Thursday, June 22, 2017


A lot of animation fans don't know that Milt Kahl, one of Disney's greatest animators, was actually laid-off by the studio for a number of years. This is how it happened.....

Kahl was a well-known discontent and once every six months or so he'd throw his pencil down, storm into Walt's office and threaten to quit. "None of those idiots can animate! I help them with their scenes and then I have no time for my own. They're just a bunch of bums! I'm in there holding up the whole damn animation department by myself! I don't need this aggravation! I'm outta here! I quit!" Walt, who'd been through this many times, would just look at him sympathetically.

"Ooooh , I get it,"says Milt,  "You don't think I'd do it do you!? Ha! You just watch me! I'm serious this time Walt! I've had it!" Once again, Walt would just stare.

Finally, when Kahl was at the height of his rant, Walt would discretely hit the intercom button and whisper, "Bring me the envelope." His secretary would come in and quietly slip it to him. Meanwhile Milt would still be fulminating: "Those #$&@ lard asses couldn't do a thing without me! This whole stupid studio would crumble without me!" Walt would listen attentively while slowly nudging the envelope across the desk.

"Huh," says Milt,"What's  that!? A bribe!??? Oooh no you don't! You can't buy me off! I mean it, I'm outta here!" More ranting then something green was added to the envelope and it was nudged across the desk again. This ranting and nudging would go on and on until finally Kahl stopped in mid-rant, stared at the envelope, looked inside, then grabbed it and went back to work for another six months. This went on for years and it was a marvelously effective system.

Eventually Walt died and his son-in-law Ron Miller took over the studio. One day Kahl pushed past the secretary and stormed into Miller's office threatening to quit. "I've had it," says Milt, "I'm the only one around here who knows what he's doing! I'm tired of this %@#& hell hole! I quit!!!" Miller was shocked. All he could think to say was something like, "Gee, Milt! I'm sorry you feel that way. We'll all miss you very much!" Do you see what happened? No one told him about the envelope!!!

Kahl was dumbfounded. "You think I'm kidding, don't you? I really mean it, Ron! I'll walk out that door and never come back!" "Yes," said Miller almost tearfully, "I know. It's very sad!" Amazed, Kahl turned his back and stormed out of the office. He was gone for years!

Well, that's the famous "envelope story."

This story was told to me over lunch by John Kimball.  Pictures thanks to Creative Capers, Mike Pelensky and Andreas Deja.

Saturday, June 17, 2017


One of my favorite newspaper cartoonists of the WWI era was the great Rube Goldberg. Unfortunately for Rube he's mostly remembered for the "Rube Goldberg Device" where a chain of events eventually causes a bucket of water to tip over and fill the thirsty man's glass. That's all clever and appealing but it's not the man's best work. If you've only seen the inventions, then read on. You're in for a treat! Be sure to click to enlarge!

The poses in "I'm Cured" (above, topmost) are terrific, especially the running pose on the upper right corner. When I first saw it I was so inspired by the jacket that I ran out to a thrift shop and bought one just like it. The thing rides way up in the back and when I raise my hands up the jacket shoulders stay up there, even after I put my arms down again. What a find! I still have it.

And how do you like the thinking poses on the strip above? That's how I feel when I'm thinking. I feel smarter just looking at it.

Aaaah! Refreshed at the fountain of Goldberg! For me these four panels (above) are art, suitable for a museum. I love the running poses on the bottom! Rube's universe is all about ordinary people. Not handsome men and beautiful women, just ordinary people doing the best they can.

Rube, who was tall himself, did great tall people. I love the placement of trees (above) behind the guy.

How do you like the arms on the woman above? The simple staging, deliberately stiff pose, and obsessively horizontal lines in the shadows make the picture even funnier.

That's Rube on the lower left. Goldberg always said that he had a great childhood and this photo bears that out. But where's his mother?

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I used to storyboard for a live-action director named Colin Higgins, and Colin told me to use back shots as frequently as possible, because it's a great way to reveal character. I agree and I used to call for it in animation sometimes, though I probably shouldn't have. Only a few classic animators like Tom McKimson felt comfortable with this angle, and most modern animators probably dread it. Anyway, back shots are what we're talking about here.

The old Pakistani man on the right (above) seems to be suffering from osteoporosis, and from a side view he'd probably appear like a question mark. The squared shoulder, the half-hidden head, and the gentle and wise position of the arms and hands seem to tell you all you need to know about him. This is an exceptional amount of information, even for a back shot.

The girl in green (above, left) is wearing a light and airy, unpretentious house dress. The hairstyle is neat and practical, the attitude of the body is confident and contented. She's a likable person, all the more because she appreciates the positive visual impact of clothing wrinkles!

Two people who are worlds apart: The bridesmaid full of anxiety, with the bondage strings in the back (above, left), and the traditional old woman, making her way down the street in a shapeless, widow's dress. You admire the older woman because you know she's devoted thousands of hours to bringing up a family.

Osteoporosis (above) again, though a milder case. The jacket is modest but not unfashionable, and the hat is color co-ordinated. High-heeled boots. Maybe this woman is an artist. The spindly legs disappearing up into the jacket, come to an odd end at the top where the hips are unexpectedly wide. It creates a mystery, which is a very considerate thing to do for the people who walk behind you.

You see lots of back shots like this (above) in drawings made a hundred years ago. The jacket is tight around the shoulders with gravity pulling down loose fabric in the back. It's the perfect suit for a tall, older man on the go, someone who was used to thinking on his feet and giving orders. The interior volume of the umbrella makes a perfect contrast. He's taking large, manly strides.

Holy mackerel! An interesting dress (above)! It's inappropriate because it's too tight, but that doesn't prevent her from projecting a strong personality. She thinks she looks good in it, and her confidence wins us over; besides, she's probably doing it to impress a guy, and whenever a girl dresses to impress a guy can't help but be flattered.

I always find myself rooting for girls like this, hoping they'll get the get the guy they're after. I always want to know their story. Everybody should possess some clothes that that subtly suggest a backstory.

Whew! Another strong contrast! The woman on the left (above) is vain, overly fashion-conscious, probably flaky, maybe abuses pills...but, she makes an effort to please, and that makes up for some sins.

The woman on the right (above) is earthy and self-confidant, probably more intelligent than people give her credit for. She's independent, proud that she thinks for herself, maybe not open as open to new ideas as she should be. I always think this is a wrong life strategy.

You should never be self-contained. There should always be a part of you that needs other people, and can be hurt by them. I think people should always be somewhat incomplete without other people, regardless of the consequences. But what do I know?

BTW: The pictures are all by Maira Kalman. Sorry, I can't remember the name of her book.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017





Most men would believe they'd died and gone to heaven. Theory Mansion is not to be believed.  Imagine a never-ending party in a house with a 24 hour kitchen and an indoor heated pool replete with grottoes.  At the hub of all this is the rugged pioneer of internet men's magazines, Theoryboy founder, Uncle Eddie. 

When he's not downstairs yucking it up with naked women, or partying with the greatest wits of his time, he can usually be found upstairs, working on the latest installment of the Theoryboy Philosophy. When we found him he was in his robe and pajamas, smoking away on his cigarette holder, and typing on his old Smith-Corona.

THEORYBOY: "Hi Mr. Uncle Eddie! Do you mind if I come in?"

UNCLE EDDIE: "No, have a seat! I'll be with you in a sec!"

UNCLE EDDIE (TYPING FEVERISHLY): "OK you little Sucker! How 'bout this...and that...and...this...

UNCLE EDDIE: "...DONE! Oh, and just call me plain old Uncle Eddie. We don't stand on formality around here. Want a Pepsi?"

THEORYBOY (SITTING): "No thanks, but I'm curious to know what you were working on."

UNCLE EDDIE: "Well, It's the galley proofs for the next issue of Theoryboy. This is our lead story, real classy stuff! I just wrote a blurb for it. Here, read it and see what you think!"

THEORYBOY (READING): "Footsteps outside the door. Boards creaking. A hand fumbling at the door. The door swinging open. A shaft of moonlight penetrating the room and falling upon the sleepwalking figure of a woman with loathsome black gloves.  Beulah wanted to scream, but in her nudity she was helpless to act. Yes, Beulah was going to learn something tonight, something about hungry black gloves, something about naked flesh, and maybe...just maybe...about something more elusive...HERSELF!"

THEORYBOY (CONT): " 'Herself?'  Boy, that's heavy.  Very psychological!"

UNCLE EDDIE:  "Yeah, we figure it's the psychology that gives our stories the edge."

THEORYBOY: "And what are those pictures on the bed over there?"

UNCLE EDDIE: "Those are candidates for the centerfold! Real nice nerd girls, all of them! The winner will get a scholarship to study at the Uncle Eddie Institute for Advanced Physical Research. Here, take a look. Which do you like best?" 

THEORYBOY: "Wow! A really nice girl!"

THEORYBOY: "Yikes!!! That's a...(Gulp!)... very... nice... girl...too."

THEORYBOY: "And this one', very interesting! I hate to say it, but I don't think I can pick a favorite. They're all pretty appealing!"

UNCLE EDDIE: "Yeah, it's hard isn't it?"

THEORYBOY: "What's this (above)?"

UNCLE EDDIE: "Oh, that's the 'What Kind of Man Reads Theoryboy?' page. That's there for the advertisers, but the girls got kind of surly that day."

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


I'm still looking at pictures of home interiors and I thought I'd share a few that I like. How do you like this open plan kitchen and dining room?

I like arched ceilings but there are few of those where I'll be moving.

Craftsman furniture would be's pricey, though.

I like how a lot of designers have merged Craftsman with Modern. And, do you like those black foreground chairs? The ones I've seen are expensive.

Here's (above) a California Ranch-Style back porch, the kind my favorite L.A. architect Cliff May would have approved of.

Big canvas awnings look great, though this example seems a bit flimsy. What happens when the wind blows?

Haw! A blackboard wall! You'd breathe a lot of chalk in a room like that, but it might be worth it.  You could draw life size caricatures of your family and friends seated at the table, eating and squabbling with each other.

And jasmine curtains...a nice way to cheer up a gloomy room.

Friday, June 02, 2017


Why are there no nebulas visible in the night sky...I mean nebulas large enough to be seen with the naked eye? The answer is that there's several. They're just faint because they're so close.

A lot of the bright nebulas you see in photos are color enhanced, are shot with time lapse photography, and are composites. Given those advantages they look great. If they were closer and untreated, most would look as dim as our local samples.

Here's a few of the nebulas visible in the Southern sky. The biggest ones are Barnard's Loop and the Gum Nebula. On a clear night all are visible with the naked eye. Of course the Magellanic Clouds (actually small captive galaxies) are visible with the naked eye and so is The Milky Way.

Here's a clearer telescopic shot of the Gum Nebula. The name comes from Gumm, the astronomer who discovered it in the 1950s.
In the middle of the picture you see "Vela SNR". That's short for the Vela Supernova Remnant.

BTW, have you been paying attention to the close shots of Jupiter we're getting from the Juno probe? They're awesome! The picture above was made without color code manipulation.

Here's (above) what Juno saw when it flew over Jupiter's North Pole in mid-May. Watch it on the biggest screen that you can.

Thursday, June 01, 2017


Haw! Here I am at the age when I'm expected to retire and, true to my demographic, I find myself watching late night reruns of "Murder She Wrote." You know that show, the one that takes place in Cabot Cove, the home of fictional sleuth Angela Lansbury, a.k.a. Jessica Fletcher.

Lansbury (above) is a terrific actress but, to judge from interviews, in real life she smiles a lot less often than her TV character. I don't mean to imply that Lansbury is joyless or humorless. She just doesn't smile unless she has a reason to. 'Nothing wrong with that.

Even so, it's a pity. When she does smile she lights up the room. The fact is, she has one the great smiles on film. It's world class...but it's a liability as well as an asset. What do you do with an actress who's mostly serious but who has the warmest smile around?

Old Hollywood's answer seemed to be, cast her as a beautiful but cold and calculating Jezebel who easily manipulates men.

Sure, she could handle that, but that's a young woman's role. What's an actress like that to do in mid-life?

Fortunately Lansbury found a new career in musical comedy. There I'm guessing that she learned to make the warm smile work for her.

The task assumed by the creators of Murder She Wrote was to come up with a premise that gave her the perfect ratio of smiles to drama...and they succeeded!

Angela's character plays a mystery writer who's instantly recognized and complimented by fans of her novels. Not only that but she travels frequently and is always staying with friends or accepting visits from friends. 'Lots of smile opportunities there.

She also likes to insinuate herself into police investigations and that requires more smiles to get co-operation from the law...once again, lots of smile opportunities.

A lot of the show is about smile delivery. By way of example, Jessica rides a bike because she doesn't drive a car. Why, the bike you ask?

They didn't give her a car because not having one forces her to ask others for a lift, or to be the beneficiary of others' kindness. Wow, that's brilliant! Far from handicapping the character it gives her an excuse to interact with the other characters and, most importantly, to smile and charm.

That includes half smiles, at which Lansbury excels.

The lesson I draw from this is that actors can't be cast according to their natural demeanor, but by what they're able to perform when the footlights are on. Everybody knows this already but it's nice to be reminded of it once in a while.