Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bob Givens' War Stories

I dropped by the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archives this afternoon to find animation legend Bob Givens regaling Steve Worth and Mike Fontanelli with insights and memories from his past 95 years, including going to grammar school with John Wayne, assisting on Disney's SNOW WHITE, storyboarding and doing layouts on countless classic LOONEY TUNES and TV shows for Hanna-Barbera, Depatie Freleng and others. Somewhere in there he found himself drafted into World War II as well, where he wound up tagging along on covert ops and doing Kitchen Patrol with author William Saroyan before being tapped by Rudolf Ising to return the Culver City and participate in animating training films that saved the lives of countless Allied soldiers.

This was the first time I have met Mr. Givens and I only wish I could have spent much longer listening to him today than time allowed. Vigorous and lucid as any man at least three decades younger, he is the epitome of the unassuming, "no-bull" professionals who plied their talent in Hollywood long before they even suspected inventions like TV, DVD's and the internet would be keeping their classic films alive for new generations. No name is too famous or too obscure for Bob not have crossed paths with at some point in prolific career and his anecdotes range from his hilarious exploits with Rich Hogan and David Swift in their early incarnations at Disney, to his pioneering efforts in TV advertising (he did the first RAID spots, which ran for decades), to the tragic tales of trying to help design genius Tom Oreb during his decline into alcoholism and dementia. 

I couldn't wait to ask about his layout work on the 1963 TV cartoon LINUS THE LIONHEARTED, a show that was ultimately banned due to regulations involving advertising and product placement (the characters on the series were all mascots for various Post Cereals). Mr. Givens was quick to credit Irv Spector with creating the characters for an East Coast agency, before spending a stint in Los Angeles to help set up the studio that produced the series for two seasons before being disbanded. Too bad, it was a fun cartoon and I am living proof it did not brainwash kids--I hated the cereal but enjoyed the show anyway.

Here's to those like Bob Givens, who serve both their art and their country with the equal measures of talent and determination.


Larry Levine said...

Very cool!!!

pspector said...

Great post -- makes me wish I'd been there too.
In the not too distant future I'll be putting some Linus materials online over time. The bulk of it is my dad's work but I know there are detailed production assignments detailing who worked on which cartoons and that Bob's name is among them. I'll make sure that goes up.

Will Finn said...

Great Paul! The old LINUS show disappeared so quickly and permanently it remains something I am always interested in learning more about. The minute I heard him mention your dad, my interest increased that much more.

I wasn't aware your father worked on the West Coast very much--I am looking forward to seeing what you post on his LINUS work. The characters were really fun!

pspector said...

Hey Will, Years-wise, my dad was more west coast than east. He grew up in CA and worked for Mintz and Schlesinger before moving on to Fleischer. I think he has that east coast rep, deservedly but not exclusively, because of all the Fleischer and Famous credits (and a victim to the abbreviated credit system of the 30's where his name doesn't appear). By 1963 my family was part of the east coast animation exodus to the west.

Re Givens. I only met him maybe twice, although he and my dad went back decades before Linus. One time I remember vividly. Here's why. He was -- no surprise if he still is -- a terrific painter. Several years after LINUS was cancelled he came over to the house and gifted us with one of his watercolors -- I think it was a cityscape, or some kind of 'scape, at sundown. Several days later Jack Rabin is over, sees it and claims we should protect it by using some technique with an egg! I don't remember exactly, smearing the painting with the gooey stuff that coats the inside of an eggshell, or somesuch. Anyway, you can guess what what happened next. Jack ruined it! Ugh. I can almost laugh about it now, but not quite, because I'd still have it if not for that.

Will Finn said...

thanks Paul for the geographic background and the preservation do's and don'ts!

you should blog all this stuff--it would be a gold mine!!!

pspector said...

Will, a blog is just around the corner. Will give you a head's up.

Matt J said...

Man, just your synopsis of the anecdotes are fascinating-what an interesting fella.

Whit said...

Let us never forget that Bob Givens drew the very first Bugs Bunny model sheet.

David Nethery said...

That's a wonderful set of interviews that Steve has posted so far on the ASIFA site.

(it was good seeing you on there Will . What a great opportunity to talk to Bob Givens.)

After Roger Rabbit I was laid-off from Disney for about 6 weeks before the call-back to work on Oliver & Co. , so I went over to Warner's to work for Terry Lennon and Greg Ford on one of those compilation things ... "Bugs Bunny's Wide World of Sports" I think it was called .. . where we'd do little bits of new animation to link together the old animation into a complete half-hour show. Anyway, I was animating on that with Frans Vischer , Mark Kausler and Brenda Banks . Bob Givens was the layout artist on that show I think. At least I knew he was working there in-house on something. I'm pretty sure it was the same " Bugs Bunny's Wide World of Sports" show we were animating on. I certainly knew who he was and I had the appropriate "Fan Boy" awe ... but never had time to go talk to him about stuff . We had too much work to do on that show and then it was all over and I was back over at Disney . My one and only brush with Bob Givens and I didn't really know what to say to him . (so shy in those days) Oh, well...

Great seeing and hearing him talk about his life in animation. I'm so glad that Steve Worth is pulling all this material together at the ASIFA Archives. It's good to see that the living memory of men like Bob Givens is being preserved for the future generations.

David Nethery said...

"Will, a blog is just around the corner. Will give you a head's up."

Paul Spector,

I'm glad to hear you'll be blogging .

I appreciate you sending me the photo of your Dad last year to add to my collection of Animators at Work .

I've used that photo in my History of Animation class that I teach now . We had a whole unit on Mintz/Columbia/UPA . Mintz is the "forgotten studio" , but it's been fun teaching the kids about that part of animation's history as well as other somewhat obscure , but fascinating bits of trivia about this crazy business.

Bruce said...

I had just finished watching Stephen Worth's interview (along with yourself and Mike Fontanelli) with Bob Givens.

Wow, Givens is sure something. He seems quite happy to share his personal career & history with you guys. I can bet myself that the three of you were trying to contain your excitement, even though you all seem as calm as a pickle.

It would be a wonderful opportunity to meet this old maestro, that's for sure!

Have a good one Will,

From an aspiring animator/ artist

P.S., How's it going for you?

Stephen Worth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
p spector said...

Hi Will -- I hope it's not too self-serving to mention here that I've started a blog.
HERE if you want to check it out.

No Linus...yet.

David -- Thanks! Never would have imagined that photo would be making the rounds after sitting in a box for decades. I just used it again.

- Paul