At aged 12 years Bob Clampett saw the 1925 silent film “The Lost World.” As a boy full of imagination, sitting in the audience for that film was a life altering experience for Clampett.. Special effects supervisor Willis O’Brien brought alive the creatures with his stop motion wizardry. Wallace Beery cut a larger than life figure as Professor Challenger.
Clampett about the time he first saw “The Lost World.”
At the end of the film a brontosaurus jumps off of the London Bridge into the Thames River and as he swims away only his neck is visible from out of the water. Clampett immediately saw an interesting character in the action from that final scene.
Clampett’s mother Joan in the early 1940’s.
Clampett came home and set about with his mother’s help to sew a sock puppet of this character. He then performed puppet shows in front of the neighborhood kids delighting them with the antics of his sea serpent character who bested the professor in the pith helmet.
For years after that Clampett frequently entertained with this sock puppet serpent character and in fact kept it nearby in a handy place.
In 1930-31 Clampett responded to his Aunt Charlotte Clark’s interest in marketing a known character as a doll to be sold in department stores by designing the first Mickey Mouse doll. Clampett had to sit through several matinees to draw models of the mouse. After Clark built the doll from Clampett’s designs, Clampett’s father (also Robert) told them that Walt Disney owned the rights to Mickey Mouse and they were infringing on his copyright. Clampett accompanied by his dad took the prototype of the doll over to the Hyperion Studios to show Walt Disney. Disney flipped in a good way and set them up to mass produce the doll on the studio lot. Several French seamstresses were hired to sew the pieces of the mouse together and Clampett stuffed them with kapok.
Clampett’s focus shifted to hand drawn animation when he was hired in 1931 as an inbetweener at the Harman-Ising studio, a precursor to Warner Bros. Cartoons. However, Clampett was always interested in creating 3D media as well.
In 1935 Clampett attended the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego.
At this show he saw a demonstration of television for the very first time. He ran to his car and pulled his sea serpent hand puppet out of the glove compartment. Clampett was able to test for the first time what a puppet might look like on live television and recognized the power of this brand new medium.
In 1937 while at Warner cartoon studio, Clampett built a puppet studio directly across the street. He worked there primarily on nights and weekends with his friend Al Kendig to develop 3D stop motion puppetry.
Clampett’s puppet studio across from the Warner Bros. Cartoon studio.
Leon Schlesinger in his office at Pacific Art and Title.
In the early 1940’s Clampett pitched his idea for filmed puppet shorts about a sea serpent and sea captain to Warner Cartoon studio head Leon Schlesinger. However, Schlesinger turned the project down by saying, “A shoemaker sticks to his last.” This was what Clampett later referred to as a critical moment in his career because Clampett was then able to retain the rights to his most important original 3D creation.
In 1945 Clampett left Warner cartoons and after a couple of short lived ventures with Columbia writing cartoon scripts and with Republic Pictures trying to get a series of theatrical shorts off the ground, of which only one cartoon “It’s a Grand Old Nag” was ever completed, Clampett began work to develop a live puppet show for television.
Newspaper comic panels promoting the film.
In 1947 Clampett got his first actual experience working in television by hosting a noontime show on KFI called cartoon party. Little is known about this show since no kinescopes were ever recorded but Clampett sketched on air and brought on guests who also drew a variety of characters like Daffy and Donald Duck on the same show. Disney artist Jack King was one of the frequent guests.
Clampett originally began developing a live puppet show in late 1948 with former Warner artist and very talented scenic artist Bill Oberlin.
Clampett on the left with Bill Oberlin and Oberlin’s wife in 1946.
The show was going to consist of fantastic adventures with the emphasis on outside creatures and forces of nature. Cecil the Sea Serpent appeared as did the Captain as a blowhard telling tall tales. Clampett and his cast which included a performer in a gorilla suit and a live chimp waited in line to audition at CBS studios. As the auditions got further and further behind schedule the fellow in the gorilla suit tried to leave because he had an evening theatre performance. The rest of the cast physically restrained him so he wouldn’t leave thus creating a big fight between the cast and crew. The CBS execs were thoroughly unimpressed with the “Beany” team’s rag tag performance.
Clampett and his team also had a disastrous presentation for the Laura Scudder potato chip company including the real Laura Scudder to be the show’s sponsor. The Sea Serpent sang a song about really liking Laura Scudder’s potato chips and then proceeded to chew them up all over her. Scudder left the audition in a huff with potato chip bits all over her summer dress and Clampett and his team were back at square one.
Clampett and Oberlin analyzed what went wrong with these presentations. They decided that they had to control every presentable element completely in order to be successful. The sets, lighting, everything to be seen and heard in any future audition would be presented on their terms. They also decided to focus on their characters and forget about playing to sponsors or networks that had them following juggling acts.
Clampett tests Cecil’s expressions in front of a mirror in the family residence.
Clampett turned his garage near Beverly and LaBrea into their stage set. They carefully choreographed every aspect of the presentation from the theatrical lighting to the music and props. Clampett also conceived an entire show opening with a great storm at sea and a by now sibilant Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent getting tossed at sea and tossing his cookies.
Clampett also realized that he needed an audience identification figure and settled on a little boy who he saw at lunch at a Wilshire Boulevard diner. Clampett sketched this little Jewish boy wearing a Yamulke right on his napkin. He later added a propeller up top and Beany was born. He later added a propeller up top and Beany was born. In the file folder containing this drawing Bob Clampett added some interesting information. Note: Lil’ Lenny born Feb. 5, 1946. In late 1948 when he was model for “Beany”- He was 2 ½ years old.
Early sketches of Beany.
Originally Clampett had planned to have an array of calamities and villains for the show, but came to realize that he needed to condense it into one character that audiences would love to hate. A play on words of a popular used car salesman named Honest John, he was appropriately newly named Dishonest John or D.J. for short and his design was closely based on Clampett’s first boss at Harman Ising studio in 1931, Larry Martin.
Larry Martin, Clampett’s first boss at Warner Cartoons, and an inspiration for D.J.’s design.
Stan Freberg and Daws Butler was as Stan described inspired casting. The two split voicing and manipulating the four key characters right down the middle. Freberg performed Cecil and D.J. Butler performed Beany and Uncle Captain Huffenpuff. The dynamic of these two legendary artists bringing to life these characters was just magic.
Clampett on left as pirate. Landsberg on right as king.
And late one Thursday afternoon another legendary figure, Klaus Landsberg visited that little garage for quick look. He came away so impressed he told them he was putting them on the air live on KTLA TV the following Monday evening! The show debuted leap year February 28th, 1949. They had no scripts, but they had enthusiasm and imagination and “Time For Beany” was off and running…for eight years straight.
Viewers never saw the puppet characters…in color. This was a 16mm color test film.
The show became a ratings juggernaut and defeated the likes of Kukla Fran and Ollie, Howdy Doody and Lassie for the Emmy for best Children’s show three of its four first years on the air including 1949, 1950 and 1952. Beany’s success allowed Clampett to develop other live puppet shows such as the Emmy nominated “Thunderbolt the Wondercolt”, “Buffalo Billy” and “The Willy the Wolf Show” a precursor to a mix of puppets and live action variety show that the muppets did so successfully.
Bob Clampett Productions with four shows on the air.
Time For Beany’s fan card. This sheet was handed out to visitors to the studio.
“Time For Beany also became one of the first shows syndicated around the United States by Paramount Television.
Clampett and Naomi Littell beside the puppets Sliver and Buffalo Billy.
Here in the 1970’s Naomi Littell puts the finishing touch to Cecil’s nostril.
Clampett’s seamstress from the early 1950’s all the way through the late 1970’s was Naomi (Mimi) Littell.
Littell had been friends with Clampett’s mother Joan since their youth. More on Clampett’s friendship with
The Littell’s and the Barrier’s in the Audio oral history found on Vol. 2 of the Beany and Cecil DVD.
In the late 1950’s puppets were suddenly out of fashion and hand drawn animation was suddenly back in demand. Clampett sold United Artists on the idea of six theatrical shorts with the Beany and Cecil characters. The pilot cartoon used to sell the series was animated in Clampett’s son’s bedroom of their duplex near Beverly and La Brea.
Cecil follows the Leakin’ Lena.
Other cartoons included in that first deal for the theatricals included “Beany and Cecil Meet the Monstrous Monster” and “Phantom of the Horse Opera.”
The Phantom character as he appeared in one of the Shorts produced for United Artists.
However, Mattel Toys was looking for a property to populate their Matty’s Funnies time slot on the ABC Network.
Clampett leased the building at 729 North Seward Street just North of Melrose. With the exception of some of the editing that was completed immediately across the street, the entire production including story boards, voice recording, animation, cel painting, Backgrounds, and all merchandise approval was completed in that building.
The most popular publicity sheet showing the key characters.
The production proved to be a nightmare for Clampett and his production company Snowball, Inc. ABC exercised their approval by demanding cuts on completed episodes. Network censors were particularly ruthless in savaging Clampett’s verbal based humor and parody. Clampett and his team had to repeatedly scramble to redo scenes and recut episodes. The production went dangerously over budget which almost shut down the studio. On some of the later episodes Clampett had to resort to reuse of scenes from earlier episodes.
At the urging of his wife Sody, Clampett had Cecil sing “A Bob Clampett Cartooooooonnnn!” at the end of the main title sequence. Although Clampett had previously got some recognition for the Emmy Awards that “Time For Beany” had received in the early 1950’s, that was a local show not seen by a national audience. Now because of the cartoons, kids all over America were singing his name.
Bob Clampett and Cecil in the opening where Cecil slurp kisses Clampett’s caricature and then sings his name.
For several years because of the continued success of the Beany and Cecil cartoons, Clampett and his family were invited to ride in The Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood and Sunset boulevards at Christmas time each year. At the time it was still quite popular and televised and drew Hollywood icons like Bob Hope, The Three Stooges and Jayne Mansfield.
Bob Clampett’s parade appearances had a theatrical flair. Here
Clampett holds Cecil in a basket, wife Sody wears the white hat,
Son Bobby stands in front of Bob in red coat and Japanese girls in
Kimonos are on each side of him. The card on the side door was
the character logo. This photo was from the early 1960’s.
This was a big turnabout considering that Clampett worked for decades in obscurity on the Warner Bros. cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Tweety. Then when many of those cartoons Clampett worked on were reissued as Blue Ribbon cartoons in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the credits were removed so most cartoon fans now had no idea Clampett even worked at Warner cartoons.
26 episodes did air on the ABC television network starting in primetime on Monday nights in January 1962. These 26 half hours ran continuously on ABC for five straight years. ABC then syndicated Beany and Cecil worldwide via their distribution arm worldvision for a total of 16 years.
Beany, Captain Huffenpuff and Cecil with identical expressions.
Mattel also found tremendous success merchandising products bearing the likenesses of Beany, Cecil, Dishonest John, Captain Huffenpuff and Crowy. Several of the products sold in the millions. Particularly popular were the Beany and Cecil dolls and the Beany Cap copter.
Flying propeller caps became all the rage.
Some of the Beany and Cecil merchandise.
Clampett holding Cecil who is about to flip his lid and son Bobby next to Clampett also wearing a Beany Cap copter at a Mattel promotion. Cel overlays of Beany and Cecil laugh at the silliness.
However, ensuing lawsuits caused Snowball, Inc. to never reap any benefits from the merchandise and Clampett only got the rights back to the films six years before his death.
Clampett became ill with Hepatitis and was hospitalized at the completion of the series. This highly stressful endeavor of making the Beany and Cecil cartoons caused Clampett to never again go into full scale production.
From that point Clampett spent most of his time with his family and subsisted on animation and puppetry for commercials or the oddball request like a frog puppet (originally used on “Time For Beany” that could immediately be used on “That Girl” starring Marlo Thomas.
In 1971 Clampett produced a family puppet show that opened with a pre-recorded bit with the original Beany, Cecil and Clowny puppets. Through the early to mid 1970’s Clampett also toyed with the idea of reviving puppets and tested designs of new puppets for Beany, D.J. and Huffenpuff that had more expressive facial action. Clampett eventually abandoned the idea.
From the mid 1970’s up until his death, Clampett toured Universities around the United States showing his cartoons including “Beanyland” which was Clampett’s satire on Disneyland. In fact Clampett completed two versions of that cartoon. “Beanyland” the episode that aired can be seen on https://beanyandcecil.com/dvdvol1.php. “Park at the Top of the Stars” the alternate version which never aired can be seen on https://beanyandcecil.com/dvdvol2.php. Clampett also frequently showed “The Wildman of Wildsville” a cartoon starring the beatnik painter “Go Man Van Gogh.” His tag line was “Man, I don’t dig anything that’s square.”
A scene from “Wildman of Wildsville” where Cecil gets into the Beatnik act. Flora the clinging Vine has a hold on him.
Clampett died on May 2, 1984 in Detroit Michigan from complications of a heart attack while on tour promoting the first home video release of the Beany and Cecil cartoons.
One of the last photographs of taken of Bob Clampett just days before he died of complications from heart surgery in Detroit Michigan on May 2, 1984.
Bob and Sody Clampett in the mid 1970’s.
Bob and Sody Clampett at the Reuben Awards in late 1983.
Sody Clampett, Bob’s wife of 27 years and his partner through much of the puppet production and the entire animated series took the reins of Bob Clampett Productions. Mrs. Clampett successfully syndicated Beany and Cecil worldwide and in about 35 domestic markets.
In 1987 Mrs. Clampett was contacted by the ABC Network to revive Beany and Cecil as a Saturday morning show airing at 7am. DIC Entertainment was fatefully chosen as the approved production entity. ABC brought in Chuck Lorre (most recently of “Two and a Half Men” as the approved story editor, and DIC hired Clampett protogee John Kricfalusi as the Producer of the show. Sody Clampett and Son Rob also had production approvals. The production became a battle of wills. After a time Lorre was replaced by Paul Dini (later of the “Batman” animated series) ABC accused Kricfalusi of inserting unapproved material and fired him and later cancelled the series after only 5 episodes had aired.
This episode “D.J. Goes Ape” never aired.
The series ran from September to October 1988. Although bits and pieces have surfaced, there were episodes that have never been seen by even the producer Kricfalusi by the time of the cancellation. To this day the 1988 Beany and Cecil series has never been released in any form.
In January of 2000 Clampett’s son Rob and Image Entertainment released a DVD tribute, “Beany and Cecil The Special Edition. The edition had 12 original beany and cecil cartoons, four “Time for Beany” puppet episodes and hours of bonus material highlighted by a two and a half hour oral history in Bob Clampett’s own voice edited by Clampett expert Milton Gray that gave the public a window into Bob Clampett’s personality and his creations. Despite universally rave reviews, and an ASIFA Annie Award as special recognition this DVD edition had no promotion and only moderate sales. At the end of the five year agreement with Image Entertainment Clampett’s son learned that Image had destroyed the glass master.
In September of 2009 Clampett’s son Rob and Hen’s Tooth Video released a followup DVD tribute, “Beany and Cecil The Special Edition, Volume 2.” This edition has 12 more Beany and Cecil cartoons, two more “Time For Beany” episodes and a host of previously unreleased bonus material.
What’s next for Beany and Cecil?