Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Man Who Met Snagglepuss Only Once

Many people from animation’s Golden Age eventually punched time cards at Hanna-Barbera during its first dozen years. Some stayed for long periods. Others seem to have worked on a cartoon or two, possibly on a freelance basis, then moved on. One of them was Gil Turner.

Turner was one of a number of people who moved from studio to studio, though calling him a journeyman animator is perhaps unfair because he was elevated to a director’s chair at UPA. You may know his name from Warner Bros.; he worked in the Hardaway-Dalton unit in the late ‘30s and then for Friz Freleng. You could recall him from Woody Woodpecker cartoons as he had a stop at Walter Lantz in the early ‘50s as well. But he also popped in at Hanna-Barbera and apparently worked on one cartoon—the Snagglepuss entry “Remember Your Lions” (1961), with a funny story by Mike Maltese that’s so Warner-esque (dim adversary fooled by disguises, bad puns), you expect to see a Snag-in-drag scene.

There’s plenty about Turner’s non-theatrical work on the internet. His work in comic books gets more praise than what he did in animated cartoons. David Gerstein, a fine and meticulous researcher in both mediums, noted:


[Turner] successfully turned the LITTLE RED RIDING RABBIT model of the Wolf into Disney's own model. That always amuses me. What I mean is—instead of drawing the Disney Wolf, he drew the Looney Tunes wolf in the Disney wolf's outfit.

But there’s not much biographical information about him, so I’ll post a little bit. I was fortunate to find two newspaper obituaries (see one to the left). And census records have a few things to add.

Gilbert H. Turner was born in December 1, 1911 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the eldest of two sons of Charles Edward and Alice Marie (Gilbert) Turner. The family was living in Chatsworth, California by 1920. His father was a warehouse clerk for the Los Angeles County road department before turning to mechanical engineering and then fruit farming. Turner began his animation career at Walt Disney in 1932. The website coa.inducks.org states he spent the years 1936 to 1938 at Jam Handy in Detroit before going to Leon Schlesinger’s studio where he was paid $3900 a year. Martha Sigall relates in her autobiography that Tex Avery played a prank on Turner by filling a bottle in the studio’s Coke machine with alcohol, recapping it, then watching the reaction of Turner, who thought he was drinking pop (Tex Avery’s interview/biography by Joe Adamson has the trick played on Art Goble, but Avery wasn’t sure). Martha also relates how Turner stripped down to his underwear in the un-air-conditioned studio one summer day and someone stole all his clothes—then he got paged to go to Henry Binder’s office immediately. Binder, Schlesinger’s right-hand man, was in on the gag. And if that isn’t enough, she tells how Turner was working one day on a long panorama drawing of birds to be used as a stock shot when paint water from the next floor spilled through a crack and down onto Turner’s drawing. Ah, life in an animation studio!

Unlike many animators, it seems Turner wasn’t drafted during the war. He left Warners to work at J. Richard Weston’s Carry-Weston studio (1357 N. Gordon St. Hollywood) along with ex-Warners staff members Jack Bradbury and Ray Patin, then spent his time either working in comics or animation. One of his more interesting comic strips was “Holly Wood.” The interesting part is it appeared for a time on the Wednesday comic page of the Redwood Journal Press-Dispatch, which appears to have been drawn by people involved in animation, including Patin, Gus Jekel (“Pam”), Jerry Hathcock (“Sleepy Holler”) and Tom Ray (“Starlight,” a celebrity gossip panel). Patin was running his own production house at the time; whether there was a deal between it and the paper, I don’t know. The comic below is from August 23, 1950.



Turner animated Barney Bear in the Lah-Blair unit at MGM then later worked on Barney at Western Publishing. Read more HERE. The ‘50s seem to have taken him to Patin’s studio, UPA, then a brief stop at H-B before heading to Format Films where he directed segments of “The Alvin Show” (1961). Turner retired in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1963 and took up a job with the Richardson Camera Co. That’s where he died of cancer on Sunday, March 19, 1967, about 2½ months after his father. Like Warner’s Tom McKimson and cartoon voice actors Mel Blanc and Walter Tetley, Turner was a member of the Masons. The fraternity conducted his funeral. Like Blanc, he was also an active Shriner. His wife Angelyn returned to Los Angeles where she died in 1988.

His one H-B cartoon is distinctive in that he draws Snagglepuss zipping off camera in outline with brush lines inside. Offhand, I can’t name anyone else at Hanna-Barbera in the first years of the studio (“Flintstones” and before) who did this. Here are some examples.



I should point out the credits may be suspect. Fernando Montealegre is listed as the background artist but there’s one city exterior with a lumpy cloud in the sky that looks like Art Lozzi’s work. Lozzi once said some of his paintings appeared in cartoons which gave the credit to someone else.

Turner’s time at Hanna-Barbara may have been undistinguished due to its briefness, but he did have a long career in cartooning, and he’s a favourite among Disney Wolf comic enthusiasts. It shows the calibre of people Bill and Joe were able to attract.

7 comments:

  1. I would think by 1961 Turner's brush lines and only partially opaque images would have come as a nice challenge and/or breath of fresh air for the ink-and-paint department, since by the time Snag arrived H-B had begun to homogenize the studio's animation procedures due to the high volume of work (on the other hand, due to the high volume of work, odds are Bill and/or Joe would have put their foot down in a hurry if all the regular staff artists were sneaking old-style theatrical animation tricks into their work, since it slowed the growing assembly line).

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  2. Shame he died very young for a man in his 50's. I see his last credited work according to IMDB is on "The Man from Button Willow". A feature film that was backed and starred the voice of Dale Robertson who passed away recently.

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  3. I was going to mention that, Chris, but I don't have all the BG in front of me. I undetstand the studio that made it was across from Hanna-Barbera on Cahuenga and H-B artists went over to do freelance work on it.
    As Turner was living in Arizona at the time, I can only conclude he freelanced from home on it.

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  4. Sometime around the mid- sixties I visited Gil who lived in my home town, Scottsdale, AZ. I was interested in a career in animation at the time. He showed me some layout work he was doing on the H/B series Space Ghost. I thought he was really nice for helping out a young guy wanting to get into the business.

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  5. Thanks for the note, Anon. I didn't realise he worked on the show.

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  6. Did Turner have any children? I am looking for my son in laws bio dad and he has a drawing signed by "Gil" We don't know if it is Gil Turner but his mom said he was a cartoonist. My son in law's name is Scott Jerome Denyier born in May 22, 1966 but family believes that the name Denyier is fictitious. His mother said before she passed away that the drawing was done by his father.
    Just curious.

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    1. Kit Kat, yes. Read the bottom of the newspaper obituary posted above (click on it to make it bigger).

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