A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of October, Solar Year 2018

The News of the Day

October 29, 1938 was the birthdate of director and animator Ralph Bakshi.

Ralph Bakshi, at the age of eighteen, was hired by the cartoon studio Terrytoons as a cel polisher, a position that involved removing dust and dirt from animation cels. After a few months, he was promoted to cel painter and began to practice animating. Aware of his desire  to become an animator, he started to receive help and advice from established animators: Connie Rasinski, Manny Davis, Larry Silverman and others.

At the age of twenty-five, Ralph Bakshi was promoted to director. His first assignment was the series “Sad Cat”, a Terrytoon animation series of a scraggly cat and his friends. Unsatisfied with the traditional role of a Terrytoons director, Bakshi pitched to CBS a superhero parody called “The Mighty Heros”. The executives liked the idea and, after seeing the character designs, agreed to the show with Bakshi as its creative director. It appeared as a segment on the “Mighty Mouse Playhouse” and ran from 1966 through 1967.

Ralph Bakshi started in 1968 his own studi,o Bakshi Productions, located in garment district of Manhattan.  His studio paid higher salaries than other studios and expanded opportunities for female and minority animators. The studio began work on “Rocket Robin Hood” and took over the “Spider-Man” television series. In 1969, its division’ Ralph’s Spot, produced commercials and a series of educational shorts for Encyclopedia Britannica.

Uninterested in the animation the studio was making, Bakshi wanted to produce something personal. He soon developed “Heavy Traffic”, a tale of inner-city life. Impressed with the satire of Robert Crumb’s “Fritz the Cat”, Bakshi wanted to adapt Crumb’s artwork to animation. After several failed attempts to get Crumb to sign the contract, he acquired the film rights through Dana, Crumb’s wife who had power of attorney. After Warner Brothers backed out of the deal to finance the film, Jerry Gross, the owner of Cinemation Industries, agreed to fund its production and distribution through his grindhouse network.

Despite receiving finances from other sources, the budget was very tight. So pencil tests of the animations were excluded. Artist Ira Turek inked the outlines of scene photographs onto cels with a Rapidograph, giving the backgrounds a stylized realism virtually unprecedented in animation.  When the production was finished at the now Los Angeles studio, the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an X rating, making it the first animation film to receive such a rating.

The MPAA refused to hear an appeal about changing the rating. Thirty American newspapers rejected display advertisements and refused to give it editorial publicity. The film “Fritz the Cat” opened on April 12, 1972, in Hollywood and Washington DC. It went on to become a worldwide hit, becoming the most successful independent animated film of all time.

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