Fifties Studio Visit

There was no way of visiting a cartoon studio or meeting an animation studio boss in years past. However, because of a remarkable live television show called, “City at Night,” I was able to visit the cartoon studio, UPA and meet the company president, Stephen Bosustow. For a high school kid in the nineteen fifies, this was dream come true.

You might not believe this but live telecasts were a big thing back in the nineteen fifties. First of all, consider the technology. Unlike today's compact cameras and sound systems, television cameras were the size of refrigerators and electricians had to drag cumbersome cables as lights and other equipment was squeezed through limited spaces. Plus, a live telecast required a small army to pull things off. Yet, this was the idea of a television pioneer and visionary named, Klaus Landsberg. Landsberg ran local Los Angeles television station, KTLA, and it was his idea to take his cameras inside various venues in the Los Angeles area. One of Landsberg’s choices was a Hollywood animation studio. The studio was called UPA, and the cartoon makers were the mid century darlings of animation at the time. Back in the fifties few people had any idea how animation worked or what was required to make a cartoon. Lansberg was going to show LA audiences the entire process and he was going to do the whole thing live.

One quiet Monday evening an armada of “City at NIght” trucks rolled up to the Burbank cartoon studio located near a popular eatery called, The Smoke House. After a lengthy setup the show was finally on the air. The on air host and his cameras made their way through the narrow hallways of UPA as the artists and animators worked at their drawing boards. In those days, UPA employed a who's who of animation legends including John Hubley, T. Hee, Bobe Cannon, Pete Burness and others. The interview concluded with the big boss himself, Stephen Busustow as he explained the joys and pitfalls of the cartoon business. Having completed their assignment, the “City at Night” crew packed up their stuff and headed back to the studio.

As you can imagine, students and cartoon geeks alike were in hog heaven. We had finally been inside a Hollywood cartoon studio and seen the entire process first hand. Believe me, we couldn't stop talking about this television show for days afterward. Being an impressionable kid I even dreamed about being inside the UPA cartoon studio and even meeting the big boss, Stephen Bosustow. It gets even better. In my dream, I ended up sitting side by side with the UPA film maker working on a movie. Ah, that's what it's like to be a kid, eh? What a rich imagination we have.

Decades pass, and now I find myself a young adult working in the movie business. After the passing of Walt Disney in 1966, I decide to strike out on my own. Along with my partners, Leo Sullivan, Norman Edelen and Dick Allen we launched a film studio producing educational media for schools across the country. As we began work on a particularly difficult film series, our producers asked would we mind if they brought in a consultant to work with us on the series. “The gentleman was well qualified,” they insisted. “He had even run his own animation studio for a time. Perhaps you've heard of him. Does the name, Stephen Bosustow sound familiar?” Toward the end of the project, our producers insisted we finish up working at their facility in Santa Monica. Stephen Bosustow and I could share an office and complete our work in the company facility. And that, boys and girls is how I ended up sitting beside Stephen Bosustow in the Santa Monica office. The two of us ended up working on this project together in much the same way I had Imagined some thirty years earlier in my childhood dream. 

Like so much of my life, it was another wonderful, amazing experience. So amazing, I have to reiterate the stories are all true. In my wildest dreams, these are things I could never make up.

Mid century animation studio, United Productions of America. Located in Burbank only blocks from the Walt Disney Studios, the talented animators pushed the medium in a bold, new direction.

Mid century animation studio, United Productions of America. Located in Burbank only blocks from the Walt Disney Studios, the talented animators pushed the medium in a bold, new direction.