Hollywood Communists part 2: The Disney Strike

 

Strikers confront non-strikers at the front gate of Walt Disney Studios, June 1941. News photo via El Lado Oscuro de Disney. All rights belong to copyright holder. 

Los Angeles is a modern city, a big postwar suburb with few visible traces of its long past. Hollywood doesn’t have monuments, and on its streets there’s little sense of history. But then, like a face in the crowd suddenly snapping into focus, you realize that history is staring at you, that maybe the town’s biggest secrets aren’t even secrets at all, just hiding in plain sight.

In 1978, I attended the Los Angeles International Film Festival for the first time. My friends and I eagerly bought tickets to see something you’d hardly find anywhere else: days of classic Thirties and Forties cartoons that were rarely shown in theaters anymore. It was the 50th anniversary of Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney Studios sent their animation brain trust, the legendary “nine old men”, sponsored a luncheon, and even authorized a rare showing of their wartime cartoon comedy “Der Fuehrer’s Face”. That 1978 animation festival showcase inspired a lot of people and started careers. When Hollywood goes all out to do something like this, no one in the world does it better. It was an exciting event, a regular love-in. Well, except for one angry, outspoken old guy, and a handful of other old Disney guys who ostentatiously didn’t show up because they were still angry about something once famous, now forgotten, that happened 37 years earlier.

The angry old guy was Jules Engel, a skilled painter and artist who worked for Disney on his animated feature films up through “Bambi” in 1941, when he was fired for on-the-job political agitation. Engel was angry with us all for showing obvious lack of taste in enjoying examples of Disney’s best work, generally held to be among the finest moments of animation ever created. He called it insipid, and said how disappointed he was that so many of us didn’t see Disney-type animation for what it was, saccharine commercial grade junk made to lull people to sleep. Above all, we showed little interest in hearing his stories about the Disney strike of 1941. It was the formative event of his life, but it didn’t mean much to the young Baby Boomers in the audience. Engel was frustrated with his inability to rouse the crowd to action. He condescendingly scolded us to “Go read Schickel’s ‘The Disney Version’”.

Actually, like a whole bunch of other people there that day, I’d already read “The Disney Version” (1968), film critic Richard Schickel’s muckraking history that came out about a year after Walt Disney died. I didn’t like it. At a time when show business biographies were usually positive, in Richard Schickel’s view, Disney, for decades one of the most admired men in America, had to be debunked as a hard core right winger, a mean boss and anti-Semite who threw away his early creativity for the sake of fatter and fatter profits. Although the book didn’t really resonate much with the wider public, who still loved Walt, it was a shock that hurt the Disney family deeply and it would remain the intellectual standard version, the highbrow’s favorite definitive reference work on the subject of Walt Disney for nearly thirty years.

The Disney strike all but defined “Pyrrhic victory” for Forties Hollywood. The hard left rejoiced because in the short term they “won”. But in the end everyone lost. The actual workers involved rued the day they ever got tricked into a strike. Employment was cut in half. Disney management, unusually solicitous of their employees before the strike, became rule-driven time clock watchers afterwards. And Walt Disney himself, until then a political blank, was transformed by the nine-week strike into a fierce anti-Communist crusader. He was convinced right to the last days of his life that Hollywood’s hard left used illicit, immoral, and sometimes cruel methods to try to seize control of the workforce of his studio. He wasn’t wrong.

It’s the strike that by the Seventies, nobody but former radicals like Jules Engel seemed to want to own up to having supported. So how did it happen?

In part 1, we introduced Herb Sorrell, the Communist Party’s key man in the Hollywood labor movement. His heavily politicized “service” organization, the Conference of Studio Unions, (CSU) was a ragtag group of small craft unions that weren’t part of IATSE, the dominant show business labor organization from coast to coast. The IA had been a Mob-invaded union that kicked out the gangsters in the beginning of the Forties. Now IA’s biggest strategic problem wasn’t the studio chiefs and theater chain bosses, but well funded competition on the far left.

Sorrell’s left wing of the left wing of the labor movement could only get at bits and pieces of the film industry (his political siblings in the screenwriting suites were doing somewhat better), but one sub-branch of Hollywood that proved to be surprisingly easy pickings was cartooning. His pickets, his pressure groups, and his friends in some corners of the press resulted in his signing up most of Hollywood’s smaller animation studios, starting with the little guys, the Flip the Frogs and Farmer Alfalfas who had no resources to fall back on. Sorrell’s CSU kept moving up the scale. Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye the Sailor were all produced in closed shops now; you had to join the union or you couldn’t work.

Finally they forced their second-biggest target, Warner Bros. into a contract. Ironically, Warners had the most left wing content in Hollywood, but they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the bargaining table. Porky, Daffy and Bugs carried union cards now. When Warners animation boss Leon Schlesinger signed that deal, he asked one querulous question, quoted in Variety, that echoed ominously through the industry: “What about Disney?” he whined plaintively. It showed a certain lack of solidarity among the showbiz boss class, you might say.

And indeed, Disney was by far the toughest target in Hollywood for forced labor recruitment: it had the best pay, working conditions, artistic tools, and sense of making magic in the entire animation industry. If there was anyplace in the American workforce where paternalism seemed to work wonders, it was Walt Disney Studios. There’s a great book that I highly recommend, Mindy Johnson’s “Ink and Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation”, a so-called coffee table book that’s about as thick and heavy as your coffee table. It’s $40 on Amazon and well worth it, with the most beautiful color printing imaginable of nearly a century of Disney art, proudly presented by some of the women who helped make it. “Ink and Paint” is one of the best visual histories of classic era Hollywood around. It tells a fascinating technical story about the evolution of animation that’s also a warmly human one. Accustomed to other books about women in Hollywood history, you read it waiting for a modern feminist hammer to drop. But it never does, not in today’s terms. The women at Disney thought they were incredibly lucky to have been there while history was made, and for having been on the team.

The book’s descriptions of the step by step process of making cartoons begins to explain a little of why the animation business found it unusually hard to resist union organizing efforts. Unlike capital-intensive regular moviemaking, with its sets and costumes, its elaborate lighting, camera, and sound crews and its costly equipment, an animation studio needs little more than desks and paper. It is enormously labor intensive, more so than any other branch of filmmaking. As a result, it is also more regimented: ten master animators set up scenes for dozens of rising young pros. Hundreds of assistants and “in-betweeners” filled in less vital drawings, constantly learning their craft. The mounting stacks of paper were continually sent to the animation camera, a vital but unglamorous job, often done in a basement, that resembled making blueprints or photocopies more than it did a movie studio.

These were “pencil tests”–shots that were completed in movement and drawing but not yet traced in and colored–submitted for Walt’s excruciatingly perfectionist inspection during daily screenings in the aptly named “sweatbox”. It was the boss’s top men, the chief animators, not the studio’s less exalted staff, who had to sweat. Once your fifth or fifteenth attempt to get it right passed muster with Disney, the drawings were sent to between sixty and three hundred women in the Ink and Paint Department to be finished to perfection before final filming.

Walt Disney’s role was similar to what Steve Jobs would become in our day; a merciless in-house critic who continually pushed for improvement. Unlike Jobs, Disney wasn’t a screamer or a bully. In fact, if you were a typist in Disney’s office, trimmed the hedges, or worked in the carpentry shop, “Walt” (no one was allowed to call him “Mr. Disney”) was fondly remembered as basically the kindly uncle we all later saw on television. But to his top animation talent, he wasn’t so nice. He felt, with some justification, that he’d made them what they were, and was not shy about letting them know that. As the company got bigger, he was sometimes capricious and petty about rewarding and penalizing them, a sure cue for resentment. They put up with it, of course; there was a Depression on, jobs were scarce, and hey, this was after all Walt Disney. But by 1941 the Depression had largely faded. Disney’s training was so good that his best animators could now have the pick of the best paying cartoon jobs anywhere else. Maybe they didn’t need uncle Walt bossing them around as much as they thought.

Other resentments were expertly played on. Disney custom built its new and permanent home, a veritable wonder city of animation. Then, just after everyone moved to the fancy new cartoon factory in Burbank, there was a brief wave of layoffs and pay cuts. The workers saw the massive new buildings, symbols of Disney’s fame and wealth but they didn’t see the massive new mortgage. They were also unaware, for example, that the spacious double-wide corridors and strangely oversized elevators were required by Disney’s bankers, who wanted their risky loan able to be quickly turned into a salable hospital in case of loan default.

The workers didn’t see that WWII had cut off Disney’s lucrative overseas markets. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), the first animated feature film, had been an enormous worldwide success. Its followup, “Pinocchio” (1939) was widely admired but not as widely seen; by the time it was ready for Europe, Europe was a lost market. By then, the next feature, “Fantasia” (1940) was already in the pipeline. With a two year lead time, its background in European classical music was designed from the beginning to be international in appeal, and the loss of overseas hit it particularly hard. Lower income was squeezing Disney tight, just as he was trying to pay his construction bills. Layoffs had always been a familiar part of working in films, but Disney had been largely immune the past few years. Fairly soon, hiring resumed.

Storyboards for “Dumbo”, a new, lower cost feature were in place, ready for animation to meet a Christmas 1941 deadline. Disney did what he always did; he spent every penny he had, and plenty that he didn’t have, to hire and re-hire all the animators he could, to the eternal despair of the company’s business manager, his brother Roy. To Walt Disney, the greatest service he could offer his workforce was the prospect of more work.

Earlier attempts at unionization had been voted down by longtime Disney employees, with the large, all-woman Ink and Paint Department as Walt’s strongest loyalists, as they saw themselves. Now, by hiring so many new men, he inadvertently handed an opportunity to the Communist-led Conference of Studio Unions. The swollen staff roster of 1941, much of it not around long enough to be enthralled with Walt, was a hidden danger; the numbers in union votes began shifting against him. Their Screen Cartoonists Guild narrowly won a bare plurality in the departments included in the vote. At 6 am on May 29, 1941, the picket lines went up at Disney.

Ink and Paint quotes Disney employees at length. Artist Grace Godino declared, “That strike was orchestrated by all the wrong people…It became vicious after a while, it became very bad”. Animation director Jack Kinney said “The strike became very bitter…the hostility was brutal. Strikers let air out of tires and scratched the cars as they drove through the gate. There were fights, even some shots were fired”.

Walt Disney’s business interests were at stake, sure, but to an unusual degree he had created his own company, his own form of filmmaking—even moguls like Louis B. Mayer, David Selznick, Jack Warner and Harry Cohn didn’t do that—and he took the strike more personally than other Hollywood chiefs with labor problems. Disney had a stop-gap, low budget live action feature in theaters that summer, “The Reluctant Dragon”, a behind the scenes studio tour hosted by humorist Robert Benchley. CSU-sympathetic pickets went up at theaters around the country, with signs reading “The Reluctant Disney”, and Mickey Mouse was caricatured coast to coast. More than vandalized cars on Buena Vista Drive, that embittered Walt Disney; the notion that for the union, a mere internal studio dispute was worth dirtying the Disney name even for children.

He was shocked when even his young niece, a beginning animator, was cursed and spat at as she crossed the picket line. Walt Disney felt that men whose careers he created had betrayed him, and some had. The sense of violation stayed with him for decades. If the unquestionably Communist leadership of the CSU didn’t have an enemy before, they sure as hell had one now. We will pick up that thread of the story later, in part 3.

A postscript. By the Fifties the Cartoonists, like most other unions, had effectively erased their hard left past. Outside of the South, unions in general had reached mainstream acceptance in postwar America. Ordinary union members were among the millions of parents buying movie tickets and saving up for trips to Disneyland. Disney, the man and the company, never forgot what happened in 1941, but after a certain point it wasn’t in the financial interests of the company to stir up the past. Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, it didn’t seem in the interests of the animators either. Occasionally you’d see an older member speak up during the Vietnam and civil rights protests: “See! We used to march around with picket signs too!” The Disney strike was tacitly admitted to be a mistake, but it was supposedly disloyal to say so out loud. Better to forget it altogether.

In 1999, an excellent and comprehensive new history was published, “Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in the Golden Age” by Michael Barrier. Like the tales of the talented, loyal ladies of Ink and Paint, it’s a fine contribution to telling a more complete Hollywood story. For the first time, the definitive history of American animation not only gently disputes many of the decades-old arguments of the strikers, but tentatively suggests—gasp!–that for once the boss might have a point, that an injustice was done to Disney. What’s more, the authority of the book won the day. Basically, almost every historian outside of the hardest core of old Marxists now admits that Barrier is right. He got people to admit what they always suspected about the cartoon factory’s fabled strike; so much of what we thought we knew about it was a fable.

To be sure Barrier gave the disappointed crowd just a little of the angle they hoped for, correctly stating the obvious: that most members of Communist-led unions were not, of course, necessarily Communists themselves. He also dutifully notes, rather irrelevantly, that as men making drawings and tracings of cartoon characters, they couldn’t have inserted Communist propaganda into Disney films. That’s something that not even the most angry of their enemies accused them of. It’s a bit of a “duh”, but trust me on this—even 48 years after the event, in the clubby world of writing film history, Michael Barrier took a chance with his book and even his career on behalf of telling a more complete truth.

Next time, the truth about the Hollywood blacklist. 

There are 53 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Gary McVey: Engel was frustrated with his inability to rouse the crowd to action.

    Haha, nice.

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Fascinating story. Thank you. :-)

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Fascinating story. Thank you. :-)

    Thanks for reading it, Marci!

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I didn’t know any of this until reading it here.

    I demand part 3 now, not later. In fact, we demand it. Give us Part 3 now or Ricochet goes on strike.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I didn’t know any of this until reading it here.

    Music to my ears! But isn’t it kind of amazing that we didn’t know it?

    I demand part 3 now, not later. In fact, we demand it. Give us Part 3 now or Ricochet goes on strike.

    I demand a thousand new Ricochet members with literary taste as elevated as Reti’s!

     

    • #5
  6. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I demand a thousand new Ricochet members with literary taste as elevated as Reti’s!

    I don’t know about elevated taste, but I know what I like.

    • #6
  7. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Terrific, Gary! Keep ‘em coming.

    • #7
  8. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Thanks Gary for another great story.  I seem to recall Ronald Reagan was at an anti-communist actors meeting with Olivia de Havilland.  They were surprised to see each other since both thought the other one was a communist. 

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Disney was always on the verge of bankruptcy in those early days. Fantasia was an audacious masterpiece, but one that was so expensive to mount in Walt’s original vision that it barely broke even in its first release.

    For this project Disney engineers created “Fantasound,” nine tracks of audio of the Philadelphia Orchestra that was mixed down to four – one each for speakers left, right and center plus a fourth for a control track. It took a separate projector to run the soundtrack while the picture ran on the main projector with a mono soundtrack for backup. This expensive setup, which Disney had to pay for, not the exhibitor, was a hit with audiences but not with the accountants. The original run in Philadelphia cleared about $19.

    Because it was so expensive in its original form, RKO, which distributed all of Disney’s work, refused to book the feature. So Disney had to foot that bill as well. If it weren’t for the instructional films they made for the Pentagon during the war they may not have survived the war years. 

    Another tipping point came in the 1950s. Walt was so desperate he took an offer from ABC to get into television. Of course, by the end of the century Disney (the company, not the man) was swallowing up ABC. Now, they have become the behemoth of the 21st Century (Fox).

     

    • #9
  10. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    During WWII, the official line of the Communist Party USA was one of “Popular Front”–in other words, temporary teamwork with the capitalists while the USSR was still in danger. That’s right; the Communists opposed the right to strike. For the duration, that is. So labor-minded cartoonists made the following film for Roosevelt’s re-election, sort of a campaign commercial before the age of television. Notice they don’t refer to Democrats, but to “Win The War Candidates”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhHaCEdeDPA

     

    Oh, and at about 5:15 in, you’ll see that certain ways of depicting Republicans never goes out of style.

    • #10
  11. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    I can’t wait for part 3.

    • #11
  12. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Popeye was actually non-union when the Disney strike occurred, because four years prior to that, you had the attempt to unionize the Max Fleischer studio, located on the north end of Times Square in Manhattan. That one actually featured a riot in the streets between the strikers and most of the main studio animators and technicians who crossed the picket line (Paramount enlisted some pretty heavy hitters on behalf of their animation studio, with Louis Nizer and future United Artists chairman Arthur Krim handling the legal work for the studio).

    The strike was in 1937, and in the spring of 1938, Paramount financed moving the entire animation studio to Miami, Fla., ostensibly because it needed more space to do the 1939 “Gulliver’s Travels” feature, but in reality to get away from the union problems in New York. A split between Max and his brother Dave, a couple of years of lackluster non-Popeye cartoons and the failure of the studio’s second animated feature (don’t release a full-length cartoon film a week before Pearl Harbor) caused Paramount to foreclose on the Fleischers in early 1942. They would rename it Famous Studios, after Paramount’s original Famous Players name, and with no more features planned, would move the studio back to just east of Times Square in stages during 1943.  The studio would unionize a short time later.

    (Shamus Culhane, who animated the Heigh-Ho sequence in “Snow White” was pro union, and supported the Disney strikers, though he had left the studio to work for the Fleischers before then. But his autobiography presents a pretty good view of both sides of the situation, because he would have all kinds of problems with the NYC animation union and it’s leader, Pepe Ruiz, when he was running his own commercial animation studio in the 1950s, and then again when he ran Paramount’s studio in the mid-1960s.)

    • #12
  13. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    That’s terrific info, Jon1979. Thanks!

    • #13
  14. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    That’s terrific info, Jon1979. Thanks!

    Thanks for the post, Gary.

    Barrier’s a pretty liberal guy, but his animation books are about as fair as you’re going to get on not just the Disney strike, but the long-term aftermath, including the rise of UPA, where Engel and some others of the more hard-core Disney strikers ended up by the late 1940s. A lot of the current pop culture divide in America is very present in not just the Disney-UPA split, but in how the media critics of the day reacted to UPA’s product, because much of their staff was openly progressive (i.e. — If UPA made a good film, it received awards and lavish praise, and if UPA made a six-minute time-filler … it received awards and lavish praise). And, as Barrier notes, the studio even got its contract with Columbia because of the staff’s Democratic Party connections.

    Politics trumped product, even in the 1950s, while many of the people at UPA not only had disdain for Disney, they sneered at the product Warner Bros. was putting out as being beneath them, because it was just mindless cartoon violence.  But the critical praise didn’t match the public reaction — UPA’s show on CBS in the mid-50s, with no slapstick violence and child-like stories, came and went quickly, and despite all the praise, Columbia by 1959 decided that wasn’t enough to justify the cost, and they dumped them in favor of  Hanna-Barbera cartoons (once away from UPA, some of the more creative staffers teamed up with Jay Ward to do Rocky & Bullwinkle, where the change from UPA mindset can be seen in this cartoon from three years prior to the show — it looks like one of Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales, right down to the Edward Everett Horton narration. But because it’s UPA, it’s played dead seriously):

    • #14
  15. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Here’s Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales version of Sleeping Beauty. I must say, there’s something about the owner of the theme park that looks familiar…

     

    • #15
  16. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Here’s Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales version of Sleeping Beauty. I must say, there’s something about the owner of the theme park that looks familiar…

     

    Yeah, they still got their shot in at Mr. Disney here. But unlike at UPA, they were funny about it, because they actually wanted to entertain the audience, as opposed to educating and/or impressing them with their artistry.

    • #16
  17. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    It sounds funny now, but UPA cartoons were part of smart set modernity at the time. Even as a kid I loved the lavish, imaginative Disney features, but I sensed that the spare, abstract UPA look was considered to be more sophisticated, a word which at the time, I gathered, was an important ingredient in impressing girls someday. They seemed to go with the low, wide look of postwar private houses, the sound of modern jazz, and the status symbol of a high fidelity phonograph. Magazines had a similarly inspired modern look. BTW, this is when “white space” style print ads became popular for films. 

    And UPA, Hubley style stuff was something new and different, and a valuable, interesting side path in a minor key. But when it started to drive out full animation and representational art altogether it became a plague. An irony here with political overtones is the much-praised UPA progressive style made it vastly more excusable to make really cheap cartoons for the market that now mattered, television, making them more, not less driven by capitalist reality. 

    • #17
  18. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    It sounds funny now, but UPA cartoons were part of smart set modernity at the time. Even as a kid I loved the lavish, imaginative Disney features, but I sensed that the spare, abstract UPA look was considered to be more sophisticated, a word which at the time, I gathered, was an important ingredient in impressing girls someday. They seemed to go with the low, wide look of postwar private houses, the sound of modern jazz, and the status symbol of a high fidelity phonograph. Magazines had a similarly inspired modern look. BTW, this is when “white space” style print ads became popular for films.

    And UPA, Hubley style stuff was something new and different, and a valuable, interesting side path in a minor key. But when it started to drive out full animation and representational art altogether it became a plague. An irony here with political overtones is the much-praised UPA progressive style made it vastly more excusable to make really cheap cartoons for the market that now mattered, television, making them more, not less driven by capitalist reality.

    Hubley got caught up in the McCarthy-era purge and ousted, which left Bob Cannon’s vision as the driving force of the studio. Cannon was one of the main animators for Tex Avery and Chuck Jones in the 1930s and 40s, but came to hate the type of cartoons they favored due to their slapstick violence, and fled for the less commercial/less comedic UPA. His designs were also radical and innovative, but by the mid-1950s his stories were …. sparse, to the point you’d have about three minutes of story stretched into a six-minute short. The blatant UPA knock-offs Paramount and Terrytoons were doing in New York by the end of the ’50s might not have been as visually impressive as UPA’s efforts, but they were way more entertaining to the audiences, even as they also used the more abstract movement and style to cut their animation budgets to the bone).

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Here’s one of the actual cels (celluloid overlays) photographed to make Fantasia. My photo is deliberately a little funky, so it doesn’t auto-trigger a copyright take-down notice. The real thing is flawlessly painted in every detail. In February 1971 I gave it to my girlfriend as a birthday present.

    She must have liked it–we’re still together!

    • #19
  20. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Here’s one of the actual cels (celluloid overlays) photographed to make Fantasia. My photo is deliberately a little funky, so it doesn’t auto-trigger a copyright take-down notice. The real thing is flawlessly painted in every detail. In February 1971 I gave it to my girlfriend as a birthday present.

    She must have liked it–we’re still together!

    I used to have a cel from a Bugs cartoon (new footage done for one of the theatrical movies), but lost it in a long-distance move.

    • #20
  21. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Los Angeles is a modern city, a big postwar suburb with few visible traces of its long past. Hollywood doesn’t have monuments, and on its streets there’s little sense of history. But then, like a face in the crowd suddenly snapping into focus, you realize that history is staring at you, that maybe the town’s biggest secrets aren’t even secrets at all, just hiding in plain sight.

    Great opening paragraph Gary. It is said about Arizona that individuals that had carved out a reputation for themselves in other parts of the West came to Arizona for, let’s call it health reasons, to avoid a lead overdose. Some found one anyway.

    Los Angeles was for dreamers who sought to escape anonymity, and in some cases it was for more than just the money.

    • #21
  22. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    An irony here with political overtones is the much-praised UPA progressive style made it vastly more excusable to make really cheap cartoons for the market that now mattered, television, making them more, not less driven by capitalist reality. 


    Reminds me of this article about the triumph of Bauhaus style, pointing out that the sleek, minimalist style may have been created out of socialist fantasies, but capitalism ran with it because it was cheaper. 

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/03/bauhaus-movement-art-architecture-100th-anniversary/

    • #22
  23. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    “Form follows function” is a good principle — for a barn. Doesn’t mean much for a cartoon, though.

    ’Tis a pity some proletarian bricklayer didn’t drop a hod-full on Walter Gropius’ pointy little head.

    • #23
  24. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    I love this series in particular. (Your others have been spectacular as well.) It is all stuff I had no idea about. Uncle Walt was somebody who appeared on the magical peacock station with his Bavarian Schloss when I was a kid. Had no idea about the back story. So not only lions, tigers and bears but commies, oh my.

    • #24
  25. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Percival (View Comment):

    “Form follows function” is a good principle — for a barn. Doesn’t mean much for a cartoon, though.

    ’Tis a pity some proletarian bricklayer didn’t drop a hod-full on Walter Gropius’ pointy little head.

    What I never understand is how “form follows function” results in buildings that exist to look cool but are terrible to live and work in. 

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks. 

    • #25
  26. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Great post, Gary. Keep ’em coming.

    • #26
  27. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    But the critical praise didn’t match the public reaction — UPA’s show on CBS in the mid-50s, with no slapstick violence and child-like stories, came and went quickly, and despite all the praise, Columbia by 1959 decided that wasn’t enough to justify the cost, and they dumped them in favor of Hanna-Barbera cartoons (once away from UPA, some of the more creative staffers teamed up with Jay Ward to do Rocky & Bullwinkle, where the change from UPA mindset can be seen in this cartoon from three years prior to the show — it looks like one of Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales, right down to the Edward Everett Horton narration. But because it’s UPA, it’s played dead seriously):

    Rocky and Bullwinkle: One of the few things good enough to justify the existence of television.  

    • #27
  28. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Thanks, Gary; great history.

    • #28
  29. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    But the critical praise didn’t match the public reaction — UPA’s show on CBS in the mid-50s, with no slapstick violence and child-like stories, came and went quickly, and despite all the praise, Columbia by 1959 decided that wasn’t enough to justify the cost, and they dumped them in favor of Hanna-Barbera cartoons (once away from UPA, some of the more creative staffers teamed up with Jay Ward to do Rocky & Bullwinkle, where the change from UPA mindset can be seen in this cartoon from three years prior to the show — it looks like one of Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales, right down to the Edward Everett Horton narration. But because it’s UPA, it’s played dead seriously):

    Rocky and Bullwinkle: One of the few things good enough to justify the existence of television.

    When I was a kid, I thought it was the wittiest thing around. Not always the funniest, but the one whose references and jokes often went over my head. “Rear Admiral Peter Peachfuzz” was loosely based on Vice Rear Adm. Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy. (Rickover was a perfectionist of the Disney-Jobs variety, BTW). The magical Kerwood Derby was a pun based on TV sidekick Durwood Kirby. Jay Ward’s key insight seems to have been, talk is cheaper than drawing. Ward was among the first generation of cartoon creators whose films never went to movie theaters, but straight to TV. 

    One thing, though; his stuff doesn’t always hold up that well. Like the parodies in Mad Magazine or the Carol Burnett Show, lots of it has dated badly. 

    • #29
  30. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    “Form follows function” is a good principle — for a barn. Doesn’t mean much for a cartoon, though.

    ’Tis a pity some proletarian bricklayer didn’t drop a hod-full on Walter Gropius’ pointy little head.

    What I never understand is how “form follows function” results in buildings that exist to look cool but are terrible to live and work in.

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

    And yep, the common thread here is a weird combination of early-to-mid-20th century leftism and a classic sense of design. 

    Okay, a quick droll architecture joke. Mies van der Rohe claimed he left Nazi Germany because of his moral objections. Others said, “Oh? Hitler didn’t like flat roofs?”

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.