Bob Clampett

From Academic Kids

Robert Emerson "Bob" Clampett (May 8 1913May 4 1984) was an animator, producer, director, and puppeteer best known for his work on the Looney Tunes series of cartoons from Warner Bros. and the television show Time for Beany.

Clampett showed an interest in animation and puppetry from his early teens in Los Angeles.

It would be Clampett's skill in making puppets and dolls that ultimately led to his career in animation. With the aid of an aunt, the young Clampett designed the first Mickey Mouse dolls for Walt Disney. As Clampett would later claim in interviews, Disney was impressed with the young artist, and promised him a job. However, a lack of space at Disney's tiny Hyperion studio prevented Clampett from taking the position. Instead, he secured a job in 1931 at the studio of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising where he worked on the studio's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. In his first years at the studio, Clampett mostly worked for Friz Freleng, under whose guidance Clampett grew into an able animator. In 1935, he designed the studio's first major star, Porky Pig, who appeared in Freleng's film I Haven't Got a Hat. Clampett moved to Tex Avery's unit that same year, and the two soon developed an insanely irreverent style of animation that would set Warner Bros. apart from its competitors. Working apart from the other animators in a dilapidated wooden building, Avery and Clampett soon discovered they were not the only inhabitants. They shared the building with thousands of tiny termites. They christened the building "Termite Terrace", a name eventually used by fans and historians to describe the entire studio.

They were soon joined by animators Chuck Jones, Virgil Ross and Sid Sutherland, and worked virtually without interference on their new, groundbreaking style of humor for the next year. It was a wild place with an almost college fraternity-like atmosphere. Animators would frequently pull pranks such as gluing paper streamers to the wings of flies. Schlesinger, who rarely ventured there, was reputed on one visit to have remarked in his lisping voice, "Pew, let me out of here! The only thing missing is the sound of a flushing toilet!!"

Clampett about this time pressured studio head Leon Schlesinger to give him a chance as a director, and was finally given that chance on an animated sequence for the Joe E. Brown film, "What's Your Birthday?", animating signs of the zodiac. This led to what was essentially a co-directing stint with fellow animator Chuck Jones for the financially ailing Ub Iwerks, whom Schlesinger subcontracted to produce several Porky Pig shorts. These shorts featured the short-lived and generally unpopular Gabby Goat as Porky's sidekick. Despite Clampett and Jones' contributions, however, Iwerks was the only credited director.

Clampett was promoted to director in late 1937, and he soon entered his personal golden age. His cartoons grew increasingly violent, irreverent, and surreal, not beholden to even the faintest hint of real-world physics, and his characters are easily the rubberiest and wackiest of all the Warner directors'. Clampett was heavily influenced by Surrealism artist Salvador Dali, as is most visible in Porky in Wackyland (1938), where the entire short takes place within a Dali-esque landscape complete with melting objects and abstracted forms. Clampett and his work can even be considered part of the surreal movement, as it incorporated film as well as static media.

Until he left the studio in 1946, Clampett would create some of the studio's funniest and most outrageous cartoons, including Porky in Wackyland (1938), A Tale of Two Kitties (which introduced Tweety Bird), Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943), Russian Rhapsody (1944), The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946), and The Big Snooze (1946), his final cartoon with the studio, and one for which he did not get screen credit. It was largely Clampett's influence that would impel the Warners directors to shed the final vestiges of Disney and enter the territory they are famous for today.

Clampett worked for a time at Screen Gems as a writer and gagman, but in 1949, he turned his attentions to television where he created the famous puppet show Time for Beany. The show would earn Clampett three Emmys and count such celebrities as Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein as fans. In 1962, Clampett created an animated version of the show called Beany and Cecil, which ran on ABC for five years.

In his later years, Clampett toured college campuses and animation festivals as a lecturer on the history of animation. In 1976 he was the focus of a documentary entitled Bugs Bunny Superstar, the first documentary to seriously examine the history of the Warner Bros. cartoons. Clampett, whose collection of drawings, films, and memorabilia from the golden days of Termite Terrace was legendary, provided nearly all of the behind-the-scenes drawings and home-movie footage for the film.

Clampett was a shameless self-promoter who provoked the wrath of his former Warner's colleagues in later years, for allegedly claiming credit for ideas which were not his. Chuck Jones particularly disliked him, though the reason why is not clear. Even the normally affable Mel Blanc in his autobiography called Clampett an "egotist who took credit for everything." Nonetheless, he made an invaluable contribution to animation, not merely through his work, but in his habit of saving every piece of animation he ever drew--a treasure trove of information for would-be animators and animation researchers. He kept interest in classic animation alive--without him, there might not have been an animation revival.

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