Sunday, June 18, 2006

MY FIRST ANIMATION JOB

Here's another story that I wish I could illustrate with drawings of my own. My eye isn't the problem now, it's almost better, but the medication for the complications arising from anasthesia is making me loopy and nausous in the extreme. I can't draw when I feel like this. Anyway, I can still write so here it is, the story of...

MY INITIATION INTO THE ANIMATION INDUSTRY

On the strength of my portfolio I got my first storyboard job way back in 1979 at Filmation, the studio that did Fat Albert and Flash Gordon for Saturday Morning TV. I was in heaven! I showed up my first day, eager to work, pockets full of sharpened pencils and a cumbersome, giant mirror because the animation books always showed the Golden-Age animators mugging into a mirror and I didn't want to look like a piker by showing up without one.

I think my boss-to-be was amused by all this becuase he made a big show of finding a place for me to sit. "Leeeeet's see...wheeeere shall we put Mr. Fitzgerald?" I've got it! We'll put him in with Paul Fennell!" Every face in the vicinity dropped. People said things like, "No! No! No! It's too cruel!" and "No! Even this kid doesn't deserve that!" I had no idea what they were talking about. They introduced me to Paul and he seemed likable enough. He'd been in animation since the days of rubber hose. Now he seemed to be in his eighties, just storyboarding away, biding his time till a late retirement. On the way out my boss said, "Paul's supposed to take heart pills every day but some days he forgets. If he ever forgets, and you find out about it, get out of the office! Work somewhere else! If you don't you'll be sorry!" I couldn't even imagine why he said that.

In the following weeks I immersed myself in the life of the studio. The company did everything under one roof: ink & paint, animation, assistant animation, layout...everything! Every moment I wasn't working I would walk around the halls on some pretext just revelling in the thrill of being with other cartoonists. There were times I thought I'd just burst with happiness. Also during this time one of my new friends introduced me to Bob Clampett cartoons. The effect, to put it mildly, was not subtle. Even though I'd only been working in the industry a few weeks I went around the studio telling the old animators that they were doing everything wrong, that Clampett and Scribner were the only ones who knew how animation works. This didn't make me popular with the old animators and they all complained to Paul.

One day I overheard Paul tell one of his friends that he forgot to take his heart medicine. I didn't think anything of it because it was the day of my first deadline and I was working feverishly against the clock. Paul by this time had gotten in the habbit of going into long, daily rants about what a bum Clampett was and what a punk I was and this day was no different. Usually I listened politely but my first deadline was hours away and I was afraid I'd end up on the street if I missed it. I just couldn't think with Paul's rant going on! Impulsively I turned around and shook my finger at Paul, "Paul, you've gotta give me a break here! I've gotta get this board done!"

I thought Paul was on the other side of the room but it turns out that he was right behind me. When I shook the finger I was suprised to see it happen an inch away from his face. He did a cross-eyed look at the finger then at me then hauled off and BAM!, punched me hard, right on the nose!

I was shocked. Shocked and hurt! The nose is a sensitive spot! I held my bleeding nose yelling something like, "Paul! Are you nuts!? Why did you do that!?" Paul was red-faced, caught up in the fury of it all. On the way out of the room he shouted, "Because Clampett is a punk and so are you!Punk! Punk! Punk! I'm gonna tell my friend Bill Hanna about you. You'll never get a job at that studio!"

Later on at lunch a couple of artist friends said they thought I was a wuss for not hitting him back. A wuss? Because I didn't hit a man who was a half century older than me!? That didn't make any sense. What I was really worried about was that I'd be blackballed from the animation industry. All my friends were of one opinion about that. It was probaly an empty threat and Paul probably didn't even know Bill Hanna. They pretty well talked me into their point of view when I returned to the studio and found Paul on the hall phone saying, "Here comes Fitzgerald now! Never hire that bum! he's a dirty-no-good punk!"

Well, I have to end the story somewhere and this is as good a place as any.

48 comments:

Sam said...

!

Trevour said...

Holy crap! This should be made into a short film.

Nico K said...

What a story.

antikewl said...

"And I never worked in cartoons again..."

Fantastic story, Eddie! :)

Craig D said...

Gosh, who could your Clampett/Scribner idolizing pal have been? Inquiring minds want to know.

BTW, did you ever end up working at H-B?

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

You can't end the story there!!! Please! Continue!
Great story.
Hope you feel better.

David Germain said...

Okay! Why did Mr. Fennell consider Clampett a Bum? Or did he ever explain that?

Gabriel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gabriel said...

Haha, funniest thing ever! I agree with trevour, you should do a cartoon based on this.

Mitch K said...

Ahhh this story isn't over!! Keep going, man!

Kali Fontecchio said...

Did blood get on your boards??? Oh god no!

Rusty Mills said...

Ah yes Eddie...good ol' Filmation. Now we can be those grumpy ol' animators.
hey, on another note I started a blog too!
http://the-plausible-impossible.blogspot.com

Marc Deckter said...

Ha! Great story! Glad to hear this bum was full of empty threats.

ryan said...

what?! that was a TERRIBLE place to end the story, i wanna hear what happens next

great story lol i cant believe he PUNCHED you!!!?

Ryan G. said...

Eddie, you are such a great storyteller. By the way, who do you think are the "punks" these days?

Stephen Worth said...

Hi Eddie

Here is a caricature of Paul Fennell by Grim Natwick. You can put it in your story if you want. I have others where his nose is shaped like another organ, but we'll just pretend those don't exist...

http://www.animationarchive.org/pics/hbf02fennell.jpg

See ya
Steve

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Thanks, everybody! I shouldn't have ended so abruptly. The upshot was that Paul regretted hitting me and offered to give me a cheese sandwich at his house to soothe things over.

Cheese sandwiches were a big deal for Paul's generation. A lot of older artists offered me a cheese sandwich when I had done something especially praiseworthy. Bob Clampett offered one to John K. I like calling the ASIFA award an "Annie" but if the name ever has to change for some reason I propose calling it "The Cheese Sandwich."

Eventually Paul regretted offering me the cheese sandwich and he went back to calling Clampett and I punks. Paul was always needling me about my punkitude.

One day he called me over to his desk and said, "You see this? It's timing notation for my storyboard. I could teach you how to time and it would really get your career started." I was salivating. I was dying to know how to time! Then he continued: "Yeah, it would be easy for me to teach you that..but I won't!! Why? Because you're a Clampett-loving punk!!!!" Paul really had it out for Clampett but I never really understood why.

john a said...

Starting this and the other story involving the gag man, You ought to collect up all your anecdotes and call it "Bitter Old Animators that I Have Managed to Piss Off For No Apparent Reason."

I could just see this guy going into a blind rage every time you innocently mention the name Bob Clampett. "Clampett!! Slooowwlly, I turned,...step by step..."

Makinita said...

ahhahah great story u should do a comic out of this one, when your eye heals

Anonymous said...

hey eddie,

in retrospect, did paul have any real criticisms of clampett that you've found to be valid, or was he just an curmugeonly old grump?

love,
sincerely,
your pal,
and fan,
chris allison

cableclair said...

ahahahhah awnnn your poor nose! Great story!

kp said...

Haha that's some crazy story! I wonder if there was a great big artistic falling-out between Paul and Bob C. and that was what made him so bitter.

Shawn said...

Eddie, your stories are so gripping! You should write an autobiography one day! Tell us more stories, Uncle Eddie!!!

Man, it must be great to work in a studio full of cartoonists! I'd be bursting from happiness too! Even if some of them think you're a punk. Heck, I feel like I'm in heaven if I can get anyone I know to even TALK about cartoons with me. 99% of the people I know are either bored or make fun of me if I act passionate about the subject of cartooning. That's why I love all my fake internet pals so much!

Jesse Oliver said...

Hi Eddie

"Great story" You should put on this blog some Bob Clampett stories. I love the story you told about Bob peeing in some ones beer. That was hilarious. It sounds like Bob Clampett's personality was really like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Screwball Squerril and Woody Woodpecker.

Jesse

Anonymous said...

Punk! "Punk"? You conjure up images of James Dean or one of the Jets from West Side Story, lol. -this your Clampett-Christ parable, isn't it? "I took blows, I bled for Bob Clampett!"


It's unfathomable why you're too nauseous to draw but have sea legs enough to type on a keyboard and stare into a monitor! Give your public more drawings, whydoncha? Quit languishing on your fainting couch, dictating posts to your comely secretaries!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Chris: Paul claimed that one of his (Paul's)friends who worked on Beany & Cecil never got some money that was coming to him. Whether this is true or not I have no way of knowing.

There's also a negative account of Bob in Stan Freeberg's biography but the stories are so funny that I can't imagine the most ardent supporter of Bob objecting to them. Almost all the stories I know about Bob are positive.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anonymous: Is that how you spell nauseous?

Eddie

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is how I learned it at my grandpappy's knee.

Mark Kausler said...

Paul Fennell and Bill Hanna knew each other when they worked for Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising in 1934. When MGM decided to do their own cartoons and let Hugh and Rudy go, Paul and Bill teamed together to convince the Harman-Ising artists such as Bob Stokes, to work on the new Captain and the Kids series. Hugh considered Paul and Bill to be traitors for thier conspiratorial gutting of his studio talent.

j9 said...

holy crap... i think i would have freaked out if some crazy old man punched me in the face. thats awesome. i love old people...

Matthew Cruickshank said...

Now it's your turn to punch an up and coming knee-high-to-a-grasshopper Animator on the nose, and keep all your Animation know how to yourself. You are the master now, not the apprentice.

Sadly, there are computers now that do all the work so I guess not.

sigh.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Mark: So THAT'S how Paul and Bill became friends! I learned more from your comment than from sharing an office with him for months!

Matt: You're right! I am kind of entitled to pick on someone young and innocent. I mean, when you think about it...

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anonymous: Wow! The "Common Errors in English" site that you linked to is terrific! I bookmarked it!

Eddie

Patrick Costa said...

That has to be one of the funniest stories I ever heard. I can't stop smiling thinking of it.

Katie Pony said...

I love it.. well I mean I don't love it that you got hit but that is just a great story..

Charles Brubaker said...

I do know this: Paul Fennell DID work at Warners in early 1930s. He was an assistant animator to Chuck Jones.

Of course, that means he worked the same time Clampett was there, so yeah, maybe Clampett did something to Paul that made him bitter (I know Jones was bitter at Clampett)

Alex said...

Your life would make a great cartoon.

Maybe that's just who you are...

Gavin Freitas said...

I would have hit, or got him fired! Thank god you didnt get blacklisted. But even if you did, I'm sure John would still have hired you. Keep writing about this. So what happened to shithead?

AWD! said...

wow.... what a punk.

Anonymous said...

Paul Fennell, like Dick Cheney, was one of those rare people who suffered four heart attacks and yet still lived. (He eventually passed away, sometime in the eighties.) Eddie, you weren't the only person Paul had it in for at Filmation. He loathed a certain, still-living Brazilian layout supervisor, loudly calling him a "Goddamned gook" just about every single day. Paul liked to tell me how he'd once ridden with Pancho Villa in his youth, so everyone from anywhere south of Mexico was apparently a vile human being in his mind. Anyway, after you got it in the kisser, they moved ME in the room with Paul! Thanks a lot, Eddie! (Somehow you and I later ended up in that office together for a long spell, inspiring then fledgling Filmation writer Tom Ruegger to use our heads fifteen years later as models for Pinky and the Brain, but that's another story.) Paul Fennell had a personality not unlike that of my vile-tempered grandfather, so we somehow got along. But one day about six months later, he'd forgotten to take his nitro heart medicine again and he was irritated by something. I heard him breathing hard and looked over to see what he was doing. He'd pulled out his personal stopwatch to secretly re-slug a Filmation Nancy and Sluggo storyboard because he thought the studio timing on it sucked. Then a curious thing happened. Paul got so emotionally wrapped up in the act of timing with that ancient stopwatch that he looked like he was suffering a complete nervous breakdown. Dime-sized beads of ochre sweat began popping up all over his head and neck as his leathery flesh flushed crimson! It turns out he'd been warned by his doctor to never pick up a stopwatch again due to this peculiar psychic attachment to his ticker, which no doubt had led to at least one of his previous coronary events. When he began wheezing loudly and spitting more Ritz cracker crumbs than usual all over his storyboard, I told him that if he didn't stop it he was gonna die for Sluggo, and that it wasn't even the REAL Sluggo but Lou Scheimer's Sluggo. Finally he gave up because the accumulating perspiration caused his eyebrows to sag down and blot out his vision. Paul then knew he was licked and he put the stopwatch back in his pocket where he also kept his daily supply of unwrapped Ritz crackers. He also later quitely admitted to me that "all this stuff I say about Clampett and Jones is really just sour grapes, Tom." He grudgingly admitted that Chuck Jones "was a hard worker." But every single day he'd revert to form and utter "That Bob Clampett is no damn good!" He was nothing if not consistent. BTW, Mark Kausler, here's another measure of how far back Bill Hanna and Paul went: Paul used to date Violet, the woman that Bill would later marry. She still survives (I think) so someone should document her firsthand memories of the sinewy romantic exploits of the young Paul Fennell while that is still possible. It absolutely needs to be in the ASIFA permanent database for future generations to experience vicariously. When Paul socked you, Eddie, it made a huge racket when you fell off your seat and the metal chair went down with you. The storyboard department supervisor instantly yelled from his office across the hall, "Paul, are you hitting people again?" Of course, none of this stuff would be allowed by modern corporate human resources criminals, but who can say that animation in 2006 is really any better? At least in 1978 the boutique shops and large hack houses alike were brimming with creative individuals who were free to express their personalities, even if they seldom let us get one of our gags uncensored into a cartoon.

Hope that your cataract surgery meds adjust to your brain or that you're off of them soon.

Tom Minton
(Who shall also one day write a book, when he doesn't have to earn a living anymore.)

P.C. Unfunny said...

God Damn Ed, that pual sure was a jerk. I guess you have gotten your revenge in full now since posting it on the net where millions of people will think paul was a dick as well. LOL!

P.C. Unfunny said...

One more thing Ed, Paul was the punk for sucker punching you !

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Tom: Man! That was funny!!! Funny and beautifully written! Damn! I wish I could write like that!

Antikewl: Thanks for asking! Actually I did loose the article you sent! I must have deleted it accidentally. Would you mind sending it again?

Kali: Sure, there's plenty of time. BTW, I liked your comment about knowing architecture is good because te good stuff always makes you want to sleep in it!

Craig: The guy who introduced me to Clampett was Milt Grey! I'll post more about that later!

max ward said...

Eddie! Post about your next job! God damn.. I wish John K would sometimes have blogs about his early jobs in animation studios. You two probably have alot of good stories between you. I love these stories, oh please keep posting more.

Chris Sobieniak said...

max ward said...
Eddie! Post about your next job! God damn.. I wish John K would sometimes have blogs about his early jobs in animation studios. You two probably have alot of good stories between you. I love these stories, oh please keep posting more.

I just picture the whole thing being utter HELL for what Eddie and John and to put up with in their earliest careers in tne industry, and I was still a five year old brat watching the results on the ol' Zenith System 3!

t.fennell said...

As you all may not know, Paul Fennell was a Lieutenant Colonel in the marines, amateur boxer when he was younger, and a larger than life father who never walked away from a fight (even when he started it). I know your pain but to be honest he truly was a great father, put bread on the table, and was one of the most interesting, enigmatic (is that a word?) and loving fathers on the planet (or at least around the house. I miss him - and he only laid a hand on me once - when I wouldn't put a button in an envelope for the cleaners. It came out of nowhere but he pulled it. After a couple of heart attacks, and a "punk" son who disagreed with the whole world and especially with him on just about everything, I give him credit.
I love these stories - and they just keep coming.
PS: Try to go easier on the name calling - but thats ok if you can't.
Tom Fennell.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Tom: Many thanks for the comment. I have fond memories of Paul, inspite of the fact that he punched me in the nose. He could be hard to get along with at times, but he had many admirable qualities, and I don't doubt that he was a very good father. When I heard that he passed away I was genuinely sorry to hear it.

Jason said...

That's as great story! Eddie I've only just discovered your blog while I've been searching for info on Paul Fennel. This will seem a bit of a tangent, but I own Paul Fennel's 1969 Chev Camaro as purchased by Paul in 1969, complete with the original warranty booklet with Paul's home address etc. I'd love to get in email contact with anyone who has any photographs or info about Paul and this car. I live in New Zealand, so getting information is tricky for me. I can be reached via a personal facebook message on this page: http://www.facebook.com/TheNosaj
Any help appreciated!
Cheers, Jason