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Brave Little Tailor

The giant from The Brave Little Tailor (1938). His vocalizing was the subject of one of Jack Kinney's memories in 1986. Courtesy of J.B. Kaufman.

Notes from Interviews with Jack Kinney (1986)

By Michael Barrier

I've published here two full-dress interviews with Jack Kinney, from 1973 and 1976. Those interviews were full-dress in the sense that I prepared complete or nearly-complete transcripts from my tape recordings and sent those transcripts to Kinney for his review. That has been my standard procedure with most of the hundreds of interviews Milt Gray and I conducted for one or another of my books, most extensively for Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age.

The full-dress interviews have been only part of my research, though—a large part, for sure, but sometimes correspondence has been at least as important. For instance, I've published here two long interviews with the Disney director Wilfred Jackson, but my files of letters from Jackson are thicker than those transcripts. Other people were also excellent correspondents as well as interview subjects—Dick Huemer comes to mind—and sometimes an animation veteran declined to be interviewed but responded fully to my questions in illuminating letters, as was the case with Claude Smith.

And then there were instances like those represented by the notes I've posted here, from two of my last encounters with Jack Kinney, in December 1986. The tape recorder was running, but we covered so much familiar ground, or strayed down so many bypaths, that a full transcript would have been superfluous. So I made extensive notes and sent them to Jack, who made only modest alterations.

I did much the same in any number of other instances, with other people, making notes from tapes or telephone conversations or even talk over dinner. Often such material is too fragmentary or cryptic to warrant reproducing it for its own sake. The Kinney notes are more coherent than most, but I still decided I needed to edit them somewhat, mostly to clarify references (as with The Golden Touch) and to eliminate a few remarks that seemed too slight to publish, or that would benefit from more substantiation.

So, what you see here is a sample of the raw material, considerably rawer than the complete interview transcripts, that I accumulated during work on my books. Consider this a peek into the "kitchen" where I assembled those tasty treats.

December 8, 1986

Jack talked about working with Burt Gillett on The Brave Little Tailor (1938):  "Walt had okayed it; he liked the story very much. He didn't want to work with Gillett, because he didn't trust Gillett too much. He was a bad man, believe me. He worked with a metronome, [and] he was continuously smoking. Very nervous guy. All of his animation was tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock—he went to the beat. I'd go over there, and he'd give [me] the stopwatch to work with, and he'd say, 'Okay, get ready,' and he'd act it out.  He did all this hopping around; he was a very athletic guy, tall guy.  He'd go through this stuff and say, 'Cut it,' and I'd stop the watch and put it down, how much [time]. This goes on some all day long.  Except when some girl from ink and paint would pass by, and he [would say] 'Hold it' and undress her as she goes across the lot.

"Walt had okayed the picture [and said to Jack] 'Don't let Gillett change anything.' I said, 'I'll do my best.' I came back after the first meeting, when Walt had already okayed it, and [Gillett] said, 'Jack, what Walt told you about tearing that piece off? Put it back in; he'll never notice it.' The hell he didn't notice it. He came storming into my room again: 'Jack, for Christ's sake, I told you to cut the stuff out.' What the hell are you going to say?  I'm not going to incriminate [Gillett]. So, okay, I took it out again.  I took it to Gillett, and he still insisted [that the deleted material be put back in].

"One day, I had him off my back for the time being, and he was over recording some stuff with the giant. He and this buddy of his would sneak off in the afternoon and go up the street to a cafe called the Log Cabin Cafe; they sold wine. [An August 3, 2016, update: Hans Perk writes: "In the Kinney interview he speaks of the Log Cabin Café, elsewhere he speaks of the Log Cabin Wine Bar. This is a mistake on his part: I found that the place, half a block east from the studio, was called Swiss Cabin. There were a few liquor stores called Log Cabin Liquor Store, and I suspect that Kinney also frequented these and thus got them mixed up."] [His buddy [was] the sound effects guy, Hal Reese. He said, 'Come over here, Jack, I've got the greatest thing you ever heard. Reese has put some dialogue for the giant.' He talked faster than he could think, and he was laughing like hell, and Reese was up on the stage. He said, 'Listen to this, listen to this'—he was a very nervous guy, see—'this is funny, funny, believe me. This is the giant's dialogue, see.'  I knew there were only about three or four lines, like 'Smoke' and 'Food. ' I look over at Sam Slyfield , who's recording the thing, and Sam Slyfield [looks disgusted]. They'd been there all afternoon, for three hours, when they called me over, and they'd turned out 6,000 feet of 'Oogah, oogah' [and other caveman-like grunts]. And Gillett's dying [with laughter]—'What do you think of that, what do you think of that?' I didn't say anything; what the hell. So finally I said, 'Fine. Where are you going to put it?' 'We'll find a place for it, we'll find a place for it.'

"So that was the end of Burt Gillett; he got the boot then and never came back again. You pay for 5,000 feet of 35mm film, alone, that's a piece of change; plus four hours on the stage. He didn't care."

Talking about The Golden Touch (1935), a Silly Symphony directed by Walt Disney himself, Jack said that the acetate record of the preview audience's reaction was very quiet; the audience did not respond to the film.

Jack mentioned in passing that Hugh Fraser, the Disney animator, and Bing Crosby were old friends from school.

I asked Jack about Nick Nichols's credit, as an animator, on Motor Mania (1950), and he did not recall Nick's working for him on that cartoon, although he said Nick animated for him on a few pictures before Nick became a director.  Speaking of Nichols's work at Hanna-Barbera, Jack said, "All he did there was just make out [exposure] sheets all day long; it was a dog of a job. I tried to work over there, with Chuck Couch and Tex Avery and my brother [Dick Kinney] and Vip Partch, to see what it was like. They'd give me the story to do. Well, they pay well; I could turn out three of those things a week for $2,500 apiece.  Except for one thing:  They all had to be done Joe [Barbera]'s way.  I sold about three, and then I said the heck with it. Joe's way was, start with a chase and end with a chase. And you just can't do that—you've got no place to go.  When you make a picture—a short subject or whatever—you start nice and easy and you set up your business, then you pull the plug and go like a bat out of hell, the last third of the picture or eighth or whatever, and hope we have a good ending. That's my formula, anyway; and it works."

Speaking of the Magoo feature for UPA, 1001 Arabian Nights (1959), Jack said he had made that cartoon for around $750,000. "Columbia didn't like Steve [Bosustow] at that time, and they gave it short shrift." How did Jack wind up directing that cartoon?  "They got stuck. I'm trying to think of the guy's name that started directing it...a red-headed guy who lived in Pasadena—Pete Burness. He used to quit about once a month and throw all of his furniture out in the yard there. So finally he did quit, and they asked me to take it over. So I came over, and they'd already worked on it for six months [and] spent most of the budget. I picked it up, and they had 10,000 feet of recorded dialogue, a lot of it pose­tested, a lot of it storyboards, and some of it animated. Some of it just didn't fit. I had to take a lot of this stuff we had and try and move it around and save whatever we could; there were some pretty good animators there." Jack praised Abe Levitow, in particular—"I  picked him as the top man"—and Rudy Larriva.

I mentioned to Jack that I had gone through John Rose's production files on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) at the University of San Diego and had seen that he corresponded with Rose in 1961 about possibly directing the animation for that film. Jack said the deal had fallen through because his business manager had asked Rose for "a ridiculous price." Jack said he later fired the business manager who had botched the deal with Rose. "He'd been recommended from Disney's, as a business manager.  I took him on at that time because I was getting bilked by Herb Klynn and his group at Format. They were taking all the credit for having done all the Popeyes. I wouldn't allow them on it; I brought in all my own people on it. We had to do over a hundred in less than a year."

Talking about a streak of cruelty in Walt, Jack recalled the relish with which Walt told how the bull in Song of the South (1946) had been provoked into charging Bobby Driscoll: a cowboy used an electric cattle prod, shoving it repeatedly into the bull's rump. Walt acted out the scene twice—"He loved it."  This was in a story meeting.

Jack elaborated on a story in the 1976 transcript, about the importance Walt attached to neatness on storyboards, Jack said the problem was that when rough sketches were pinned to the boards with one pin each, "the wind from the air conditioner would blow these things, and everything went cockamamie." Jack said he, Don DaGradi, and Lance Nolley had worked on the rough sketches for "All the Cats Join In" [in Make Mine Music (1946)] and when Walt saw the rough drawings, with the music played behind them, he said , "It's pretty good, but it needs tightening up. Tighten it up, Jack, you know what I mean? Goddammit, tighten it."  Jack got Tom Oreb to do more finished drawings—the same drawings, but more finished—and put them up with four pushpins, one in each corner. When Walt saw the new boards, he said, "Yeah, that's damned good. Let's put it in production."

Another pushpin story:  "I was in the sweatbox with Walt, all by himself, and we were waiting for other people to show. He leaned back in his chair, and he saw the ceiling, and he was trying to count 'em; he counted about 200 pushpins in the ceiling.  He turned to me and he says, 'Goddammit, Jack, you know how much those pushpins cost?' I said no. He says, 'You've gotta quit throwing them at that goddam ceiling. I just can't afford it. They cost a penny and a half apiece.' Then, when the others came in, and they were going through a feature picture, he turned around and cut out a $250,000 sequence—just tossed it out."

Jack mentioned that storyboards were shown to Walt between 8 and 10 p.m.—"no overtime, of course; we got 45 cents to go across the street to Charlie's to eat. A meal ticket, that's all. We did that all through the finish of Snow White."

In discussing his introduction of the Leica reel on The Brave Little Tailor (first mentioned in the 1973 transcript), Jack said Earl Hurd "took long pieces of paper off the layout sheets and laid them across and peeled them back as he went through it. Walt didn't like that. 'Goddammit,' and he goes up and pulls [the paper] off the [board]. Earl Hurd tried several ways to do it, but this [the Leica reel] did it. From there on, everybody had to do that particular thing." Jack said, as he had in 1973, that Perce Pearce had brought a halt to the use of the Leica reel by running up a tab of $250,000 for a reel on Bambi.

Jack said that he was originally supposed to make four hours for the Disney TV show on the history of aviation and man in space, but "I was going down the slide at that point. Walt assigned [Ward] Kimball, and gave him the ending [man in space], and wiped out the whole history of [aviation]."  Jack had already hired Willy Ley and contacted Wernher Von Braun.

Art of Self Defense

From The Art of Self Defense (1941), one of Kinney's how-to sports cartoons with Goofy.

I asked Jack if the Robert Benchley shorts were in any way a source for the Goofy how-to shorts; he said at first that they weren't, then said, "Maybe so."  But, he said, the real source was the Fitzpatrick travelogues; "'that's where I really got it from." The Fitzpatrick-style narration, by John McLeish, was introduced because Pinto Colvig had quit, leaving Goofy without a voice.

December 14, 1986

Jack said that his father's uncle, Abbott Kinney, was the developer of Venice, California, and Jack grew up there, along with Joe Grant, Les Clark, and Dick Lundy, although Jack didn't know them while he lived there. Jack's father owned two dry goods stores in Los Angeles; he took his own life during the Depression. His mother invested the insurance proceeds and lost all the money, so Jack had to quit school and go to work, even though he had a football scholarship from USC. "I worked at everything—dug ditches for the Department of Water and Power...Sears Roebuck...Goodyear Tire & Rubber...worked for a number of different places—all hard work. Southern California Edison...you took anything you could get, because, really, out there people were starving "

Jack was born March 29, 1909.

When John Hubley worked for him as a layout man, Jack said, he "was the world's worst layout guy, because he couldn't draw; so he faked it. He worked with Art Heinemann, who was an excellent draftsman, on Pinocchio, then he worked with me on several shorts. He was very far out because he couldn't draw. He used his lack of knowledge of perspective points and all that to advantage [in Hubley's own films of the fifties and later]."

Jack said that in the late fifties (apparently), a man named Ernie Scanlon owned 30 percent of UPA; "he'd been at RKO and [other studios], and he was the brother of Paul Scanlon, who was at Disney's. He wanted me to take over, and get Steve [Bosustow] out of there. Well, it didn't happen, because Scanlon wanted Steve to bow out of it, completely; he didn't want Steve even on the property." Instead, Steve sold the studio to Henry Saperstein, with the provision that Steve be retained as a producer. This lasted for only a few months, until Saperstein changed the locks and locked Steve out.

Jack said of Steve: "He loved to keep charts. When I first went over there to work for him [on the Magoo feature], he wrote out a chart that went from this end of the room to that," charting out where the laughter and slow spots were supposed to be in the feature. "He didn't even know the story, and they'd already had 10,000 feet shot on this damned picture."

After the tape ran out, Jack mentioned that he was born in Salt Lake City and lived there until he was eight years old. His mother's father—the family name was Ryan—was a prospector around the West and got rich. Jack's mother and father met when Jack's father came to Salt Lake City as a traveling salesman.

Alexander P. de Seversky (left), the author of Victory Through Air Power, speaks with Walt Disney during a meeting about the 1943 Disney animated feature based on Seversky's book. Jack Kinney directed a large part of the film, including the opening sequences devoted to the history of aviation and the climactic sequence showing the bombing of Japan.


[Posted March 15, 2016]