The history of animation in America is full of colorful characters—and that includes the animators themselves! Jim Korkis shares hundreds of funny, sometimes odd, but always endearing stories about the major animation studios, including Disney, Warner Brothers, MGM, and Hanna-Barbera.
Korkis delves into little-known—and sometimes unknown, until now—tales about animation greats like Walt Disney, Walter Lantz, Chuck Jones, Ward Kimball, Ralph Bakshi, and Jay Ward. In Animation Anecdotes, you'll meet these legends at their best and at their worst, such as when Warner Brothers' producer Leon Schlesinger bought a yacht and told his animators that they weren't welcome aboard because he didn't like to sail with poor people.
When animators aren't animating, they're thinking about what to animate next—and often, their wildest dreams never get past the drawing board. Korkis also uncovers this "animation that never was", including unbelievable (as in, "seriously, they wanted to do this?") projects from Steven Spielberg, Pat Boone, David Spade, and Stevie Nicks.
Among the many anecdotes and stories in the book:
Packed with bite-sized tales to nourish your animated soul, Animation Anecdotes lays bare the creators behind the characters. Your cartoons will never be the same.
Foreword by Jerry Beck
Introduction by Jim Korkis
Chapter 1: Disney
Chapter 2: Fleischer
Chapter 3: Lantz
Chapter 4: MGM
Chapter 5: Warner Brothers
Chapter 6: Hanna-Barbera
Chapter 7: UPA
Chapter 8: Jay Ward
Chapter 9: Bakshi
Chapter 10: Bluth
Chapter 11: Television Toons
Chapter 12: Non-Disney Animated Feature Films
Chapter 13: Miscellaneous
Chapter 14: Animation That Never Was
I first met Jim Korkis on the pages of a fanzine in 1977.
The zine was called Mindrot (editor, David Mruz) and it was one of the very few animation fanzines back in those days. I had a news and reviews page called “Cartoon Review”. Jim’s column was called “Harlequin”, and it was an amazing collection of bits and pieces of interesting items, quotes, and good stuff about animation history.
Animation historians, much less animation fandom, were a small lot back then—maybe 20 or 30—and we all seemed to know each other. Although we lived 3000 miles apart (me in New York City, Jim in Glendale, California), we soon became close friends with a common bond in spreading the word about the history of animation.
Through Jim’s writings in such publications as Animation Magazine, Animato!, In Toon, InBetweener, Cartoon Quarterly, Mindrot/Animania, Apatoons, and so many other magazines, his lectures, and his books co-written with animation producer John Cawley, I got to know that Jim was incredibly knowledgeable about the whole of animation’s back story—not just of Disney history which he is mainly associated with today because of his many recent columns and books.
Jim has, of course, spent many years in Disney’s employ as an in-house expert on their history, but his realm of expertise includes animation history as well as extensive knowledge of cartooning and comics.
It’s been my pleasure since early 2013 to “host” the latest incarnation of Jim’s column—Animation Anecdotes—which I post each Friday on my website, Cartoon Research. Jim’s contributions to my site—which go beyond the weekly column and semi-regular full-length articles—are invaluable to me, and to my readers.
Jim’s Animation Anecdotes serve not only to provide hard-core aficionados with overlooked insights and forgotten facts, it aids students, educators, and casual fans who enjoy getting a glimpse of the wacky animators—and the even wackier animation studios—behind their favorite cartoons.
The thing about Jim’s writing is that—like Jim himself—it’s friendly, interesting, informative, and honest. He makes history easy to understand and fun to read.
His column has become perhaps the most popular feature on my site—generating numerous positive comments and platitudes—without resorting to gossip or innuendo. And let me tell you, that’s a real achievement these days on the internet.
To be honest, I don’t know how Jim does it. Like him, I have a house filled to overflowing with cartoon research materials—books, magazines, interviews, photos DVDs, VHS (even 16mm film prints!)—but let it be known: his house is much bigger than mine (I’ve seen it!).
Unlike me, Jim can put his finger on every obscure scrap of information, animator profile, or notable quote at his command. My files are a bit more disorganized.
I used to tell people that I can’t remember all the facts I’ve learned so I write books to commit the information to print—where I can easily access the info when I need it. Having Jim’s Animation Anecdotes in this one convenient book will now make MY life a whole lot easier.
It’s a joy to read, browse, and bookmark. It’s packed with good stuff I need to know and don’t want to forget. Thank you, Jim, for many years of friendship—and for knowing where all this good stuff is.
I have always loved animation.
Even today, after over three decades writing about its history, I still find animation fascinating, entertaining, and frustrating.
In the late 1960s, there was the birth of what was termed “film historians” who studied movies and wrote scholarly articles about them. Kevin Brownlow was perhaps one of the most prominent, and he concentrated on the silent live-action film classics with his first book, The Parade’s Gone By, published in 1968.
Beloved film critic, historian, and author Leonard Maltin began writing about Golden Age Hollywood when he was just fifteen years old in his own self-published magazine, Film Fan Monthly. By the early 1970s, Maltin had interviewed so many people and gained so much knowledge that he began writing several popular books about film history.
More importantly, Maltin was the first film historian to write reference books about Disney (The Disney Films) and classic animation (Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons) as well as many magazine articles about those subjects. In a world with no internet, these were vital and groundbreaking references for those interested in animation.
However, when he identified himself as an “animation writer”, people would always ask, “what characters or series or movies do you write?” Maltin had to explain he was writing ABOUT animation, not writing animation scripts.
Since he was already identified as a “film historian”, it was a logical extension to be also identified as an “animation historian”.
Many writers, myself included, quickly adopted that same term. By 1981, there were perhaps a dozen people who could truly be identified as animation historians including John Canemaker, John Culhane, and Jerry Beck.
I began my writing career when I was fifteen as well. I had a great love of old movies, comics, the theater, Disney, and, of course, animation. Eventually, I wrote on all of those topics for newspapers and magazines.
As a child growing up in the Los Angeles area, I eagerly watched the weekly Disney television program and was especially interested in those episodes that offered a glimpse of the “behind the scenes” of the making of animation. Few books existed about animation and most of them were about its techniques not its history.
I studied those books and took art classes and even tried drawing some simple animation. Animation is hard work. I soon realized that I was much more interested in the topic of animation than in actually doing it.
As a young teenager, I would diligently copy down in my school notebook the names that I saw on the end credits of the Disney weekly television show. I went to the Glendale-Burbank phone book and began locating those names and calling them up to ask them to talk about animation with me.
Fifteen percent of the people were a little rude, fearing that their peers were staging some type of practical joke by having a kid call them up. Five percent were wrong numbers, people with the same name but not involved in animation. However, about eighty percent were gracious and friendly, even inviting me to come by their home to watch them draw and tell stories.
The very first animator I visited was Disney Legend Jack Hannah, perhaps best known for his directorial work on the classic Donald Duck cartoons, and who at the time was teaching Character Animation at California Institute of the Arts. With my school notebook, handful of pens, and small tape recorder, I spent a wonderful warm afternoon talking with him about his career at the Disney Studio.
I transcribed that first interview and it appeared in 1977 in a small, limited print run fanzine (a self-published magazine on a particular topic) devoted to animation history called Mindrot.
Living in the Los Angeles area, I had the opportunity to go to animation film festivals, comic conventions that had animation programs, and a variety of other events that had an animation connection. Later, when I was older, I was invited to parties where animators who had too much beer told some amazing stories.
My family also subscribed to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the Glendale News-Press, and all of those newspapers often had feature stories about animation that included interesting quotes and stories.
Because so little accurate information existed about animation in print, I began writing a continuing column with the information I had gathered and could verify for Mindrot entitled “harlequin” that was “news, notes and quotes to amuse folks” and filled with short anecdotes about animation and the people who worked in animation.
Over the years, I wrote a similar column under various titles like “suspended animation”, “cel break”, and “animated news” for a multitude of other fanzines and magazines.
In 1986, I began writing a monthly column entitled “Animation Anecdotes” for Animation Magazine. I continued to write the column for a decade until the magazine shifted its focus away from historical material.
My friend and writing/business partner John Cawley coined the term “Animation Anecdotes” for me to use, and it perfectly described what I had been writing.
At the time, in addition to our regular jobs, we were operating the Korkis and Cawley Cartoon and Comic Company which sold cartoon- and animation-related items like books, videos, artwork, and merchandise through mail order and conventions.
We also co-wrote four books about animation: The Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars (Pioneer Books 1990), How to Create Animation (Pioneer Books 1990), Cartoon Confidential (Malibu Graphics 1991), and Get Animated!’s Animation Art Buyer’s Guide and Price Guide (Malibu Graphics 1992).
By the 1990s, I was a well-known animation historian and my Animation Anecdotes column was enjoyed by top animation celebrities like Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Bill Scott, Ward Kimball, and many others.
On his Mouse Tracks blog (November 28, 2010), film historian and musicologist Greg Ehrbar wrote:
The newly released DVD Waking Sleeping Beauty is the story of the tumultuous though successful second golden age of Disney animation.
Take a look at the Waking Sleeping Beauty Bonus Features, and in a section called Studio Tours, you’ll enjoy three informal romps through the animation halls with animator/director Randy Cartwright (filmed by none other than John Lasseter, just before he started doing that “computer stuff”).
In the 1990 segment, Randy visits director John Musker’s office ( the Disney animator who co-wrote and co-directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and lots more) as he is reading the latest issue of Animation Magazine.
John holds up the magazine and there is the great big name of renowned animation historian JIM KORKIS right in our astonished faces!
Jim was a regular columnist for Animation Magazine and his exquisite anecdotes, little-known and never-known facts, helped him amass his legion of fans worldwide.
That particular column had an item about Musker revealing how he personally felt that Ursula, the Sea Witch, in The Little Mermaid was somehow related to King Triton’s royal family like an awful aunt who wasn’t invited to family gatherings.
I moved to Orlando, Florida, in 1996 to take care of my mother and father who had developed some health problems. I was hired by Walt Disney World as a salaried animation instructor for the Disney Institute.
I taught classes on cel painting, history of animation (including teaching how to make antique animation devices like thaumatropes and zoetrope strips), beginning computer animation, beginning stop-motion clay animation, and voice acting for animation.
In addition, I was a frequent guest lecturer in the Disney Institute Cinema for a series of monthly cartoon programs for the general public. I taught an eight-week course on the history of animation for interns at Disney Feature Animation Florida as well as several “Acting for Animators” sessions.
When I was hired to work at the Disney Institute, I shifted my focus to primarily Disney history and have produced several Disney-related books in the last few years as well as being a writer on all things Disney for several websites and magazines.
A year ago, I revived doing a weekly Animation Anecdotes column. The enthusiastic response for its reappearance after several years inspired me to put together a book containing some of the best anecdotes (rewritten and updated) that appeared in now long out-of-print and forgotten magazines and mixing in many new anecdotes that have never appeared before in print.
This is not a formal history of animation like Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Charles Solomon’s Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation, or Jerry Beck’s Animation Art: From Pencil to Pixel, the World of Cartoon, Anime, and CGI.
This collection of anecdotes provides an entertaining and informative look at the previously undocumented stories of 20th Century animation that do not appear in those types of books, usually because there is no room.
In the original columns, there might be a news item, followed by a quote from an animator, followed by an oddball story, etc. It was like a box of mixed chocolates, something for every taste. For this book, I have purposely arranged those items into broad categories to make them a little easier to find.
Each anecdote is a separate treat, so they can be read in any order. There were just too many great stories to fit into this book, but I hope you will enjoy the ones that were selected.
When I was working with John Cawley, his catchphrase was “Get Animated!” and mine was “Stay Tooned!” I think that is still good advice today.
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades. He is also an award-winning teacher, a professional actor and magician, and the author of several books.
Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, right next to Burbank, the home of the Disney studios. As a teenager, Korkis got a chance to meet the Disney animators and Imagineers who lived nearby, and began writing about them for local newspapers.
In 1995, he relocated to Orlando, Florida, where he portrayed the character Prospector Pat in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, and Merlin the Magician for the Sword in the Stone ceremony in Fantasyland.
In 1996, Korkis became a full-time animation instructor at the Disney Institute teaching all of their animation classes, as well as those on animation history and improvisational acting techniques. As the Disney Institute re-organized, Jim joined Disney Adult Discoveries, the group that researched, wrote, and facilitated backstage tours and programs for Disney guests and Disneyana conventions.
Eventually, Korkis moved to Epcot as a Coordinator for the College and International Programs, and then as a Coordinator for the Epcot Disney Learning Center. He researched, wrote, and facilitated over two hundred different presentations on Disney history for Cast Members and for such Disney corporate clients as Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Blue Cross, Toys “R” Us, and Military Sales.
Korkis has also been the off-camera announcer for the syndicated television series Secrets of the Animal Kingdom; has written articles for several Disney publications, including Disney Adventures, Disney Files (DVC), Sketches, and Disney Insider; and has worked on many different special projects for the Disney Company.
In 2004, Disney awarded Jim Korkis its prestigious Partners in Excellence award.
If you have a question for Jim Korkis that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
I was about 15 when I interviewed Jack Hannah with my little tape recorder and school notebook with questions printed neatly in ink. I learned to develop a very good memory because often when the tape recorder was running, people would freeze up. So, I sometimes turned off the tape recorder and just took notes which I later verified with the person. I always gave them a chance to review what they had said and make any changes. I lost a lot of great stories, although I still have them in my files for future generations, but gained a lot of trust.
I was very, very lucky. I was a kid, and it never occurred to me that when I saw their names in the end credits of the weekly Disney television show that I couldn't just find their names in the local phone book and call them up. Ninety percent of them were gracious, but there were about ten percent who thought it was a joke and that maybe one of their friends had put me up to phoning them.
It was like dominoes. Once I did one interview and the person was pleased, he put me in touch with others. After some of those interviews were published in my school paper and local newspapers, it gave me some greater credibility. Later, when they started to appear in magazines, I got even more opportunities.
JIM: You know, one of the proudest things for me about my books is that not a single factual error has been found.
To do my research, I start with all the interviews I've done over the past three decades, some of which are some available in the Walt's People series of books edited by Didier Ghezz. When necessary, I contact other Disney historians and authorities to fill in the gaps. And I have amassed a huge library of books, magazines, and documents.
When I moved from California to Florida, I brought with me over 20,000 pounds of Disney research material. The moving company that had just charged me a flat fee was shocked they had so severely underestimated the weight, and lost thousands of dollars. That was over fifteen years ago and the collection has only grown since that time.
About The Vault of Walt Series
JIM: I was fortunate to grow up in the Los Angeles area at a time when I had access to some of Walt’s original animators and Imagineers. They shared with me some wonderful stories. I wrote articles about their for various magazines and “fanzines” of the time. All of those publications are long gone and often difficult to find today.
As more and more of Walt’s “original cast” pass away, I realized that their stories had not been properly documented, and that unless I did something, they would be lost. Everyone always told me I should write a book telling these tales and finally I decided to do it.
JIM: She actually contacted me. Her son, Walter, loved the Disney history columns and articles I was writing and would send them to her. I was overwhelmed that she enjoyed them. She was appreciative that I tried to treat her dad fairly and not try to psycho-analyze why he did what he did.
She also liked that I revealed things she never knew about her father. As we talked and I told her I was doing the book, I asked if she would write the foreword. She agreed immediately and I had it within a week. She even invited me to go to the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and give a presentation. She is an incredible woman.
JIM: Obviously, the ones about her dad were a big hit. She especially liked the chapter about Walt and his feelings toward religion. She told me that it accurately reflected how she saw her dad act.
JIM: That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I tried to put in all the stories I loved because I figured this might be the only book about Disney I would ever write.
One chapter that I have grown to love even more since it was first published is the one about Walt’s love of miniatures. I recently found more information about that subject, and then on the trip to Disney Family Museum, I was able to spend hours examining some of Walt’s collection up close.
About Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?
JIM: I wanted to read a “Making of the Song of the South” book, but nobody else was ever going to write it. I wanted to know the history behind the production, why Walt made certain choices, and as many behind-the-scenes tidbits that could be told. I didn’t want to read a sociological thesis on racism.
Fortunately, over the years I had interviewed some of the people involved in the production, had seen the film multiple times, and had gathered material from pressbooks to newspaper articles to radio shows of the era.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Song of the South. I wanted to get the facts in print and let people make up their own minds.
JIM: I thought I knew a lot after being actively involved in Disney history for over three decades, but writing this book showed me how little I really know.
For example, I learned that it was Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck for decades, who did the whistling for Mr. Bluebird on Uncle Remus’ shoulder. I learned that Ward Kimball used to host meetings of UFO enthusiasts at his home. I learned that the Disney Company tried for years to make a John Carter of Mars feature. I learned that Walt himself tried to make a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I learned that Disney operated a secret studio to make animated television commercials in the mid-1950s to raise money to build Disneyland. And so much more.
Even the most knowledgeable Disney fans will find new treasures of information on every page of this book.
JIM: Walt Disney was not racist. That is one of those urban myths which popped up long after Walt died, and so he was unable to defend himself.
In my book, I make it clear that Walt had no racist intent at all in making Song of the South. He merely wanted to share the famous Uncle Remus stories that he enjoyed as a child, and he treated the black cast with respect and generosity.
Many people don't realize that the events in the film take place after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction. So many offensive Hollywood films made at the same time as Song of the South, even one with little Shirley Temple, depicted the Old South during the Civil War in an unrealistic manner. Walt's film got lumped in with them, and he was a visible target for a much larger crusade.
With John Cawley:
In this excerpt, Jim Korkis shares some anecdotes about Disney animation.
In the March 22, 1952, issue of the Saturday Evening Post, there was the story of how Walt Disney was confronted at a dinner party in Palm Springs by a woman with an “overpowering knowledge of American wildlife”. With no introduction, she approached Walt and proceeded in great detail to tell him what was wrong in the movie Bambi (1942).
Her main point was that wildlife would not act they way that Walt had depicted them.
“Why in Bambi,” she asserted, “the buck steps into the clearing ahead of the doe and fawn to be sure there are no hunters there. Actually, bucks hang back and have even been seen kicking the does out of the brush ahead of them. And the picture wasn’t true to life in so many other respects, either.”
“How right you are,” Walt agreed, “And do you know something else wrong with it? Deers don’t talk.”
Uncle Walt was the name of an independent animated film made in 1964 by Bob Swarthe who started working on it while he was in high school and was part of the UCLA Animation Workshop. Swarthe went on to greater success as a professional animator, even being nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Star Trek—The Motion Picture (1979).
As the film began, pictures of Walt Disney at various ages were followed by a pan across a graveyard showing the tombstones of hundreds of Perris (in 1957, Disney had produced Perri, a live-action fantasy about the life of squirrels).
Then there are scenes with very a early-style Mickey and Minnie Mouse with racial caricatures and outhouse gags, and a Fantasia sequence including the female centaurettes working a red light district with Goofy as a pimp. This was followed by a scene of frightened little rabbit children looking at scenes from Disney cartoons like the transformation of the queen into the old hag in Snow White, and a scene of the Seven Dwarfs gathering to worship Mickey Mouse in a “Mouse-ka-mausoleum” reminiscent of a similar scene in Snow White.
It was distributed in 16mm for years to colleges and such by Films Incorporated and other educational film organizations. Legend is that Walt Disney wanted to know who made it so he could legally go after the guilty party. Uncle Walt, however, contains zero titles, main or end, so that proved to be impossible during Walt’s lifetime.
Monica Baldwin, a Catholic nun, spent roughly thirty years totally secluded in a convent. In her 1949 book, I Leap Over the Wall, she described her first visit to a movie theater after those decades of isolation. She watched a Donald Duck short.
“In all my life, I had never dreamed of such lurid colors, undreamed-of situations or amazing technique,” she wrote. “People ought not to be taken to see their first Disney film without suitable preparation. The shock is too overwhelming. I sat there with my tongue cleaving to my dried-up palette, and my eyes popping out of my head.”
In this excerpt, Jim Korkis shares some anecdotes about Hanna-Barbera animation.
Animation fan Tom Knott once shared with me the information that the man who supplied the drumming sounds in The Flintstones was Gregory Watson, a drummer with swing bands in the 1930s and 1940s who was also the first editor for the show.
That smoking bongo riff that accompanies Fred’s feet when he takes off in his car was not done with bongos. Gregory played the part on a leather couch using his bare hands.
In 1962, Chuck Jones was making Tom and Jerry cartoons for MGM. Besides making these shorts, Jones’ crew was also given another assignment: remove “Mammy Two Shoes” from the older Tom and Jerry cartoons because of sensitivity at the time to racial stereotypes.
Mammy was the maid at Tom’s house. She was generally seen from the knees down and often shuffled through her scenes. When Jerry frightened her, everything from dice to switchblades might fall from her bloomers.
Jones and his team animated white legs over the previously black ones. Phil Roman was part of Jones’ team who did the new legs and recalled: “We were brought in and spent days rotoscoping and re-animating the legs so that they would be thin and white, not thick and black. When we asked what they would do about the black dialect, they told us they were going to put a funny Irish voice in. We guessed it was all right to make fun of the Irish!”
Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs, discovered that television standards and practices eliminated one aspect of his popular comic strip:
“I had to do away with a trademark of most stories: the bespectacled Smurf who hits the moralizing Smurf on the head with a mallet as soon as the moralizing begins,” commented Peyo.
“That couldn’t be shown on television, I was told, because the little spectator [watching at home] could very well go into his father’s garage, take a hammer, and hit his sister on the head with it.”
In this excerpt, Jim Korkis shares some anecdotes about animated shorts and features that never made it to the screen.
In 1978, Zelimir Matko, then chief of Zagreb Films, announced he was going to produce an animated feature Jumbo, about the great Barnum-and-Bailey pachyderm, “including his sex life”. British animator Bob Godfrey was listed as co-director. The film was never made because shortly after the announcement, one of the backers passed away. Godfrey passed away in 2013, his one unfulfilled ambition to make an animated feature.
Actor Alan Arkin talked to animation producer Nick Bosustow in 1977 about adapting Arkin’s 1976 book The Lemming Condition, where a young lemming named Bubber is always asking questions and weighing consequences and so is uneasy about the rest of the lemmings preparing to leap into the sea. (In real life, lemmings do not leap to their death into water.) It was never made.
In 1977, Ralph Andrews announced he was preparing a Saturday morning animated series to be based on motorcycle stunt celebrity Evel Knievel, known for his red, white, and blue attire. The premise of the series was that Knievel was working for the president of the United States and was assigned to solving young people’s problems.
While his daredevil stunt career would not be emphasized, Knievel would have had a motorcycle capable of doing superhero-type tricks when necessary. Safety tips on bicycle riding and other subjects would also be shown.
However, later in 1977, Knievel was sent to jail for six months for the assault of promoter Shelly Saltman and the nearly thirteen-million-dollar award for damages caused the stuntman to declare bankruptcy and to fade from the spotlight.
Disney also tried to make an Evel Kneivel show for Disney XD. Kneivel’s estate turned the idea down, but Disney later retooled the show, turning it into Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil (2010).