Thursday, 14 December 2017

Bob Givens

There weren’t many people who worked on Walt Disney’s Snow White, the first real Bugs Bunny cartoon and the original Quick Draw McGraw series. There was just one.

Bob Givens. Bob passed away today. He would have been 100 next March.

To old-time animation fans, he is best known as the man who drew the first model sheet of Bugs Bunny for Tex Avery in 1940; Avery being the director of A Wild Hare. But he had stops at a number of studios on the West Coast, working as a layout man, storyboard artist and designer. He left Warners when it shut down in June 1953 and returned to the studio some time in 1958 it appears. He made his way to Hanna-Barbera in November that year when Mike Maltese also quit Warners to work for the studio.

In 2008, Givens had a long, recorded chat with Mike Fontanelli, Will Finn and Steve Worth, and spoke a little bit about arriving at Hanna-Barbera and his work there. He gets his “day” and “week” mixed up when it comes to footage by the animators, but he once said Ken Muse was doing a picture a week, so that would work out to 100 feet a day. He was at the original H-B studio where the best cartoons were made.

Oh, yeah, when they were over on La Brea on the Chaplin lot. Everything was right there in the house, camera, everything. We didn’t send anything anywhere, except to Technicolor.

I laid out the things, the Quick Draws, we’d put ‘em on the floor. [Bill] Hanna’s over there muttering something. Joe [Barbera] and I are going through the thing and fixing little, simple, things. Joe was easy. “Fix the gun, the kids’ll remember what the gun looks like.” So easy changes. We had one a week of those things, 500 feet a week I was laying out.

Mike [Maltese] and I went over there as a team. We left Warners to go over there... [About why people liked Hanna-Barbera’s early cartoons] They were simple, that’s why. Later they got complicated with thousands of people. I guess they had to to keep the network happy. But that’s what was so great about those Quick Draws, they were simple. Dan Gordon did the stories and they were simple. [Baba Looey] was a take off on the Cuban [Desi Arnaz], “Queekstraw. I’ll do the thinnin’ around here.” That’s Joe Barbera. That’s his humour. “Thinnin’.” He can’t even say “thinking.”

Oh, yeah, yeah, [Barbera contributed a lot of gags] he was on top of everything. You didn’t get past him. Even on the way to the men’s room, he was right there watching. He was in ink and paint. He was the old tycoon. That’s what the old studios were so great, they had one tycoon like Harry Cohn. They were bastards but they were smart bastards. Also you worked for them, you knew where the tamale was, the boss was.

Well, Bill was doing the timing. In fact, they were partners. I found out that they weren’t really buddies at all. They were foils for each other. They needed each other. Joe would say, “For [] sake, Bill, we’re trying to work here. Will you keep it quiet, for []’s sake?” (meekly) “Okay, Joe.” That’s how it was, a friendly love affair. But I thought they were buddies from the word go, but not so.

I worked with Carlo [Vinci]. He was the one who was animating my little first Hanna-Barbera things, Augie Doggie. He was a good animator. Carlo was doing about 50 feet a week. Ken Muse was doing 100 feet a week at a dollar a foot. I was laying out 500 feet a week, but I was making more than that, about $250 a week, which was pretty good then, in 1958.

But he was doing 100 feet a day. Imagine that, just putting it on the sheets. Carlo was a slow guy, he was only doing 50 feet a day. “I can’t catch up with that damn Muse.” And that’s tremendous, you know. Putting it on the sheets would take you that long. But Ken was deaf as a coot. He’s turn his hearing down and he’s got his bottle of booze and (drinking sound) and he’d do a scene. And I was sitting right next to him and handing him drawings and he’s animating them before I can initial them. “Where’s the next one?” “Well, okay.” There was one other guy there animating at the time, Lew Marshall, and he was doing 40 feet a week. He was a real slow guy. 40 feet a week. “How does Ken do 100 feet a week? I have to work nights just to catch up.” But that’s when he was paying a buck a foot. It’s gone up a little since then.

I worked in that brick building when Hanna-Barbera was there [3501 Cahuenga]. It was a small place, about 30 people there. I had the little room next to the entrance there. Carlo was down the hall, Ken Muse was across the way. Dan Gordon was working at home but he’d come in once in a while. A big booze problem, you know. And his kid worked there for a while.
He repeated many of these memories in an interview in 2011 with Steve Hulett of the animation union, and mentioned a few other things.
I left there one time because they were missing payrolls. So I left and went back over to TV Spots to work on commercials. I was there about a week and a guy called me and I said “Who’s this?” He says “Joe.” I said “Joe who?” He says “Barbera. Hey, kid, I got the money, come on back.” So I quit and went on back, I got a raise by quitting. Joe says “Hey, welcome back.”

At one time I was walking by the side when Joe came in in his new car and he honked at me, almost ran over me. “Hey hold it there!” I says “I’ll back up and you can run over me, Joe, and then I can sue you.” And he laughed. He was great to work with, though, he had a sense of humor. Hanna was the opposite...he was the business guy.

They had some guys from Disney that came over and they were not used to this limited animation, so you know how they solved the problem? They animated just like they did at Disney’s then they pulled drawings....Joe said “Why didn’t I think of that?”

The early Hanna-Barbera stuff, before they started doing the super heroes, the Augie Doggies, they were kind of fun to do.
At H-B, Bob laid out:

Foxhound Hounded Fox – Augie Doggie (animator, Lew Marshall), Production J-16
In the Picnic of Time – Augie Doggie (Marshall), J-19
Dizzy Desperado – Quick Draw McGraw (Marshall), J-21
Pup Plays Pop – Augie Doggie (Ken Muse), J-unknown
Tee Vee or not Tee Vee – Augie Doggie (Carlo Vinci), J-unknown
Big Top Pop – Augie Doggie (Gerard Baldwin), J-29
Six Gun Spook – Quick Draw McGraw (Baldwin), J-32
Monkey Wrenched – Snooper and Blabber (Baldwin), J-44

Givens left the studio some time in 1959 or 1960; he was not included in the “thank yous” to staff in a Variety ad taken out by Bill and Joe in June that year after The Huckleberry Hound Show became the first syndicated show to win an Emmy. His name can be found on the credits of TV Popeyes produced by Jack Kinney and on TV Magoos at UPA in 1960.

His last screen credit was in 2001.

You can read a bit more about Bob Givens’ career at Hanna-Barbera in this post (unfortunately, the video link is dead) and his interview with the Animation Guild here and here. My condolences to Mariana and the rest of the family. Bob was not in good health for a while but he gave it a good fight.

8 comments:

  1. RIP, longtimer Bob Givens. It's been 99 wonderful years!

    SC

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  2. This really hit me hard, Yowp. I had the privilege of interviewing Bob Givens at a Disney function a few months ago. I had a talk with him at the lunch table and he told me that in his opinion, the USA was heading for a real dark time, and that soon the planet wouldn't be able to sustain it's population. So, I guess he probably passed on gratefully, with relief. What history he spanned, and what a career! I'm so happy I got to talk to him, and how sadly he will be missed.

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    1. I think his prognostications for America and the world are, unfortunately, correct.

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  3. Bob was working on Linus the Lionhearted after this. Great show!

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    1. Steve, thanks so much for your work in that great interview. I could have listened to Bob for another few hours.

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  4. Too bad Bob Givens couldn't celebrate a 100th birthday milestone; that sort of thing is much less incompassionate than "celebrating" his death. But at least he might not be a REAL celebrity. Oh, and Linus the Lionhearted was interesting in being about Post Cereal's mascots.

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  5. "There weren’t many people who worked on Walt Disney’s Snow White, the first real Bugs Bunny cartoon and the original Quick Draw McGraw series. There was just one."

    That's quite a résumé. RIP Bob Givens.

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  6. "They had some guys from Disney that came over and they were not used to this limited animation, so you know how they solved the problem? They animated just like they did at Disney’s then they pulled drawings....Joe said “Why didn’t I think of that?”"

    Interesting. I wonder how long this practice persisted, and how widespread it was at H-B. It seems awfully wasteful.

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