Private Snafu Production Art & WEAPON OF WAR


I think the work is an interesting peek into the process of making both the "Private Snafu" and the "A Few Quick Facts" series

Private Snafu fans are alive and well!

Click on any of the four images below to see the corresponding page.

Snafu Painted Cels (4 images)

Snafu Storyboard/Development Art (33 images)

Snafu Storyboard Art on animation paper (26 images)

A FEW QUICK FACTS: WEAPON OF WAR
Which I believe is written by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
Bound storyboard which I have turned into an Quicktime animatic
(89 pages- photostats)

A FEW QUICK FACTS: WEAPON OF WAR

Storyboard of animated wartime movie is found along with original Private Snafu art.

And… “new” story by Dr. Suess?

When the United States entered WWll, the animation industry became a memorable cog in the war effort.  Characters like Private Snafu (Situation Normal All Fucked Up…or Fouled Up when translated by censors) used “Bugs Bunny-like” humor to teach sodiers what NOT to do.  He was created by Frank Capra who was chairman of the Armed Forces Motion Picture Unit, with much of the writing by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and directed by the likes of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin.  Snafu’s voice was created by Mel Blanc. Many of these were done under the Warner Umbrella… but other studios like UPA (United Productions of America),  and Disney had a hand in them too.  You can catch Private Snafu today on UTUBE… pretty risque stuff for the era.

The same team also created a series called A FEW QUICK FACTS.  At least two of these starred Private Snafu and survived- A FEW QUICK FACTS: INFLATION( 1944) & A FEW QUICK FACTS: FEAR (1945). Both were done under the UPA umbrella and both are available on DVD with the Snafu shorts collection.  Another was done under the Disney umbrella in 1944, A FEW QUICK FACTS: VENEREAL DISEASE which unfortunately was lost and we know little about it.  (Would love to see that one turn up!) But there was another film called A FEW QUICK FACTS: WEAPON OF WAR (1944) that focused on racial intolerance that until now has been totally lost. I recently discovered that there is a copy of the film in the National Archive where it has been buried for 60 years or so.

How it came into my hands...

My great uncle Harold "Al" Curry served as a storyboard artist under Theodore Geisel during WWll.  Theodore Geisel wrote and sketched out his ideas for storyboard artists like my uncle to flesh out. He’d told me stories of their time in the service.  Al remembered walking into Captain Geisel’s office and the Captain suddenly yanking sheets of paperwork over what he had been doing… would then look up, see Al and say “Oh, its you Al, I guess I don’t need to hide this from you.”  And he’d pull back all the boring paperwork to reveal he’d been sitting at his desk just doodling.  He was constantly doodling and tired of pedantic paperwork.

When out driving  along Sunset Blvd in full uniform in the back of the army jeep, they’d always keep a look out for groups of children at bus stops.  When they’d spy a group, Captain Geisel would tell the driver to slow down as they approached.  He’d give the kids a real stern look til the kids looked real scared, then he and Al would hold up immaginary machine guns and make shooting noises like they were playing army and zip away while the kids were left laughing at the buststop.  Of course they’d probably get in trouble for that today… but at the time it made the kids laugh.  Theodore Geisel was a fun captain to serve under.

Al and his wife Elva saw a little of Theodore Geisel after the war but eventually lost contact with him and lived a fairly sophisticated bohemian lifestyle spending time with a hypnotist who solved murders, meeting Legs Diamond, vacationing in nudist resorts, and eventually settling into a 50’s hip hilltop home overlooking  South  Pasadena.  They were both the very essense of suave modernity.  They captivated my imagination when I met them as a teenager.

Before my great uncle Al died he was cleaning out a bunch of old stuff in preparation for a move and he gave me a manilla packet of old stuff he didn’t really know what to do with.  I was following in his footsteps as an illustrator who occassionally worked in animation.  At the time I briefly looked through it but was more distracted by the old art books and art supplies he gave me at the same time.  Ten years passed.

Last month the National Academy of Sciences presented PRIVATE SNAFU VS. MALARIA MIKE as part of their Cartoon Medicine Show exhibition.  It rang kind of a bell in the back of my brain and I pulled out the old manilla envelope and right on top was a rough storyboard drawing from Malaria Mike. Snafu is standing in the river, bare butt to the wind and Malaria Mike the mosquito is zooming in  for a bulls eye.  I found four painted cels- two with backgrounds attached and a whole stack of roughs from HOME FRONT, PAY DAY and more I haven’t figured out yet… I haven’t seen that many Private Snafu movies myself.

But the cool thing was an entire storyboard from an animated short called A FEW QUICK FACTS: WEAPON OF WAR.  It has been bound into a small book maybe 8"w x 4"h and is about 1 1/2 " thick- it has the entire script copy printed on the left side of the page and the image on the right. This one is focused on the Nazi's usage of racial & religious prejudices to control people.  It is a pretty amazing example of the art of the era.  I suspect my great uncle hung on to it as he was an orphan and had always suspected he might be part black.  While initially stationed overseas with Japanese American soldiers who’d joined up in the war effort, he wrote a very angry letter to the paper in his home town of Gardena,  California in protest of the Japanese American citizens that were being rounded up for internment camps.  Al was always keenly interested in all folks being treated as equals no matter their background. Theodore Geisel shared this interest with Al Curry.  Theodore Geisel had experienced anti-semitic prejedices from folks who had (incorrectly) believed that he was Jewish.

WEAPON OF WAR’s message is still pretty timely.  The stylized “Dr Hitler” is selling to the stylized crowd:

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen and get your bottle here.  The one and only Dr. Hitler’s Blood Tonic… Every drop is guaranteed.  Is your system sluggish?  Try the world’s most famous purge! Take Home a bottle!  Are you high strung and irritable?  Do you lie awake nights and worry about the Armenians, Peruvians, Scandinavians and Greeks? Try a bottle and you’ll lick any furriner in town. You know… those Poles who live down on Cedar Street, the Irish down on Hickory Street, the Swedes who live on Chestnut Street, The Negroes out on Maple Street,  that Mexican family on Mulberry Street… Take a bottle!  You’ll be amazed what you can do!”

Not sure if you noticed anything familiar about the above dialogue from the film… but it appears that Theodore Geisel wrote the text- especially with the reference to TO THINK I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET (1937) Dr. Suess’s first book.

Or also kind of visible in…

Are you chronically annoyed by Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, or perhaps Episcopalians?
Are Jews or Presbyterians a constant irritation?

Authorship factors

I enclosed the above portion of the text, so you could judge for yourself the Geisel tone within the writing. The writing was clearly done with specific imagery in mind to play with/illuminate the text/ create the punchline... it would seem likely that whoever wrote the text worked closely with the storyboard artists and probably did a fair amount of sketching in the development process to communicate what was intended with the text. 

I need to be clear that Geisel's authorship is still to be proven without a shadow of a doubt.  But, the historical record places Geisel at Warner writing Private Snafu cartoons which my Great Uncle was storyboarding (and of which I have a 63 examples of) in 1943 & 44.  WEAPON OF WAR was created in 1944 (National Archive date). We know that A FEW QUICK FACTS: VENEREAL DISEASE #7 was produced in 1945 at Disney.

Ideologically, a film about racial inequality is directly in Geisel's arena.

DR. SEUSS FROM THEN TO NOW the bio from Random House says-

"As a wartime artist, Seuss could place real-life good guys and bad guys in his own imaginative milieu and had the latitude of a cartoonist to depict them in his own fanciful guises. Among his most frequent targets were Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese and on the home front- isolationism, inflation, and racial inequality." (P 37)

Then the writing style kind of speaks for itself.  The repetition, the lists, the allegory of turning racial prejudices into a bottle of gooey poisonous medicine. Phrases like "the mexican family on Mulberry Street" and "You'll be amazed at what you can do!" And ending the story with a provocative question which demands the viewer to respond like the animated characters do... again seems to reflect the very immediate nature of Theodore Geisel's writing... "Come on folks... what do you say- what do you say..."

 

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