|The Lantz "Cartune" studio on Lankershim Boulevard in Hollywood, circa 1946. Courtesy of Dick Lundy.|
The Taped Reminiscences of Roger Armstrong
An introduction: Roger Armstrong was for much of his working life a comic-strip and comic-book cartoonist, and it's probably in the latter role he is best remembered. He was the second cartoonist hired to illustrate stories for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics, in 1941, and for years afterwards he drew stories featuring the Warner Bros. characters, for comic books that were published under the Dell label but were actually produced by Western Printing & Lithographing Company. (To make matters more confusing, Western did business in Los Angeles under the name of one of its subsidiaries, Whitman Publishing Company.) He worked only briefly in animation, in 1944-45, when Eleanor Packer, the editor of the Dell comic books produced on the West Coast, wangled a job for him with the Walter Lantz studio, in the hope that he could thereby escape the draft (Lantz was making films for the navy) and continue to draw for the comic books on the side.
I first wrote to Roger in 1967, and we corresponded often after that, mostly about his comic-book work—not just his work in the 1940s, but also his work in the 1970s. For example, in a taped letter early in 1975, he told me that he was drawing a Disney Super Goof comic book, working from "odious" scripts by Cecil Beard, who didn't know enough about writing for comic books to avoid crowd scenes, and who created problems of differences in scale by using a parakeet in one story. (To see an example of Roger's comic-book work from the '40s, and the Chase Craig script that he illustrated, go to this link.)
I don't have a record of it, but I think that I sent him a taped letter soon after I received his tape, asking questions about his year with Walter Lantz. He replied in a tape he recorded on May 9, 1975, in which he described his time with Lantz, and the people he worked with, in remarkable detail. I transcribed the tape and sent the transcript to him a couple of years later. He was uncomfortable with his frankness in a few instances, and he made some deletions from the transcript, most of which I've restored here because all of the parties involved—Roger and his co-workers—are unfortunately no longer with us.
What follows is, I think, a remarkably vivid picture of what it was like to work at one of the Golden Age cartoon studios. (Remarkably accurate, too, I'm sure. As I've measured Roger's memories of his work for Western Printing against other sources, I've been repeatedly impressed by how accurate he was, and I have no reason to believe that his memories of the Lantz studio are any less so.) It's not a complete picture, of course, because Roger was working on the lowest rung of the Lantz ladder. This was the period when the Lantz studio was making what many of us consider its best cartoons, under James (Shamus) Culhane's direction, the Swing Symphonies in particular, but you'll find Culhane barely mentioned and individual cartoons not at all.
The transcript follows, with a few of my clarifications inserted in brackets, along with a few notes Roger himself added to the transcript in 1977. MB
First of all, I suppose what I had better do is explain to you why I was working at the Walter Lantz studio. It wasn't by choice. I had been able to avoid working in the animation industry. I had had an opportunity to go to work for Disney, years before, in the old Hyperion studio. An animator by the name of Bob Givens, who eventually became quite a good painter, took an interest in me. I had come in contact with a fellow named Frank Holman, who had a comic strip called Sweetie Pie.
The basic plot of Sweetie Pie was one that was used many years later by a group called the Beverly Hillbillies, having to do with this desert rat, and his little friend, and their burro, who strike riches, and with this incredible newfound wealth, they come to Beverly Hills, they come to Hollywood, and it's the story of their gaucherie and the things that happen to them. Bob Givens had done a couple of sample strips for this fellow Frank Holman, and Frank Hollman hadn't been terribly contented with them. Frank was still looking around, and through Hank Formhals, [Roger got in touch with Holman].
Frank Holman turned out to be a first-class jerk, but he introduced me to Bob Givens, and Bob offered to get me into the Disney studio, but the whole concept of doing animation work was abhorrent to me, in that I liked to do all the work myself; and I preferred to have something I could hold in my hand, like a comic strip, or a comic book—a finished drawing that was published. So here I was, all these years later, working for Western Publishing—four or five years later—and it was during the war. One by one, the guys were disappearing into the vast maw of the United States Army. I remember when Chase Craig went off to Fort Roach; he was one of the Fort Roach commandos. He didn't wear a uniform for the first six months. Finally, they sent him down to the quartermaster's, and he came back with this funny [navy] uniform, with the bellbottom trousers. About that time, they made him work in the barracks over there, so he had to quit living at Miss Belle's [ Myra Belle Vickers, who had a rooming house on Gramercy Place].
Anyway, the guys were disappearing, and it was narrowing down more and more. I had married young, and I had a daughter, and the draft board was taking younger people, and they weren't touching me. Eleanor Packer [seen at the right in a photo from the 1930s], who at that time was running the joint, over there in Beverly Hills, at the old Brighton Building, began to panic, and she said, "They're getting awfully close, and the first thing you know, you're going to get drafted." She said, "We’ve got to get you into some kind of deferred work." She cast about in her mind, and she thought, "My old friend Walter Lantz is doing navy training films, and maybe if you're in what is considered essential war work, we will get you off the hook, and you will be deferred, and then you will be able to stay and do all this nice work for us.”
I didn't particularly relish the concept of going into the army myself, what with an ex-wife and a child, so I said OK. Evidently, she pulled the wires. She called Walter Lantz, and he said send the guy over, so I went over and talked to Walter. Walter was a nice little gnome-like man with a shock of white hair; very, very friendly type guy. At the studio, a guy named Fred ran interference for Walter, and you always had to get past this guy to see Walter. Anyway, I had an appointment, I went over, I got past this guy Fred, and I got in to see Lantz. He said, OK, come to work next Monday morning. The hours were 8 to 12 and 1 to 5, I think—I remember we punched in at 8 o’clock. Everybody came in the front entrance. It didn't make a damned bit of difference whether you were there on business, whether you were high mucky-muck, or you were one of the peons—we all came in through the front door. There was a little swinging gate.
So, Walter hired me, and I went back and reported to Eleanor that all was well. She said, "The catch is, you're going to have to continue doing your Sniffles and Mary Jane, and your Porky Pig," so I was confronted with the prospect of holding down two jobs in order to stay out of the army. That's how I went to work for Lantz—it was a matter of convenience for Eleanor Packer. And that was probably one of the toughest years I've ever spent in my life. I would leave the studio at 5 o'clock—the rest of the guys would go off, get drunk, whatever the hell they wanted to do, but I would go back to my little room at Miss Belle's [and illustrate comic-book stories].
I do not actually recall when I went to work at Lantz. I have a hunch it was in April 1944. It would be easy to ascertain, because all we'd have to do is find out what month Virgil Partch left Lantz; he left a week before I went to work there. He just quit and joined the army. He and Sam Cobean had both been working there, and they say the place was an absolute riot while those two guys were working there. I worked [at Lantz] from April 1944 until, let's say, the first week of February 1945; I was inducted into the Army on Valentine's Day, 1945. [According to the Partch biography in the guide to the collection of his drawings at the University of California, Irvine, Partch entered the army on September 23, 1944, but had left the Lantz studio sometime before that to pursue a free-lance career, as a result of unspecified disagreements over the depiction of Woody Woodpecker. Armstrong probably went to work for Lantz no later than March 1944; see the note below on Dick Lundy's promotion to director. MB]
In the morning, I'd catch the little red streetcar that ran down Hollywood Boulevard. It was a long block from Miss Belle's on Gramercy Place down to Hollywood Boulevard. [Roger would ride] down to Highland, and I would transfer at Highland, waiting for the car to carry us over the Cahuenga Pass. It was like a Toonerville trolley. I’d get off at Lankershim Boulevard. [The Lantz studio] was on the right-hand side of the street, the side that Universal is on. Across the street was a place called Olson's Egg Company, and there was a funny little place where a woman made keys. She also sold refreshments—we used to go over there in the afternoon. We called her "Mrs. Keys.” The studio was in the fence; there was a tall fence the entire length of Lankershim Boulevard, up to the big main gates, and they used to put the big billboards along that fence, whatever the current show was.
You went in through a little door in this fence—there were some windows that faced out, and this door—and it was the Walter Lantz studio. It was a very small building—it was much smaller than the Hyperion Avenue studio of Disney's. It went deep, but it was fairly narrow. You'd go in the very small entryway, and there was one of those little wooden fences, with a swinging gate, and then there was a hall that went back maybe ten feet. Walt's office was off to the left, inside that little gate. There was a big oil painting of Woody Woodpecker, in a frame; I think Walt had done it. There was some moth-eaten old overstuffed furniture, and it had the smell—I don't know how to explain it—of one of those early animation studios. The smell of celluloid, the smell of developing chemicals—I don't know what it was.
On the right, just as you went through the gate, there was the time clock. We’d take our cards out and punch them in, we’d walk back about ten feet, make a right turn, through the door—it was a big wide door—and there was the animation department. It was one big room, with dividers, and each one of us had a little cubicle. There was really not a hell of a lot of distinction between animators, assistant animators, in-betweeners, breakdown men.
As you went through that door, the first desk on your immediate left was mine; and back of me sat Eddie Solomon; there was somebody in back of Eddie, and then Frankie Smith. Frankie was the head of the animation department. He was a little guy, and he only had one eye; he had lost one eye in a sawmill accident, years before. He was a fantastic draftsman; Frankie just could draw to beat hell. His job was to oversee the animation, see that the guys did their work, and he was the sweetest, most easy-going little guy the world could ever put together. At the time I was there, he was busy studying sculpture, because he was afraid that he was going to lose his one remaining eye, and he felt that if eyes both went, he was going to have to be able to do something artistic; he was going to have to be able to sculpt, or do something of that sort. [Roger mentioned that, as of 1975, Frankie Smith still had his sight.]
Next to Frankie at the end of the row—I could draw you a map—were the two guys who constituted our effects animation. I wish to hell I could remember the one guy's name: he was a damned good effects animator [presumably Sidney Pillet]. He was what is known as a buckeye painter. A buckeye painter is a guy who has maybe six themes—he paints the snow-covered mountain, he paints the river coming down through the trees, he paints a golden sunset, and this is his repertoire, these are the things he paints. This guy could paint these things over and over and over. He'd sell them for two, three, four hundred bucks apiece.
After you came through that door, to the right as you went down [was] La Verne Harding, who at that time was the only woman animator— and one of the great animators. She was to the right, then there was a guy named Les Kline, I think it was. Dick Lundy had a cubicle there: he was animating. Then there was Grim Natwick; Paul Smith, who was Frankie's brother—Paul was by way of being a piece of sartorial splendor, he was a real dude, he always dressed up to come to work, always wore beautiful slacks, put on a necktie, the whole goddamned shebang, whereas Frankie and the rest of us went around looking like a bunch of scrounges.
Pat Matthews was sitting over there. Pat was one of my closest and dearest friends, and remained so until he was killed last year in Mexico, in an automobile accident; he was living down there. Pat was a fantastic draftsman. To quickly answer your question about the ability of these guys, I can't think of a single person in that studio who wasn't a superb draftsman, with the possible exception of Eddie Solomon; he was kind of a mistake that got in there. He finally quit the animation business altogether. He was an assistant animator: he did cleanup. He had no basic ability: all he could do was take the animator's drawings and make very nice, clean tracings of them. [A 1977 emendation: "Eddie Solomon is currently animating or assisting at H&B—saw him about a month ago—first time since 1945!"]
I remember the back of Pat's [cubicle] faced out onto the aisle, because his feet used to stick out. I remember one time they decided to give Pat a hot foot. They got a match, and they put it under the sole of his shoe, and lighted a match to it. It burnt right down, and not a flicker. It was Emery Hawkins, I think, who was doing it. The payoff was, they finally took a wastebasket, emptied it around his feet, with all this crumpled paper, and lighted a match to it. Finally, with that flame roaring around his feet, Pat pulled his feet back, and looked over to see what the hell was going on. As he did so, the guys were busy beating the fire out, because it was beginning to take off. You asked about horseplay: this place was just alive with practical jokes. It was the most relaxed atmosphere you could possibly imagine; it was a fun place to work.
Alex Ignatiev was somewhere in there; he was an assistant animator. He was a guy who always had a panel of reproductions of paintings in his little cubicle, right up in front of him, where he could look at them all day long. All he wanted to do was become a great painter. Eventually, he quit the animation industry and went to work for one of the big studios, painting set designs. I hear that recently he's gone back into the studios, and he's been doing some kind of design work. [A 1977 emendation: "Alex is some kind of big shot at H&B. I see him whenever I take any work in to the studio."]
Then somewhere back there was Casey Onaitis—he was a cousin of Jimmy Pabian. Pabian was a guy who used to be a comic-strip artist—kind of a wild character. He always had a novel going. Casey Onaitis was another guy who wasn't a very good draftsman. I guess he was a pretty good assistant animator; he did a fair clean-up job. Then there was Fred Grable. Besides those guys, there was Tony Rivera, Roger Daly; Phil De Guard was our background department, almost exclusively. They called him "Mashed Potatoes," because he had almost a nowhere personality. And there was Tony Sgroi. He was one of these phenomenal people. He was nineteen years old, and he drew like an angel. He was so good, so early, that he never developed, he never went past that point.
|The Lantz animation staff in 1945. Front row, left to right: Les Kline, James Culhane, Pat Matthews, Dick Lundy, Emery Hawkins. Top row, Paul Smith, Grim Natwick, Sidney Pillet, Bernard Garbutt. Courtesy of Dick Lundy, who identified most of the men in the photo; additional identifications by Roger Armstrong.|
We all worked together in this one big room; there wasn't any breakdown of units, or any of that sort of stuff. One day I would be in-betweening a scene out of a navy training film; they were doing a thing on hospital procedure, and we were animating leucocytes and the red corpuscles and the white corpuscles, and what happened when infection took over. Then, the next week, perhaps I would be doing a scene from a Wally Walrus picture.
The only other gal who worked in the animation section [in addition to Laverne Harding] was Xenia Beckwith; she was married to Ed De Mattia. [They were divorced after his return from the service.]
I had to do twenty-five feet a week of in-betweens; that was my quota, and that was a damned easy quota.
Payday was a nifty day, because was that was the day we would all go into North Hollywood, to the bank, and cash our checks. There was a saloon that served really good food, and we would all have a martini lunch. We'd have two or three martinis, then we'd all go back. We'd all be loose—God, how loose we'd be, and we'd work, work, work, all afternoon, and just knock this stuff out. Of course, Monday morning when we'd come back, we'd look at the stuff, and we'd have to re-do the whole goddamned thing.
The story department consisted of two men—Bugs Hardaway, who was reputed to have been the father of Bugs Bunny when he had worked at Warner Bros. years before, and a young fellow named Milt Schaffer, who was quite a clever draftsman. Over in the navy department—when I say “department,” I'm talking about little adjoining rooms. For example, the story department consisted of a room where Bugs and Milt Schaffer could tack up their drawings around on the walls. Shamus Culhane—whom we called Jimmy—and Pat Matthews were very close, and he was trying to make a director out of Pat. Culhane actually was the major director. Lundy came out of the animation department during the time I was there, and became a director, but at the time I went there, Dick Lundy was still animating. [According to notes made by Joe Adamson from Lantz's personnel records when he was researching his book The Walter Lantz Story, Lundy began directing on March 23, 1944, which would put Armstrong's start date sometime earlier than that. MB] He had one little cubicle, like all the rest of us.
The person who was overseeing the navy stuff was Martin Provensen. He married Alice Stander; Alice had been Lionel Stander's wife. Martin at that time was in the navy, and he had charge of the designing of these navy films. They had a room that was absolutely secret, hush, hush, hush; nobody could ever go in there. Of course, it was nonsense, but it was government regulation.
You asked about what kind of instruction we got there. When I first went to work there, I didn't know the first damned thing about animation, obviously. Frankie Smith, the head of the department, explained what you do, and he showed me the flip—he went through the whole bit. And, of course, it was tracing, just plain old tracing—kind of glorified tracing, in that you weren't hitting the lines, you were going in between the lines. After I'd worked about an hour, Frankie came over and looked to see what I'd done. He flipped [the drawings], and said, “Very good, very good.” He always wanted you to work with an Eagle drafting pencil, because it was nice and soft, and the girls could ink that stuff very well. He showed me a few of the simple tricks, like a walk, and a flag fluttering—the basic animation tricks—and I was on my own. Evidently, I did fine, because every one of the scenes I got they would check out, and I never got any of them back.
Walt [Lantz] encouraged you to do animation on your own—invent your own characters, and do your own animation. He allowed you to go in and use the camera. There was a kid about eighteen, nineteen years old, named Woody, who did the camera; there was another guy, but Woody was the main cameraman. I remember I used to do these tests. I got Pat Matthews once to do me [an exposure sheet], I did all my own animation, and I went into the camera room and shot the whole scene. Walt encouraged this. I can remember staying after—school, I was going to say—after work—nobody ever had to work overtime, nobody was ever expected to work overtime. You got your straight salary, and everybody bitched about it; I don't even remember what I got, but it was terribly minimal. It was much less than I was getting at the Western shop. Incidentally, it turned out I never did get a deferment out of that, and I was finally drafted when they began to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Actually, that year that I put in, aside from the tremendously fine experience, and the people I met, didn't achieve the objective for which I'd taken the job in the first place. [But] I learned a tremendous amount about drawing, working with those guys; and I learned a hell of a lot about animation, because they were all eager to explain, and tell me things. I was a curious kid, and I asked a lot of questions.
Anyway, Woody showed me how to run the stop-action thing, what buttons to push, and he would just walk off and leave me; he'd go on home, and I'd be there, on the nights I could afford to do it—when I'd just finished a comic book and I didn't have to dash back to my little room and go to work—until ten or eleven o'clock at night, shooting my scene, and then I would [look at it] on a movieola the next day. You asked if they made pencil tests; yes, they did. They would shoot the pencils, then they'd run them on the movieola. I don't remember how many [movieolas] they had; I remember that I had access to one.
When we'd finish a picture, the whole studio would take off, en masse, and we'd go tripping down the narrow sidewalk, every one of us—the inkers, the painters, background, the whole damned bunch of us—and we'd go in through the main gate, and we'd walk over to one of the projection rooms. I can remember going up the steps on those funny old sound-stage buildings. We'd all sit in one of the big projection rooms—they had fairly big projection rooms at Universal—and watch the picture we'd just made, and laugh, and say, "That’s the part I did.” Then, after it was all over, we'd all walk back to the studio, down the sidewalk, like a bunch of little Sunday school kids, back to school.
Now, you couldn't go into the studio from the Walter Lantz complex; you'd have to go out on the street. It was like the wall went up from the sidewalk, and there was a door in it, with maybe three steps leading up to the door. Then you'd walk toward North Hollywood, or Burbank, down Lankershim Boulevard, until you get to the main gate. As I recall, we had a card that let us in. A lot of us used to go down to the commissary for lunch, because it was kind of fun; you'd get to see all the stars. I remember seeing Turhan Bey and Maria Montez. Then, after we'd finished lunch, we'd all go wandering over [the lot], and I can remember going through that back lot, and wandering through the Mexican town, and war-torn villages, and all the different sets they had. Every once in a while, we'd contrive to get ourselves locked onto a sound stage; once the red light goes on, on a sound stage, nobody comes and goes, that door does not open. I can remember various occasions when I would go over with Fred Grable, or Pat, and we'd get locked onto a sound stage, and watch them shooting a movie. It would be maybe three or four o'clock by the time we'd get out, and we'd tear like hell to get back to the studio. But nobody was keeping tabs on us. Frankie was a very easy-going guy, and he would cluck his tongue and shake his finger at us, but that was about it.
And then there was the time when Pat Matthews' wife went off to visit her relatives somewhere, and he said, “Come on over and spend a week or so with me.” He had a house in North Hollywood. The red car, again, carried us out into the [San Fernando] Valley, and we'd walk down dirt roads to his house. The first night was a revelation to me—I didn't know people did this sort of thing. It got to be time to get up and go to work, and just by force of habit I awakened, and said, “Pat, Pat, we've got to go to work.” He said, “Ah, go back to sleep.” He reached over and picked up the phone, and he dialed the number at the studio; the phone that rang was a pay phone out in the hall. Someone from the animation department was almost always standing there. I forget [who answered], but] there was a gal there. I remember Alex Ignatiev was teaching us all Russian, he was teaching us the Cyrillic alphabet. At that time, we were palsy-walsy with Russia, and nothing would do but that everybody in the studio was learning Russian. Alex was teaching us: he was the son of a White Russian refugee. He spoke Chinese, Russian, and English; the whole family had come [to the United States] by way of China. His father had been a general in the czar's army, and they came out [of Russia] with nothing. I'm trying to think of this gal's name—strange woman. Very left-wing, very communist-oriented. She answered the phone, and Pat said, “Will you punch Roger Armstrong and me in? Thank you.” And he rolled over and went back to sleep. We got into the studio about ten o'clock, and I went over and looked at my card, and I'd been punched in at about 7:59, just in time to get to my desk.
They used to sell the old Los Angeles Daily News, which was Cornelius Vanderbilt's paper [1977 emendation: "published at that time by Manchester Boddy, and was purchased at the red car stop, where there was also a small coffee shop where we often stopped for breakfast"]; nobody ever read the L.A. Times or any of those dumb papers, you always read the Daily News. It had the most left-wing columnists. We'd pick up the paper, on the way into the studio, and usually, no work was ever done in that studio until 9:30 at the earliest, because we would all sit around reading the paper; but when they did go to work, they'd work like hell.
Now, one of the things that was a hell of a lot of fun in the studio was this business of doing gag drawings of each other. Everybody in the whole damned studio was first-rate at this; they were fast gag minds, every one of them. And somewhere out in that garage of mine, I have my “crud book,” about five inches thick, and it's full of drawings by all those different guys—caricatures of me, gag drawings. It was a favorite pastime to make a gag drawing, walk over and drop it on somebody's desk, and then walk back to your own desk.
I’ve forgotten to mention Cecil Surrey; very, very funny guy. A fair draftsman, a fair cartoonist, but personally funny; he said funny things.
In inking and painting, which was on the other side—if you went down that little hall, and turned to your left, instead of your right, you'd end up in inking and painting, and that’s where all the girls were. It was almost like a Catholic school, in the sense that the girls were on one side and the boys were on the other.
One of the things that was a great pastime was playing horseshoes. Every noon, there were horseshoe tournaments.
Roger Daly was an assistant; he was an interesting character. Roger Daly had been raised by hand by Bobe Cannon: he was Bobe Cannon's right-hand man. He was a cantankerous son of a gun, and here again was a guy who finally cashed in completely with booze. I saw him when I was living in San Juan Capistrano, about ten years ago. He was living in the back of a little old Volkswagen—not a bus, but a bug—and drinking. He wanted me to go to the bars with him, and I was avoiding him like the plague. But at the time we were all there at Lantz, he was a bright, shining young guy. He’d been a railway fireman at one time, worked on the railroads, and gone into animation. He was a good draftsman, and had a lovely wife [Selby, who was later married to Walt Kelly, and who continued Pogo for a time after Kelly's death MB]; I remember we used to go to parties at his place up in Laurel Canyon. Anyway, he'd been hand-raised by Bobe Cannon; Bobe Cannon had taught him one hell of a lot.
Emery Hawkins used to do weird things; he was a wild man. He’d get up on top of the cubicles, and he'd wait for people to come in from lunch, then he’d leap down on them, screaming with maniacal laughter. A little bit nutty, really, but a funny man.
I can remember one time when Emery or Pat was leaning on my animation cubicle; [the cubicles] were on four legs, and they were closed in on the sides, like a roll-top desk, except it encompassed you. You sat inside that, where it was dark enough so that it canceled out most of the light. This guy was leaning over the top, watching me, and [tipped] the thing forward. Well, as he [tipped] the thing forward, the scene that I’d been working on—a big scene about three inches thick—began to slide out of the pigeonhole. So I grabbed the thing in my hands, and I was trapped there, because my chair was tipped back against the back of Eddie Solomon's desk. So the guy pushed this whole table over on top of me, and then somebody else came, and they picked up my wastebasket, which was full of trash paper, and they dumped it over my head. So there I was, laughing like hell—there wasn't a damned thing I could do, I couldn't drop the scene because I would have lost all of my numbered sequence—and I heard this voice saying, “What in the hell are you doing?” and it was Walt. Walter Lantz had just walked in. Everybody else had split, laughing like hell, run back to their desks, and left me sitting there. So Walt took the wastebasket off my head, put the paper back in, tipped the [desk] back up, and said, “Will you guys quit clowning?” and went back and talked to Frankie.
They used to take the newspapers, and they'd find pictures of girls in bathing suits. With a carbon pencil, and a kneaded eraser, they would remove the bathing suit, and leave the girl nude—leaving the benday dots totally undisturbed. Then they'd put them up on the bulletin board. That bulletin board got fuller and fuller and fuller with these naked women, who had been clipped right out of the newspaper. Xenia Beckwith got upset about it, so she began to cut out pictures of men, and she doctored the pictures of men. Finally, one day Walt came in, and stopped in front of [the bulletin board], and said, “You guys have got to get this damned thing out of here!"
During the time I was there, nobody came or went—I was the first guy to leave. They told me later that my leaving started a hemorrhage from the studio that didn't stop. Guys just went like crazy after I left.
Drawing a comic strip is about five times as hard as animation, as far as I'm concerned. Just the plain physical labor of turning out a comic strip, or a comic book, is much, much greater than doing any kind of animation. Animation is compartmentalized; you don't have to do the whole damned thing. You have to have a kinetic mind to be a good animator, but I don't think you have to know as much about staging, because the layout guy's already done it for you. That's one reason I didn't like animation, it's too damned specialized. When I was [at Lantz], the guys were very fascinated by the work I was doing for Whitman, and one by one they tried it, and one by one they fell right spang on their noses. For one thing, they didn't know how to do any inking, [and] they had a hell of a time composing or staging a panel—their staging was almost amateurish. I remember Pat Matthews and I worked on some strips together; I let him do some layouts for me. Here was a guy who was a superb draftsman, and yet the way he staged it didn't work in a static situation. They were so used to thinking in terms of movement that they did not think in static terms; and you had to be able to think in both ways. If you're going to be a good comic-book artist, you have to think kinetically, but you also have to put a kinetic concept into a static form.
I know when I was in the studio, when they had to do publicity drawings, Verne Harding always did them: but Verne couldn't ink them, so they'd bring them over to me.
One more anecdote that comes to mind: there used to be a thing called “making sound.” A guy would come over from the main studio and he'd ask us, “Anybody here want to make sound?” We'd all say yeah, and they'd pay us a buck, and we'd go over and stand on a big sound stage, during the lunch hour. They'd show the scene that they needed background noise for—mob scenes, a fight scene—and while they'd show the thing, a bunch of us who had volunteered for the dollar would make noises. This was dubbed in at the time.
[I asked Roger about the layout artist Art Heinemann in a 1977 letter, when I sent him the transcription of his tape recording, and he replied as follows: "I most emphatically do remember [Art Heinemann, whose Roger garbled as "Ralph Heinemann"]—a wild character with great, sweeping Zapata-like mustaches—loud! He worked free lance—too exuberant to be confined in the narrow confines of the studio—came in only to pick up work from Culhane—which he would do at home and bring back when finished and to get paid—he never got 'dime one' until the work was finished and approved! Incidentally, he didn't do 'character layouts'—he did the layouts. He laid out the entire picture—Tony Rivera did the character models. Incidentally, Roger Daly and Tony Rivera despised each other and I can recall one momentous afternoon when Roger (who was about 6' 4" and raw boned) knocked little Tony through a window, which concluded an acrimonious dispute they had been having. Roger had a huge fist with great knuckles." Joe Adamson's notes from the Lantz employment records show Heinemann actually on the staff from June 3, 1943, until September 26, 1944. MB]
|The Lantz staff, spring 1945. Front row, left to right: unidentified, unidentified, Charlotte Huffine (assistant), Pat Matthews (animator), Mabel Lundy (effects assistant and airbrush artist), Ellen Starr (checker). Top row: Ben Hardaway (story), James Culhane (director), Emery Hawkins (animator), Milt Schaffer (story), Tony Sgroi (assistant), Jack Bailey (breakdown), unidentified, Bernard Garbutt (animator), Casey Onaitis (assistant), Grim Natwick (animator), Sidney Pillet (effects animator),unidentified, Dick Lundy (director), Ed Solomon (assistant), Paul Smith (animator), François "Frank" Smith (assistant), unidentified. Courtesy of Dick Lundy, who identified most of the people in the photo; additional identifications by Roger Armstrong.|
[Posted March 20, 2011]