MASTER OF THE
CARTOONIST-WRITER-DIRECTOR DAVID TEAGUE TALKS TO RETROCRUSH ABOUT HIS
WORK ON HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE , THE BABY BEATNIK
SUZUKI BEANE FRANCHISE, AND A KIDíS LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD
by Randy Waage
found a book from 1961 at a thrift Store called Suzuki Beane. I instantly
fell in love with the illustrations by
(she also created
Harriet the Spy) and the hip baby beatnik story
by Sandra Scoppettone. I later found out that the book's rights were owned
by Animation Director David Teague, and that he happens to be the man
behind a myriad of upcoming "Suzuki Beane" projects that include films,
books and a potential restaurant chain. David has a Suzuki Beane book out
as well. It's an updated continuation of the original story and is
available now in selected stores.
Yes. I am afraid it is true. It happened because my very good friend at the time, Mr. J.D.Cooper had a very kind mother who happened to be Groucho Marx's nurse. However, Mrs. Copper did not take the job to get me into a relationship with Groucho Marx, she wasn't my agent or anything like that. When I met her son J.D. we were in junior high school together and I was already fairly well known for doing my impersonation of Groucho in various community theaters and local school productions in and around L.A. In fact most of my friends called me "Groucho" instead of Dave.
Mrs. Cooper had arranged to give a performance at Groucho's house, to have lunch with him and his very small staff, then to watch a movie in his private screening-room. I was invited to put a script together and direct the production. I edited a scene from the Marx Brothers play "the Coconuts". A production I had directed and starred in at my elementary school a year or two before. I cast my friend J.D. as Chico, I played Groucho, and there was another guy that had written a very loving poem about Groucho and his career. The day of the performance Mrs. Cooper fell behind her own schedule and decided that she needed to wash clothes and do errands before we went. We were running very late.
Groucho started calling her house and asking, ďWhen are you going to be here? We've got lunch waiting for you, etc.Ē
Sounds like a bit of a let down.
It was and imagine poor Groucho. He was in his late eighties and he was getting very irate. Groucho was in his pajamas when we finally arrived. I had been in full Groucho make-up for about three hours and in costume all day waiting for this momentous event. I had the regulation "Groucho Uniform" which was a black suit and the whole bit. I walked into his house wearing the full make-up, eyebrows, mustache, and a cigar. Groucho took one look at me and said, ďYou look very much like yourself."
It was a very Groucho-esque line. I smiled out loud to myself. However the big insult came when Groucho told us that the whole thing "stunk". He later apologized, but it was too late. I had already given up on Groucho Marx as a role model.
What was it like attending Hollywood High School?
It was great for me I attended for a long time. I first went there as an "Advanced Elementary School Student". They let kids that showed some kind of mature thinking go to Hollywood High School for the summer. I think my group was the first to get the experience. I met some of the most interesting and talented people in show-business during my years as a student there.
We met in my second summer at Hollywood High School in play production. I had a big crush on her. I even thought that we might date after I came back to high school after junior high was over. I was encouraged by my other close friend who is now a much respected screenwriter and Comic Actor, Mr. Michael Sloane. Michael told me that I should come back to Hollywood High School and go to the same play production class. Not to look for Charlene, but because the Theater Arts Department was so professional. He was right. One summer we were even lectured to by Marcel Marceau at a Hollywood Bowl field trip so I even learned a bit from him while I was there.
When I came back as an older student I expected many of the same people to be there for at least one more year, but only one was left when I arrived. Charlene had already gone off to be a Star on "Dallas". How did Larry Hagman get to hang around with many of my favorite Actresses on TV.? The reality is Charlene and I recently re-met and the whole gang from that period tries to get together and stay in touch. We even work together on different projects when possible. That is the kind of relationship that we try to enjoy even in the face of life's adversities.
Do you have one favorite person you had a retroCRUSH on while growing up?
Sophia Loren is one of the most beautiful leading ladies that ever existed. Everyone else is second in my opinion. Not only that, but she stayed married to movie producer and actor Carlo Ponti his whole life while raising kids and continuing her successful career as an actress. That is amazing!
Is being a Comedian and a Cartoonist a tough combination?
Yes and no. I have developed and conducted parallel career goals my entire life. I seem to have been accepted equally in all of those endeavors. What I am trying to do is put all of the work out without letting anything make me look like an egotistic monster.
I am thankful that I have
good friends that are in my corner who try to help me out from time to
time. My business partners are my best friends right now. My dad helped
train me to be an artist and my mom helped me train to be a writer and a
performer. I try to follow my best inspiration and what G-d left us as
rules and advice so that I am only helping and not hurting anyone. If I
can still be funny doing those things then that is my blessing.
When did you start in Comedy professionally?
I started out in my teens working with a partner in junior high school. He was a guy called Pete Stensland. (Pete was a nephew of the late Inger Stevens, Inger Steven's was a beautiful actress, and you might remember her from Walter Matthau and Gene Kelly's "Guide for the Married Man". She played Walter Matthau's wife.) Pete was a fine young actor and a funny guy, but he gave up comedy for Music.
He wound up being a music director for Hollywood's Angelyne, the famous billboard darling of Hollywood. Angelyne looks a bit like Jayne Mansfield if you have never seen her, but she has had records out and appeared in commercials all over the world. After Pete and I quit working together on material for a comedy act I went to high school and worked solo for awhile. At the time I played mainly at the "Comedy Store West". That was a great place to work. Many talented Comics were starting out then. Comedian-writer-producer Mike Binder, voiceover man Greg Berg, stand-up comic's Andrew "DiceĒ Clay, Byron Allen, Michael Winslow, and Bob Saget.
What do you think of Bob Saget, the Star of America's Funniest Home Videos?
He's one of your Favorites. Bob Saget was a guy that I used to watch and be amazed at. He had a very fast delivery and he sang songs. It looked like he was working off the top of his head. It was all spontaneous, but on TV. he is nothing like he is in the clubs. He reminds me of Fred McMurray on "My Three Son's". My niece and her friends only know him from his TV. work and they say that he is hilarious. After knowing him as a comedian on stage I wonder what happened to him. How did he become so squeaky clean? I think he is best in a night club, but he works everywhere so he must be doing something right.
Where did you go after high School?
After high School I had a bit of a personal and professional slump. I was working on a film that would have started my career in motion pictures with another comedy partner, my high school pal, Darius Aidala. The movie we were going to do was scrapped after much work had gone into it and I moved to San Francisco and worked in animation. While in San Francisco I was inspired to bring more characters into my act. I soon came back to Hollywood to continue what I had started: a more lucrative and promising career in show-business. While I was back in L.A. I was hired as the M.C. and booker at the Variety Arts Center in Los Angeles.
What is the Variety Arts Center, Iíve never heard of it?
The Variety Arts Center was originally conceived as a private club for entertainers. Very much like the Magic Castle that the founding members also ran. Cary Grant was a member of both clubs and so were many others. Another friend of mine musician Scott Halper told me about the place. His father was a member of the Magic Castle. Our mutual friend Mr. Eddie Parks was also a member of the Variety Club. Eddie was a Vaudevillian and worked as a Comedian from the 1920's until the late 1980's. Eddie Park's last paid gig was in Marty Feldman's "In God we Trust". In it Eddie played the man that was going to Tap Dance his way to New York. Eddie was like the grandfather that I never had. A classic cigar chopping Irish Comic, Eddie used to love to give me advice about comedy.
Eddie Parks sounds Familiar to me.
Eddie was in the original "House of Wax" in 3D. He taught Jackie Coogan and Jackie Coogan's father about comedy when he was a boy working in Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid". Before that he and Jackie Coogan's dad had an act. Eddie & I frequented both the Variety Arts Center and Scott Halper's family home. I was inspired to go to the Variety Arts Center by them. While I was at the Club I met my partner and sometime French Translator, Mr. Francois St.-Amour. Francois is a not only a great comic but a real friend. He is a French Canadian that loves to tell old Jokes and when he says them they seem fresh. He tells jokes that you probably heard in elementary school. He will crack you up as he re-tells them to you.
The most clever and easiest guys I ever worked with on stage are Chester Whitmore and Francois St.-Amour." Fred Crawford, Ko Hashigouchi, Sandra Lowell, Paul Comi Sr., and Gregory Jackson are the other great comic actors that work with me currently and/or have worked with me in the past. Gregory and Francois are the French Translators of "Suzuki Beane" and if you can get any combination of us together I can guarantee you a show worth its weight in Gold. I only work with the most creative and talented people in the entertainment business. I'm not just bragging. When you use my team oh boy do you win!
But what happened in Canada?
Francois and I had a great success as a team in Canada
but he needed to stay there, and I needed to move on.
Francoisís family was there. Heís French &
heís meeting all these French girls. I was lonely for companionship. I
told him I canít stay. I need to eat. I canít just do a show, get some
money, and then live on it. I had to have food every week. He wanted to
live there and be part of Canada. My plans were bigger for us as a
team. I want to work all over the world not just locally so I came back to
the U.S. without him.
He and I had a little Internet radio show which featured the recent McDonalds poster boy, singer/actor Jeremiah Baxter, as our announcer and he was, "Loviní it". We do hilarious, old fashioned comedy: Vaudeville and Broadway style with singing and dancing included. I like my retro days and so does our audiences. Chester tours around the world yearly with his dance troupe and I patiently wait for "Suzuki Beane" to put us back where we need to be.
It is a lot of hard effort to recapture what is just waiting to make a comeback, but we do our best. I know that France is our next stop. We are talking to some potential partners in France. I hope to be putting all of the Suzuki Beane Stuff out internationally very soon. Then go on to do some other things, I have a long wish list.
There is probably more to that story, but let's move on
for a moment. I know that you love animation. What was the first feature
animated film you ever worked on?
Star Chaser: The Legend of Orin. It was also a 3D Movie that was being finished in part here in the United States by Mihan. Bill Kroyer (Producer Director of the original "Fern Gully") put together a crew of talented beginners, many of which are Directors now including: myself (Director of "Suzuki Beane"), Craig Clark (Director of "Astro-Thrill"), Chris Bailey (Director of "Kim Possible"), Carlos Baeza (Director of "The Simpson's") and the other guys are all very talented. James Fuji (Who later got me a job at Filmation after I came back from Canada without Francois.) Also Chris Rutowski, Dave Woodman and Fred Warter are all great artists. The rest are on the credit list. Dave Woodman is also a talented comic actor, but don't tell him that.
Star Chaser was a real 3D Movie. You had to wear the glasses. It was the first and last 3D hand drawn animated feature film. It looks like it is going to be an un-hailed landmark. Computer animation was new in those days. They had only developed wire framing for 3D animation. They didn't have any of the capabilities that we have now. The Assistant Animator would have to take a piece of paper and make sense of the mish-mash of scribbled lines the computer had drawn. You had to pick and trace the right line or your drawings were worthless. It was a Nightmare.
It was released in Theaters?
Star Chaser came out in theaters the summer of 1985, but I left that production a bit early and went on tour in Canada with Francois St.-Amour. There were other Assistant Animators who were much faster than I was at the time and plenty of beginning cartoonist's who were unemployed and ready to take my place so there was no real loss on anybodyís part when I did leave.
What Shows did you work on while at Filmation Studios?
I worked on "He-Man and the
Masters of the Universe", "She-Ra, The Princess of Power", "Filmations'
Ghost Busters", "Bravestarr", and "Bugsburgh". I also did some work on
several of their features. "Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night", "Bravestarr
the Legend", and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfelle's". I was an
Assistant Animator there until they did "Bugsburgh" which was never
completed due to the companies closing. I went to work for Baer Animation
instead where we did "Disney" Animation.
I owe a great deal to Lou
Scheimer and to the people he hired who in turn hired me including the
Assistant Animation Supervisor Doris Plough and my friends along with
former Filmation Directors Tom Tataranawicz and Tom Sito. Former Filmation
staff writers Steve Hulette and Don Heckman have all helped me in the
past. I met my wife at Filmation while we were working in the same
department which was "Filmation's Ghostbusters". Thatís a whole family
that these people helped introduce me to.
Lou Scheimer is one of the greatest guy's around. He is a good friend and a pro-union activist employer. Lou used to walk around and check on things when he worked late at night, but usually he was out of town on a lot of press and sales junkets, or recovering from stress while taking a long Hawaiian Vacation. Lou really worked hard to keep us employed.
Filmation produced four feature films while I was there and four television series. Each series was 65 hours worth of episodes. We drew and painted each episode here. The same goes for each feature film. They were all 100% union productions. That's a lot of hours of entertainment to pull off and they were all amazingly popular.
I think everyone has watched at least one classic Filmation Show.
I would say that everyone
our age has at least one favorite Filmation series. Mine was "Tarzan"
another friend of mine who is also a Film Director, Rick Sloane loved
"Archie" and he became one of the foremost collectors. You can see it in
his early work. Those shows affected everybody.
Yes I am. Rick is a good friend of mine. I've know him since we were in junior high school together. We both went to a filmmaking and art school called, Barnsdall Junior Arts Center for children. It still exists in Hollywood.
Rick is a great person with a fine comedic sense and a very sarcastic wit. Those movies are to me little satires of Filmation's "Archie" and also Hanna Barbera's "Scooby Doo". I enjoyed helping him out on those films. I even produced the title animation for Rick's Movie, "The Visitants". I can only say good things about these movies. They were fun to do and so low on budget that I cringe watching myself act. Rick has only gotten better as a Director with age. Hobgoblins and the Visitants are great ideas for movies. He had very good gags in them as well, but I could have been cut out and nobody would have missed my scenes at all.
My best work is yet to come and I hear that I do some very nice acting in Craig Clark's "Astro-Thrill". Plus, my awards, my reviews of my work as part of a comedy team, and my work on my film version of "Suzuki Beane" stands as a record to what I can do properly. But the Mystery Science Theater Hecklers don't call me the "over acting extra" for nothing. Everyone that likes that kind of comedy should get themselves a copy of "Mystery Science Theater 2000 featuring Hobgoblins" it is the best episode that they ever did.
I remember Filmation's Live Action Shows from the 1970's very well.
Weren't they great?
Isis,The Original Filmation Ghostbusters (starring Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker.), Ark II, Shazam. I will always remember their Flash Gordon and Tarzan the best.
Many of Filmation's animated Star Trek scripts are fondly remembered.
I loved that show. I got to talk to George Takei and recently William Shatner about it. They both said that they just came in and did their lines. Mr. Takei didn't think that there was much to it, but many inter-racial kids that wanted to be in show biz including me and kids that did not fit into any pigeonhole found those shows to be important to their lives. Who doesn't have someone from a different culture in their family line? Iíd say very few.
Filmation helped break the
color barrier and the Star Trek series wasn't a show about ethnic
cleansing. Star Trek was trying to bring people together and facing the
racial problem head on. Filmation helped them fix that problem along with
Gene Roddenberry, Paramount Pictures, and Desilu Productions. They all did
tremendous work in that period helping to make America a place where
everyone could live in peace and pursue the American dream. Those shows
are as American as Apple Pie as is the Star Trek series itself.
You mean help break down prejudice? Yes in a way. I suppose they did. Especially when it came to the brother and sister team of "He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseĒ and ďShe-Ra Princess of Power", but the real greatness of He-Man is that Lou Scheimer and his team were visionary enough to make those toys something interesting to watch as a piece of entertainment every day of the week. There's a big resurgence of interest in "He-Man". In fact there is a DVD box set collection of "He-Man" episodes coming out very soon. I just happen to be interviewed in the documentary that is included in that DVD release.
Did Mattel bring the He-Man action figures to Filmation before the series was created?
Yes they did and Filmation had to come up with the series concept. Filmation came up with Orko and many of the villains. They also developed the stories. We artists made the characters walk around and the writers made them talk with the help of the actors of course.
Do you see any differences between the old & new projects of Filmation?
He-Man I only watched because I had to. I was already in my 20ís. We were trying to make things look like comic books. It was nothing but a miracle being able to do that & to have the wonderful experience of how Lou ran the show & the company.
However the reason it was Filmationís last years is because it wasnít their best stuff. He was working against time. He was dealing with companies who sent their stuff overseas. He kept himself working so that he could keep all of us working. We were all a team, a family. We were all dependent on each other. The problem was the funding of the major studios behind him.
Lou had all these things going & had to have a lot of money from Westinghouse. They werenít animation people. They werenít trying to be Walt Disney or an animation company. They wanted to make money. That didnít allow Lou to develop scripts in as long a time as Walt Disneyís.
That kind of development that he had earlier in the company wasnít there. He was doing 65 episodes a year for He-Man. It shortened the time for preproduction & expanded the time for animation production. It didnít allow Filmation to become the super producer that could go toe to toe with Disney. Thatís what happened to the studio. It wounded up closing.
don't get the same kinds of Cartoons that were made in the 1970's where
they were trying to convey a moral or ethical story. Why is that?
That's a very interesting question. Well the original writers of those 1970's shows have mostly retired. It is interesting that many of us "under class-men" have shunned those understandings that the older generation learned after years of study and analysis of cause and effect. We are learning again and many of us were busy trying to re-learn the art of Classical Animation for a large part of the 90's. That has brought a lot of optimism to the art form with it.
Zany character animation flowed in with the Classical Animation. After Filmation closed Disney's picked up and tried to fill the need for color blind casting and ethical childrenís shows. They have done an admirable job. However they seem to have lost the Disney-esque touch that they had while some of the original nine old men were still around as advisors. I have started my own company and we are hoping to create a new age of classical cinema & animation with great comedies. Our first will feature the classic 1960's hipster character: the one and only Original Baby Beatnik Suzuki Beane.
There is something very
interesting about kids that speak their own minds, I think that's part of
what I like about the Suzuki Beane character.
When I was a kid of 10 or 11
years old I got to go to Barnsdall Park to learn animation & I use to take
the bus. I did that 2 or 3 nights a week late at night. I listened to
weird stories from people on the bus about drug deals and things they were
doing. Frequently the stories we heard were about the Hillside Strangler &
Charles Manson. The thing about Suzuki Beane is they run away & there are
now all the dangers of today. Thatís why I had to write a different ending
for Suzuki Beane. I couldnít let her turn into Alice in Wonderland.
I was shocked by the ending of the original book. Suzuki runs away from home with her friend Henry and thereís no ending. What happened?
original story of Suzuki Beane when you read it makes you think sheís
going to run away and get into trouble. After the 1980ís there were more
problems for children. You couldnít go trick or treating alone. You had to
worry about razorblades. A change has taken place since Charlie Brown took
off on vacation & The Little Rascals on their adventures. Today people
have to keep a better eye on their kids.
You donít think Suzuki Beaneís only an East Coast phenomenon?
Right now we have 2 French partners that are interested. They want to come over and help. Theyíre going to work on the videogame. In the 1950ís when Beatniks started there was trouble with artists here. There was a red scare & the communist dialogs from the McCarthy era. Many of the Beatniks and artists here who wanted to save their careers & had money moved to France. It was a very hip movement that took place in the late 1950ís to the early 1960ís that was in Paris. It was in Canada, in England, in France, and in the United States. It changed when the drug culture took over.
It warped into hippies?
It was younger kids who thought the Bohemian life was the lure of the Beatniks & wanted to get away from society. The Beatniks were getting away from society. They were getting away from being communists and many were religious people.
Did the Beatnik culture experiment with Drugs like the Hippies?
The original Beatniks came up with the term Hippies. They werenít as hip as Beatniks. They were Hippies. It became an anthem. It was the Hippies, the Yippies, The Fuzz, and who knows what else. In Suzuki Beane the whole point of it is to have fun and to enjoy that era. I didnít want to put it in the context where kids thought that running away was cool.
She liked my ending of the story when I told it to her over the phone, and I think that is why she sold me the rights years ago. Sandra does not want to be promoted with the book. She sold it to me and Ms. Fitzhugh is gone now. She died in 1974. Sandra is allowing herself space to enjoy the rest of her writing career. She writes detective fiction for grown-ups and she's expecting me to do well with my version of Suzuki Beane. I am taking charge of Suzuki and I have outlined sequels that run the gamut of their lives. Suzuki's Stories run from her own birth to her marriage and to the birth of her own daughter. I don't want to give too much away. However it is fairly easy to guess who she marries.
I believe I saw a bootleg of a Live-action Suzuki Beane Film being sold over the Web.
You may have I've been trying to put a stop to it. Desilu (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz' original company) were the first to option Suzuki Beane for a potential series. It was put into a pilot for a Victor Borge Television Series which I hold all of the rights to. The Pilot was never aired. It was a test pilot only talking about what they were going to do and showing sample sketches.
The film stars Miss Katie Sweet and little Mr. Jimmy Garret who actually gave me my copy of the pilot. The film quotes whole passages from the book and uses my trademark design in the titles. If anyone does find a copy of the original footage please contact me and I'll see what I can do. Please do not sell it because it is copyright infringement and a bootleg copy.
Why didn't they keep the rights to the Story and make a series?
I heard that there was a discrepancy in the tastes of the artists. Someone designed a toy that Louise Fitzhugh and Sandra Scoppettone did not like and Desilu felt it was a good enough design, but the ladies relented and Desilu gave them back their rights to the book.
Do you have any demo's of the new film?
Yes. The Film is basically done, but we need to get it completely animated and into color. The backgrounds were designed by my friend Walt Peregoy who was one of the original stylists of "Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians". I am trying to keep that 1960's feel and it so happened that my friend Walt was available and agreed to do it, but that was years ago when I started this project and Walt is officially retired these days.
I did work with several other very fine traditionalists and I know we will continue further with the right approach until the project is hopefully released very soon. We are planning many other Suzuki Beane products including a possible food franchise and Beatnik hang-out. The New Suzuki Beane book is out in a limited edition paperback. So life is very busy.
You're putting the project together & getting the word out about Suzuki Beane.
There are all kinds of fun and scary things that happen that keep the movie interesting. Thereís a lot of cool Jazz. I hired the musicians to come up with the music in collaboration with me. They were all Jazz musicians in the 1960ís. I worked with some of the best guys.
The old fans come to me all
the time. Every few weeks Iíve got a fan from the old book whoís asking
about Suzuki Beane or when can I get another copy. There are people who
love the character. There are people who are named after the character.
Well a group of us from the good ole' days are trying to raise some money to re-renovate the theater and bring the place up to what it should be. Our Los Angeles youth need to be prepared to take their places next to the current professionals as assistants and protťgťís. They will be the ones who we eventually hand the reins over to when we retire from the business in the next twenty to thirty years. Hollywood High is the magnet art School for Los Angeles.
What does that mean?
That means young artists from all over Los Angeles and around the world come to Los Angeles for a chance at an American education in the arts. The first place they want to go is Hollywood. We are trying to do something to preserve our school and help our community. We're putting on a show to get up to date, state of the art sound equipment to help the kids start their young adult lives off in a better way.
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