'Bozo and his Rocket Ship'.

Norm McCabe was a British-American animated film director, best known for working for Warner Brothers in the early 1940s. He directed, among other films, the notorious Looney Tunes World War II propaganda cartoons 'The Ducktators' (1942), 'Confusions Of A Nutzi Spy' (1943) and 'Tokio Jokio' (1943). But he also enjoyed a long and versatile career afterwards. He worked for DePatie-Freleng's 'Pink Panther', Filmation, Ralph Bakshi, 'Transformers', 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' and 'Animaniacs'. Along with Chuck Jones, he is one of the few cartoon directors to work during the Golden Age (1930-1960), Dark Age (1960-1988) and Renaissance (1988-1990s) of Animation. McCabe was also active as a children's book illustrator in the 1940s, creating books about Bozo the Clown.

Early life
Norman McCabe was born in 1911 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, but at age two he moved with his family to Butte, Montana, in the United States. In 1919 they moved again to Tacoma, Washington. McCabe's first job was designing posters and banners for the lobbies in movie theaters.

Warner Brothers
His animation career took off in 1932, when he joined the still brand new animation studio of Warner Brothers. By 1936 Warner Brothers was on the brink of a revolution. Talented new directors like Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Frank Tashlin breathed fresh air in the studio's unsuccesful cartoons. Avery in particular introduced a more absurd and sarcastic type of comedy, which broke with the dominant Disney style. Warner Brothers launched its 'Looney Tunes' series, headed by characters like Porky Pig (1936), Daffy Duck (1937) and Bugs Bunny (1940). Avery's influence had an electrifying effect on his colleagues. Many imitated his style, McCabe was naturally no exception.

McCabe worked in Frank Tashlin's unit until Tashlin left the studio in 1938. One of his co-workers during this period was Ub Iwerks, the legendary former Disney animator, who'd previously tried out a solo career, but failed. Iwerks only stayed with Warners for a short while and left to rejoin Disney again. In 1938 McCabe was reassigned to Bob Clampett's unit. He specialized in dialogue scenes and animating heads from difficult angles. One of the cartoons he worked on was Clampett's first genuine masterpiece: 'Porky in Wackyland' (1938), which was notable for its surreal style. In 1940 Clampett unexpectedly fell ill. Two shorts he was working on, 'The Timid Toreador' (1940) and 'Porky's Snooze Reel' (1941) were still unfinished. McCabe completed them and received co-credit as a director, marking his directorial debut, although it still would take a year before he received permission to direct other cartoons.

Becoming a director
In 1941 Tex Avery left the studio. All of Avery's animators were put to work in Bob Clampett's unit, while McCabe received a unit of his own. Among the people working under his lead were John Carey, Don R. Christensen, Cal Dalton, Arthur Davis, Izzy Ellis, Dave Hilberman, Melvin Millar and John Hilberman. He directed 11 shorts: 'Robinson Crusoe Jr.' (1941), 'Who's Who in the Zoo?' (1942), 'Daffy's Southern Exposure' (1942), 'Hobby Horse-Laffs' (1942), 'Gopher Goofy' (1942), 'The Ducktators' (1942), 'The Impatient Patient' (1942), 'The Daffy Duckaroo' (1942), 'Confusions of a Nutzy Spy' (1943), 'Hop and Go' (1943) and 'Tokio Jokio' (1943). All pictures are in black-and-white and, apart from 'Porky's Snooze Reel', now in the public domain. His best cartoons are widely considered to be 'Robinson Crusoe Jr.', 'Who's Who in the Zoo', 'Daffy's Southern Exposure', 'Hobby Horse-Laffs', 'The Ducktators', 'The Impatient Patient',  'The Daffy Duckaroo' and 'Confusions of a Nutzy Spy'.

War-time propaganda cartoons
However, McCabe's more straightforward cartoons are nowadays overshadowed by his war-time propaganda cartoons. As the United States entered World War II in 1942, many Hollywood cartoon studios started producing propaganda cartoons to support the Allied Forces. Some were exclusively made to educate military audiences, others to promote the sale of war bonds for mainstream audiences, saving scrap iron and keep up spirits by ridiculing the Axis armies in Germany, Italy and Japan. McCabe directed three cartoons of the latter category: 'The Ducktators', 'Confusions of a Nutzy Spy' and 'Tokio Jokio'.

The best of these three is 'The Ducktators' (1942), an animal fable which satirizes Hitler, Mussolini and Hideki Tojo as barnyard ducks. They take power while a peace dove tries to discourage everybody from fighting back. When he is trampled down by them, he instantly changes his mind and beats them up. 'Confusions of a Nutzy Spy' (1943) is notable for being the only Looney Tunes war-time propaganda cartoon in which Porky, rather than Bugs or Daffy, fights the Axis. Parodying the film 'Confessions of a Nazy Spy' (1939), Porky and his bloodhound prevent a lynx (who is a Nazi spy) from blowing up a railroad bridge. The final of McCabe's war-time cartoons and his final Looney Tunes cartoon period is 'Tokio Jokio' (1943). Scripted by Don R. Christensen, the cartoon is a mockumentary, presented as a news reel captured from the enemy. All throughout the cartoon the Japanese are ridiculed, including Hideki Tojo, admiral Isoruku Yamamoto (who was already killed in battle by the time this cartoon premiered) and general Masaharu Homma. A few segments poke fun at Hitler, Rudolph Hess, Mussolini and radio propagandist Lord Haw-Haw too. Most of the comedy is derived from incredibly bad puns and tiresome variations on the same racially offensive jokes. The Japanese are all depicted as weak, primitive, stupid, poor and evil clones of each other. Together with Friz Freleng's 'Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips' (1943), it's arguably the worst Looney Tunes war-time propaganda cartoon. As the final line of 'Tokio Jokio' puts it best: "Regrettable incident, please!"


Still from: 'The Ducktators', depicting duck versions of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo. 

Military service
In November 1942 McCabe enlisted in the army. His final cartoon, 'Tokio Jokio', was released months later and credits him as "Corporal Norman McCabe". He left Warner Brothers and served in the military for the remainder of the war. Coincidentally his commanding officer was his former boss at Warners' animation studio, Rudolf Ising.

Bozo the Clown
After World War II McCabe wanted to return to Warner Brothers' studio, but there was no job available for him. Returning as a director was out of the question, since the new producer Eddie Selzer had already restricted the directorial units to a mere three, taken by Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson. McCabe therefore went to work as a children's book illustrator for Capitol Records. At the time, 'Bozo the Clown' was very popular with children thanks to his radio shows and appearance in some of the earliest children's shows on television. Capitol Records produced a series of audio play records where Bozo was voiced by Pinto Colvig, also famous as the voice of the Disney character Goofy. McCabe not only illustrated the record covers and inner sleeves, but also children's books where young readers could follow the story along with the record. For the artwork, McCabe collaborated with Cecil Beard, a former Disney animator and scriptwriter.

Later animation career
In the 1950s, McCabe directed TV commercials for Swift-Chaplin Productions and Telemation. Between 1958 and 1963 he directed animated TV ads for All Scope Pictures, a division of 20th Century Fox. Afterwards he rejoined his old Warners colleagues at the DePatie-Freleng studio, where David DePatie and 'Looney Tunes' legend Friz Freleng created the 'Pink Panther' cartoon series. Between 1966 and 1969 McCabe was animation director for Filmation, creating many forgettable low-budget TV cartoon series. His most interesting work during this period was done for Ralph Bakshi's groundbreaking animated feature 'Fritz the Cat' (1972), based on Robert Crumb's comic strip of the same name. McCabe was one of several veterans of the Golden Age of Animation (1930-1960) who loved the fact that they could finally break several taboos in an animated cartoon.

In 1974 McCabe returned to DePatie-Freleng, continuing work on 'The Pink Panther' and various less memorable TV series. Later that decade he also worked on TV specials starring Bugs Bunny and the TV reboot 'What's New, Mr. Magoo?', featuring John Hibley's classic character Mr. Magoo. During the 1980s he worked on the TV series 'Heathcliff' (based on George Gately's comic strip), 'The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat' (1982, based on Dr. Seuss' novels), 'Muppet Babies' (a spin-off of Jim Henson's 'The Muppets'), 'Blondie & Dagwood' (1987, based on Chic Young's 'Blondie'), 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (based on Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman's' comic strip) and a few Looney Tunes TV specials. The veteran also worked on the TV series based on the Hasbro toy lines 'Transformers', 'G.I. Joe', 'My Little Pony' and 'InHumanoids'.

In the dawn of his career, during the 1990s, McCabe finally found more satisfying cartoon series to work on, namely Warner Brothers' succesful animated TV series 'Tiny Toon Adventures' (1990-1991), 'Taz-Mania' (1991-1995), 'Animaniacs' (1993-1994) and 'Freakazoid!' (1995). In old age he was mostly involved with cartoon timing and scriptwriting. He retired in 1996.

Recognition
Norm McCabe received a Winsor McCay Award in 2000.

Death and legacy
When Norm McCabe passed away in 2006 at age 94, he was the oldest surviving 'Looney Tunes' director, though his death received less attention than that of Chuck Jones four years earlier. Since all his 'Looney Tunes' cartoons are in black-and-white and heavily dated, they received less airplay on TV or during festivals than his fellow directors. It doesn't help much that his war-time propaganda cartoons are considered too controversial for modern-day audiences. Even McCabe himself felt all his directorial cartoons for Warners were failures, especially 'Tokio Jokio'. When some of his cartoons were screened at the ASIFA office in North Hollywood, animator Mark Kausler recalled that "McCabe seemed embarrassed that we were showing them." This reputation is somewhat undeserved, since the majority are decent, straightforward cartoons. Even the war-time propaganda cartoons remain interesting as historical curiosities.

Series and books by Norm McCabe in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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