George Pal Puppetoons – the early years – Page 2

Our biggest problem with puppet film making was the lighting. This required a great deal more attention than live action filming because the little wooden figures were round, with painted eyes (sometimes mere dots), mouths were probably no more than straight lines. These were the factors which conveyed character and personality. A villain might have a big black moustache or wore black, or was a gross character, but such visual aids were kept to an absolute minimum. Individual personality was best conveyed by the way the figure moved and acted. For example: a George Pal horse was constructed with two spheres for the body, an egg shape for the head, and four little round pyramids for feet wired to make up the complete character. It would be made to walk, gallop, rear up and it was these movements which signified and made it represent a horse.

The George Pal studios in 1930s, Eindhoven, Holland.

George Pal had a marvellous way of putting it: If you take a piece of string and you move it under the camera step by step like a dog, once it is on the screen the audience will read dog into its actions and they will believe it to be a dog. Move the same piece of string like a horse, and the audience will not see a piece of string they will see a horse. Movement alone could transform characterless shapes. That was his theory.

His characters were abstracts compared with Disney characters. No attempt was made to beautify them. His figures hardly ever spoke. Nevertheless, Philips and Horlicks clients were enchanted with them. They believed the concept to have international appeal.

Sky Pirates made by George Pal.

The Philips Radio film titles were always shot in 14 – 20 languages, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese and all the Southern American languages, in fact all countries selling Philips radios were catered for. (Peter laughed) I have a feeling George Pal might have made his money on the titles alone!

I was Studio Manager all through the Philips and Horlicks films. Pal did a little paper/cel animation during the Horlicks period but it did not amount to much.

KC.: In fact, Pal made two animated cartoon films for the J. Waiter Thomson organisation, advertising Rinso washing powder. But the impending arrival of the German army brought his activities to an abrupt end. Anson Dyer, here in England continued the Rinso series, making five before the outbreak of war changed production priorities.

George Pal and his wife leaving for Hollywood. Peter Sachs is 2nd from the right and Frank Hendrix 3rd from the right, front row.

Another man who worked alongside Pal was the late Frank Hendrix. He came into the studio at the beginning and, unlike Pal and Sachs, stayed on during the German occupation, although by that time he had married. Mrs Joanna Hendrix recalled her husband’s involvement.

MRS HENDRIX: When Frank started with George Pal he upset his father who wanted him to be something else. But Frank had read in the newspapers that a film studio was opening in Eindhoven and he applied for a lob even though he didn’t know anything about it. He was about 15 years old.

The studio was sponsored by Philips, and Frank started by clearing up, sweeping floors, with his mind firmly set on getting into photography. One morning he arrived early and idly switched on the model set’s lights. Then, without a thought for the consequences he re-arranged them until he was happy with the result. Before he could change them back to their former positions, George Pal came into the room and spotted the newly lit set. ‘Who is responsible for this?’ he demanded. ‘I am,’ answered Frank sheepishly fully expecting Pal to sack him on the spot. Instead, Pal smiled and said, ‘From now on, you will be my number one cameraman.’ Just like that!

Frank always said South Sea Sweetheart was the first film he made as the number one cameraman. I haven’t seen many of his films. I met Frank just after Pal left, lust as the Germans entered Holland.

K.C.: It has been said that Pal actually came to Britain to work.

J.H.:I don’t think so! He worked in Eindhoven for many years. He lust wanted to avoid the Germans so he left for America before the Germans came to Holland. He left everything there, cameras, the girls, everything.

K.C.: Pal’s brief was to make animated films exclusively for Philips. He would have had nothing to do with the Horlick’s films if it had not been for an ex-Civil Servant by the name of Gerard Holdsworth, later to become Commander Gerard Holdsworth.

Com. Gerard Holdsworth: (looking at a photo of Frank Hendrix when a lad) It was taken in Eindhoven. I met him in those circumstances long before the war, he worked for George Pal in those days.

KG.: Pal favoured working with a multiplicity of models, whereas other animators used one model with bendy arms and legs.

G.H.: Well, so did we, ultimately. But George wanted complete control in those days. We were working on Gasparcolor. Gasparcolor was an awkward bloody colour system and Gaspar was an awkward guy. He was a Rumanian and I wasn’t. The first Technicolor picture ever processed at Harmondsworth was Home on the Range – that was number one. Well, we changed over then and it was really something.

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