Dr. Seuss at DePatie-Freleng

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have an update on the health of Jim Korkis from Jim’s brother, Michael:

Jim’s procedure this week went well! He moves to a room to rest . Next they schedule heart operation in a number of days if things stay on track. Today he’s still recovering but doing good. No phone in this intensive care. He is encouraged it’s getting behind him. He asked no calls till he gets to regular room maybe tomorrow.

Jim said you could share he had an operation on an artery in his neck and recovered well from it. He is now in a regular room and awaiting the schedule for his bigger operation in a number of days. He’s feeling really up and encouraged and you know Jim he’s resilient and focused on getting better! Thank everyone for continued thoughts and prayers!

Prior to his medical emergency, Jim provided us with this weeks column – and we are posting it according to his wishes.

Jim does not use social media – but he will see this post, so if you’d like to send a message please place it in the comments below.

Get well, Jim. – Jerry Beck

Suspended Animation #410

When animation fans think about the animation of Dr.Seuss, most probably immediately think of the two Chuck Jones animation television specials How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) and Horton Hears a Who (1970) or perhaps the Bob Clampett animated Warner Brothers short Horton Hatches an Egg (1942).

The “lost” original title card for this classic cartoon – The film element is long gone. The original artwork was saved by Bob Clampett – and the art is part of Clampett estate.

The earliest animated cartoons based on Seuss material were from 1931 when Vitaphone released two animated shorts distributed by Warner Brothers entitled ‘Neath The Bababa Tree, and Put On The Spout, that were apparently advertisements for the Flit bug repellant that Seuss had been doing magazine cartoons for since 1928 but little are known about them.

George Pal for his Puppetoons series produced stop-motion adaptations of The 500 Hats Of Bartholomew Cubbins (1943) and And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (1944) that were both narrated by actor Victor Jory. Both were nominated for Academy Awards.

Seuss was involved with the creation of the character, the writing and the supervision of the Private Snafu cartoons during World War II and later his children’s record about Gerald McBoing-Boing became a UPA short in 1950.

Preproduction began on The Cat in the Hat (1971) television special at Chuck Jones’ MGM Animation/Visual Arts studio in the late 1960s along with Horton Hears a Who! among other Dr. Seuss projects.

After MGM stopped animation production and closed down its animation department for good in December 1970, production was moved to De Patie-Freleng Enterprises operated by David PePatie and Friz Freleng making it officially the company’s first Dr. Seuss television special.

Author Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and David DePatie were both represented by International Creative Management (ICM) and DePatie’s agent asked DePatie if he was interested in taking over the work on the special. Friz Freleng had previously worked with Geisel on the Private Snafu wartime shorts.

Publicly, Geisel grumbled about doing animation but realizing it was a good source for income and publicity that increased the sales of his books, he agreed. Chuck Jones (who is credited as producer on the special) and his staff were retained by DePatie–Freleng in the production of the special although Jones was mostly uninvolved at that point going on to other projects.

Hawley Pratt is credited as director of the special and supposedly got rid of the storyboard that Jones had done and started over from scratch. Much of the design work seems clearly the work of DePatie-Freleng rather than Jones.

Songwriter Allan Sherman who voiced the role of the Cat loved working with Geisel. “Dr. Seuss and I are both crazy about words,” said Sherman in the Philadelphia Daily News March 2, 1971. “There we were in the studio….two grown men debating whether one of the (Cat’s) words should be poo-poodler or poobledly-poobler.”

When asked how involved Geisel was with the television specials done by DePatie-Freleng using his characters, David DePatie told Charles Brubaker in 2010, “He was a very hands-on guy. He lived down in La Jolla and he would fly over here. During the course of the production it wasn’t unusual to see him once a week.

“He was very instrumental in the creation of the series. Friz (Freleng) and I had a very good rapport with him. We enjoyed working with him and he enjoyed the studio and it was a far-cry from the bad experience he had with Chuck Jones on the earlier Christmas special. It was a very good relationship and everybody was pleased.”

Among other things, Geisel wasn’t happy with Chuck Jones’ design of the character of the Grinch in How The Grinch Stole Christmas who Geisel felt was too “cute” and seemed to resemble Jones himself more than Geisel’s illustrated version. However, Geisel did enjoy working on the lyrics to the songs on the two Jones specials which he continued to do on all the DePatie-Freleng specials.

In total, DePatie-Freleng produced seven television specials with Dr. Seuss:

The Cat in the Hat (March 1971)
The Lorax (February 1972)
Dr. Seuss on the Loose (October 1973)
The Hoober-Bloob Highway (February 1975)
Halloween is Grinch Night (October 1977)
Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You? (May 1980)
The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (May 1982)

The second special, The Lorax, received the Critics Award at the International Animated Cartoon Festival and the Geisels and the Friz Frelengs traveled together to Zagreb to accept the award.

“Dr. Seuss on the Loose”

Dr. Seuss on the Loose had the Cat in the Hat (once again voiced by Allan Sherman in his last acting credit before his death a month after the special aired) introducing animated adaptations of The Sneetches, the Zax and Green Eggs and Ham.

The Hoober-Bloob Highway was not based on a Seuss book but an original teleplay by Geisel about a location high above Earth where yet-to-be-born children were given the opportunity to decide if they wanted to live as humans on Earth. Geisel was especially happy with the songs he composed with Dean Elliott and felt the work was similar to a rock musical like Jesus Christ Superstar.

He told the Los Angeles Times newspaper in August 30, 1971, “I’ve done so much lyric writing in putting the television things together that I’d like to do an opera. Television is the biggest, most exciting medium there is. I just want to live long enough to do something terrific in TV.”

Even though it was an original teleplay, Seuss recycled some gags from his previous books including the battle of Tweedle beetles in a bottle on a poodle eating noodles from Fox in Socks (1965). Mr. Hoober-Bloob was a look-alike of the doorman in I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew (1965). Other gags are reused from Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953), On Beyond Zebra! (1955) and If I Ran The Zoo (1950).

“The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat”

Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You? was another original teleplay by Geisel but when it aired in 1979 the story of a failed pickle packer who is given a magical piano to whisk him anywhere in the world did not generate much fan response even after repeated showings. Like Hoober-Bloob Highway, it is generally considered a novelty.

“I knew it wasn’t a good title,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m experimenting to see how The Cat in the Hat will play against the Grinch. I think it will.”

The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (even though in the end the Cat gets the better of the Grinch) won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. Geisel won an additional Emmy for the songs he had written with Joe Raposo who he had also worked with on Pontoffel Pock and Halloween is Grinch Night.

Hans Conried was set to reprise voicing the Grinch but passed away before the recording and was replaced by Bob Holt. Mason Adams took over the role of the Cat originated by Allan Sherman who had passed away.

The special was actually released as a Marvel Productions product as Marvel had absorbed DePatie-Freleng at that point although it was finished by the same DePatie-Freleng staff who had worked on the previous specials.

In 2005, the DePatie-Freleng specials The Grinch Grinches Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax were released on one DVD called the Seuss Celebration.

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)