Friday, July 19, 2013

(Comic) Con Artists: How I Helped Animate New World Pictures

I admit it: I’ve never been to the legendary Comic-Con, which this year runs through July 21. It stands to reason that I’ve never made the (star) trek to San Diego, because I’m hardly the kind of fangirl for whom this event was designed. Comic-Con caters to passionate lovers of comic books, monster movies, fantasy fiction, animated film, and superheroes of all stripes. I blush to say that none of that exactly describes me.

Honestly, I had something of a wasted childhood. As a kid, I was perhaps unique among my peers in having serious-minded parents who didn’t approve of comic books. To make matters worse, they didn’t park me at kiddie matinees, nor did they allow daytime television. Of course that didn’t stop me from indulging at the home of my best friend. Betsy owned a stack of Archie comics, and also those featuring Katy Keene, who came equipped with a fashion wardrobe you could cut out. Though Betsy’s tastes in comic books were admittedly girly, she also watched TV westerns. And it was via the TV set in her living room that I discovered Mighty Joe Young and The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent.

Little did I know, when I saw the rather goofy 1957 film officially titled The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, that one day I’d be working for its director. When Roger hired me, I was accustomed to hanging around with academics, discussing high-brow authors like Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges. At New World Pictures, I suddenly found myself in an environment where everyone imbibed science fiction, fantasy, and horror along with their Cream of Wheat. Whiplash!

Fortunately, I’m a fast learner, and I grew to love pop culture, especially for its sheer exuberance. New World was full of smart people, but it was certainly no place for intellectual snobbery. We got a charge out of making flicks about sexy nurses, jolly bank robbers, and guys who became national heroes by running over pedestrians. True, Roger also shifted gears in that era, becoming America’s biggest importer of foreign-language art films. His first coup along these lines was distributing Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, which was not without sexual implications, but hardly contained the kind of rollicking T&A in which we at New World specialized.

Soon thereafter, I found myself working on a very artful animated film from France, La Planète Sauvage.  The story was science fiction – about a distant planet on which human beings are subservient to large blue beings with bald heads – but the look was elegantly pastel-hued. Though the version I first saw had subtitles, Roger figured most red-blooded American audiences wouldn’t stand for those. So I ended up translating the dialogue and voice-over narration, after which we persuaded Broadway star Barry Bostwick and such Golden Age of Radio folk as Marvin Miller, Olan Soulé, and Janet Waldo to lend their voices (for minimum scale) to an English-language version.

Fantastic Planet, as we called our revamped film, was genteel – but not so the next animated movie with which Roger got involved. This was the era of Ralph Bakshi’s raunchy Fritz the Cat, and someone had the bright idea of making our own X-rated cartoon. At first this story of a foul-mouthed fowl was called Cheap, because the title had obvious appeal for our miserly boss. When it finally got made, though, it was titled Dirty Duck. The very ladylike Janet Waldo did some of the voices, but in the credits her name is nowhere to be seen.


  1. I am very appreciative that you gained a love of pop culture - it's nice to have a high minded intellectual dipping in to the goofiness with us!

    I have never seen Fantastic Planet - but now knowing that you were involved - I must see this movie! Also - Barry Bostwick is probably better known as Brad from the amazing cult movie phenomenon The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Or maybe it's Megaforce. If you want to treat yourself - Google Image Barry Bostwick Megaforce. You will be boggled.

    I also now really want to see Dirty Duck - though I'll be sorely disappointed not seeing Janet Waldo's name in the credits... ;)

  2. When I knew Barry, he had yet to make "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." But I was surprised that he was willing to audition for us, and equally willing to accept minimum scale for a day of looping, because he'd just won a Tony Award for originating the role of Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of "Grease." (This was years before the John Travolta film, of course.) His willingness to be paid a pittance told me a lot about an actor's life.