September '09

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1. What inspired you to do a book on Magoo's Christmas Carol?

The book came later in the process.  At first, all I wanted was to find out more about the making of the special.  There had been books on the making of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so I expected someone would soon do one on the first animated Christmas special.  Little did I know it would be me.

I was familiar with former UPA artist David Weidman’s serigraphs and I also knew he had worked on the special.  I contacted him through his gallery and he became the first interviewee.  Unfortunately, couldn’t remember even working on the film.  That’s what really put me on the trail to find out more.  It wasn’t until I came across a review of the DVD on Amazon by the producer’s son, Mark Orgel, that things really started to gel.  He sent me to his mother, who remembered much about what happened and who still had material relating to the special.

(photo by Russell Ung)
Darrell with some of the crew of "Magoo's Christmas Carol", celebrating the 45th anniversary of its debut, December 18. 2007.

From left: Darrell Van Citters, layout artist Corny Cole, background artists Gloria Wood (seated), David Weidman, and Phill Norman, actress Marie Matthews, layout artist Bob Singer, actress Jane Kean, color model artist Ann Guenther, production coordinator Paul Carlson, actress Laura Olsher (seated).

2.  Where has this film been all these years?  Where is the original negative?

The film has been allowed to languish, and if I had to guess, partially from apathy and partially because of the grievance industry in this country.  When the live action feature of Mr. Magoo was released, someone decided that portraying a cartoon character that was too proud to buy glasses was really making fun of the blind.  Never mind that it was the accusers who couldn’t see straight, the result was that pop culture couldn’t forget the character fast enough.  A poor movie didn’t help matters, either.

The original negative is still in vaults controlled by the current copyright holder.  The original art images reproduced in the book make it clear that the film would benefit from a digital restoration.

3. Was this a hard sell to get published?

Not just hard, impossible.  No publisher would touch it.  I speculate that most of them weren’t familiar with the property and only dimly aware of Mr. Magoo, due to his absence from the pop culture scene.  The proposal was turned down by everyone from large mainstream publishers to niche nostalgia publishers.  I felt it was a compelling story and was willing to put my money where my mouth was.

Credit for the design of the book goes to Amy Inouye, who thoroughly knew what she was doing, had worked with this printer in the past and highly recommended him.  For those who are interested, it’s Hong Kong Graphics and Printing, located in Hong Kong.  Michael Giaimo was familiar with Amy’s work and recommended I contact her.  I’m forever grateful she took on the job.



4. Your research is very thoroughly layered.  How did you find the pieces of a very scattered puzzle?

The first part of the puzzle was tracking down surviving cast and crewmembers.  That took some time but eventually everyone still alive was found and interviewed.  Any company that had anything to do with the production was contacted although that direction turned out to be nothing but blind alleys.  If any records still existed, no one knew where to find them.  Family members were one source of material while a few crewmembers also had some relevant material.  Other documents, photos and art surfaced once word got out about the book.  It was a giant puzzle to put together.

Search engines are wonderful tools for a project like this.  However, they can only get one so far.  Most of the grunt work was done by my father, who had a flair for tracking down people due to his work with the family genealogy.  I made a lot of cold calls to the wrong people, in cases where there were several individuals with the same last name.  Others had moved and had to be tracked again.  Entertainment guilds were sometimes of use but not as much as one might suppose.

It wasn’t so much a matter of editing down the memories as it was comparing all the memories to each other.  Memories are tricky when recounting even a recent event but 45 years later, memories can diverge wildly.  I would compare all the recollections and then compare them against all the documentation and articles I could find.  Again, a giant puzzle.

It took about two years, which is pretty fast for a book.  I had the time, the passion and the curiosity to chase leads and connect the dots wherever I could find them.  For a brief period, I also had a couple of research assistants.  I was also learning how to produce and sell a marketable book in parallel to the research, no easy task in itself.  No part of either process was easy, which is about what I expected, but it was all enjoyable.

5.  In telling the story, do you feel there were any holes you would have liked to fill in?

There are no explicit holes in the story that I’m aware of but with any situation where one is trying to document the past, one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know.  I would have loved to interview more of the key artists and I would have loved to have access to the UPA and NBC archives.  I expect that more documents and material will surface now that the book is out and I look forward to finding out more about the show.

+1.  Is there going to be a next book? Were there any lessons learned to apply?

There has been talk of another book.  Some have suggested doing a “making of” How the Grinch Stole Christmas or a 50th anniversary edition of this book in 2012, with all the new material expected to surface.  Doing a book on the Grinch would be an easier sell to publishers than this one was but it would require dealing with both Warner Bros. and the Seuss estate, a prospect that makes me tired just thinking about it.  I’m open to other possibilities if the material was right.

Depending on the project, there are many lessons that would carry over.  I would certainly feel more confident self-publishing again which I would weigh against being picked up by another publisher.  I know this book would have been substantially different had it been handled by someone with no understanding of animation.  That in itself would be one of the lessons.

+2.  Do you think this book could spark new interest in this film?

I certainly hope so.  It’s very fondly remembered by people of a certain age and due to its timeless nature, I would like to see new generations exposed to it.  Once I really started digging into it, I found that not only does the special still have the ability to move an audience but the artwork also has much to recommend it, something difficult to see in current transfers.


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