The Nearsighted Mister Magoo

June 24, 1998 - Mr. Magoo Producer, Henry Saperstein dies

Mister Magoo, a crotchety, nearsighted, lovable old coot, first appeared in the 1949 UPA short Ragtime Bear. Voiced by Jim Backus, Quincy Magoo was patterned after several real-life people. Backus called upon his observations of his father when doing the voice. Director John Hubley utilized his bullheaded uncle, Harry Woodruff, for his concept of Magoo. Another source of inspiration was the screen presence of comedian W. C. Fields. No one person can lay claim to the creation of Magoo, the character was the collaborative efforts of the UPA staff who worked on those first films. Mister Magoo was UPA's first popular success and went on to appear in numerous theatrical shorts, full-length movies, TV specials, TV commercials, and three TV series.

The Early Years at UPA

UPA made a name for itself in the late 1940's and early 1950's, due mainly to it's modern visual style, a radical departure from the classic style of Disney animation. The studio began life as Industrial Films and Poster Service, formed by Zachary Schwartz, David Hilberman, and Stephen Bosustow. They started out doing commercially sponsored films for clients such as the United Auto Workers union, the U. S. Navy, and the Army Signal Corps. As the studio grew, the name of the company was changed to United Productions of America, or UPA. In 1946 Schwartz and Hilberman decided to break off their partnership with Bosustow and sold him their interest in the company. Bosustow signed a contract with Columbia Pictures, and soon was producing shorts utilizing the Columbia owned Fox and the Crow characters.

John Hubley, who had been appointed supervising director by Bosustow, wanted to get away from producing funny animal cartoons, and proposed a story to Columbia utilizing a human character named Magoo. Columbia reluctantly agreed, but only because the story included an animal and was titled "Ragtime Bear".

Ragtime Bear

The story, written by Milliard Kaufman, concerned Magoo, a crotchety old man, who goes on vacation with his nephew Waldo. Waldo wore a raccoon coat and played a banjo. Magoo was nearsighted, and when Waldo got lost and a grizzly bear got ahold of his banjo, Magoo mistook the bear for his nephew, with hilarious results. The wonderful ad-libbing by Backus added to Magoo's charm, and the audience loved it. UPA went on to produce 52 theatrical Magoo shorts consisting of Magoo's attempts to get through life, while being virtually blind.

The Magoo shorts received 4 Academy Award nominations, twice winning the award for "Best Short Subjects" of the year. Pete Burness, who had started his animation career at the Van Bueren Studio in the 30's and briefly worked as an animator at Warner Brothers in the 40's, directed most of the shorts, including "When Magoo Flew" (1954) and "Magoo's Puddle Jumper" (1956), the two that won the Academy Awards.

Puddle Jumper

Burness was responsible for the softening of the character, making him more appealing to mass audiences. In 1958 Burness began work on UPA's first full-length feature, 1001 Arabian Nights, starring Mister Magoo.

Pete Burness, accepting the Academy Award
in 1956 for Magoo's Puddle Jumper

Burness was famous for his temper, so famous that fellow director, Ted Parmelee, patterned the lead character in 1952's "Pete Hot Head" after him. Things were not going good during the production of 1001 Arabian Nights, and Burness quarreled with Bosustow and left the studio. He was replaced as director on the film (released by Columbia in 1959) by Jack Kinney, a veteran of the Disney Studio.

Magoo on TV

UPA provided artists with many freedoms unheard of at other studios. Unfortunately, those freedoms came with financial problems for the studio. UPA's contract with Columbia called for a budget of approximately $27,000 per short, with UPA retaining 25% ownership in each film. But every film came in over budget and UPA was forced to sell back shares of it's ownership to Columbia in order to make up the difference. Many concessions had to be made in order to stay in business. Top talent at the studio became unhappy with Bosustow and his decisions, some of which were disastrous, and soon left. Other talented people left UPA during the motion picture blacklisting brought on by Senator Joe McCarthy's Communist witch hunt.

Faced with the loss of most of his creative staff, and Columbia's dissatisfaction with the box office response for 1001 Arabian Nights, Bosustow sold the studio to producer Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein discarded UPA's reputation for quality and actively entered the made-for-TV cartoon market. Saperstein produced 130 cheaply made Mr. Magoo cartoons which premiered in syndication on November 7, 1960. Magoo's character was softened for the TV shorts and he was joined by a supporting cast which included his nephew Waldo, from the theatrical shorts, and other relatives including Mother Magoo and an English nephew, Prezley. Eric "Shorty" Rogers provided the music.

Charley, the house boy and Waldo & Prezley

Wheeler & Dealer and Mother Magoo

Magoo in Prime Time

Mr. Magoo's first exposure on network TV also marked the first made-for-TV animated special. Commissioned and sponsored by Timex watches, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol appeared on NBC-TV on December 18, 1962. Based upon Charles Dickens' holiday classic, the special was a play within a play. Mr. Magoo was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge in a Broadway production with a musical score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.

Another animated star from UPA's heyday, Gerald McBoing Boing, was cast as Tiny Tim. The special received favorable reviews and ratings and became a yearly event on NBC through 1967. The success also led NBC to purchase a prime time Magoo series from UPA. The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo debuted on September 19, 1964, and presented Magoo in a variety of roles, portraying various literary and historical figures. 13 hour long episodes were produced, some being 2 half-hour stories in one program. One story, Robin Hood, was a full-length feature presented in two hour long programs. Jim Backus reprised the voice of Mr. Magoo, with additional voices supplied by Marvin Miller, Howard Morris, Julie Bennett, Shepard Menkin, and Paul Frees. The music was done by Charles Brandt. The series failed to garner the same type of ratings as the holiday special, and was cancelled after one season. 

Airwave Comics announced a full-color Mr. Magoo comic book at the end of 2002. Click on the following link to read the press release from Airwave Comics regarding this Mr. Magoo comic book.

The cartoons were later syndicated as animated specials under the umbrella title Mr. Magoo's Storybook. UPA tried again to bring Magoo to prime-time in 1970, when Maxwell House coffee sponsored the hour-long special, Uncle Sam Magoo, on NBC-TV. The special was well written and provided a lively musical score by award-winning composer Walter Scharf.

The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo

Magoo in the 70's

In 1977, UPA licensed DePatie-Freleng to produce 13 half-hour episodes of What's New, Mr. Magoo for Saturday mornings on CBS-TV. The 13 episodes consisted of two stories per show and paired the nearsighted Magoo with his nephew Waldo and a nearsighted talking dog, McBarker. The series premiered on September 10, 1977 and ran through September 9, 1979. Jim Backus again provided the voice of Magoo, with Frank Welker supplying the voice of McBarker and Hal Smith doing additional voices. Produced by David DePatie and Friz Freleng, the cartoons were directed by Sid Marcus, Bob McKimson and Spencer Peel. Doug Goodwin, Eric Rogers and Dean Elliott supplied the musical score.

Magoo in the 90's

UPA licensed Walt Disney Pictures to do a live-action movie based on Mr. Magoo, which was released in December, 1997. The film, starring Leslie Nielson in the lead role, generated a lot of controversy from The National Federation of the Blind. They issued a resolution attacking the Mister Magoo movie because of it's portrayal of blind people, even though Magoo was nearsighted, not blind.

Producer Henry Saperstein Dies


HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Henry G. Saperstein, the longtime owner of UPA Prods.
whose credits ranged from television's ``Mr. Magoo'' to Woody Allen's first
feature, died of cancer Wednesday, June 24, 1998 in Beverly Hills. He was 80.

A pioneer in the merchandising business, Saperstein also was an animation
producer and distributor and producer of several ''Godzilla'' films.

He worked with Col. Tom Parker as Elvis Presley's licensing agent, also
handling merchandising for ``Wyatt Earp,'' ``The Lone Ranger,'' ``Lassie''
and ``Roy Rogers'' during the 1950s.

He acquired the financially troubled UPA Pictures in 1960. Known for its
earlier work in theatrical shorts and advertising, the company under
Saperstein was successful in television, producing hundreds of ``Mr. Magoo,''
``Gerald McBoing Boing'' and ``Dick Tracy'' cartoons.

He produced ``The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo,'' the first prime-time
animated series, which aired on NBC in 1964, as well as TV specials such as
the classic ``Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol'' and ``Uncle Sam Magoo.''

His longtime association with Japan's Toho Films resulted in his executive
producing Woody Allen's first film, ``What's Up Tiger Lily?'' as well as ``War
of the Gargantuas'' and ``Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.''

For 25 years he handled U.S. licensing for the Godzilla character, and UPA
Prods. continues to distribute 12 of Toho's monster pics for TV and video.

His eclectic productions included Warner Bros.' 1963 animated feature ``Gay
Purr-ee,'' the Timothy Leary docu ``Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out'' and music
features ``The T.A.M.I. Show'' and ``The Big TNT Show.'' In 1968, he was exec
producer on John Boorman's ``Hell in the Pacific'' for ABC Films.

Saperstein kept the Mr. Magoo character alive as an advertising spokesman and
in a later TV series, ``What's New Mr. Magoo?,'' and also exec-produced
Disney's recent live-action ``Mr. Magoo'' starring Leslie Nielsen.

A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, he is survived by
his wife, Irene; daughters Nicole, Joan Nackerud, and Patricia, a senior
editor at Daily Variety; and son Richard of Eugene, Ore.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Hillside Memorial Park.


The following story was released on December 18, 1997:

'Mr. Magoo' Movie To Include Statement On Blind

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sensitive to complaints from the blind, the Walt Disney Co said Wednesday it will include a disclaimer at the end of its Christmas season movie "Mr. Magoo" about a bumbling short-sighted man.

A Disney spokeswoman said "a positive statement" would appear on the screen at the end of the film and before the credits roll.

"It's still in the process of writing and post production so I can't tell you exactly what it says," said spokeswoman Terry Curtin. "It's not really a disclaimer, more like a public service announcement."

The movie, starring Leslie Nielsen and Kelly Lynch, is based on the popular cartoon series which featured the voice of Jim Backus as the myopic, accident-prone Mr. Magoo.

The National Federation for the Blind had complained such a character was not a positive portrayal of blind or partially-sighted people and even called for Disney to scrap the project.

"They originally demanded we pull the movie, but then realized that was unrealistic," Curtin said of the protest.

"We have had many talks with them and are more sensitive to what their thoughts are," she said.

She said the statement would condemn discrimination against the blind and stress that people with sight handicaps could lead normal lives.

The proposed statement had not been shown to the group in advance of the film's opening, she said.

The controversy over the live action Mr. Magoo movie was also the topic of discussion on the July 10, 1997 edition of .gov with Chris Weinkopf on GRIT, Internet Broadcasting in RealAudio

Click HERE to hear the 8½ minute Mr. Magoo segment of the July 10, 1997 show,
which also mentions Toon Tracker's Mr. Magoo page!

'Me And Mr. Magoo' Parody Song From Bob Rivers

Click On Mr. Magoo Above To Hear it in RealAudio

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For More Parody Songs from Bob Rivers,
Visit The Twisted Tunes Jukebox.

Toon Tracker has the themes to Mr. Magoo and
The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo
available in RealAudio.
Click on the links below to hear them:

Mr. Magoo

UPA Productions 1960

Or Down-load to save as a local file

The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo

UPA Productions (NBC-TV) 1964

Or Down-load to save as a local file

A Guide to Drawing Mr. Magoo

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Updated October 25, 2007

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