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Remembering 'She-Ra' and 'He-Man': Interview with Lou Scheimer

Dale Hendrickson, who worked on the original She-Ra and He-Man series, chats with veteran producer Lou Scheimer about his work on the two series, as well as his overall career in animation.

She-Ra and He-Man had a major impact on animation during their TV runs. All images © 1983/1984 Entertainment Rights plc; Characters © 1983/1984 Mattel Inc.; All rights reserved.

In recognition of the release of the original She-Ra and He-Man series on DVD, I met up with Lou Scheimer [whose Filmation Studios produced the series] at his home in Woodland Hills, California, to talk with him about the shows. I had worked on the He-Man and She-Ra shows as a character designer at Filmation all through the 80s. It was a major part of my early professional life and had a major impact on the animation industry in general. We went up to Lous home office with a spectacular view of the valley and surrounding area as our backdrop and began to talk about those He-Man days.

Dale Hendrickson: Well, Lou, as you look back on those shows, what stands out the most for you?

Lou Scheimer: Happy times. I mean, I had no idea; it was the nicest period of my life. I didnt know what was really happening. I mean were saying OK at the time; it must be what we should be doing. We did it as well as we could do it. We created a whole concept of how to settle things and got the networks all pissed off which they deserved

Lou Scheimer kick started TV animation, when it was going though a slump at the time, with a Mattel toy licensing deal.

DH: [Laughs]

LS: [Laughs] But we really had something special.

DH: Well it felt from my perspective that TV animation was in a bit of a slump, going through changes and you gave it a kick-start with the Mattel deal.

LS: Thats a long story, but let me say a little about that. The Mattel deal actually started right after we did Black Star. They came to me and they had this product. They had this deal with the Conan people, I didnt know they had this guy coming out of the forest with a sword, and [they] wanted to know if I could sell it to the networks. I said yeah, I would try. I really didnt like the story; it was pretty much a long toy commercial.

We were lucky though, because right around that time we had sold the company to, well, Teleprompter had sold the company to Westinghouse, and so we suddenly had an arm of the company that distributed stuff. I went to Westinghouse and said we have an opportunity to do something interesting here. Mattel has this toy line that theyre not sure what to do with. They want to release it the following year, but nobody knows about it, and they didnt know how to get it on the air.

Mattel came to Scheimer with the He-Man toy and wanted him to sell it to the networks. He redeveloped the story and interested Westinghouse in the series. Seasons 1 and 2 are now available on DVD.

We went back to Mattel and told them if they let us develop it the way we think is appropriate, give us a shot at it, we would try to sell it into syndication and, on top of that, I got Westinghouse to finance it!

Mattel was in seventh heaven. I did not know what a great deal it was for them. I thought, wow, we could end up doing 65 of these a year, and keep people working all year, the way it should be, and do something for the industry! I went back to Mattel with the concept of Prince Atom, a father, son, mother, a family. Well, they didnt know what to do with it, but we made a deal with them to give us creative control, We financed it and it was a good deal for us; the money that came in from syndication, which was good back then, but it was all luck. If the show hadnt worked, it would have been death. We ended up doing about 223 episodes. Thats a lot of stuff!

DH: Yes, it kept me busy for many years.

LS: (laughs) Well, yeah, me too! I did not realize at the time how lucky we were. It seemed like it would never end.

DH: One of the things that impressed me about you, Lou, was your dedication to keeping the work here. It seemed you were one of the last holdouts.

LS: I found no joy in taking the work we do here and sending it overseas. There is no satisfaction in that. It just became a business without a heart.

DH: So Lou, how did you go from He-Man to She-Ra?

LS: Yeah, lets talk about She-Ra. After a year or so of He-Man, Mattel came back to me and said they would like to do something with a girl character. We had done Isis and you had Supergirl, but what could I do to figure out how to do something with He-Man? Maybe it could be a sister that he didnt know existed, something like that! Well it worked. Although Mattel had a bit of a problem, because now they didnt know how to market it. Was it a girls toy in an action/adventure role that is usually reserved for boys? They didnt know what to do. The show took off anyway. It was a hit. It broke all the records. It worked out having He-Mans role in She-Ra. The network knew some of what they were getting, and girls actually already liked He-Man, so despite of the marketing confusion, it worked out great.

DH: Lou, I brought a few of my favorite designs in to show you.

LS: Oh, I would love to see them!

[At this point, I pull out model sheets of Frosta from the She-Ra series.]

She-Ra was developed when Mattel came to Scheimer asking for a girl character a year after the debut of He-Man. He developed her as a sister He-Man didnt know existed. Season 1 of She-Ra has been released on DVD.

DH: My specialty was the girl characters, which I was told had a certain resemblance to my wife. I confess, she was my constant muse.

LS: Nothing wrong with that.

[Lou pulls the models over to get a better look.]

LS: Oh, thats great yeah. You know, At Comic-Con there was a girl that showed up at the booth dressed as Frosta. She had the blue hair and the whole outfit. She looked great. Its on the DVD I think.

[Lou continues to flip through some of my other designs for Katra and Scorpia.]

LS: This is great, when you show these things to people they must think youre kidding,

DH: Especially younger people, who grew up on these shows.

LS: Oh, they must be like, Oh, my God!! Oh my God! [Laughs]

[Lou pulls out Flutterina. We both laugh at the names.]

DH: Here we are looking at Flutterina, The names were hilarious.

LS: The names all came from the women over in the girls department at Mattel. I said what the hell am I going to do with a character called Perfuma!! Flutterina who the hell is going to believe that?!

[We are both laughing.]

LS: Ive forgotten how nice this stuff was. It was going through so fast and so furiously,

DH: There was such attention to detail by Diane Keener, I think, as department head. She really set the tone for what we were going for.

Scheimer resisted sending He-Man and She-Ra overseas for animation. For him there was no satisfaction in that; it would just be business without a heart.

LS: She was terrific! I remember how concerned she was about everything. Now you worked with Diane and Herb Hazelton right? He passed away you know.

DH: Yes, that was several years ago I think. He was doing layout as well as some character design work on the show. Besides Diane, and many other great artists who came through the department, I worked most with Harry Sabin.

LS: Oh, they were wonderful, have you seen Harry or Diane lately?

DH: I havent seen Diane in many years, but I run into Harry now and then. Hes doing great.

Lou, you took some risks, in spite of the fact that you were following a toy line, and you had a lot of constraints from the network. To the toy company, I felt you still had moments there that you were able to make things interesting in the storyline and push the envelope a bit.

LS: In spite of them!

DH: Yes, and that would inspire me too as a designer, I thought, wow, youre pushing the envelope here a bit so I am going to too.

When we did the Huntara episode, Im thinking Grace Jones.

LS: Oh, yeah, I remember this. Ya know what, people who never saw the show, complained about its violence. Its all bullshit!! They didnt see what the show was, they didnt see the preparation, the thought that went into it, There was one man, Arthur Nadel, the story editor, he was the unsung hero on the show, he lived and breathed the thing.

DH: Yes, I believe Tom T [Tom Tataranowicz] directed that show.

LS: Yah know, Tom T has turned into a really sweet guy. Hes going to destroy his reputation!!

[Were laughing.]

DH: Lou, how did you get started out here?

Mattel had problems figuring out how to market the She-Ra doll to girls. In spite of the confusion, the show was a hit, and it turned out girls actually already liked He-Man.

LS: Well, I came out from Pittsburgh and desperately wanted a job. The first job I got was at a little studio thats not around anymore and as soon as I got the job they went on strike! So I went and found Walter Lantz. He gave me a freelance job doing backgrounds. I really liked it and he paid me enough to pay the bills. I went back to him and I asked him, did you really like my portfolio, is that why you hired me?

He says I didnt hire you because of your portfolio; I hired you because you looked like my brother Michael! Im thinking, ah shit!!

[Were laughing.]

DH: OK, well, when I came out here, I interviewed at Disney like everyone who gets off the boat to be an animator in Hollywood, And, do you know who interviewed me? Donald Duckwall!!! [Lou laughs]. Im thinking can this guy ever work anywhere else but Disney? [Lou is still laughing.]

LS: Don Duckwall!! Thats right. I had forgotten he was there.

[Lou looks at more designs I brought and is appropriately complimentary.]

LS: We really have to do this again sometime.

DH: I really appreciate your time Lou. Its been great and I look forward to the DVDs.

LS: It's been great for me, thank you, I hope I gave you something you can use. Hell I dont know what we talked about but it was fun. Seriously, you really made my day!

Editors note: She-Ra: Princess of Power, Season One, Volume One, was released Nov., 7, 2006, by BCI and Entertainment Rights at a suggested retail price of $49.98. The six-DVD pack includes 32 digitally remastered episodes from the first season of the classic 80s animated series. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Season Two, Volume Two, the fourth and final release in a set that includes all 130 original episodes of the popular animated saga was released in Sept.

Dale Hendrickson served as character designer for the

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power series, as well as the He-Man and She-Ra feature The Secret of the Sword. He started in 1977 at Hanna-Barbera and became a key assistant animator. He went on to design characters for Filmation, Disney TV, Calico, Klasky Csupo and Film Roman. He was character design supervisor on the first seven seasons of The Simpsons. He was an art director at Saban Ent. and helped set up its CGI department, where he pioneered a look for the computer animation that turned 3D models into flat cell-shaded objects. He was CGI producer/art director for Silver Surfer. Hendrickson was a co-founder of S4 Studios in Hollywood. He recently designed characters for the Barnyard theatrical release.