pleasure from teaching Animation History at Cal Arts in Valencia, and at Woodbury University in Burbank. Every week I get to curate a new show, and blow their Millennial (or post- Millennial) minds with Winsor McCay, Max Fleischer, Tex Avery, John Hubley, Ralph Bakshi and beyond. It’s so much fun to screen these on the big screen, to hear the student’s fresh laughter at gags in Bugs Bunny cartoons I’ve seen hundreds of times, to introduce them to UPA, or to simply watch Fantasia with them. And I get paid to do this.
The name of my autobiography would be The Cartoon Guy: A Life in, out of and hanging around Animation
My most beloved possession is Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. But I have one of the prop helmets used in the old Commando Cody movie serials. It’s all rusted, but I love it. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
A (non-family member) person I have high respect for is pretty much everyone you’ve had “a question” for (see previous columns) ... but I’d have to add Leonard Maltin, writer J.B. Kaufman, and animator Mark Kausler to the mix.
The song that makes me tingle is “The Porpoise Song” by The Monkees (written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin)
The funniest thing that happened to me…. I was invited to be part of a David Letterman taping in Miami Florida back in 1986. They taped me eating a bagel at the after party and ran the tape on the broadcast – labeling me “Don Johnson of Miami Vice”. Hold on. That’s not the funny part. Three years later, a new movie comes out, Dead Bang directed by John Frankenheimer. It stars Don Johnson as a detective named… wait for it… “Jerry Beck”.
I’d like to be remembered as a guy who tried to bring attention to animation and who championed the cause, to raise the public consciousness that cartoons aren’t just a children’s medium.