|The Leon Schlesinger studio, on the Warner Bros. Sunset lot in Hollywood,at Fernwood and Van Ness Avenues, in a photo probably taken early in 1945.
Phil Monroe (1987)
An Interview by Michael Barrier
This is a transcript of the second of my two interviews with Phil Monroe, a leading animator at the Schlesinger/Warner cartoon studio in the 1930s and 1940s. The earlier interview, which Milt Gray and I conducted at Phil's office in 1976, is at this link.
Phil had retired by the time I recorded the second interview on October 10, 1987, at his home in Westlake Village, California. Phil died on July 13, 1988, of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 71, before I finished transcribing the interview.
This transcript is typical of many of the followup interviews that Milt Gray and I did over the years of our research for Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. A first interview would suggest additional questions, and then, as I transcribed interviews with other people, those interviews too would open up lines of inquiry. Sometimes, with major figures like Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Ward Kimball, and Art Babbitt, to mention only a few, there would be multiple followup interviews, over a considerable span of years.
Almost never was there a "gotcha" element in those followup interviews; Milt and I were rarely lied to. But by interviewing hundreds of people, many of them multiple times, we got a much fuller picture of the Hollywood animation industry and the people who worked in it. It was my job to translate that understanding into a book.
After Hollywood Cartoons was published, Jack Zander, who worked as animator at the Harman-Ising and MGM cartoon studios, among other places, wrote: "I was amazed at how you captured the characteristics of all the individuals so accurately. Both Carl Urbano [another MGM animator] and I remarked on that."
Jack and Carl had no reason to butter me up—both are mentioned only a few times in the book—so I was particularly pleased by what Jack wrote. He put his finger on one of my most important aims as I wrote the book: to portray Hollywood animation's greatest figures as real people. I think I achieved that aim to a significant extent, and I'm sure that's why the book is heartily disliked by any number of fans, both inside and outside the industry. There are a lot of fans who want to believe that Joe Grant was Santa Claus, that Chuck Jones (or maybe Bob Clampett) walked on water, and so on. Suggest that they were actually complex and highly interesting artists and human beings, and you risk the wrath of the fanboys. What a pity that is.
On to the interview.
Barrier: Bill Melendez was talking in his interview with Milt Gray about some of the warfare between the units in the early '40s, and I thought I would read you some of what he said, to see if it stirred up any memories of similar episodes. You would have probably been in the Army at the specific time he's talking about, but you would have been there just before this, probably.
Monroe: '43 to '46 was when I was [in the service].
Barrier: That's right; so you may even have been in the Clampett unit, or the Freleng unit [at the time Melendez spoke about]. I'll read you some of what Bill said:
"Those floors were so flimsy that just walking across them would make noise. To the guys downstairs it must have been like being on the inside of a drum." This was when Chuck's and Friz's units were on the first floor, and Clampett and McCabe were on the second floor. "Up in the Clampett unit, we had something like a big bookcase and we piled all kinds of stuff on the shelves. I don't know how it got started, we must have got the idea from Fibber McGee's closet, but we would start dropping things on the floor—bang, bam, boom—and then we would tip the whole bookcase over. And finally we would take this big heavy metal disc and start it spinning. It must have just thundered downstairs, it shook the whole building. Rod Scribner and I were the real instigators of all that. The rest of the guys in the unit got a real kick out of all that, but they didn't join in as much. All of this noise really startled the guys in Jones's unit the first time we did it, but after a couple of times they got used to it and they would just ignore it. They had a snobby attitude. [At this point, Phil burst out in laughter, and he continued laughing through most of the excerpt from the Melendez interview.]
"We'd bore holes through the floor and drop things down on the guys below. Finally Johnny Burton moved us; I never knew why. This was after Clampett was gone and we were animating for Artie Davis. We were moved down the hall, over Friz's unit. The Jones unit was no fun to pick on, because they wouldn't fight back, but Friz's guys were great because they would fight back. By that time, we had Emery Hawkins with us, and Pete Burness. Again we would start boring holes through the floor and dropping things down, but they were very aggressive and they went out in the back lot and got these long iron bars, and they would push these bars up through our holes, and then give a great big shove, and if they caught the corner of a desk they'd tip the whole desk over."
Monroe: The reason I'm laughing, I've always been a good audience for good gags. And dammit, those things really did happen, as far as I can remember, and I can give you other examples of outrageous things.
Barrier: Bill goes on: "One time we got a kind of water spray tank that they sold in grocery stores for watering plants. It had a hand pump on it to build up pressure, which would force the water down a hose and out through a nozzle. We took this and stuck the nozzle through a hole in the floor, and pumped it up great big and then let her go, and whoosh, all this water came spraying down like a fine mist all over Freleng's unit, and guys were scrambling frantically, trying to save their drawings. Another time we got a rubber prophylactic and stuck that through a hole in the floor, and we got a funnel and we poured five gallons of water into that prophylactic, it was amazing how much it would hold. It stretched all the way down to the floor below, sort of in a long tear shape. Finally, I forget how we did it, I think we burst it with a pin, the water just burst all over the floor. Edddie Selzer, who was always walking around through the studio to make sure everyone was at their desks working, he comes down the hall and sees all these guys sweeping all this water out in the hallway and he says, `What the hell's going on here?' and the Freleng guys say, `We don't know, we thought maybe a pipe broke.' "
Monroe: Those are true things. He mentioned he worked for Artie Davis, or when Artie Davis was directing. It was probably during the war, and after the war I'm not quite sure whether Artie was directing in '46; was he?
Barrier: Clampett left in May of '45, and Artie took over his unit then. Artie directed for about two and a half years. They shut down his unit, as best I can tell, around the end of '47.
Monroe: I see. Well, then, when I came back from the Army and went back in with Chuck Jones in '46, Artie, according to your records, was directing till '47. The reason I ask these things was I really wanted to direct in those days myself. I kept getting promises from Eddie Selzer, but that's all I got. I worked from '46 to 1950 in Chuck's unit, very happy; I love animation anyhow, and I was very happy just animating for him, but I really did want to direct. I had experience directing in the Army in the commercial things that I'd done; in those days, there weren't too many commercials, but they were outside jobs. So I was anxious to get started, and they never gave me the break, so I left in 1950.
But those things actually happened when I was there, too. One time—I don't know if this is in your interview or not, but they used to take this old film, nitrate film—it was combustible, and they would light those things, roll them up real tight and light them, and drop them down through the holes. You'd be walking across the floor in Chuck's unit, and there would be a burning bomb, about two inches in diameter, and smelling like mad. We'd take it immediately and throw it out the window, or douse it, and get rid of it, because it was choking.
The broadest gag that ever happened, using film—they did the same thing again one day, but they didn't know where they were dropping it. They said the hell with it, they just dropped the film. This particular day, they dropped it over near the edge of the wall, and it dropped down behind some old church pews, benches, that we had running along [the wall]; we got them from the prop room and we put them in our room for the guys to sit on; when we played handball in the very same room, they could sit on these church pews. Maybe they were up next, and they're watching the handball game; or ping-pong—we played both in the same area.
Barrier: This was down in the basement?
Monroe: No, this was on the main floor, after we'd moved over to the Van Ness side of the studio, in '36, I think. I was awfully young. Anyhow, they dropped the film down, and it dropped down behind the church pew, and in between that and the wall. So it was smoldering, and nobody knew where that smoke was coming from. The first thing you know, they had to evacuate the studio, and we all had to go outside, and they called the fire department. We all went outside, but we were on the lot; we didn't go out in the street, we went out in the lot. They had to open up all the windows and get rid of that smoke. I guess it took a couple of hours; it was a very expensive gag.
If you rolled the film up real tight, and heated it, it would smolder, but it would not break into flame; it was not a bomb. It was a smoke bomb, was what it was. That backfired; it was funny, when it first started, but when they had to stop all the working and take everybody outside, it was a tougher proposition.
[The conversation turned to Cal Howard.]
Barrier: Somebody said that in the '30s, he had zinc-lined drawers in his desk, and he had cold drinks in one and in the other one he had a heating plate of some kind, where he'd cook hot dogs. Do you remember that?
Monroe: Not Cal Howard; Benny Washam had a heating plate. Benny was a cook. We had art classes there two times a week, prior to the war. Guest teachers would come in and teach our art class, and we had live models come in; we just had a real darned good art training. Whoever wanted to join us could, but it was primarily Chuck Jones's unit; he was a nut about getting good drawing out of the guys. The other people were invited, but they didn't participate too much; some of them did. Benny had this hot plate, and after work, and even before work—because we'd start the art class about six o'clock, something like that—he would cook in the afternoon, on this hot plate. One of the dishes he cooked was Swedish meatballs. Schlesinger came in one time, [and exclaimed], "Who the hell is cooking in here?" I don't know what Benny said to him, but he went right over to Benny's room, and Benny was saying that he was cooking dinner for the unit, they were having a special party. Special party my back; we had that every week. And he would cook something for this class. We'd eat, and then we'd go to the art class.
Barrier: The art classes—I think Gene Fleury said that he taught it at first, before he went in the service—
Monroe: That's right, he did.
Barrier: He said there were only a few classes that he taught, around the beginning of the war.
Monroe: That's right, I remember those very well.
Barrier: I think that Benny said that after Gene Fleury was gone, that's when Chuck's unit worked its way through—
Monroe: Nicolaides? Yeah, sure.
Barrier: And you had models, too, is that right?
Monroe: Absolutely. Beautiful models. But they weren't all girls. We'd have the Indian model come in that was a professional model for the various art schools around—Chouinard and Art Center and schools like that. We'd hire their models, so we had real good models. [The Indian model] looked like Khomeini; he had the big bush beard and turban and everything.
Barrier: They had these classes up until the time you went in the service in '43?
Monroe: Oh, yes. We started those classes in '36, '37, and Chuck's unit had art classes for three, four, five years running. We'd have them two nights a week. It really made a difference in the attitudes of the various animators. In those days, there was Benny Washam, Bobo Cannon, Phil DeLara, and Ken Harris and myself—and Rudy Larriva. However they fit in. Rudy was with Chuck prior to the war, in 1943, and then he didn't come back after that. But that was the original Chuck's unit, up until '43. Then I had a break with Chuck, but everything worked itself out, and we're the best of friends. I just talked to him a couple of days ago.
Barrier: He and I, unfortunately, go back and forth, we're either on good terms or at odds. At the moment, we're at odds again.
Monroe: He's an easy guy to be at odds with, because he has such a hell of an ego. I think you can go back on my tape [the 1976 interview]—you say it was ten years, I said the same thing then.
Barrier: All the Warner directors had very strong egos; that's one reason they were directors.
Monroe: Yeah, that's true. They were particularly jealous of the story department, and the good story men and the bad story men. We had very few bad story men, because they wouldn't stay around, but the story men were very competitive, too. The directors would really scramble to get a good man. Poor Bob McKimson always ended up with the third guess, and he did awfully well with what he [had].
Barrier: He complained when I interviewed him back in '71; he was quite frank about feeling resentment that somehow he had Warren Foster, then all of a sudden he had Tedd Pierce, who was the weakest of the three story men. He complained that in other cases he would get stuck with somebody that nobody else wanted.
Monroe: That's true.
Barrier: He said Selzer would tell him, "This man's difficult to handle, but we know you can handle him."
Monroe: The truth of the matter was that Bob McKimson could work with anybody. He was just that kind of a guy. He had an ego, but he was capable of getting along with everybody, and ending up everybody liked Bob. I can't say as much for Chuck and Friz, even though they were talented directors, both of them. But there were a lot of guys that went away hating them.
Barrier: Friz drove a lot of guys crazy. The consistent theme from Friz's people is that he was very difficult to work for, because he never knew what he wanted until he saw the pencil test.
Monroe: That's true.
Barrier: At that point he would tell you what he wanted, and you had to go back and redo it and still meet your footage requirement.
Monroe: That's right. That's very true. He didn't change much. I worked with him, oh, three years ago, I guess, [on] one of the last pictures he started at Warner Bros. It ended up that I got direction credit on it, because I took it over. He was not feeling good, and had spent a lot of time away from the studio at that time. So I got direction credit on it. I think that was the last feature that he was connected with at Warners; it was a takeoff on "Fantastic Island." What it was, was a bunch of pretty good bridges into old material. It's not the most pleasant way to make a feature; it's a lot of goddamned hard work, is what it is. I did a lot of that for Chuck and Friz both. I think I finished up more pictures of Chuck's than he worked on himself in the last five years. Not kidding.
Barrier: I didn't realize you'd been that heavily involved with them. I've not seen all of them.
Monroe: I don't blame you. But it was a lot of fun working with Friz the last few years. We're very good friends now, and I'm very good friends with Chuck. I love both those guys; I think they respect me. I gained respect from them because of the type of work that I did for them the last ten years. I saved their asses in a lot of cases. Friz has really been very nice about it, and he comes right out and says that I should have, years ago, been able to get my job as a director, because the other guys didn't turn out to be very good directors.
[The conversation turned to the six-month shutdown at the Warner cartoon studio in 1953].
Monroe: I was working at Ray Patin's studio at the time, and I hired Ken Champin, Manny Perez, and any of the ex-Warner Bros. animators that were available, I would try to get them over there. I was directing for Ray Patin, and Ray and I were good buddies, and he listened to me about who were the good guys. Ken Champin came over, and he had never directed before; he came in just as an animator, and they let him direct, and boy, he turned out to be great. He would direct and animate his own spots. He's a guy that came along real fast, and would have been an excellent director at Warners if he'd had the drive, because he had the sense of humor, he had the sense of timing—he was the funniest man in the whole studio, [in the sense of] just being entertaining. He was funny. He was dirty, but he was funny. He would be out in the hall, at lunchtime, and the guys would stagger back from lunch and just come in and watch him entertain. He had a routine, where he could be an old man, he could turn into a homosexual—just everything to entertain. His best stooge was Warren Batchelder, who never said two words in his whole life. I doubt very much whether you have anything on Warren Batchelder. Warren Batchelder was a very quiet assistant in the Friz Freleng unit, all those years. Finally he got into animation; I don't know when it was, but it was after the war.
[Phil mentioned in passing that when he was directing the Warner Bros. commercial unit in the '60s, Manny Gould—whom he spoke very highly of—animated for him on three Charlie the Tuna commercials, "and boy, he did a good job."]
Barrier: In our earlier interview, you didn't say anything about your having contact, when you were in Chuck's unit, or the Clampett unit, or the Freleng unit, with the story men for those units, or the layout men. Did you have much contact, on any kind of level?
Monroe: Oh, yes, I did, on all levels. I was social friends with them, but actually, too, through your work, you were assigned to the unit, as an animator, and once in a while, they would have a jam session—they called it a jam session—where they'd call everybody in, and you would submit ideas or suggestions to the story. In Chuck's case, it was a case of ego; he would bring you in and show you his layouts. The whole unit would sit there and see the picture in layout form, and it was a wonderful way to get his thoughts over to the whole unit. But it didn't allow you very much area for suggestions. A lot of times you could see things going on that you didn't quite understand, or you would like to do something about, and it was too late, because the layouts were in work and you didn't have any chance to contribute at that time.
Barrier: You wouldn't be going through the storyboard, you'd be going through his layout drawings, when things were really set.
Monroe: That's right. As opposed to Clampett. Clampett always gave me credit for the line, "I tawt I taw a puddy tat." And he brought me a drawing one time—it happened within the last ten years. He was very mysterious; he called me one morning and said, "Phil, can you meet me? Can I see you right away?" I said, "Why, sure." I hadn't talked to Clampett for years, but I always liked him, and I was always very friendly with the guy, and he was with me. So we decided to meet in a restaurant down here at Ventura and Sepulveda. He was mysterious as heck—"Do you have time to talk?" "Sure." "Well, let's go in here and have coffee." We went in to this restaurant and had coffee, and he pulled out this drawing. He says, "Now, look, I'm going to show you something, and I want you to remember who did it." I said, "Okay," and he showed me this drawing, and it's a little stiff drawing of a bird sitting on a limb, a little canary type of bird, and up above him in a balloon he says, "I tawt I taw a puddy tat." He says, "Who did that?" I said, "God, I don't know. My guess would be that it might be some assistant animator or somebody that didn't know how to draw very well." He said, "That's yours." I said, "The hell it is." He said, "Yes, it is." I said, "Well, I don't think it is." That's as far as the story goes.
But I gagged around a lot with the guys, so my input in the story department was not very great, except that I saw an awful lot of my gags in there, when I would tell them. For instance, I first worked for Friz in the middle '30s, and he had this one picture, I forget what the name of it is, but it was a mechanical machine that made a sandwich; the old cartoons used to do that all the time, use a gag like that. It was a Rube Goldberg machine that made a sandwich. I stuck in the gag "Hold the onions"—a sign comes out and stops the machine and says, "Hold the onions." Well, the only thing you remember about that cartoon is that one gag. He used that damned thing for years. Well, I guess I would submit gags and get a lot of the things accepted, but I never really got into the story end of it until I really got into the commercial world, where you had to tell a story. I did storyboards and things like that, but that wasn't until 1950. Those guys kept a closed book on that whole area; they were so jealous of one another.
Barrier: Oh, the Warner story men?
Monroe: Yeah. Gosh, they were very jealous of their own positions, and they wouldn't help out newcomers, and how guys ever got in there and stayed, I don't know. Dave Monahan was there for a good number of years, and he worked with Tedd Pierce, and he was a guy that everybody accepted as long as he was there; I've forgotten when he left, but he was there in the '30s, prior to the war—
Barrier: Then he was back after the war, just for a very short time.
Monroe: Dick Hogan was another guy—they called him the square Catholic. He didn't seem to have a sense of humor; he carried himself very straight, and he was very reserved; he was from Boston. I think he was from Boston, anyhow. He carried himself with a little reserve, and everybody kind of lowered their voice when he'd come in the room.
Barrier: A strange personality for a Warner Bros. story man.
Monroe: He did. And how he ever worked out—but he evidently was a pretty good writer, and he worked with Mike Maltese in Chuck's unit, and I think he worked for Friz, too.
Barrier: Were you not welcome to go into the story rooms?
Monroe: Oh, yes, we were, and we did. Mike Maltese, in particular, because I worked with him for so many years, I'd go in and say, "What are you working on, Mike?" And he would stand up and go through the whole story with you. Then you had a chance to say, "Hey, right there, couldn't the guy do so-and-so?" And if he liked it, he'd put it in; and he's say, "Yeah, but that doesn't tie in with he does down here." I did an awful lot of that, and at one time, when my chances of becoming a director were very good, I did have enough story connections and enough credits among the story guys, of helping them, that that helped me out quite a lot.
Barrier: That sounds like what a director would do, be in there working with the story men.
Monroe: It didn't take any astute animator to recognize the weakness when he saw a weakness in a story. You have to animate it, so if you're animating something you don't believe in, or don't understand, then it's time to say, why am I doing this? Wouldn't it be better if the guy came in from the other direction, or had a hat on, or something that he had on in the other scene? That's too simple, what I just said, but there [were] continuity ideas, or setting up a gag.
Barrier: When you were working for Chuck before the war, and he had these dawdling kind of Tedd Pierce stories, it must have been more work to animate them.
Monroe: Chuck put a lot more work into the things. If he got to a point where the story was weak, he would try to pad it with some good animation—which turned out, in a lot of cases, to be good animation but boring. Boring, boring. We maybe didn't recognize it in those days; we just thought of it as good animation.
Barrier: And you said that's the period when he was providing a lot more layout drawings, so from an animator's standpoint, you didn't have to make up for the story's deficiencies, because Chuck was doing it.
Monroe: He had the whole thing, all laid out; and if you went in to Chuck's unit, everybody on the outside said, "You guys don't have to animate, you just do his layouts." Which was true; a lot of guys did that. But look at the good animators he turned out—Ken Harris, Bobo, Abe Levitow, and myself. We proved ourselves in other areas after we left Chuck. Then Chuck did finally, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, when he was doing those things for CBS—I can remember bringing Manny Perez in there, and Chuck told me, "I didn't realize that those guys were as good as they are. They are good animators." Now, here's Chuck complimenting Friz's animators, which he never did in the younger days. And Friz would never compliment one of Chuck's animators. Friz did say to me a few years ago, "One thing about Chuck's animators, you guys all drew pretty well." Guys like Benny Washam, Abe Levitow—he would have loved to have those guys on permanently, and he did have Benny Washam quite a lot. I used Benny when I was directing there, in the '60s.
Barrier: What about the layout men? What do you recall about John McGrew?
Monroe: Johnny McGrew was very mechanical; he laid out everything with a ruler. He was a fairly good draftsman, and he was very intelligent. He and Chuck got along very well; they seemed to like one another quite a lot. But Johnny was not as imaginative as Gene Fleury. Gene was very good, and did a lot of things for Chuck's pictures that Johnny would never be able to do.
Barrier: That's interesting, because Chuck cites McGrew as being sort of the instigator when they started getting into some of these more adventurous backgrounds. McGrew actually brought Gene and Bernyce Fleury onto the staff, but you think Gene Fleury was really—
Monroe: Well, I think he was more talented than McGrew. McGrew might have gotten him in there, but in my opinion, I think Gene Fleury did a lot more with the job than he did. But Chuck was the director, so you have to listen to him on that.
But we did work with the layout people, and a lot of times we would run across a problem where Chuck would call for a pan, for instance, and forget in his direction how long it took to do a certain thing, and we needed some more space to work in, or something like that. Then we would go in and work with the layout person and tell them what we needed. Then he'd go back and get an okay from Chuck to do it. That happened a lot of times.
Barrier: So you wouldn't have to go through Chuck to go to the layout man.
Monroe: I think most of the time Chuck would just say, "If you've got a problem, show Johnny what you want and let him solve it for you." Chuck would recognize immediately it wasn't any big picture change or anything like that, it was just a mechanical change, to make things work. I animated this dance sequence years ago, for Chuck, and I remember that was one of the sequences that he always liked; it was a waltz where Sniffles was—you talk about boring, boring.
Barrier: And after the war, I guess Gribbroek was the layout man.
Monroe: Grib did a pretty good job. Very designy, as Gene Fleury was.
This photo, originating with Bob Foster, was posted by Steve Hulett in 2007 on the Animation Guild's blog. It was almost certainly taken at one of the square dances that Phil Monroe instigated at the Warner cartoon studio in the 1940s and that led to Bob McKimson's making the 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon Hillbilly Hare (to read more about that episode, go to this part of the 1976 Monroe interview). In the photo, from left to right (adopting and modifying Hulett's identifications): background painter Phil DeGuard, five unknowns, producer John Burton Sr., unknown, director Friz Freleng, animator Bob Matz, animator Phil Monroe, Mrs. Eddie Selzer (wife of the head of the Warner cartoon studio), animator Ken Harris, unknown, animator Manny Perez, sound effects tyro Treg Brown, direcgtor Chuck Jones, animator and layout artist Tom McKimson, director Bob McKimson, layout artist Bob Gribbroek, two unknowns, cameraman Ray Bloss, unknown, and effects animator Harry Love.
[In conversation that began as I turned the tape over, Phil and I talked about my difficulties with Chuck Jones and Chuck's hostility to Bob Clampett, Phil said, "I can remember him [Jones] one time, in the last few years, telling me that Rod Scribner was one hell of a good animator. He said he had a lot of wild stuff that you couldn't control, but boy, he sure was a good animator in certain areas." After mentioning that he had noticed Scribner's animation in McKimson's Hillbilly Hare, Phil talked about his role as a consultant on that film: "They'd call me in and say, `Does this sound right if I say this? Does it sound authentic enough?' And I'd say, `Yeah, it sounds all right.' Because it was all a big gag anyhow. But they had enough authenticity in that thing that anybody that loved square dancing would watch that whole darned picture—when they say, `Promenade,' there'd be two of them, promenading." Speaking of Scribner, Phil said, "Poor Rod had mental problems, brought on by alcohol, I guess, in his later years, but he was sure a talented guy."]
Monroe: Rod Scribner would be working, and you'd think he'd be concentrating on his work. I had an assistant that was kind of a left-wing son of a gun that was always complaining about everything in this government; anything political, he always took the liberal side. That was Lou Appet, that was the business agent later on. He was my assistant in those days, and he firmly believed in all these things, and he later proved it by leaving the business and getting into that end of it. He was sitting there, and he was saying something about the farmers, and all of a sudden, I heard the chair go back, and Rod Scribner—this was when I was working for Clampett—charged around that thing and came up to poor Lou, and he grabbed him: "You son of a bitch! You can't say anything about my father like that!" We didn't know his father was a farmer; Lou didn't mean anything personal. Rod just blew up; he was ready to let him have it. We had to break 'em up, pull him off. Lou was not the fighting kind; he always smoked a pipe, and would say these things, and then kind of chuckle to himself and move away. He was very low-key. But Rod was exactly the opposite. I saw him another time when he had a fight with Gerry Chiniquy.
Barrier: I'd never heard about his being pugnacious.
Monroe: Oh, yeah, he'd just blow up. Hardly anybody took on Gerry in those days, because Gerry was husky, very well-built, solid and stocky—Rod took him on.
Barrier: Rod was a small guy, wasn't he?
Monroe: He was small, yeah. But he was tough.
Barrier: When you were in Clampett's unit, were they doing this kind of stuff that Bill Melendez described?
Monroe: Not too much when I was with Clampett. They were on the opposite side of the building then, where Chuck Jones's unit was; they were over Chuck Jones's office, but his animation unit, where all the tomfoolery went on, was across the hall, and on the bottom floor. Clampett's unit was on the top floor, on the other side of the building. He could look out of the windows and see the street. They had the film-can routines, where Rod would pile up the film cans on his desk; he'd have a whole pile of empty film cans there, and just about the time when you had your pan figured out, and had spent four hours trying to figure out how to move that pan vertically, horizontally, and everything else, and you had it right up here solid, ready to mark it down, he'd let go with those goddamned film cans, and it sounded like all hell broke loose. It'd continue, because he'd push them off one at a time, and he'd break up the whole unit. Well, we got used to that.
There was another animator working there that you have probably heard little of, and that was Tom McKimson.
Barrier: Of course, he was mainly layout for Clampett.
Monroe: He was animating for Clampett when I was there. I know when it was, because I volunteered for the Army; I was ready to leave. I never had such a time getting work out of a director in my life as I did with Clampett. I always liked him, but he just never was prepared for you, and we were on a footage basis. I was a guy that always met my footage quotas, and then I got thrown in with Clampett, due to the argument I had with Chuck, and I finally ended up with a guy that couldn't provide me with enough footage. That affected your salary. You'd sit there and wait for it.
Barrier: Melendez said you'd get a mob scene you'd have to turn out in two days.
Monroe: That's right. That, or he'd wait two days to give you a scene, and then it'd only be three feet long. And in two days you're supposed to do twelve feet. We were trying to do six feet a day, and that's pretty hard to do if you're held back. [Clampett] loved a good time, and his reputation, when he got into business on his own, left something to be desired. He never gypped me out of anything, but I never worked for him, come to think of it. But I was around him a lot, because I'd meet him in various places—in studios and labs and things like that—when I was doing my job.
|The Jones animators as the Dover Boys, from the cartoon of the same name. From left, Phil Monroe, Ben Washam, Abe Levitow, Dick Thompson, and Ken Harris.
[As we looked through photos, Phil said of the photo of the animators dressed as the Dover Boys that they wore those outfits when they played volleyball against a team of Chuck's friends, at his beach house. "We went down there and challenged their team, and when we came running out, we were all dressed in our long underwear. It bowled Chuck over; we've entertained Chuck as much as he's entertained us over a period of years. His animators were plenty active and funny. We went running out there to play that other team—and Chuck was rooting for us, of course. I think we were defeated about 48 to 0."]
[As we looked at a picture of Leon Schlesinger's yacht, the Merrie Melody, Phil said Schlesinger took the studio's baseball team to Catalina on the yacht, sometime in the mid- to late '30s, as a reward for winning in a league made up mostly of teams from other cartoon studios.]
[Looking at a picture of Tex Avery, Phil said: "We always thought of him as [looking like] Paul Whiteman." Of Avery in later years, Phil said: "He was lost at Cascade. He couldn't keep busy enough, and it wasn't entertaining stuff. He was doing a commercial now and then, and what he did was well accepted, and Cascade always thought he was talented, and they thought he would bring in business, but he didn't, in the business world. He did the Raid commercials for a while, but the guy I remember on Raid commercials is another fellow, who died last year, Hal Mason. I remember him doing the Raid commercials, because I used to animate those things for him. But Tex was always kind of lost over there; he was too good a talent for that."]
Barrier: You mentioned the dance with Sniffles; can you tell me some other scenes or sequences that you did that you particularly liked or that Chuck particularly liked?
Monroe: He always said that Daffy Duck was my best character, and that I was a good duck man; that's an expression that came from Disney's, of course. He always liked the way I handled Daffy Duck. I only worked for Chuck for seven years at the most, and during that seven years, the Sniffles dance was one that he liked, and it was a waltz that I had to choreograph myself, because he couldn't even dance. He could not dance; he didn't have a sense of timing. It sounds funny, doesn't it, because he made so many musicals? Well, thank God for Carl Stalling, because he really had to blend that music together and make it fit. Chuck had an appreciation of music, but didn't have the timing.
Barrier: He's not a musician.
Monroe: Oh, in For Scent-imental Reasons, I did all the drunken sequence of the cat, sniffing; and he was getting sexy and chasing the cat, and the cat was backing up, and this skunk was coming at him . . . in fact, I animated about half of that picture. And Ken and—let's see, who else was there? I guess Rudy. Ken and Rudy were on there. But Ken was really a good animator, all the time. I was paid at the same rate Ken was, all the time I was at Warners, so they considered me that good, but I could see that Ken—he was ten or fifteen years older, and he had the ability to sit down at his desk, apply himself, plus one other thing: He was smart, he was really smart, he was able to get good assistants. They made his animation not only good, they made it terrific, because they were good draftsmen. You couldn't beat a draftsman like Abe Levitow. And you know who my assistant was, was Bob Dorfler [spelling?], and nobody ever heard of that guy. He was a nice little guy who was so friendly and lovable, and he was a Marine. He was a little tiny guy that was easy to caricature, and everybody had a good time with him, and I didn't have the heart to fire him. I kept him for years. I didn't attach that much importance to him, because my animation was coming out, it looked good, but I found out later in my experience that if I'd had a good assistant in those days, I would have been considered a lot more important. And Ken realized that.
Barrier: He produced a lot of footage, and he always had a couple of assistants working behind him.
Monroe: That's true. So did I.
Barrier: Actual assistants, or an assistant and an in-betweener?
Monroe: They were two guys who were assigned to me, but one of them was the assistant and the other was the in-betweener. So were Ken's.
Barrier: I'd heard he had two actual assistants, and then there were in-betweeners working behind them.
Monroe: That's right, but they were always the same people that worked on his stuff.
Barrier: He had one assistant and one in-betweener.
Monroe: That's right. See, they had "A" animators and "B" animators. For most of those years prior to the war, up until about '42, when I had my problems with Chuck, Ken and I and alternately—Bobo Cannon was there, and he left and went to UPA; he left just about the time I went in the Army. Bobo Cannon, Ken and I were the three "A" animators, and the "B" animators were, I think, Benny Washam and Rudy Larriva; and then Rudy was promoted to an "A" animator, and Benny was still a "B" when I left.
Barrier: It's funny to think of Benny being a "B" animator.
Monroe: The minute he started animating, he did things his own way, and kind of experimented with animation. We used to study Disney's pictures all the time, on the Moviola, and we would get the same techniques down, in our animation, that those guys struggled with, at Disney's. It's like today, the guys can learn to animate real fast, because they've got all of the modern equipment to do it with. Well, in those days the Moviola was the modern equipment, and we'd get the pictures, 16mm prints, from Disney—some way, I don't know how we got them, we'd need to have friends over there that would get them. We'd study those, and then apply those techniques to our animation in the Chuck Jones unit. It was new to the Friz Freleng unit, it was new to the Tashlin unit or the Clampett unit, in those days. Chuck would introduce it, and then the first thing you know, the whole studio would apply it.
Barrier: Chuck had said something at one point about the members of his unit going together to buy a Moviola so you could study your own pencil tests in slow motion. Do you remember that?
Monroe: I cannot remember that ever happening. They did have a Moviola, but it was a communal thing.
Barrier: The one out in the hall that everyone used?
Monroe: Yeah. It was way down at the end of the building, and it was one that Treg Brown used when he would work on the soundtrack in the studio. But he had his own sound department across the lot, where he was isolated from everybody. He'd do most of his work there, then bring it back over to this Moviola and do last-minute changes, or run it. Then he'd take it in and they'd run it on the projection machine.
Barrier: Did you use the Moviola mainly for looking at things like Disney films, or did you look at your own pencil tests?
Monroe: Most of the time I was at Warners, we didn't have a Moviola available to us. I didn't realize the value of a Moviola until I left Warners, in 1950. We always ran our pencil tests—we learned to run the projection machine that Smokey Garner built, in the pencil test room, in the sweatbox; there was a machine in there, [and] all the animators knew how to thread their stuff. If you got a pencil test back—and you never pencil tested a whole scene, it was too expensive. You'd pencil test a walk, or a little section of a scene, get that pencil tested, and then you wouldn't see a final pencil test until all of the assistant work was done and the whole thing put together.
Barrier: Oh, I see, so if you just wanted to see it yourself, before you went any further with it, you couldn't shoot the whole thing.
Monroe: Oh, never shot a whole scene—
Barrier: Just shot a piece of it.
Monroe: Absolutely. And if you did, you had to rough that stuff out and put in suggestions of all the in-between work, all the drawings, in order to have it flow properly. That's what Ken Harris was also very smart in doing. All of the good animators had access to a Moviola, or they had the brains, when they came across something they weren't sure of, he would get it tested. He had twice as many tests going through there as the rest of us did. See, the problem was that I didn't take myself seriously enough. I started when I was 17, and I was animating when I was 19, so I was really a young upstart. All those pictures you see of me, at that time I'd been animating, and the other young guys were still in-betweening; so I thought I was pretty good. But I really didn't realize that if I'd applied myself more, in my earlier years, and done some of the things that I did later, to improve myself—and I don't mean just in drawing, but to learn about the business. The minute I did, I learned so much, so fast, and it was really exciting.
Barrier: So the pencil test that the director would be seeing would be the finished work, with assistant work, cleaned up, ready to be inked and painted.
Monroe: Right. That's true. And that had to be part of your thirty feet a week, approved animation.
Barrier: On the pencil tests, Chuck mentioned that after the war, I guess, he and Friz were splicing together pencil tests to make complete pencil reels of the cartoons, so they could see the complete picture.
Monroe: That's right.
Barrier: He said they actually had to do it themselves. They couldn't get anybody to do it for them, so they were actually splicing the film together, which I thought was really—
Monroe: I can't remember that. I can't picture Friz doing it. Maybe if Chuck did it—you'd have a hard time catching him doing it, too. Well, actually, if it was during the time when they had this sticky tape and little hand splicers, and you could put your sticky tape on there and butt-splice it, maybe that's all right, but those guys, neither one of them know how to run a regular splicer. Those guys, they were the least mechanical guys I've ever seen in my life. But I do remember the pencil tests being strung together.
Barrier: In that vein, I guess it was Benny Washam who talked about how little you guys, as Warner animators, had to worry about purely mechanical details of any kind, like a truck in. He said you did have to figure your pans.
Monroe: That's not true; Benny worked like that, but I figured all my—I don't actually put the camera numbers down for the truck, but I indicate where I want the truck to start and stop, and the time that I want it to take, and all of the pans and everything. Benny left a lot of that up to the checkers to do, and at Warner Bros. it was usually Johnny Burton that did that. Then, when you'd get away from Warners, you had to do it yourself, so you had to know how to do it.
Barrier: But he was unusual that way, the other animators would do their own mechanicals?
Monroe: [indicated yes.] Bob McKimson taught that; he taught his animators the mechanics, the basic mechanics of animation, and then what they did on their own, over and above that, was really good. Rod Scribner learned under Bob McKimson, to a certain degree. However, Rod went on, over and above that, after he knew the basics, and he turned out to be an excellent animator.
Barrier: Did Scribner ever assist Bob McKimson? I've never heard anybody mention that he did.
Monroe: I forget who he was an assistant for; but he started about the same time Ben Washam started animation, about the same year. I started in '36—I'd been there two years—and they started in about '38.
Barrier: I think that Scribner had an animation credit on a Hardaway and Dalton cartoon [Bars and Stripes Forever, 1939].
Monroe: Hardaway and Dalton... Cal had a particular style of drawing that wasn't like Bob McKimson's but was in the same vein. He cleaned up all of his drawings as he went along; he didn't leave anything for roughs. Rod Scribner would rough out roughs, just one right after the other. He'd clean up every fourth or fifth drawing, and the assistant would have to do the rest. But he knew action well enough; and that's the way I worked. I'd work rough, [with] a lot of action, and I don't pay too much attention to the individual drawing. But Bob McKimson drew every one of his clean-ups so clean that there was no doubt what your in-betweens were going to look like. And Cal Dalton was the same way. Cal made his drawings very clean. But Cal was a lot looser than Bob. Cal was influenced by an animator named Ben Clopton, who was the studio drunk, but was a goddarned good musical man, and his dances were all funny. He was good in the early '30s, or in the middle '30s, when they were making all those Merrie Melodies, when they used all of the songs. They would give Ben Clopton all of the dance sequences, and he'd get carried away. Say it was a lobster, doing a dance; they gave that to two different animators. They would give the lobster to Ham Hamilton, and Ham would make it look like the best dancer you could ever see, because Ham was probably the best animator that ever worked at Warners. The fact that he was my second cousin doesn't influence me.
Barrier: Other people have said essentially the same thing, but somehow he seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Monroe: It was drink. He was well liked by Disney, when he worked at Disney's, and well thought of; he came out from Kansas City with the original Disney group. Then he came over to Warners in 1933 and was there when I started in 1934. He got me through the gate; he didn't know me, but he got me through the gate to see Ray Katz, and Ray Katz hired me as an in-betweener. I knew then that Ham was their No. 1 animator, his salary was the biggest. He drove a Cord automobile, and he was only about five-feet-two—a little, tiny guy—and when he drove that Cord he sunk down in the seat and could only see over the top [of the dashboard].
I'll never forget the first day I met him; he told me to meet him on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, and he would take me to the studio. So I rode a bus from south Los Angeles, across town—streetcars and everything—and I finally reached Hollywood and Vine, and Ham came up in that Cord. I thought there was nobody driving. All I could see was the top of his head. My aunt was with me, because she knew both of us, and she had to introduce me to him. She said, "Oh, here he is now," and I just about died. He took me, and was very nice, and got me in, and then he forgot about me. Just absolutely. There was no reason for him to remember me. But he was always nice to me, and I loved animation right from the start, and I caught on, with the help of Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Frank Powers, all the old guys that used to be there, they all helped me.
Oh, we were talking about Ben Clopton. If you'd give him the same dance you gave Ham Hamilton, Ham would put realism into it, and give you all the clicks. Clopton would give it a lot of bouncy rhythm, and all of a sudden a character would stand on his hands and dance on his hands and click his feet together and fly around—just wild. It was all in good rhythm, but it wasn't dancing, it was just good rhythm stuff. Every one of his dances received good comment; he was known as a good dance man. But he was wild.
The truth of the matter [was], he was drunk most of the time. I used to be his assistant, and I'd come in, and I'd be afraid to be around him, because you could smell the liquor on him. He thought he was a prizefighter, and the story about Ben Clopton is, at our Christmas parties he would always get drunk, then he'd go across the street to the drugstore—maybe to buy more liquor—and get in a fight. Every year he'd meet the same guy, and the other guy beat the hell out of him, and he'd come back. The next year, he starts breathing heavy and getting drunk, and he'd remember that fight he had—"Dammit, I can take him"—and he'd go across the street, and the guy'd beat the hell out of him again. That happened two or three years, and he always got beat up. He thought he was a fighter; he'd come in, and he'd spar around you while you were working. Cal Dalton would not pay any attention; Cal would sit there and work. Ben would sneak up behind Cal, and his fists would be coming right close to Cal, and Cal would just sit there and say, "If you hit me, we're going to have trouble." He never did hit Cal. He loved Cal; he thought Cal was the funniest guy. They really liked each other.
Barrier: Clopton was the one who was from Montana, the real westerner.
Monroe: Yeah; his younger brother worked at the studio, too. Both still alive, believe it or not. Ben is still alive, but he's completely out of it; he's a vegetable, and he has been for years. I asked Ralph Tiller about him, just the other day. Ralph is a Montanan, and used to be in our business.
Barrier: I'm amazed that Ben Clopton is alive; I just assumed he'd been dead for many years.
Monroe: I did, too. I remember one time in the late '40s that I came out of that studio at lunchtime, and I saw this guy lying in the gutter outside—a common drunk—and it was Ben. In '34, when I started, ten years, fifteen years before that, he was the top-paid animator, next to Ham Hamilton.
Barrier: On the pencil tests, the directors would see the tests in this final form—would they run them as a loop, so you could see them over and over again?
Monroe: Yes; when I was there, most of the time. Occasionally, two or three scenes would be cut together. In fact, that's what they did. When Smokey would shoot tests, he'd cut all of the present day's tests into one reel, then you would see your scene, and all of the animators would be in there, and they would run all of the scenes that were tested that particular day, and they would make comments on them, and the director would make his comments.
Barrier: So you would be subject to comments from the other animators as well as the director.
Monroe: I said that wrong. The other animators had too much sense to comment on another guy's mistakes. I was a good audience; I'd laugh and they'd laugh.
They would splice all of the pencil tests that Smokey shot that day into a loop, and maybe it would be fifty feet of animation; but there would be maybe four animators in there, seeing their stuff. You learned more from those sessions, or just as much from those sessions, as you would on a Moviola, running the stuff. The reason for it, it would be somebody else's animation, and you could see weaknesses in another guy's animation, and recognize it, and then when the director would see that same weakness, you would learn something. It was a great way to teach. And you could spot weaknesses; but if you were a real dummy, and said something, you wouldn't have any friends. And we all knew that. But we got so we knew each other pretty well, and we liked one another, we'd worked together for years, and you could say something. Lots and lots of times, I'd go to another animator, and say, "Hey, what the hell would you do here?" And they'd come to me. It was a nice feeling. That unit feeling was real strong in both units.
Barrier: You said that was the procedure most of the time you were at Warners; did that change before you left?
Monroe: I don't ever remember him splicing a whole picture together in pencil form. I think maybe that happened after I left, in 1950, and during the years that Chuck was making such damned good pictures in the '50s.
Barrier: But you never saw a complete cartoon in pencil test.
Monroe: Not with him, no. And that would have been a luxury.
Barrier: The time required if he took the time to do it himself has always kind of boggled my mind. Maybe he did it once.
Monroe: And if he did it once, he'd never want to do it again, because nothing is so boring. And if he did that, it would be without sound. To run a whole picture in continuity without the sound would be ridiculous. So I don't think they did that very often.
Barrier: It sounded very strange to me when he said that. I had the feeling he was remembering something else.
Monroe: They never had the luxury of waiting that long. They had to go into ink and paint with that stuff in order to finish it on time. They were always overlapping; the ink and paint was overlapping animation and camera, and we were all working on different pictures. Story men were working on one, we were working on another, our assistants were working on another, and the ink and paint was working on another one. We had to put one out every month.
Barrier: When you have something in pencil that's that finished, obviously there couldn't be that many changes that Chuck would ask for, I would think.
Monroe: No. The way Chuck laid things out, you pretty well knew the attitude that he wanted. But it was the pluses that made you a good animator. You could bring a guy up to a stop, in an attitude that Chuck liked, but if you took the extra trouble to give it a lot of overlap, like Rod Scribner did—bring it up, and then his hat would flop away over like this, and he'd go forward, and back, and then his hat would go back this way, and he'd come back forward, and his hat would finally come to a stop—that's one hell of a lot of drawings. It's extra, it's costly, and little by little, Schlesinger's got down to a point where there was a rule of thumb that you just didn't put in a whole lot of extra things, because it was costly. The production department would come by and tell the directors, and then the directors would come in and tell you: "Where you can save drawings here, use a held cel. Go ahead and use it." They were just getting into that area, where they said, hey, we've been overdoing it. That's where it was when I left there.
Barrier: I would think the ink and paint time would be where that would show up.
Monroe: Oh, yes. And ink and paint was always so expensive. We didn't know it, but that was the most expensive department then. I found that out when I started producing and directing; I didn't realize that when I was in animation at Warner Bros.
Barrier: I'm conscious, in looking at the Warner cartoons, of exactly the sort of thing happening that you've described. of movement leaching out of the cartoons. But it's hard to pin down what happened, because it's not a case of an edict going down that you will do that and that. What you're saying makes more sense, just kind of a gradual pressure—
Monroe: It was a gradual evolution. Just saying, you've got to do thirty feet a week, and some guys could do thirty feet easy, and have footage to spare. Ken Harris was one of those. He had so much footage stored up that he didn't have to work for four months. I never worked more than five or six hours a day; I always goofed off a lot. But Benny Washam never did thirty feet in his whole life. He'd do twenty-three, and have a hard time doing that.
Barrier: You say thirty feet; the figure I've heard as being sort of the standard figure at Warners was twenty-five a week.
Monroe: No; it was thirty feet. They finally lowered it to twenty-five, and said it's okay, if you're an "A" animator, to do twenty-five. That's the most they could get out of guys like Benny. He was such a good draftsman, and he took so much time to do the stuff. I bat mine out, and Ken batted his out. Ken had a good assistant to follow through, I had a lousy assistant to follow through, and so, therefore, I didn't really catch Chuck's eye as an animator until the late '40s. Then, during the ten years I spent in commercials, he learned to appreciate what I [could do], because I had him over to talk to the people, and things like that.
Barrier: You mentioned your disagreement with Chuck before the war, and you said in the earlier interview you had a difference of opinion: "It was a little political in those days; it had something to do with the internal running of the studio. ... We didn't agree on a certain person in the studio and the way they were conducting their business." Can you tell me—?-
Monroe: Sure. I'll tell you as much as I remember about it. I remember who it was about: It was about Johnny Burton. I think I was against Johnny doing something, and Chuck was for it, or it was the other way around. And it had something to do with, possibly, union activity connected with production—I just don't remember what it was. But I was strong in those days, and Chuck was also strong in those days with his thoughts about unions and things like that—
Barrier: Chuck was very pro-union, of course.
Monroe: Yes, he was. I was pro-union, too. Therefore, I can't figure out—it had something to do with the union activity, and we didn't agree about Johnny Burton's—anyway, we couldn't agree where Johnny fitted into the picture. Possibly, because I thought Johnny was a production man, that he shouldn't have too much to say about what was going on in the union, and Chuck possibly thought that he should have something to say. Maybe that was the difference, but I cannot say for sure now what that argument was about. Isn't that ridiculous?
We must have said things in those days, because it made me so mad, and it made Chuck so mad. He didn't fire me; he didn't just get rid of me right then. But the first opportunity that came along to transfer anybody—and as I told you, the "A" and "B" animation thing was always a problem in the studio, because directors had to get the pictures out, and maybe Friz was a little slow in getting his pictures out, he would need an "A" animator to come in and do the footage, to help him out of it. I think that was why I was switched from Chuck's to Friz's unit. I was with Friz about a year, I think, then I got switched again to Clampett's unit. I was bitter about all of that, because I had enjoyed myself up to that time, and I was always a guy who liked to be happy, and here I was, being pushed around, and I got tired of it, so I joined the Army, in 1943. I volunteered; I was the only guy who volunteered. From 1943 on, all the rest of them [were drafted].
So it was about Johnny Burton, and whether Chuck stuck up for him or against him, I don't know, but we had an argument about Johnny Burton's way of doing things, and I didn't agree, and Chuck couldn't put up with a guy that didn't agree with him. That's what surprised me. I went in the Army, and I met Frank Thomas and John Hubley—who I thought was the most inspirational guy I ever worked for—and when I came back, Chuck wanted me back. So I did a job for Chuck before I went in the Army, or he wouldn't have wanted me back. Then I came back with him, and some of the happiest years in animation were spent the next four years with him.
Barrier: You said they switched the "A" animators' footage requirement to twenty-five a week from thirty; what about the "B" animators?
Monroe: The "B" animators could do any footage that they were capable of doing. The "B" animators only got the footage that was left over, the unimportant footage in a picture. And if they did twelve feet a week, or fifteen feet a week, that was enough.
Barrier: So an "A" animator was an "A" not just because of the quality of your work, but because you could turn out that twenty-five or thirty feet a week.
Monroe: Absolutely. And that was important. That's the area that we all knew was there. And Benny was one guy that never quite reached it, and in fact, he turned out to be so good that I think he was one of the reasons that they lowered it. They realized that if Benny only turned in twenty-five feet, why in the hell couldn't I turn in twenty-five feet? Finally, they lowered it to twenty-five feet, but not when I was there. That must have happened in the '50s.
Barrier: So the entire time you were there in the late '40s, until 1950, it was still thirty feet a week. I've heard it the other way around, that Ken Harris and Virgil Ross would be producing forty feet a week, and they'd say, why can't the rest of you guys do forty feet a week?
Monroe: They might have said that, but they knew it wasn't true. Gerry Chiniquy always had trouble doing his footage, thirty feet a week, because he was always so meticulous, for Friz. He studied hard, and he just made himself into a good animator. But Benny was a good draftsman, and could draw. Those guys had a hard time doing their footage. But the guys that could do thirty feet a week could go in and say, "Hey, look, I animated half your picture, why can't I get a salary, a premium salary?" And they would give you a contract; I had five contracts in five years. They'd keep renewing it, and I'd get mad and I go in and get another contract. The goal there was to be able to give them the footage they wanted, and then, over and above that, be as good as you could, because your future [depended] on your screen credits. I threatened to quit one time because I didn't get credit on a picture, and I went in, and I guess I sold it well enough, the fact that I wanted to quit unless I got credit, they took Cal Dalton's name off of the picture and put my name on it.
Barrier: Which cartoon was this?
Monroe: It was called Clean Pastures, a parody on all of the old Negro singers. The Hays Office declared it sacrilegious, and it only played on Central Avenue; the only place they'd play that film was down in the Negro section.
Barrier: Down in the Watts area.
Monroe: Yeah. So a lot of good that did me. And Cal Dalton, who was one of my closest friends when I was growing up, before I knew my wife, he always laughed about that. He said, "You went in and made an ass of yourself, and what good did it do you?" But I started getting credit on that picture, at a very early age—I think I was 19 or 20. I'd been there two years, and I started animating, and I'd animated enough footage to say, goddarn it, I'm part of the animation crew, I want credit. I went in and laid it down, and they took his name off. I thank Johnny Burton for that; I think he was responsible. From then on, I got credit. I became an accepted "A" animator, and I got my share of the credits.
Barrier: Of course, you worked for different directors back then, too, I guess, before you went to work for Chuck—
Monroe: Yes, that's true.
Barrier: Because Friz made Clean Pastures.
Monroe: Yes, that's right. I worked for Friz before I worked for Chuck. And I loved Friz; I thought he was great.
Barrier: When you were working for Friz in the middle '30s, how did it differ from working for him in the early '40s?
Monroe: Not too much. When I worked for him in the early '30s, I was a "B" animator, just starting out, and I got simple little scenes, and I would do well. He never gave me the key scenes in the picture. When I went back in the '40s, with him, after our trouble with Chuck, I had achieved the "A" classification, so I got key scenes in the picture.
Barrier: And got more trouble from Friz.
Monroe: Yes, I got more trouble from Friz. Oh, God, he was hard to work for. And he was so easy to work for when I went back in the '70s. He was a different guy, completely. He taught me more about some of the facets of animation than Chuck did. Chuck taught me to draw, and Friz taught me timing—really timing—and I'm proud of the way I can time stuff now.
Barrier: This was when you were working with him in the early '40s.
Monroe: Yes. He taught me the importance of animating in silhouette, and making a thing read in silhouette—if it reads in silhouette, it's going to read. He taught me just little things like that; then he taught me bar sheets, which Chuck never knew, and which I relied upon in my seventeen years in advertising. I worked with bar sheets and musicians all the time, and it was a great thing for me then.
Barrier: You worked for Tashlin, I guess, after you worked for Friz. Were you an "A" animator by that time?
Barrier: You said in the earlier interview that "Tash was a keen guy to work for."
Monroe: He was. He was very free. He was sort of like Clampett in a way. He wasn't a very good layout man—he could draw, but his drawings never looked like the characters, so you'd have to draw the characters the way you thought he'd like them. In that manner, he was wonderful. He would give you a lot of very difficult things to animate in perspective; it would take you a long time to do them, and they meant very little. He wasn't a very good director, Tash wasn't, and he didn't do anything for Warner Bros. that was worth a damn as far as I'm concerned. But he was a nice guy to work for—very pleasant. His reputation prior to that time was that he was a mama's boy, and there was a lot of strange things [that] when he was growing up, he was kind of naive about. Women, and things like that. But he outgrew that. These are stories that were told to me about Tash. But when I worked for him, he was so pleasant. My wife knew him; she was in ink and paint, and we thought he was a real great guy. She worked in the ink and paint department when I went in the Army. We were married in '39, and when I went in the Army in '43, she went in to the ink and paint [department]. She spent about four years in the business. She worked at Warner Bros., and when they closed down, she went to work at Screen Gems.
Barrier: When they closed down?
Monroe: They had a strike in '40-something.
Barrier: Oh, the Conference of Studio Unions strike, in '46.
Monroe: Yes, something like that. She went to work for Screen Gems. [Mrs. Monroe added from another room that she worked afterwards for Sutherland and UPA.] She bounced around. We had to; when I volunteered for the Army, I didn't know what I was doing. My income went from $60 a week down to about $18 a month. She started working, and then I was transferred here to Culver City, in the film unit, so I could live at home, and I didn't have to live on the post. So she worked all of that time, until we scraped through. But that [military service] was one the best things that ever happened to me, because I met all of these other guys.
Barrier: You said Frank Thomas offered you a job at Disney's.
Monroe: Yeah, he did.
Barrier: You might have become the tenth Old Man.
Monroe: No way! But I tell you, I would have learned a lot over at Disney's at that time. Instead of doing that, I stayed at Warner Bros., and I didn't start really learning a lot until 1950, when I went to Sutherland's and went into direction over there, and directed commercials, and animated for him, and became a salesman for him, in a way.
Barrier: John Sutherland is somebody I don't know much about.
Monroe: Well, he never made entertainment pictures, but boy, he made good industrials. He had very good Disney type of animation, and he had wonderful people over there working—Carl Urbano and Arnold Gillespie and George Gordon, who just died last month. [Gordon] became a super salesman and a director for Sutherland, and Sutherland kind of adopted him and put him into a real good job, and he became the head of the studio, and was running the studio for John. He always had trouble with John, because John thought he [Sutherland] was a writer, and he never was.
Barrier: Last time, we talked about the quality of the drawings you got from the different directors—for example, how strong Chuck's would be, and how scratchy Clampett's would be. How did the number of drawings you got from the different directors vary, and how did that affect your work? Chuck, you said, in the beginning gave you a lot of drawings—
Monroe: He did.
Barrier: Almost too many.
Monroe: Well, it was never too many for a beginning animator, because he got what he wanted out of almost any animator. He got what he wanted, because it was his. The only way you could impress Chuck— [words lost in turning the tape over] —in order to make their stuff look better, and if you did that, you learned. With Clampett—say Chuck would give you maybe eight to ten drawings in a scene, finished, cleaned-up, exactly what he wanted to see; say it would be a fifteen-foot scene, that's almost a drawing a foot. He would do something like that, and he enjoyed doing it, so he would do it, and then if you followed those, you would get what he wanted. As opposed to Clampett—Clampett would give you one drawing that didn't even read well, and then he'd say, "I want him to go over here, and then blow his nose, and come back over here and toot this horn." He would give you a real loose, scratchy thing that didn't look like the character, and you had to draw. Therefore, you learned faster, because you were forced into making your own drawings. Fortunately, all that shifting around I did kind of just added to my ability to do it later on. I look back at it now in a different light than I looked at it then. They all had something good to offer.
Barrier: Who was doing Bob's actual layout drawings? Was he doing them?
Monroe: I can't even remember. That's why I mentioned that guy, and I asked you if he did layouts for Bob Clampett [Zack Schwartz]. There was another guy—Mike Sasanoff! Oh my God, what a laugh he was. What a laugh—what a pity. I never could figure out what he did at the studio. All he did was sit there and whisper to Bob Clampett. They sat knee to knee, and they would be talking, and then they'd laugh. Part of the bad reputation that Bob had was because of that guy; he was an oddball. And a lot of stories started, which weren't true.
Barrier: What kind of stories?
Monroe: Oh, homosexual crap. Which Bob wasn't; he wasn't a homosexual. But that kind of a feeling. I don't know what Sasanoff did for him. But he worked for him for two or three years. Then he went into the agency business; fortunately, I didn't have to bump into him in the agency business.
Barrier: He was later a psychologist.
Monroe: [breaking into raucous laughter] That kills me! Maybe he was perfectly straight, and that was just my young impression; hell, I was 23 or 24 when that happened, and I could have been wrong about it. But a lot of guys were wrong about Bob Clampett. I mean, they thought he was odd.
Barrier: He had a reputation as being homosexual?
Monroe: Yes. He didn't run around with girls. You'd never see him with a woman. And yet they went to all the good nightclubs and everything. I just don't know what he did in his personal life. Very few guys did.
Barrier: What's strange is that he and Chuck were such good friends back in the middle '30s.
Monroe: Not really. In the mid '30s? I knew 'em in '34; the studio opened in '33, and they worked together in a room—when they were both animating, they were pretty good friends. Bob Clampett animated standing up, and Chuck Jones animated sitting down. I went to work there in '34, [and] my very first scene, I had to take it in, and I went into the room, and I said, "I'm to see Chuck Jones; who is Chuck Jones?" And Bob Clampett says, "I am." I walked over to him, and Chuck just sat there listening. Then, finally, he got in the conversation. Those two guys liked to kid back and forth like that. They would giggle and laugh, and finally they had to admit I was talking to the wrong guy. They're the guys who sent me out after the in-between stencil. I went all over the goddamned studio looking for an in-between stencil to make my job easier. They were responsible for that. Later on, in future years, we learned to build things that looked like they might be able to be used. We'd put a compass on it, and a little wax ruler, and string, and things like that, and a little drawing board with holes in it, to make it look like it might be something. And some damned fool would walk into your room with this contraption in his hand, saying, "They tell me I need another part for this in-between stencil." Those guys really kidded around. But that only lasted for about a year, or two years, and they both went into Schlesinger and got an assignment as co-directors on a picture; you've heard about that, I guess.
Barrier: Chuck says they were supposed to be co-directors, and Bob tricked him out of getting screen credit as a co-director. Clampett said no, this was not the case, that Chuck was being brought along behind him as more or less a favor to him, that he was the senior guy and Chuck was sort of tagging along.
Monroe: I can't believe that. I knew very little about politics and how the studio was run when I was 17 or 18 years old, of course, but my impression was that they were both put in there as co-directors. Like Dalton and Hardaway. Then they both wanted to break away and do their own thing; they wanted to be their own directors, both of them did. The minute that was decided, they became enemies. And Clampett would never bad-mouth Chuck. That was a funny thing. But Chuck did bad-mouth Clampett.
Barrier: While you were still at Warners.
Barrier: Was this before the war or after the war?
Monroe: Before the war.
Barrier: Before the war Chuck would be negative about Bob.
Monroe: Oh, he didn't like Bob Clampett when Clampett got his own unit and then Chuck was given a unit and Clampett was out of the main studio, he was over in Termite Terrace, and Chuck started the unit that I joined. That's when they broke up all of the animators—I was working with all the directors when I first started in '36, and then, right about that time—'37, I guess—they formed units. Whenever Chuck started direction, that's when I started in his...
Barrier: Now, you were with Tashlin before—
Monroe: No, no, not Tash. I was with Tash afterwards, after Chuck. No, wait a minute...
Barrier: Tashlin directed from '36 to '38, and when Tash left, Chuck actually took his slot. And some of the people—I think Ken Harris—
Monroe: I was with Ken all the time in those days.
Barrier: As I recall, he got animation credit on at least one of Tashlin's cartoons.
Monroe: Maybe you're right; maybe I've forgotten [that] Tash did direct, and I did work with Tash, before I went with Chuck. I know I worked with Friz; and I remember working with Tash, and I animated this colored lady with all the fruit on her head.
Barrier: That's one of those song cartoons, like Have You Got Any Castles .
Monroe: Yes; I remember that. I animated this big mammy type of gal, walking around up and down stairs, and across the stage. Tash gave me a lot of "A" animation to do, I remember that. I still don't think it was unitized at that time; I think we were just assigned [to directors as needed].
[As we talked about the chronology of the directors, I mentioned that Norm McCabe had moved into the main building around the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942.]
Monroe: That's when I briefly went to work for McCabe. I wanted to work for him; I wanted to get away from Friz, at that time, because Friz was very difficult to work for, in those days, for me.
Barrier: Was he giving you his own layout drawings?
Monroe: No, he always had a guy working with him to do his layouts, as far as I remember. That was before Hawley Pratt started with him. Hawley was an assistant to Dick Bickenbach. I forget who Friz's layout man was.
Barrier: He had Owen Fitzgerald before he had Hawley.
Monroe: Oh, boy, I wish it had been Owen, because Owen could draw. I wasn't there when Owen Fitzgerald was; I always wanted to work with him. See, if you got good layouts, you could do good animation. If you got bad layouts, your animation would suffer; and no matter how good it was, it didn't look good. So that was the difference. And when I was with Friz, his layouts weren't too good.
Barrier: When Chuck was bad-mouthing Clampett, what would he say negative about him?
Monroe: That he didn't have any taste. He would see those cartoons where Clampett would use "B.O.," remember? He had this dog sniffing, and Bugs Bunny's leaning up against the tree, and he comes up under the tree and says, "B.O." [Hare Ribbin']. Chuck is a refined guy in a certain manner, and that just made him sick. It wasn't his kind of humor, and he taught us to respect that kind of thing. So we decided it was not good humor, and a lot of times we just wouldn't laugh at Clampett's stuff, even if it was funny. But I think that was short-lived. I never thought Clampett made very good pictures, but I see some of the old stuff now, and some of it was pretty good.
Barrier: But when you went to work for Clampett, you didn't hear anything—
Monroe: No, Clampett would acknowledge that he and Chuck just didn't get along, but he never would say anything bad about Chuck. Clampett was a pretty straight guy that way, as long as I was around him.
Barrier: Clampett had so many sketches, gag drawings, that he and Chuck had made back in the middle '30s. Evidently they spent a lot of time together, would go out and do things together, things like this.
Monroe: I didn't know that.
Barrier: You talk about Clampett having a reputation as being homosexual—some people have suggested that Leon Schlesinger and Clampett had something going, and this was how Clampett got promoted.
Monroe: Oh, I remember something about that, but I doubt it, very much. I don't want to make too much about that homosexual thing, but it was the truth that everybody kind of thought that about Clampett. It was unfair; he used to faint, for instance, if you would say something dirty, or anything like that. He would just faint. He was more like a woman, in that respect. But he evidently outgrew that.
Barrier: It's funny, because he seems to have overcompensated. He was an only child and raised by his mother, so he was unquestionably a mother's boy, and I've heard these stories about how he would react in the early days. He seems to have overcompensated later, with these very strong sexual gags. He said Bob Cannon was very shy about such things—
Monroe: He was.
Barrier: —and he and Chuck would kind of make him look out the window at the starlets.
Monroe: Hold his neck out the window. They did that to me, too. Clampett did that to me. We used to always ogle at the Bette Davises and the stars that would walk down the street. One day I'm standing there, and he says, "Look, look at the tits on her." I ran over to the window and stuck my head out, and then all of a sudden this hand grabbed me by the neck and held my head out there. [In a falsetto] "Hello, pretty girl, hello, pretty girl." She turned around and looked, and my head's sticking out the [window]. I couldn't move.
Barrier: This was Clampett doing this?
Monroe: Clampett, yeah.
Barrier: So by that time he was no longer fainting.
Monroe: Oh, well, no, even after that they kidded him about that. But he was never in the least way that way towards me or anybody else—except that Mike Sasanoff, who used to sit in there and whisper to him. I don't know what the hell they were whispering about. That's the only bad thing—and that wasn't bad, it was just kind of strange.
Barrier: There are so many people who worked at Schlesinger's who have this negative feeling about Clampett. It's not traceable to anything he did to them, necessarily, but something about him set a lot of people on edge. Some of them have reasons, like his supposedly stealing gags from other people's storyboards.
Monroe: Chuck never let him forget that, of a missing drawing and him going in and saying, "Where's my story sketch?" and Clampett says, "Oh, I'll bring it in tomorrow." And Chuck didn't even know he had it. Stories like that, where he was missing something, so he just went in and kiddingly said it to Clampett. And when he stole the totem pole...
Barrier: I don't think I know this one.
Monroe: We used to have a prop department there, before we moved over in 1936. From '34 to '35 we were on the other side of the lot, and we were right next to the prop department. Clampett found this totem pole outside the prop department, leaning against the hall, and he thought it was being thrown away in the trash. That was his story. So he grabbed that totem pole, and he started taking it home. He got to the gate and the cop stopped him, and he had to turn around and take this totem pole back. That was supposedly a true story. That was one of the crazy stories that we kept hearing about him. He never stole anything from me, but I kept hearing stories about what he'd do. Most of the time they came from Chuck. I believe half of what Chuck says.
Barrier: There's some basis for Chuck's animosity that goes beyond what is clearly visible on the surface. As much as some people dislike Bob, they don't have the intensity of dislike that Chuck has had. Chuck's dislike seems to have gotten more intense over the years.
Monroe: That's true, but I don't know what the answer is, either. He's always been on the outs with Bob, [out of] professional jealousy, as far as I can see. For one thing, Clampett was a better animator than Chuck was, when they first started out. He was a much better animator, and I think maybe he was given a better rating at that time than Chuck was. Chuck could always draw well, but he couldn't animate.
Barrier: It's always seemed plausible to me, if not necessarily true, that Clampett could have been considered by Schlesinger as being a step above Chuck, because he was a little ahead of him as far as being at Schlesinger's and in the animation.
Monroe: Yeah. I think that's the only connection that Schlesinger had. Schlesinger was a very—I want to say a good word, because he was a very sympathetic guy, and if he liked somebody, he really liked 'em, and he'd stick by 'em. I think he liked Clampett that way. But Chuck Jones was not a very warm guy in those days, for Schlesinger to know; he wasn't his type of intellectual, or follower, or whatever he needed.
Barrier: From what I've heard about Bob, he probably kind of amused Schlesinger—kind of a bad boy.
Monroe: He was kind of wild in his ideas. If you sat in a room with him, and kicked gags around, he'd have just as many gags as anybody else. A lot of times they didn't make any sense, but he had a nice personality.
Barrier: Chuck will say this, he'll say that Bob had a lot of charm.
Monroe: Oh, he did. He was tall and straight and always had that shock of black hair, and he'd come up and grin and shake your hand and look you straight in the eye and give you all of his attention. Chuck would never do that. They were two different types.
Barrier: Bob had a little more glamour back in those days, I guess.
Barrier: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your own family background. I know your birthdate, but I don't think I know where you were born or what your father did.
Monroe: My father was a schoolteacher, in his younger days, then he hit upon bad times. He was the father of seven children, and a set of twins died, and he had five children that lived. There's just my sister and myself left. I was born in Long Beach, California, and I went to school at Fremont High School in south Los Angeles. I was responsible for getting a lot of guys [from Fremont] in at Warners. Of course, there were a couple of guys who were in the business before—two very good guys, Roy Williams and Emery Hawkins. And there was a couple of guys who got into the studios—not at Warners, but got into the studios; they went to guys like Lantz or Mintz. But I was one of the first guys to get in at Warners, in '34, and then I got Manuel Perez and Rudy Larriva and Rev Chaney their jobs there; I went to school with all those guys. I say I got them their jobs, they got their own jobs, but I made it possible for them to get in and take their work in, and then I kind of nursed them through. In fact, Rudy was my assistant when I first began to animate.
When Frank Thomas offered me a job in 1947, after the war, he also offered the job to Rudy Larriva; he wanted both of us. Rudy took it, and didn't go back to Chuck Jones, and that made Chuck mad. Evidently, he made it apparent to Rudy that he didn't like it, and they've been on the outs ever since. On the other hand, Chuck and I were arguing, and in 1947 he asked me to come back, and apologized to me for our argument, and said he was sorry that it happened and he wanted me back, and I said, "Okay, Chuck, I'll come back." Rudy, from that day on, he's almost as bad about it as Chuck is with Clampett. He just does not like Chuck Jones at all.
[Posted July 12, 2012]