|A photostat of some of the final storyboard drawings for the "Bare Mountain" segment of Fantasia. Les Novros animated on that part of the film, under Bill Tytla's supervision. Courtesy of Campbell Grant.|
An interview by Michael Barrier
I interviewed Les Novros, Bill Hurtz, and Paul Julian on December 15, 1986, at Julian's home in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys. Milt Gray had already recorded interviews for me with both Hurtz and Julian, but I'd not met either man, and my previous efforts to set up an interview with Novros, by either me or Milt, had been unsuccessful. That was in 1979, on my last trip to California before my 1986 visit. That more than seven-year gap between research trips to Los Angeles, unavoidable though it was, still makes me cringe whenever I think about it, but in this case, fortunately, I was able to make up some lost tiime. While Paul and I waited for Bill and Les to arrive, I turned my recorder on and we talked for a short while about his family history and especially about his work on the Warner Bros. cartoons.
I rarely recorded interviews with two or more people, but in this case it made sense because Les, Paul, and Bill were old friends and their careers had overlapped, at Disney and UPA especially. Novros was the eldest (he was born in New Jesey in 1909), Julian next (he was born in Illinois in 1914), and Hurtz the youngest (born in Chicago in 1919).
Novros got a little antsy when the conversation drifted away from him for any length of time; I felt obliged to steer it back in his direction whenever I became aware of his impatience. He was a little prickly, as Hurtz and Julian were not. But he was a highly regarded academic as well as a filmmaker, serving as an adjunct professor for many years at USC (George Lucas was one of his students), and so he could be said to be entitled to a certain professorial bruqueness.
Novros and Hurtz both died in 2000, Julian in 1995. I was disappointed to find, in going through my files, that I had no good photos of any of them (and none at all of Novros). My photos of Julian and Hutz are in group shots that I've posted elsewhere on this site, and that should come up in a seach. So I've posted a couple of illustrations from films they worked on, as well as a portrait photo of Steve Bosustow, the proprietor of UPA, who figures in all three men's recollections—not very favorably, alas.
The work of all three men is readily available on DVD, in films as varied as Fantasia and The Unicorn in the Garden, and Novros's Oscar-nominated documentary short Universe is avaiable for streaming on amazon.com, at no charge for Prime subscribers. The credits include a couple of names that msy be familiar to people who pay attention to animation history: Gordon Legg is credited for animation, and Ray Bloss for photography.
II sent complete copies of the transcript to Novros, Hurtz, and Julian so they could amend it as they saw fit, and in keeping with his personality as I observed it, Novros made far more extensive revisions (usually minor changes in wording) than Hurtz or Julian did. The interview as I've published it here incorporates the revisions that all three men made, except for inconsequential changes in punctuation; I've also deleted a few passages when the interview seemed to be heading up a blind allley. But otherwise what's here is a faithful reflection of what was said that afternoon in Van Nuys.
BARRIER: I think I should concentrate on questions for Les, but I have one question for Bill. In one of your interviews with Milt Gray, you used a wonderful term: "Disney flash." You were using it in connection with storyboards, and I wanted to get a clear sense of exactly how that term was used.
HURTZ: I think when I used it I was working very briefly at John Sutherland's. I carried a storyboard beyond where it really needed to be carried, into the area of "Disney flash," which meant putting little zinging accents and glitzes and glitters. The board was much admired as a result of it.
BARRIER: Plussing the board.
HURTZ: Plussing the board, yes. It was on a picture called The Profit Motive, which had as its thesis that there's an area in the brain which actually is sensitive to the profit motive. That was the level of the Harding College series.
BARRIER: Something I've already asked Paul, and I want to ask both of you, is just for some vital statistics—where you were born, whether anything in your family backgrounds steered you into the animation field. Paul is one of the rare people I've found so far who actually had parents who were artistically involved.
HURTZ: I was born in Chicago, and my mother went to Miss Church's School of Art and Illustration, to become a fashion illustrator. She had a lot of talent. When I was about 9 or 10, she trotted me down to the Art Institute of Chicago and plunked me down in the Saturday morning classes, which I enjoyed an enormous amount, because I was doing cartoons and comic books and things. My father died when I was 12 going on 13, and [we] came out to Los Angeles. She looked around for an art school right away, and I happened to land in Don Graham's Saturday morning life drawing class [at Chouinard]—and blushed to the roots of my hair at drawing from a nude model.
JULIAN: Was it only Saturday mornings?
HURTZ: Only Saturday mornings, for a while. Then I went summers.
JULIAN: Then what accounts for my seeing you, standing at the top of the stairway—the stairway close to the corridor that led down to Pruett Carter's place—with a giant drawing board under your arm?
HURTZ: I wasn't into the six-foot drawings until about two or three years into that; and that would have been a summer class. Later on, I got excused from Wednesday afternoons, from high school—the principal said it was all right if I would keep my grades up—so I went down to Wednesday afternoon class, during the week. Plus Saturdays, plus nights. So by the time I got out of high school, I was through Chouinard.
BARRIER: What did your dad do?
HURTZ: He was a paint manufacturer; and he was very concerned that I was going to the Art Institute. I realized that there was a hostility toward this, so that part of the mixed emotions I felt when he died was a slight feeling of relief, that he wasn't around to interfere with that ambition any more. There were many other emotions, of course.
JULIAN: It's curious how many fathers rebel against sons who try to become artists.
HURTZ: He used to trot me out into a gathering at a party, and I would have to recite what I was interested in doing. I said, "Well, I'm interested in being an artist, but of course I'm really going to be an engineer." This straddled the issue and preserved peace, a technique I've used all my life.
BARRIER: Les, what about you? Can you give me some of your early history?
NOVROS: It was rather similar to Bill's. I had to quarrel with my parents to study painting; they wanted me to go to Johns Hopkins to study medicine. I graduated school quite early, and I went to the Art Students League in New York; I had to take some tests to get into George Bridgman's life class.
BARRIER: Where are you from originally?
NOVROS: New Jersey. I got into Bridgman's class, and stayed there a couple of years. I went on to the National Academy and studied painting. Then I went to Spain [the Prado museum in Madrid] and stayed there for a couple of years. [A passenger list in the U.S. National Archives shows Novros returning to New York from Valencia, Spain, in October 1929.] Before returning I had become interested in the notion of movement in painting, and I began to experiment wit it. Don Graham was in New York at that time, for the Disney studio, trying to find potential animators. He, and others, were interviewing people across the whole country, and they were asking the likely prospects to attend classes for six weeks. Those who were chosen had considerable experience and training, so drawing from a model in New York was rather silly. But we did draw, and in addition were obliged to do some elementary animation tests. Nobody had animated before. But out of that exercise twenty men received contracts and went to Hollywood. I was one of them.
HURTZ: A hell of a group.
NOVROS: Dave Hilberman was one; there was a guy named Hank Porter. . . . Anyhow, that's how I got to Disney.
BARRIER: You said you were doing experiments with movement. . .
NOVROS: I was going to do the great American animated film; a biblical story, the sacrifice of Isaac.
BARRIER: And you were actually thinking in terms of an animated film.
NOVROS: Yes. I happened to be working at a studio where sets were designed and painted for Broadway plays. The studio had platforms at various levels and large sheets of canvas, etc. I used the mechanism to attach some winged figures, miniatures, which could be manipulated as needed. I had decided to start the film at the point where the angels descend in a great spiral. I did a considerable amount of analysis of flames, sacrificial flames. I never finished it, or did much with it, but all of that material—the notes and so on—came to the attention of Don Graham.
BARRIER: Bill said a long time ago that you were studying Giotto's angels and you wanted to animate these angels in flight. This, I guess, is what. . .
NOVROS: That's another project.
HURTZ: This was after I met Les, and was drinking with him; he would talk about it.
NOVROS: It wasn't Giotto; it was a film based on a novel by Anatole France, The Revolt of the Angels. We did some storyboards for it. Paul Julian did most of the drawings.
HURTZ: I think the reference to Giotto came because at that time at Disney's Graham showed some slides about a sequence of angels in flight that Giotto did, which could be in-betweened, in their various positions. That was floating around as a reference at the time, and I probably stuck that on to Les's talk in a messy way.
BARRIER: Les, when you got to Disney's, what did they put you to doing?
NOVROS: I became an assistant to Grim Natwick.
BARRIER: You began assisting immediately? You didn't go through the in-betweening pool?
BARRIER: But so many people who started at Disney's went into the in-between pool, under George Drake.
NOVROS: No, I wasn't in that. We did very little work that first year, we twenty; we were the envy of almost everybody in the studio. We rarely worked—we went to classes, we went to writing classes, drawing classes, etc..
BARRIER: Bill, weren't you part of the second class that came in a little bit after Les's?
HURTZ: No, it was quite a bit after that. We came in in June, after the release of Snow White. Howard Swift was in our class; and when we argued the merits of Shirley Temple as an actress, Howard Swift cut us all short by saying, "Okay, how much you making a week?" That was in-between pool talk. After six months of going to classes, my first job was being assigned to the Art Babbitt unit, working directly under Les, doing breakdowns for him on Geppetto, and re-doing a breakdown head, of Geppetto turning; he had me re-do it all day long. Not only [did it have to be] drawn exactly right, it had to be drawn deftly; after you got it right, you had to take all the labor out of it. Murderous.
BARRIER: But when you came in, in that group with Howard, you were basically studying for the first six months.
HURTZ: Yes; we were all working on animation scenes and various problems; probably much like what Les went through, but probably a little bit less extensive.
BARRIER: Les, you must have been chosen as Grim Natwick's assistant because you had a level of draftsmanship that made drawing a realistic human figure. . .
NOVROS: Well, I never questioned why; but he was wonderful to work with.
JULIAN: Once you went through the Bridgman [classes], you had to draw, or else.
NOVROS: When I got out of the Bridgman classes, it took me about five years of studying good drawings to forget it.
HURTZ: To get rid of the Bridgman twist.
NOVROS: Right. But it's true that Grim did want a fairly adequate kind of draftsmanship.
BARRIER: One thing I've learned from interviewing over the years is that what animators expect their assistants to do varies greatly from animator to animator. What exactly did Grim expect you to do?
NOVROS: Let me tell you, rather, what Art Babbitt expected you to do. He was, by reputation, the the most difficult man in the field. Very few assistants endured; Bill and I managed very well.
BARRIER: This didn't come through in your interview, Bill, that he was this harsh a taskmaster.
HURTZ: Didn't I mention being made to stand for three days [during work on the mushroom dance in Fantasia]?
BARRIER: You mean that was just a sampling of the kind of thing that was standard with Art?
HURTZ: Well, there were major problems in that sequence, based on Art's version of the mushrooms and the one the director and his designers wanted. I was given the task of reconciling this, and in so doing, I lost a good deal of the animation spirit. So Art looked at it and said, "I get the feeling I didn't even do this." And I muttered to myself, "Art, you really didn't." And so he went over it and put it back in, as we say.
BARRIER: Les, when you were working with Grim, to what extent was he using live action as a guide, and to what extent were you using it as a guide?
NOVROS: He was using it somewhat; he was required to. This was the first time anyone had animated a so-called realistic figure—which was nonsense, of course.
BARRIER: Her proportions are not realistic at all. . .
NOVROS: Nor her timing, or anything else. There was another man who was assigned to Snow White, Jack Campbell. Jack was a very bad draftsman, but somehow he managed to get along at the studio. Grim, I think, despised him, because he couldn't draw, and he couldn't time. Grim brought to the animation character everything he had known in his career as an animator, and what he expected us to do was to give some quality of draftsmanship to the—to try to subvert, you might say, the notion of using live action as a crutch.
HURTZ: How loose were his drawings relative to Art's?
NOVROS: Very much like Art's, in the sense of being very carefully drawn, depending on the nature of the action (i.e., the slower the action, the more precise the drawing). I did keep one or two dwarf drawings of Tytla's. In one, the details are very carefully articulated. Another is so roughly drawn that you can barely discern the form of the character—but it contains everything necessary. I also have a drawing of Freddy Moore's of two dwarfs dancing, one on the shoulders of the other; it, too, is almost indecipherable.. Changes in an action of this kind are so rapid that your hand seems to swing, run, leap with the movement. Where there's a very slow kind of movement, a tight, precise drawing, is required. In Grim's case, the drawings were fairly precise.
HURTZ: I ask because I've seen latter-day animation where he draws very loosely. I always wondered if he were tight enough to really handle that kind of subject.
NOVROS: He varied his style of drawing. I have some drawings of his, of Mickey Mouse tied to an eagle [from Alpine Climbers, ]1936]; they're just beautiful, in the tension between the two characters, in the timing, etc.
BARRIER: There's always been some controversy about who was mainly responsible for giving Snow White the form she took in the final film, Natwick or Ham Luske.
NOVROS: I don't know who did the models; but eventually it was evolved in Grim's room. And the formula, of course, was very exact, just like Geppetto—take two circles and . . .
BARRIER: Of course, Grim had this rather large unit of people working on Snow White...
NOVROS: No, he didn't; he had a very small unit. He had me and Marc Davis. And, of course, we had assistants.
BARRIER: Weren't there other animators who were working under Grim?
NOVROS: No, not on Snow White.
BARRIER: I'll have to double-check on what Grim said; I remember his saying that Jack Campbell was in some sense an assistant to him.
NOVROS: He was a competitor. He was given his own scenes, and there was much antagonism—not spoken, but. . .
HURTZ: Jack was universally disliked, anyway; a sleazy, slimy person. A fitting climax to his career, really, was his designing of a terrible, vicious caricature of the Japanese for posters during World War II. Terrible buck teeth. . .
NOVROS: Are you describing his cartoons or himself?
HURTZ: It was a dead ringer for Campbell.
BARRIER: Les, what led to your moving from Natwick to Babbitt? That was before Grim went back to Fleischer's, wasn't it?
NOVROS: Ham Luske gave me some scenes to animate on a short. I've forgotten the title; it involved a picnic and a lot of ants [Beach Picnic, 1939]. When it was finished, Art Babbitt asked me to assist him on Pinocchio..
BARRIER: You've said that Art was an extremely harsh, hard person to work for. . .
NOVROS: I said his reputation was that; I didn't find him [to be that way].
HURTZ: I doubt if he ever said a negative word to Les. Art has a great respect for good draftsmanship when he sees it. Working under Les at the time, I inherited that position when Les went on to animate, and I really never had any criticism from Art, either; it was only in a more profound area that is well documented in interviews [presumably the interviews Hurtz recorded with Milt Gray]. And it didn't damage our relationship at all.
BARRIER: Bill, I requested an interview with Elmer Plummer some time ago, in part to talk with him about his work on the mushroom dance, and he sent me a lengthy memo, in effect, setting out his recollections. They're consistent with yours up to a point. You'll recall that you said that you and Plummer, working together, altered the design of the mushrooms in the animation Art had done. . .
HURTZ: That was with Art's consent, too.
BARRIER: But then Art went back in, after that, and reanimated, to make the animation consistent with the changed proportions of the characters. Plummer said, in effect, that he was not aware that this last step had taken place.
HURTZ: No, he departed; he didn't know anything about it.
BARRIER: It struck me that there wouldn't necessarily be any reason he would know about it.
HURTZ: No. He spent most of the days with me, attacking Babbitt and saying that his days were over, he'd had his day, and guys like that, Walt wasn't going to have around any more. Which was true, in a sense, because of Art's independent attitude toward Walt.
BARRIER: Plummer claimed a number of times—he did so in this letter—that he in effect deserved part of the credit for animating that sequence, that what he had done, working with you, was animation.
HURTZ: With so many hands touching something, everybody can really claim it, just because their pencil line was there. But Plummer would do a rough over Art's rough—how he saw that mushroom drawn, in that attitude. So he took Art's attitude and translated it into Plummer's. Then I took and cleaned that up and led in and out of it, changing what Plummer might have overlooked, and going in Art's direction. What essentially happened was that the character was made taller, but much broader, so the volume of the character was maybe four times that of Art's character. When you increase the volume of something that much, you necessarily slow it down, four times. Art had to go make him jump higher, and more crisply—things like that.
BARRIER: Which Plummer wouldn't necessarily have known anything about.
HURTZ: Yes, when he left the room he had this rough over one of Art's, and the character did resemble what he had asked for when it came on the screen.
BARRIER: But there was no reason to go back and ask him. . .
HURTZ: For more amplification? Not really.
BARRIER: Les, I'd like to hear more about your memories of working for Art, and also Grim. What could you say you learned from both of these animators, what did you carry away as the strongest lesson?
NOVROS: I don't remember [anything specific]. Of course, we [learned] from both of them. There's another episode I now recall with respect to rotoscoping.While working on Snow White, I knew that the whole notion of tracing live-action images was wrong, and I set out to prove it to myself. So I spent some time at home animating a girl dancing, twirling—a girl rather like Snow White. I gave her a wide skirt so that her movements exhibited a considerable overlapping. But I wanted, especially, to suggest in the movement, a unique individual, in the sense that the dwarfs were each unique. I spent the whole summer doing it. When it was finished, the studio shot it and I showed it to Ham Luske. There was considerable interest in the test of the dancing girl, [but] I didn't get to animate a human figure as a result of the test; Ham gave me the picnic scenes to animate. When that was finished, I moved into Babbitt's unit and from there to an experimental unit assigned to Fantasia.
BARRIER: Oh, this was when you did the test animation for the "Nutcracker."
NOVROS: I was put in a room with Oskar Fischinger outside the main animation building. He was doing the storyboards for the Bach "Toccata and Fugue." I was assigned to the "Dance of the Reed Flutes." It was the first sequence, where the flowers all come down from trees and land on a body of water.To study the perspective distortions in the reflections on a flat surface, I had the studio get me a mirror, which was about the length of this table.
HURTZ: What did you use for flowers—artificial flowers?
NOVROS: No, they weren't flowers; I got some simplified shapes—they may have been paper cups, I've forgotten—and I strung them up. I used that as a guide, and I animated the whole sequence as kind of an abstraction: the cup-like shapes in an interweaving pattern. It was very beautiful, as I remember it. At this time, Oskar was having problems; his English was very limited. Now and then Walt would come in the room and look at the board; Oskar was helpless—he couldn't explain what he was doing. Also, Cy Young, the effects animator, would come in, look at Oskar's board and make suggestions. It was Cy Young's ambition that made things difficult for Fischinger, not his difficulty with English.
Finally, Fischinger was discharged. I had advised him to bring in the films that Walt had seen earlier—films he had produced in Germany—and run them for Walt again, and explain what he was aiming for in the Bach sequence. He couldn't. He was very shy, and he was overrun by Cy. Soon after, when I had finished the experimental animation for the "Dance of the Reed Flutes," Cy was given that sequence, too. He put the petals on the cups, and carried it through. It was then that I was assigned to Tytla.
JULIAN: Was there an interval, after Fischinger left, before Sam Armstrong picked up on the Bach?
NOVROS: I never met Armstrong. He eventually became director of the sequence, I believe. Everything at that time was in a preliminary state. It was the most enjoyable period of my stay at Disney's.
BARRIER: It sounds like you were really your own boss.
NOVROS: I was..
BARRIER: But you went in Tytla's unit as an animator? So this was a case where there really were a number of junior animators.
NOVROS: There were four guys under Tytla: [Novros], Bill Shull, Bob Carlson, and an effects guy.
HURTZ: Shull and Carlson and [Les] were really the three guys who did the figure work on the gnomes at the base of the devil [in "Bare Mountain"].
NOVROS: I think Tytla was the only man I was afraid of at Disney's, because he was so formidable; he was such an extraordinary draftsman. I had an enormous admiration for him.
BARRIER: In your working with him, when he was a supervising animator, how exactly did you work together? Did he hand out scenes to you?
NOVROS: A sequence: a sequence toward the end of the film, when the bells ring, and the little creatures go like that [shrinking from the sound]. I had about twelve characters all together. Nobody cared how much time was spent—I think I spent six weeks on three feet of film. Tytla would look at the pencil tests on the Moviola and make suggestions. I had the opportunity to flip through his drawings at lunchtime. [The draft for the "Bare Mountain" segment of Fantasia shows Novros credited for the character animation in three scenes, the two he mentioned and one other, earlier in the film, described in the draft as "Ghosts and demons approiach Devil's hands." He shared those scenes with three effects animators.]
HURTZ: There were people going through his wastebasket, and rifling his desk. . .
NOVROS: I remember the time everybody discovered that he was using a kind of golden-colored pencil; everybody started using golden-colored pencils.
HURTZ: Yellow ochre.
NOVROS: Yes, yellow ochre, and a black line on top of that.
BARRIER: Somebody told me he worked a lot with colored pencils.
NOVROS: Well, after that, everybody did.
BARRIER: Roughing something out in one color. . .
NOVROS: And then accenting with black pencil.
BARRIER: You left Disney's before the strike, is that right?
HURTZ: And Bill said you opened an art-supply store, actually left animation.
NOVROS: I had to do something. I did that for about a year, I guess. [The opening of Novros's store was noted in the Disney studio's in-house newspaper, the Bulletin, for Ocrober 4, 1940.]
BARRIER: What led to your leaving the studio?
NOVROS: I wanted to start my own studio.
BARRIER: But the art-supply store obviously wasn't it.
NOVROS: I had a back room, and I did do work there. The place I had was across the street from the old Art Center building, the original Art Center building on Seventh Street, and I got to know a lot of people there, including Frank Judson, who was teaching photography. Soon after, he became head of the USC cinema department. Through Frank, I met a student of his, Shirley Burden, who had a film studio of his own, Trade-Films. Burden had just obtained a contract to do a number of navy training films. He needed animation, and he came to see me.I began to animate the scenes in the back room. Later, I started my studio, Graphic Films, and eventually Burden and I joined our studios and moved into a building that could house us.
[Shirley Burden was, in the words of his 1989 obituary in the New York Times, " a great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt ... the founder of the Burden Gallery in Manhattan, the senior partner in the private investment firm of William A. M. Burden & Company and for a long time the chairman of Aperture, a photography magazine. He was also a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and former chairman of its photography department and a trustee and former teacher at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif." In other words, his association with Graphic Films, however long it lasted, was a minor part of a very full career.]
BARRIER: When did you leave Disney's?
NOVROS: Early 1941. I came into Disney's in the spring of[1936. I had a four-year contract and two options. I took up one of them. [According to Dave Smith of the Walt Disney Archives, Disney's records show Novros starting on June 13, 1936, and leaving on August 22, 1940, several months earlier than Novros remembered.]
BARRIER: I want to go back a little bit to the use of rotoscope, live action. I gather from what you've said that there was no rotoscope as such in Natwick's unit, there was no real tracing of the girl or anything of that kind.
NOVROS: There was rotoscoping; the sheets were used only to analyze the timing. Grim would get a sheaf of these tracings, and he would just flip them, and throw out every other one, or every ten of them, or something, re-time it all, analyze it, study it, and then put it away. I think Campbell used the tracings more directly..
BARRIER: When you were working with Babbitt on Geppetto, again the live action was used extensively. And even on "Bald Mountain," Tytla photographed Wilfred Jackson with his shirt off.
NOVROS: Again, that was for analysis.
HURTZ: It just gave you a starting point.
BARRIER: But was live action even in this limited sense, of reference, necessary or desirable? You said you animated this girl without any live action at all.
NOVROS: Well, everybody was afraid of simulating a live person. They distinguished between what they called a real person and an animated person, not knowing that real persons are as diverse and various and capable of subtle variations as so-called animated characters are. As I said, that's why I started to do the animation [of the girl]. Because they were afraid of it, they sort of relied on the live-action camera to give them the subtleties they felt they themselves couldn't have provided.
HURTZ: Well, it's somewhat useful in dances. You could at least study how many steps there were to a given measure, and some poses—but you always carried it further.
NOVROS: But they believed beyond that, Bill, that you couldn't really animate a human walk, you had to rotoscope it. That's why the Prince looked like he did. And, of course, you can't achieve weight, or mass, simply by tracing live action.
HURTZ: If you have an animated character that's dancing with a live character, in combination, you really have to shoot the live character first, and then you trace him, and work to that with the animated character.
NOVROS: You certainly couldn't have done the Dopey and Sneezy dance after live action.
BARRIER: Les, I had a note here that the union newsletter in June 1942 mentioned that you were lecturing on animation at USC. It struck me that you had been in the field only a few years, and I wondered if this was a rare thing that happened out of the blue, or if your interest in the field had at that point led to your being able to articulate a theory . . . it was certainly not commonplace at that time, this kind of lecture.
NOVROS: Frank Judson, whom I had met at Art Center, when he became the head of the department out there, asked me if I would teach. He felt that there was little knowledge of graphics in the department, and wondered if I could do something about it; I wasn't teaching animation.
HURTZ: Didn't you sort of carve out the kind of film structure, partly based on Eisenstein and guys like that?
NOVROS: Yes, some guys like that.
BARRIER: It sounds as if you had an intellectual interest in the field, really from the very beginning, even before you got to Disney's. It was much more typical at Disney's for people to be articulate. . .
NOVROS: You know, there was a great kind of intellectual excitement at the Disney studio. Jean] Charlot did a whole series of lectures—we had people like that. [Rico] Lebrun was there during all of Bambi.
HURTZ: I was in Lebrun's animal-drawing class, being groomed for Bambi, and I didn't want to work on Bambi, I wanted to draw the figure. So I was very apathetic about this, but Lebrun would have a greyhound in the class, things like that. He would proceed by scolding all of us, saying, "There are a lot of great draftsmen out there, and it's not long before they wake up that animation is a great field. Unless you guys get down to work and dig into the stuff, you're going to be out." That was my acquaintance with Lebrun.
NOVROS: Did you know Bernie Garbutt, or know of him?
BARRIER: I know of him, sure—he was the great animal draftsman. I gather from what people have said about him that he was extraordinary in his ability to draw animals, and to draw them in any position and doing anything, but as an animator, relating one drawing to another, he wasn't necessarily that extraordinary. Would that be a fair description?
NOVROS: Yes, I think so.
HURTZ: He taught animal drawing at Chouinard, later Cal Arts; my daughter was in his class. A trip to the zoo with Garby was really great fun. When he drew into an illustration, the results became disappointing. He froze up on the form and started to render it, and it became more and more and more ordinary. When he stuck to this elusive-gesture drawing of the animal, then it was just right.
BARRIER: One area I'm particularly anxious to talk to you about, Les, is your involvement—negative involvement, I gather—in UPA's formation. By '43 or so you had your own studio going. . .
NOVROS: '41, actually.
BARRIER: Was it called Graphic Films at that point? [Les indicated that it was.] Let me read you Steve Bosustow's account of what happened. I interviewed Steve in 1973, and the version he gave me then was rather garbled, and I wrote him back and said I couldn't quite figure out what he was trying to tell me. So he sent me a tape in 1976, on which he talked about the origins of the company and specifically mentioned you. I'm paraphrasing Steve here, and also quoting directly:
Steve went to work for Hughes Aircraft, as a production illustrator. Later, he met Les Novros, also an ex-Disney striker—that's not true, obviously—who had started his own studio. Steve did night work for him, on animated training films, while he was working at Hughes. Dave Hilberman was also working there. The Screen Cartoonists Guild had been approached by Bill Levitt, political director of the UAW; Levitt was a friend of Karen Morley. Les Novros was being financed by someone who didn't want to touch Hell Bent, because of its political content. Levitt and Morley got a top writer to do the script, and the story then developed through the Screen Cartoonists Guild; then they had trouble finding someone to make the picture, and they had only 90 days left to finish it. In the meantime, Steve had picked up a job at Consolidated Shipyards (Sparks and Chips Get the Blitz), and Dave [Hilberman] and Zack [Schwartz] had helped him on that, "so we had the nucleus of a partnership going." Dave suggested that Steve talk to Novros about the job, and also to Bill Pomerance, the business manager of the union. "Les Novros had no qualms about letting it go; later, he was upset that I took the job away from him. But at the time, he couldn't have taken it anyway, because his partner wouldn't let him." Steve made a deal with Bill Levitt to do the film, and Zack joined him full time; Dave couldn't, because he was in the army. "That was the beginning of the studio on a substantial basis. We'd done a film strip before that, we'd done several posters and pieces of artwork, but this was the first real film that I produced."
[Novros attached a note to the transcript at this point that reads as follows: "That I was 'financed by someone who didn't want to touch Hell Bent... because of its political content' is not true.. First, only [John] Hubley had asked if I was interested in producing it, and I said I was. S. Burden was not yet associated with my company and knew nothing about the project. Also untrue is the statement that I had no qualms about letting it go. And if I was 'upset,' it was because the 'deal' was dishonest and underhanded."]
I think I had asked Steve specifically about Karen Morley, when she was before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early '50s; they'd asked her specifically what she knew about Hell Bent for Election and UPA, and she took the Fifth Amendment in both cases.
HURTZ: Paul and I saw Karen Morley last week.
BARRIER: I thought she was dead.
JULIAN: She has put on weight, as a matter of fact.
BARRIER: I had no idea she was still alive.
HURTZ: Very hale and hearty.
BARRIER: Maybe you can give me her address.
HURTZ: I don't know her address, but I can find it [he didn't, unfortunately]. May I interject here, nowhere does Steve mention Hubley's role in Hell Bent.
BARRIER: That's right, you talked about that at some length, about his work on the storyboards. No, he did not mention Hubley in this account.
HURTZ: Hubley and I presented it to the UAW executive board; we went AWOL from the Air Force that afternoon to do it. At that time, it was by no means sure, from my knowledge, that Steve was going to do Hell Bent. Hubley and I discussed where it might go. Les was mentioned, [James "Shamus"] Culhane was mentioned, and Chuck Jones was mentioned, and each for different reasons couldn't take an active part, or wouldn't, or whatever. But it wasn't that much of a shoo-in for Steve and Zack and Dave to get it.
NOVROS: You want to hear my version?
BARRIER: Yes, please.
NOVROS: We had our studio, and I had two employees, Dave Hilberman and Mary Sheridan, both very talented. I was not yet associated with Burden. One day, Steve came to see me and asked if there was anything he could do for us. He and another guy had started a little studio on their own, and they had built what they called an animation stand: a table on which was mounted a photographic enlarger, their trucking device. The studio failed. Did you know Tom Armstrong?.
BARRIER: He was in the business back in the '30s, right?
NOVROS: He was at Disney's.
BARRIER: And at Schlesinger's before that.
NOVROS: Wonderful guy.
BARRIER: Story man, is that right?
NOVROS: Yes. They asked if I would buy the animation stand; I looked at it and bought it for fifty dollars. At the same time we began to build a sturdier rig. For some reason, I can't remember why, we installed it in the USC cinema department, and we used to run down there and shoot.
Steve returned and asked again if there was anything he could do—he wasn't working—and I said, "I have nothing; I don't know what to give you." He said, "How about letting me shoot your animation?" I said okay. He was going to, and started to shoot our animation. After three or four days, it was obvious he didn't know how. I said, "I don't know what to do, Steve, you can't go on shooting things." He said, "Why don't you let me sell for you?" By that time, we were also doing slide films, for Union Oil Company and others. I said, "All right, take our slide films, as examples." He left, sold a slide film, but kept the job for himself and got Hilberman to help him with it. That was the beginning of their relationship. Hilberman left Graphic. Zack Schwartz, who worked for us occasionally, joined them. And that was the end of it; I never heard from them again. Except when Hubley came to see me. Hubley said he was working on a storyboard—
HURTZ: For Hell Bent?
NOVROS: Yes. He wanted to be know whether I'd be interested in producing it. So he and I sat down, and—this was before your [Hurtz's] interest in it—we worked out a budget. But one day he came down and said the army had notified their units that they could not work outside. He said he had to be very, very careful, and he was asking that union man, Bill Pomerance, to take it over for him and follow it through. He turned over all the work he had done on it. That wasn't quite the end of it for us. There followed a number of visits to our studio by Pomerance, Hubley, and an actress, Karen Morley. We ran a number of films we had produced, and so on. The next thing I knew, Bill Pomerance, Dave Hilberman, Steve, and Zack had formed a company they called Industrial Films. So that's the story as I recall it]. Hubley used to visit us. He complained that despite his work on the storyboard, he was discouraged from visitng the [Industrial Films] studio. [To Hurtz] Did you know that?
HURTZ: No; but I imagine it wasn't because they had any fear of Hubley—a competitive thing. I imagine they didn't want to get involved with the armed services.
NOVROS: No, I think they just didn't want his ideas. Anyway, that's the story as I know it, and it's probably the more accurate of the two versions. But I don't see any merit in describing this at great length. I think what's important is that UPA got founded. It was opportunistic; I didn't play any part in it.
HURTZ: Whoever had a job and got some money for it at the time was in business.
NOVROS: Yes, everybody was desperate.
HURTZ: Hub and I free-lanced at night for what later became UPA. Hubley had the strong connection with the UAW, always; and later on, The Brotherhood of Man became his baby, and he took that to UPA. Then it wasn't UPA.
JULIAN: It was still Industrial Film.
BARRIER: That was what, '45?
JULIAN: '44; I was the only guy in the place who was working, July Fourth, 1944.
BARRIER: That must have been just after Hell Bent was finished.
JULIAN: I was cleaning up and getting the last stuff shot.
BARRIER: Mary Cain recalled the work on the film being finished right at the end of June or the beginning of July.
NOVROS: Hubley and we were very close friends during the Disney days. Once, during the time of the McCarthy affair, I saw him walking the pavement outside our studio. I called him in. He seemed desolate. He was out of work. No one would hire him. I gave him a little job to do—another Union Oil assignment, something he could do all by himself.
But all of this is of interest only as we review it now. I had no social or other contact with Dave and Zack for many years; Steve didn't matter, but the others did. I didn't see Zack until he came back from Israel one time; he was teaching at a university there, and he heard that I was working on some film books. He was eager to read them. He came to Graphic Films every day for a week or more and copied sections of the books; he was teaching at a university in Jerusalem. He'd come down every day.
HURTZ: Zack also wanted an outline of my film course at Chouinard.
NOVROS: Yes, no doubt. Did you give it to him?
HURTZ: I'm not sure; I may have. Yes, I probably did.
BARRIER: Les, Dave Hilberman—I think this was just a misstatement on his part—said you had turned down Sparks and Chips Get the Blitz, which was the first slide film; he probably meant Hell Bent. . .
NOVROS: The slide film he may be talking about is the one that Steve sold on the basis of one of our films, the one with which they initiated their company.
BARRIER: That would be Sparks and Chips, the one that actually started the company. While we're on Hubley—you had said, Paul, that Hubley was a difficult boss, and I've heard this from other people. He seems to have bruised the feelings of people who worked for him, even people who admired him greatly and wanted to give him what he wanted.
JULIAN: I have no really, really great recollections of being profoundly abused, but I do recall having heard before I started working with John—for John and with John—that Hubley had the reputation of totally raping the people who worked with him. I think I remember pointing out to somebody during the course of that period that if I had been raped I'd certainly grown new membranes. I got along, I think, quite well with him. Disagreements on occasion, but not profound ones, and definitely not temperament.
HURTZ: I think John wanted what Paul was going to do, and he didn't interfere with him. He knew what Paul could do, and if John didn't want what Paul would do, he wouldn't work with him. I think it was a little harder for me, because John would direct a film, and perhaps even go so far as to thumbnail it for production, and I would do the layouts. The problem was, when the layouts were done, only then could John know what he wanted. So we had this famous scene, where you do it once, and now we start over. UPA didn't have that sort of budgets; by then, you'd used up your budget. And so you worked frantically to try and adjust to this—
JULIAN: Yes, you did.
HURTZ: —scrawl here and there. So he's difficult to work for in the sense that he can't visualize what he wants until he's seen a lot of things. This is third-hand, of course, but his Finian's Rainbow, he drenched himself in a lot of outside work, different artists, in order to select the form.
JULIAN: He did, yes. We had more art directors on that film than I can count; and that was only a while. Everybody came on hired as an art director. Funny little people. . .
BARRIER: You [Novros] were involved with Finian's Rainbow?
NOVROS: We were asked to; nothing happened. John gave us a lot of layouts and things to study, and all I remember about them is an awful lot of corn. I guess he was just beginning; I remember I visited him somewhere on La Cienega Boulevard, [where] he had Storyboard for a little bit. He got hold of [Gregorio] Prestopino, in New York. . .
JULIAN: Yes, Prestopino was one of the art directors.
NOVROS: He went to school with us, at the Academy. [Hubley] showed me a sequence, and he asked if I was interested in taking it on for Graphic, and I said sure. I got some drawings, [but] soon after, it all fell apart.
BARRIER: I never quite understood what happened to that film, why it didn't get made.
JULIAN: None of us did.
NOVROS: They couldn't get the music rights.
JULIAN: Hubley had put a knife in his teeth and started climbing the rigging. In order to sell the package to the kind of really upstairs talent he wanted, he promised everybody 50 percent of whatever there was. That is not much of an oversimplification.
HURTZ: Apparently, he did spend the money on the track, and there was none left.
JULIAN: As I recall hearing it discussed, in a sort of combination of jeers and fears, the people who were putting up the heavy loot were totally ignorant of animation, as a working process, and they kept asking to see yesterday's dailies. There was a definite hiatus in there, and we came in one morning and found the place padlocked, with our personal belongings in the desks.
JULIAN: [Picking up after a change of tapes]. . .That was the new Hilberman, the new, translated Hilberman, with the brass buttons. I had some of those interviews myself.
HURTZ: Paul is not a great fan of Dave's.
BARRIER: Maybe I should ask you to elaborate a little bit on that.
JULIAN: Oh, I could. [And he did, in a 1988 letter: "I have lost track of the years here, but I remember that his deportment dismayed a lot of his older friends when he came back from generating some kind of film enterprise in Holland, and he had been called in as some kind of arbiter for (perhaps) the disposal or disposition of all the material left over from Finian's Rainbow; and he summoned me to a meeting in order to tell me that the graphic work was totally dismal, a dreadful failure: I owed someone (unspecified) an apology and I should be damn well ashamed of myself. So I said uh-huh and came away."]
NOVROS: Have you talked to Mary Sheridan? She was a girl who worked for us, she was one of the bright students at Art Center, and subsequently she became an industrial designer, one of the most successful in the city.
BARRIER: Tex Avery, after leaving Walter Lantz, worked on a top-secret military film, I think for Graphic Films. . .
NOVROS: You don't know the nature of the film, do you?
BARRIER: It was for one of the aviation companies out here.
HURTZ: Tex may have joined up with a group that had Roy Seawright in it.
BARRIER: No, he went to Cascade [Seawright's company] after doing this film. I talked with Paul before you came about John Ployardt [also known as John McLeish], and Paul mentioned that he and Ted Parmelee had worked for you in the '50s, after leaving UPA. . .
NOVROS: That period was an interesting one, at our studio.
JULIAN: I hadn't mentioned up till now the enormous phone bills that [Ployardt] rolled up at night. [Julian elaborated in a note on his copy of the transcript: "I was working in the next room, one of those evenings, when John called a female acquaitnace in Montréal.That call was later itemized at 238 bucks, which considerably startled Katy McElligott at the front desk later."]
HURTZ: He was allowed to sleep in the studio, wasn't he?
JULIAN: I don't know whether he was allowed to, but that's what he did—on top of the filing cabinets, in an old tacky raincoat.
NOVROS: We had Gerard Baldwin, too. . .
JULIAN: Gerard Baldwin, and Don Jurwich.
BARRIER: I want to get some sense of the evolution of your company in the '40s. You began by doing military training films, is that correct?
NOVROS: We were doing educational films, for the Office of Education, as well, and we were doing air force—.
HURTZ: Space films.
NOVROS: The air force at that time felt they were getting the space contracts, and we were doing some very sophisticated animation. Then NASA took over the program, and we did almost everything for NASA.
BARRIER: Did you do a lot of classified work?
BARRIER: Did you ever consider getting into doing entertainment films on your own, animated features or shorts?
NOVROS: We thought of it; The Revolt of the Angels was such a project, and we had others. We did a very complete storyboard on something called Of Mimes and Mummers, Jugglers and Clowns, a history of the informal theater. We were going to do a short film called The Juggler of Our Lady, also based on an Anatole France [story], and that was the thing that Ployardt did the storyboard for. We shot the storyboard and put a scratch track on it; and I don't know whether it was because that was so successful that we never made the film. But everybody who saw it was so pleased. . .
HURTZ: The drawings were such a keen evocation of it that you didn't really need to see it animated.
NOVROS: I would like to have shot that live, in France.
HURTZ: No, I think it could have been captured very neatly with Xeroxing and all the rest of the techniques of translating a drawing onto cel. I remember you asked me to do a missing drawing in the middle of Ployardt's board, and I busted my buns warming up to try and get into Ployardt's joie de vivre style, to not mess it up in-between.
JULIAN: Like forging a signature to a painting.
BARRIER: Paul and Bill, both of you were at UPA in early '52, right, at the time when Hubley left?
HURTZ: [to Julian] Had you left then?
JULIAN: I can't remember dates. I went back to Warners for a bit; I came in on the thing with Robin Hoodlum—John brought that under his arm and dropped it on me. And let's see, Georgie and the Dragon, was that the first one. . .
HURTZ: The next time you came back.
JULIAN: I think I left about the time Steve had promised me the Raoul Dufy project, and without talking to me at all, decided to give it to Aurie Battaglia. I was sort of browned off at that.
HURTZ: That was quite a bit later.
BARRIER: That would be when you went to Graphic Films.
HURTZ: You came back on Georgie and the Dragon because Jules [Engel] and Herb Klynn had so alienated Hubley on background painting; he said, "I cannot stand another touch of that Klynn green," as he labeled it. So he brought Paul back and put him on Georgie and the Dragon, which I was on with Bobe Cannon.
BARRIER: But at that time Hubley was the supervisor, and he made decisions like that.
HURTZ: Yeah, he was the supervisor. I was of course delighted that Paul came to do it, because it had some real value in some of these atmospheric Scottish scenes, and trusting them to the tender mercies of those other two. . . But I think Bobe was terribly distressed at seeing his poor little guys squashed and pushed out of the way and Paul inserted.
JULIAN: Did anyone ever sing John's song for you about that combination, the Jules and Herbert song?
HURTZ: Written for a Christmas party.
JULIAN: It's only a purple moon/shining over an umber sea/but it won't look like that at all/at Gamma X plus 3.
HURTZ: Which was the parody of the color that would come out of Herb and Jules: the moon would be purple and the sea would be umber. But Herbert always explained this by a lot of arble-garble about the lamps. I think Eastman had a hand in that, too, that song. Do you have the whole thing?
JULIAN: Only by memory. It's a Herbie and Julius world/just as funny as it can be.
HURTZ: Sung in their presence, at the Christmas party.
JULIAN: It had a hell of a bite to it.
BARRIER: I've heard they were quite wounded by Hubley's attitude.
JULIAN: They were quite wounded by Hubley, period. Herb used to get large alligator bites taken out of him every time he had a conference or a confrontation with John.
BARRIER: People have said that he could be quite harsh. The question is whether he was generally that way with everybody, and obviously. . .
HURTZ: No, not if he had respect for you. He just loathed their work. And Bobe loved it, so they had a home.
BARRIER: But both of you would have been there in early '52, and what I'm interested in is what awareness there was in the studio of the circumstances of Hubley's departure, what impact it had on the studio. For me, looking at it from outside, Hubley's leaving was really a body blow to UPA as an artistic force. I've wondered how it was felt at the studio.
BARRIER: Let me quote Steve again on this, as to the circumstances and what happened. This is on the HUAC business, and this is quoting and paraphrasing Steve:
"Columbia Pictures called me in and gave me a list of people I had to fire, and Chuck Daggett was one of them on the list; and Hub, and Phil Eastman, and some of the rest of them. I talked this over with my wife, because it meant either we fired people—which we in our hearts didn't feel was right—or let them stay and had Columbia cancel out the agreement, as they said they would." Steve called in the staff he had been told to fire, and they told him they would meet and let him know how they felt about it. They met with other members of the studio, and then told Steve that they would resign, rather than be fired.
HURTZ: That's substantially true.
BARRIER: I talked to Ade Woolery, and he did say that he remembered the ultimatum from Columbia; he didn't remember it as being a great traumatic moment.
JULIAN: It was only a rumor, but a fairly real one when I was hearing it.
HURTZ: If Ade didn't remember it as being traumatic, it might have been that he wasn't affected by it.
BARRIER: I'm not sure if Ade's memory is entirely reliable on this point. He said Hubley left before he did, but he was planning to leave himself at that point, so it may not have been that important to him. You had a number of people leaving simultaneously, or just about; Eastman left, and Bill Scott told me that he was let go as Phil Eastman was, more or less to cover up the fact that Phil was being fired for political reasons. Hubley left . . . Chuck Daggett . . . You said there was a rumor in the studio that this was the reason, but there was no announcement, nobody said anything?
HURTZ: No, it was just known. I heard all those details that Steve outlined, from within the studio at the time—not with Steve announcing, but that the guys resigned rather than bringing the temple down.
JULIAN: Somebody else—it was never clear [who]—wanted the Columbia release, very badly. I can't remember ever hearing anyone identified as wanting it.
HURTZ: I never heard that.
BARRIER: There was a trade-paper report in the spring of '52 that Columbia was thinking about buying UPA. Do you remember any talk of that kind? [Both Paul and Bill indicated they did not.]
|From the UPA cartoon The Unicorn in the Garden (1953) directed by Bill Hurtz. Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive.|
HURTZ: I can't remember how close it was upon Hubley's leaving that I left, but I got an offer from Shamus Culhane in New York, to head up a studio for him on the West Coast. Steve had just refused to allow The Unicorn in the Garden to be entered in the Academy. So I thought it was time for me to leave.
BARRIER: What was his reason for that?
HURTZ: Well, splitting the vote. Besides, he thought The Unicorn was the worst picture UPA ever made. Which was his psychological problem with the film; it affects some people very strongly, the man versus woman thing. Steve later came running in and met Culhane's New York offer, [and] besides even gave me the option of opening up an office in Hollywood, so I wouldn't be around the studio. He was meeting everything, in an act of desperation; you know, the smell of death was in the air, as far as I was concerned. Some of us second-string leftwingers were called in by Roy Brewer [a union executive], to be lectured about being comsymps and fellow travelers.
BARRIER: This was in the early '50s?
HURTZ: Yeah, right after the first group under fire had resigned. Then several of us—the studio had switched unions then [from the Screen Cartoonists Guild to the IATSE], and in order to join the IA we were personally interviewed by Brewer, lectured about this and asked for our cooperation in fighting the Hollywood red menace.
JULIAN: It wasn't Brewer in my case, it was one of his Irish lieutenants.
HURTZ: I remember going down there; I didn't say a word, and walked out. It didn't help us to stay around.
BARRIER: Did you talk directly to any of the people like Eastman or Hubley or Scott about what the circumstances were of their leaving? Or did everybody not want to talk to them, or confront them after the word got out that they'd resigned?
HURTZ: The Eastmans, we continued to see each other; Hubley just sort of disappeared from sight. He really went undercover.
BARRIER: You were seeing them socially, though, the Eastmans?
HURTZ: Yeah. And it was a dirty damned deal, and Phil was devastated by it. Really almost emotionally destroyed. It led to his going back to Connecticut and starting in on kids' books. Lucky for him.
BARRIER: Bill, I have a note here that Phil Monroe referred to "divisive political activity" at UPA; he may have been referring to this HUAC business.
JULIAN: I have a vague memory of some kind of stock war between Steve and some other parties, looking for control.
HURTZ: A lot of us owned stock in UPA, and Steve was out, as he was able, to buy up this stock.
BARRIER: This is what Ade said; he said that Steve seemed to have a fear that as long as stock was in the hands of other people who were actually involved in the production of animated films, at UPA or anyplace else, that they were a threat to his control of the company. He was very insecure, and this led to a number of people leaving, contributed to their leaving, which ultimately weakened the company.
HURTZ: I persuaded my cousin to buy stock in the company, and I owned stock in it. When I left the studio, I was still a stockholder, and about six or eight months [later], Steve called up and made a very generous offer for the stock, about a third more than I paid for it. I called my cousin immediately, and I said, "Look, you'd better take this, because I think it's the only possible chance we'll ever get our money out of that company." So we both sold, and then Steve announced the CBS show deal. He went around grabbing all the stock he could, and had control in time for producing for CBS..
BARRIER: UPA wasn't publicly traded, though, was it?
HURTZ: No. But the stock was, as I say, disseminated among the company employees.
BARRIER: I was wondering if there was any kind of violation of securities laws in that kind of activity.
HURTZ: Well, I hope so.
BARRIER: I wish I could hear somebody say something good about Steve, I must say.
JULIAN: The closest thing I can give you is one animator's description of him as a clothing-store dummy who had somehow acquired bad habits.
|Stephen Bosustow, UPA's co-founder and proprietor, the target of many jibes from his employees.|