An animated duo…
I found the Urbanissimo film indirectly — it’s not as if I just go around looking for -issimo everywhere. No, the path was via the list of short animations that had been nominated for an Academy Award. It’s nice to look at something different once in awhile.
Urbanissimo is by John Hubley and his wife Faith Elliott Hubley, and looking at the animations they were involved with triggered childhood memories, and prompted new explorations (like for Urbanissimo). On the childhood front, he invented the character of Mr. Maggo, who was staple on TV when we were kids, though it wasn’t my favorite. He also was involved in an innovative film (which I hadn’t seen before), Gerald McBoing Boing, based on a book by Theodore Geissel, aka Dr. Seuss, a childhood favorite. The last film that he was involved with in that phase of his life was Rooty Toot Toot, which we liked even better than Urbanissmo. It featured Thurl Ravenscroft, who sang the perennial (to this day for me) favorite “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the original TV special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas“, based on another book by Dr. Seuss. Just one connection after another.
Rooty Toot Toot was the last film he did before he was blacklisted (see the Wikipedia entry) and was forced out of the production company. However, he met Faith Elliott around that time, and they founded their own company, going on to do a whole host of innovative films. Jazz was a common theme for them, as in Urbanissimo. They did several films with Dizzy Gillespie, one of which won (one of their many) Academy Awards: The Hole. They won another award for a film with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which also brought back memories of listening to one of their albums that my father had when I was a teenager.
Despite being blacklisted, John Hubley, with Faith, continued making innovative films, many with social commentary. They also had an ongoing educational aspect, doing animations for Sesame Street, which was really after my time, but I did see it occasionally. In particular they did a whole series on letters and their pronunciations (like this one which Faith did after John died), and a somewhat odd series on spelling for Electric Company called “The Adventures of Letterman“, which starred Joan Rivers, Gene Wilder, and Zero Mostel, all major actors of the time. I didn’t see it then, and it hasn’t held up that well, I don’t think, but the Hubleys had an amazing range of collaborations. Also, they had a range of roles, from animation in “Letterman” to directing and producing. And while they didn’t perform for the films, they did have their children do some of the voices. After John died in 1974, Faith kept going and did her own innovative animations, winning various awards. (I haven’t been able find the non-Sesame Street ones online to watch them myself.)
Aside from all the memories and new explorations, the real reason I wanted to write this post was to express admiration for their resiliency. Not only did being blacklisted not keep John down, it seemed to spur him on to even better things. In a different way, Faith was just as resilient, working on her own films for 27 years after John died, all while she had breast cancer.
Two amazingly imaginative, versatile, and resilient people.