Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Noel Paul Stookey on "Norman Normal"

I discovered that Noel Paul Stookey, creator of Norman Normal, has an official website, and decided to email him regarding Norman Normal. I asked him if he had any interesting memories about it, and to my surprise, he emailed me back. I'll post the correspondence here:

I am curious to know more about a cartoon short written by Paul Stookey for Warner Bros. in 1968, entitled "Norman Normal". It's never been released on video or DVD officially, and last appeared on TV over 20 years ago. I'd love to know more about the experience of working on it. If interested in sharing, please contact me!

" hiya matthew. yeah...loved that cartoon...had rough outlines of a NORMAN NORMAL series set to go a couple of times but wbros never quite had the appetite for it. even 20 years after the fact there was interest. Although i did all the other voices, the lead voice (Norman) was DAVE DIXON, my co-writer on I DIG ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC (a pp&m top 10 song in the 60's), a director of a little known film i co-wrote with him called THE CULVERT and, oh yeah, a highschool classmate of mine - actually a year behind me - in retrospect he did a brilliant unaffected reading of the role that's for sure. Not sure how i can help you. what is it you want to know?"

Thanks for the response! Very interesting. I guess the way you can help me is to tell me all you know about the cartoon. How you came to write it, the plans for a series, and your experience with it. Did you have any involvement with Alex Lovy or the Warner cartoon studio at the time? I'm curious, since the cartoon itself hasn't aired on TV in 20 years and has not yet been released to DVD. A lot of people simply want to know more about it!

hmmm... this could be a very long email. tell ya what, i'll do a brief flybyand you get back to me with specific questions if necessary...

1) NORMAN NORMAL was a name, spray painted on various pieces of publictransport equipment in AUSTRALIA in the early 60's. i was struck bythe attempt to apply the term 'normal' to anybody. though there wasobviously a thread of similarity that ran through all human life, itwas becoming more and more apparent to me that each of us was veryunique; particularly in terms of how we dealt with our similarities.

2) for me, the making of records in the mid sixties was becoming moreof an experiment in styles than a straight rendering of the tunes. iwas interested in recording sonic environments (complete with soundeffects) as backgrounds in which music might present its poetry; ie:HYMN, THE HOUSE SONG, I'M IN LOVE WITH A BIG BLUE FROG and I DIG ROCKAND ROLL MUSIC were from that era.

3) loved sound effects! loved to mimic them. grew up on jonathon winters - did sfx on stage with the trio. thought to myself hey, nowthat multi-track is here, i could do an entire 'orchestra' with justmy sfx. discovered pretty quickly that i didn't have the range tocover all of it but laid down some basic tracks and then did vocalgroup overdubs for a song i wrote called NORMAN NORMAL.

4) the lyrics to NN captured most of what i saw in the irony offinding 'normal' but thought if it could be an animated cartoon itwould give a broader palette upon which to paint the humor...

5) throughout the 60's, my highschool friend, dave dixon and had ishared an appreciation for the lyric subtext of popular music andculture. he was a 'perfect partner' as we saw certain hypocrisies inour own lives and those of folks around us. the idea of a 'normal'life appeared to carry with it some expectations that we thought wouldbe funny to examine; and especially preconceptions about businessethics, personal integrity and morality in general.

6) peter, paul and mary were among the 'first born' by WARNER BROTHERSrecords, certainly the first most successful group the label had inthe early 60's and therefore held in pretty high regard by thatcompany. though there was no official connection between thefledgling record company and the parent film group, the introductionwas made and i had a great meeting with joe kotler at the warnerbrothers building on madison avenue in nyc and we agreed in principleto go ahead with turning the tune into a cartoon.

7) milt glaser (the world reknowned graphics artist) did somepreliminary sketches of norman - i still have them as prize collectoritems - but they were thought by wbros as too difficult to reproducein animated form. we ultimately settled for a more 'closed' stylethat made cel painting and in-betweening an easier task.

8) dave dixon (who would become disc jockey and television personalityon public radio in detroit and florida) and i created and performedall the parts for the 1st cartoon. dave's beautifully level vocaldelivery underlined the 'honesty' with which NORMAN approached lifeand i did all the character voices. with the exception of the titlemusic (wbros used my sfx original), the incidental/transitional musicwas added by wbros. dave and i also did treatments for 3 or 4 followup cartoons which, alas...never got made.

9) bill hendricks WAS interested in the 70's in picking up the ideafor a series, interviewed me in that regard, and even paid $$ tooption the concept...but again there was no progress beyond talking.

10) although there was never an idea of creating a NORMAN series,myself but rather just because of my love of animation, i created aNEWORLD ANIMATION group in maine and, borrowing the talent of RYANLARKIN (from the canadian film board and recently the subject of anacademy award short called 'RYAN'), who came to work with us for twoor three months, we were creating a show for the christianbroadcasting network called THE SKY'S THE LIMIT when, sadly, theproject was cancelled by them.

11) i still maintain an affection for the animated process and itsability to speak in terms that transcend (and sometimes transform)reality. sometimes it seems we can only see beyond our day to day bybending it.

sorry to have run on matt...hardly a flyby...thanks for the chance to remember, noel

Thanks to Mr. Stookey for the information!


Jerry Beck said...

Excellent post Matthew. I interviewed Mr. Stookey for my 1989 Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies guide and he provided me with some of the information I included there. You'll be pleased to know I am planning to include this cartoon on LT Golden Collection #6.

greg method said...

Wonderful read...clearly Noel needs to be invited to do a commentary for the DVD.

Good job Matthew!

Dale said...

Fantastic short! Tell me why 'Norman Normal' couldn't be done successfully today....

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