Bill Cosby’s “Fat Albert” television special was something I’ve written about in times past. However, I’ll bet you never knew there was a second “Fat Albert” animated television special you never saw. That’s the story I’m going to share with you today. If you remember, my partner, Leo Sullivan and I made our initial contact with Bill’s production company, Campbell, Silver, Cosby back in the late sixties. It took some doing because this was pre-Internet and tracking down information and addresses was not always easy. However, in time we were able to locate Bill’s production offices in nearby Beverly Hills. Although Leo and I had done early development work, Bill Cosby had already made his decision on who would direct the animated television special. The artists name was, Ken Mundie and he and Cosby had worked together some years earlier. However, Leo and Ken were also pals having met before at the Bob Clampett Studio on Seward Street in Hollywood. Partnering with his old pal, Ken Mundie, Leo joined the “Fat Albert” team while I moved on to ABC to join the writing staff of a new television show. The producers of the new sketch comedy show had already proven themselves on their hit NBC show, “Laugh In.” They were ready to become even more irreverent and outrageous with their new network offering. However, we’ll save that weird story for another time.
NBC had made a deal with Bill Cosby’s production company to create two animated cartoon specials for the network. The first special you already know. It was broadcast in the summer of 1968 and featured a lovable animated character named, “Fat Albert.” Production on the show had been interrupted by a riff between Bill Cosby and his partners, Bruce Campbell and Roy Silver. The team split and went their separate way leaving the second animated special in the hands of Cosby, Mundie and the creative team. Because of the break up, the animation team found themselves without a home. This allowed Bill Cosby to make a problematic decision. He told the animators to temporarily move into his Los Angeles home and use the family room as a work space. Well, Cosby’s wife, Camille was having none of this. Animators may be a fun group but you sure don’t want them in your home. Before long, Mrs. Cosby had had enough of the zany cartoonists and the animation unit was kicked out of the Cosby home.
The homeless cartoon unit eventually found a home in the bungalows of the Studio City commercial production house known as, FilmFair. The successful commercial studio was started by former Disney animator, Gus Jekel and went on to produce a series of successful TV ads such as Keebler Cookies and Charlie the Tuna. I spent a fair amount of time working at FilmFair as well. I animated Tony the Tiger, and a host of other cartoon ads. I had the pleasure of working with talented guys such as Bob Kurtz, Ken Champin and Dale Case. The compact Studio City facility had a few small buildings on the studio property. Because of his relationship with studio boss, Gus Jekel, Ken Mundie was able to move the animation unit into one of bungalows for the remainder of production. Work would continue on the second animated special for the next few months. Yet, somehow this second cartoon special was never seen. That is, except for a few of us. And that, my friends brings us to the end of this odd tale.
One afternoon, I arrived at the Studio City facility to find noted jazz musician and composer, Julian “Cannonball” Adderly watching scenes on the Moviola. Bill Cosby was a huge jazz fan and had hired Herbie Hancock to score the first “Fat Albert” special. Bill intended to follow up with another jazz great. Unfortunately, Cannonball Adderly seemed perplexed by what he saw on the screen. It would appear the animated cartoon made absolutely no sense whatsoever. If he didn’t understand the film, how could he create an effective film score? In a misguided attempt to be provocative and innovative, the movie fumbled a creative opportunity and the second animated film was deemed not worthy of completion. I never saw the famous jazz musician after that odd afternoon. I can only guess Mr. Adderly contacted Bill Cosby and asked out of the deal. And, what was so odd about the film, you might ask? Well, there’s a term we use in the animated cartoon business. Sometimes a flawed film can best be described as a locomotive that has completely run off the rails. Sadly, this film had left the tracks and even Bill Cosby could see that.
At least this quirky story has a happy ending. In time, Bill Cosby took the “Fat Albert” character to the West Valley cartoon studio known as, Filmation. There, under the guidance of studio boss, Lou Scheimer, the studio produced the hit television series we know as, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” I still regretfully look back at a missed opportunity. When the first “Fat Albert” animated show made such a promising television introduction in the summer of 1968, one might ask, what the hell happened? Why wasn’t the second animated special a huge success? After all, it had everything going for it. How could you blow it?Remember, it was the late sixties, my friends. A time when a lot of weird and wacky things were going on in Hollywood. Some of that weirdness even affected animated cartoon making. I won’t bother going into detail here. However, in light of current events I’m willing to bet you have some idea what I’m talking about.