Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jerry Eisenberg, Part Six, Final

If you’d like to read the full interview starting at the beginning, click HERE and click on the links at the end of each part to continue.

What follows is a hodgepodge of reminiscences by Jerry of his work—in no chronological or particular order—at the end of our chat.

You may have noticed nowhere does a name come up that is synonymous with Hanna-Barbera cartoons—Hoyt Curtin. Jerry mentioned him when I talked to him several days before the interview and simply said he saw him around the studio sometimes.

The impression I get from Jerry’s comments throughout our talk was he spent a lot of time in his layout room with Iwao Takamoto (who wrote an interesting autobiography) but not an awful lot with the rest of the staff, hence his paucity of remembrances about other H-B co-workers, at least when it comes to the period I was interested in. He’s invited me to call again some time and talk some more.

Just a note about Alan Dinehart. Alan changed his name in 1936 because of his son. Here’s a short newspaper story:


Alan Dinehart Has His Name Changed
HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 8 (UP). — Alan Dinehart, writer and screen actor, was baptized “Harold Alan” but today was legally named Mason Alan Dinehart. He applied for the change of name for his writing but will continue as Alan Dinehart on the screen. Mrs. Dinehart, whose stage name was Mozeig Britton, explained his 11-weeks-old son could now legally become Alan Dinehart III, as the actor-author’s father was Mason Alan Dinehart.

Someone asked me before the interview to ask about the death of Jerry’s dad, the wonderful comic artist Harvey Eisenberg. That’ll come up in a moment. Here’s the last part of our conversation.

Yowp: You left Hanna-Barbera when?

Jerry: I left the first time in 1975. I was doing some freelance work, helping to develop a feature project for a Japanese company. I even took a leave of absence for six months to go to Tokyo for some final development. And while I was there, this friend of mine who was in layout with us, his name was Takashi [Masunaga], he’s the one who came up with the idea for that feature. It was based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I read a book on a lot of his stories. We did about five stories in the feature. I read one called Pyramus and Thisbe and thinking “This is Romeo and Juliet.” So Shakespeare got his idea from Ovid. While I was in Tokyo, we’re having a drink one night and he said “Hey, we’re ready to go into production in a couple of weeks.” And I was thinking “You know, I don’t just want to work on this on the side. I want to work on it full time.” So, when I came back, I gave my notice. It was an easy decision because I loved the feature project and it gave me a lot of new experiences. I got to be a sequence director. I had never done animation directing. And I had some really good animators that gave me a lot of help.

Yowp: What was Joe’s reaction to you giving your notice?

Jerry: He was always pretty cool about things. Who knows what he was saying privately. I was there for two years on the feature. During the second year, I was helping Ruby and Spears. They were working in house at ABC, which was near us in Hollywood. We were down on Sunset and Vine and ABC was just down the street on Vine. And they’d come over and they’d ask me if I could do some freelance work for them developing some stuff. The network was doing their own in-house development. Silverman was in charge in those days and if he’d like something, then he’d go to the studios and have them develop it further. And it was...what was your question?

Yowp: What Joe’s reaction was to your resignation.

Jerry: Oh, here’s what I was getting at. A couple of times, I’d meet with Joe [Ruby] and Ken [Spears] for lunch and they’d have one of the fellows from the network, Peter Roth, a really nice young guy, and we were meeting at the Villa Capri in Hollywood, and that was one of Joe’s favourite places. When we got up to leave, I heard my name and it was Joe [Barbera] calling. So I went over to him and spoke to him and he said “How’s things going” and I said “Well, things are winding down at San Rio and they want me to stay on for a year and do a comic strip for them. I’m not sure if I’m interested in that.” And he said “Well, why don’t you come and meet with me, I’d like to get you back at Hanna-Barbera.” So, I ended up going back to Hanna-Barbera and he treated me so well. It’s interesting. In those days, you used to hear when people would leave they’d be treated better when they came back. That was my experience. He let me do what I wanted to do and there was no haggling about how much money I wanted. I felt bad when Ruby and Spears approached me about three, four months later and said “We have an opportunity to open our own studio and we’d like you to be our producer and art director.” And I was very interested, but I said “I wish you guys were doing this about a year or so from now because Joe just brought me back.” I really had mixed emotions but it offered me more new experiences. I got to be a producer. And I was offered participation, besides net profits. I mean royalties on stuff I would design.

Yowp: Are you still collecting from that?

Jerry: No. Unless they do some new episodes. I wasn’t thinking about syndication.

Yowp: You were mentioning studios would shut down for periods of time. Was that the case at the time you arrived at Hanna-Barbera?

Jerry: It was only at Warners Bros. I experienced that. They would send out something to all the employees. They would show like maybe three different two-week periods in the summer. One could be in June, July and August. And people would vote for the period they wanted. So whichever got the biggest vote, the whole studio would close. Everybody would have to be off for two weeks at that time.

Yowp: But Hanna-Barbera kept operating twelve months a year.

Jerry: Oh, yeah. But a lot of people were seasonal. When a production was finished, not everybody could shift into development. Our development group was maybe an average of six or seven artists, three or four writers or so.

Yowp: Was there ever a time that a series, say The Flintstones, wouldn’t be in production?

Jerry: Usually production would go for six months. Maybe The Flintstones could have gone a little bit longer because they were half-hour shows. Once the production was over, we’d go into development starting in October and it would last until March, sometimes April, then back into production.

Yowp: I’ve seen stuff about voice actors coming over the winter months to record.

Jerry: Unless it was redoing something. You know, I remember the first voice of Flintstone, Alan Reed. He looked like Flintstone. I couldn’t get over it. I’d bump into him sometimes when he’d come in the studio. Very nice man. And he was from radio. And in some movies. Did you ever see the Marlon Brando film Viva Zapata?

Yowp: No.

Jerry: Alan played Pancho Villa and he was terrific in that.

Yowp: Did you have much interaction with Daws or Mel Blanc or the other voice actors?

Jerry: Once in a while, but not a lot.

Yowp: Because I figured they’d come in and Joe Barbera would direct them, or Alan Dinehart, then they’d go home.

Jerry: Oh, Dinehart was great. What a funny man. He dressed very flamboyantly. He always had a funny joke. Oh, let me tell you something about Alan. In World War Two, I knew him for 18 years before I found this out—he was in the O.S.S. He was a spy. He and a team of four others, he told me, they would be in German uniforms, working behind the lines. I know how it came about. I was working with Joe and Ken at Ruby-Spears and Joe was telling me “Oh, I was at Alan’s house for a dinner party on Saturday night and last week I was asking him ‘Who’s going to be there?’ and one of the people he mentioned was William Webster.” And Webster was either, at that time, still the head of the FBI or the former head. And Joe thought “Ah, sure, sure.” Then he said “When I got there, there he was.” And it came out that Webster was in the O.S.S. with Alan during the war. I feel a chill now thinking about it. And Alan never said a word for 18 years. You know how some people will brag about almost nothing.

Yowp: All I know about him is he was directing live television before Joe Barbera called him to offer him a job.

Jerry: Well, the way I heard it from Alan was that he was directing live television back in New York, mostly comedy stuff. Alan told me “John Mitchell asked me to come out with Hanna-Barbera.” But then, one time, Joe said “I brought him out.” I think I believe Alan’s story.
I was getting together with him once in a while and I would ask him “What can tell me about your days in the O.S.S. that’s still not classified?” because he was, technically, like still in the C.I.A., even though he wasn’t active. He said “I’ll call you, I’m going to be in town next week.” So he didn’t call. And then two week later, his son called and said “Dad was in the hospital, had some stomach problems and he died suddenly, unexpectedly. The doctor was surprised.”
[Dinehart died March 14, 1992]. What a wonderful man. And what a brave guy to be in the O.S.S. He could speak fluent German and impersonate different types.

Yowp: Joe Barbera was briefly in the comic book business with your father. Did your dad tell you anything about it?

Jerry: Somewhere in the late ’40s, he and Joe teamed up. It was all secret. They published a copy of comics called Red Rabbit and Foxy Fagan. It was being printed back in Chicago. And I remember my father saying to me, I was a kid, “Don’t say anything to your friends because I’m under contract to Western Publishing and Joe was under contract to MGM.” And it probably lasted a couple of years and I guess they both got too busy to continue it. Or maybe the sales started lagging or something.

Yowp: When did he leave MGM?

Jerry: My father left, I think, in 1945, ’46, somewhere in there.

Yowp: And that’s when Bick took over?

Jerry: Yeah, probably. I only got to know him when I got to Hanna-Barbera in 1961.

Yowp: Kenny Muse was at MGM when you were there. Were you close to him?

Jerry: Not close to him, but I’d see him there. He was a nice man. I think he had a hearing aid. Oh, he was a machine. I think I also heard he had a problem with one or both of his ears, some kind of pain. He used to drink, too. Maybe that would dull the pain.

Yowp: I gather a lot of guys drank back then. Did it interfere with work that much?

Jerry: Most of them could handle it. There was a young guy who worked in our layout department, Joel, and he could drink but it never affected him. One day, we went to lunch at this Chinese restaurant that was real popular and I think he had about ten martinis. But it didn’t affect him.

Yowp: He went back to work that afternoon?!

Jerry: Yeah. We were all in the layout department. His name was Joel Seibel. He lives in Minnesota now, but he does freelance work from there. Joel must have joined us in the late ‘60s, mid ‘60s. In fact, the famous Ernie Nordli from Disney joined us at Hanna-Barbera for awhile. He was terrific. And a nice person.

Yowp: He committed suicide [in 1968]. And his son committed suicide about 15 years later [in 1984]. I saw his name on at least one of the Yogi shorts. I don’t know if he worked on the Yogi feature. But I understand Friz did.

Jerry: Yeah, he came over before the feature. I think he came over in ’62 because that’s when Warners closed their division. He came in with a guy named Vic Haboush. He eventually opened his own commercial studio called the Haboush Company. They did wonderful stuff. But he and Friz were developing some ideas because I remember seeing some storyboards they had on the wall. You know, I can’t tell you what the project was. I can’t remember it.

Yowp: That was at Hanna-Barbera.

Jerry: At Hanna-Barbera. They were probably there not more than six months, I’m sure, because when was it that Friz and David DePatie opened up DePatie-Freleng?

Yowp: Some time in 1963.

Jerry: They probably were planning that so he didn’t stay at Hanna-Barbera very long. DePatie was a film editor at Warner Bros. and David’s father was E.L. DePatie, Jack Warner’s number two man, or number one man. And E.L. put David into the cartoon division when I was still there. He was made the producer.

Yowp: That’s when John Burton left.

Jerry: Yeah. He was the production manager when I started there, then he became the producer when Ed Selzer retired but then David DePatie was put in there by his father and I guess they moved John Burton out.

Yowp: Jerry, what about your dad? Did he just retire from comics, or—

Jerry: No, no. He passed away. He died, it was heart trouble, back in 1965. Unfortunately, there was so many things I thought of since then to ask him that I wish I had thought of back then, but I was still pretty young. He had a couple of heart attacks and I remember I saw him for the last time in ICU, and he looked so good when my sister and I went in there, and it looked like he was really recovering. And I got a call at 4 in the morning the next morning that he had passed away. My father was only 53. But, you see, in those days I don’t think they were doing bypasses. I think he would have lived longer if they had already started doing them in those days.

Yowp: Are there any specific shows you designed you remember best, not series but individual cartoons?

Jerry: I wish I could remember certain episodes. I can’t. But I worked besides, Pixie and Dixie, [on] Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf. I worked on so much. There was Secret Squirrel, Atom Ant, Inch High Private Eye, Squiddly Diddly. There was Touché Turtle. They used to call Iwao and me, I’m tall and Iwao was real short. They’d call him Touche and I was the dog in the show, Dumm Dumm. The Hair Bear Bunch, I remember designing those and did layout work on them. And Iwao and I did the presentation storyboard. Oh, and there was a couple of cute little shows we did presentation boards for, the Space Kidettes and Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles.

Yowp: So you designed the characters on the Space Kidettes?

Jerry: All the little kids? I pretty much did all those. Who else designed stuff? Iwao, myself. I remember Willie designing a dog called Goober. There was a show called Goober and the Ghost Chasers. And then there was a man named Bill Perez. I don’t know if he designed any characters but he designed a lot of titles for Joe. He was very good at title designs, because Bill came over from UPA. I loved what they used to do at UPA. Really nice, modern stuff.

Yowp: When I was a kid, I saw their TV stuff and I thought how incredibly bad it was. I’d rather watch Huckleberry Hound.

Jerry: Well, Joe used to do a lot of the writing in the early years. I remember one night I was over there and he was showing me he was drawing his script, like Tony Benedict and Mike Maltese used to.
Don Jurwich was producing the Tom and Jerry Kids series. Don got me to come back and I met with Joe to work with them on that back in ’89. And we did that for about five or six years and it was really great to work with Joe who was very actively involved. And we’d go over the storyboards with him, and he was funny, and came up with all kinds of funny stuff.


Yowp: Was Don at Disney?

Jerry: He joined us in Hanna-Barbera in the mid to late ‘60s. He had worked in the Cartoonists Guild at other studios like Jay Ward, on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Don was mainly a layout man and also he could write. In fact, he and I and this writer Jim Ryan created a short for that short programme at Hanna-Barbera and Don and I co-directed it. It was a good collaboration. It was great working with Don and Joe on Tom and Jerry Kids. One of the elements in the show was Droopy. Then we did the Droopy show for one season. There was two shorts of Droopy then a character called Screwball Squirrel which Tex Avery had done back in the ‘40s. I liked that squirrel character.

Yowp: The writers were kind of limited, though, weren’t they? They weren’t allowed to do some of the funny violence gags Tex used to come up with.

Jerry: In the early years at Hanna-Barbera, we’d use guns and stuff but eventually that all got phased out. Standards and Practices. We never had to deal with them in the early years at Hanna-Barbera. And when they’ve rerun old cartoons over the years, they’ve had to edit out certain violent things. The old Bugs Bunny things.
I remember when I worked at Warner Bros. helping to do the assistant work on the opening titles for The Bugs Bunny Show.


Yowp: I understand Gerry Chiniquy was the animator on at least some of that.

Jerry: Oh, probably. I think Ken Harris and I did some of the stuff. Maybe all the units were involved in that show. They would show some of the old cartoons but with new animation in between them. I liked it. We must have done that back in 1960.
But those were the days. I remember when The Huckleberry Hound Show came out and Yogi Bear. Wow, it made such a big hit. That really put them on the map. I’m sure Hanna and Barbera did very well with the merchandising.


Yowp: You didn’t have anything to do with that end of it?

Jerry: Nope. They had some guy back east who was handling merchandising for them at one time, Ed Justin.

With that, we wrapped up the interview. I hope it’s been worth your time reading.

6 comments:

  1. Very nice articles, Yowp.. Excellent way to wrap that series of entries. BTW The Yogi Bear Show had its 50th anniversary on January 30 this year..

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  2. Ed Justin was in charge of merchandising for all of Screen Gems' series. I recall seeing ads with his photo and signature -- "Honest Ed Justin" -- with dollar signs used for the "s". Unfortunately, the "honest" wasn't quite true as I also recall stories of his crafty way of manipulating the studio's dollars. I can't remember the specifics so I won't go so far as to use the word "embezzlement," but I think it came very close.

    Thanks for getting these 6 parts up so quickly, Yowp. I realize a lot of the series that Jerry worked on do not hold any interest for you and that's why the interview doesn't have many stories. But I would love to hear more about the development at the studio -- what was developed by never sold; what was developed but changed, ruined and actually sold/produced, etc. Plus, many of Jerry's series hold such a fond place in my childhood memories. Detailed stories about them would have been fun too. Oh well, I guess that's for another blog. :-)

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  3. Here's a link ( I hope links work here) to a funny story about the beginning of Screen Gem's merchandising and Ed Justin:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/freddie-gershon/myrnaprehistoricjourneyto_b_754675.html

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  4. Interesting note on thoes two week shutdowns at Warners. Perhaps it was in one of these breaks that Virgil Ross perpatrated his "Let’s Duck Out" animating at Hanna Barbera?

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  5. Ernie Nordli commmitted suicide? That's unfortunate - I wonder why he took away his life?

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  6. Great series, Yowp. Thanks!!

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