Fritz The Cat (film) - Production

Production

"The idea of grown men sitting in cubicles drawing butterflies floating over a field of flowers, while American planes are dropping bombs in Vietnam and kids are marching in the streets, is ludicrous."

—Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi majored in cartooning at the High School of Art and Design. He learned his trade at the Terrytoons studio in New York City, where he spent ten years animating characters such as Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Deputy Dawg. At the age of 29, Bakshi was hired to head the animation division of Paramount Pictures as both writer and director, where he produced four experimental short films before the studio closed in 1967. With producer Steve Krantz, Bakshi founded his own studio, Bakshi Productions. In 1969, Ralph's Spot was founded as a division of Bakshi Productions to produce commercials for Coca-Cola and Max, the 2000-Year-Old Mouse, a series of educational shorts paid for by Encyclopædia Britannica. However, Bakshi was uninterested in the kind of animation he was producing, and wanted to produce something personal. Bakshi was quoted in a 1971 article for the Los Angeles Times as saying that the idea of "grown men sitting in cubicles drawing butterflies floating over a field of flowers, while American planes are dropping bombs in Vietnam and kids are marching in the streets, is ludicrous." Bakshi soon developed Heavy Traffic, a tale of inner-city street life. However, Krantz told Bakshi that studio executives would be unwilling to fund the film because of its content and Bakshi's lack of film experience.

While browsing the East Side Book Store on St. Mark's Place, Bakshi came across a copy of R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat. Impressed by Crumb's sharp satire, Bakshi purchased the book and suggested to Krantz that it would work as a film. Bakshi was interested in directing the film because he felt that Crumb's work was the closest to his own. Krantz arranged a meeting with Crumb, during which Bakshi showed Crumb drawings that had been created as the result of Bakshi attempting to learn Crumb's distinctive style in order to prove that he could translate the look of Crumb's artwork to animation. Impressed by Bakshi's tenacity, Crumb lent him one of his sketchbooks as a reference.

As Krantz began to prepare the paperwork, preparation began on a pitch presentation for potential studios, including a poster-sized painted cel setup featuring the strip's cast against a traced photo background, as Bakshi intended the film to appear. However, in spite of Crumb's enthusiasm, he was unsure about the film's production, and refused to sign the contract. Artist Vaughn Bodé warned Bakshi against working with Crumb, describing him as "slick". Bakshi later agreed with Bodé's assessment, calling Crumb "one of the slickest hustlers you'll ever see in your life". Krantz sent Bakshi to San Francisco, where Bakshi stayed with Crumb and his wife, Dana, in an attempt to persuade Crumb to sign the contract. After a week, Crumb left, leaving the film's production status uncertain. Two weeks after Bakshi returned to New York, Krantz entered his office and told Bakshi that he had acquired the film rights because Dana had power of attorney and signed the contract. Crumb received US$50,000, which was delivered throughout different phases of the production, in addition to ten percent of Krantz's take.

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