Wednesday, December 22, 2010

David H. DePatie interview, final part

Read part 3 here.

Did The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat start production at the original studio, then completed at Marvel?
Yes, that was in mid-production when Friz and I shut down so I took it over to Marvel and basically it was the same production team because when I started the Marvel studio, it was kind of like when we started DePatie-Freleng, I reached in and took as many DFE personnel as I could and brought them over to Marvel when we started up at that studio.

And Pink Panther continued production right until the studio shut down?
That's right, and actually it went on a little beyond that because at Marvel we did a Pink Panther Valentine special for ABC called Pink at First Sight. That was done entirely when I was at Marvel.

Friz had no involvement with that special?
We got together on the original storyline and that was about it. The rest of the animation process we did entirely at Marvel.

To go back a bit, was Dr. Seuss, Ted Geisel, heavily involved with the TV specials?
Very much so. He was a very hands-on guy. He lived down in La Jolla and he would fly over here. During the course of the production it wasn't unusual to see him once a week. He was very instrumental in the creation of the series. Friz and I had a very good rapport with him. We enjoyed working with him and he enjoyed the studio and it was a far-cry from the bad experience he had with Chuck Jones on the earlier Christmas special.

So he enjoyed the specials the studio did.
Oh yeah. It was a very good relationship and everybody was pleased. I have sitting here front of me three Emmys that we won for Dr. Seuss specials, with Friz and I as producers. Yeah, it was a very successful operation and I often think of it as an important contribution to entertainment in general as we did with the Pink Panther. It was a very successful operation.

It's still on TV from time to time.
It's kind of convoluted because some of them were made for CBS and some of them were made for ABC and you never know when they're gonna pop up. And of course some of them were syndicated and I think I even seen one on Cartoon Network.

In the 1990s there was a new Pink Panther series where he talked.
We received a call from MGM that they wanted a new 16 or 17 half-hours of Panther for syndication. The only problem is, in order to get financing for it, is he's gonna have to get a voice. None of us wanted to do this. Finally, MGM persuaded everybody, our partners the Mirisch company, I assume you know the Panther copyright is owned by myself and my two partners, DePatie-Freleng and Geoffrey Productions, which is Blake Edwards company, and the Mirisch Company, which was the original producers. The three of us owned the copyright of the Pink Panther. So naturally we called the shots, but in this particular instance we were prevailed up to give the character a voice and the voice ended up being a fellow by the name of Matt Frewer. It was okay. To this day I prefer the pantomime version but the production was good. MGM, to accommodate this production, opened up a little animation unit over at MGM and it was the first time they had anything like that since the Tom and Jerry days. So that's where we did everything and it was renewed for the second year and I think we did another 16 or 17 of them, and that was it.

To go back to the studio, do you remember any of the musicians, like Bill Lava?
Going back to the Warner Bros. days, Bill Lava was the guy and the original Pink Panther theatrical shorts, Bill Lava did the music for alot of them. It was a mixed-bag with music because we insisted upon most of the music being the Mancini theme. So the rest of the background music that someone like Lava would do was minimal, because if you sit down and look at it, there was a liberal use of the Pink Panther Mancini theme. Another fellow that we used, quite liberally, was a fellow by the name of Doug Goodwin. You'll see his name all over the music credits.

Interview © Charles Brubaker
Pink Panther © Mirisch-Geoffrey-DePatie Freleng
Dr. Seuss specials © Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

David H. DePatie interview, part 3

Read part 2 here.

On the theatrical side The Blue Racer came out in 1972.
That'll be about right. He was very successful. People really liked that blue snake, the way he became involved, so it was a compliment to the rest of our library

Blue Racer chased the Japanese Beetle around. Did that character cause any complaints?
Not really. I will say this, though, on the ethnic subject. You are familiar with the original Tijuana Toads?

When they went on television, we had to completely change them around and the series became known as the Texas Toads, and we had to redo all of the tracks that had any type of ethnic content and it really watered down the series down. We all thought it was a hell of a lot more funny when it was the Tijuana Toads, but at the time we had to do it in order to bring the thing on television. However, I do not recall having that problem with the Blue Racer and the Japanese character. That one I don't remember. I think he went on just as he was in the theatrical cartoons.

And when the Blue Racer was still in production Hoot Kloot came out.
Hoot Kloot, to my recollection, was the last of the contractual theatrical cartoons we did for United Artists under the original 156 cartoon contract. Of course that was another one that went on to television. At one time we had a 90-minute show on NBC that lasted for a couple years, called the Pink Panther Laugh and a Half-Hour and a Half. Of course, 90 minutes, that really consumed alot of stuff and I think that's when we decided we needed another series and there came Hoot Kloot.

Several of the shorts were animated overseas. Do you remember any details of that?
Like so many of our competitors the time came when we financially had to move a certain amount of production overseas which we did. We worked primarily in Seoul, Korea. We had a studio over there run by a gentleman by the name of Nelson Shin. That's where we did most, if not all, of our overseas productions.

Nelson Shin was in Korea at the time?
Yes. Actually, he was an American but he was involved in a studio in Korea.

One of the Blue Racer shorts was done in Australia.
I don't remember that. It seems to me that we did experiment on Australia and it didn't work out for us. You may be correct there was one done there, but I don't remember except we did not have a good experience there. If we did anything, it would've been one or two at the most.

Some of the Hoot Kloot were done in Barcelona, Spain with Bob Balser.
Yes. Balser originally worked for us and he was [later] in Barcelona. We had a director by the name of Art Leonardi and we sent him over to work with Balser and we did do some work there.

After Hoot Kloot there was one more theatrical series called The Dogfather.
Yes, there was the Dogfather and Misterjaw that really concluded the series. I said earlier that it was Hoot Kloot but it really wasn't. It was Dogfather and Misterjaw, as I recall.

At this time Joe Ruby and Ken Spear came to the studio with The Barkleys and The Houndcats.
We negotiated a contract with Ruby and Spears. They have been writers at Hanna-Barbera and they were quite knowledgable in Saturday Morning programming. So I hired them and brought them over and you're right, the first thing they did for us was the Houndcats and the Barkleys, and I'm trying to remember what they did after that, but they were with us for several years.

Bailey's Comets?
Yes, that's the other one.

There was also the Marvel series, with Spider-Woman and the Fantastic Four.
Yes. I negotiated a deal with the Marvel Comics management to get the rights to these two shows and we did them. And I don't want to get ahead of myself but subsequently when Friz and I decided that we made enough cartoons we decided to shut down the studio and I founded Marvel Productions and was their first president and CEO for four years after Friz and I shut down our operation.

The studio also did several Dr. Seuss specials, starting with The Cat in the Hat. How did that deal came about?
Well, the first Dr. Seuss special was How the Grinch Stole Christmas and that was made by Chuck Jones at MGM. The second one was the Cat in the Hat [ed. note: actually the third, the second being Jones-directed Horton Hears a Who]. Jones and Dr. Seuss, Ted Geisel, did not get along. They were at each-others throats. Geisel and I were both represented by the International Creative Management (ICM) and my agent asked if we would be interested in taking over the work on The Cat in the Hat. We did, and we did all of the remaining specials. I think we did six in all. And that's how that got started.

Interview © Charles Brubaker
Blue Racer, Tijuana Toads, Hoot Kloot, Dogfather © MGM/UA
The Houndcats © Viacom
The Cat in the Hat © Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Part 4 tomorrow

Monday, December 20, 2010

David H. DePatie interview, part 2

Read Part 1 here.

How did you and Blake Edwards get in touch with the Pink Panther titles?
We need to turn the clock back to around 1963. I had known Blake throughout the years on a friendship basis. And I got this call one day to come over and see him and I did and he handed me this script and I looked at it, and it's called The Pink Panther. He went on to say "I'm going to Rome to shoot this movie very soon and although it's a live-action movie, the idea of a Pink Panther really makes me want to have an animated character and I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but can you guys come up with an idea?"

So I went back to the studio and got together with Friz and...actually, one of our very important layout men, his name was Hawley Pratt. Hawley was the most instrumental in creating the original Panther. We must have come up with a hundred or more different drawings, variations, on what the Pink Panther is. We took these drawings over to Blake's house and laid them all out for him. He's a very decisive guy and he walked over and he said that's the one I want and he picked that particular drawing and the Panther was born. He went off to Rome to shoot the movie and the only thing he used the Panther on was on the letterheads and business cards and that sort of thing.

Friz and I didn't have any idea of where it was going to go from there. After the picture was completed I got a call from Blake and he said "I have a film in the can now and I would like to tell you what my thoughts are, so come on over". So I went over to see him and he said "now I know exactly what I'm going to use with this character. I want you to create a main title sequence for my movie where the Panther will come involved and work with the different credits." That's exactly where the Panther was born. We went on to create a storyboard with the character involved in all of the main title credits and he thought it was great. He had to take it over to the Mirisch Company, which was the production company for the film, and had to get the budget OK'd. It was quite an expensive operation. To my knowledge it was the first time that there had ever been an animated main title that featured complete, full animation throughout the title itself. It was expensive, but he got the budget cleared and went ahead and made the main title.

What was the reception with the title?
The reception was magnificent. We took the picture out to preview at Village Theatre in Westwood and when the titles came on, people got up and they were jumping around and screaming and yelling and at the end of the title sequence they had to turn off the projector and turn on the house lights because people were just going really crazy about it. So it came off with a very, very good start. I had the idea that maybe there was life in this Pink Panther after this main title sequence. To make a long story short I was able to convince the Mirisch Company and United Artists to give us a contract for Pink Panther shorts. You have to remember that this time in the animation business the cartoons were theatrical cartoons. The theatre owners ran a cartoon and a newsreel with the feature picture so that was the format. I was able to get a very large contract from United Artists that surprised me at the time. We got a contract for 156 six-minute theatrical shorts. So we were in business and moving right along so that really basically how it all got started.

Then the Inspector series came along.
The Inspector was the second. After we had started, we probably made around 13 different Pink Panther cartoons and we were asked by United Artists to come up with another character to work in conjunction with the Panther and that's when we decided upon the Inspector Clouseau character in animation. I would say that was probably a year to 18-months after the creation of the Pink Panther himself.

Then you would enter Saturday Morning, starting with The Super 6.
We made the decision to get into Saturday Morning television and you're right, the first all-new show that we made for NBC network was Super 6. That was our first effort into television itself. Now of course, later the networks, primarily NBC, bought the Panther for Saturday Morning television and it was on the networks for 12 to 15 years continuously in various formats. The existing theatrical cartoons with bridge materials, very much like what Warners had done previously, and some of the television shows were new, where we actually made Pink Panther cartoons for television.

How did the studio expand with the production of both the TV series and the theatricals?
Well, we had alot of materials going through. At the high point of the studio in production, we had close to 400 people in the studio so it really went from nothing to quite a large operation. Not as big as Hanna-Barbera but it was there.

After the production of The Inspector ended there was an introduction of new series with Roland and Rattfink, Tijuana Toads, and The Ant and the Aardvark.
Yes, and The Blue Racer. These were all different cartoons that our distributor, United Artists, asked us [in order] to vary our production. And they were all quite successful...We're getting to the point where I have to tell you that the theatrical cartoon persay, had really died. It was in the early '70s when the theatre people said we want to run the feature continuously. We don't want any interruptions with a cartoon or a newsreel. So my point here is, at that time, basically everything we were doing was directly for television.

John Dunn was responsible for most of the stories.
John was our head writer. He and I worked very close together. I was involved with the so-called literary end of animation while Friz was involved with the actual drawing part so I worked very close with John Dunn and he, probably, was the best creative mind, story-wise, that I had ever worked with. He was responsible for the success of the Pink Panther and it was one of his original ideas that we keep the Panther as a pantomime character. As you probably know, up until more recently the Panther never had a voice. This was a conscience decision that I made with along with John Dunn early on in the process.

At start, the directors were Hawley Pratt, Gerry Chiniquy, and Bob McKimson.
That is correct. Pratt, as I said earlier, was a layout artist and we promoted to directing once the Pink Panthers got underway [...] he was mostly the director on the Pink Panther for many years.

Warner Bros. eventually decided to re-open the studio in the late '60s.
I didn't really have anything to do with that. At this point in time our lease on the Warner studio has expired and in about 1970-71, DePatie-Freleng moved into its own studio away from the Warner lot. There was a period where the Warner Bros. was still dormant but they made the decision to get back into business and we had nothing to do with that.

Bob McKimson would briefly leave the studio to work at the new Warner studio.
Well, I don't remember that being accurate. If it was, it was a very short-period of time because he was working at DePatie-Freleng up until the day he died. And that's my recollection, I don't recall him working back to Warner's. If he did, that was a very short period of time. [ed. note: McKimson retired from animation in 1969, but went back to work in early 1970s to direct on the television series, where he stayed until his death in 1977]

Well, he only directed half-a-dozen cartoons there, so yes, it was short.
He would've been the only one available of the original Warner directors because Chuck Jones was off on his own and of course Friz was with me, so McKimson was it.

Art Davis would eventually become director.
Artie was an animator and eventually the production grew in volume and we needed an additional director and Artie was it.

Interview © Charles Brubaker
All images © MGM/UA

Continue to Part 3

Sunday, December 19, 2010

David H. DePatie interview, part 1

David H. DePatie was the last manager of the original Warner Bros. Animation Studio before its shut down in 1963. This led to forming his own studio with Friz Freleng where they produced many cartoons including the Pink Panther, the Dr. Seuss specials, and numerous other shorts and series.

I interviewed DePatie on December 14 by phone. The following is part 1 of the conversation.

You were the producer of the Warner Bros. Animation Dept.
I was the last manager of the Warner Bros. Cartoon Division before we closed it down. I was the head of that division for three years prior to the decision being made by Warner Bros. to get out of the cartoon business.

Who was the previous manager before you?
His name was John Burton.

The cameraman?
John Burton the cameraman was his son, and it was his father who was the previous head of the cartoon division before I took over.

And one of the films made under your watch was a live-action/animation hybrid Philbert.
Philbert was a pilot television show that was made for ABC Television Network. It was a combination of live and animation. Unfortunately it did not sell and the pilot was the only film we ever made.

And also at this time there was the The Bugs Bunny Show.
The Bugs Bunny Show was a combination of many of the old Warner Bros. cartoons involving most all of their characters and for half-hour television we took three of these cartoon shorts and put them together with new animated bridging material to form a half-hour show for television. And again, this was for the ABC network.

And Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng were mostly in charge of that show.
Well, there were all three of them involved. There was Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Bob McKimson.

They would take turns directing the bridging materials?
That is correct. That's how it worked.

When did Warner Bros. shut down their animation division?
Well I'm going to say it was approximately 1960. I received a call from management telling me to come to New York for a board of directors meeting. I flew into New York and attended this meeting of the Warner Bros. board and was told at the time that a decision was made to close the studio and get out of the cartoon business. As I recall, it was around 1960, '61, in that era.

And that led you forming your own studio with Friz?
Yes. It was a painful process, having to notify everybody that they were going to be out of work. But it took a year, a year in a half, to actually close the studio down because we had shows that were in production and we also were in the middle of an animated/live-action feature called Mr. Limpit, starring Don Knotts. [...] As I said earlier it took probably a year-in-a-half to close the studio down and it was over this period of time that personnel were gradually let go until we finished all of the production.

How did DePatie-Freleng Enterprise begin business?
I was offered a job to go up into the Warner Bros. Television division. At the time Warners was just getting started in television with shows like Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip, and I was offered a position up there to work as an executive producer. So I was not going to be out-of-work, but thought occured to me that I would like to go into business for myself. The Hanna-Barbera studio was just getting started at the time and I thought it would be a good time to get into this business. So I needed to have an animation director to work with me and during my years at the Warner Bros. Cartoon Division I had developed a very good rapport and friendship with Friz Freleng, so I offered Friz the opportunity to go into business with me to form an animation company and he accepted the offer and that that's when DePatie-Freleng Enterprises was born.

In the beginning, it was mostly commercials with Charlie Tuna.
I had a quite a good rapport with a number of advertising agencies that we had made commercials for when we were still at Warner Bros and they really helped us get started. That was how our initial work in the new studio was, television commercials. And you're right, Charlie the Tuna was one of the them, "Put a Tiger in your tank" [was] another one, Post Cereals. There were a number of animated commercials that really kept up going in the early stages of the company.

How many animators did you have on staff at the time?
When we started out, Friz and I were very fortunate because we literally had our pick of the best because people that had been laid off at Warner Bros. we picked up. I think we probably started out with four animators and four assistant animators, probably two or three layout people, a background artist, and a certain number of the ink-and-paint girls as well as John Burton Jr., who became our cameraman. To back up a little bit, I had been able to negotiate a deal with Warner Bros. management to take over the cartoon studio because obviously they had nothing to do with it, it was empty, and I was able to negotiate a very favorable lease on the studio, including all of the equipment and everything. That's where DePatie-Freleng was originally housed, in the existing Warner Bros. Animation Division building.

And the new studio would eventually make new Looney Tunes.
It's quite ironic. Friz and I had been in business for probably a little over a year, and we had already started with the Pink Panther. I got a call from the Warner management saying that because of the needs of television that they wanted more shows and we did produce for about 26 to 30 six-minute shorts with Daffy, Road Runner, some Bugs, Tweety. We did do some work for them initially.

Why Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales, mostly?
I don't know that it was mostly but Warner Bros., they were of course catering ABC network and I suppose that it was the ABC Network Programming people that really specified what characters they wanted in these new cartoons.

And some of the Road Runners were contracted out to Format Films.
There was a gentleman by the name of Herb Klynn who had been a director at one time or another at Warner Bros and Herb had this company called Format. We were, of course, very very busy at that time with the Pink Panther production and we really didn't have the personnel to do all of the Warner work in-house. Yes, some of it was indeed farmed out to Format Films under the direction of Herb Klynn.

Interview © Charles Brubaker
Philbert, Looney Tunes characters © Warner Bros.
Charlie the Tuna © StarKist Co.

Continue to Part 2