56. Eric Jan Harmsen & The Bluffers!

“I’ll get a melody for your words, Gene. Just don’t try to sing them!”

Eric Jan Harsen was a young golden-haired Dutch boy who happened to be a cousin of Edith Brinkers, the wife of Frank Fehmers, producer of our “BLUFFERS/DUFFERS” project. Fehmers looked and acted like a winner, but in fact lost.  The Dutch project was one of our most elaborate failures.

Fehmers was fashion-model handsome, but an alcoholic, who led the project down an on-the-rocks path and over a cliff.  But young Harmsen, a brilliant jazz pianist, melodic nature boy and master of microphones, created with me a legacy of 40 songs. I wrote the words, and Eric Jan orchestrated them all with a bravura variety of melodies and moods, many on themes “where no songsmith had gone before!”  Well rarely. The most fun I ever had in filmmaking was developing these songs with the young music prodigy Eric Jan Harmsen.  You will now have a chance to hear what I feel are my proudest creations; not animation, not drawings, but SONGS!  I’ve mentioned several times that what I really wanted to be was a musician.  Not being able to achieve that, the most fulfillment I’ve had in filmmaking was that I got to work with many great musicians, and thus had a hand in the creation of music.

In the case of the BLUFFERS project, it was with a musician who was not much more than a boy, but a spectacular talent with a fill kit of musical and technical skills.

“THE BLUFFERS” was the meaningless/cutesy title Fehmers imposed on my original 1954 story that I had titled,  “ZIP, ZOK, & THE BARON,” basically a conflict between a gun-mad Baron, intent on wiping out all animal & vegetable life on his lands and covering it all with asphalt, so he could zoom around with his fleet of cars, parking them wherever he pleased.  He was fixated on wiping out a small band of remaining animals, whose self-appointed guru was the unwise owl, Zok, who fancied himself the reincarnation of ”Zocrates,” (His spelling was no better than his pretenses!) Zok’s faithful gofer was a hyper-active squirrel, Zip, high-speed, but with low voltage brain synapses.

In the half-hour pilot we managed to produce, The Baron was transmogrified into “Count Clandestino,” with the added element that he possessed “The Secret of Getting It All!”                   The surviving band of animals were equally fixated on the idea that the mysterious “secret” could be their salvation against the Count’s manic encroachment on their turf.  Upon this ecological core, the pack of single-minded, obsessed animal characters, each with equally absurd notions of how to undo the Baron/Count, and save their forest.  The complete pilot film attempt can be seen on this “Roll The Credits!” When looking at it you have to take your mind back to 1982, when there no such thing as computer animation. We had to do the whole thing as a live puppet film, shot on 35mm film in a large exhibition hall in Prague.  And please don’t be put off that the pilot film you will see here is titled.    “THE DUFFERS!”  That was part of the argument between Fehmers and me of the senselessness of going away from my original title, “ZIP, ZOK & THE BARON.”  But anyway,please take it as it is, a hopeless attempt, B.C. (Before Computers.)

As is usual with commercial producers, who want all things to be all-things, Frank Fehmers wanted “teaching songs,” to be inserted into the productions, convinced that such songs would boost the chances of getting TV distribution and sponsors. The list of subjects he wanted me to write songs about, included, Gravity, Weather, Time, Communication, Geography, Archaeology, Biology, Truth, Fear, Friendship, in addition to a song for each character, reflecting greed, hunger, illness, and various obsessions.  The challenge was to make such to make such schoolroom stuff entertaining, as well as supporting Fehmers’ goals.   Eric Jan and I went at the challenge in the spirit of fun.

Along with all the problems of producing a complex live-puppet pilot in 1982, before today’s digital technology existed, we had a picnic concocting 40 songs. Assuming the idea of making something out of nothing interests you, I’m giving you the opportunity to see our ill-fated pilot, which no one has seen, and to hear Eric Jan’s music, which too few have heard.  If you insist, you can hear some of them here in The Bluffers Songbook!

The songs are mainly sung by Allen Swift, doing the main characters, with Eric Jan Harmsen doing a few others.  The Mouse, Blossom, is sung by Kees ter Bruggen. That’s my own voice as the narrator in the film pilot.

I hope you will enjoy these songs, which have lain dormant, unheard for 30 year, most of them heard here for the first time ever!  (Is that a bad or a good thing?)  I am eager to hear your honest appraisal (or otherwise) of what Eric Jan and I have wrought!

Eric Jan married the beautiful mouse, actually Dutch artist, Kees ter Bruggen, who performed the female voices for The Bluffers cartoon series, after which they went off to live on the Spanish Isle of Ibiza, where Eric Jan opened a jazz club, and according to his words, they  “go around naked!”

He and Kees are happily living and doing their things on Ibiza to this day. If you’re a solid jazz and good-time freak you could have a great kick visiting the Teatro Pereyra on the Spanish isle of Ibiza!

Kees is still beautiful. Eric Jan is a lot heftier, but still a dazzling jazz pianist!

Allen Swift, Frank Fehmers, Eric Jan Harmsen, and
Gene Deitch at The Bluffers recording session.

Eric Jan, singing in full-cry!

All of us, relaxing after the recording session.

Eric Jan Harmsen, looking more somber in this rare photo
from Ibiza than his high-voltage playing would suggest.

*After I left the twisted project, Fehmers did produce a short visually vulgarized series, reverting to his title “The Bluffers,” using the soundtracks Eric Jan and I produced. It’s still rattling around the far reaches of the internet, in syndication.

As I write this, a computer game version of my original “ZIP-ZOK” concept is in development by a young and sober Dutch group. Stay tuned for information about it!  I am not involved in the visualization of the latest incarnation of my story, but hope for the best.

Take a look at the 1980 pilot film, “The DUFFERS!” Listen to the songs tape, and learn Murphy’s law! 

2 thoughts on “56. Eric Jan Harmsen & The Bluffers!

  1. Comedy aside, the “Memories” song with Zok is a beautiful tune. These songs deserve to be released on an album in the U.S.

  2. Pingback: The Bluffers Songbook! | genedeitchcredits

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