One of the most prominent figures in the golden era of Warner Bros. animation, Bob Clampett made innumerable contributions to the landscape of the American cartoon. Raised in Hollywood, Clampett's love of art and film soon led him to WB, where he began as an in-betweener on the studio's "Merrie Melodies" series under producer Leon Schlesinger in 1931. During his tenure, he quickly rose in the ranks, due in part to such creations as Porky Pig and key contributions to iconic characters like Daffy Duck. Later claims as to his role in creating the star character of Bugs Bunny were vociferously refuted by former co-workers like Chuck Jones and voice actor Mel Blanc, who viewed Clampett as an egotist and shameless self-promoter. Regardless, the significance of such Clampett masterpieces as the shorts "Porky in Wackyland" (1938), "The Hep Cat" (1942) and "A Tale of Two Kitties" (1942) - the latter of which introduced the character of Tweety Bird - were undeniable. After leaving Warner Bros. in 1946, Clampett went on to create his own signature property with the massively popular televised puppet show "Time for Beany" (PTN, 1950-55), which was later turned into a cartoon series "Beany and Cecil" (ABC, 1962). The foremost purveyor of the surreal and hyper-kinetic style with which Warner Bros. animation became so closely identified, Clampett's contributions - while possibly exaggerated to a degree by the man himself - would remain timeless.
Born Robert Emerson Clampett on May 13, 1913 in San Diego, CA to Joan and Robert Clampett, Bob and his family soon moved north to Hollywood, where at a very early age he exhibited impressive artistic ability. Not surprisingly, the young boy was also fascinated by the growing medium of film and made short movies of his own as a preteen. Puppetry was also an early hobby for Clampett who, as an adolescent, designed a crude dinosaur-like sock puppet - an early prototype of one of his greatest creations, the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent, Cecil. It was, however, illustration that he devoted the majority of his time to, and by high school, Clampett had not only managed to sell a cartoon to The Los Angeles Times, but was offered a part-time job as a cartoonist for newspaper syndicate King Features. Having furthered his art studies at the Otis Art Institute, a restless Clampett dropped out of Glendale's Hoover High School just shy of graduation. Shortly after taking on a job at his aunt's doll-making company, he suggested she sell likenesses of Disney's popular Mickey Mouse cartoon character. Nothing if not ambitious, not only did the teenage Clampett design the doll, but personally secured Walt Disney's permission to license the character and helped facilitate the business deal to sell the toys between his aunt and Disney.
Despite this early success in the toy business, it was the medium of the doll's inspiration - animation - that truly captured the imagination of the 17-year-old. After submitting one of his shorts to animation producer Leon Schlesinger, he was hired on as an assistant animator with Harman-Ising Studios in 1931. Clampett's first contribution came on the inaugural "Merrie Melodies" cartoon for Warner Bros., "Lady, Play Your Mandolin!" (1931). Working under the guidance of Friz Freleng, Clampett began animating more regularly and remained with Warner after Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising departed over budget disputes with the notoriously penny-pinching Schlesinger. The first of Clampett's lasting contributions came with the character Porky Pig, who made his debut in the short "I Haven't Got a Hat" (1935). Encouraged by his success, the young animator began offering story ideas as well and was eventually teamed with Tex Avery, with whom he collaborated in a ramshackle building on the WB lot, affectionately referred to as "termite terrace." This team, soon joined by Chuck Jones, Virgil Ross and others, quickly developed a unique, free-wheeling style which quickly evolved into the signature look for Warner Bros. animation.
Promoted to director by Schlesinger in 1936, Clampett debuted with an animated sequence in the Joe E. Brown comedy "When's Your Birthday" (1937) and the Porky Pig short "Porky's Badtime Story" (1937). Excelling in his new role and taking full advantage of the creative freedom offered by Warner Bros., Clampett collaborated with Avery on "Porky's Duck Hunt" (1937), which featured the frenetic waterfowl Daffy Duck for the first time. Influenced by surrealist painters such as Salvador Dali, Clampett experimented with an increasingly bizarre, violent, dream-like aesthetic, epitomized by the hugely influential cartoon "Porky in Wackyland" (1938). Universally recognized as one of the greatest of all time and later deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress, it follows Porky Pig as he tracks a Do-Do Bird across an ever-shifting, surrealistic landscape. Clampett continued to push the creative envelope - infusing pop-culture and literary references into the proceedings - with such memorable shorts as "The Hep Cat" (1942), until he ultimately departed Warner Bros. after his un-credited directorial work on "The Big Snooze" (1946). Whether pushed out due to what some perceived as an overabundance of ego, or having left out of a desire for more creative freedom, nearly all agreed that Clampett had been at the height of his artistic powers as an animator during those final years with Warner Bros.
Over the next few years, Clampett briefly tried his hand at writing cartoons for Columbia Pictures, before attempting to launch a series of theatrical shorts through Republic Pictures. Of the latter endeavor, only the cartoon "It's a Grand Old Nag" (1947) was completed before the animator decided to turn his full attention to a long-gestating passion project - a puppet show. In 1949, Clampett created "Time for Beany," a 15-minute daily live puppet show for KTTV in Los Angeles. Played by legendary voice actor Daws Butler, Beany was a cheerful lad who flew with the help of his propeller-driven beanie. His devoted friend was Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent - voiced by the great Stan Freberg - the design of which had been inspired by the image of a dinosaur in the closing moments of the film "The Lost World" (1925), which Clampett had seen as a child. "Time for Beany" (PTN, 1950-55) quickly gained a following and graduated to daily syndication as part of the short-lived Paramount Television Network in an extended half-hour format. During its influential run, the show counted such luminaries as Groucho Marx, Albert Einstein and Lionel Barrymore among its fans and won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Show. Additionally, its success allowed the ambitious Clampett to launch several other similar programs, among them "Thunderbolt the Wondercolt" (KTTV, 1954) and "Buffalo Billy" (KTTV, 1954).
By 1961, "Time for Beany" had been transformed from a live-action puppet show into a cartoon series, re-titled "Beany and Cecil" (ABC, 1962) and produced and directed by Clampett through his own Bob Clampett Productions. As with the original incarnation, the cartoon followed the adventures of Beany and Cecil aboard their vessel the Leakin' Lena under the stewardship of the kindly Captain Horatio K. Huffenpuff. Looking to spoil their fun at every turn was the villainous Dishonest John - another returning character from the original series. Although only a single season of "Beany and Cecil" was produced, the cartoon resided in syndication on the network's daytime children's lineup from spring 1962 through fall 1966. Aired in 40 countries and heavily merchandised, "Beany and Cecil" made Clampett a wealthy man and the show's end theme song, with its refrain of ".A Bob Clampett Cartoooooon!" ensured him lasting name recognition. As a songwriter who also owned his own music publishing company, Clampett was far more successful on a financial level than almost any of his coworkers from the early "termite terrace" days - a fact that may have explained some of the lingering animosity directed at Clampett by his former colleagues in later years.
Shortly after production wrapped for the series, health problems forced Clampett into semi-retirement. For most of his remaining years he would tour the country, visiting college campuses and delivering talks about his historic career in animation. He appeared in the Warner Bros. animation documentary "Bugs Bunny: Superstar" (1975), although his prominence in the film - in addition to his oft-repeated claims regarding the creation of the carrot-chomping rabbit - angered many of his former animation colleagues. Primary among them was Chuck Jones, who in retaliation, intentionally left out Clampett when Bugs rattled off the names of his "several fathers" in the animated compilation feature "The Bug Bunny/Road Runner Movie" (1979). After years of failing health, Clampett died of a heart attack in Detroit, MI on May 2, 1984. While he did have his detractors, Clampett nonetheless remained one of the more beloved and respected figures in cartoon animation. Among the future creators greatly influenced by Clampett was John Kricfalusi, who produced and directed the short-lived revival "The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil" (ABC, 1988) before going on to create his own bit of animated madness, "The Ren & Stimpy Show" (Nickelodeon, 1991-96).
By Bryce Coleman
Director (Feature Film)
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Animation (Feature Film)
While a student, produced, scripted, acted in and edited "The Golf Widow", a live-action comedy short
Worked in the Warner Brothers animation department
Joined the Harman-Ising Studio at Warner Bros. as an animator and later a gagman
Animated secondary characters in "Lady Play Your Mandolin", the first "Merrie Melodies" cartoon
Retained by producer Leon Schlesinger after the departure of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising
Animated (with Charles aka "Chuck" Jones) "Gold Diggers of '49" under the supervision of Fred "Tex" Avery formerly of the Walter Lantz studio; this landmark cartoon short marked Avery's debut for the studio
Promoted to director to replace the departing Ub Iwerks
First direction for producer Schlesinger, helmed animated sequence of RKO's Joe E. Brown comedy vehicle, "When's Your Birthday?"
Aided by the contribution of the studio's new star voice actor Mel Blanc, redesigned and revitalized the character of Porky Pig
Supervised his first cartoon with Porky Pig (possibly begun by Iwerks), "Porky's Bad Time Story"
Supervised his first cartoon with Daffy Duck, "Porky and Daffy"
Supervised his breakthrough short, "Porky in Wackyland"
Directed the first color "Looney Tunes" entry, "The Hep Cat"
Introduced the little bird who would soon become known as Tweety in "A Tale of Two Kitties"
Left Warners at the peak of his powers; joined the ill-fated Screen Gems group, the cartoon division of Columbia Pictures; as "creative consultant", worked primarily in the story department
Created, wrote and directed "Time for Beany", a 15-minute daily live TV puppet show, for KTTV in Los Angeles; provided the voice of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent; series subsequently syndicated nationally
Directed the animated prologue of Arch Oboler's "Bwana Devil", the first 3-D feature; prologue introduced the process using his TV characters Beany and Cecil; sequence subsequently cut in Great Britain and "flat" re-release prints in the US
"Time for Beany" expanded to half hour
Under the auspices of his own Bob Clampett Productions, produced and directed "The Beany and Cecil Show", a syndicated cartoon series derived from the hit puppet show
Having moved from ABC's Sunday afternoon lineup (where it had debuted in October 1959) to primetime in 1960, the children's series "Matty's Funday Funnies" dropped its original cartoon stars and was retitled "Matty's Funday Funnies with Beany and Cecil"; retitled "Beany and Cecil" in the spring; Clampett credited as "cartoonist"
Featured prominently in "Bugs Bunny Superstar", a modestly produced compilation film; Clampett-directed cartoons comprised four of the nine shorts included in the feature; also featured as a narrator and interview subject; provided his home movies of Warner artists at work
Suffered heart attack in Detroit while on media tour promoting the video release of "Beany and Cecil"; died the next day (May 2nd)
"Beany and Cecil" returned to ABC's Saturday morning lineup for the first two months of the season
A new version of "Beany & Cecil" returned to ABC's Saturday morning lineup for the first two months of the season; co-produced by Bob Clampett Productions; directed by John Kricfalusi (who would later create "Ren & Stimpy")