Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Caricaturing Ken Harris

We all know about how notorious Ken Harris is as he was Chuck Jones' top animator and is probably one of the greatest animators of all time. He could turn in a huge amount of footage in a week and go off to do his activities and produce very good quality with that amount of footage. It's a very amazing skill for an animator to do that. Not only was he a very keen sportsman, car enthusiast and also a very good animator -- what probably hasn't been discussed too much but has been acknowledged before is that Ken Harris is also the man who has been used a lot for caricatures in the Warner Bros. cartoons.

Yes; as we have seen caricatures of the other staff before in many cartoons like how about the time when we saw Michael Maltese and Ted Pierce who were cartoon characters of their own chasing after Bugs Bunny in Wackiki Wabbit -- or even when we saw Leon Schlesinger and Henry Binder appear briefly -- or most of the Schlesinger staff as Gremlins in Russian Rhapsody. Sometimes even there were caricatures that weren't known about when we know that non-Schlesinger animator Ward Kimball (Disney appeared) appeared to be even famous enough at Warners to be designed as the Indian in Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt. Lastly, even in Yosemite Sam's first appearance in Hare Trigger - the wart on Sam's nose was a much bigger caricature on Friz Freleng as he WAS Yosemite Sam. Although out of these caricatures that we have seen in cartoons where they have appeared a few times - it appears to me as though Ken Harris is the butt of most of these caricatures we see in cartoons as he has been over the years and I'm going to look into it and see why.

One of the earliest use of caricatures of Ken Harris here is seen available in Chuck Jones' classic The Dover Boys. Around that time Chuck Jones was in fact experimenting with the look of the backgrounds and experimenting with animation as it is one of the earliest known cartoons in this era to be stylised or a use of limited animation. The character designs showed little caricature on them even though they may look a little bland but Ken Harris caricatured as Dan Blackside here just the perfect caricature for him there.

Ken Harris is caricatured as the villain as it feels the right touch as it's the only villain or character to probably have caricature - since the other character designs don't have too much characteristic looks. The long pointy nose is obviously a very distinctive look on one of Ken's facial parts as well as his moustache and the swayed black hair. What is rather interesting here in this cartoon is that could there be a reference to Ken Harris' personality with his love for cars as Dan Backslide finds a parked motor car and remarks, 'A runabout. I'll steal it! No-one will ever know!' - although that could be anything but I doubt personally that Ken would really going around stealing cars but I guess it could be a joke since maybe his love for cars is parodied as it's sort of could be a studio joke in this cartoon.

In the Chuck Jones cartoon Chow Hound -- we see that Ken Harris is also references again but in fact it's only really an in-joke in one of the classified ads. Also referenced in the ads is Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan and Chuck Jones themselves but there is also a bit more there. Ken Harris is portrayed as the old man who is in his pyjamas but he calls his cat Timothy. In the ads where the man who has believed to have lost his cat - 'Timothy' is identified as an in-joke as K. Harris as it's referencing Ken Harris.

The address if in fact his actual address at the time: 587 Dripple Drive which his what Greg Duffell told me about. Lloyd Vaughan who is identified as the man who calls the cat 'Butch' has the address for 12 Termite Terrace - which is another in joke to the back-then studio lot where Avery reined it in the 1930s called "Termite Terrace" but that wasn't Lloyd's real address - really.

Of course - we see him so far being caricatured mostly in the Jones cartoons as he has been a main associate to Chuck Jones in his animation career -- that doesn't stop the other directors to have some fun and use him for caricatures. Director Bob McKimson even used Ken Harris as a caricature in his 1953 cartoon There Auto Be a Law.

Because of Harris' love for cars and according to Greg he used to be a stock car racer -- he said that Ken used to be a stock car racer in the early 30s and was famous, even according to Bob Givens. Here in the McKimson cartoon where it focuses on a lot of spot-gags on stock car racing or automobiles -- it seems reasonable there to feature Ken Harris since he was notorious around the studio for his love for it. Ken actually owned 120 cars in his lifetime which is incredible. The caricature is a very caricatured-looking deign of Ken Harris and I have to say - it probably is the funniest of the ones that I've seen in examples of before. Here Ken Harris is a stock car racer. The gag in that cartoon where it features Harris shows him as one of the stock car drivers driving very fast...and he hears something behind him. You see it's an old Model T, and the driver is whipping it like a horse and beating Ken Harris which would've been a funny reference there.

The last Ken Harris caricature that I am going to speak about in fact is one that was probably well-known at the time but I don't think that very many people actually know about this and probably has been rarely discussed. In fact; Wile E. Coyote is in fact a main caricature of Ken Harris. In the first Wile E. and Road Runner cartoon Fast and Furry-ous.

In that first cartoon; what makes the Coyote look very caricatured to Ken Harris is the small eyes on him, the big furry eyebrows, the thin physique and even the bumps on his nose. This is what Greg told me as he knows Ken Harris very well and would even know about this that not many people actually know. I'd say that Ken Harris' caricature of the Coyote would even go on to be very famous since Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner would be very famous around the world and Harris' caricature would live on and delight the audience; though not many people actually know that - even animation fans and it hasn't really been acknowledged much. I find that the caricature of Wile E. in Fast and Furry-ous to be very fascinating since I love the little bits of detail on him but in the scene (which I provided a screen shot from my Golden Collection set) - the Coyote walking up and down the road pondering on how to catch the Road Runner probably features all the distinctive looks of Harris into the Coyote - while the other model sheets were a bit more on model. I think that the shot I pictured was even Ken Harris' animation but I'm not too sure.

That's all I will post for now but I hope that I have enjoyed what I have posted here and learnt something from these Ken Harris caricatures and the information I have provided as well as theory and analysis. Sorry for no cartoon review to be posted today; I was busy and out all day with a friend and I didn't feel all up for a cartoon review so I decided to post something which I thought was a matter of interest to me.

5 comments:

  1. I can't find any indication there was ever such a street as "Dripple Drive" in Los Angeles.

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  2. The most biting characture of Harris was probably as the cretinous "Duh, Duh, Duh" guy walking down the street (apparently with other WB studio staff members) past Charlie Dog at the start of the flashback scene in "Little Orphan Airedale". The Dan Backslide design almost seems to have made its way all the way to the design of Clyde Crashcup for "The Alvin Show", but since Columbia's future UPA staff immediately stole the layout for their own cartoon at Screen Gems, by 1961, they probably had forgotten who the source material for Clyde actually was.

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  3. Ken Harris's real name was Karyl Ross Harris. He goes by Ken because the people had a hard time with the spelling. Thanks to Harris, the only Scrooge version (to date) won the Academy Award in 1971.

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  4. Yes, and also because the spelling of his real name is also a spelling variation of "Carol" (or more commonly among old males, "Carroll") which today is a primarily feminine name, hence his desire to be nicknamed "Ken."

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