Monday, January 29, 2007

Letter from Irv Spence

I've been struggling to write something for the last several days and it's just not coming together. This blog has been quiet for almost a week, which is too long, so it's time to go to the filing cabinet and pull something out.

This letter from Irv Spence was in response to questions I sent him about MGM. It was my only communication with Spence and there aren't any historical revelations here, but I like the letter for it's breezy tone and for Spence's enthusiasm. At the time he wrote this, he was approaching forty years in the business and he was still having fun. We should all be so lucky.

The illustration at left is from the Cartoon Diary
blog, which reproduces images from Irv Spence's diary of 1944. That's Spence at the drawing board.

April 16, 1976

Dear Mr. Mayerson

Sorry about being a bit late - will explain later. Hope I can be of some help in regard to your questions about the animation business.

Speaking about Warners and MGM, the footage requirements were just about the same. However, MGM wanted more full or more Disney quality so the footage per week was about 20 or 25 ft. where as at Warners it was more like 30 or 35 ft. per week. As for the studios - MGM cartoon dept. had a much nicer setup than the old Warner bldg. I think Fred Quimby's set up was one of the best in the old days. The ideal cartoon studio. Not too big or too small.

I first went to MGM in 1938. They were doing The Captain and the Kids. I animated in those first two years for George Gordon, Friz Freleng, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. Then I began animating for Hanna and Barbera on the first Tom and Jerrys. Yes, Joe and Bill wanted a bit more realism in the animation on Tom and Jerry. Tex Avery wanted very extreme poses and wilder action. Sometimes Tex wanted really wild stuff - and wow! - it was great on the screen.

George Gordon left MGM after directing there, then went with John Sutherland Studios. He directed with the studio for many years then went with Quartet Films in Hollywood doing commercials for several years. Gordon did some outstanding industrial films for Sutherland. The best.

As for UPA, yes their style did influence other studios somewhat. Yes, the budgets did shrink and the animation got more stylized I suppose. Less full animation, more held poses, etc. etc.

I moved from MGM in '56. I was told the studio or rather the MGM main lot was going to discontinue making cartoons. So I made the move to commercial cartoons for TV. In 1963 I was back with my old basses Joe and Bill. Worked on The Flinstones, Johnny Quest, two features, then did commercials again for them, working with Art Babbitt. In 1969 I left Hanna and Barbera and made the big move to Ralph Bakshi. We are now animating(what I think will be a great film) a feature called the War Wizards. It's full animation and it's great fun to go all the way with animation.

Well Mark, it's nice hearing from you. Hope I've helped you somewhat. I could go on and on about this wonderful animation art. I've been doing it a long time but still enjoy it very much. It's a rewarding art form. If there's anything more, let's hear from you.


Irv Spence

Oh yeah. My wife and I took a nice trip to New Zealand then came home and landed in the hospital with pneumonia. That's why you haven't gotten this reply sooner. -Irv


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your letter from Spence.

It is great to read about his attitude towards the business, even after 40 years, not cynical or broken down --- "I could go on and on about this wonderful animation art. I've been doing it a long time but still enjoy it very much. It's a rewarding art form." --- still enjoying his work.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Spence when he was 77 years young. He came out of retirement to do a couple of scenes on a tv special as a favor to the producer. The man was ageless and animation helped keep him that way.