19. Saul Steinberg meets Margaret Hamilton!

The proof was in the pudding.

Thanks to Saul Steinberg, the original graphic influence on UPA character design, I won my first gold medal, and it was from the prestigious New York Art Directors Club!  Steinberg was one of my idols, and just the opportunity to work with him personally was prize enough for me.

It was the silly 1954 “Busy Day” TV commercial for JELL-O instant pudding; (gucky stuff), but it was a major breakthrough for us, for JELL-O, and for American television, to have a TV commercial with design by one of the world’s most advanced graphic artists.  For me it was a big deal, however absurd, to sit in this great man’s apartment, discussing with him how to mix it up with this fast pudding.

Aside from Steinberg’s drawing table, with some of his famous “thumbprint” drawings actually in work, the most interesting things in his apartment were the many rocking chairs and beautiful grandfather clocks in all the rooms.  Collecting them was his passion. We talked about the problem of how to animate his essentially flat figures, which had to be animated in a way that cohabited with his style.  That idea of course was our red meat, and is essentially the core of the UPA approach: each graphic style requires a compatible animation style.  So we were learning, in those still early days of that philosophy.  However minor this pudding commercial was, we were breaking new ground, graphically. Even more thrilling was that its importance was recognized by the New York Art Director’s Club.   So I am crediting them and Saul Steinberg for this early baby-step forward.

Another aspect of this little project was that it gave me my first chance to use a well-known movie actor in an out-of-stereotype role. Later I hired “monster” Boris Karloff, who was actually William Henry Pratt, a distinguished Englishman, to do the gentle-voiced priestly narrator of my Terrytoons film, THE JUGGLER OF OUR LADY, and then the perpetual “butler.” Arthur Treacher, to narrate the sardonic “educational” Self-Help series for Paramount.  I was about to hire Stan Laurel to do the voice of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, but Stan and our premature HOBBIT project died simultaneously.  My first successful shot at this idea was to use the Wizard of Oz “Wicked Witch” and classic “spinster” actor, Margaret Hamilton, to do the voice of the harassed housewife In this JELL-O “Busy Day” commercial, which so boosted my early career and handed me my first film award, the New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal,  Margaret Hamilton was in fact a sweet and gentle woman!   Interestingly, I soon discovered that most if not all famous actors are sweet and gentle people!

Saul Steinberg

Our 1954 Steinberg designed JELL-O “Busy Day” Instant Pudding commercial

Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch in THE WIZARD OF OZ movie

Margaret Hamilton as she really was when she voiced my Jell-O pudding commercial.

The “Busy Day” TV commercial brought me my very first film award.

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