Sunday, December 15, 2013

RIP Peter O'Toole

He had a good run, living to the age of 81, but it's still tragic to learn today of the death of one of the most beloved actors of the 60's era, the wonderful Peter O'Toole. Ironically, just a few days ago one of my colleagues from Sheridan Animation and I were talking about O'Toole's films, What's New, Pussycat? and one of my favourites, How To Steal A Million, as we were both big fans. He had incredible style and charisma, and somehow made decadence appear pretty classy on the big screen! Last year I'd celebrated his 80th birthday here at The Cartoon Cave in this post.

So long to a talented and delightful old rascal!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Birthday, MeduSirena Marina!

Happy Birthday to my favourite "Fire-Eating Mermaid", the lovely MeduSirena Marina, who performs weekly at The Wreck Bar in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I have written about having recently met this lady here in this previous post. Marina is a favourite among all of we fans of mid-20th Century kitsch and especially Tiki Culture!

Here she is in all of her aquatic splendour!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mike Connors!

Yes, Mike Connors celebrates his 88th birthday today, and he's a TV favourite of mine that I've long wanted to pay tribute to. Mike, of course, spent eight years from 1967 to 1975 playing the role of private investigator, Joe Mannix on the CBS hit series, Mannix. Apparently the show was not an immediate hit though, and was in danger of being cancelled if not for the intervention of Lucille Ball, whose production company, Desilu (formed with former hubby, Desi Arnaz) had produced the show. Lucy felt strongly that the series had merit and convinced CBS to stick with it.

The show actually started out a bit differently in its first season, with Joe Mannix working for a technology-based detective agency called Intertect, run by Lew Wickersham, played by the always reliable Joseph Campanella. The huge banks of massive computers utilized by Intertect would seem quaint by today's standard of small desktop computers, but back then it would have been very impressive.

By season 2 however, it was decided that Mannix needed retooling to appeal more to viewers, so Joe was now a private detective operating out of a swanky, Spanish-style office in a well-to-do area of Los Angeles. He also now had a loyal and efficient private secretary, Peggy Fair, played by Gail Fisher. This was notable for that period in the 60s, as Peggy was a young black woman, and race was still a somewhat touchy subject on TV, though things had certainly progressed a lot by then. She was the widow of a policeman friend of Joe's who had been shot and killed in the line of duty, so Joe hired Peggy out of compassion and respect for his friend, and also did what he could to be a surrogate father figure to her young son, Toby. The show was not shy in confronting race issues on several episodes, and I think it did a lot in improving relations, evolving into the more enlightened 70s, where black actors stepped up to play leading roles in their own series.

What I love about Mannix and many other cop shows of the era, is the combination of authority and elegance that the various detectives had. One couldn't help but like and admire such characters as Joe Mannix, Steve McGarrett, or my personal favourite, Jim Rockford, as they were truly heroic and chivalrous men. They were unapologetic modern-day white knights, back before TV started to take a turn for the worse, eventually giving the viewer highly flawed "heroes" like what we have today. Frankly, I like my TV heroes to be good, decent, upstanding fellows, thanks just the same. In future blog posts I plan on paying tribute to more of them!

By the way, this Mike Connors tribute is dedicated to a fellow named Dave J. who had emailed me several weeks ago to request I do a caricature of Mannix, as he's also a big fan of the series. Thanks for the request, Dave - it was my pleasure!

Here is the opening title music to Mannix, a melodic, jazzy number by Lalo Schifrin, who also wrote the memorable theme to Mission Impossible:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Vikki Carr!

I think I must have discovered the music of Vikki Carr back when I was about 13 years old. She was my first favourite female vocalist, and still ranks up high on my list of top singers to this day. The first time I saw her was when she was a guest on The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was off that night, and I remember that the show was being guest-hosted by McLean Stevenson, who was Colonel Blake on M*A*S*H at the time. When Vikki was introduced and came on stage to perform her song, I was smitten. A petite woman with a big powerful voice, Vikki also has one of the warmest smiles I've ever seen. I was an immediate fan and soon set about to collect her LP records.

Any time I noticed in the TV Guide that Vikki was appearing as a guest on a variety or talk show, I made sure I had my trusty VCR set up to record her performance. I still have all those taped appearances, now transferred to DVD for posterity (I hope!) I was also a member of her fan club for many years, and looked forward to the quarterly newsletter. One time in 1979 or so, while reading the newsletter, I was thrilled to learn that Vikki would be appearing in Hamilton as a guest on the show, The Palace, a revival of sorts of The Hollywood Palace from the 60s, that was being produced in Canada and hosted by singer Jack Jones. I talked my parents into a trip from Ottawa to Hamilton for the taping of the show and sent away for tickets.

Before heading out, I had painted a caricature of Vikki and had it framed up in the hopes of finally meeting her. My folks and I went to the box office to make enquiries as to maybe meeting her after the show that evening so that I could present her with my artwork. I remember the woman at the desk being very nice and summoned Vikki's manager to find out if that would be possible. He smiled when he saw the caricature and said they were currently in rehearsal inside the theatre, but thought she might be able to take a break to meet me right then.

Sure enough, he came back with Vikki Carr herself and I was in heaven. She seemed thrilled with the art and gave me a big hug and kiss in accepting it. She was as sweet as could be as she took the time to chat with me and my folks for several minutes before she had to be back on the set. Yep, I was a pretty happy guy at getting to meet this warm, wonderful lady!

As the times were changing, and traditional vocalists were finding it harder and harder to compete with pop/rock types for radio airplay by the mid-80s, Vikki Carr, along with so many others, found her career in mainstream music being severely challenged. Being of Mexican descent and always having proudly maintained a warm relationship with her latin audience, Vikki managed to find new success in concentrating all of her energies on the latin market, releasing many albums of Spanish songs over the years hence. I always felt it was a shame that, through no fault of her own, Vikki came along just as the final wave of the truly great vocalists of our time was being phased out, and quite frankly, the pop music industry has not appealed to my tastes since. I'll continue to listen to my alltime favourite vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee.... and lovely Vikki Carr! Happy Birthday to you, Vikki!

(PS: One of the trickiest things in drawing this caricature of Vikki was her hair. I think she's had more different hairstyles over the years than any other woman I know of! This caricature was drawn from a guest appearance she made on The Dean Martin Variety Show in 1971, and as such, the hairstyle may not be her typical look.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

In Search of Mermaids!

Me with MeduSirena Marina and her pod of Aquaticats
Two weeks ago today I was down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, having succumbed to the siren song of MeduSirena Marina, a real live mermaid whom I had only known up until now through a several year long friendship on Facebook, due to my interest in all things tiki. Marina and her pod of Aquaticats swim every Friday evening at The Wreck Bar in The Sheraton Beach Hotel, right along the sunny shores of Ft. Lauderdale, and I'd long been wanting to meet her in person so I decided to make that my summer vacation destination this year. 
 Prior to driving down, I had done a caricature of Marina and had some prints made up to give to her as a gift, as she's admired my celebrity caricatures for some time and I thought she'd like to see my interpretation of her exotically beautiful visage. I'm pleased to say that she was quite thrilled with it, and in return she not only made sure I got a good seat to watch her mermaid extravaganza, but also offered to play hostess to show me the Mai-Kai, a wonderful A-frame tiki restaurant that has been a part of Ft. Lauderdale's colourful pop culture since 1956.

Here's Marina soon after we arrived at the Mai-Kai holding up the caricature print I did of her in her mermaid guise. Also, I'd asked her to autograph my copy of the recent issue of Bachelor Pad Magazine, in which she was featured on both the cover and in the main pictorial inside. I suspect the magazine increased its subscription sales as a result of Marina's appearance, as she has fast been becoming a cult figure in the retro lounge/tiki scene, appealing to those of us who are nostalgically passionate about mid-20th Century kitsch!
The Mai-Kai features a live Polynesian dinner show with a bevy of beautiful island dancers, and the food and tropical drinks were wonderful too. As a special treat, Marina had invited the members of her Aquaticat pod to join us for the evening out and so we had mermaids, Hina, Kika, and Kami along to add to the fun. This was apparently the first visit to the Mai-Kai for Kika too, so she was quite excited to be finally seeing the show she'd long heard about. But for a middle-aged guy like me, you can imagine how wonderful it was to be the only male at a table of very attractive young ladies, so this evening was most definitely the highlight of my vacation!

From left to right in foreground: lovely Hina, Kika, and Kami
Here I am with two of the performers from the Polynesian show
After dinner and the show, we all headed out to the Mai-Kai's tiki gardens for much taking of photos. The management know Marina well, so they were happy to indulge us lingering there for awhile after all the other guests had headed out. Here's just a few of the pics I took that night:
Marina served on the half shell!
Me with my new flames, Kami and Kika
Kika lets her drink go to her head!
Marina gives some competition to the ship's maidenhead in the Mai-Kai's Molokai Bar
Ah, this is the life I was meant to lead!!
Again, much thanks to MeduSirena Marina for being such a terrific hostess for my visit and making my first trip down to Ft. Lauderdale a memory I will always cherish. I'll definitely be planning a return trip in the next year or two!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Congrats Rowan Atkinson!

Yes, Queen Elizabeth II has just named this man a Commander of the Order of The British Empire. Here he is putting his new title into practice, giving his first order as he commands Teddy to go attack France. But seriously, congratulations to this beloved British comedian who has given us so much laughter through both his Mr. Bean and Blackadder TV series.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

RIP Jean Stapleton

So sorry to hear that Jean Stapleton passed away today. Though she was a veteran of stage and screen, she'll always be best remembered for playing Edith, the long suffering wife of Archie Bunker on the 70's classic TV series, All In The Family.

Back when I was a 14 year old kid, I drew caricatures of all four principal characters on the show and sent them to the actors care of CBS studios, hoping they'd receive them. I'm sure at the age I was then, my drawings were not that great, but I was so happy when I got this nice reply from Jean Stapleton sometime later. I think it may have been one of my first celebrity autographs. Anyway, this sweet note convinced me that Jean must be a really nice lady, and I publish it here in loving memory of this fine actress.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Happy Birthday,Yvonne Craig!

Happy birthday to Yvonne Craig, perhaps best known for portraying Batgirl/Barbara Gordon on the Batman TV series from the 60s. Being a child of the 60s, I was most definitely a member of the original TV generation, and TV sure was a lot more fun and friendly back then! Batman was probably my favourite live-action show as a kid, and I suspect that Yvonne Craig's Batgirl was my first prepubescent crush. Though quite sexy in her batsuit, Yvonne also played her as very demure and feminine. I thought she was just adorable. 
In later years I would take notice of Yvonne in the various guest spots she made on a lot of other series as well, usually small but memorable roles. Now that I'm enjoying so many of these great shows on DVD, I've been able seek out a lot her guest spots on my favourite series like Mannix and Wild, Wild West.

Here's a montage above of shots of Yvonne alongside Robert Vaughn in One of Our Spies is Missing, one of the several Man From U.N.C.L.E movies that was created by cobbling together episodes of the TV series. I used video reference from this appearance as the basis for my caricature of Yvonne, although the yellow turtleneck I grabbed from some other pics I found of her. 

She was certainly best known for playing Batgirl, but I'm sure many Star Trek fans hold her in high esteem for her memorable role as the green, dancing, slave girl, Marta in the episode, Whom Gods Destroy:

Though primarily a TV actress in later years, Yvonne did do a few movies earlier in her career. Probably her best known movie is the 1964 Elvis Presley film, Kissin' Cousins, in which she and equally lovely Pamela Austin play a couple of cute backwoods sisters who fall for Air Force officer Elvis. Off screen, Yvonne and Elvis were dating at the time.

Yvonne still does a few personal appearances at fan events in tribute to her Batgirl role. I'm hoping that she'll make it to Toronto's Fan Expo someday so I can meet her! Happy Birthday, Yvonne!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Seeing Red

Frankly, I can't see what all the fuss is about regarding the new Merida makeover...

By the way, for those out of the loop, here's the silly controversy I'm referencing regarding a perceived makeover of Merida from Disney/Pixar's Brave. And here's my take on the subject that I had posted on Facebook that I think is worth reposting here:

I must admit I feel that everybody is getting their knickers in a knot unnecessarily about this supposed makeover of Merida. I suspect it is nothing more than a less than faithful final rendering done by an outside illustrator based on a much better and accurate drawing by the talented Jennifer Gwynne Oliver, not a deliberate, insidious attempt to sex her up at all. Part of the problem is that, in order to fit into "The Disney Princess" merchandising program, Merida (like Rapunzel before her) has to be translated from CG to drawing to be consistent with the others. In so doing, some of the subtleties of the design are lost, notably the complex frizzy hair, as well as the need to define her eyes more graphically with an outline.
I think it's fair to say that even the traditionally animated Disney girls have lost some of their likeness as they've been homogenized into a consistent art style for this merchandising program. Aurora in particular has been rounded out more from her original, more graphic design. To be honest, I've never much liked the mentality of "The Disney Princess" program to begin with, as it takes these characters out of context of their respective cartoon universes, as well as away from the unique variety of shapes and sizes of their respective co-stars. It then places them together alongside their similarly shaped sorority in what looks like a Vanity Fair photo shoot, not allowing any of them to acknowledge or interact with each other in any way. Artistically it's a pretty dumb concept, however little girls just love it and, since they're the target market for all the dolls and accessories, I say let it be. Personally I don't give a rat's ass about them being "role models" - that's just a lot of ultraliberal claptrap. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, James Garner!

James Garner as gambler, Bret Maverick
Again it is my annual tradition to celebrate the birthday of my favourite actor, Jim Garner. For this year's celebratory caricature I've decided to portray Jim in the role that first brought him a large degree of international fame, as gambler, Bret Maverick in the TV series Maverick, which ran from 1957 to 1962. I was too young to know the show when it was originally broadcast and, sorry to say, I don't recall it ever having been made available in the years since in any of the markets where I lived. As such, I must confess that the only episodes I'd ever seen were the handful that were release on a single DVD back a number of years ago.

Happily that situation has now been rectified, as the complete first season of Maverick was released on DVD this past year, with season two due out very shortly. The character of Bret Maverick is a professional gambler and sometime conman, though only conning those whom he believes are deserving of being brought down a peg or two. He is always a champion of the underdog, and will go out of his way to see that an innocent person receives justice. Though a fast draw and crack shot with a pistol, Bret often manages to get himself out of most tight spots on his wits alone. As a gambler, he has learned to read a man pretty well, anticipating correctly what he's likely to do and being able to cleverly bluff his way through a situation as if he were dealing with an inferior poker player. I love the quirkiness of the series, where no character seems to follow the conventions of the traditional TV western. Even some of the baddies may adhere to some code of honour.

Ironically, though I had never seen the original Maverick, it was when Jim reprised the character 20  years later on Bret Maverick that I first became aware of who the character was. It was also on the set of that TV show that I was able to realize my longtime dream of meeting Jim Garner. You can read about that visit to the set on this previous post

Jim Garner is in his 80s now, and pretty much retired from acting, but I hope he knows how many people he's brought great enjoyment to through his numerous film and TV roles. His legion of longtime fans are extremely loyal and still watch him onscreen every chance we get. Incidentally, a special thanks to Robert Howe, who was fortunate enough to have worked on The Rockford Files back in the mid-70s for a couple years, and who has recently written a new book reminiscing on that time, as well as having created an official Facebook fan page dedicated to Jim. If you're a fan too, please check these out!

Happy Birthday, Jim - we love ya'!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy 100th Birthday, Marc Davis!

Yes, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marc Davis, one of "The Nine Old Men", Disney's celebrated group of veteran animators. Andreas Deja has been writing up some great posts on his blog, so I'm not about to compete with that. But I also love and admire the work that Marc did after his career as an animator, when he moved on to design and create many of the best attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Attractions such as The Haunted Mansion, It's A Small World, and The Pirates of the Caribbean were all a big part of my childhood in those early years of family road trips from Ottawa, Canada, down to the brand new Walt Disney World in Florida in the early 1970s. Actually, though, my personal favourite attraction that Marc designed was The Country Bear Jamboree, that had its debut at Walt Disney World before also being built for the Bear Country area in Disneyland.

Marc Davis concept art.....

At that time in the 70s, both my Dad and I were big fans of country music, so The Country Bear Jamboree was a well appreciated parody of Nashville's beloved Grand Ole Opry, with its caricatures of familiar character types from that era of country in the form of cartoon bears in various shapes and sizes. To this day I still love vintage country music (although not its vapid pop/rock incarnation as "New Country"), and The Country Bear Jamboree in its heyday remains a favourite of mine. Sadly, I hear that the show has been recently pared down in length by the philistines who currently run Disney, as they feel that they can get more performances crammed in per day in this abbreviated form.

....Translated into the actual show!
On a similar theme, I recall onetime going down to WDW and seeing a diorama with models on display in The Walt Disney Story on Main Street, of a new proposed attraction called The Western River Expedition. This would have been another water based ride featuring audio-animatronic characters, similar to The Pirates of the Caribbean, then only at Disneyland. Sadly, it was never to see the light of day, as they figured that it would be more cost effective to instead recreate the Pirates ride for the Florida audience.

Marc Davis working on The Western River Expedition model

Concept art for the saloon scene
Many years later, I had finally achieved my dream of working down at WDW as a character illustrator in the Marketing Art Dept in 1990. A couple years later in 1992, I took a vacation out to Disneyland to attend a convention put on by The Mouse Club, a fan club not officially associated with The Disney Company. They had quite a roster of guest speakers lined up, including Marc Davis who was to take part in a panel discussion on the creation of several of the Disneyland attractions. I was staying in the Disneyland Hotel where the convention was being held, and as I was making my way to the room where this event was to take place, I luckily bumped into Marc Davis and his wife Alice just as they were entering the hotel lobby. Since they weren't sure where the room was, I gladly offered to escort them there, taking the opportunity to chat with them along the way. 

Western desperadoes!
The room was on the second floor, but Marc, though walking slowly with a cane, did not want to take the elevator and insisted he could make it up the stairway, which fortunately had shallow wide steps. The hotel had recently been renovated, and there had been some panels of park concept art put up as decoration, so when Marc and Alice arrived at the top of the stairway, there facing them on the landing were a series of large panels featuring the above concept art from the never built Western River Expedition with the masked desperadoes on their horses, also comically wearing masks. I'll never forget Marc's reaction to seeing this art he'd created so many years before. He gazed slowly across the panels, then gradually smiled and started to quietly chuckle to himself. I could tell that he was getting some great amusement from seeing his work again and seemed quite touched that it was on display quite large for people to enjoy. I only met Marc Davis that one time, but I'll never forget witnessing that sweet moment with Marc and his wonderful cartoon art. Happy Birthday to Marc Davis, a genuine Disney Legend!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Congratulations, World...

...On your new Pope! It looks like we could be in for a fun time ahead!

"Hah! It looks like they fell for it, Stanley!"

Monday, January 7, 2013

Anthropomorphism in Animation

In the 1946 Disney animated feature, Make Mine Music, there was a rather delightful sequence called Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. It was a terrific example of anthropomorphism - giving human traits and personality to that which is not human. Usually we think of anthropomorphism as it relates to cartoon animals who wear clothes, talk, and walk upright on their two hind legs. But there are plenty of samples of objects that are also brought to life with human traits, like the enchanted clock, candlestick and tea pot in Beauty and the Beast, or the brooms that overwhelm poor Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

But getting back to the film I cited above, here are some stills from Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet that show what it is that I love about their design and treatment in the animation.

In the stills above, you can see how the two hats really lend themselves to being cast as human "types". Alice has a bow on the back, just as a girl might have a big bow tying up the back of her hair. The rest of the ribbon hangs down gracefully and can be utilized as girlish arms as demonstrated. Also, the lace around her brim suggests a frilly collar on a dress. Johnny is certainly a lot simpler in design, but the eyes exist where there would be the shadowed indentations on a fedora, and the opening of the hat acts as his mouth. The hatband even suggests a mustache, I suppose.

What I particularly enjoy though about Johnny's design is the use of a visual "cheat" - an element that goes deliberately against the rules of 3 dimensional structure (like Mickey's always round ears, for example). In Johnny's case the cheat is in the way his face actually encompasses two separate planes of the hat: the eyes are on the front, while the mouth is on the underside of the brim. Because a drawing is a 2 dimensional representation of 3D form, the artists can easily get away with this optical illusion of the two planes working as one when the hat is tilted up, as in the two stills above. Also, note how Johnny is able to exhibit emotion in the way the brim is pushed and pulled to achieve different mouth shapes, with the eyes reacting accordingly. This is the magic of traditional, hand drawn animation, and one of the reasons I will always vastly prefer it to CG animation, which so often is trying to mimic the literalness of live-action film. Additionally, so long as Hollywood continues to pursue creating these CG films in 3D, such visual"cheats" cannot possibly work as effectively.

This brings me to a subject that is bound to rub some people the wrong way, but I believe the criticism is warranted. Because of the trend in current animated features to try to emulate live-action cinematography, I feel that we're losing the very definition of what it means to be an animated film. My own interest in animation as a young kid was that it was the illusion of a drawing seemingly springing to life upon the screen. That was truly magical to me, and was certainly one of the factors contributing to my love of drawing and hopes to one day becoming a cartoonist. For me, it was always "The Animated Cartoon" - take "Cartoon" out of the equation and I really wasn't that interested. Sure, I liked some stop-motion animation back then, but it was always drawn cartoon animation that intrigued me.

So hopefully you can understand why I might not be particularly impressed with the latest short that Pixar is working on called The Blue Umbrella, which seems like a watered down (so to speak) variation on the classic Disney segment cited above. I came across this teaser clip on Cartoon Brew today and I must say it just leaves me cold. For a start, though it's technically CG animation, it might as well be live-action footage from the way it looks. The animated faces appear merely pasted on, rather than being physically integrated into the umbrellas themselves, and these objects only twist and turn a bit, not exhibiting any of the whimsical "Squash and Stretch" we associate with classic drawn animated performance. In short, this film clip holds about as much charm for me as a typical TV commercial for Kool-Aid, which it sadly puts me in mind of. For the record, I remain equally unimpressed with Pixar's two Cars features, as they also come across as live-action films with some animated elements pasted on top, again exhibiting no exaggeration of form and movement of the various car characters, thus not taking proper advantage of the animation medium.

By the way, I've heard that this short film may be the work of the satellite studio that Pixar set up in Vancouver. If so, it is likely that some of the folks involved in the animation may be former students of mine at Sheridan. Please understand that my criticism is not targeted toward those involved in bringing the film to fruition. My issue with the film is in the concept and art direction that was decided upon by the powers-that-be. Animation that tries this hard to look like its live-action film cousin just isn't really "animation" in the true sense of the word, not in my book anyway. Sorry, but this stuff needs to be said.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Miz Diaz

What?! There's still a pulse in this old blog?!
Yeah, it's been far too long since I've updated this thing, but here's something new to put on here as the first post of 2013. I did this caricature of Cameron Diaz for the current Caricaturama Showdown 3000 challenge, though I must admit it's been ages since I last participated in that thing too. Hopefully this entry will lead to some more in the weeks ahead, as I really do need some sort of kick in the butt to get back in the creative groove again.