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The Frank Tashlin Interview

[Click here to go the Tashlin interview, and here to go to the most recent posting on this page.]

From Keith Scott, voice artist and author of The Moose That Roared (St. Martin's Press), the definitive history of the Jay Ward studio: I enjoyed your Tashlin interview, and truly regret that he died about a year after your meeting, as I'm sure he would have been a definite followup interview subject.

One trivial bit of clarification re: Tashlin's discussion of The Jack Benny Program (which I also listened to in MP3): Tashlin, in discussing the Sunday night Benny show in relation to the period where he first directed for Leon (1936-38), mentions the Mr. Kitzel character—the "running joke" he refers to was Kitzel's Yiddish-inflected "Mmmmm could be," which was certainly used often in the Warner cartoons of that period.

Tashlin, in 1971, was probably mixing up radio shows from long ago in his memory—the comic actor Artie Auerbach actually appeared in that time-frame on The Joe Penner Show and The Al Pearce Show (and was indeed named Kitzel in the Pearce show, which also weekly used "stooge" appearances by Mel Blanc, Phil Kramer, Cliff Nazarro, and other cartoon voices), but in fact he didn't appear on Benny's show until January 1946, long after Tashlin had left the cartoon studio following his third stint.

Coincidentally, Benny used another Yiddish-voiced comic regular in the period Tashlin referred to, and that was Sam Hearn as Schlepperman—his catch-phrase, "Hello, straynzer!!" was used in Warner cartoons like Tex's I Only Have Eyes For You.

Anyway, trivia aside, the point he made—that many cartoon stories made use of radio comedy-style running gags—was very true.

By the way, the only mistake I saw was in the discussion about Carl Stalling, where Tashlin says, "...of course the film library we had at Warners was enormous...," when he obviously meant the music library.

MB replies: One of these days, I'll remember to check John Dunning's Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio before citing a radio reference for a cartoon gag. This is the second time recently that Keith has caught me in an anachronism (although I think this is the only one I've published on the site). When Hames Ware and I watched Elmer's Candid Camera together recently, we were excited to discover what we thought was a resemblance to the Fibber McGee-Doc Gamble confrontations in the Bugs-Elmer dialogue, Doc Gamble having been voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan, the voice of Elmer. But as Keith pointed out, Bryan didn't begin appearing as Doc Gamble until 1943, long after Candid Camera was made. And now the same is true for Mr. Kitzel! Who knew?

From Bob Bergen, who provides the voice for Porky Pig in the Duck Dodgers television series: Mark Evanier posted a link to your old interview with Frank Tashlin, which led me to your Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones interviews. I'm having a blast reading the history and at times "interesting" recollections that may or may not be true, depending on who you chose to believe. I'm envious that you had a chance to spend so much time with these talents.

I met Chuck back in 1990 when WB was holding auditions after Mel Blanc died. I was on my 10th or 20th callback for Porky and Tweety. I rarely get nervous at auditions, but I was shaking when I shook Chuck's hand. He asked me why I was so nervous. I told him, "Playing these characters for you is like doing Jesus for God!" He got a kick out of that. Not long after I started voicing several of the Looney Tunes, but never got to work with Chuck. He decided to hire Frank Gorshin for the last shorts he did for WB. I later found out that Chuck thought I was too young at the time (I think I was in my late twenties or early thirties) to "get" the classic nuances of the Looney Tunes.

I did an interview with Friz Freleng not long before he died, and I asked him, why can't they make em like they used to?? He said it was because back in those days no one was looking over your shoulder to make sure your work was PC. You made cartoons to entertain yourself, not the suits at the studio. Pixar has this philosophy. They make the films they want to see, which is why they are so good.

MB replies: Bob has a Web site, www.bobbergen.com, that is well worth a visit. I particularly recommend the recording of a phone call that Bob made to Mel Blanc when Bob was 14 years old. He had guts, that kid!

From Tim Onosko: That Tashlin interview is terrific. I think what I really like about it is how it does such a great job of portraying the guy's scope, you know? It was wonderful to hear about the number of jobs he had, the people with whom he had relationships, how he connected with so many others in H'wood at the time. Wow. A wonderful life, Tashlin had.

My only perspective on these people (other than reading, at the time, what people like you and Joe Adamson published) was, of course, Clampett, who took me under his wing, as he did so many others. And I asked him about Tashlin, and why he didn't follow the same trajectory. His answer was that Tashlin was the one who "escaped." Bob told me that he felt that he and Avery (and I suppose by extension, Jones, although he didn't mention him) were trapped in cartoons, and that Tashlin somehow was lucky enough to be able to jump from animation to live action.

I'd love to see that Cantiflas short that Tashlin talks about—the one produced by Sutherland. Do you know if it's available on video somewhere?

And, finally, your intro clears something up, for me. I was watching the new DVD of The Disorderly Orderly the other night, and I watched a (rather dull) outtakes reel that's included on the disc. I turned on the subtitles so I could better understand the asides and stuff Lewis was saying, since he wasn't mic'd. And the subtitles said "Tish," every time Jerry spoke to Tashlin, who was off camera. I always heard that his nickname was "Tash," so I kept playing these segments to try to hear if the subtitler got it wrong, but no, every time Jerry called him by name, it was "Tish." Your intro (about Van Boring) clears up that confusion for me.

You were really lucky to have met Tashlin.

Great stuff, Mike. I'm so glad you're posting these.

MB replies: As far as I know, the Sutherland stop-motion shorts that Tashlin directed are not available on video, but I'd be delighted if someone could show me that I'm wrong. I'd love to see them myself.

From Jeff Schiller: Great interview transcript with another great cartoon director! It's too bad you edited out the "interval of general discussion about the reaction to the Clampett interview and about the growing interest in the Warner cartoons and their history." I come from the "other side" of the bench where the WB cartoons have already been highly praised/recognized. It certainly seems from the interviews that you post (especially Tash's) that the directors never thought they were doing anything too important at the time of their creation, so I would be very interested to see how the public interest for these films changed over time...hearing an early '70s view of this would be interesting.

It's also interesting to see that Frank Tashlin didn't think too much about Chuck Jones' work. I wonder if this is because (as evidenced by the interview) he didn't see too many of these cartoons in their finished state (especially after he left the studio) or because he didn't bother to turn a critical eye to cartoons in general or if it's just because the perception about Jones' work gradually changed over time until it reached the overhyped status of today.

I think I know what your own opinion is on Frank's story of the creation of Bugs Bunny. I know from Hollywood Cartoons and your audio commentaries that you feel Max Hare was more of a rural braggart while Bugs was more of a streetwise kid. Since I haven't seen the cartoon I have to wonder if Max' personality really has any kernel of Avery's Bugs in A Wild Hare or if Tashlin is really only referring to the character design.

The fact that he hated Porky Pig is hilarious!

Anyway, post more of these interviews! I think the best quote in the interview, and the best testimonial to the Termite Terrace legacy, is this:

"The experience at Warner Brothers, with those cartoons, was the only time in my life where as a director, I had full control and no interference."

What a happy accident!

[Posted December 20, 2004]

From Greg Duffell, a Canadian animator: Thank you for posting the Frank Tashlin interview. I have been fortunate to own the Edinburgh book for many years, but it was delightful to read the whole interview again on the computer. I thought Tashlin's comments about The Bear That Wasn't were very interesting.. It always struck me as strange that the bear had a cigarette in his mouth, but with audiences I saw it with, it got a big laugh. I first saw The Bear that Wasn't when I worked for Chuck Jones in 1994-95. I recall Linda Jones telling me that Tashlin did not like the film. Linda always gave me the impression that Chuck was the underdog: that Friz had been far more successful, mainly because of the Pink Panther.

I also thought it interesting that Tashlin was so impressed by The Dot and the Line. Maurice Noble told me that Chuck abandoned that film after his version was rejected by the MGM
management. I saw a letter written by the MGM brass to Maurice, and it's all but evident that they credited him with directing the film (although contractually it had to be credited to Chuck).

MB replies: Maurice Noble told me in 1989 that he was the de facto director of The Dot and the Line, and I'm sure that he was. I can't help but wonder how Chuck Jones felt when that film—not really his, but with his name on it—won the Oscar in 1966. He could hardly have taken much satisfaction in that victory, especially after all the years when his best work for Warners was passed over, often in favor of inferior Freleng cartoons. In some respects, Jones was indeed "the underdog."

[Posted April 2, 2005]

From Byron Black: That was a very fine interview, sir. You really did the job on an era, an industry. Rather less harsh on Disney than just about everything else I’ve ever read too, for that matter. Most of the history I’ve read about him, he comes off as a real monster, a real Citizen Kane. Of course my picture of Hollywood has been fatally warped by Gore Vidal and his ilk (Myra Breckenridge , Myron, et al). Thanks and best wishes from Jakarta.

[Posted July 25, 2010]