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Tashlin, Frank (“Tash” or “Tish-Tash”)

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

(1913-1972)

    Tashlin left a notable mark on the Warner Brothers cartoon studio, displaying a sense of craftsmanship and dedication that strongly influenced other units. This in spite of the fact that his career there was brief and intermittent, with one stint as an animator in the early 30s and two fairly short stints as a director in the late 30s and mid 40s. Even more remarkably, Tashlin had a varied and wide-ranging career in Hollywood that led him, among other things, to be a top screenwriter, a notable live-action director, and a gag writer for Hal Roach.

    Tashlin begain in animation at Paul Terry’s Studio in 1930. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Van Beuren’s Studio, where producer Amadee Van Beuren apparently inspired Tashlin to author a short-lived comic strip called “Van Boring” between 1934 and 1938. When Tashlin moved to Warners around 1933 as an animator, Leon Schlesinger demanded a piece of the action with respect to the strip, and Tashlin refused, leaving the studio. He would, however, return in 1936 to direct -- at the young age of 23.

    Tashlin showed a remarkable mastery of the comic form. In Porky’s Romance (1937), for example, Tashlin uses quick cutting to a remarkable extent -- ten cuts in 157 frames, approximately 6.5 seconds. This was highly unusual for animation at that time. Tashlin also skillfully utilised montage in such films as Wholly Smoke and Now That Summer Is Gone, both from 1938. He pioneered use of unusual camera angles and other live-action cinematic technquies which were practically unheard-of in animation of the day. Maltin notes that the “kidding self-reference” to the studio and “acknowledgement of the cartoon medium by the characters themselves” got its start in Porky’s Romance with the introduction of Petunia Pig and the connected build-up that opens the film.

    Tashlin left Warners in 1938 and was replaced by Chuck Jones -- to the surprise of many, including Jones himself. Tashlin worked at Disney for a while as a story editor. Charles Solomon, in a book on abortive Disney productions, discusses some projects Tashlin worked on in 1939.

    Tashlin would make his next mark in animation during his brief tenure as the production head of the Screen Gems unit at Columbia, starting in 1941. He aggressively recruited young talent with an artistic bent, literally taking people from the picket lines at Disney, which at the time was undergoing a bitterly divisive strike. Tashlin brought new life and energy to the hitherto unheralded Screen Gems cartoons, with a number of visually interesting and funny cartoons. The Fox and Crow cartoon series he developed, aside from being a success on its own terms, foreshadowed the Coyote and Roadrunner series at Warner Brothers in its use of blackout gags. Jones has readily acknowledged this influence.

    Columbia, however, proved to be unstable, and Tashlin left in a dispute with Columbia executives in 1942. His successor, Dave Fleischer, would only last about half as long as he had.

    Tashlin returned to Warners in 1943, bringing with him Manny Gould and Art Davis, who had been stalwarts at Screen Gems. Tashlin’s second stint at the studio produced even better cartoons than his first had. His black and white Looney Tunes Scrap Happy Daffy, Porky Pig’s Feat and Puss ’n’ Booty (all 1943) make imaginative use of lighting, shading, and other cinematic tricks, such as the multiple views of Daffy in a shattered mirror or Daffy and Porky watching an officious hotel manager go flying down the stairs: his falling body represented by moving pupils in their eyes. Plane Daffy (1944) is a classic Daffy cartoon with explosive energy, as he manages to ultimately outwit a seductive Nazi temptress/pigeon, Hata Mari. Tashlin only made two Bugs Bunny cartoons, but both of them, The Unruly Hare (1945) and Hare Remover (1946) move at a blistering pace. Even two of his last, uncredited cartoons, Nasty Quacks and Behind the Meatball (both 1945) are fast-paced romps.

    Again seized by wanderlust, Tashlin left Warner Brothers in 1945 for a career in live action film, thus becoming an oddity in the world of animation: an animator with a successful career in live action. His unit was taken over by Bob McKimson.

    Tashlin was responsible for some funny Bob Hope films, including Son of Paleface. The cartoon influence did not die -- Tashlin described the spectacular slapstick finale he wrote for Kill the Umpire in 1950 to an exasperated Columbia executive, who complained that Tashlin had written a cartoon sequence. Tashlin would also direct some notable Jerry Lewis films, as well as The Girl Can’t Help It, a Jayne Mansfield film -- Tashlin was probably one of the few people who could make her funny -- and the blisteringly funny Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? for which he also wrote the screenplay. This last film contains many echoes of his cartoon work, including a number of sight gags and the ad spoofs in the credits sequence.

    Tashlin would have one last connection with animation for the Chuck Jones-directed cartoon The Bear That Wasn’t (MGM, 1967), which he wrote.

    Tashlin, oddly, may be remembered more for his contributions to mainstream film than for animation. His entry in Katz barely touches on his animation career. Jean Luc Godard may have been a lot closer to the mark when he praised the films for their cartoony qualities. Avery, in an interview with Joe Adamson, noted that many at Warners laughed at Tashlin’s habit of making notes during films he saw. Avery then mused, ruefully, that there may have been something to it, since Tashlin went farther in the business than any other director. Be that as it may, his roots in cartoons should not be forgotten.

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