Sunday, February 14, 2010

A little love for Bill Cosby and the ORIGINAL, LOST "FAT ALBERT" ANIMATION


John K did some eye opening posts on his memories of working at FILMATION studios in the 1980's, which are worth reading and brought back memories of the place that I shared on his blog as well. I never liked their cartoons and the place was nutty but I will say that they paid on time and the checks all cleared, which isn't always the case. And believe it or not, the late 70's to late 80's were even leaner days for animation employment than today, so sooner or later, most every L.A. animation schmo in my age group stumbled through there (or H-B, or both). For my part I showed up on time, put in my 8 hours a day and did what I was told until it drove me to quitting...twice (but that's another story).

A topic that often comes up in relation to FILMATION is FAT ALBERT & THE COSBY KIDS, one of the studio's biggest hits and most memorable shows. It was based on Cosby's epic comedy monologues of growing up with a group of kids in an urban neighborhood. My dad loved comedy albums and Bill Cosby was his absolute favorite--he got every record he did. Cosby has been so many things to so many people that some today aren't as aware that back in the mid 1960's he was a breakthrough standup comic in every sense of the word and remains one of the all time greats, in my opinion.

What many people at the time of the Saturday Morning cartoon show didn't realize (and even fewer do today), is that the characters were all originally animated by an independent studio staffed by a group of very talented artists including Ken Mundie, Leo Sullivan and Amby Paliwoda, who were all squeezed out of the equation when the usual gang of idiots at FILMATION got involved. The original was a one-shot "special" which involved the kids using Fat Albert as their secret weapon in a football game (it was a "buck-buck" game in the original Cosby monologue), and there was a lot of footage exposed over live action of real NFL games, which were tinted in monochrome and used instead of backgrounds. The effect was really unique and it complimented the joyously cartoony animation surprisingly well. Sort of like what Bakshi would do later, but easier on the eyes.

I was still a little kid when I saw it, and I think it only ran once in primetime and then once again on Saturday morning, but I remember it was on NBC. I thought they had done a second one, but I may have confused it with the re-run or maybe I read somewhere they were going to do another follow up that never happened, but anyway, a few years later it was turned into a regular CBS series at FILMATION, who adapted the designs in what I would call a typically inept way and then they were animated in the hack, systemic manner most factory cartoons were back then.

I think the original Ken Mundie version was available on VHS at one time in the early eighties but it seems to have disappeared. I know people who worked on the live action FAT ALBERT movie from about five years back and a reference copy surfaced for use but since then no one I know has the whereabouts of a viewable copy.

If anybody knows, give a shoutout, put it on YouTube, call Bill Cosby....let's get this show seen again! Not everything from my distant childhood is as good as I remember it, but I would bet this project is. A restored version would no doubt clean up on DVD. I think even fans of the FILMATION show would enjoy seeing the characters done by the artists who originated their designs.

UPDATE: Okay, Uncle Phil has turned us on to a LINK that offers a tantalizing glimpse of the original FAT ALBERT special with some pre-production (and production-production) artwork put up by Leo Sullivan, who worked on it. The art and animation on display is all wickedly good: sort of a cross between Hubley and Looney Tunes, (but that's makes it sounds derivative, which it isn't). CHECK IT OUT NOW!!!

Thanks Uncle Phil, and Pokey too!

UPDATE PART DEUX: Here's a LINK to a Floyd Norman piece about Ken Mundie and the original special. Toward the end Floyd confirms my recollection that another Cosby cartoon by the same group was made (started?) but has never been seen... This is a mystery that just keeps mystifying...

UPDATE PART TROISIEM: Here's another LINK to a follow up piece I did after reviewing the show at the Paley Center (Broadcasting Museum) in 2012.

14 comments:

RooniMan said...

I'd like to see this. Lets hope it surfaces some where.

A.M.Bush said...

haha aww man, I got really excited, I was hoping you had that video posted. I'm really looking forward to seeing it.

Uncle Phil said...

i found this back when I was working on Chowder.. It's super low quality, and just a short clip, but man does it leave me hungry for more.
http://www.afrokids.com/animationsamples.html

Clay Morrow had told me about the original short, so I tracked this down.

Oh! I also recall asking animation director Dan Riba about where I could see this. And he said that he was able to watch it a few years back at the museum of TV and Radio. So there ya have it. Field Trip!!

Eric Noble said...

Very cool. I love Bill Cosby too. I have quite a few of his albums on CD. Great post. I would love to see that special.

Will Finn said...

Thanks for the link Uncle Phil---everyone interested should follow it right now! A field trip is definitely in order!!!

What cool art huh? FILMATION worked what only can be called "reverse alchemy" on it!

p.s. I've met Leo Sullivan a few times but I doubt he remembers me.

Chuck Gammage Animation said...

hey Will,

I was just asking Jerry Beck about this last week. I loved that special and like you remember how great it was!! Somebody's got to have it
I'd love to see it, right up there with "The Point".Keep me posted if you hear of anything.

David Nethery said...

I would think that Cosby must have a print? Someone's got to have it.

Floyd Norman said...

As far as I know, only Leo Sullivan has a copy of the initial "Fat Albert" special. Not even Cosby has one.

Ken Mundie produced a second animated special for Bill Cosby with the same team. I saw the film one afternoon with jazz composer, Cannonball Adderly who was pegged to score the film.

Cosby considered the film too odd, and ended up scrapping the whole thing. Those were exciting days.

Will Finn said...

Thanks Floyd!

Hans Flagon said...

I remember some sort of Cosby Kids special before the filmation show, that used Cosbys Soap Box Derby story as the background. I was actually in the next room fascinated by a new stereo I had gotten, but I kept going back and forth between the TV and my new toy.

I do wonder how much of Saturday Mornings Fat Albert Show may have been primed by that earlier looser looking show. I think the main thing for me was, it was the show that came on latest in the morning, around 11 am if not later, Amd I slept late.

Starchie Spudnoggen said...

I loved Cosby as a kid and that special left an impression on me.
I have a picture in my mind of the scratchy characters moving in front of posterized live footage of tenement buildings scrolling by as backgrounds.
Would love to see it again.

wendog said...

Late to the party. I was working on Ken Mundie's blog, and doing a random google search. So Ken was the original director on this, his work past and current definitely reflects this.

At 80 he is still making films. I've made a blog for his film and you can see it at: http://wendog.animationblogspot.com

He doesn't know where that first film is either, I know a few people who would love to see it. Please post if you ever find it.

CartoonSteve said...

If only Leo Sullivan would release more than just the small clip. I see more people are posting about it on imdb: IMDB link

Ken Mundie said...

....this film is best left wherever it is in your memories or your great anticipations it wasn't all that good
but the experience was outstanding. i speak not only as the director but the producer as well. i hired this crew and put every thing together some worked some didn't it was a very good year i suggest put it to rest.kmundie