Sunday, February 10, 2008

Milt on Clampett pt 2 - early history

Clamett Baby Photo

Bob was born in San Diego in 1913, and from the time of his earliest memories he was fascinated by the color comic strips in the Sunday newspapers, and he would try to copy the drawings of the various characters from the comic strips. As Bob got older, and could read and write, he began making up new gags and situations for the various characters, oftentimes continuing from the end of the strips as they appeared in the newspapers. He also became acquainted with the various early-century children’s adventure books, with their rich illustrations and fantastic stories.

Eventually Bob’s parents moved to Los Angeles, when Los Angeles was a much smaller city than it became later, and lived in a neighborhood that included several theater stage performers and movie actors. Movies were still in their primitive early days then, and of course were black-and-white and silent, but they seemed like magic to the young Bob. And stage theater in Los Angeles then was pretty elaborate, so it made quite an impression as well. Bob was experiencing and thinking about these things all the time, imagining new things that could be done in these various mediums. Along the way he was also introduced to puppetry and magic acts. With Bob’s enthusiastic and self-confident personality, he began attempting to impress the neighborhood kids by creating puppet shows, which he performed on the back porch, hiding behind the railing to manipulate the hand puppets.

As a teenager, Bob played with a home movie camera and attempted to make an amateur short live action movie -- another example of thinking staging, continuity and cutting at a relatively young age. (He even went to Leon Schlesinger’s Pacific Art and Title Studio to have title cards made for his movie. This was the first time he met Leon Schlesinger.)
Los Angeles in those days had about five different newspapers, and Bob frequently submitted cartoon drawings into the cartoon contests in the papers. His cartoons won prizes and eventually attracted enough favorable attention that he was offered a contract with the Hearst newspaper syndicate, which guaranteed him full employment at $75.00 a week once he finished high school (which was still a few years away then). In those days $75.00 a week was big money, and Bob had his Dad keep the contract for him. In the meantime, the Los Angeles Hearst paper paid Bob’s tuition to Otis Art Institute, where Bob was introduced to serious illustration and the Fine Arts, and also let Bob hang around in the art department at the newspaper offices, where he observed real professionals doing their work.
But then animated cartoons appeared in the movies, with Felix the Cat particularly catching Bob’s interest. Bob went to the projection booth and asked the projectionist if he could see some of the actual movie film, to see how Felix was drawn for motion. The projectionist cut out a section of the film and gave it to Bob to take home and study.

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Eventually the theaters began showing sound movies, including Disney’s Mickey Mouse, and that’s when Bob realized that sound cartoon movies was the medium that would allow him the fullest outlet for his ambitions as a cartoonist and a performer. appealed most to Bob was the realization that in animated cartoons, like the Felix the Cats, literally anything was possible, and so the artistic and entertainment possibilities were unlimited.

Somewhere along the way, Bob’s family ran into hard times. Bob’s father became unable to financially support the family, and (I’m not clear on the details) somehow dropped out of the picture. Bob had to leave high school early, before completion, to get a job to support himself and his mother. Despite his contract with the Hearst newspapers, he decided to get a job in animation at the Disney Studio, but the Disney Studio was at that moment overcrowded and was building new work space across the street. They told Bob to come back when the new space was completed, but instead Bob went across town and got a job at the new Harman-Ising Studio, where he began working on the first cartoon in the new Merrie Melodies series.

I think what makes Bob stand out among other animators, is that his style is not only inspired by other animation. He is inspired by the overall world of entertainment. He loved Jolsen, Cagney, comics, Jazz and he put all this entertainment and performance energy in his cartoons. It's entertainment first with Bob. It was this philosophy and strength of character that allowed him to resist the lure of imitating Disney. While Walt was such an overpowering influence in the industry and so many others blindly tried beating him at his own game, Clampett just did what came natural to himself.

I would say Avery and Tashlin also had this built in resistance to following trends, but Friz seemed always content to be mature and do what the current acceptable style is and get it in on time. If singing teapots is the current rage, fine; if sarcastic wiseguys come into style, he'll do that too, although a bit more reluctantly.



PCUnfunny said...

Another great Clampett article ! And your right John, Clampett was clearly inspired by more then just animation. Real life entertainment was far less tame so when Clampett broke into the animation bussiness, he was already thinking outside the box.

Mitch said...

Great post! Great to read how he started. More, more =)

Timefishblue said...

This is really helpful in trying to get a better understanding of clampett
Also, I'm impressed by the cartoon he drew when he was twelve. It must have been obvious that he'd go on to do great things in cartooning

Larry Levine said...

I wanna see more Clampett drawn art!!!

David Germain said...

Milt left something out. His viewing of Steamboat Willie inspired him to make a Mickey Mouse figurine out of wood. He wanted to sell a whole bunch of them but someone (I think it was his father) said that he couldn't do that without the creator's permission. So, the 16 year old Bob Clampett drove down to the Disney studio with his aunt and met with Walt himself. Walt was impressed by Clampett for two reasons: 1. His obvious artistic ability and 2. The idea that he could sell Mickey merchandise. THIS is why Walt Disney offered a job to one Bob Emerson Clampett.

Anonymous said...

To me, more than anything else, there's huge level of confidence that comes across in all of Bob's work. HUGE CONFIDENCE. I don't know why, maybe because it's so honest, but that is attractive in the most primal way...
Just my 2 cents...

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...


Milt mentioned that, in an early post with the link to the interview with Clampett that Barrier and he did. It's on


And I'm with Larry! Regardez vous le Clampett drawings, silver plate!

- trevor.

Anthony P. Rizzo said...

Hey John. This isn't a comment on your Clampett post. Just figured this would be the best way to reach you. Saw you and Kali at the flea market on Sunday and I was too nervous to shake yr hand and say thanks for everything. Btw, what is with that place being so damn expensive? Seriously, 5 bucks for a 2 inch Marvin the Martian figurine with dirt and half the paint worn off? I guess they figure the Melrose hipsters will pay top dollar so they keep the prices rich.

Anyhoo, I drew yr caricature. Thought u might get a kick out of it.

I read yr blog everyday and its been such a huge inspiration to me.
Best free cartoon school I've ever attended. Keep it up!

[Moth] said...

Hi there, John!!

I'm one of the people who never comment, but always read your articles and lessons.

I've to say I have learned A LOT of animation in the last few weeks reading all your posts -not just about technique, but also about the best cartoonists of all time.

This blog encourages me to keep drawing and learning.

Just wanted to say "hello" and "thank you"

Regards from Spain!!

PCUnfunny said...

That comic shows how Clampett was always the smart little arse hole.

patchwork said...

I think Clampett's cartoons are astoundingly well-rounded! They have elements of what everybody looks for, and they're timeless

Anonymous said...

This article is quite an inspiring gem (especially when two other great directors are mentioned). I know much more about Clampett than I ever did before. Thanks for writing this article, Milt, and another thanks to John for posting this in the first place.

Bring on the Clampett drawings!

javier suppa said...

hola john mi nombre es javier suppa y la verdad soy fan de tus cosas me encanta el estilo que tenes para animar y los diseƱos de tus nota que te gusta mucho la vieja escuela de animacion y viendo tus cosas hacen que los dibujos animados sean otra cosa hoy en dia.
yo tambien trabajo en animacion soy asistente de animador y realize varias peliculas y publicidades para argentina y el exterior.
te dejo mi blog para que puedas pasar y ver.
es un gusto haberte firmado en tu sitio .
saludos desde argentina