Thursday, 27 January 2011

Warren Foster With Guest Star Mike Maltese

A lovely surprise has come via e-mail from Tony Benedict who, 51 years ago, joined the writing team at Hanna-Barbera which consisted of the grand total of two—Mike Maltese and Warren Foster. Tony has saved a bunch of stuff from his time there, including caricatures of co-workers. Such drawings seem to have been a by-product of life at an animation studio, either inspired by boredom or something that happened over the course of the work-day. If you’ve read either of Chuck Jones’ autobiographies, you’ll see some of Maltese and others, including a couple drawn by a young, soon-to-be-fired Warners writer named Bill Scott.

Here are two by Foster of Maltese. This first one is from 1964:

This one features Mike and Tony, undated.

Tony sent a couple of other sketches we’ll get to in a minute.

Someone reading my posts about Mike Maltese asked me about Warren Foster. The best source about him is Mike Barrier’s exhaustive Hollywood Cartoons. Not a lot of information about him exists. Foster and Maltese both worked together at the Fleischer studio in the ‘30s and both were native New Yorkers. Foster was born in Brooklyn to Charles C. and Marion B. Foster on October 24, 1904. He seems to have been the oldest in the family; he had a younger brother named Leslie.

Foster was musically inclined. It-May-Be-True-Pedia claims he was educated at Brooklyn Tech and the Pratt Institute. Maltese told Mike Barrier that Foster “was a cut-rate music school owner on Broadway who [had] folded up.” Foster later wrote songs not only for the Warners cartoons, but also for the children’s division of Capitol Records in the 1950s, either with Tedd Pierce or Maltese, and for Allied Record Sales (which pressed the Mercury and Disney labels). Foster became an opaquer at Fleischer’s by October 1935, three months after Maltese.

Maltese left for the West Coast in 1937 but kept in touch with Foster, who desperately wanted to make the same move. Maltese put in a good word for him and Foster was hired in 1938 to write for the Bob Clampett unit, apparently replacing Clampett’s high school buddy Ernie Gee. Foster moved to the Frank Tashlin unit in April 1943, and finally settled in at the end of the decade with Friz Freleng, who had rather unceremoniously wrested him from the Bob McKimson unit, much to McKimson’s dismay.

Charles M. Jones doesn’t seem to have been too enamoured with Warren B. Foster, telling Mike Barrier he liked to downgrade the other writers. But the late Lloyd Turner, who briefly ascended from the assistant animating ranks to co-write for the Art Davis unit in the later 1940s, got along well with Foster and told some wonderful stories. If you haven’t read them, click HERE. Let’s give you a snippet of one. Turner and Foster used to hang out. Turner was 19. Foster was just past 40.

So I'm into this thing of calling Warren “Dad”—I don't even realize it, it’s just a pet name I’ve picked up. The next day, or the next week when we went to work, he came in, and he sat down, and he started to giggle. I said, “You're getting ready to tell me something. What is it?” He said, “I want you to cool it with the ‘Dad’ thing. I’m out with this girl, she’s only twenty-something, and you're calling me ‘Dad.’ Find another name.”

Warners closed the cartoon studio for a number of months starting in June 1953, but Daily Variety reported Foster was one of ten staff members who remained. Foster finally left near the end of 1957, about a year before Maltese. The two ended up at Hanna-Barbera but that wasn’t Foster’s first stop. He had quit Warners to work at the John Sutherland studio and actually arrived at H-B after Maltese. Foster was originally tasked with writing The Huckleberry Hound Show.

Foster was interviewed by no less than the New York Times about the characters on the show. We’ve posted his observations elsewhere on the blog, but here are some of them again. From August 28, 1960:

“I think of Huck as human,” he said. “He is a sort of Tennessee-type guy who never gets mad no matter how much he is outraged. He is the fall-guy, and a large part of his humor is the way he shrugs off his misfortunes. To Huck nobody is really bad.”
Yogi Bear, the incurable filcher of picnic baskets from visitors to Jellystone Park poses two problems.
Since he is “bright in a stupid sort of way,” his adventures must show ingenuity as well as blunders. Second, there is the problem of what to do about the morality of thievery.
“So we let him get his picnic basket—and then we get him punished.”
Mr. Foster is happy about the philosophical quality of the mice, Dixie and Pixie, toward the cat, Mr. Jinx [sic]. “The mice make allowances for the occasional attacks on them by Jinx. They understand he is not evil. He is just a cat and he can’t help being himself. They are disillusioned each time the cat’s thin veneer of civilization cracks. The important thing in these stories is to keep out the rough stuff and mayhem.”

The late designer Iwao Takamoto worked with Foster upon his arrival at Hanna-Barbera, and this is what he has to say in his autobiography.

Warren Foster was technically considered a writer, but like all cartoon writers from the old days, he drew his scripts. Warren had been on the staff of the Warner Bros, cartoon studio for decades, but once he moved over to Hanna-Barbera, he all but took over “The Flintstones” for its first season, and I believe his influence was one of the key factors for its success. I say this because one time Bill Hanna told me: “Joe and I wrote the first episode and Warren wrote all the rest of them.” He put it as simply as that. I remember Joe describing Warren sitting at his desk, working like crazy, drawing and writing a sequence down, and periodically breaking out in laughter. Warren just couldn’t contain himself, he was having such a good time, and Joe [Barbera] used to love to stand around outside his door and just watch him.

Foster loved parodies; fairy tale reworkings were a specialty at Warner Bros. and Foster did a bunch at Hanna-Barbera featuring the usual suspects: Snow White, Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. But he took a cynical aim at television when he arrived at Hanna-Barbera. Several of his cartoons involved the disposability of TV outsiders with stars in their eyes—Yogi in Showbiz Bear, Fred in The Monster of the Tar Pits (Director: “By the way, did the writer write an ending?” Writer: “You’re joking. Do you know what a writer costs?”) and George in Elroy’s TV Show (Foster envisions a future where special interest groups will have shamed everything but educational shows off television. TV producer to his writers about viewers: “You’ve educated them so much, they’re too smart to watch TV”). Both he and Maltese loved word-play. Foster’s the one who, with Daws Butler, put mangled English in the mouth of Mr. Jinks (in A Wise Quack, he facetiously laments “I’m dispic-a-bih-a-buh-a-bob-bob-ble, like”) and the cat’s many asides to the audience (after creating a robot mouse in Mouse Trapped: “And only I know she is a masterpiece of electronic ingenuity. Which is, uh, pretty good, you know, when you consider, like, I’m only a cat”).

Hanna-Barbera went into the action/adventure business with Jonny Quest but Foster stuck with the comedy cartoons. He decided to retire around the time Joe and Bill sold out to Taft after working on A Man Called Flintstone (1966) and died December 13, 1971 at age 67.

Finally, a couple of other drawings from Tony’s collection. Among the writers hired after Tony to work on Loopy De Loop and the TV shorts was Dalton Sandifer, who had been added to the Walter Lantz staff in the late ‘50s after Homer Brightman left. No one, except his mother perhaps, called him Dalton, as you can see by this undated drawing.

One of Bill Hanna’s accomplishments at MGM, besides winning a bushel of Oscars with Joe Barbera for Tom and Jerry, was providing a scream used whenever necessary for Tom. After opening Hanna-Barbera studios, Bill’s responsibility was the production end of the cartoons and, by several accounts, was noted for raising his voice in a not-quite-Tom scream in an effort to keep everything flowing on schedule. Tony saved one of those screams for posterity in this 1962. Bill was proud of his accomplishments with the Boy Scouts but evidently his vocabulary could be something that wouldn’t earn him a merit badge.

Tony’s agreed to have a chat about his time at Hanna-Barbera when the studio was creating half-hour cartoon sitcoms watched for years and carving out a dynasty of Saturday morning shows. And I hope he’ll talk about the many people he worked with, including a couple of the best cartoon writers of all time you’ve read about in this post.


  1. Thanks alot, Yowp. Warren Foster is probably my favorite of the Warner writers. This was very insightful!

  2. Very insightful and wonderful to read throughout - reg; his music backgroun,d that would explain why some of Warren's scripts include a short song towards the beginning (Tweety's Circus, One Meat Brawl, Boobs in the Woods, Of Rice and Hen, etc). Warren and Mike are undoubtedly two of my fave writers, and it's been fantastic to learn more about them thanks to your blog.

    Good luck with interviewing Tony, too =)

  3. Congrats on setting up the interview with Tony. Bill and Joe along with some of the Warners directors stayed around long enough to get down their stories about their studios and co-workers, but other than a few Barrier and Adamson snippets with Maltese, the writers of those cartoons really never were fully interviewed after people starting caring about the background stories of how these shorts came together.

  4. Wonderful caricatures, thank you and Tony for sharing them. Looking forward to reading the interview too!

  5. Awesome caricatures, thanks for sharing these.

  6. Likewise with Thad and Kevin. I like the energy and fun behind these. Thanks, Yowp.

  7. Nice reading this, Yowp...regarding Chuck Jones and Warren Foster, well, Jones was the only one of the fifties big three not to have Foster anyway, Freleng & McKimson at various times did. Foster & Maltese teamed up at Warner in the 40s and Foster-Maltese at HB.. the only time that Foster and Pierce teamed up was at least one Warner short, a Tweety titled "Room & Bird". As for the music background, I hadn't even really noticed that [what Chris Sig wrote] till I reread.. And yes, Foster did have a great music background, explaining the use of songs, but it seems in the cartoons with Bob McKimson. Foster is the only one of the big three WB writers who didn't do voices like Pierce & Maltese, who were heard NOT ONLY in "Wakikki Wabbit" but in the first Hubie [Maltese] & Bertie [Pierce] the mice cartoon, "The Aristo-Cat" [no relation to that 1970 Disney feature;Mel did all the others in that, even the female lady of the house]. By the time Maltese last worked at HB, they had slid downhil fast. Foster's date of death, 1971, was almost my guess beefore reading this, but I'd guessed, 1969, which would be mine for Tedd Pierce's date of death [Maltese died later,in1981.]But their sense of fun in the original cartoons will never die.

  8. Thanks for sharing this. Reading it was a gem. And no, even Dalton's mother called him "Sandy." :)