Gay Purr-ee

Gay Purr-ee (1962) - UPA’s second animated feature and Abe Levitow’s solo feature directing debut. Abe had served as Animation Director under Jack Kinney on 1001 Arabian Nights and had returned to Warner Bros. after his duties were completed. He later returned to head up the Magoo TV shorts as Supervising Director shortly before Henry G. Saperstein’s purchase of UPA in 1960. This animated musical was initiated by producer Lee Orgel, in his capacity as Director of Program Development soon after his arrival at UPA. Abe Levitow made the introduction to Chuck Jones, who provided the concept and the script in collaboration with his wife, Dorothy. The film stars the voices of the legendary Judy Garland and Robert Goulet, fresh from his award winning performances in Camelot and features a song score by Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg of “The Wizard of Oz” fame.

Disney had lain off a large portion of their staff after Sleeping Beauty and many of the artists found their way to UPA. Although they began their time at UPA churning out the Magoo and Dick Tracy shorts, this feature gave them a chance to flex their design muscles and it shows; it’s one of the most visually sophisticated animated features ever made. Credit for that artistic freedom belongs to producer Lee Orgel, who trusted his director, and to director Abe Levitow who, as an accomplished artist himself, encouraged his team to experiment. Abe put his right hand man, production designer Vic Haboush, onto visual development to do preliminary art direction for the film. Haboush approached the film in a unique manner, designing some of the look based on colored tissues overlaid with one
another and adding painted elements on top. The bulk of the film showcases backgrounds painted in the styles of various French Impressionist painters but there are some magnificent, highly designed visuals during a few of the songs and in at least two sequences, Haboush’s technique actually made it into the final film. Unfortunately, the film did not fare well at the box office and UPA left the animated feature film business. However, students of animation and film are encouraged to take another look at the variety of design approaches contained in this one feature.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

Background painting by Bob Inman

Background painting by Vic Haboush

Concept painting by Corny Cole

Layout by Bob Singer, painter unknown

Background painting by Corny Cole

A character lineup:

Artist unknown

Model sheets:

Money Cats model sheet by Corny Cole

Mewsette model sheet by Corny Cole