Ernie was my hope in 1957 to implant the whimsical 50’s UPA design style into the moribund Terrytoons shtick. His appearance in the studio caused bewilderment at the very least, building to fear, trepidation, and downright hostility from the old timers. They couldn’t figure him out, so they hated him. Ernie himself didn’t help. He lived in his own Hollywoodish haze, enclosed in his plaster-board bunker on Terrytoons’ ground floor, presumably in tune with his inner voices. He would softly plays the blues on his trumpet, its tones wafting through the entire building, raising the blood pressure of the entire staff. Terrytoons was actually built in the shell of a former movie theater in New Rochelle, New York, and sound resonated beautifully from its high vaulted ceiling. It was ironic in itself that we were endeavoring to make animated movies within the abandoned space of a closed down movie house. But so we were, and it made it more ironic than ever that we were attempting this confrontation of the avant-garde against the retarde!
Ernie was soon turned off with the Terrytoons atmosphere, unwilling or unable to communicate with of the old timers. He spoke “Hollywoodish,” and even though I still felt myself to be a Californian, I had too much on my plate to translate into “New Rochellish,” which I couldn’t much cope with myself. In spite of my assurances that I valued his fresh presence in the studio, he packed his trumpet and abandoned us and FLEBUS while it was still in pencil test animation. He had the color planned enough so that I was able to finish the film as he had conceived it, and with a great voice reading by Allen Swift, and the eccentric animation of Jim Tyer, it became one of the major achievements of my time at Terrytoons.
We even managed to get a few Flebus stories into the Terrytoons comic books published by Pines – very rare by this time! Attached here are sample Flebus pages.
The name “Flebus,” incidentally, was my concoction. Ernie originally labeled him “Willie,” but while driving to work, I heard a doctor talking about the disease phlebitis. Not suffering from that affliction, I thought the word sounded funny, and that “Flebus” would be a more memorable and easier copyrightable name than Willie. So the character became ‘Flebus!”