Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Friz Freleng Diamond Anniversary Blogathon

Yes, August 21 is the birthday of one Isadore "Friz" Freleng. However, 2006 is only one of the years that Friz could have turned 100. There's evidence that supports him being born in 1904 or 1905 as well. He did have a younger brother named Allen who was born in 1907. That gives us a bit of a clue.

Oh well, exactly how old the man would have been had he been granted the priviledge of never dying is irrelevent compared to the contributions he made to the animation industry. I'll name a bunch right now.

Like most of animation's greats, Friz started off working for Walt Disney around the mid 1920's. According to Merritt & Kaufman’s “Walt in Wonderland” Freleng’s first animation for Disney was on Alice’s Knaughty Knight (Jan 1927). On his 3rd picture (Alice’s Picnic) he had a scene of a mother cat washing her kittens in a tub. To make the scene more interesting he had one of the kittens crawl out of the tub and drop to the ground, and the mother cat grab it and put it back in. When Walt saw the scene he called it to everyone’s attention. “That little kitten didn’t just jump out of the water, he climbed up and hung there and dropped down like a little kid would do,” he said, “Friz did it this way and made him act like a little kid. That’s what I want to see in the pictures. I want the characters to be somebody. I don’t want them just to be a drawing.” So you see, it was Friz who took cartoons to a whole new level by adding little subtle movements in order to give the figures more personality. How many great animated masterpieces wouldn't have been possible without that?

When Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising had "professional differences" with Walt and walked out on him, Friz followed both of them along with many others. They're first task as independant artists was to create a pilot film featuring a character they hoped would become a star, namely Bosko. Friz provided much of the animation in this pilot. When the Bosko film landed them a job making cartoons for Warner Bros. under Leon Schlesiner, Friz was the head animator on all of them. Friz constantly asked Harmon & Ising if he could be promoted to the director's chair but for some reason they never complied. Even when almost everyone walked out on Leon over budget disputes and set up shop a MGM, Friz was not made a director.

Fed up with waiting, Friz went back to Leon Schlesinger. A man named Earl Duvall had just completed two films as a last ditch effort to prove his worth at the studio. Leon was less than impressed with what he saw. Friz took those films and re-editted them and fixed or improved and timing problems they had. Leon was so impressed by what Friz had done that Earl was immediately fired and Friz was made the head director of the entire studio. A year later, he would create Porky Pig their first major star. (Yes, some people believe that Bob Clampett created Porky by drawing that picture of Porky and Beans for the character design contest the studio had. But, that arguement comes around again because Clampett got the model of the Porky he drew from the model sheet Friz made for Porky's first cartoon I Haven't Got a Hat).

Also, if it wasn't for Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones wouldn't have realized his potential. Chuck Jones' first years as a director at Warner Bros. were a bit shaky to say the least. His penchant to try to immitate the Disney style really put a damper on the irreverent Looney Tuney-ness they had come to establish. For this reason, Leon Schlesinger was ready to demote Jones back down to animator. But, Friz Freleng stepped forward and said, "Come on, Leon, give the kid a chance. He'll make you proud someday." So, Jones stayed a director and did indeed made the entire studio proud to have him. Jones accomplishments are to be the subject of an entirely different post so I won't pad an already lengthy post with them.

Besides Porky, Friz would create two other major characters at the studio: Sylvester and Yosemite Sam. When Bob Clampett exitted the studio (for reasons that are clouded in mystery to this day) Friz asked if he could pair Bob's little Tweety bird with his cat Sylvester. The result was not only a brilliant comedic team but also got Looney Tunes it's first Oscar for the cartoon Tweetie Pie (c. 1947). Friz won another Oscar with Sylvester & Tweety for Birds Anonymous (c. 1957) and even won with Yosemite Sam for Knighty Knight Bugs (c. 1958).

But Friz would also win an Oscar with someone else's character. Bob McKimson created Speedy Gonzales in a catoon called Cat Tails for Two (c. 1953). Speedy somewhat acted like his familiar self but he looked a little different. All he wore was a red T-shirt and had a gold tooth. For some reason, McKimson planned to walk away from that character. So, Friz picked him up and had his layout man Hawley Pratt redesign him into the sombrero clad hero we know him as today. That cartoon, Speedy Gonzales (c. 1955) went on to win an Oscar. McKimson would come back to Speedy and make the Oscar nominated Tobasco Road (c. 1957). After that, Friz and McKimson would each assume the duties of making Speedy cartoons.

The studio closed down in 1962. However, Friz was not caught with his guard down. He had been involved in a partnership with David DePatie for a while at that point. So, when the hammer came down, the two men started their own studio. Since they were using the very animation equipment and studios that Warner Bros. had just abandoned, Jack Warner himself that they release cartoons through Warner Bros. as well. So, the DePatie Freleng studio went to work on a new series of Roadrunner cartoons (sadly without Chuck Jones directing them) as well as Daffy & Speedy cartoons. The budgets on those were consierably lower because the studio was also working on an original character of their's namely the Pink Panther. That character did much better. He won an Oscar in 1964 for The Pink Phink even.

Despite all these ccomplishments, John K has taken many oppurtunities to belittle the man on his blog as well as in interviews. Well, since today is Friz's day, I'll let him deal with John.


  1. David, thanks for posting all of this! I must admit I didn't know most of it (Freleng's early career especially is quite mysterious to me).

  2. A bit of a corection here. When came back to Schlesinger to play spin doctor, it wasn't Earl Duvall that needed correcting, it was Tom Palmer.

  3. Thanks, JD. I knew it was one of those two guys.

  4. Great Post David! I really enjoyed the read about Friz!

  5. Thanks for the post! Really enjoyed it:)