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"What's New" Archives: August 2015

 

August 25, 2015:

More on Jim Bodrero

 

August 12, 2015:

Incompatibility

 

August 10, 2015:

John Culhane's Missing Book

 

August 6, 2015:

On the Road with James Bodrero

 

August 25, 2015:

More on Jim Bodrero

I've had some other demands on my time recently, and so I'm indebted to Garry Apgar for researching and writing the following item, a sequel to my own August 6 post about Jim Bodrero's work as an illustrator. There's a good book waiting to be written (and heavily illustrated) about the animation people who illustrated books in the early years of the twentieth century. Grim Natwick comes instantly to mind, and there were others.

Long Ride to Granada (1965) was not the only book involving horses illustrated by James S. Bodrero. In 1927 he provided artwork for the second edition of the memoirs of one Major Horace Bell, first published in Los Angeles in 1881. Bell (1830-1918), a colorful figure in California history, came west during the Gold Rush in 1850. His Reminiscences of a Ranger or Early Times in Southern California was dedicated to “the few surviving members of the Los Angeles Rangers, and the memory of those who have answered to the last roll-call.”

I can find no images online from the edition illustrated by Bodrero, but here are the cover and title page of the 1881 edition at the Bancroft Library, Berkeley:

Ranger book

For a readable copy of the 1881 edition in the Stanford library, click here.

Also in 1927, Bodrero contributed woodcut illustrations to a second Old West-themed book, The Treasure Chest of the Medranos, by Elizabeth Howard Atkins, first published in the monthly children’s magazine, St. Nicholas, in serial form (Dec. 1919–March 1920), with drawings by W. M. Berger. The volume Bodrero illustrated was published in Santa Barbara by Wallace Hebberd. The vignette below was embossed into the cover, beneath the dust jacket reproduced below right. It’s not hard to imagine Walt Disney, the future builder of Frontierland, and a man with a certain affinity for horses as well, finding this sort of thing fascinating.

Atkins book

 

Comments

From Robert Barrett: Your comment about Jim Bodrero having a certain affinity for drawing
horses brought to mind that that might have been Disney's reasoning when he hired Moe Gollub. Gollub was one of the best horse artists of the 20th Century—even though he applied this talent only in Dell comic books. Before being hired by Disney one of his favorite subjects to draw or paint was the horse.

[Posted August 31, 2015]

From John Canemaker: Don't know if you have a copy of Bomba, the "story of a little wild donkey" written and illustrated by James Bodrero in 1939. My scanner isn't big enough to do a good job, but here are the cover and title page to give you an idea.

 

Bomba cover

Bomba title page

[Posted September 4, 2015]

 

August 12, 2015:

Incompatibility

Disney CD-ROMThis CD-ROM, Walt Disney: An Intimate History of the Man and His Magic, was published in 1998, for Windows 95 computers. Try installing and playing it on a Windows 7 computer, as I did this week, and you will quickly find yourself up against compatibility obtacles. I bought the CD-ROM new and used it fitfully for a few years, but it may have been ten years since I last took it out of the case. When I tried to install it on my current computer, Windows 7 was not in the least cooperative, even when I turned to the troubleshooting tools that are supposed to let you bridge the enormous gaps that the speed of technological change opens up.

So: has anyone else encountered this problem and found a solution? It's not that this CD-ROM is an indispensable document, or at least not so far as I can recall, but there is stuff on it that I'd like to revisit for one reason or another.

[A September 4, 2015, update. Despite the generous assistance and best efforts of Thad Komorowski and Hans Perk, I haven't been able to come close to replicating how the CD-ROM originally functioned, and I can't persuade myself that it's worth the trouble to keep pushing ahead. Thanks to Thad, I have been able to listen to some of the audio, including an introduction by Diane Disney Miller, recorded almost twenty years ago, in which she speculates that her father would have loved the new computer technology—but maybe not, I feel obliged to add, if he'd known that the fruits of that technology, like his daughter's CD-ROM, would so quickly become obsolete.]

Comments

From Christian Svenningsen: I feel for you, man. When I revisited my classic PC game Disney's Animation Artist lately, it couldn't play on my new Windows 7 computer. All I needed was to record the history of Mickey Mouse and friends from the game and post it on my Facebook page, but luckily, I still have my old laptop that could support the need to install the game and relive my childhood memories. Oh, the good old days... :)

MB replies: Thad Komorowski has volunteered to try to break through the CD-ROM's defenses, and I'll hope that he's successful. I'm reminded of the many other instances in which some artifact, like an early color TV show, has been "preserved" in a format that becomes obsolete, so that the artifact is inaccessible. That's why I still print and file so many documents that come to me in a digital format. Paper may be low tech, but I trust my paper documents to be accessible for a long time to come.

[Posted August 13, 2015]

 

August 10, 2015:

John Culhane's Missing Book

When I learned of John Culhane's death last month, I pulled out my file of correspondence with John to refresh my memory of just how much, or how little, we had been in touch. Our correspondence lasted only about a year; John initiated it in the fall of 1970, when as a Newsweek editor he asked me for help with a cover story on nostalgia, timed for Christmas. I lent him a great pile of stuff, including the complete run of Funnyworld and a number of other fan magazines. (This was, remember, long before the internet and email and other much easier ways to share information.) John ended our correspondence a year later by not replying to the letters I'd sent after I last heard from him. John was aware by then of the hostile response, from Chuck Jones especially, to Funnyworld Nos. 12 and 13, and even though he'd praised the magazine highly, I've always thought it likely that he decided he couldn't afford to be seen in my company.

But, in the meantime, I received a few lively, funny letters like the one I've reproduced here (and that I published in part in Funnyworld No. 14). His optimism about Disney's misbegotten Robin Hood is easy for me to forgive; when I got his letter, I had just published in Funnyworld No. 13 my admiring piece about (gulp!) The Aristocats.

John CulhaneWhen I re-read John's letters, I realized that I'd not seen any mention in the obituaries of the major project that was occupying his attention in 1971. That was the book he refers to as "the history" in this letter, and that was eventually announced as Magic Mirror: The First World History of the Animated Film. That ambitiously titled book was real enough that I got a request from the book's packager in 1972, eight months after I last heard from John, to approve the use of an illustration I'd published in Funnyworld. I agreed, although not very graciously, since I was irked by what I regarded as John's snub. There was no question then of our being in any sense competitors, since it was not until the spring of 1973 that I signed a contract with Oxford University Press to write the book that was published decades later as Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. I'd already sent John transcripts of some of my interviews for his use in writing his own book.

In 1974, when I'd heard nothing more about Magic Mirror, I wrote to the publisher, Viking Press. I was told: "The book is in preparation but has not yet been scheduled." The book was still "upcoming" in February 1975, when Daily Variety mentioned it in a story announcing that John had been signed to write a feature film called The New Little Rascals. But that was the end, for reasons that have never been clear.

John turned up in Washington, D.C., a few times after Phyllis and I moved there in 1975; he was the host at events like a Kennedy Center tribute to his cousin Shamus. But I didn't meet John in person until 1978, at a black-tie dinner celebrating the opening of the Library of Congress' exhibit on Disney animation, "Building a Better Mouse." I'm sure we exchanged pleasantries, but I don't recall a word of our conversation. I was the exhibit's curator, and John was there as—what? A representative of Walt Disney Productions, I think, but his exact relationship with Disney was puzzling to me then, and has remained so. He wasn't a full-time Disney employee, or so I assume, since I'd see references to other jobs he held, like those low-paying adjunct professorships that are a curse of the academic world. But he always seemed to be available when Disney needed an MC or a cheerleader at a Disney-sponsored, animation-related event.

Cartoon Brew recently posted video footage from one such occasion, when John accompanied several Disney employees (Woolie Reitherman, John Lasseter, Tom Wilhite) on a tour of forty campuses that was intended to drum up interest in Disney animation among presumably skeptical college kids. (I attended the session at George Washington University on April 10, 1981.) John wrote for the New York Times, freelance pieces on Disney subjects that I don't think ever acknowledged his close connection with corporate Disney. He wrote a few books, too, also on Disney subjects, but nothing remotely as ambitious as his abandoned history. When Abrams published his book on Fantasia, my first thought when I read it was to regret that John Canemaker hadn't written it. I doubt very much that Canemaker would have let slip into print such absurdities as the notion that Walt Disney tailored his version of "The Rite of Spring" to anticipate objections from religious fundamentalists.

It was John Culhane's enthusiasm for Disney animation, and especially for the work of the Nine Old Men, and not his scrupulousness as a historian, that recommended him to the company for the roles he played. That enthusiasm was undoubtedly genuine, but in later years it got to seem a little, well, stylized. The verbosity increased, as did the extravagance of his claims, especially on Walt's behalf. I suspect Magic Mirror, had it ever been completed, would have suffered from some of the same defects, but that doesn't mean John didn't have the makings of a good book at his disposal. When still in his teens, he spent an afternoon with Walt Disney at his home; he knew Bill Tytla and the Nine Old Men and many other famous animation people, possibly better than any other writer. Just how well he knew them, we could have learned if he had set out to write not a history, but a memoir as funny and vital as his letters.

Culhane letter page 1

Culhane letter page 2

August 6, 2015:

Long Ride to Granada

On the Road with James Bodrero

Of the many first-person accounts by veterans of Hollywood animation's "golden age," especially at the Disney studio, few have what I'd call a distinctly personal flavor. It's most common for such books to present themselves as histories, or as objective how-to manuals. Everything interesting about Shamus Culhane's Talking Animals and Other People is autobiographical, but it's cloaked in borrowed historical garb, no doubt because either author or publisher thought that a straightforward memoir would not sell (and they may have been right). A few first-person accounts, like Chuck Jones's Chuck Amuck, are personal but hopelessly self-serving.

One striking exception to the general lack of personality is James Bodrero's Long Ride to Granada (Reynal, 1965), which I read for the first time recently. It's out of print, but easily located online. I've never been much interested in travel literature—I've read nothing by the likes of Patrick Leigh Fermor—but I found Bodrero's book charming, and that's not because his account of a small group's horseback ride across southern Spain has any Disney content. It has none, unless you include a note on the book jacket acknowledging that he worked for Disney for eight years, from 1938 to 1946, on such films as Fantasia and Saludos Amigos.

Bodrero was a member of Joe Grant's model department, and you can find his pastel sketches for such segments as the Pastoral Symphony in books like Finch's Art of Walt Disney and Canemaker's Paper Dreams. Lovely stuff, but nightmarishly difficult, seventy years ago, to translate into animated films. It was drawings like Bodrero's that Frank Thomas had in mind when he complained that the artists in the model department "could sit and whistle and make a pretty little thing without much effort" while the Disney animators struggled to meet Walt's increasingly severe demands. Long Ride offers perhaps two dozen Bodrero ilustrations—I haven't counted them—but in brush and ink.

There is in Bodrero's book, by way of compensation for the lack of studio anecdotes, a strong sense of what he was like. He was cosmopolitan, born in Belgium to an American mother and a father who was a career officer in the Italian army. As a boy he attended boarding schools in Europe and spent summers in Hawaii on his maternal grandparents' sugar plantation. His first wife, Eleanor, was the granddaughter of Cornelius Cole, a U.S. senator from California (the animator Corny Cole was Bodrero's nephew by marriage). Bodrero's background was patrician; what defined him was not so much money as ease in moving among people with wealth and social standing. He was "a very suave guy," as Homer Brightman put it, who knew and socialized with very famous people.

"Suave" fits Long Ride to Granada, not least because there are so few traces in it of the dictatorship that still ruled Spain, until Francisco Franco died in 1975. Policemen show up on the trail a couple of times, checking identity papers, and Bodrero remarks on a village's destruction during the war, but for the most part he depicts rural Andalusia as a tranquil land, populated by happy peasants. And maybe it was, in 1965, although it's in the nature of dictatorships to enforce tranquility and happiness. There is in Bodrero's book the sense that he and his comrades traveled in a sort of bubble, insulated to a large extent from everyday Spain by nationality, social position, and, of course, money. At the time the book was published, according to the jacket copy, Bodrero and his second wife, Geraldine (he remarried after Eleanor's death), spent half the year in San Francisco, and the other half on their farm on the Costa del Sol.

So, it may be impossible to read Long Ride without suppressing a little skepticism; but if, like me, you've aways enjoyed the company of old Disney hands, Bodrero's book is now the best way to get to know him. I'm glad to have made his acquaintance.

Milt Gray's interview with Bodrero about his work at Disney, recorded as part of my research for Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, is at this link.

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