Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Gentle Backgrounds

Hanna-Barbera had three background artists after the studio opened in 1957, one veteran and two relative newcomers to animation. The veteran was Bob Gentle who, like Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, worked at the MGM cartoon studio for the entirety of its 20-year life, excepting military service.

Bob Gentle was one of a number of artists who married someone else in the animation industry and later had a child who ended up in the industry as well. The child in question is Drew Gentle.

Today, Drew lives far from Hollywood in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I stumbled across a story in his local paper about an exhibition of his art. You can read it HERE. But allow me to quote portions of it because it has a little bit of biographical information about his father and talks about the Hanna-Barbera studio in the pre-Taft days.

[Drew] Gentle's career as an artist started in 1965 when he was 17 years old. He had just graduated from high school and was thinking "I don't have to be anywhere on Monday" when his father ask[ed], "Do you want to come to the studio and be my assistant?"
So Drew went to work the next Monday at Hanna-Barbara, where his father, Bob Gentle, was an artist. His take-home pay that summer was $70, Drew recalled, but the environment was incredibly rich.
"I was working with people who had worked in the golden age of animation, the '30s, '40s and into the '50s," he said.
Both of his parents had worked on the first feature-length animated movie, "Snow White" in the '30s for Disney, who pulled in artists from other studios when the financial backers threatened to close it down if it wasn't finished. Bob Gentle, who was a reconnaisance map maker for the Allied advance after D-Day, had worked with Bill Hanna before the war, including producing art for the "Tom and Jerry" cartoon movie shorts shown in theaters.
The first series Drew Gentle worked on was "The Herculoids," he recalled, one of the action cartoons H-B was producing in the 1960s. He also remembers working on "Birdman" and "Thundarr." By the time he was working on "Quick Draw McGraw," censorship had caught up with children's programming.
"They took away his gun," Drew said. "We weren't allowed to draw his gun."
Drew recalled that his father used sponges to create the stones of the caves for the studio's prime-time hit, "The Flintstones."
Drew's mother, Jane Parmele, who once dated Tex Avery and Bill Hanna, grew up in Hollywood and met Bob Gentle in art school.
We’ve never posted a profile of Bob Gentle here, so let’s do it now.

Robert Mac Gentle was born in Norfolk, Nebraska on February 15, 1914 to Burton Coe Gentle and Frances Davenport. His father was later deputy assessor for the County of Los Angeles. The Gentles arrived in Los Angeles around 1927. Bob attended the Otis Institute of Art in 1933, then eventually got a job at the Harman-Ising studio. When MGM dumped Harman-Ising and started making its own cartoons in 1937, Gentle made the jump to the new operation and ended up handling backgrounds for the Hanna-Barbera unit when it was formed a couple of years later.

He enlisted in the military on January 23, 1941 and by April he was in an army uniform along with Metro artists Paul Fanning, Tom Ray and Sam Dawson. Gentle married Jane Virginia Parmele on December 13, 1943 while both were in the service. She was a widow, having married in 1938 (as a matter of record, both Hanna and Avery tied the knot with their wives in 1936). So it would appear by Drew’s account that Gentle did not work on MGM cartoons during the war years, which would explain why veteran Ernie Smythe was the background artist on the first Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon “Yankee Doodle Mouse” (1943). When Gentle returned to the studio is unclear.
Variety reported on February 6, 1946:
‘Slap-Happy Lion’ newest Metro Star
Fred Quimby returned yesterday from New York after a two-week business trip to confer with Metro officials and attend sales meetings. Quimby announced formation of a new cartoon unit at the studio, which will turn out “Slap-Happy Lion” inkers. Tex Avery is the director and personnel includes Bob Bently, George Crenshaw, Gil Turner, Bud Crabe, P. D. Eller, Johnnie Johnson and Bob Gentle.
One wonders how accurate the story is as Avery already had a unit. Johnson was Avery’s background artist at Warners and followed him to MGM. Gentle did end up back in the Hanna-Barbara unit. When Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera opened their own studio in 1957, he made the jump again, working on all the early TV cartoon series. There appears to have been a bit of a gap in the mid-‘70s, but Gentle’s name can be found on the credits of the studio’s TV cartoons up to “The Flintstone Kids” (1986). He died on January 24, 1988.

We’ve featured some reconstructed long backgrounds of Gentle’s on the site over the years. Let’s repost a few from the first season of the Huck show.

“Tricky Trapper,” layout by Walt Clinton.

“Sir Huckleberry Hound,” layout by Walt Clinton.

“Jiggers...It’s Jinks,” layout by Ed Benedict.

“Sheep-Shape Sheepherder,” layout by Dick Bickenbach.

And, for comparison, here’s one from the MGM Cinemascope theatrical “Down Beat Bear,” layout by Dick Bickenbach, released in 1956. You can click on it to make it bigger.

Gentle’s backgrounds were conservative compared to the work of Art Lozzi and Fernando Montealegre at Hanna-Barbera. But, just as he did at MGM, he provided effective settings for the characters to do to entertain us. And by doing that, he helped entertain us, too.

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