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THE GREAT CARTOON DIRECTORS

A special thanks to Paul Groh, for suggesting this book.

A decent book, it is mainly important in that the author interviewed the living directors for it, making it an essential part of any GAC fan's collection.

The book covers Friz Freleng, Ub Iwerks, Chuck Jones, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Walt Lantz and Dave Fleischer, in that order. Again, Friz, Chuck, Bill, Joe, Bob and Walt all contributed interviews to the author, given an exclusive inside look into their lives. In a special case, this book is the only book for biographical information on Friz and Bob (the former being a yearlong hunt for me). The text is readable and occasionally funny, and you get the feeling that Jeff loves all cartoons, rather than the partisanship of types like John Culhane (toward Disney) and Steve Schneider (toward Warner Bros.). There are filmographies for each director, too.

The book has a big flaw, though: lots of errors. A few: he says that Rhapsody in Rivets was in conflict with The Cat Concerto for the 1946 Academy Award rather than Rhapsody Rabbit (Rivets was released in 1941). He refers to Hugh Harman as the director of The Milky Way instead of Rudy Ising. He calls Tex's Southern Wolf "Billy Boy", which was the name of the goat and cartoon the wolf was in, but not him. He says that Chuck directed Dog Gone Modern before The Night Watchman, his first cartoon. He claims that Fitz and Bimbo are the same character, but in his defense that's probably an accurate observation (the Betty Boop Wiki says "Fitz the dog is a complete different character to Bimbo and only served as base to recreate Bimbo into the musical singing dog.") There were others, but I can't remember, and won't bother looking through the book for them just to be negative. 

It's strange that none of his editors factchecked these. But the errors can be forgiven in that how little GAC info there was out there in 1982 (Of Mice and Magic, Tex Avery: King of Cartoons, The Fleischer Story and Before Mickey, that last one not very helpful with focus). It was probably even harder to watch the films. The filmographies are correct, though, despite some of the errors regarding it.

I was happy to see Friz finally get the attention he deserves. Bob's chapter was especially informative, including all sorts of anecdotes of he many projects with puppetry and stop-motion, as well as his ill-fated John Carter cartoon. Ub, Walt, and Dave being included in the book seems more ceremonial then for their actual directing abilities. Ub was not much a director and more an excellent animator and draftsman; Walt was a producer and not behind much of the humor or timing in his cartoons; and Dave was a "creative producer"-Fleischer cartoons were not directed per se. In place of Walt I would've put Shamus Culhane, if somebody Lantz had to be included. Frank Tashlin's total absence is odd, to say in the least. 

Overall, despite some peculiarities, the book is rip-roaring, nonstop fun, writing in the spirit of total love for old cartoons, making it worth everybody's time, especially for the new info.

B+



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3 comments:

  1. Glad you took my recommendation. I read THE GREAT CARTOON DIRECTORS about 25 years ago, checking it out from my local public library multiple times. One of the things I liked best about it was that there were comparatively few illustrations: mainly photos of the directors covered, or obscure cartoon characters like Flip the Frog (of whom I had never heard). Most books on animation, at that time at least, were packed with illustrations that raised the sale price without necessarily adding much of interest. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words can convey a lot more information than you can glean from a full-page model sheet of Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker. Anyone interested in reading the book is already going to know what they look like.

    I didn't notice all the errors when I read it, and you're quite right about the ones you identified. But fact-checking on an extensive scale would have been impossible forty years ago, with no Internet and few print resources. VCRs weren't commonly available until after 1983, so it was impossible to record cartoons off TV for later reference. Before Lenburg's book came along, most of what I knew about cartoons came just from having watched them and paying attention to the credits, which was very limited. I grew up watching Fleischer cartoons, for example, but I was well into my twenties before I found out that Max and Dave were brothers. (I kind of guessed it, but was aware that they could just as well have been father and son for all I knew.)

    If there's a glaring omission in the book, it's not Frank Tashlin, whose career in animation was comparatively brief, but Robert McKimson. In fairness, he wasn't around for Lenburg to interview, having passed away in 1977. He wasn't given to self-promotion, little had been written about him, and as far as I know he was only interviewed once (by Michael Barrier; it's well worth reading). In the 1980s I suppose he may have been best known for his bad cartoons (e.g., Daffy vs. Speedy). But his best cartoons -- and there are many great ones -- are on a par with those of Freleng and Jones.

    A lot of scholars, in whatever field, work under the assumption that the earliest available sources are always the most accurate. I think THE GREAT CARTOON DIRECTORS puts paid to that notion. But it's still an important book, serving as a baseline for subsequent research; and as you noted, it remains a fun and informative read.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for recommending it! I really liked it. I probably would not have ever discovered it if not for you, and it is now indispensable to my book.

      Bob was a good director, but him not being here is probably because he didn't have much a distinguishably original style. Most of them are at the mercy of his writers (Tedd mostly). Of course Chuck was, but Chuck made up for that with his stylization. Bob just drew strangely.

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    2. McKimson certainly did have a "distinguishably original style," whose most salient feature was its detailed and expressive use of hand gestures and body language. Even though his cartoons tend to be rather wordy, character is put across through primary visual means, preventing them from descending to the level of "illustrated radio."

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Dedicated to Winsor, for starting it; to Walt, for refining it; and to Tex, for expanding it.