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Toon Tuesday: Rocky gets KO'ed while Shere Khan finally finds his voice

Toon Tuesday: Rocky gets KO'ed while Shere Khan finally finds his voice

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After a nervous start, I was finally beginning to feel comfortable on the story crew of "The Jungle Book." After being given an outline by writer Larry Clemmons, Vance Gerry and I began story boarding Mowgli's second encounter with Kaa the snake. With the sudden departure of story legend Bill Peet, we were all in the process of rethinking much of the movie.

   Floyd story sketch of Shere Kahn

Since Vance and I were busy trying to shape our own segment of the film, I never took the time to check out the "Rocky the Rhino" sequence being boarded across the hall. Before we knew it, the sequence had been approved to go to reels, and Walt Disney would soon be coming in for a screening. I confess I was pretty relaxed about this screening with The Old Maestro. Walt would be focused on someone else's work, and not ours. If you were a Disney storyman, it always felt good when someone else's butt -- not your own -- was on the line.

I don't ever recall a morning meeting with Walt Disney. Every meeting I attended was in the afternoon. Maybe the boss felt more relaxed in the afternoon having gotten the morning's business out of the way. In any event, this meeting would be held in screening room 11 on the third floor of the Animation Building. Our director Woolie Reitherman and most of the crew were in good spirits. At last the picture seemed to be moving in the right direction, and Walt had been pleased with our progress. There was a feeling of optimism and confidence this day, but soon all that was about to change.

I arrived late for the screening, and took a seat near the rear of the room. I made it a point to never be in Walt's line of sight less the Old Maestro might notice me, or God forbid, ask me a question. As the sequence played out on screen, it was expected that there would be a few shills in the audience with their obligatory laughs. However, there wasn't a sound from Walt who continued to sit and watch in silence.

For those not familiar with this never-before-seen sequence, it's not unlike many of the other meetings with critters Mowgli and Baloo encounter on the way back to the man village. Rocky is a dim-witted rhinoceros voiced by radio and television comedian Frank Fontaine. Those old enough might remember Frankie as "Crazy Guggenheim" on the old "Jackie Gleason Show." Those even older might remember his radio stint on the Jack Benny Program.

In any case, Fontaine did his best voicing the mentally challenged beast as he played out his jungle shtick. The comedian had an idiotic laugh that always garnered laughs from the television and radio audiences, but unfortunately was lost on Walt Disney. The boss shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and muttered under his breath. In short order it was clear that Disney wasn't finding this bone headed beast all that funny. To be fair, the story artist's drawings were pretty darn funny, and the sequence wasn't all that bad if you watched it with the sound turned off. However, this wasn't a silent movie, and Frankie Fontaine was not amusing Walt.

Some of the key characters from Disney's The Jungle Book, including Rocky  the Rhino" (Center). Drawing by Ken Anderson

Of course, one might think that all that was needed was a casting change, right? Simply audition another voice actor and Viola! Problem solved. Not in this case, I'm afraid. Walt was so annoyed by the moronic rhino that he wanted the beast cut from the picture. This truly disappointed master animator Milt Kahl who had looked forward to animating the silly critter. He had even completed a model sheet for "Rocky the Rhino." A model sheet that would never be used in the making of "The Jungle Book."

Of course, that model sheet still exists today. On a recent visit to Disney Feature Animation I saw a young intern working on a scene with the dear departed rhino. He wanted to know why he had a model sheet of a character never used in the Disney classic. I realized he had no idea why the rhino was cut from the film. Of course, unlike the young intern, you now know the rest of the story.

With no rhino to animate, what was poor directing animator Milt Kahl to do? Tackle another character, of course. And boy did we have a character for him. While storyboarding the villainous tiger, Shere Kahn, a question arose. Who would voice the smooth, sophisticated scoundrel? I remember both Vance and I said the same name almost instantaneously. George Sanders! Who else but George Sanders?

Of course, in big time Hollywood no one ever does things the easy way. Why the studio went through a long list of actors they considered for the role I'll never know. In time, even they came back to the obvious choice for the tiger. George Sanders would voice Shere Kahn.

 Hollywood's favorite scoundrel, George Sanders

I still remember the scene and the wonderful encounter Shere Kahn has with Kaa the snake. We tried to make our story sketches of the conversation between the snake and tiger entertaining of course. However, who could have imagined what Milt Kahl would do with our simple sketches? As always, in the old days, the story sketch was simply the starting point. Vance and I simply set things up, and the animators followed through. All that inspired business with the tiger questioning Kaa was the genius of Milt Kahl. Milt developed those scenes, and made them his own. Some thirty years have passed, and those scenes still blow me away.

Floyd story sketch of Shere Kahn and Kaa

Yet, our day of reckoning was still to come and a date had been set for Walt Disney to take a look at our sequence. Like so many others, I began to get the pre-Walt jitters as the meeting date approached. As usual, Vance Gerry was as mellow as always. I don't think it would have made any difference if our meeting had been with the Pope. Nothing seemed to faze Vance as we prepared our boards for the upcoming Walt meeting. Lucky for me, Vance was the senior storyman. So he, not myself would be pitching to the Old Maestro.

A meeting with Walt was not something easily obtained. Because of his busy schedule, we had already waited a week or two. Now, the outer doors could be heard swinging open, and Disney's signature raspy cough announced his arrival. As usual, Walt attended story meetings alone. No entourage, sycophants, or "yes men" were needed. We were about to hear the verdict on our newest sequence in "The Jungle Book," and it would come from Walt Disney himself.

In the final installment of this series ... Vance Gerry pitches to Walt, a recording session with Sterling Holloway, and Disney finds a way to get Mowgli home.

Did you enjoy the latest installment of Floyd's four-part series about the production of "The Jungle Book"? ... Speaking of multi-part stories, Mr. Norman has three (count 'em -- three!) great collections of his cartoons currently on the market. All of which take an affectionate look at his career in animation.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's excellent www.cataroo.com web site) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to the Afrokids.com website.

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  • Frank Fontaine as a Disney character? 0_o??
    I'm with Walt on this one--He's a bit over-the-top for the job.
    (For those who don't remember the Jackie Gleason Show either, Fontaine's radio gags were also the inspiration for Stan Freberg's "Pete Puma" voice in the fondly remembered Bugs Bunny cartoon...Just to give you an idea.)
    Put Rocky next to "Pocahontas"'s Redfeather for "Characters who just didn't make the cut".
  • Thanks once again, Mr. Norman!  I don't know who Frank Fontaine is, but this is one of those "What if" situations...what if Rocky was still in the movie?  And, I don't know what else George Sanders is famous for, but I can't imagine Shere Khan sounding any differently than he does now.  I can't wait until next week's article!
  • Gotta agree with Walt on this one. I know about Frank Fontaine and a little of his schtick goes a long way. He actually played a chronic drunk, not an imbecile, on The Jackie Gleason Show, always slurring his words and laughing a loud, wheezy, asthmatic laugh...if an innertube could laugh, it would sound like Mr. Fontaine. Eecchh. Good call, Walt.
  • I had heard about Frank Fontaine's "Rocky the Rhino" from Russell Schroeder many years ago. I have a copy of the model sheet and it really is a fun design. Interestingly, Russell also pointed out that Rocky's crazy lump-jawed mug later ended up as the inspiration for Ken Anderson's design for Elliot from "Pete's Dragon". The face is nearly identical when you compare the model sheets.

    By the way, as a young 7 year old I was entranced by "The Jungle Book" when it first premiered in 1967. It was seeing that film that inspired me to pursue cartooning as a career and it's still my favourite Disney feature to this day. Thanks so much Floyd for this series of personal anecdotes - I'm really enjoying it!
  • Frank Fontaine was also the inspiration for Homer Simpson's pal Barney Gumbal. George Sanders made a lot of detective films in the 1940s. He was Simon Templar aka The Saint, and he also played a detective character named the Falcon. He was also in the Picture of Dorian Gray, and All About Eve. By the 60's he was playing characters like Mr. Freeze on the Batman series. He had a voice of pure arrogance, no wonder they thought of him immediately for Shere Khan.
  • gigglesock said:
    Gotta agree with Walt on this one. I know about Frank Fontaine and a little of his schtick goes a long way. He actually played a chronic drunk, not an imbecile, on The Jackie Gleason Show, always slurring his words and laughing a loud, wheezy, asthmatic laugh...if an innertube could laugh, it would sound like Mr. Fontaine. Eecchh. Good call, Walt.
    Fontaine's main shtick on Jack Benny Show (playing a street bum) was to begin every one of his stories with:
    "So, I was walkin' down the street and this guy sez, 'Hey you."  I says "Who?"  He says "You."  I says "Me?"  He says "Yyyyah."  He said do you wanna job, and I was so worr-rr-rried! <wheeze!>"

    Now, granted, somewhere in there, there IS the voice of a rhino (even if he wasn't in the Kipling)...But, like Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna in "Alice", think they were going for celebrity shtick, which would've spoiled the rest of the otherwise book-faithful characters--The fab-four vultures didn't do much for me either.
    (And say, weren't we supposed to get an anecdote on whether the 1966 story department thought we'd still get "passing fad" Beatles jokes five years later?)
  • Prior to "The Jungle Book", George Sanders had appeared in "In Search of the Castaways" for Disney several years earlier. Sanders sports thick mutton-chop sideburns in that film and I always wondered whether that inspired the final design of Shere Khan. It's really fun to compare the scenes from both films to see how much nuance they picked up from Sanders' mannerisms. For instance, Sanders had a habit of breathing in through his nose with a sharp intake that often caused a little snort in his vocal delivery. Milt Kahl cleverly incorporated this into his animation of the tiger, showing his nostrils quiver rather pompously with the dialogue.

    The scene with Shere Khan and Kaa is a brilliant example of acting in animation. While the dialogue is superficially that of two neighbours exchanging pleasantries with each other, just below the surface there is seething hatred between the two creatures. Milt Kahl was able to convey this expertly through his clever use of body language and expression. The tiger's look of mock concern for the snake's unlikely health problems always cracks me up. Scenes like this show the true art and power of a major talent like Kahl.
  • Awesome story sketches!

    This is the most detailed recount of production behind The Jungle Book I've read to date. This makes me wonder even more how Walt would've felt if he had lived long enough to see the final results.
  • I know Walt prefered "real" voices rather than "trick" ones for features, and while he loved someone like Ed Wynn, maybe Walt felt Frank Fontain's performance too over the top with schtick, (note Sanders' understated Kahn)  or he just had a problem with "drunk" sounding characters.  Mel Blanc's hiccuping Gideon the Cat from Pinocchio was rendered mute by the film's premier perhaps for the same reason(?).  Still, I think a toned-down Rocky would have made a fun addition to Jungle Book.
  • Floyd,

    May I sit at your feet, bring you some slippers, fresh baked cookies and some liquid refreshment? I could listen to you ALL DAY!

    This is a phenomenal series. I've always appreciated the wonderful characters in the Jungle Book as well as the genius contribution by the Sherman Bros. What I love about your articles are all the characters behind the scenes, who are just as interesting as those on the screen. Thank you!

    Can't wait to hear about good old Sterling Holloway...

  • PingBack from http://bullfrog117.wordpress.com/2006/09/21/visiting-mineral-king-eric-idle-spills-his-life-and-nbc-shows-up-american-idol/
  • Hey, finally glad to join Jim Hill's latest edition of his site.

    Yeah, I recall Frank Fontaine too. Here are characters besides

    the ones DerekJ mentioned (Bugs Bunny's Pete Puma, voice by Stan Freberg)

    and the Simpson's Homer Simpson's buddy whom somebody else cited whom Frank Fontaine inspired.

    A host of Daws Butler voices:

    Sylvester the puddytat's best friend,"Sam the orange cat"(warner Bros.-in "Heir Conditioned," 1955, "Trick or Tweet",1958, and the Oscar-nominated "Mouse & Garden


    "Leroy"m, Huckleberry Hound's freidnly quarry,a lion in shorts like 1958's "Lkionherated Huck" (Hanna-Barbera,of course)

    Magoo's college-nephew Waldo (after Jerry Hausner of radio fame left;many UPA shorts)

    Many Walter Lantz cartoons,usually as a goofus wolf, a handufl of Jay Ward (largely "Fractured Fairy Tales" and its thematic and musical theme companion

    "Aesop") characters, and besides the Huckleberry Hound lion I mentioned, many other numerous Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

    Many other did Frank Fontaine's "John Silvoney'(His radio 1940s Jack Benny show character), such assd recnetly cancelled radio comic Phil Hendrie (whose late radio showm, of course was a u8nqiue blend of "radio character comedy" plus call-ins) and "Crazy Guggenheim" on 1960s TV "Jackie Gleason Show", plus these further caroton voices

    Leo DeLyon (who in fact DID do a Fontaine like monkey-character's voice in Juingle Book, or was that the one below--and in Hanna-Barbera's Top Cat as Brain opposite his own hip talking "Sppok" and Arnold Stang's TC)

    Dallas McKennon (who a feind says may have done a Jungle Book character

    as the minke mentioend, and was used by Art Clokey for "Witty Witch"(as a grotesque monster) and "Pigeon in plum tree" (as doofus Prince Harold),

    and for Walt Lantz's bulldog Champ in Paul Frees's "Doc" (started with a few mouse characters intended to be,maybe Lantz'ss Pixie and Dixie?Hickory and Dickory)--THIS when Daws was doing the aforementioend Lantz wolves as Fon taine!

    Walker Edmiston and/or Sidney Miller as Krofft Bros.'s Signmund the sea monster.

    Allan Melvin in Filmation's Wacky and Packy (RIGHTLY opposite his own Jackie Gleason-ish Wacky as the "Frank Fontaine-esque" packydoim Packy).in Charles Nelsons Reilly's "Uncle Croc" (1975).

    And Bill West as both Ren and Stimpy even back in Kricfalusi's pre-Games era (along with what slounds like a "Janet Waldo bobbysoxer" scream --- the one with the "Bambi/Chihuahua" who becomes a halluicnation-scene,in that one--"Commander Stimpy"? Anyways, there and elsewhere a Fontaine-esque EEEEEE is used..Seems in EVERY R&S Frank Fontaine's voice was used.

    You know, it's odd seeing that Walt didn't really care for trick voices,given the many ones used.

    I ALSO noted that THESE entityies were (seemingly) NEVER used in Disney troons despite their being alive at the time and their equally disinctive, tricky, catchy voices


    Billy DeWole

    Jimmy Durante

    (but Rankin-Bass sure got them for "Frosty the Snowman")

    Frank Nelson

    Sheldon Leonard

    Paul Lynde (though's he oen of many featured in the second Flubber flick,1961)

    Howard MacNear

    Joe E,Ross

    Joe Besser

  • PS...Oh, and I aklso agree with Walt despite my fondess of Frank Fontaine. I recall 1984 when I saw him on reruns of the old 1962-66 Jackie Gleason show (this was right before the3 major Honeymooners shows being revived) and thought it was Stan Freberg or Daws Butler!:)

    Ah I got to say is..,...EEEEEEEEEEEEEE (Fontaine's giddy wheese of a guffaw..Daws Butler always did a yokel-like h'yuk Yuk and then the wheeze laugh..)

  • PS...Oh, and I aklso agree with Walt despite my fondess of Frank Fontaine. I recall 1984 when I saw him on reruns of the old 1962-66 Jackie Gleason show (this was right before the3 major Honeymooners shows being revived) and thought it was Stan Freberg or Daws Butler!:)

    Ah I got to say is..,...EEEEEEEEEEEEEE (Fontaine's giddy wheese of a guffaw..Daws Butler always did a yokel-like h'yuk Yuk and then the wheeze laugh..)

  • On a final (for a while ) note, I recall the Frank Fontaine story relevant to Jungle Book before and spearately that Rhino------Leonard Maltin recalled (in mentioning it in 1973 in "Disney Films", Crown Publishing and sometimes updated..)

    the situation and noted that it involved the Louis Prima's siminian, then the Frankl Fontaine rhino, and he decided "that two intense sequences would cancel each other out". I think we kin da all agree here.

    (Now again, can we all say it..


    Happy New Years 2007 everybody

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