Thursday, April 23, 2009

The True Story of Rudy the Undead Hound

Excerpted from
Toons for Breakfast: A history of the 1980s from 7 to 10 a.m.

...but one animator who didn't die in a Santa Cruz opium den was Fletcher Krall. Krall came to Hollywood in the early 1930s and managed to find work as an in-betweener for several studios, including Terrytoons. He did good work when sober, which usually, according to those who employed him, lasted from about 8 a.m. on Mondays to Wednesday afternoon. By mid-week, Krall would be starting a bender. Sometimes he'd be back the following week, and sometimes not.

After being fired by several studios, Krall surprised his peers by launching his own studio. Where he got the money was hotly debated at the time. Some claimed it was the inheritance left by a distant spinster aunt. Others claimed that a string of bank robberies in Arizona, which coincided with one of his lost weekends, were involved. When he'd had too much laudanum, Walt Disney was prone to claiming that Krall had made a deal with the devil. He claimed Satan had appeared to Krall in the form of a morbidly obese woman wearing a leopard print overalls and pink house slippers.

Regardless of the source of funding, it was sufficient to get Krall Kreations up and running. Within a few weeks, Krall had begun knocking out shorts and peddling them to the studios and distributors. It took just a few months before Krall got into trouble. His characters were both derivative, and, even for the time, deeply offensive. His most notorious was Mick the Drunken Irish Mouse, which prompted a lawsuit from Disney and an assassination attempt bankrolled by Joe Kennedy (see "The Many Murders of Old Joe Kennedy," Jules Bernstein, Oxnard University Press, 2003).

Krall's one success was Rudy the Undead Hound. The short was briefly packaged with a series of morality tale films including "Oh No! Marihuana!" and "Don't Put That In There" which were funded by an Episcopal church operating out of Santa Barbara. The church deacons were apparently under the impression that the shorts were about the dangers of Satanism. The deal briefly gave Krall enough capital to hire more animators, and a dozen Rudy shorts were finished between 1939 and 1941. Most prints are now sadly lost, although "Rudy, don't eat the kid!" was located on a Betamax tape in Muncie in 1991.

Bankrupted by the Disney lawsuit, Krall sold his characters one by one to buy money for Sterno. He disappeared in 1943, and recent research suggests he was one of the last victims of Hans Schernwink, the so-called "Sausage Monster" of Fresno. Likely Schernwink lured Krall with a bottle of cooking wine and then turned the animator into K Rations under his contract with the US Army.

Rudy the Undead Hound was the last character Krall sold. It passed through several hands, including a number of children's book publishers. No one managed to bring Rudy back to unlife, although Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) entertained his friends for years with the story of how he was once approached to create a Rudy book. He suggested it be called "The Hat Made of Kiddie Fat" and his publisher never brought it up again.

Finally in 1963, Rudy was resurrected, this time in comic book form. Competing with other funny animal books of the 1960s, he lived a shadow existence in the back pages of a number of titles, from Animal Funtime to Noah's Wacky Ark to Laugh 'Til it Hurts, all owned by Jollo Comics. Jollo's workaholic cartoonist Ed Franks wrote and drew most of Rudy's stories. In his new environment, Rudy very seldom ate children or invoked the powers of the unholy host, but his sidekicks, Lil Azathoth and Eyeless Ed were still part of Rudy's world. The backstory about Rudy being brought back from the dead by a friendly necromancer (Doc Koschei) was added during the comic book years, as was his propensity to howl "Ru-ru-ru-ru-rudy!"

Carl Barks famously despised Rudy, and would fly into unpredictable rages about "that fuckin' zombie dog" if it was mentioned in his presence. Franks, in turn, hated Barks, which led to their duel at The Oaks in New Orleans in 1969; Barks would later make the resulting scar on his arm "dance" as a party trick.

Rudy got his own title in 1972, (written by Anton LaVey, drawn by Jack Kirby) but it folded after four issues. The last and most famous of these, the so-called Black Issue, was rejected by the Comics Code Authority. The final report released by that body was heavily censored, but rumour suggested the issue had included detailed instructions on how to summon demons and make pacts with unholy forces, as well as a set of blueprints for a cheap electric car. The entire run was pulped, but at least three copies have surfaced over the years; all are believed to be owned by Donald Rumsfeld.

As a character, Rudy was scrapped, except for infrequent reprints in back pages.

During the 1980s cartoon boom, NBC needed a new property in a hurry to meet the burgeoning demand. Rudy was dusted off, slightly modified, and 66 episodes were made for the 1985 season. Principal animation was done by four separate Japanese studios, with the in-betweening done in North Korea by animators undergoing state-ordered Re-education Through Illustration. Rudy proved a surprise hit, and within months toys based on Rudy, Eyeless Ed and villain Grumblkin the Troll were flying off the shelves. There was a breakfast cereal (Rudyums) and a line of collectible cards. Some toys were so popular they caused problems when supplies ran short that Christmas; the RCMP had to break up a riot at a Winnipeg Eaton's when parents fought over the last Glowin' Red Eyes Rudy toy.

By the spring of 1985, Rudy was under attack. The Parents Television Council made Rudy the Undead Hound part of their weekly Hour of Hate, and listed it as the third most likely program to induce Satanism, after The Cosby Show and My Secret Identity. The PTC ignited a media storm with their claim that during episode 47, "The Graveyard of Hopes and Dreams," a nude sketch of Ladybird Johnson was briefly visible on the side of the tomb. NBC was forced to apologize and pull the episode from subsequent repeats; they blamed the North Korean animation staff. After the mass executions, the incident blew over, but Rudy was not renewed for a second season.

Rudy has not been forgotten by '80s animation fans, and the property was recently optioned by Michael Bay...

[So, if you're wondering what all this was about, go here. Read. Listen.]

Update: Want a Rudy T-Shirt? I'm doing a charity fundraiser, and this is your one and only chance to get one.

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