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Toon Tuesday : Remembering Fred Lucky of WDFA's Story Department (1938 - 1999)

Toon Tuesday : Remembering Fred Lucky of WDFA's Story Department (1938 - 1999)

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You could hardly call it a competition. But back in the early seventies, two feature films were being developed at the Walt Disney Studios. Ultimately, only one project would be given the green light for production.

F-Wing was on the second floor of the Animation Building. And at the far end of the wing, Disney Legend Ken Anderson was developing a project called "Scruffy." The movie was based on an idea about the Apes of Gibraltar. And -- as you can imagine -- it featured a zany cast of monkeys. However, the story was set during the Second World War and Nazis were also involved. Monkeys and Nazis. Sounds like a winning combination, don't you think?

The guy developing the other project across the hall was new to Disney Studios. Fred Lucky was a syndicated newspaper cartoonist now trying his hand in the animation business. Fred's project was based on a book called "The Rescuers." And the expansive office he toiled in was filled floor to ceiling with his charming and inventive drawings.


Copyright 1977 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

The two feature animation projects were nearing review time. And the smart money would have said that Ken Anderson's movie would clearly be the hands-down winner. Such was not the case, because the studio bosses green-lit "The Rescuers" as the next Disney animated feature film. Story man Fred Lucky developed the project.

Fred Lucky was born in Toronto, Canada, and he studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Yet in his heart, Fred was a cartoonist who loved the old newspaper comic strips. His favorite strip was "Skippy," and he would often talk about the good old days when being a newspaper cartoonist was a cool job. Sadly, that time had come and gone for cartoonists like us. Newspaper strips were continually shrinking in size, and the readership for comic strips was shrinking as well.

In spite of that, Fred Lucky developed his first feature strip he called "J.J. Yuk." It was a comic strip about a lonesome Eskimo and was syndicated by Newsday. Though he continued to develop other strips, Fred joined the Disney Studios in the seventies and worked on various projects. His big break came when he launched "The Rescuers," and Lucky even designed some of the characters.

I find it difficult to picture Fred Lucky without a smile on his face. He was the kind of guy who truly loved life and -- like most cartoonists -- was quick with a funny sketch whenever one was needed. I particularly loved Fred's gentle sense of humor. And it often came in handy during difficult or awkward moments in meetings. It seemed Fred knew when to drop in a clever joke to diffuse the tension. There's nothing like a good laugh to put things in perspective.


Copyright 1975 Los Angeles Times Syndicate. All Rights Reserved

Around the same time "The Rescuers" was in production, Fred developed a new comic strip called "The Dumplings," and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate syndicated it. The strip focused on the lives of a chubby husband and wife, and characteristically, the strip's humor was soft and gentle. In time, "The Dumplings" became a half hour television sitcom on NBC and was produced by Norman Lear.

In time, Fred left the Disney Studios to begin a new career as a live-action storyboard artist and illustrator. And he worked on dozens of feature films. As creative consultant, Fred traveled to many parts of the world and worked with some pretty big names along the way. This led to his meeting with actor Sylvester Stallone, and Fred worked on the "Rocky" films and many others. Eventually, Stallone convinced Fred to actually appear as an actor in one of his films. If you've ever seen the movie "Cobra," you can see Fred Lucky playing a police sketch artist. However it's clear that the gentle cartoonist was out of his element, and Fred quickly put his acting career behind him.

Of course you can bet Fred Lucky had more than one funny story to tell about working with Sly Stallone. And we spent many an afternoon laughing our heads off about the wacky stuff that takes place on a live-action movie set. Cartoonists may be crazy, but live-action filmmaking is often insane.


Copyright 2000 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The pace of live-action filming began to wear on Fred. And he decided to cool his heels at Walt Disney Studios where film production proceeded at a more leisurely pace. Fred joined the crew of "Dinosaur" before moving onto "Kingdom of the Sun." However, animated film making at Disney had changed. And Fred Lucky's gentle cartoon humor seemed out of place with the studio's new direction. Fred eventually left the Mouse House and continued work on his own personal projects.

Always eager to share, Fred and I would often get together for lunch at local valley restaurant where he would show me his latest projects. As always, Fred retained his sense of humor. And when a waiter brought dessert and two spoons, Fred looked at the waiter and said ""This is a business meeting, not a date!"

In 1999, I was working on "Monsters, Inc." at Pixar Animation Studios. But I usually made it home on weekends. Fred Lucky was eager for another lunch meeting because he had something he wanted to show me. I arrived back in Burbank, but Fred Lucky was a no show at lunch. Not long after, I learned he had been taken to the hospital with a severe headache. Of course, we were all hoping for speedy recovery. But then the news came that Fred Lucky had passed away.


Story Artist Fred Lucky

My wife and I attended Fred Lucky's memorial service in West Los Angeles. And upon our arrival, we found the synagogue filled to capacity. Many of us simply stood outside in the warm fall sunshine. There was little doubt Fred Lucky had many, many friends.

In recent years, animation humor has continually gotten louder, ruder and brasher. Call me old fashioned, but I miss the days when Disney cartoons were charming, gentle and sweet. Maybe a guy like Fred Lucky was a Disney story guy from another time. But I confess that it's a time I truly miss.

Did you enjoy today's profile of Fred Lucky ? Well, that's just one of the hundreds of animation-related tales that Floyd Norman has to tell. Many of which you'll find in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman has spent in Toontown.

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 cataroo.com) 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 Afrokids.com.

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  • Thanks for this series.

  • Great article, Floyd. And I agree with you about some of the humor in recent cartoons. I have had enough of fart jokes to last a lifetime. I don't deny that kids laugh at them, but it sucks that animation writers believe they have to write such junk in order to entertain kids. The Looney Tunes didn't have crude humor involving bodily functions - it didn't need them to get a laugh. But nowadays such humor is in just about every toon made. Sadly, even Disney feels it has to throw in such crud to get kids' attention; I'll never forget the shock and outrage I felt when I saw a "Lady and the Tramp" DVD ad on TV and in it a bulldog is shown belching. Needless to say, such a thing didn't occur in the actual film, but some moron at Disney apparently thought the belch was necessary to interest kids and so pasted it in. I blame Nickelodeon for this trend - its shows are full of such crap. Which is one reason I'm so happy that the Disney Channel has been eating Nick's lunch of late.

  • Off topic, but I assume it's of interest.

    Pixar just announced the next film in their pipeline, called "Up".  Sounds pretty weird from the synopsis: a 70-year-old man who teams with a wilderness ranger to fight beasts and villains.  June 12, 2009, exactly two years from today.

    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117966684.html?categoryid=13&cs=1

  • I was 7 in 1977. Besides "Star Wars" ... "The Rescuers" was one of my favorites as a child. Along with Petes Dragon (Which I still think has some of the best music and songs of any Disney film ever).

    The idea for "Scruffy" seemed pretty fascinating. It would probably fly today along with the likes of Valliant, Chicken Little, etc....

    Dinosaur is also truly incredible and one of my favorites ... I don't know why it's downplayed simply because it wasn't PIXAR.... it’s a remarkable work of art... and with heart as well. Just because it didn't make a lot of money it’s kind of lost in the archives.

  • That is an amazing article, Floyd. Thank you!

  • Floyd, you're a treasure, and the fact that you honor these friends and coworkers who have helped build animation's legacy - it's just so noble and good.

    Thank you for writing your pieces.  They are always welcomed, and always special.

  • Thank you so much again. And you're right though, old-fashioned or not, Disney WAS better before.  I was born the year the Rescuers was released. I'm sure I still watched it, I even had the 45 record with storybook.  I still think its one of the best Disney has done. The Rescuers had a great little heroine (Penny) and I still wish I had friends like Bernard and Bianca. The RAS song was the BEST and still gets stuck in my head from time to time.

    Please Floyd, tell someone that us die-hards that spend money like nothing on Disney products.. we don't like this new junk. Go back to the beauty and wonder of Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Bambi, Dumbo, The Rescuers, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and The Lion King.  .. what do these all have in common? Great soundtracks, and beautiful animation done BY HAND.

    xoxoxox Thank you SO MUCH for these articles.  You're very blessed to work for such a great company, have such a great job, and to know such wonderful people.  I'm so jealous I don't know YOU! :D

  • Hi, Floyd,

    Thanks for writing this - it filled in good stuff that I hadn't known about Fred! I came looking for more info about his career after I noticed the TV show, Mike and Molly, 2 fat people in love. Weren't they the names of Fred's characters in the Dumplings? I think so! Very strange coincidence...

  • I had the supreme privilege of knowing this fine human being, Fred Lucky, who is unfortunately not here today to brighten everyone's lives with his wonderful animation.

    He was a good father and husband, whose family we know.

    Fred, may you rest in peace, as you were, and remain the real deal.

    Barry P. King

  • Nice post. I find out something new and difficult on personal blogs I stumbleupon day-to-day. It will always be helpful you just read content material from other internet writers and use a little of their websites.

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