Monday, May 12, 2008


Clampett Starts Directing at 24 years old, on the lowest budget cartoons

So, in 1937 Schlesinger finally gives in and lets the young, brash Clampett, with the screwy, crazy ideas, have a chance to direct. But at a price. I don’t think this has been mentioned anywhere else before, but here is the picture that emerges when you look closely at the facts:

The Schlesinger Studio in those days had the smallest budgets for cartoons in the movie business, especially compared to Disney, Fleischer, and M-G-M, and yet Schlesinger was eager to compete, the only way he knew how.

Conventional wisdom (so-called) in those days was that, to compete, cartoons needed “respectability” -- they should be in color and have a certain richness of production values -- elaborate drawings and labored animation -- all of which cost a lot of money.

Here's a typical "quality" cartoon from the 30s.

Schlesinger needed more money than Warners was giving him to make the color Merrie Melodies, so he took as much money as he could from the black-and-white Looney Tunes, to augment the Merrie Melodies budgets.

Clampett's Unit had the least experienced animators
The Schlesinger Studio was expanding at this time, and so had to hire or promote a lot of new, beginner animators. These beginners were started on the low-budget Looney Tunes and were paid a lot less.

All of this was a sure recipe for disaster for the Looney Tunes -- except for one ace-in-the-hole: Schlesinger assigns the young, brash, crazy-idea kid, Bob Clampett, to make most of the Looney Tunes, hoping that Clampett’s crazy, funny ideas will somehow save them. It was a gamble: financially, the success of the whole Schlesinger Studio was placed on Clampett’s shoulders. Would it work?

PORKY'S BADTIME STORY, Clampett's first credited cartoon

Clampett’s first cartoon was written not by Clampett, but by the story department at Schlesingers.

But Clampett gave it the unmistakable “Clampett touch” -- almost the first scene in Porky’s Badtime Story shows Porky’s garage being ripped (in a snappy action) completely inside-out as Porky’s car roars out. Several other things in the same cartoon get a similar treatment.

Clampett's Cartoons Favor The Animators-they are fun to animate

Clampett always controls his cartoons with a certain sensibility, yet as far as he can he leans his cartoons in the direction that pleases his animators.

One of Bob’s primary direction techniques is to try to accommodate the talents and interests of the animators and artists on his crew -- whoever those animators and artists happen to be, on any given film. Bob told me one time, “By allowing your animators to be enthused about what they are working on will get you a level of quality that no amount of money can buy.”

Chuck Jones was Clampett's Layout Man on first few cartoons

For about the first year that Bob directed, Chuck Jones was Bob’s layout artist and head animator -- and hardly anyone could be further removed from Bob’s sensibilities than Chuck Jones.

So Bob’s earliest cartoons are relatively slow and underplayed, probably to try to accommodate Chuck.

Chuck Leaves, Porky In Wackyland: the turning point in Clampett's style
But as soon as Chuck left, to direct his own cartoons, the very next cartoon that Clampett put into production was Porky in Wackyland -- probably the seminal Clampett cartoon, and in some respects the seminal Warner cartoon. Bob was finally in his own element.

From here on, the Clampett Looney Tunes continue to break new ground, with some special successes and some relative misses. (But even the misses have their good moments -- and how could there not be some relative misses, considering the extreme disadvantages that Clampett was burdened with?)

The other directors see what Clampett is doing and, little by little, incorporate more of his zaniness into their own cartoons. Yet Clampett rarely gets any credit, since “after all”, his cartoons are the “inferior” black-and-white Looney Tunes.


Coming soon: Milt wrote an insert article detailing some of Bob's innovations in his early Black and White cartoons....


Hi PC:

You asked, "Why would Schlesinger put so much responsibility on Bob

Schlesinger wanted to put his best talents -- his "proven" talents --
on the expensive Merrie Melodies, and try to get by on the cheaper
Looney Tunes with gags alone, and Clampett was known by then to be
particularly good at inventing gags. If the experiment with Clampett
didn't work, then Schlesinger would have had to demote Clampett back
to animating and possibly try someone else at directing the Looney
Tunes. The real point that I was trying to make was that when
Clampett finally got his chance to direct, it was under circumstances
more difficult than what the other directors at that time had to
face. In other words, Clampett was competing with a distinct

You also said, "What about Porky's Party and Porky and Daffy? Those
weren't slow and underplayed. Porky's Bad Time Story was pretty good

I agree. After all, these are still Clampett cartoons, so they do
have some of Clampett's pizazz. And Chuck Jones did do some
excellent sustained character animation in those cartoons. I just
think that after Chuck left, then Clampett went more all-out with his
craziness, starting with Porky in Wackyland.

And by the way, I should also mention to everybody that Clampett's
"craziness" was not just irresponsible, out-of-control, "anything
goes" direction. His cartoons could have easily fallen apart if that
was the case. Actually, it took a lot of thought and discipline to
make cartoons that seem crazy and yet are also funny and coherent --
especially back then, when Clampett was still inventing a whole new

Thanks for asking, I enjoy the dialog.

Milt Gray