Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The Muppets comes out this week, and it looks and feels very much like the Muppets that I grew up with; fresh, fun and humorous. I'm going to see it with my daughter around the holiday and it should be pretty entertaining. I'm glad in that respect, but it bothers me that Jim Henson's name is not in bold, above the title. It may be called Disney's The Muppets, but even though they own the property, it's still not Disney to me.
Jim Henson was the heart and soul of The Muppets.
Many moons ago when I was just about 11 or twelve, I was a big Muppet Fan and very much into puppets for that reason. Henson was involved with creating delightfully bizarre sketches for The Ed Sullivan Show, For Commercials, for Sesame Street and was creating hour long specials for CBS and for syndication. Each of these projects were a whole lot of fun and I got caught up into it. In fact, I was so bitten by it that I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to work for Jim Henson!
My father saw that interest and nurtured it by enrolling me in some puppetry classes at The Museum Of New York with a professional puppeteer named Rod Young. For a number of weeks, we built puppets, wrote a show, recorded it and then performed it on a beautiful stage at the Museum. I took the experience and ran with it by performing my own little shows on a giant stage that my father had built me. I even entered a puppetry competition and won three 2nd place prizes. Professional puppeteers attended this and made a point to tell my father that I was a natural for the medium.
For a time there, I would write to Jim Henson in NYC, and he would actually answer these little letters personally. These letters would be typed up on Henson Associates stationery and signed by Mr. Henson in green pen. To say I was thrilled when I received these would be a major understatement. I even got the number to Jim Hensons' workshop on East 67th Street in NYC, and called him a few times on the weekends...he always picked up the phone. I knew what I wanted to say to him, but sometimes the words were slow to come out. Somehow I managed to stumble through a question or two...and I'm sure it sounded like some stuttering dumbbell kid on the other side of the phone, but he never rushed me off. Sometimes, I wondered if it was really Mr Henson answering that phone on a Saturday morning. Years later, I did find out that he did go into the workshop on Saturdays, often always by himself.
The letters that I received from Jim Henson weren't very long; basically simple answers to simple questions but I cherished having them. Unfortunately somehow over time, due to my carelessness or whatever, they got misplaced and lost.
By the time, I had hit thirteen years old, the animation bug got me and I redirected myself toward a career in animated cartoons. My father had a problem with my new direction because he had felt that I was giving up something where I had a unique ability. He eventually saw why I wanted to go into animation and supported my efforts. While I gave up puppets as a career choice, I never lost my love for them. I've remained a Jim Henson fan ever since. Recently, I went to see The Jim Henson Exhibit at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens (runs through January 2012). The show features Jim's original character sketches as well as original muppets from some of the early commercials and specials. It was a thrilling experience for me. I think I've been bitten by the Muppet bug yet again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Ant and The Aardvark Part One

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was The Ant & The Aardvark, which was a part of the Depatie Freleng Pink Panther show that ran on NBC for something like a gazillion seasons. Actually the show started with a half hour in the late 60's, expanding to an hour and then an hour and a half in the early 70's!
The cartoons felt hipper than the older Looney Tunes stuff, even though the Depatie Freleng staff basically reused a whole lot of old Warner Bros gags. The thing about these cartoons though was the unique voice characterizations of John Byner doing impressions of Dean Martin (The Ant) and Jackie Mason (The Aardvark) in the guise of two odd ball cartoon stars. What really made these cartoons special was the great line reads by Byner. They're simply not your standard cartoony cartoon voices. It's really hard to believe that Byner did all these characters because you don't hear his vocal voice print (Even with some of the classic voice artists like Paul Frees, Mel Blanc and Daws Butler, you could tell who was doing those voices). To top off the uniqueness of these cartoons, the jazzy music by Doug Goodwin creates what I call a drunken type of music that really works. Everything adds to the fun! In Technology Phooey (The cel above is from that very cartoon) the Aardvark has to deal with the Ant and a computer (also voiced by Byner doing a pseudo Paul Lynde impression) who gives him very bad advice. It's one of my favorite Ant & The Aaardvark cartoons!  Even though it seemed like they produced a lot of these shorts, in reality only 17 were made between 1969 and 1971. Art Leonardi, who was a Warners guy back in the late years of that studio, moved to DFE and was a key guy there doing lots of different things. I later worked with him on Tiny Toon Adventures in the late 80's. He's credited as animator on this particular short and did all 17 of the cut out titles.  Take a look at the short below...
Somewhere over the last twenty years, I started collecting animation art from Depatie Freleng's early years and stumbled across a bunch of original cels from The Original Ant & Aardvark series (many from this short). Because I had never seen too many originals ever offered through the years, I decided to buy whatever I could. Fast forward to now and a lot of these cels are just sitting in a closet where they will probably never be displayed the way they should. So I decided to let a few go on ebay so that other people might enjoy them. I will post some of my other original Ant & The Aardvark art over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I have a few of these Roy Williams drawings, so I'm letting this one go to auction on ebay. I consider myself a pretty fast artist, but Roy Williams was lighting quick. He probably effortlessly knocked this one out in under five seconds. It's not the best Mickey I've ever seen, as a matter of fact it's not even on model, but the drawing has charm....and it's probably the best drawing that you're going to get in under five seconds.
Waiting to get your own Roy Williams drawing was probably the shortest line ever at Disneyland just because Williams was so lightning quick!
Between drawing assignments at the Disney studio in the late 50's and early 60's, Walt would send some of his artists down to Disneyland to draw for the crowds. Sometimes this would be at the Art Corner in Tomorrowland or you could find them somewhere on Main Street, possibly somewhere near the castle. I know you could occassionally find Disney vet Bob Youngquist also drawing for the crowds.
The only thing I'm not sure of is if they ever charged for the drawings!
Regardless, it sure sounds like it was a great time to go to Disneyland.