I was talking to my friend Fred Ladd the other day. Fred started his career when animation was on life support in the Dark Ages. I know that a lot of people give Fred a hard time for some of the stuff he produced during the Great Animation Rescission of the early Television Age. I know that Jerry Beck has often included Fred`s Big World of Little Adam in his Worst Cartoons Ever. I also know that my wife and a lot of other people grew up with Little Adam and still love the show.
Yes it was limited animation with a book in front of the mouths so that it could be dubbed into other languages without lipsync problems. Yes most of the show was made up of stock U. S. Air Force footage. But it was animation on a budget that deterred lesser producers. Making bricks without straw is not an easy task. It was bleak in animation in the 50s & 60s.
In the Dark Ages of Animation nobody was making feature animation except Disney and when Sleeping Beauty tanked at the box office it lead to the devastating Sleeping Beauty lay-offs of `59. Veterans of 40 plus years coming in to find pink slips on their drawing boards. The Disney Studio employment roster dropping from over 400 to 125 and then finally down to 75. As goes the Mouse House so goes the industry. Animation drying up everywhere. Animators going into other fields.
Television animation (sic) was even worse. I often see the names of some of the greatest animators of 30s and 40s shame-faced crawling by on the end credits of 50s and 60s TV crap. $2,000 per TV episode production cost and you had a show $2,001 and you didn`t. A producer had to cut so many corners that they were stuck in a vicious circle of cut-rate production values (double sic).
We almost lost animation completely. In the 70s when Tom Sito, Eric Goldberg, Mark Kausler, John Lasseter, Glen Keane, and even Jerry Beck got into animation because they loved the Golden Age shorts broadcast through the TV babysitter, the animation greats were still working in the industry because producers and businessmen like Fred Ladd somehow did the impossible and found a way to keep animation alive, if not healthy, in those insane no money times.
Fred Ladd is one of the greatest film editors out there. He cut his teeth cutting Marshall Plan films of the 50s. Under the Marshall Plan when you exported a film to a foreign country you got paid in films from the export country. No money changed hands. Fred`s Space Explores is a cut and paste masterpiece splicing together a Russian 2-D space film, a Karl Zeman puppet educational space film and a Nazis propaganda stop motion film into a completely new creation all his own. He did it as both a feature and a TV serial to increase his market base.
I feel a little guilty about Jerry`s Worst Cartoons Ever show. I am the one who talked him into bringing his show to Comic Con. He didn`t want to redo a show he had already done at AFI. But I told him there were 65,000 people at San Diego Comic Con who had never even heard of AFI, must less his Worst Cartoon show. The rest is history.
We love what we grow up with. Corny Cole groaned when I told he how much I loved the Super Six. My kids love Pokemon even knowing that the storyline is less than well written. He-Man has a giant following now. Other people beside my wife grew up with Little Adam. The Spanish version of Little Adam is currently being screened for school kids in Venezuela on the dome of a planetarium.
Okay, I go to the Worst Cartoons every year at Comic Con. But in a way I know it is like laughing at the handicapped. I see the names of animation greats go by and it is so very sad that they had to work it this way during this blackest time in animation history. Big World of Little Adam was miles better than anything that Sam Singer called cartoons. There is a sweetness to Little Adam and there was some good writing. But the budgets did not allow for anything like real animation.
Almost everything created for TV during the Dark Ages could fit squarely into Jerry Beck`s Worst category when compared to what came before and what came after. But even Singer, as hated as he was for his penny pinching and non-payment cut thoat deals, did his part to keep the animation industry on life support.
Fred Ladd is a businessman. He didn`t set out on a holy quest to save animation during the Dark Ages. He was just making a living. Feeding his family. Doing the best animation he could with zero budgets. Thinking of ingenious ways to keep himself working and at the same time keeping other people working.
The fact remains that without producers like Fred during those bad old daze of the 50s and 60s there wouldn`t have been an industry for Tom Sito, Eric Goldberg, Mark Kausler, Glen Keane, and hundreds of other baby Boomers to revitalize in the 70s. There wouldn`t have been a renaissance. And I wouldn`t be writing about and teaching animation.