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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

George Moreno

A little while back, someone left a comment on a post regarding George Moreno and I thought he might make an interesting subject for a post of his own. 

George Moreno Jr. was an American animator who worked for Universal/Lantz before joining the Fleischer Studio in Miami, Florida, in 1938-40 as one of the animators on the feature-length Gulliver's Travels (1939) and on shorter cartoons such as Way Back When a Nag was only a Horse (1940), Way Back when a Nightclub was a Stick (1940) and Ants in the Plants (1940).

Moreno is likely to have served during World War II and it may be his war service that brought him to England. (He may have stayed because of marriage, although this is quite possibly a red herring: a George Moreno was married to Dorothy Maud Jarratt (nee Kemish, b. 16 Feb. 1916) in London in 1947. She subsequently died in Chelsea, London, in 1973. But, as I say, this may simply be a coincidence of names.)

He was able to get the backing of three London businessmen (belt and buckle manufacturers) and advertised for ex-servicemen to join his newly formed British Animated Productions. Moreno spent £43,000 producing a series of popular cartoons featuring Bubble & Squeek, about a London taxi driver and his talking taxi. Only four episodes were ever made: The Big City (1947), Funfair (1947), Old Manor House (1948) and Home Sweet Home (1948). Old Manor House introduced another Moreno regular, Colonel Rat, a monocled rodent living in the titular run down, abandoned house where Bubble and Squeek try to shelter from the rain. Colonel Rat went on to star in Loch Ness Legend (1948).

Amongst the animators working on these cartoons were Harold Mack, Pamela French, Jimmy Holt, Leslie Boyd, Fred Thompson and Hugh Gladwish. Harold Mack and other members of the studio were shown in a short Pathe newsreel in their studio in Harringay making one of the cartoons in 1948. (Mack married Pamela French and the two left for Switzerland, and later set up their own company in Holland.)

Those who have been fortunate enough to see any of these cartoons report that the animation is of the highest quality. They were popular enough to encourage Birn Bros. to produce a series of Bubble and Squeek Annuals, with stories written by Arthur Groom. However, British Animated Productions folded when their distributors (British Lion?) withdrew their support: the ad valorem tax put on American imports in 1947 was relaxed in 1948 leading to a flood of American cartoons into British cinemas, wiping out Moreno's company.

Moreno Cartoons was then formed to make commercials for Pearl and Dean.

My knowledge of Moreno's career after British Animated Productions is patchy. In around 1952-56 he was drawing a weekly comic strip for TV Comic, 'Polly Coptor's Adventures', and illustrating text stories featuring 'Larry the Lamb' and 'Smokey, Puff-Puff and Choo-Choo' for the same paper. He also illustrataed some Larry the Lamb books published by the TV Comic's publisher, the News of the World.


He was also involved a Panoramic Films' documentary called Cartoons and Cartoonists (1956), directed by Harold Baim, who produced over 100 short documentaries between 1943-83.

Moreno then, perhaps, returned to the USA and was (perhaps briefly) involved with producer Edward Janis's Beverly Hills Productions on something called The Genius (19??), which makes me wonder if he was perhaps also involved in The Adventures of Spunky and Tadpole (1958-61), an animated series about a young boy (voiced by Janis's wife, Joan Gardner) and his teddy bear, Tadpole (voiced by Dan Massick and by Janis himself). But this is pure speculation.

Moreno Cartoons was then responsible for a number of singalong cartoons for children known as the Merry Music Shop series, distributed by Saxon in the early 1960s, titles including Bunty the Bouncing Bassoon, The Little Swiss Whistling Clock, Bumble Bee Fair, Little Mr. Robin, Thunderclap Jones, Jack O'Diamonds and The Land of Birthday Toys, all directed by former British Animated Productions animator Fred Thompson.

Moreno's company G. Moreno Film Productions Ltd. went into liquidation in 1973 and Moreno was still living in London at that time and may have lived here until possibly as late as 1981.

11 comments:

Peter said...

There is a variety in the style of the illustrations attributed to George Moreno which makes me suspect that some were completed, possibly even originated, by members of his staff - the regular illustration work being a way of keeping his artists on the payroll while he looked for other animation work.

The deal with Pearl & Dean was very good for Moreno. Not only did he rent studio space from them (on the top floor of 33 Dover St, near Berkley Square) with film editors in the attic and one of Pearl & Dean's rostrum cameras in the basement, but he also acquired the staff of P&D's previous animation department. This included such talents as Tony Cattaneo and Errol Le Cain, who formed the nucleus of the new design department and added greatly to the look of the commercials Moreno produced.

Moreno was still on the look-out for entertainment series and his attention turned to the new outlet: television.

A series of 5 minute episodes featured "Bom the little Drummer Boy", an Enid Blyton creation. This series of animated line drawings, with a narrator carrying the story, used a technique Moreno had established earlier – tracing the animation in white and shooting against black, using hi-contrast stock. This allowed the animated drawing to magically appear (revealed by progressive black mattes). It also allowed for multiple exposure, where individual elements of the picture could move independently by way of camera movements (tracking and panning).All this meant very little actual animation was required to fill out the time. A fully animated cycle of Bom walking and banging his drum was used repeatedly throughout the series. The finished film was aired reversed out black for white – appearing as black lines on a white ground.

(more to follow!)

Peter said...

Many other ideas were proposed: animating old cartoons from Punch, for one, and a series based on “The Crazy Gang” (a collection of 1930s comedy acts - Flanagan & Allen, Nervo & Knox, Naughton & Gold, along with ‘Monsewer’ Eddie Gray – who, having been booked together under the heading “Crazy Week”, had developed the flow of walk-on interruptions into an ensemble identity, and by the 1950s were regularly appearing at the Victoria Palace Theatre). Bill Hopper, who had animated Ginger Nutt for David Hand and had now joined Moreno Cartoons after a stint as model animator for Pearl & Dean, was a good caricaturist and was sent to watch the show and draw the comedians. But nothing further came of it.

Bill’s experience as a model animator came in handy when Moreno Cartoons got the job of animating Tivvy (one of a line of Finnish trolls from Fauni) for the TVTimes. Tivvy was so popular that the TVTimes commissioned a strip. George would scribble up a rough idea on Friday for Bill to ink up over the weekend – I think there was a fiver in it for him. (Tivvy’s catchphrase: “In Culuh!” referred to the fact that the TVTimes had just gone from black & white inside pages to full colour. Being before the transmission of colour TV, the adverts were, of course, in black & white.) The popularity of Tivvy encouraged George to make a stop-frame animation pilot for a series featuring the Fauni trolls and their life in the woods; again it came to nothing.

(more to follow!)

Peter said...

Cattaneo and Le Cain left to join Richard Williams: subsequently Tony set up his own animation company Wyatt-Cattaneo (with writer/cartoonist Ron Wyatt) – responsible for the Homepride Flour Graders, the Typhoo Gnu, the Country Life Butter Men and the Tetley Tea Folk, among others. Errol Le Cain, besides his work as an illustrator, was a mainstay of the design work for Williams’ ‘The Cobbler and the Thief’ project.

Fred Thompson was by now the main salesman and director of the commercials that were Moreno Cartoons bread-and-butter. In 1967 Moreno diversified and put most of his money into a restaurant that failed. (Apparently his chef partner took him for a ride.)

In late 1968 Thompson left Moreno Cartoons to set up on his own (Fredric Films) and took two of the three remaining animators with him, along with most of the clients.

George continued to struggle on, still looking for the series that would put him back in business.

In 1972 a children’s series (Dream Castle) starring Roy Castle got as far as a pilot episode (called variously ‘Dandylion’ or ‘The Lion That Lost Its Roar’). Castle plays a toyshop keeper called the Dream Man, who gives two children puppets of themselves, and sets them on a quest that they will pursue, as these puppets, in their dreams. It’s worth noting that it was written by Dorothy Dee, who wrote the “Smokey” story at the head of your article, and that the puppet/children’s guide in the dream world was a mole called Moodywarp!)

The music for “Dream Castle” was composed and recorded by Barry Gray, best known for his work on Gerry Anderson’s series. Gray had worked with George for many years: “Moreno” and “George & Fred” turn up regularly in the studio recordings list that appeared online a little while back.

(That's all I know - I worked for Moreno Cartoons from September 1968 to March 1969, before leaving to join Fredric Films myself.)

Steve said...

Hi Peter,

What a fantastic series of comments.

The only name I recognise is Bill Hooper, who I believe was William John Hooper who later lived in Worthing and died in 1996. He did some feature material for Sun, the Children's Newspaper and Valiant in the late 1950s and 1960s. Picture quiz type features. I think he's the same Bill Hooper who created the cartoon character Private Prune (lots about Prune here). There's a photo of him here.

Peter said...

Bill Hopper and Bill Hooper are two separate cartoonists.

Bill Hopper (real name Earnest - which he hated, adopting the nickname 'Bill' that was given to him in the Army) was not a newspaper cartoonist. He heard about David Hand's recruitment drive for Rank's new animation studio when he was demobbed after WWII (most of which he spent in German POW Camps, after being captured when Crete fell) and having been good at drawing at school applied and was accepted for training as an animator. He worked on the Animaland series, graduating from 'cute kid' characters (the lion as a cub in "The Lion", the cat as a kitten in "The House Cat") to the lead character in the Ginger Nutt series.

When GBA was disbanded he worked as a model animator for Pearl and Dean (in the 50s rivalling Rank as the prime producer of cinema commercials - this being before the onset of commercial tv) before joining George Moreno.

Steve said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for clearing that up. Much appreciated.

Denyse said...

Hi Peter
With Steve's permission ...
The Eurasian Association of Singapore is contemplating a permanent exhibition of the art of Errol Le Cain who was Eurasian and Singaporean. I am writing his biography with the blessing of his widow and encouraging responses from many people.Please write to me at puterim@gmail.com - yours is my first lead to those very early days in Lon don. Thank you
Denyse Tessensohn

Denyse said...

Peter sayang, where are you?
Denyse x

Tim Ayling said...

Hi Peter,
I hope you and Steve don't mind me using this thread to make contact. I'm currently doing research into my late father Dennis Ayling's career as a cinematographer and came across this thread looking for information on George Moreno and Hugh Gladwish. Dad was good friends with GM and worked for HG on 'Cucumber Castle' and I think a number of commercials. He was also one of the staff cinematographers at Pearl and Dean in the 50s and early 60s and very early on was a rostrum cameraman. I remember him referring to Barry Gray as well from that time. I was wondering if you may remember him and be able to help with my research?
Tim Ayling

Peter said...

Hi, Tim
I do recall Bill Hopper talking about "Denny Ayling" - I think from his days as a model animator at Pearl & Dean. The nature of the work was very stressful for him, and he was glad to return to drawn animation, but he had very happy memories of the crew he worked with.

Unfortunately I had no direct contact with your father, so I cannot be of more help.

Tim Ayling said...

Hi Peter,

Many thanks for your reply and apologies for taking so long to get back to you - I only just saw your comment. I'm glad that you remember Bill Hopper mentioning Dad and that he had happy memories of working with the crew, in spite of the stress he was under. Sadly, it seems that Pearl and Dean's archive was largely trashed some years ago, so I don't think I'll be able to piece together much about Dad's time there. On the subject of animation I do remember Dad being very friendly with Bob Godfrey and being taken to visit him when he was doing the Roobarb cartoons.

Many thanks again for taking the time to reply.