An open letter to the head suits at Warner Brothers:
(They probably will not read it).
In 1980 I flew to New York to speak in person to the head of the Warner legal department about bringing Friz Freleng to Toronto.
During the course of our conversation I discovered that the issue was that I had listed five of Mr. Freleng’s WB films on the ad announcing his presence. He had the impression that I was advertising the showing of those films. The titles were TWEETY PIE (1947), SPEEDY GONZALES (1955), BIRDS ANONYMOUS (1957), KNIGHTY KNIGHT BUGS (1958) and THE PINK PHINK (1964).
I informed him of two things. The first was that I did not have copies of those films. The second was that each of those films had won an Academy Award.
“Oh, those are his credits,” he said.
I further said, “Mr. Freleng is a director. I will make him the Director of the event. Whatever he says goes. I will not be showing any films unless he gives his approval.”
On those conditions the presence of Mr. Freleng was okayed.
What neither Mr. Freleng nor Warner Legal knew was that my then Board of Directors had asked me to cancel the event.
Everyone had told me that they thought Mr. Freleng old hat. They said, “He has nothing he can teach us.”
“There is one thing he can teach you,” I told them.
“What is that,” they asked.
I replied, “How to be working at his age.”
It looked like there would be absolutely no response to the event.
I went to call Mr. Freleng to tell him I could not bring him to Toronto. As I picked up the phone I heard his voice. He had called me at that precise moment. The phone had not even rang.
He said, “Hi, Reg, it’s Friz. I am sorry but I can’t come to Toronto. I am back at Warner Brothers. They don’t want me going anywhere they do not approve of and they do not approve of you.”
Well, I hardly expected them to but that was good news as it meant I could cancel the event without losing face.
All I had to do was to say, “Gee, Friz, that’s too bad.”
But I did not. Instead, without thinking about it, I said, “How do you feel?”
Friz said, “I gave you my word. My wife is looking forward to the trip.”
“Would you care for a fee?” I had asked when I invited him to Toronto.
He had asked, “Can I bring my wife?”
“What sort of question is that?” I had said to myself. I found out after that the art galleries, colleges, schools, museums, theaters, and universities always said, “We don’t have enough in our budget to cover that.” Mr. Freleng would then ask for a $10,000.00 fee. It was his way of saying no. I use it myself. If they agreed he brought his wife along and gave her what was left over to go shopping with,
I had said, “Of course you can bring your wife.”
He had replied, “In that case there is no fee.”
When Friz said, “I gave you my word. My wife is looking forward to the trip,” I replied, “Then I guess you are coming up.”
Then I told my board, “He is coming.”
They were furious.
He came. He could not imagine being interesting without his films. Before he arrived I had told people, “Please do not ask him what his favorite film is nor what is your favorite character. He gets asked that everywhere. Try to think up some interesting questions.”
Naturally, the first questions were the ones I had requested not be asked.
The audience, which was seated on the floor around him, was composed of people of all ages most of whom I had called and invited just to get bodies so that the room would not be empty. Maybe about ten had actually come of their own choice.
Regardless, they all saw the look on his face when the questions he had been asked again and again were once again asked again.
That look said, “I came all this way for this?”
Then the audience, there were well over a hundred people, dug deep into their brains to ask new questions. The questions they began to ask were first rate. I had had to do everything myself. No one was helping. I was practically delirious from exhaustion. The questions woke me up. They sparked my interest. They sparked Friz’s interest. Going in he had said, “I am not going to talk for more than half an hour.”
Three hours passed like three minutes. When he walked out that first of three nights he had a youthful spring in his step. The quality of the questions had invigorated him as much as they had me.
He said, “You are doing something good here. I am glad I came.”
The event was free. That allowed me to get around all the hurdles Warner Brothers had placed in my way.
I am not a man with a lot of money. To cover costs I had sold whatever I needed to sell to get things done. I do not use government grants. On the way out everyone said, “That was really incredible. I learned a lot.”
When they had all left I went to clean up. In a dish I saw that people had, unasked, left a huge pile of cash. There was enough there to cover about half of my cost. It was a very welcome and much needed gift.
The next two nights surpassed the first. Word went out what an enormously interesting man Mr. Freleng was.
That Christmas I called to wish him the best. He said to me, “You are the finest host I have ever met.”
Now to get to Nancy Avery-Arkley.
She has been on my facebook friends list for three or four years now. I had wondered what her relationship is to Tex Avery whom I rank as number three in the pantheon of great American and world animation artists.
When I asked her she said, “I am his daughter.”
I then said, “I must bring you to Toronto.”
My venue, THE CINEFORUM, is situated in the living room of my home. I have large comfortable chairs. I can at the most seat twenty. So this is not something that is going to generate a lot of money. In fact, it is something that is going to cost me a lot of money.
As well, I am running for election for the first time in my life. I am running for City Council for my Ward. Why? Because changes are looming which will destroy completely the fabric of this Ward which is the creative heart of Toronto. My focus should be completely on that.
I am, however, used to doing several things at once. I have been doing that all of my life.
As we further communicated I learned that Nancy was trying to get a documentary film made on her father’s life. She told me she was under enormous pressure because the man she was working with was bullying her. He had said they needed to raise $100,000.00 to make the film. He wanted her to fly to France with him to meet with the author of a French book on Tex Avery. The hope was that this man would loan them the needed money.
I told her to drop the bully. I have met more than my share of bullies. It is mistake to try to reason with a bully. If they were reasonable they would not be bullies.
People who speak publicly at institutions get paid enormous sums to talk for an hour. They get paid in the thousands. I figure the daughter of one of the most important and original animation directors ever ought to be able to get at least ten dates at $10,000.00 which means she could raise the money herself while at the same time promoting the project. She need not owe anyone a dime.
I asked her if she had an agent as an agent should know how to do this. She said she did not. I asked if she would like me to be her agent. She said, “Would you?”
I said, “Of course.”
I have never acted as an agent for anyone but myself all of my life. Now I am.
I am not a conventional agent. I bring to the table more than fifty years of experience. Warner Brothers might not approve of me. That is fine. Many, a very great many do.
Conventional people think I do what I do for common reasons. The most common reason people do things is to make money. Solomon said, “Do only that which profits you.” Common people think of profit purely in terms of material wealth. Uncommon people, and I most certainly an uncommon person, see profit in a much deeper, richer sense.
Material wealth allows us to lavish things on our self which work to our destruction: alcohol, rich foods, sensual pleasures, and more. I certainly am not against these things now and then. A steady diet of them would kill me.
That which most profits us comes from austerity richly embraced.
To learn how to live without is to learn how to live well.
Bureaucrats—accounts, administrative people, clerks, lawyers—see the value of things not people.
Shortly before I brought Mr. Freleng to Toronto to save storage fees Warner Brothers burned tons of old animation cells because they cost too much to store. What went up in smoke with those discarded cells was the millions of dollars in sales they could have generated.
No one knew that then because the market for animation art was just beginning.
I am not saying you need to know your history to do your job.
I am saying that if you know your history you will do a better job.
Nancy Avery-Arkley is the daughter of the single most important person in animation history after Winsor McCay and Walt Disney.
The Disney people have preserved their history. No bean counter has ordered the destruction of materials to save money.
Unfortunately few remembered the importance of Winsor McCay, Certainly no one in THE UNITED STATES saw the importance of preserving his films which had long passed their perceived value as commercial properties.
Thankfully, someone in Canada did. That someone was Louise Beaudet of THE CINEMATHEQUE QUEBECOISE who acted to preserve McCay’s materials when no one else did.
I am going to end this letter rudely. I have spent a considerable amount of time and thought in its composition. It is a long letter. I doubt very much that you will read it.
A documentary film on the art and life of animation director Tex Avery could and should have been made long ago. In fact the art and lives of all the great Warner animation directors, animators, artists, storymen, inkers, etc., should have been made while these people were still with us.
Instead time passes. Each day another one passes.
I wanted to learn what was the secret behind Warner Animation. I wanted to find out how on budgets that were insanely low such high quality work had been created every year on time and on schedule despite ever constricting budgets imposed on them by the bean counters who could only see the present value, were blind to the future value and finally, seeing no value, closed the doors on the most incredible accidental gathering of talent in the history of animation.
After talking with, meeting with and learning directly from Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones (and in the process winning the love of these men) I learned the secret. The hardest thing to do in creating these films was not animating them. The hardest part was just coming up with stories. For that reason the story sessions were called “No No Sessions” because the only word that was not allowed was the word no.
Why? Because when we use the word “No” everything stops, people feel shot down. It is hard to pick up and get going again.
I see from your correspondence that Warners has said no to Nancy many times.
That means that as those bean counters threw out millions of dollars so you have thrown out much more.
Here comes the rude part.
Jim, Ed, Julia, Steve, it is time to get off your high horse. You are blocking the way. Stop saying no. Start doing what the geniuses Warners paid peanuts to learned long ago, Forbid only one word. Forbid the word no.
I am publishing this on my blog because I have a huge international readership. I doubt you will take the time to read this. If you do read it I doubt you will act on it. I know that others will read it and will read it and for that reason and not to shame you (though, believe me, you deserve and ought to be shamed) I am sharing it with the world.
I would imagine you have all graduated from some place of high education.
Consider this. The greatest film maker of his generation was Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick never took a day of public schooling he could get out of. He certainly went to neither film school nor a university.
He was the man.
Another person who never went beyond public school was a woman who possessed the finest and sharpest awareness of cities ever. Her name is Jane Jacobs. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, her first book, remains the most important book on cities we have. DARK AGE AHEAD, her last book, ought to be re-issued and re-titled DARK AGE NOW. Those two books have more value to our culture than everything in the Warner library put together.
That woman was my friend from her arrival in Toronto in 1968 until her death in 2006. She wrote me, “Everything you write is worth reading.”
That means that if you have not gotten this far she would have.
Jane could be earthy when the moment called for earth.
By the way, at my request she welcomed the great Warner animation director Bob Clampett to Toronto when I brought him here on my dime in 1979.
And I know Jane would say as I now say: GET THE FUCK OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE AND HELP NANCY MAKE THIS FILM ABOUT HER FATHER.
Learn the great secret of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson. Make your story sessions “NO NO SESSIONS.”
From now on let the only word to no is said at Warner Brothers be the word no.–Amen. Reg Hartt
P.S. These attachments are to show not only that I have done something with my life more than block people but alsi to show also that many people the world over think pretty damn highly of it.
I and people like me do not need Warner Brothers.
Warner Brothers does need us and that desperately.