The Boys Club

There’s been some recent discussion online regarding animation’s “Boys Club” and the fact that women have often taken a back seat in the cartoon business. While it’s true the business has had its gender issues in the past, I’d like to think that things have improved considerably in recent years. While the animation business has been far from perfect, I’m willing to give our industry higher marks than most. I’m not an apologist for the many wrongs committed in years past, and clearly there’s no doubt that women were continually given short shrift in the world of cartoon making. However, it might be helpful to add a little perspective from this old timers point of view.

When I entered the animation world back in the fifties there was little chance a woman would ever get a chance to animate at the Walt Disney Studio. However, the same could be said of young men as well. Let me explain. In the nineteen fifties the business of animation was contracting, not expanding and there were very few jobs available. Those who had earned the title of animator were desperately trying to hold onto those coveted jobs. If you were a young man or woman at fifties Disney your chance of animating at the studio was slim to none. Smaller, outside studios were your only hope of getting into the animator’s chair. No doubt this was doubly true for women. In any case, a career in the animation business was reserved for a unique group of young men and women who were clearly not normal. After all, who else would put up with a job that offered little job security and a paycheck that was often too embarrasing to show to your friends? Even with the gender issues at the Walt Disney Studio in the fifties, the number of women employed at the mouse house was still impressive. Sitting in an air condition private office drawing cute cartoons all day was still regarded several steps above waiting tables at a Los Angeles coffee shop. Most don’t know their Disney history or have simpy forgotten it. While the Disney Studio continues to be railed against for their treatment of women, the studio employed dozens of talented women during the Fifties Boom when Walt entered television and the Animation Building was filled top to bottom with artists. It would appear that people have forgotten that by the fifties a number of women had already made their way into the coveted ranks of layout and background. While the Walt Disney Studio is often slammed for their gender issues, it is totally forgotten that Phyllis Hurrell ran Walt’s commercial division back in the fifties. What other studio, I might ask, had a women at the head of a production unit?

By the early sixties, Sylvia Roemer and Sammie June Landham were already working on “101 Dalmatians” in Woolie’s layout department and a number of women continued to contribute to animation as key clean-up artists. Yes, it’s true no women were being promoted to animator at this time - but the same could be said of young men. The animation business was struggling to survive in the early sixties and this even included Disney. Suddenly, commercial production and animated television shows changed the cartoon landscape and opportunities became available for both men and women working in the industry. Were things always fair for both genders? Clearly not. However, there were more opportunities for young artists and I watched as both men and women took advantage of the television boom and climbed the animation ladder. It was during this amazing period that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with many talented women. Again, things were not perfect but women were making headway in the areas of production design, background, layout and even animating. In the years that followed many would move into story and directing. How did I know this, you ask? It was because I worked for many of those young women during that time. Of course, there were those times when men grumbled over a woman being promoted to department head. This was back in the sixties and seventies but I remember it as though it were yesterday. Finally, keep in mind that the talented women were given their promotions by a man. A boss who regarded their talent more important than their gender.

Today we spend a good deal of time finding fault with the animation business and we too often forget about the progressive individuals who saw a need for change. The studios, small and large that broke free of the past and promoted women, minorities and all those worthy of moving ahead. While there’s little doubt the animation industry has had its fair share of problems in the past, I’m inclined to think the constant harping on the “Boys Club” is a refrain I’ve heard just a bit too often. Unpleasant and unpopular decisions will continue to be made by studio bosses. What else is new? That’s the nature of our business. I’ve been sacked more than a few times in my long career. Was it because of the color of my skin? Hardly. It was simply a business decision because things don’t always work out. As animation artists, both men and women, it’s time we all grow up - just a little bit.

Clearly, the Disney Studio of years past was a Boys Club. However, things have changed a good deal since I arrived in the business many years ago.

Clearly, the Disney Studio of years past was a Boys Club. However, things have changed a good deal since I arrived in the business many years ago.

Progressive Jazz and the Disney Artist

What the heck does a sixties jazz recording have to do with Disney animation, you might ask? Well, oddly enough there is a connection and it also involves a very talented Disney animator and layout artist. However, we’ll get to that in a minute.

If you’re not part of my generation you’ve probably never even heard of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Stan Kenton was a forties-fifties era orchestra leader and was well known for his progressive jazz recordings. Being a music student I was a total Stan Kenton Geek and I followed his incredible orchestra from venues at the Hollywood Paladium to Balboa Beach. I even hung out in the recording studios at Capitol Records in Hollywood whenever I knew the master was in town. Yes, there were “groupies” even in my ancient era and we took every opportunity to see and listen to our musical heroes.

The progressive jazz musician, Stan Kenton was a unique man. Tall, gaunt with chiseled features and straight silver hair, he would stand out in a crowd. I watched him lead his magnificent orchestra for nearly four decades before his untimely passing in the seventies. Inspired by the Kenton orchestra, I joined a big band while in high school and college and we played many of the masterful Kenton charts. The marvelous arrangements by Marty Paitch, Pete Ruggulo and Bill Russo. I last saw Stan Kenton while in the parking lot of Capitol Records in Hollywood. I had finally become a professional film maker and I was on site for a recording session. As the old master walked passed, he took a moment to look my way. It was as if he knew my face. Well, I’m not surprised he may have recognized me. When I was a young kid I had spent many an evening looking up at him from the base of the stage. Perhaps he remembered me as that skinny young kid with glasses - but I can’t say for sure.

However, there’s an interesting Disney twist to this musical story. When playing my album, “The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton” many years ago I noticed a familiar name on the album back cover. (remember when albums still came in covers?) One of the beautiful numbers on the album was credited to Dale Barnhart and I knew a Disney artist by the same name. That couldn’t possibly be the same person, I wondered? It was indeed the very same Dale Barnhart who occupied an office in 3-B, the third floor of Disney’s Animation Building. Dale Barnhart was a talented musician, as well as an artist in Disney’s animation department. At the time he was heading up a clean-up crew on the feature film, “Sleeping Beauty,” and he did indeed craft the beautiful ballad, “When stars looked down” for the Stan Kenton orchestra. In the years that followed, Dale Barnhart and I became good friends. his youngest son, Philo Barnhart also works in the animation business, and like his famous father, he has spent a good many years at work in Disney’s animation department. Not surprisingly, Dale’s wife, Phyllis also worked in the paint department of the Walt Disney Studio back in the fifties. When the Old Maestro insisted “Sleeping Beauty” be completed, Dale assembled his team. They were Fernando Arce, Bob Longo and Ruben Apodaca. They were the artists tasked with cleaning up the evil fairy, Malificient. I suppose few would have guessed that animation artist, Dale Barnhart was also a talented composer as well.

Dale Barnhart and Stan Kenton are no longer with us. However, the awesome music and the beautiful art they created will remain with us forever.

The beautiful actress, Susan Oliver posed for this Stan Kenton album cover. Inside you'll hear the music of multi-talented Disney animator and layout artist, Dale Barnhart.

The beautiful actress, Susan Oliver posed for this Stan Kenton album cover. Inside you'll hear the music of multi-talented Disney animator and layout artist, Dale Barnhart.

The Gag Book Returns

Okay, here’s how it all began. John Cawley had the crazy notion of publishing a book of my animation gag cartoons. Naturally, there were jokes never meant to be published. It was simply the silly stuff animation artists had been doing for decades. Cartoonists, being cartoonist always enjoyed mocking each other. On occasion, even the studio management was up for grabs and jokes and gags were drawn about the boss as well.

Once again, these were “insider gags.” Jokes rarely seen by civilians. Only animation employees were even aware of these goofy cartoons that adorned the walls and cubicles of the cartoon makers. Cawley gathered up a pile of my gags which eventually became the published book, “Faster, Cheaper.” It was a look inside an animation studio and the wacky process of making a cartoon. I think John printed around a thousand copies which at the time was a very big deal. Surprisingly, the goofy book seemed to find an audience and people began to tell me how much they enjoy my book of wacky cartoons about the animation business.

Some years later, I found myself with another stack of cartoon gags. Gags from various studios that had the courage to employ me. The goofy sketches came from Disney, Hanna-Barbera and Pixar and covered a couple of decades of cartoon making. Having already published a book with the title of “Faster, Cheaper,” I decided to call this sequel, “Son of Faster, Cheaper.” Since the book was self published there was never an attempt at properly marketing the book. Word of its existance spread simply by word of mouth. Remember the the Internet was still taking baby steps and few people were even on it in those days. Once again, we had a very limited print run and when the books were gone - they were gone.

Thanks to Bob McLain and Theme Park Press my crazy cartoon book has been given a new life. This time, it’s truly a published book and it’s on sale now. Remember, these goofy gags were drawn a couple of decades ago but it seems the gags still resonate with people. Especially those who make their living in the animation business. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it was like to work at the Walt Disney Company back when the Old Maestro walked the hallways you might want to check out this book. The same would apply to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the guys who ruled Saturday Morning Television in the sixties and seventies. Finally, you’ll get some of the spirit of Pixar Animation Studios where they continually tell you what fun it is to work in the magical cartoon business. However, the real magic, rather than the fabricated image involves working your butt off. When drawing gags I’ve never pulled any punches. They’re often drawn in the moment when the ideas are fresh and exploding in my head. If you want the real deal instead of corporate spin. If you want complete honestly instead of executive blather check out “Son of Faster, Cheaper.” You’ll see the cartoon business the way it truly is.

"Son of Faster, Cheaper." My wacky gag book gets a second life thanks to Theme Park Press.

"Son of Faster, Cheaper." My wacky gag book gets a second life thanks to Theme Park Press.

Aging in the Cartoon Business

It doesn’t seem that long ago when we walked into a large conference room filled with season cartoon veterans and a handful of studio executives. You can imagine how we felt. We were kids. Newbies to the animation business with only a few years under our belt. Now, here we were with these animation geezers who had seen more and done more in the past few years than we had in our entire, lackluster career. How do you pitch to a group like that? You’re totally intimidated the moment you walk in the door and you expect the old codgers to toss you out on your ear for wasting their valuable time. I honestly can’t remember all the pitches we made to these animation senior citizens back in the day. Yet, that’s the way it was. The animation industry was run by pudgy, bald old men, and they were probably the younger ones. There were also a handful that could boast working for Disney in the forties and “Termite Terrace” in the fifties. There weren’t a lot of young people in the cartoon business back then. Perhaps that was because the work could hardly be considered a career. Only goofy, naive kids like myself would aspire to such a wacky, pointless job.

Imagine how I feel today. Either I’ve entered BizarroWorld or life has taken a complete, unexpected flip-flop. When I enter a conference room filled with artists, managers and executives I feel like I’ve made an accidental turn into a daycare center. Dare I say the staffers are young? Let’s just say most are probably the age of my grandchildren. So, it’s intimidation all over again - except this time around the players have all switched places. Clearly, all the bright young people starring at me are talented, educated and filled with enthusiasm for the business. As I look out upon the sea of innocent, smiling young faces with their clear complexions and perfect teeth, I’m filled with a sense of dread. I’m no longer the green, stupid young kid with no experience under his belt hoping eagerly for approval. Now, I’m the old grandpa. The codger who worked in the business back when people drew on paper. As you can imagine, I’m waiting for the kids to grab my walker or my cane and kick my tired old ass out of the room.

It would appear I’ve been the wrong age all my life. It’s not a total downer, however. Back in the sixties I managed to work with a bunch of “old men.” Actually, I believe there were nine. Fast forward to the nineties where I worked with a bunch of kids at a new studio called, Pixar. So, on occasion I did manage to fit right in. It’s all very amusing, of course. That’s the way life is. Whatever goes around eventually comes back again. Only, not quite the way expected. It’s the wacky circle of life, and I’m the one running in circles. I’ve made a decision never to pitch again. My ideas were initially too brash, controversal and irreverent. Now, my ideas are not brash, controversal and irreverent enough. I failed to impress the codgers back in the old days and I can’t seem to wow the kids today. Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a rant and it’s hardly a complaint. Simply an observation as I walk down the hallway of a studio where the senior management appear to be high school seniors.

Enough meetings like these and you realize how old you've suddenly become.

Enough meetings like these and you realize how old you've suddenly become.