Robert Story continues his behind the scenes memoirs of his time working with animation legend Bob Clampett. This month he concludes with the tale of the animated show Beany and Cecil.
At what some people called the peak of his creative powers, Bob Clampett left his position as writer/animation designer/director at Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies to produce a live puppet show of his own creation, Time For Beany, a series about a freckle-faced kid who wore a propellered "beany" atop his head, a cast-in-plastic smile on his face and airbrushed freckles across his nose. Beany sailed the world in search of adventures and fortune in the good ship "Leakin' Lena," accompanied by "Uncle Captain," aka Horatio K. Huffenpuff, and the lovable and most stout-hearted hero of all heroes, Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Their antagonist, "D.J.," or Dishonest John, was an ever-present, single-minded villain whose unshakable intent is to thwart "the boys'" mission, whatever that may entail, and whose most distinct audible identity, his laugh, "nya-HA-ha," is expressed ominously, in the manner of melodramatic stage heavies of decades before. These are the stars of Beany, the puppet show, but with them are numerous subsidiary characters, designed by Bob Clampett, dictated by dramatic necessity and manipulated by many of Hollywood's best-known acting talents.
The Animated Beany and Cecil
Some people are extraordinary artists. Others are creative powerhouses. Still others excite the imagination of "angels" -- the people with the deep pockets. Bob Clampett was all of these. Bob worked hard, took his chances, and his TV puppet show series, Time For Beany, became an instant winner with an audience of millions of children, appearing in its heyday on TV sets in over 60 television markets nationwide. Clampett created two additional daily shows, Thunderbolt the Wondercolt and Buffalo Billy, and two 30 minute-shows that aired weekly, the Willy the Wolf Show and a Saturday episode of Time for Beany. But Bob Clampett had a larger vision in mind than his backbreaking 5-day a week grind: he sought and found financing for a Beany and Cecil animation pilot -- a 7-minute animated show, produced on film and to be combined with other animated Beany segments into a one half-hour weekly color television show, color being a recent addition to TV-land's basket of tricks. When first broadcast in 1961, Clampett's animated film series, Beany and Cecil, was to be among the first -- with Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle and Hanna-Barbera's The Flintstones -- of TV's original color animated shows, not created from recycled WB, MGM, Disney, UPA and other theatrical cartoons as they had been throughout all the previous years of television. It was unquestionably Bob's talent, and his legendary reputation with Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, plus the popular acclaim of his puppet show, Time for Beany, and "Beany and Cecil Meet Billy the Squid," his cel-animation pilot, that led to the sale of Beany and Cecil, the animated half-hour series to the ABC network. It was probably in 1959 or `60 that Bob Clampett signed contracts binding him to an agreement to go into production, because about that time, Snowball, Inc. became a physical entity in a nondescript orangish 2-story 1935-ish brick building on Seward Street near Melrose Avenue, in the grim and gritty residential flatlands of Hollywood.
Setting Up Shop
After Bob settled himself comfortably behind his boomerang-shaped desk in the largest individual office in the building, he began staffing-up, creating the Snowball production food-chain. After they've been in the business for awhile, animation people begin to look like animated characters. Writers of all shapes, sizes and dispositions, dressed in Levis to Guccis, were immediately hired, because no production could begin without stories. Then came animators, designers, ink and paint artists, the editorial staff and dozens of others. I am reminded of the Seven Dwarfs' "It's Off To Work We Go," with more than two hundred writers, artists and technicians traipsing into Snowball each morning.
While each department had space logically assigned in the various rooms on the lower floor of the Snowball building, the Story Department was installed on the 2nd floor in a huge rectangular space with barracks-style brown asphalt tile floors, mint green-painted sandpaperish plaster walls and suspended fluorescent tube lighting. Story was a "bullpen" of work-tables, bulletin boards and folding chairs looking out onto the semi-residential Seward St. Clampett's hand-picked half-dozen story-sketch men went immediately to work, writing, drawing and push-pinning production storyboards for various Beany segments -- as outlined by Bob -- onto rolling 4x8 "story" bulletin-boards. At any given moment, four or five half-hour shows could be in progress. Meanwhile, downstairs, dozens of zolotone-green animation desks, tables, shelves, chairs, animation cameras, recording equipment, paint supplies, paper and cels, Moviolas, editing tables, film racks, splicers and synchronizers were being assembled in the cavernous structure. Identical white 2-door Ford Falcons became company cars.
Pad and Pencil
My job, I was told, was to sit down with blank storyboard pads and fill `em up with Beany and Cecil gags -- think `em up, draw `em up, pin `em up and hope they flew. I became a member of as unlikely a group of writers as one could find together in Hollywood. The "Head Writer," Eddie Brandt, was a youthful and hip man of 35 or so, trim and in good health, most often dressed for the tennis court. Today, almost 40 years later, he operates Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, a family-involved, vintage video rental store in North Hollywood. Brandt's "Saturday Matinee" catalog lists 8 Beany and Cecil titles. Tedd Pierce -- who added the extra `d' to his name when puppeteer Bil Baird removed the `l' from his -- was an old pro credited with writing many of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons. Pierce resembled TV funnyman Robert Q. Lewis more than a little. Another writer in and out of Snowball at this time was Jack Kinney. Bob monitored each storyboard as it developed, and attended each writer's session, during which storyboards were gone over frame by frame, from beginning to end. Progress would be noted, suggestions made and the moment Bob approved a finished board, it went downstairs to animation supervisor Art Scott, who made out the exposure sheets, trouble-shot the mechanics and with Production Manager Felix Zelenka, assigned scenes to layout, drawn by Al Stetter, Terrell Stapp and others. "Today, violence is gone from cartoons," one former cartoon writer observed, comparing Beany and Cecil to the cartoons of 1999. "It was legislated out. Now there's only chases and gags." Mid-twentieth-century TV cartoons consisted of slapstick comedy and absolutely no "F" jokes: flatulence, feces, and fornication. Sex references were verboten although, without evidence, several Snowball survivors will swear that Cecil was a phallic symbol. A little comic relief: editor Larry DeSoto would put the word out to various young inbetweeners to come to the cutting room to view the "erotic" frames on the Moviola. Erotic at Snowball meant somebody's underpants were missing ink lines in the frame or two where the wind blew the animated girl's dress up, revealing detail-free nudity. Some people got off on the inking error. Pretty hot stuff! You're Hearing The Voices Of... Once Bob approved the boards, a secretary typed a dialogue script which was given to Art Scott, the Recording Department and handed or messengered to the talent. During recording sessions, Bob directed the talent in the studio run by Jim Dixon and Dave Holmes, set up in the small padded and carpeted room where day after day, hour after hour, production tracks, pick-up lines, promos and sound effects were recorded with voice actors Jimmy MacGeorge (Beany, Crowy, Capt. Huffenpuff), Erv Shoemaker (Cecil and D.J.) and other Hollywood vocal and acting pros, including Lord Buckley (Wildman of Wildsville), John Carradine (the Shakespearean Willie the Wolf), Kenny Delmar (Tear-Along-the-Dotted Lion), Walker Edmiston (Thunderbolt the Wonder Colt), Scatman Crothers, Joan Gardner, Mickey Katz (Slopalong Catskill) and Don Messick. Famed ventriloquist Señor Wences appeared one afternoon to produce voices for Butterfingers and the Invisible Man. Even Bob Clampett and various members of his family are credited with voice characterizations, adding residual contributions to Bob's already substantial ownership legacy. Snowball in action was a family matter.
By the middle of Snowball's first year in business, pandemonium reigned. Half-hour shows had to be delivered each week so scripts had to be written and storyboarded, animated, inbetweened, color keyed, inked and painted, shot, edited and finished toot sweet, as one of Bob's characters might say (and incidentally, was named). Around the clock, a dozen or more show segments were in progress simultaneously. Casting was a 12 hour-a-day effort and talent was in and out of the recording studio which functioned 24 hours per day. Audio tracks were transferred to 35 magnetic film, handed to an editor who read them and made out exposure sheets, layouts were drawn and placed in the hands of animators Bud Hester, Bill Nunes, Carl Bell, and sometimes as many as 60 others, who ground out scene after scene of the animation drawings. Assistant animators worked 7 days a week. Following scene checking, the camera department filmed finished scenes, pencil tests, and color tests on giant Oxberry cameras as quickly as the ink & paint crew, a 30-person assembly line set up in a large space between animation and editorial, finished the cels, color checked and delivered them. The background department with Curt Perkins, and the layout department with such artists as Willie Ito, kept a steady pace, delivering their product to camera to coincide with ink & paint. In editorial there was overtime for anyone willing. Felix Zelenka controlled the floodgates by assuming the demanding Production Manager job, which required knowing precisely who was doing what and when it would be finished, and where each animation scene was and when it was to be shot and where the scene was stored after that, in case retakes were necessary. Bob Clampett listed himself as director, although he was really the creative decision-maker to Art Scott's animation supervisor, a job that required dedicated attention to detail. Whereas Bob was in a dozen places at once, directing talent, designing new characters, working on scripts and answering to the network, Art smoothed the production road with a calm, friendly, encouraging attitude, while adding an artist's touch to a job that could have been chaotic under anyone else. Everyone's job would have been tougher without Art Scott, supervising checker Jean Rains observed. Often creative short-cuts were taken to increase the output. "The biggest cheat of all in this big, hurry-up mode, was an episode about Beany and Cecil in the comics," Pete Verity, an assistant editor at the time, remembers. "It was the daily comics, which were just black and white -- black lines on white paper -- so there was no color. It sure saved time and money." Ahmed Lateef, today a feature film producer-director, in 1962 another assistant editor plucked from the UCLA Animation Department, recalls that once, after-hours, he made a one-minute "experimental art film" by scratching emulsion and painting on a piece of 35mm leader, and editing it to a bongo track. Supervising Editor Dick Elliott fell in love with Lateef's film. "Dick made a screening appointment, called Bob Clampett, and we went across Seward [to Continental Sound] to view it. Bob, in his dark glasses, arrived, accompanied by Art Scott and several of the writers. Well, they all loved it and wanted to use it. My one-minute piece became one brief segment in a Beany and Cecil cartoon."
In a closet near Bob's office, stood the "Monster," a massive, ungainly and temperamental Moviola projector -- probably the only one of its kind in Hollywood -- squatting ominously in the projection room behind a cramped, airless theater, and employed in the showing of dailies, answer prints, tests and the like. The "Monster" was thusly named because of its size, unwieldy nature and unpredictability.Each night, completed scenes were shot on 35mm color film and the next morning, when Bob came into the screening room to view each day's "dailies," an editor would have threaded them up, in sync with the audio on the Monster, and was ready to roll -- if the Monster would cooperate, which it often did not. Then there were the finished shows. "We'd screen an answer print [the final edited, composited mixed show] on the Monster," recalls a member of Snowball's creative staff, "and, of course, Clampett viewed all the final shows with the writers. Well, the writers absolutely rolled in the aisles, so hilarious did they find their gags." The writers were smart enough to "sing for their supper," or give their own work exaggerated vocal approval when Bob was near.
Some Day My Prints Will Come
Dick Elliott's Editorial Department was in full swing with editors Sam Moore, Larry DeSoto and John Soh driving the Moviolas, while Pete Verity, Ahmed Lateef and several others were assistant editors.Editorial's job was to read tracks, assemble dailies as they came out of the lab and were approved by Bob and Art, cut a work print of each show, set up sound dubbing units of music and sound effects, and supervise dubbing sessions at Ryder Sound during which final mixed tracks were to be composited. After this, the edited work print was sent to the negative cutter for conforming, following which, with the optical track negative, sent to the lab for making of a 35mm "first trial" or answer print. Sometimes things went smoothly, other times, not.
Bob was under tremendous stress, remembers Verity, who was in regular contact with the director. A main source of this stress were the wholesale changes demanded by the network and sponsors at very late stages of production -- sometimes even after episodes had been completed! Finished work prints would have to be changed for extremely minor tweaks. For example, one final print had to be changed when the network decided it suddenly didn't like one of the character's voices. More aggravating was the fact that most of these changes could have been made at the storyboard stage or even beforehand, thereby avoiding costly and time consuming re-dos. "He was spending his days checking on all the work with every little group [of animators, checkers, writers, ink and paint, audio and of course, editing] and leaving his orange-penciled instructions."Sometimes, when Bob would come down [to editorial] to check on the editing," Verity recalls, "he'd bring the writers with him. We always hated this because there were about 5 writers and Bob, and we'd start showing the cut, and it seemed like it was obligatory for each writer to find something wrong -- changes needing to be made -- in order to justify his job. And so, we knew we were in for unnecessary changes...because they wanted to keep their jobs, and needed to speak up and find something wrong.""At the very end, we were working way too many hours," one former assistant editor recalls. "I remember one time working close to 24 hours straight, and then starting a new day. We were so tired, we were unable to function. The editing department was dripping in magnetic track trims taped to the walls and the overhead pipes... like moss hanging from trees in the Everglades. It was complete disorder. The problem was most of us assistants were kids, and we didn't know how to edit; we just did it! Still, we did a pretty good job."Damage Control To control runaway costs during this tremendous production push, the financial management of Snowball finally came under the control of A.C.R. Stone, Bob's brother-in-law. Stony was a determined businessman whose most recent gig was helming a national soft drink bottling company, however he had no previous experience with an animation company. He was smart, shrewd and sufficiently unimpressed with the romance of showbiz to handle the day-to-day business affairs of Snowball, Inc.Snowball was contractually obliged to deliver one show a week to ABC, and payments from the network weren't made to Snowball unless the mix was completed and approved -- a difficult task. It boiled down to this: If Snowball didn't deliver, neither did ABC, so the week's payroll could not be met. The pressure on every department was excruciating.It was almost the end of the final production push, and everyone at Snowball was working day and night. "The last days of Snowball were hectic, frantic," Verity remembers, "I can't recall exactly what the other departments were doing, but it sure was crazy for editorial.""We got paid royally for all those hours," recalls Verity, "we were making all sorts of money. The British payroll-lady -- the one that called Cecil, "Sessil" -- paid us, but begrudgingly. She was probably making $65 a week and here we were, kids in our twenties, going home with $1000 checks."It's Over, Beany, It's Over! Finally, it was all over. The Beany's were delivered and on the air and everyone breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated at a wrap party held at the Grapevine, a restaurant-bar in the Hollywood Greyhound Bus Station where animation industry parties were most often held. (Is that a statement about the animation industry of the time?)Everyone attended from the front office girls to Bob and Stony, and even some ABC execs. It was a grand and melancholy occasion. We had pulled together, and against heavy odds, won. It was over and we were both proud and relieved.
Ahmed Lateef remembers years later watching television, and seeing Bob Clampett, in person, holding forth on a Beany and Cecil float in the Hollywood Thanksgiving Parade. "Seeing Bob," Lateef says, "reminded me of those old Snowball days -- the characters we worked with, and the fun and frantic confusion. Those days are gone forever."One day, we were folding up shop and I was looking for a can of film in the Snowball vault, and came upon a Del Monte Catsup box containing reel after reel of old black and white 16mm Beany kinescopes carelessly stashed and unwinding themselves among other production paraphernalia, which included one tattered Cecil hand-puppet, looking sorrowfully up at me. "It's all over," Cecil seemed to be saying.Time For Beany, the Beany and Cecil cartoons and Bob Clampett are but a memory in the minds of those of us who participated the golden age of television. It's comforting to dream, though, that somewhere out there beyond the Milky Way, the boys are on another adventure, and the voice of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent can be heard singing his signature song:Ragg moppDoodly-dah-de-do-dahRagg moppDoodly-dah-de-do-dahR. I say raRag - RaggOh RagR-a-g-g M-o-p-pRagg Mopp!And the voice of Bob Clampett rings through the darkness, asking, "Can you run it one more time, fellas?"Fade out.On October 26, 1999 in the US, Image Entertainment is releasing Bob Clampett's Beany And Cecil: The Special Edition DVD. The DVD will include a dozen of the original Beany and Cecil cartoons from 1962. Plus, a huge amount of bonus material, including: the original Matty's Funnies (the show during which Beany And Cecil cartoons were first shown) opening in color; a couple of the original Matty's Funnies bumpers; four full episodes of Time For Beany that have not been seen since their original airing fifty years ago; a full episode of Thunderbolt The Wondercolt; a musical number from The Willy The Wolf Show; a fund-raiser promotional film featuring the Mr. Peepers Wolf puppet and a sexy live-action little Red Riding Hood; backstage and home movies from Time For Beany and Thunderbolt; Bob Clampett's first television interview; and other early home movies. It will also include a section called "The Lost Work," which will include ten projects Clampett developed, but never released to the public. There is also an audio oral history from Bob Clampett speaking about his career that was edited by Milt Gray, and an audio commentary from Stan Freberg, who, with Daws Butler, did the voices on Time For Beany, talking in depth about the experience of working on Time For Beany, and a commentary from Walker Edmiston talking about Beany and his work on Thunderbolt and Willy The Wolf. There is also a story session recording of a Time For Beany episode where Bob Clampett and staff create a satire of the McCarthy hearings. There are even over 550 stills! The disc's producer, Rob Clampett, Jr., also promises some more surprises. The suggested retail price is US$29.99.Robert Story is a producer and writer. He lives in Laguna Beach, California.