Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mike Maltese Speaks in 1960

Here's an article I found a while back on Newspaperarchive.com; it was originally printed by the New York Herald-Tribune in 1960, and re-printed by a few local papers. By this time Michael Maltese was working at Hanna-Barbera, and the article provides a reminder that H-B's corner-cutting was seen as something of a blessing at the time; while the people who worked on their shows would of course have preferred to have more time and money (and in Maltese's case, not to burn through all available story ideas in one season), H-B provided an outlet for slick professional cartoon-making at a time when everybody knew theatrical cartoons were on the way out.

And when Maltese talks about the influence of silent films on his work, he really seems to light up. Notice also that the author doesn't even mention -- unless it was cut out of this reprinted version -- Maltese's association with Warner Brothers. It wasn't considered as important a credit in 1960 as it would be 10 years later when those cartoons had become TV legends.

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Cartoonist Makes Transition From Movies To Television

By John Crosby


Mike Maltese is a cartoonist who started in animation in Hollywood about 20 years ago. He's never heard of Feiffer and probably never heard of Low or Mauldin either. He's a West Coast boy who can mimic almost any voice he's ever heard, can actually make a line drawing of himself by sheer will power and native acting talent and is now a very successful cartoonist for television.

He draws three frames simultaneously for his cartoon strip Quick Draw McGraw which my kids rarely miss. This is a kiddie strip but it's satiric and adult enough to make me laugh. Quick Draw McGraw is also fairly significant in that it is typical of cartoons that are drawn entirely for television. Most of the cartoons on television originally were drawn years and years ago for theater audiences which, of course, are largely comprised of adults.

Maltese explains: "The reason so many cartoonists are now working for television is that that is where the money is from. Movie exhibitors couldn't afford to pay enough for cartoons because of the double feature and all. But working for theatrical cartoons I worked much less. I wrote eight cartoon features a year. Since I've been working for television, I've done in seven months about eight years' worth of stories. This medium eats the stuff up."

According to Maltese, animated cartoons began originally as picturized nursery rhymes for the movie houses. When they came on, the adults would excuse themselves and go out for a smoke. In order to keep the adults in their seats, the cartoonists started doing their own stories including satire, which would be over the kids' heads without losing them.

"I've been in the cartoon business for 25 years and I've been in every department. Animated cartoons arrived with Walt Disney and they've come a long way since that. Until recently the only cartoons on television were old ones done for the movie theaters. I used to watch some I had done about 15 years ago. Hanna and Barbera, the outfit I'm with, were the first to come out with products which have all the crispness and technical finess you'd find in theatrical cartoons despite the handicap of supplying so much more than theater use.

"In filling the schedule, they were forced to work out a technique of animation that would be faster, actually faster than that used in theatrical cartoons. In TV animation we have to do about 300 feet of animation a week, as opposed to about 25 feet for theatrical cartoons. Some are a little jerky but, on the whole, they're expert jobs.

"The gags that Red Skelton throws away, we would never throw away. We're footage misers. As a boy I was a great fan of the silent pictures. In 1913 I saw Chaplin and I came alive." It still shows in his work. "I went home and I made up as Chaplin. There isn't a film of his I haven't seen over and over. He showed me how close humor is to tragedy. And the original Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, with its chases and its humor, depended very much on the sort of action and pace cartoons have now. I'm going to draw Quick Draw as Zorro one day."

Many of the cartoons in Maltese's cartoons sound like the voices of stars. Baba Looie sounds like an exaggerated Desi Arnaz, Yogi Bear like an overblown Art Carney. It's easier for Maltese to do it this way than to originate a new voice for each character.

"In the cartoon business," says Maltese, "no one can take the credit for the finished product. One hand washes the other. The beautiful part of animated cartoons is that, even though we may all hate each other, everyone is working for the same thing. You can't tell where one animator leaves off and the other begins. No, I don't mind the anonymity. We animators are a sort of exclusive club and none of us would want to do anything else."

Then he sighs and adds: "Except -- I might have been a comedian in pictures."
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(Update: Turns out that this was already transcribed at GAC forums a while back. If I'd known that I could have saved myself the work of transcribing it, but on the other hand, it's fun to transcribe old articles, so everybody wins.)

7 comments:

Thad said...

He sounds happy then, but he'd soon be paid for his hard work with H-B's decision to do 'action' cartoons, the exact thing he and Warren Foster didn't want to (and couldn't) write.

Terrific find.

Russell H said...

"I'm going to draw Quick Draw as Zorro one day."

Did he ever.

KA-BONNNNG!

Brent McKee said...

There's a certain condescension by the writer: "He's never heard of Feiffer and probably never heard of Low or Mauldin either." And then later there's this: "He draws three frames simultaneously for his cartoon strip Quick Draw McGraw which my kids rarely miss. This is a kiddie strip but it's satiric and adult enough to make me laugh."

Anonymous said...

Maltese's attitude reveals how working class and blue collar the cartoon racket was in the day before it was called 'animation.'

Anonymous said...

Jaime, um, I posted this on GAC last January.

But it's nice to give it more exposure.

F. Fox

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Jaime, um, I posted this on GAC last January.

But it's nice to give it more exposure.


I didn't see it on GAC. Sorry about that. (But I suspect it got more exposure on GAC anyway.)

pspector said...

Mike wasn't the only one of his age peers to harken back to the silent era. Whenever we would go over to Cal Howard's house he would break out the projector and show Buster Keaton flicks.