Monday, September 19, 2011

Earl Kress

One of the unexpected pleasures of putting out the dusty old bits and pieces and musings that you read here is that there are others who want to take time out of whatever they’re doing to help.

I’ve been very fortunate that one of those was Earl Kress.

Earl passed away of cancer this morning.

That’s Earl you see in the picture with the world’s perennial teenager, Janet Waldo, at ComiCon last year.

Unlike other obits you’ll read on the net, this writer had never met Earl, never worked with him, and didn’t really know anything about his career; the cartoons I like most are of a vintage before Earl started writing them. But he really loved the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons and the studio.

Fans who have DVDs, or have watched cartoons on the internet ripped from the DVDs, of the Huck and Yogi shows, the Flintstones and Top Cat, can thank Earl for his work in getting them released, and with extras we might never have seen otherwise. He worked on a Quick Draw McGraw DVD which, sadly, we likely will never see. Quick Draw was Earl’s favourite character and he was always a little sad that, first, restoration, and then music rights issues got in the way of it being released.

I suspect few media executives know, or care, about production library music from the 1950s. But Earl did. When the Rhino discs of Hanna-Barbera themes and music came out in 1996, he managed to get included nine Capitol Hi-Q pieces by Phil Green that fans had never heard without dialogue over the top. He did it with a “hey, listen to this” sense of glee. Earl had gone over the cue sheets for a bunch of the cartoons in the Hanna-Barbera library, made some notes, and off he went. He saw Ole Georg at Capitol, where someone went into their archives, found the music he was looking for—including a piece by Hecky Krasnow—and played it for him. He went to Cinemusic where they told him even they didn’t have some of Jack Shaindlin’s music any more, but gave him the address of someone who had preserved the cues on film. Even then, he couldn’t find everything he was hoping for, including the original version of his favourite Shaindlin cue, ‘On the Run.’ After all that, only a deal could be worked out for Green’s music. I remember being astounded and really excited when I heard the cues for the first time. I had been trying to track down the library for more than 20 years and here was some of the music I was looking for. Others wanted to hear it, too. They’ve even come to this blog to do it. Credit Earl.

Earl was a friend and student of Daws Butler. And he personally knew an awful lot of old-timers who had worked on many of his favourite Hanna-Barbera cartoons, which must have been a real treat.

Quite unexpectedly one day, Earl dropped me a note about the cartoon music cues and asked me if he could help me with any of them. And that’s the way he was. He generously shared information and offered things from his collection when he didn’t have to. But we both liked the same cartoons and he really wanted to help. And he did.

Earl had many great, supportive friends and they’re all suffering a sad loss today.

Thanks so much for everything, Earl. I’m going to miss you.


Stu Shostak has broadcast a tribute show to Earl, featuring an old interview about his career and the H-B studio. You can go here and download it. Head to the bottom of the page.

8 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute to a great animation star.

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  2. This is very sad. I didn't even know he was ill and had cancer. I was just watching his Arnold Stang interview a week ago. Now both of them are gone. Damn life.

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  3. To be honest, Mr. C., I didn't know what Earl had until I read something yesterday. I knew he'd been in hospital and we had corresponded since he came out, but I didn't really want to ask and perhaps people thought I knew or had put two-and-two together.

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  4. My DVD collection is infinitely better because of Earl Kress!

    I could never thank him enough!

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  5. So sorry to hear of Earl's passing. I too, had no idea he was sick. His knowledge and perspective will be sorely missed. Joe is right, the DVD collection is much better because of him.

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  6. Earl was a fighter. He had a heart transplant over 20 years ago, and these two decades plus were a gift to us all. When his cancer was diagnosed early this year, he was determined to lick it... or at least to push it back and get more time. We had plans to visit Walt Disney World together in November, and that was what he was fighting for... one last trip to Epcot. He had all our meals planned out and reservations made. I'm going on that trip, and keeping every one of those reservations at the Epcot and Disney World restaurants he dearly loved. There will be an empty seat at each meal and it won't exactly be the happiest of trips. But I told him I'd do exactly that and I will, in his memory. In addition to the great Capitol music, Earl and I also collected much of the extinct Disney theme park music. Now, when I come across a great find, my first instinct is to call Earl and say, "Guess what I found!" My best pal is gone and there is no one to call.
    Rick Greene

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  7. In the animation business and in life, Earl Kress was a class act. His recent battle with cancer is becoming well-documented online but the other battle Earl heroically fought was an ongoing one with ageism in the entertainment industry. Earl was as funny, perceptive and on the money in his work up to the day he passed as he ever was but he remained relatively underemployed in recent years simply because those in power perceived those years as piling up in number. This was not for any lack of effort on his part. Earl was in there pitching up to the last moment he could. He is thankfully now in a better and, let us hope, fairer place.

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  8. Anon, thanks for pointing that out. I don't want to misquote Earl or the occasion, but I read a note from him .. I think it was when he had his birthday last year .. that what he really wanted was some work.
    It's too bad. The generation that originated the saying "Never trust anyone over 30" is being victimised by a new generation which, basically, thinks the same thing; that those oldsters are out of touch with today because they grew up in an era with a different popular culture (one many in today's generation can't relate to). And it'll happen another generation from now.
    There's a real sad irony in Earl's case because when he started in animation, the industry was still full of old Hollywood (and New York) veteran animators and writers.

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