Lame Adventure 421: My First Love

This isn’t the tale about the fetching ten-year-old blue-eyed blonde haired Latina vixen waiting to kick my ass in the schoolyard, encouraged by a devious sixth grader who claimed that I was sweet on her boyfriend, a guy with as much appeal to me as a dented hubcap. Vixen perched on the flagpole’s concrete base eating her breakfast: Fritos. When I entered the playground she called me over by my last name. I sensed danger; she was the type that reeked attitude. She also didn’t talk to innocuous kids like me. Even though I was a year older, she towered over me, a whippet thin and pasty white comic-bookworm. I kept my cool, walked over and groused, “Yeah, what?” My lack of intimidation threw her off her tough girl game. I might have been small but I was feisty, confident that I could talk my way out of this predicament. She got nervous and stammered, “You, you, you like Richie! I don’t like that!” I looked her straight in the eyes and said in a definitive tone, “You’re mistaken. I don’t like him.” Even though her complexion was dark olive, her face flushed crimson. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my eleven years. She was flummoxed, unsure of what to do next. It was a standoff. I wondered if I was about to say ‘adios’ to my teeth. Instead, she offered me her Fritos. We also shared chemistry and she ditched Richie. Decades later, I’m still finding same sex love in the most unlikely places, but to reiterate, this tale is not about that, it’s about another of my life long passions: animation.

When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, I had a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons with my favorites being any fare pumped out by Warner Brothers — Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. When I reached my teens in the Seventies I caught a screening of Disney’s Fantasia at the Larkin, a movie house that seemed determined to play the re-release of this masterpiece in perpetuity. It featured the early work of the animator John Hubley. He participated on “The Rite of Spring” segment. At that time I was enrolled in the Teenage Animation Workshop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not only did kids get hands on experience animating their own films, the instructors enlightened us about the pioneers of the craft, including Hubley, whose frequent collaborator was his wife, Faith.

Hubley left Disney in 1941 during the animators’ strike. Next, he joined United Productions of America where he created Mr. Magoo, based on an uncle. Due to the blacklist, he was forced to leave UPA because he refused to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Next, he founded his own company, Storyboard Studios. There, he made animated TV commercials, including the Maypo cereal ads.

With Faith, he continued to direct his own independent animated films, films that resonated with me. They often featured soundtracks with jazz greats. My favorite Hubley film is a timeless six-minute impressionistic love story made in 1958 called The Tender Game. The soundtrack features the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ella Fitzgerald delivering a satin smooth vocal on the song, Tenderly.

When I first saw this film about forty years ago, I was certain I wanted to be an animator. When I informed my mother about my goal, her reaction was comparable to what a mom of today might think if her daughter announced that she aspired to be a pole dancer. 1974 was decades before the arrival of Pixar. Animation, particularly the independent style of animation, was a guaranteed one-way ticket to the poorhouse. My mother feared that she and my father would be stuck supporting me forever. In college, I shifted gears and earned my degree in live action filmmaking. I worked for almost ten years in TV commercial film production. Eventually, I lost interest in making films on my own, preferring to write unmarketable screenplays.

In honor of the centennial of John Hubley’s birth, Manhattan’s Film Forum is holding two tribute screenings of his work. The first screening, this past Tuesday, included The Tender Game.

Ray Hubley delivering an introduction about his father before the screening.

Ray Hubley delivering an introduction about his father before the screening.

I attended with my colleague, Godsend. It was a delight to see this classic short in a pristine 35 mm color print.

When an event is shown for one screening it doesn't make the marquee.

Film Forum under blue skies.

Considering that this weekend starts summer, and all the promises that come during the warm weather months, embedded below is a crummy quality YouTube video of The Tender Game. The story is set in the fall, but falling in love is not seasonal, unless I missed that memo. Even though the characters are abstract the emotion is familiar, and the overall effect is quite charming.

 

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70 responses to “Lame Adventure 421: My First Love

  1. You are a story teller.

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  2. Thanks for sharing childhood memory and neat history of an animation icon.

    BTW I absolutely loved MAYPO. Alas nobody in my family shares my fascination with Markie MAYPO.

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    • John Hubley was a brilliant filmmaker. His four kids, now all middle aged, were in attendance at the screening. That made it even more special. His son Mark, who sat a few rows ahead of us, was the voice of Marky. John and Faith liked to record their kids musings and they often used them in the soundtracks of their films. They seemed to be a very close-knit family.

      Like

  3. So sweet and lovely. I wasn’t familiar with John Hubley’s work — thank you for sharing this.

    It reminded me a bit of Paperman in tone and charm. Have you seen this animated short? I think it was nominated for an Oscar.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome. I’m on my lunch break at The Grind right now, but I so look forward to seeing Paperman when I’m back in my sanctum sanctorum! Thanks for sharing. I’m glad I could turn you onto John Hubley. Next Tuesday, Film Forum will have a second screening showing another collection of his films. It’s so nice to view them in pristine condition in a movie theater!

      Like

  4. Most, most excellent.

    Thank you, thank you.

    Ever,

    R.

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  5. So delightful! Your first paragraph made me feel like I was sitting on a lovely European terrace, with a steamy cup of coffee, reading from the New Yorker. I wanted to hear more!
    You have a way with words, friend. “The story is set in the fall, but falling in love is not seasonal, unless I missed that memo.”

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  6. What a cool story! Thanks for sharing your first love. That’s great you got to watch this movie on the big screen. Watching movie now. I wish I had some popcorn!

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  7. This post strikes all the right notes – in word craft, in story line, in song and in animation. Charming way to start a 3 day weekend.

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  8. All this – very cool.

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  9. The first time I saw Fantasia was during my days at Georgia Tech where I got my degree in Industrial Design. Fantasia blew me away! And like you, V, I have always loved animation. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful video of “The Tender Game.” Luscious and wonderful – I love the watercolors – a rare form of rendering in animation. I hope you have a great holiday weekend, my friend!

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    • I think it’s a six minute masterpiece, Cathy. It means a lot that you enjoyed it considering what an eye you have. My only regret is not being able to embed a video in lush color, like the original film. I hope that you and Peter are having a great holiday weekend, too!

      Like

  10. Cool video. I like the older animation compared to the new stuff. I can appreciate both though. Looney Tunes and Maypo, two of my faves.

    Enjoyed the view of the young LA walking the “yard”

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    • Yes, a glimpse of me in my hornpuppy days, Audra. When filmmakers no longer had the budget to make visually rich cartoons, they were cornered into developing the flat style. The Tender Game is a combination of both with those extraordinary backgrounds. The love scene inside her house where they morph into all kinds of shapes was, to me, visually wonderful.

      Like

  11. I can sympathize with you re: your mom’s reaction to your wanting to be an animator. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a comic book artist (I was decent, but didn’t really have the ‘whatever’ to be really great). I told my great-uncle (a retired, full-bird army colonel) and he said sarcastically, “Oh, great. That’s almost as good as being a writer.” Not catching the sarcasm, I said, “That’s my second choice!”

    I think it’s neat that you worked in TV/commercial production for ten years. Sounds like you didn’t find it all that fun, but it was probably good experience. Most experience is good experience if you look at it the right way.

    So whatever happened to the master-race Latina vixen?

    I’d never even heard of the Hubleys before (although the animation style looks familiar, and I’m wondering if they were the animators of a Lenny Bruce cartoon I saw once), but watched “The Tender Game” and a bit of “The Hole.” “Tender Game” is undeniably beautiful, but I have an unusual reaction to it in that it makes me a little sad. The old Peanuts cartoons and certain European animation I’ve seen does the same thing–it has something to do with the abstraction and the lack of background characters. It’s not an intellectual reaction at all, which is why I have difficulty explaining it. I feel an isolation and loneliness that I don’t think in most cases are intended by the creators. It’s frustrating, because it’s irrational, but there it is.

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    • It’s not a style of animation that is for everyone, Smak. My tastes in this field run far and wide. No reason to feel defensive about it not resonating with you. It’s abstract art and when I see it I can feel the influence of modern artists of that era. Much of modern art might seem more like a swing and a miss than a hit.

      As for “the master-race Latina vixen” (ha — good one!), we parted ways when I entered high school, but she’s someone I will never forget. I’m not the type who does Facebook searches 40 years later. I’m content to keep things frozen in time.

      Working in TV commercial film production was hell on earth. The hours were long and many of the people were horrible. But the money was unreal.

      My mom would have hit it off with your great-uncle!

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      • That’s the second time you’ve accused me of being defensive, and the second time I suppose you’re right. It’s just that I like to have a reason for having a negative or positive reaction to art. It’s good enough to say I liked this because this moved me, or I didn’t like this because this did nothing for me. But I very much DO have a reaction to this kind of animation–you could say that it moves me, but in a weird way. I’m a fairly self-analytical guy, and my inability to articulate this–even to myself–frustrates me. So I guess I do get defensive because I’m a little disappointed in myself.

        And wait! Before you rush to accuse me of being defensive a third time (here, about my defensiveness), I would argue that this is rather an explanation based upon insights I’ve gained from the realization that I got defensive about an animated movie.

        I’ve heard that TV work pays well. A buddy of mine was an actor in NY, mostly doing commercials (although I gather that you were out of it before he got into it), and although work was scarce, when he got a national commercial he wouldn’t have to work for months. Which is good, ’cause it was apparently pretty tough to find acting gigs.

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  12. Snoring Dog Studio

    Sweet. The variety in animation is incredible. I love the more simple animations, not the ones that rely on a ton of bells and whistles. I was trying to learn how to animate something in Photoshop yesterday. I’d love to develop a little skill at it. Lucky you to be living in a haven of culture.

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    • Jean, I know that I am so lucky to live here in this mecca of culture! There are indeed so many different styles of animation. I’m very glad that it’s an art that did not enter the abyss, but it seemed close to doing just that forty years ago when I gave my mother cause for a panic attack.

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  13. Your story, the lead up, the history and the finale….what a lovely way to start the morning.

    I don’t think I had ever seen that before, delightful. Thanks

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  14. Nice post; it made me think of childhood bullies and Fantasia! But doesn’t summer begin around June 20th?

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    • Jeremy, you are right about the official starting date of summer, but I always think of it as being the sunny and warm (sometime far too brutally hot) season packed between the poles of the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Glad you liked the post, even if it did make you recall childhood bullies. It was one of those that set me up.

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  15. I just went to a Matisse exhibit at our Art Institute in Mpls, and that video of “The Tender Game” reminded me of some of the work. Good stuff! And I am such a fan of first love stories (the addition of Fritos to any story is a definite bonus).

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  16. Well, I’ll be damned. The whole time I was watching (and greatly enjoying, by the way) The Tender Game, I kept thinking of a cartoon I used to watch when I was a kid, Gerald McBoing-Boing. When I went to the link for John Hubley I found he was the supervising director. That whole late 50s, early 60s style of animation just resonates with me. Love it.

    And your Latina Vixen, ay caramba! I would have fallen in love too. 🙂

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    • John Hubley’s work covers quite an impressive chunk of animation history. I’m just a huge fan of the independent work he co-created with Faith. They made a great team. I’m glad I brought him to your attention and that you enjoy his work and my favorite short film of his.

      Oh, yes, she was a very special Vixen; someone I’ll never forget.

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  17. So late to the party and hope you’re having a wonderful Memorial Day, V. I can see that mini-you being all tough, but on the inside, a little, tiny softie with great sensitivity. That’s just my opinion.

    This sweet little film was like a vintage, watercolor French painting come to life. It reminded me of innocence and the music–love it. Ella, Billie Holiday, that kind of bluesy, sensual music, I love it.

    Happy holiday (and Monday).

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    • Happy Monday back at you Brig!

      I had both a wonderful Memorial Day and weekend. I hope the same for you. I’m not so sure how sensitive Mini Me was back then, but the Maxi Me of today remembers that time fondly. I am SO GLAD that you made it over here to not only read the post, but better yet to view the Hubley short It’s such a gem!

      Unrelated: this weekend Milton and I saw Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, a play on Broadway about Billie Holiday starring Audra McDonald as Billie in a nightclub setting in Philadelphia three months before she checked out in 1959. Wow, were we blown away!

      Like

  18. Good story leading into a sweet film. It was far more artsy than anything I’ve seen come out of Pixar or U.S. studios in a long time.

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  19. With all the tech and computerized animation, don’t you think the fine art of drawing using pens and pencils or paints, is a lost art now? I remember watching the Disney show with Walt himself showing us kids how to draw his characters. They did that on Woody Woodpecker too. But now, animators are expert computer technicians?

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    • You raise a good point, Arti; animation as it was prior to the advent of the computerized style of today does seem to be a lost art. But I’m also a believer in “what gos around comes around” i.e., there might be some future hipster who’s seven-years-old today who will discover the work of John and Faith Hubley and will be inclined to revive the style. Vinyl records may not be how the masses get their music anymore, but they’re not extinct.

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  20. I enjoyed the film and the history on Hubley. He certainly chose great music for the soundtrack.

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  21. What a wonderful tribute to a hero! The Tender Game is was wonderful, thus I can see how it captured your imagination and inspired a journey. … and to consider this is linked to Maypo commercials boggles the mind.

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  22. I’ve been MIA for a while, so I’m trying to check in with all y’all again. What a great read after a long wander. I’ve missed your words, sweet pea! xoxox

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  23. Fabulous animation, Virginia. But I did love the story your blog was not about today, too.

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  24. I just discovered that your blog isn’t appearing in my “Reader” feed as it should. Darn WordPress Gremlins! Aaarrggh.

    At any rate, I feel that I must immediately go to an old-style, real movie theater. The kind that does an intermission. And, it must have a chandelier. OH, and a huge, dusty, red velvet curtain — that actually moves. I think this is suitable adventure. Too bad there are no longer any such places in Reno … guess I have to go to San Francisco now. 🙂

    Like

    • There’s one of those left in San Francisco? We don’t have any like that left in New York; the Ziegfeld comes the closest. If/when you find one, you must photograph it!

      As for the Reader problem, that recently happened to another of my followers. He quit following me, then re-followed me and checked his settings. That seemed to solve the problem. It’s disturbing when that happens.

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  25. Dude I hope you totally don’t hate my Hanna-Barbera-Heckle-Jeckle Mighty-Mouse-Looney-Tunes-She-Ra Jem watching dork. I totally had no idea who John Hubley was but thanks for posting the link. I really liked the jazz throughout the cartoon.

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    • I love many of the cartoons you mentioned, Guat, but you lost me when you named She-Ra, but I think it’s highly likely that she and I dated. Glad you watched the John Hubley video. The music is indeed GREAT (to get all Tony the Tiger).

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      • Ha! I always wanted to get that cereal when I was watching Super Chicken and Tom Slick in the morning, but my family only bought Lucky Charms 🙂 Then when I got to college I tried it … dude I felt like I was getting cavities with every bite. Ha. It was too funny.

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        • Okay, Guat, you forced me to Google your gal, She-Ra (princess of power, eh?). I see she hit the airwaves in 1985, when I was 26 and you were what? Nine? Back then, I was definitely dating her type, but I never scored any free tooth decay-inducing cereal.

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  26. Love both those stories. Summer is coming which means I will be in a Big Apple near you!

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  27. I am a little late to this conversation but want to thank you for your beautiful homage to my dad and mom’s work. Tender Game is possibly my favorite of their films as well at least in part because it is so autobiographical — a vivid rendering of their love affair and shared love of art, music and animation.
    By the way, I am sure my brother would have been thrilled to autograph a box of Maypo for you — when he and I were growing up, he was teased mercilessly by neighborhood kids for being Marky Maypo, but remembers it all fondly nonetheless.

    Hopefully, we’ll be able to generate a dvd of the restored films
    so more people can see them the way they looked at Film Forum and other venues around the country when this program toured over the spring and summer.

    again, thanks for the lovely thoughts about my folks’ work.
    Ray Hubley

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    • Ray, that is so kind of you to not only visit Lame Adventures, but to take the time to write such a wonderful comment! Your parents’ films impressed me from the moment I first saw them back in 1974. At the Film Forum screening, I was very happy to see that they have stood the test of time. Tender Game is pure poetry and a beautiful work of art. I hope that DVD happens. I would love to add it in my home library.

      Fondly,
      Virginia

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  28. Will let you know if and when! Also should another touring program take shape (likely next spring) of the beautifully restored OF STARS AND MEN
    — an hour long project John and Faith produced in the early 60’s, I’ll let you know about that as well. Hope you don’t mind if I share this posting with my
    siblings — keep up the great work! Ray

    Like

    • I’m honored that you would share my post with the legendary Hubley family vocal talent. In fact, my inner teenager just did the Toyota jump. Do keep us posted if another touring project happens. Thanks!

      Like

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