Al Perkins visited Norway in 1972, and Gunnar has sent me a scan of a newspaper interview with him. The Al Perkins in the photo accompanying the interview is clearly the same man as in the Reluctant Dragon photo. Perkins was by 1972 not working in animation but was instead an author of children's books. He was an alumnus of Dartmouth College, where he was a classmate of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and it was through Geisel that he entered the children's field, writing for Beginner Books. A half dozen of Perkins's books, obviously intended for very young children, are still in print and will come up if you search amazon.com for "Al Perkins." He had some impressive collaborators, including Rowland B. Wilson and Eric Gurney.
...and how strange it feels to write that! I met Bob in 1969, when he had just turned 56 and so was considerably younger than I am now. He died on May 2, 1984, just before he turned 71; again, younger than I am now. But what makes it really hard to embrace the idea of a Clampett centennial is that he is still such a compelling presence in my memories. Almost thirty years after his death, I have only to think of Bob Clampett and he appears instantly in my imagination—not just as an image, but as a deep, chuckling voice, as sly and quizzical facial expressions, as a whole person. I remember with unusual clarity how he looked when I first saw him, sitting behind his desk at his Seward Street studio in Hollywood, and I remember all too well how I felt when my friend Larry Estes called to tell me that Bob had died.
I think Bob made such a strong impression on me because he was in the best sense a character—not a character in the funny-peculiar sense, as in "he's a real character," but a character like the ones he brought to life on the screen. That is, a personality that was vivid and distinct, unlike the personalities of most of the people we encounter. He was great fun to be around, much more so than most his contemporaries at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio, although I don't recall ever feeling truly relaxed in his company. He was too bright a light for that.
Bob enriched my life through his presence as well as his cartoons. It was a great privilege to have known him.
From Thad Komorowski: Thank you so much for the heartfelt Bob Clampett post. What a joy it must have been to know and talk with him on a regular basis. Is there an animation figure today who comes close to his level of knowledge and generosity to students of animation history? Mark Kausler for sure, but I can't name any others.
[Posted May 8, 2013]
From Reg Hartt: I first met Bob and Sody Clampett when they appeared at Sheridan College in Oakville. I was so taken by his warmth and genuine interest in everyone he met (you can't fake that) that I decided that moment that if I were ever to bring anyone up to Toronto from Hollywood Bob would be the first.
In the fall of 1978 I started a program at Innis College in Toronto that ran from 12 pm to 12 am and pulled just 12 people. My first thought was not, "How do I get more people out," but, "I have to do something new to get through this year." One of the 12 was John Kricfalusi who came by to tell me Sheridan College refused to allow him to continue as, in his teacher's opinion he had no talent and was a bad influence.
I had met his teachers through the programs John and I did there. They were all sticks in the mud.
John gave me Bob Clampett's phone number and told me Clampett had said he could have a room in the space over Clampett's garage (which, for some reason, John now denies).
When I got home I called Bob, got his answering machine and invited him to Toronto. The next morning Bob returned my call saying he would be glad to come.
Bob was and remains a real inspiration to me (as is everyone in his family) because, first and foremost, they are extremely decent people.
I spent five years listening to the tapes of the talks Bob gave in Toronto as I transcribed them for publication. My only regret is that I was not able to have Bob video as well as audio recorded.
My deep appreciation for his work is grounded in your Funnyworld interview which was and remains a real inspiration to me.
Bob was generous in every way a person can be generous. It pains me when I encounter people who never met the man and who parrot the damned anti-Clampett claptrap that persists to this day.
It is fortunate that Larry Jackson was not able to employ the ideas he wanted to employ in the creation of Bugs Bunny Superstar. In the first place they were awful. And in the second, I don't think he really understood what an invaluable resource he had in Clampett.
"An art form requires genius. People of genius are always troublemakers, meaning they start from scratch, demolish accepted norms and rebuild a new world. The problem with cinema today is the dearth of troublemakers. There’s not a rabble-rouser in sight. There was still one, but he went beyond troublemaker to court jester. He clobbered the status quo. That’s Godard. We’re fresh out of “bad students.” You’ll find students masquerading as bad ones, but you won’t find the real article, because a genuine bad student upends everything.”—Henri Langlois.
Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones embody Langlois' quote. They were geniuses.
God, I wish people who want to make movies (animated or otherwise) would just stay the Hell out of film school, start from scratch, demolish accepted norms and rebuild a new world.
My programs have always been first and foremost about sharing with others what I am learning.
After Bob's passing I was asked to host an animation program at a local university. I wanted to get Shamus Culhane and Zack Schwartz together for one last hurrah before they moved on so I said to the people who had asked me, "How would you like to have somebody up here who actually worked on these films?"
"Who can you get?" they asked.
"Shamus Culhane," I replied, telling them what he had done.
"Who else can you get?"
"Bob Clampett's widow, Sody and, maybe, Friz Freleng," I said.
Friz's health was bad so he was not traveling but Sody and her daughter Ruth came up.
We had a grand time turning new people on to Bob's genius. I got to meet Ruth.
Thanks for remembering Bob. The entire Clampett family is one of a wonderful kind.
[Posted May 10, 2013]
From Jim Korkis: Thank you so much for your short piece about Bob Clampett and I find myself in complete agreement. I never truly felt relaxed around Bob either (and not in a bad way) and I think it was because he was so high energy, constantly thinking and completely focused on the person he was talking with at the time that you felt you had to be on your toes to keep up.
I, too, liked Bob and the first thing I remember about him is not his many animation triumphs but how kind and gracious he was. In my discussions with him, he really never said a bad word about anyone else. He was very generous with his time and knowledge and he demonstrated several times that he was sincerely interested in me and my life and I was nobody. I saw him treat others the same way. He was always eager to help.
When I met him, he was much older than I was at the time and like you, I am now older than he was when I met him....but I never thought of him as an "age." Like many of the animators I met in those years, it seemed like he would never grow old. I saw in person that Ward Kimball was still flirtatious with cute twenty-year-old girls who were mesmerized by him a few short years before his passing and that given the opportunity, he could probably direct circles around the newest generation.
Bob was like that as well, filled with ideas and skills but no reasonable outlet. Some of these guys just seemed to defy being "old" and despite the years, still had an energy that you could literally feel.
I also feel sad that so many future animation fans will only "see" Bob through some of the anti-Clampett material out there.
Anyway, thanks for the reminder that Bob would have been 100. In the old days, there would have been tributes in magazines and film festivals but it is a much, much different world today and I doubt many animation lovers even know much if anything about Bob.
[Posted May 13, 2013]
From Kevin Hogan: I, of course, never met Bob, but I feel like I did. Few people, it seems, have enough outward complexity and individuality to remain as interesting as Bob. In animation, only Walt, Bob, Chuck, and (gulp) Bakshi are colorful enough to be truly interesting outside of their films.
[Posted May 14, 2013]
From Roberto Severino: You and Jenny Lerew have written the best tribute posts to Bob
Clampett that I could think of regarding his 100th birthday. As a
young, aspiring 18-year-old animation artist and cartoonist myself,
the profound influence that Bob Clampett continues to have on
cartoonists decades after his death is astonishing. As I wrote on
Jenny's Blackwing Diaries blog the other day, Clampett had that sense
of wildness in his cartoons but could control it and get the very
best, appealing drawings out of draftsmen like Bob McKimson and Rod
Scribner. Even his black and white cartoons are worth studying
drawing wise. Those are the types of high standards every animation
artist should aspire to.
There is plenty of reason to be lamenting
over the current state of the animation business with all the layoffs
for more traditional hand-drawn animation that have taken place
recently, and Clampett cartoons are just one of the many ways we can
remind ourselves of what animation can do and always had the
potential to do.
Thad Komorowski even equated it to being another Dark Age in animation,
in his book Sick Little Monkeys. I wouldn't exactly go that
far, because of how much more accessible those
historic films have become through DVD, DailyMotion, Netflix, YouTube
and many other similar websites. Animators have a lot more options in
getting their work out there whether it be through Kickstarter or
YouTube and producing content on a much cheaper basis with programs
like Toon Boom.
As a whole, the commentators on Cartoon Brew have
noticed the many problems that the animation business is facing right
now and the comments there on the more controversial posts are a
reflection of what has been happening.
There is plenty of bad animation being made today in the mainstream,
but there was also a lot of forgettable old animation produced during
the Golden Age. The fact
that we're still talking about cartoons that geniuses like Clampett,
Jones, Avery, Freleng, Tashlin, Davis, and all the rest created during
that time period should really say a lot about animation's future and
how the medium can move forward while taking inspiration from the past
and building upon those ideas instead of resorting to blind, inbred
imitation and cliches.
I respect all of the excellent work that you and Milt Gray have done
for the animation community and you should feel lucky to have met an
incredible man like Clampett. I have gotten a lot of great drawing
advice from my own heroes currently working in animation,
but they also look up to Bob, Chuck, and Tex for inspiration and
probably would have loved to have known them better themselves.
[Posted May 16, 2013]
From Daniel Guenzel: Thank you, Michael, for your post about Bob Clampett's centennial. As I've probably mentioned before to you, one of the things that pains me most in life is to see great talents being either underused or not used at all, and when I think of the later years of such men as Clampett, and Tytla, it profoundly saddens me.
But your fine tribute to Bob Clampett does lift one's spirit. It is heartening to know that such truly great men are not totally forgotten.
[Posted May 25, 2013]