When we last left young Jerry Eisenberg, he was waving goodbye to Chuck Jones and Warner Bros. on his way to a new job in the world of television animation.
Part of the interview talks about Dan Gordon, who worked with Joe Barbera at Terrytoons in the ‘30s. Barbera has a couple of funny Dan Gordon stories in his autobiography and writes:
Gordon was brilliant and impulsive, and went on to work for Hanna-Barbera when he created the first “Flintstones” storyboards.
Barbera also reveals Gordon was an aficionado of “Mount Vernon rye, neat.” And we don’t mean the bread kind. Unfortunately, Gordon had a problem with alcohol long before he was a charter member of the Hanna-Barbera studio in 1957. Iwao Takamoto related in his book about the days when Gordon worked at the Fleischer studio in Florida, circa 1940:
Stan [Green, Takamoto’s former assistant at Disney] used to drive Dan to and from the studio, because Dan was too inebriated to drive himself. One time, Stan said, Dan had not bothered to close the door after getting in, and when Stan took a sharp turn, the door flew open, and in a flash there was no more Dan. He had fallen onto the road. But he was so “protected” by alcohol he was not even hurt.
This part of the interview was intended to deal with the short cartoons like Huck, which is the focus of the blog, but Jerry jumped ahead several years, so we backed up in time a little later in our chat. That means you’ll be reading later about The Jetsons, including the work on the show by Bobe Cannon.
Yowp: Was Joe Barbera the one who hired you to do layout at Hanna-Barbera?
Jerry: Right. Yes. You see, the layout department was Joe’s department. Joe and Bill divided the duties. Joe was handling the creative end of things and Hanna was running the studio. The layout department was Joe’s because six months out of the year, several of us would do development work with him. And then, once the shows were sold, we’d work six months on production. And Bill would run camera, and ink and paint, and animation. But Joe reserved the layout department [for himself] which was good, because we didn’t have to deal with Hanna.
Yowp: Was Hanna-Barbera paying scale at that time?
Jerry: Well, whatever the union scale was, I guess so. There were probably some people making premium but, I think, when I started there I was at assistant animation scale—maybe it was a little bit more for layout—but then I remember after about four months, Joe Barbera called me in and said “We’re raising you to such-and-such.” And I guess in the contract it called for every so many months in layout and you get a raise. Then you become a journeyman.
Yowp: I was checking some credits on the cartoons after you arrived at the studio to find your name. There’s a Pixie and Dixie cartoon.
Jerry: I know I worked on some of the Pixie and Dixie shorts.
Yowp: It was called Magician Jinks and the thing that was really cool about it is Jinks conjures up a dinosaur with a rhinoceros horn. It has a very Flintstones look. I’m presuming you would have designed the incidental characters in it.
Jerry: In those days, we used to design the incidentals and the props and the backgrounds. We didn’t have a model department, although on some of the lead characters, Dick Bickenbach did some of those. Later on, I did some, Iwao Takamoto did some, and I can’t remember who else.
What I really liked the best as far as layout was laying out on The Jetsons series. I liked the future stuff. You didn’t have to follow any rules, you could really use your imagination on what things might look like or how they worked. I really enjoyed that but we only did it for one season, unfortunately.
Yowp: How long did it take to lay out the shorts?
Jerry: Most of them were like, five, six, seven minutes, maybe. Probably seven, because you’d do three in a half hour and you have to allow about nine or ten minutes for commercials. But I used to lay them out in a week or less. I remember Hanna started an incentive thing. He wanted to get work done quicker, so he said “Look, if you guys can lay it out in less than five days, you get extra money. So I used to average four days and get an extra day’s pay. Instead of five days, I get six days. And that was nice; the money came in handy. Willie Ito was pretty fast.
Bill Hanna did something I didn’t like. Are you familiar with Dan Gordon?
Yowp: Oh, yes.
Jerry: Well, his son Kevin came to work there; Dan got him in and he was going to do layout. And Dan was telling me that Bill was meeting with Kevin and somebody in accounting kept records of what everybody was doing. And Kevin was saying “How much time do I have? What’s the schedule?” So Bill said to the lady “What does Jerry do?” And, of course, I was one of the fastest there. And he wanted Kevin to do pretty much what I was doing. And that wasn’t fair because people work at different speeds. I really didn’t like that and Dan didn’t like it, either.
Yowp: I don’t recall Kevin’s name being on any credits at all.
Jerry: Well, I don’t know why not. Unfortunately, Kevin died back then [in 1964, age 28]. He was a smoker and he fell asleep with a lit cigarette. He was living in some apartment and probably died of smoke inhalation. That was a tragedy for Dan. And then Dan’s other son died in a car accident not long after that.
My father really liked him [Dan]. He was really a nice man and very, very talented. He was a big help. But I thought that was shtty what Bill did with his son. He should have gotten an average. Let’s say there was ten of us in layout, what was the average amount of time for laying out a short. I probably was averaging four days or a little over. Other people were maybe taking the full five days or longer. Or maybe someone was doing it in three and a half days. But it wasn’t fair to expect Kevin to do what I was doing.
Yowp: Had he worked in another studio before that?
Jerry: I really don’t remember.
Yowp: And in Dan Gordon’s case, and your dad’s, they worked with Joe Barbera back in New York.
Jerry: Well, yeah, that’s where they met Dan and his brother George Gordon and a lot of other old-timers.
Yowp: Art Lozzi was saying he and Monty [Fernando Montealegre] and Bob Gentle, who were painting backgrounds, all had different styles. Can you look at a layout and figure that it’s one guy’s style over another?
Jerry: Oh, yes, I could tell the difference, my style, Iwao’s, Willie’s, Bickenbach, Walt Clinton and there was a funny guy from Texas. Lance Nolley. He’d come over from Disney. I think there was a big layoff at Disney so Joe and Bill got the benefit of getting a lot of good people from there.
Yowp: Did the layout guys choose the colour schemes for the cartoons?
Jerry: Sometimes. I remember being involved when I was supervising layouts for some of the shows later on, I’d work with the ink and paint people selecting colours.
Yowp: I take it you’d get a board from, say, Warren [Foster] or Alex...
Jerry: Oh, Alex Lovy. His stuff was terrific. We loved laying out off of his boards.
Yowp: So you get boards from them. How much of what they put on the board did you hew to when you started doing the layouts?
Jerry: Well, if it was Alex’s board, his posing was terrific, you know. He didn’t really draw on model. Sometimes, his drawing we liked better than the official model.
Like, take Wally Gator, the alligator character. Alex used to draw Wally; his was so funny-looking, we preferred it to the original model. But we had to do it like the model.
Yowp: So, when you arrived, was there a head of layout?
Jerry: Well, Bick sort of was the head of layout, but it really wasn’t formalised that much, but we used to take our layouts for him to check and even Joe Barbera liked to look over our layouts once in a while; we’d take them up to his office. I learned a lot from Joe. And Bick. And Joe kept doing that up until, let’s see, in ’63 their building was built up from where we were on Cahuenga and we moved in there, and Joe was still looking at our layouts maybe for a couple of years or so, then he got too darned busy.
Yowp: How much direction did the layout guys give to the background people in putting together stuff?
Jerry: We would design the background and they would pretty much follow them. Sometimes, they would add stuff. I remember on The Jetsons, Monty and the guys were doing a beautiful job on some of our backgrounds ‘cause I remember Iwao and I would go and look at the finished backgrounds. I saved some, thank goodness, they’re just beautifully painted. But once in a while, they’d put in a plant, like a potted plant, and my criticism was sometimes it would be a little too strong and would distract from, let’s say, the characters. I always tried to be careful when I staged a scene that the background wasn’t overly busy behind the character or something wasn’t going to distract from the character. So once in a while we’d have to ask them to modify stuff like that, or tone it down.
Yowp: I imagine laying out a half-hour show like a Jetsons is somewhat different than a short. What kind of process was involved?
Jerry: Well, as far as the layout process, we had teams. Myself, Iwao Takamoto and Jack Huber were a layout team and there were usually three acts to a half-hour show like that. We’d each do an act. We’d do the characters and the backgrounds and the props and everything. Then, of course, it would go to the animation director who would do the exposure sheets and time it out, then it would go to animation and background.
Yowp: Can you clarify some of the titles for me? You’d see Alex or Paul Sommer get a ‘story director’ credit and Nick Nichols would get an ‘animation director’ credit. What’s the difference between the two?
Jerry: Nick, you might say, was the animation timer. He would do the exposure sheets, time everything out. And he was so good and so fast at that. He was amazing. He could do so much work. He came over from Disney; he was an animation director at Disney on a lot of their shorts. But he was very fast, he really developed in a different way on the television stuff. Of course, the story director was doing the storyboards. I don’t know why they used that term.
Yowp: They changed somewhere during the middle of one of the seasons [1959-60]. Originally, Dan Gordon got a credit to do story sketches and then suddenly Alex got a credit as a story director.
Jerry: I think the ‘story director’ title made more sense to me when they started doing storyboards from a script, rather than a writer’s storyboard. Once things started getting so busy, especially with The Flintstones, Joe was hiring writers who had written on The Honeymooners and they didn’t know how to draw so we’d just get scripts and the storyboard guy would be more of a story director when you’re doing a board off of a script.
Yowp: How long would it take to lay out one sequence from The Jetsons or The Flintstones?
Jerry: One week per act, I guess. Hanna was never that generous with the time. Later on, it was a little more generous after he and Joe sold the studio. Joe always regretted that.
Click for Part three ... including Lame Loopy and the creation of The Flintstones.