By Dick Huemer
Reprinted from Funnyworld No. 18 (1978).
Today I’m going to regale your tender ears with a little gab about a certain fabulous character who once happily graced our beloved profession—our very own Till Eulenspiegel. You all know about Till, of course: always the mot juste on tap— ever some outrageously amusing prank hatching in his fertile brain. Well, our Till was called Ted, and his last name was not Eulenspiegel, but Sears. That’s right, Ted Sears is he of whom I speak. And his comical inventions were, at least to my mind, far superior to anything old Till ever cooked up. Take for instance the time at the old Mutt and Jeff studio when Ted unstuffed the studio health-nut’s stuffed dates and filled several with Bull Durham tobacco, which the poor goof happily devoured with self-righteous gusto. Nor did the nicotine-impregnated fruit appear to have the slightest effect, either in taste or in digestion. Which goes to prove something or other about applied nutrition. I tell you it was a kick.
Most of Ted’s efforts at socially applied humor expended themselves in vocal expression. However, he didn’t tell jokes as such. It was his comments that were so killingly appropriate. And he scattered them around like there was no tomorrow. I sat opposite him at the same old Mutt and Jeff studio back in 1918, and believe me, it was better than a night at the Palace. It’s kind of a dirty trick telling you all this about Ted without slipping in a few samples of his sensational line. But alas, galloping senility has erased all from my memory. Perhaps there are those still around who have not been too blighted by advancing years and who, if you care to pursue the subject further, might fill you in with some sparkling items.
However, if I have given you the impression that all Ted did, while he was supposedly being gainfully employed, was to be an entertaining buddy, I sure didn’t mean it. No, indeed. At a story meeting Ted could bandy gags and throw out, seemingly just casually, story ideas with the best of them. And I mean—the best. And don’t think the Grand Panjandrum himself (that’s Walter Elias) didn’t appreciate him. Toward the end, when poor Ted was in serious physical decline, Walt bent over backwards to keep him employed and happy. To show you how much Walt thought of Ted, back when we all were still young and frisky, he set Ted up in the biggest office on the lot (outside of his), all private, with a secretary and his very own water cooler, even, and figuratively handed him a hat which might have read: Head of Story Department. Ted never went near it. Nor did he ever let it appear that he considered himself any more than just one of the boys. It was the neatest side-stepping you ever saw. And the beauty of it was that he did it without offending Walt, and that was going some, let me tell you.
And that’s not the only time he ducked fame and/or success, as reckoned by most. You see, Ted and Milt Gross were great pals back in New York, and this was at the time when Milt was being very successful at the New York World—some of you might have heard of the Nize Baby books and the features of Milt’s that swept the boards about that time.
Anyway, through Milt, Ted met the editor of the World, who was so enthralled with Ted’s patter that he offered him his very own column, no strings attached. Think of it! Did Ted jump at the chance to do what every eager scribbler in the whole damn universe lay dreaming of at night? You’re so right. He avoided that plum like it was spiked with ant poison. And nobody could budge him. That was our Ted. Like Ferdinand, he just wanted to live quietly and make the funny. I still think he would have been sensational. It was a great loss to journalism, I’m that convinced. Well, so much for what Ted didn’t do, and on now to the positive side. From the time he got to Disney’s he was in on every cartoon story—including, of course, the features. He was prominent and prolific on most of them. From Snow White to the True Life Adventures, you’ll see the name of Ted Sears on the credits.
But the real contribution that Ted made, not only to Disney but to the entire animation industry as well—and oddly enough also to live-action pictures—is something we now take completely for granted. Would you like to know the name of the genius who invented the concept of the storyboard? Most think that it was Walt Disney’s idea and there are those who claim the honor for Webb Smith. But take it from me, an unimpeachable source, it was Ted Sears who first thought of it and submitted it to the Fleischers back in New York when he was working for them in the late ‘20s. According to how I heard it, they didn’t go for it. So later when Ted made the switch to Disney and again unveiled the idea to that perfectionist, his nibs, seeing in the concept still another way to improve the product, promptly ordered it done. The rest, to uncoin a phrase, is no mystery.
I have here several notes written by Ted Sears, which to my simple mind are classics, ribbing one Cy Young, who had been made head of the Effects (EFX) Department (which in itself was a radical departure for those days). I remember when I came to Disney’s, we animators were still making our own smoke and waves or whatever incidental non-personality animation was required in our scenes. Cy did a marvelous job, and he took his position very seriously—always promoting the further use of his department, as you shall see.
Now it’s important to the appreciation of these unsolicited notes of Ted’s that you understand that Cy Young was a noble Son of Han—i.e., a full-fledged Celestial—that is, Chinese. And at that time the only one who had made it into our profession, as I like to call it.
These notes of Ted’s were circulated around the Studio from time to time, whenever Ted had the urge. They purportedly came from Cy himself and were merely Ted’s exaggerated comic impression of how Cy might approach a given situation. Understand, Cy Young was perfectly literate, which made the rib inoffensive.
This one concerns Cy’s critique and impression of a trip Walt made us all take one Saturday to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre to see a crummy half-assed WPA production of Peter Pan—live action, of course. It was part of Walt’s program to familiarize the staff with PP, which was to be our next feature production. I hope you youngsters can figure out most of Ted’s sly allusions concerning what happened so long before your time. If not, have some other superannuated old cove explain it to you. Anyway, here it is:
Good god what fun resulting from Sat p.m. being spent at Evil Theatre, to witness performing of childsplay Petapan from the immortal pen of Late jas. Barry. Oh! did we laughing—oh! and how! First scenes begin in crazy house. Nurse are a big animal poorley stuffed on all four, eating medicine slyly prepare by father of little Windy. From then on is madhouse of one disconnecting episodes after each other. Additional idiots are big brother who should be enrolled in straightsjacket by all means wearing a silk hat, Small sister is named Patricks, causing further confusion—but England is funny race of people, so what in hell, anyway.
Possible for cartoons.
1. Tinkabells (only female fairy) could be done much better in EFX department very reasonable, getting rid of jumps and flicka.
We should avoid troubling the censorships by keeping more boys and girls out of same bed because of narrow minded American publics. Most entertainment is contain in hit song of the Pirus “A fast delay, me-too”, giving big chance for new words and lyrics by Lee Washington.
Next act, sorry to say is most entirely lost because of paper monoplane being sailed by Roy Disney, Jr., blocking right eye. Best character for model departments is unseen alligator, unable to digest alarm watch going ticktock offstage to scare the daylight from villainous Hooks. When Piruss get killed ovaboard—most glorious fake ever perpetrate on public!
Not one water effecs! Not once! Not even fool a Japan audience with this swindle—by crocky!
2. Big climb-axe is happen when all rowdy kids in audience must applause, otherwise Tinkle Bell is going out like a light in very poor animation. Crap hands is coming from all over house. This shows heart is in the right place even on some American brat (no personal offence).
To end by finally summing up the conclusions, is beyond the shadows of a doubt that for show entered by Anna Oakleys ticket was well worth double the price. More power to the Evil Wilshire Theatre!
p.s. coo be betta
Eh? How’s that? You don’t get it? Well, forget it. We all thought it was funny!
[Posted October 26, 2007]