Remembering Fat Albert

Way, way back in the sixties, my partner, Leo Sullivan and I caught word of comedian, Bill Cosby possibly developing a television show. The show would be based on one of Cosby’s hilarious comedy routines. Being familiar with Cosby’s material we immediately transferred one of Bill’s hit record albums to film. The popular segment was Cosby’s retelling of his kids days in Philly and a very interesting young man they called, Fat Albert. Leo and I decided to storyboard and animate a few “Fat Albert” segments from the recording. Once Bill Cosby saw the characters from his stand up routine suddenly come to life the chances were good he’d give us a shot at developing his new television show. We were not inexperienced when it came to production. We had already run our own production company in Los Angeles and produced a number of motion pictures for the educational and government markets. Moving back into entertainment would be a breeze.

Before long, Leo and I had produced what we considered enough hilarious cartoon animation to wow the famous comedian. With the film under our arm, we headed to Beverly Hills and the offices of Bill’s production company, Campbell, Silver, Cosby. It took a few tries but we finally managed a meeting with one of Cosby’s producers. The gentleman was Marvin Miller and he promised us a meeting with Mr. Cosby. Things were looking good, and a week or so later we arrived for our meeting with Bill Cosby. Arriving at Campbell, Silver Cosby we were ushered into a small conference room where we were surprised to see a guy we knew sitting at the head of the table. His name was Ken Mundie and he was already a legend of sorts in the animation business. “Maverick” is the word that best describes the progressive animator. Too radical for most production houses, Mundie marched to his own drum. He was a talented animator, designer and painter who spent winters in Europe giving skiing lessons to the wealthy. Lean and athletic, he was the opposite of most geeky animators who tended to be pale and pudgy. In spite of Ken’s considerable talent, we couldn’t help but feel bummed out our friend and colleague and gotten the jump on us. Ken Mundie had found Bill Cosby first. Now, the job was suddenly his.

Looking back on those days I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ken Mundie had already met Bill Cosby some years earlier and that gave him an edge. Among Ken’s many talents was his skill as a title designer. He had designed show titles for feature films and television shows. One of Ken’s best known sequences was a title he designed for the hit TV show, “I Spy” which starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. Mundie had designed and directed the opening titles that required the two stars to spin on a turn table. This meant the animator already had access to the famous comedian and probably pitched the show idea long before we animated our little cartoon piece. Having gained Bill Cosby’s confidence, Ken Mundie was hand picked by the star to helm the comedian’s first foray into animation. It was a win-win for both all the way around.

The “Fat Albert” development team found office space on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. Unlike most animation studios the workspace was as lean as its crew. Naturally, I had hoped to part of this exciting new enterprise but Mundie had already chosen his artistic team. Luckily, my friend and colleague, Leo Sullivan scored a position on Bill Cosby’s animation staff. Clearly, Leo was an asset to the production team. Not only was he a talented animator, there was something else he brought to the table. Here was a show where all the talent (with the exception of Mr. Cosby) happen to be white. Leo Sullivan added the black sensibility needed for this particular project, and informed practically every scene that was animated. The “Fat Albert” special was broadcast on the NBC Television Network in 1968 and the animated show was one of the most innovative of its time. I’ve always applauded the stellar work done by Ken Mundie and his creative team and I was delighted that many of the artists who worked on the special were good friends.

In recent years, I’ve heard that Bill Cosby doesn’t have a copy of the famous show. Even more amazing, the NBC Television Network has lost its only print. As far as I know, there’s only one print remaining, and you’ll never guess who has that copy.