UPA, the studio my dad bought on the verge of bankruptcy, is getting quite a bit of attention this month.  The long-in-the-works book about the studio, When Magoo Flew: The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA by Adam Abraham, is now available. I haven’t seen the book yet, although I talked to Abraham about UPA a few years back.

Most everything written about my dad and the entertainment business is fairly negative, but naturally I take a more charitable approach. UPA was started by visionary ex-Disney artists who tried to keep their studio going as long as possible,  producing advertising spots and making theatrical shorts. As I understand, the founders were better artists than businessmen, leading my businessman dad to get involved and take over the studio.

He moved the studio into television production, where the money was, keeping UPA chugging along for another decade or more. Of course the cartoons produced for TV were less labor-intensive than the early shorts, possibly less creative too. But the world had changed — theatrical shorts were never a money-making proposition anyway — and at least “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which he produced, was still held in high regard.My dad knew absolutely nothing about the reasons why the Oscar-winning artists that founded UPA hired John Lautner to design the Burbank studio and stocked it with Eames furniture, but he tried as hard as he could to keep the lights on and the bills paid.

The Los Angeles County  Museum of Art is holding a UPA night March 30 called Madcap Modernism in conjunction with the California Design exhibition, which features UPA’s colorful letterhead. An evening program will screen 10 newly-restored 35mm UPA cartoons from the 1950s theatrical shorts era, and Abraham will be present signing his book. A new Jolly Frolics DVD of these theatrical cartoons was just released by TCM.

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