Tuesday, May 08, 2007
It's Bob Clampett's birthday
That's right, today is Bob Clampett's birthday. He'd be 94 today had he survived that heart attack in Detroit 23 years ago.
First, a quick bio:
Bob Clampett showed an interest in both drawing and puppetry at a very young age. All throughout his childhood and adolescence he'd constantly draw many comic strips. While still in high school he even got a job drawing for William Randolph Hearst.
But then in 1928, he like most of the world fell in love with a little film called Steamboat Willie.He was even inspired to make a small statue of Mickey. He'd attend as many showings of Steamboat Willie as he could in order to get a good idea of Mickey's construction. Once completed, he said that he would like to make many more of these statues and maybe try to sell them. His aunt heard this and said, "you can't just up and do that, you need permission from whomever owns the character first." So, since he lived in San Diego, it was only a short drive to Los Angeles for him and his aunt and then to the Disney studios. When Walt took a look at that statue, he was not only inspired to start the Disney merchandising division (which of course still exists today) but also grant the 16 year old Bob a job. "Right now we're in the middle of moving to a bigger facility," Walt said. "But, when everything is finally up and running, you're guaranteed a job there, young man."
However, the rambunctious Bob Clampett couldn't wait that long. He wanted an animation job NOW!!!! Luckily, the Leon Schlesinger studio had a position open so Bob took that one instead. Since he was new and quite young, he was under thumb of Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Friz Freleng, and a few hack directors Leon had hired from Disney. Thankfully though, Bob along with Chuck Jones and several other disgruntled underlings were reassigned to Termite Terrace when Tex Avery joined the studio. It was there that these men would revolutionize animator for the better forever. Some of Bob's accomplishments at Warner Bros. were the creation of Tweety, the co-creation of Daffy Duck, and the refinement of both Porky Pig's and Bugs Bunny's designs.
There is some speculation as to why Bob Clampett wasn't at Warner Bros. after 1946. Some say he just quit while some say he was fired. Based on what I've read and/or heard on the subject, I suspect it was a bit of both. Either way, he was out on his own in the late '40's. He experimented with several projects at this time. He even did some animated films for Republic studios.
But, Bob Clampett truly hit the big time when his own puppet show Time For Beany debuted in 1949. This show would win several Emmys and create a huge following to boot (even attracting such high profile fans as Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein). Not only that, it introduced some puppeteering techniques that would be incorporated into the Muppets a few years later. I have no information as to Jim Henson's opinion of Bob Clampett's work, but I do know that muppeteer Dave Goelz (best known as the voice of Gonzo) cites Time For Beany as an influence. Time For Beany would become an animated series called Beany & Cecil in 1962.
Well, that's enough about the man's life for now. I'm not A&E y'know. Now lets talk about his work.
Besides the amazing elasticity, relentless energy, captivating yet seemingly disjointed stry-telling ability, there's also one other element of his work that I enjoy partly because it really helps him stand out from the rest: the playful imp that can't be killed. That's the way he approached Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He'd likewise pit Porky Pig or Elmer Fudd against such a character. You can see that element quite plainly in this cartoon below:
All this merely scrathces the surface of what makes Bob great. I think it would take at least three lifetimes to fully experience everything Bob Clampett has to offer. We should count ourselves lucky to even have one lifetime exposed to his work.
In short, Happy Birthday Bob.