A STUTTERING START
The New Stars
A week later, Schlesinger walked cautiously up to Freleng's office door. He had a biting feeling that Freleng would probably use up more money than the studio was worth. Buddy's Theatre had not done that well in theatres, and he didn't know whether this was due to Buddy or Hardaway.
Reluctantly, he knocked on the door. After a short pause, Freleng answered it. "Well," Schlesinger asked gruffly, "where's your new star that'll save our jobs?" The young director grinned confidently. "I think you mean new stars, sir," he corrected his aging boss.
Schlesinger's blood ran cold. "New stars, Freleng?" he asked, trying valiantly not to yell. "How much did it cost you to make 'em?" Freleng rolled his eyes. "Don't you wanna meet 'em before deciding to talk about costs?" he asked. "Besides, these new toons are gonna make so much money that people will wanna see 'em all the time an' we'll have to let Buddy go!"
Schlesinger rolled his eyes at the young animator's enthusiasm. "Alright, Freleng," he said at last. "Let's see 'em…" With an excited grin, Freleng opened the door to his office.
Six wide-eyed toons wandered into the corridor and up to the producer. Unlike Buddy, these toons were animals. There were two cats, one male with overalls and one female wearing a pinafore, two puppies, a bespectacled owlet and a chubby piglet wearing a simple sweater.
Schlesinger looked down at them, then at Freleng. "Is this the best you can come up with?" he asked gruffly. "They look like they came straight outta a Disney cartoon!" The toons looked at each other uncertainly. They didn't appear to be making a good first impression. Freleng was adamant.
"They haven't appeared in one yet, sir!" he protested. "But trust me, they're gonna save our studio! I have the cartoon all planned out!" He pointed down at the six toons, who looked more hopeful at the animator's assurance.
"Y'see, I based 'em off those kids in those shorts produced by Hal Roach," the animator explained. "Roach…" Schlesinger mused, "isn't he the guy who produces the Laurel and Hardy shorts?"
"Yeah, but this is what's gonna happen in the cartoon," Freleng went on hurriedly, "these toons are gonna be in one of those school recitals and…" As he explained what the cartoon was going to be, Schlesinger looked down at the fat little pig. For some reason, out of all these characters, he seemed to be the most eye-catching.
The pig was aware that the middle-aged producer was looking at him. He tried looking anywhere but at the man. He could feel his cheeks turning red with embarrassment. Finally, the man spoke.
"So the pig's gonna be the lead, is he?" he asked. Freleng stopped talking in confusion. "Who, Porky?" he stated in disbelief. "No, sir, he isn't. Beans, here," he pointed to the male cat, "is the main star. He wants some candy from Oliver," he pointed to the owl, "but he won't share. So Beans decides ta ruin Oliver's piano recital!"
Schlesinger pondered as he heard what the animator had planned. "So if these Oliver and Beans characters are the main stars," he asked, "what was the point of makin' four other toons?"
"They'll be performing in the recital," Freleng immediately replied. "Lil' Kitty," he patted the female cat's head, "is gonna recite some nursery rhymes, Ham and Ex," he pointed to the twin puppies, "are gonna sing 'I Haven't Got a Hat' and Porky's gonna recite a poem"
Schlesinger wasn't feeling too sure about this cartoon. It sounded too much like something Buddy would star in. He looked down at Porky once more. "I've an idea!" he suggested, "Why don't ya make the pig the lead instead of the cat?"
Porky pointed to himself in shock as several pairs of eyes fell upon him. "Well, I would, but he's kinda got a…problem" Freleng replied. Schlesinger shook his head. The pig had to be the main star in the cartoon. He was the only character he could remember!
"Surely he can speak for himself, Freleng," he dismissed. Looking down at the shivering swine, he asked "Why don't ya say something, son?"
Porky swallowed and opened his mouth. "Th-Th-Th-Thank y-y-y-you, M-M-M-Mister Sch-Sch-Sch-Schle-le-le…" The producer's jaw dropped in shock. He could see what Freleng meant by a "problem".
"You're right, Freleng" he stated bluntly. "Do you have any idea how much it'll cost us for extra reels just so he can read his lines? There's no way he'll be famous with a stutter like that!"
Porky's heart sank and his lip quivered as he heard the producer say these words. "It's a shame, though," Schlesinger went on, "he looked pretty interestin'!"
"Don't be too hard on him, sir," Freleng hastily interrupted as he saw Porky's expression. "I don't know why he has it, but he can't help it!"
Before Schlesinger could reply, they heard somebody approaching. "Hiya folks!" squeaked an unbearably grating voice. "I've just finished working on another GREAT cartoon!"
Buddy strode up to them, his abnormally wide eyes closed in a Cheshire cat grin. "Who's that?" Beans asked, speaking for the first time in a rather childish voice. "That," Freleng answered grimly, "is Buddy. You'll be replacing him once your first cartoon is released…"
Buddy reached the group of young toons and regarded them with mild amusement. "Hi, fellas!" he greeted. "I don't remember seein' you in any of my cartoons!"
The six toons were confused as to why Freleng and Schlesinger didn't like this wide-eyed toon. He seemed nice. "They're brand new, Buddy," Schlesinger explained with forced friendliness.
"Oh!" Buddy squeaked. "Are they gonna star in one o' my new cartoons?"
Before either Schlesinger or Freleng could reply, Beans spoke up. "We're gonna be in our own cartoon!" he said cheerily. Before Freleng could stop him, Beans added "And Friz says that we'll replace ya!" Porky and the other toons nodded gleefully.
Freleng cringed. He and Schlesinger looked down to see Buddy's expression as he visibly took in what the overall-clad cat had just told him.
The animated man's sickly-sweet grin darkened into a scowl, which made the six toons quiver with fright. Buddy rounded on Freleng, his owl-like eyes blazing with anger.
"WHAT'S GOIN' ON, FRELENG?!" he squawked. "YOU'RE REPLACING ME WITH THESE BRATS?!"
"Now, now, Buddy," Freleng counselled, "Lemme explain…"
"YOU'RE MAKIN' A BIG MISTAKE, PAL!" Buddy shrilled fiercely. "I'M THE FELLA WHOSE HELPIN' EVERYONE COPE WITH THE DEPRESSION!" Everybody winced and a few windows broke. "The way you've been acting," Schlesinger thought to himself, "you caused the Depression…"
"People love me!" Buddy shrieked. "The reason my cartoons haven't made much money is because those folks can't spare a dime!" He pointed at Beans and the others. "These ink spots'll ruin ya! Nobody'll wanna watch a cartoon with some bratty cats or fat pigs!"
The six toons were aghast by the man's rudeness! Porky, who had just been told that he wouldn't be a famous star, looked down at his plump belly, a tear in his eye.
"Mr Schlesinger, sir?" Everybody turned to see Chuck Jones hurrying towards them. Buddy glared at the bespectacled young man. "Shouldn't you be animatin' my next cartoon?" he demanded.
Jones ignored him and turned his attention to Schlesinger. He was carrying a sheet in his hand. "We just got a telegram," he told his boss. Schlesinger took it and read what it had to say.
"We're gettin' a new animator, boys," he told Freleng and Jones. "His name's Frederick Bean Avery. According to this telegram, he used ta work on those Oswald cartoons at Universal…" Beans' eyes lit up. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "He has my name!" He subsided as Buddy glowered at him.
Schlesinger looked rather annoyed by this news. "At least we'll have more help with animating," he grumbled, "but that means I'll have another guy ta pay!"
"Friz says that ya won't hafta worry about money once we make our first cartoon, sir…" Lil' Kitty piped up, shyly brushing her foot across the floor.
Buddy snarled and rounded on Freleng. "I'll show you!" he squeaked. "I'll make so much money for you bums that you'll hafta give these brats," he pointed at Beans and his friends, "the paint remover!"
Before anybody could say something, Buddy shoved Ham and Ex out of the way and stormed off. "At least Hardaway's the only one who makes any sense in this outhouse!" he shouted without looking back.
"I say," Oliver remarked after a long silence, "what an unpleasant fellow!"
"Yes, he is," Freleng agreed. "But don't worry. We'll never see him again once your first cartoon is in theatres!"
"Don't count your chickens, Freleng," Schlesinger said gruffly as he took another look at the telegram. "Whoever this Avery is," he thought to himself, "I doubt he'll make a difference to our cartoons…"