It’s been a few years but here we are together again. We’re the founders and executive officers of a long forgotten motion picture production company that created films back in the sixties. We were brought together by Dr. Rhea Combs of the Smithsonian Institution for a special meeting at the Walt Disney Campus in Glendale.
I’m on the left next to Dr. Combs, and my partners, Norman E. Edelen and Leo D. Sullivan follow. Our partner and friend is missing from the photograph. Richard Allen passed away some years ago. That’s Mrs. Sullivan on the right, but don’t let her demeanor fool you. Lyn Sullivan is not simply a mild mannered housewife. This amazing woman was part of the U.S. space program and I do not joke when I say she sent rockets into space. If you’re into science you may even remember the Titan and Atlas rockets, but that’s another story. When these old men were young men they had the audacity to create a motion picture studio back in the sixties when “the times they were a’changing.” The 1965 Watts Riot had shocked the nation and the civil rights movement was gaining traction. Students rioted against the war in Viet Nam and the nation continued to grow uncomfortable with the ongoing social change. This was the state of the nation as Vignette Films, Inc. opened its doors in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles. An area we know today as, “KoreaTown.” Out in Burbank, we mourned the passing of The Old Maestro, Walt Disney, and “The Jungle Book” made its way toward completion. Norman Edelen and Dick Allen were Los Angeles cops looking to retire their badges for a more promising career in motion pictures. Leo Sullivan and I left the cartoon business in order to jump start our careers rather than wait the decades necessary for promotion to animator or director. Opportunities in the animation industry were limited not because of color or class. The business was in a creative funk and often unstable. A job in the quirky cartoon business could hardly be called a career. There was never a better time to get out of cartoon making and many of our colleagues did the same.
The “playing field” was hardly level and we struggled to stay alive while our white colleagues soared. Financing was hardly a problem unless you had the misfortune of being born black. The system seemed eager to place obstacles that would guarantee our failure. In spite of that, we pushed forward delivering educational media, corporate training films and instructional movies for the Armed Forces. Vignette Films, Inc. created television titles and credits and was eager to develop our own feature motion picture. Universal Pictures even optioned two of our scripts but we never got a green light for production. Today, we probably would have had a different outcome.
Back in the sixties, Leo Sullivan, Norm Edelen, Richard Allen and Floyd Norman decided to launch Vignette Films, Inc. and it was a bold and brave idea. However, it was also a dumb idea because the deck was clearly stacked against us. However, we were young, naive and incredibly optimistic. We were determined to succeed despite the social issues in sixties America. Today, it’s 2016 yet many of the same issues that troubled us in the sixties remain with us. While its true much as changed, we still have a long way to go. However, these “old men” retain the optimism of their youth. Today, Leo Sullivan is the creator of AfroKids.com, a creative new website providing information, entertainment and education for kids. Vignette Films, Inc. defied the odds back in the sixties. Hopefully, our efforts will inspire others today.