A Mishmash of Tish-Tash

Three directors: (left to right) Norman Taurog, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Tashlin

Frank Tashlin was an unusual filmmaker for a number of reasons, one of which has to do with his relationship with Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer Leon Schlesinger.

For one thing, Tashlin often contended that, once his comic strip “Van Boring” started to bring in a bit of revenue, Schlesinger — the supervisor of Warner Bros.’s fabled “Termite Terrace” animation studio, where Tashlin worked — felt that he was entitled to some of the profits. Quoth Tashlin, “He wanted a cut of it, and I said go to hell. So he fired me.”

(Incidentally, “Van Boring” – whose eponymous main character was based on Tashlin’s former boss, Amedée Van Beuren, the head of the nearly-forgotten Van Beuren animation studio – has its own Facebook page! Check it out – whoever holds that account posts at least one vintage “Van Boring” strip per day, and many are quite clever.)

I’ve never been able to corroborate that story about Schlesinger wanting a cut of Tashlin’s (assuredly meager) “Van Boring” profits, but it doesn’t seem all that unlikely to me, given Schlesinger’s reputation as a rather stern and shrewd businessman. (He was also regarded as a fairly permissive, hands-off producer, for which many Warner Bros. animators admired him.) In any  case, even if Schlesinger fired Tashlin at that time (around 1933), he would rehire him two more times. Tashlin bounced around from studio to studio quite a bit, as I detail in Tashlinesque.

The other element of Tashlin’s unusual relationship with Schlesinger is that, evidently, the producer granted the animator a unique privilege: the permission to use a nom de animation for several of his cartoons. That nom was “Tish Tash,” a pseudonym Tashlin started using as early as his teenage years, when he illustrated his school’s yearbook and other publications. A handful of Tashlin’s Warner Bros. cartoons – and a large number of the print cartoons that he published in various humor magazines – were signed by Tish Tash.

Leon Schlesinger and friend

 

I have a few bits of Tashlin-related news to report. The first of these is that The Austin Chronicle has published a more-or-less favorable review of my book Tashlinesque, which you can read right here.

A couple of months ago, I did a phone interview with the good people at The Mondo Film Podcast, a very excellent site created and run by true cinephiles. Justin Bozung, one of those cinephiles, was aware of Tashlinesque and wanted to talk to me for an epic podcast about the genius of Jerry Lewis, one of my favorite topics. You can listen to and/or download that podcast here; it runs two hours (!), and my comments occur during its last 30 minutes. Folks, this is only Part One of the Jerry Lewis show. Yes, his genius truly is so enormous that two hours of talking doesn’t even come close to addressing it. I am not speaking sarcastically, here. Here’s a second link from which you can listen to the ‘cast.

Finally, and most incredibly:

For me, one of the most rewarding and exciting things about writing books is that, occasionally, admirers of my work will contact me to share with me their enthusiasm. Not long after my book This Is Spinal Tap was published, I received a very nice email from a university librarian who was compiling a list of resources for students and scholars who wished to do research on mock-documentaries. He didn’t have to alert me to my book’s inclusion on his list, but he did, and very kindly included some words of praise, as well.

Just today, I received an email from Stephen Kroninger, who runs an eponymous animation/illustration blog at Drawger. Not only does Stephen possess an original Frank Tashlin oil painting (see below), he has compiled a remarkably useful and comprehensive post consisting of all manner of Tashlin-related materials, both print and audiovisual.

In addition to containing video of, to name a few, both Jerry Lewis’s amazing dance scene from Cinderfella and Tashlin’s hard-to-see and extremely influential cartoon The Fox and the Grapes (which I have also posted below), Stephen does a great service to historians and students of American illustration by posting, in its page-by-page entirety, Tashlin’s extremely hard-to-find, out-of-print cartooning manual How to Create Cartoons. This book, in which Tashlin espouses his “SCOTArt” system of drawing (which relies on the mastery of four basic shapes: Square, Circle, Oval, Triangle), is quite rare. The only copy I’ve ever seen resides in the Frank Tashlin Archive in the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Years ago, with permission, I made a photocopy of the book, but the copy that Stephen has uploaded is way better, as it’s in color — well, its cover is in color — and the scans are of very high quality. How to Create Cartoons offers insight not only into Tashlin’s method of illustration, but into the general stylistic and economic tendencies of the market for illustration in the middle of the twentieth century. Again, this is a valuable document.

My own talent for illustration lies mostly in the realm of the notebook doodle, but perhaps it’s now finally time for me to give this SCOTArt business a go. Reader submissions are also welcome!

 

Canter through Coventry, an original oil painting by Frank Tashlin

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Posted on May 25, 2012, in Animation, Comedy, Film, Tashlin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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