Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Milt On Clampett part 1

Milt Gray is an animator, director and cartoon historian. He has interviewed countless golden age animators and artists and was a personal friend of Bob Clampett. I first met Bob I think at Milt's. Milt has spent thousands of hours studying animation frame by frame from classic cartoons and is quite an articulate writer on the subject of what makes cartoons tick.

My Take on Bob Clampett - by Milton Gray

I have several observations on Bob Clampett that I would like to share, particularly at this time as there seems to still be in some people’s minds an image of Bob as a ridiculous or grossly irresponsible person, an image largely invented and perpetuated by a very envious Chuck Jones (and subsequently Stan Freberg).

Clampett Was A Living Cartoon Character
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Bob Clampett did have a very exuberant and mischievous personality, and as a result people reacted rather strongly to him -- they either loved his crazy antics or disdained him as undignified. But it is important to know that there was no meanness in Bob’s character (despite some terrible -- and untrue -- stories that have circulated about him). What was true is that Bob virtually always made the other person feel “included” (rather than ridiculed) in whatever horseplay or practical jokes were going on. And in addition, the Bob I knew was frequently very cordial and generous to whoever came to him with a question or a request. In an age when there are so many mean people everywhere, there is a common tendency to look for ulterior motives when someone kind or positive comes along. Bob exuded the simple joy of being alive, which some people are too cynical to appreciate.

His Characters Were Sides Of Him
These qualities of Bob’s personality permeated his cartoon characters. Although Bob’s version of Porky Pig (and later Beany and Cecil) was always a very sincere and energetic, if somewhat naive, young person, most of Bob’s other characters ranged from eagerly mischievous (like the Marx Brothers) to outright hysterical.

(By contrast, for me Chuck Jones’s Bugs Bunny tended to be inactive and overconfident to the point of extreme smugness, while Jones’s Daffy became greedy to the point of premeditated villainy. I far prefer Clampett’s hysterical Daffy and prankster Bugs -- they are so much more passionate and energetic.)
Clampett Daffy above, Jones' below
(I forget where these came from, tell me and I will link to you)

Clampett Bugs above, Jones below

Jones and a few others liked to attack Clampett in later years for allegedly taking too much credit for the success of the Warner cartoons. But I believe that Clampett does deserve a lot of the credit, and here are the reasons as I see them:

From the first day that Clampett came to work at the Harman-Ising/Schlesinger/Warner cartoon studio (in 1931), he was brimming with ideas for cartoons, which made him very different from practically everyone else at the studio then -- serious minded people who had scarcely thought about funny characters or imaginative gag situations before landing their first studio job. This unique characteristic of Bob’s originated in his inquisitive personality, all the way back to his early childhood.

Next: early Clampett history