Lou Scheimer And The Last Of The Red-Hot All-American Animation Studios

Few animation studios are as unloved and unwritten about as Filmation. Ignoring the various encyclopedias that catalog (often incorrectly) animated series from multiple studios, the only books dedicating any real space to Filmation are Allan Asherman’s Star Trek Compendium and Animation By Filmation, by Michael Swanigan and Darrell McNeil. The former book, which, despite being a wonderful resource for the original Star Trek, and to some extent even the first six movies, is a source of poor and incorrect information about Filmation’s Star Trek, and this was never rectified even as Asherman updated much of the book throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s. (Even more telling is that Asherman didn’t include any information on the Filmation series in the first edition of the Compendium, which covers Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) The latter book was published in 1993 and written by two of Filmation’s more distinguished ex-staffers, but is now long out-of-print, even with the revival in interest in Filmation.

Now, after an extensive delay, Filmation co-founder, producer, and voice actor Lou Scheimer has published an extensive autobiography, which spends much of its focus on the history of Filmation. Every single project the studio undertook, including many that never came to fruition, is discussed, often in exacting detail, and with extensive notes on the cast and key crew members. A lot of the discussion, especially with Filmation’s live action casts, deal with what can best be labelled as gossip, with the very not fit for broadcast story of a visit to the emergency room that Forrest Tucker made after a groin injury on the set of Ghost Busters being by far and away the wildest story in the entire tome.

While most of the book is in black and white (though the pdf edition that the publisher, TwoMorrows, offers through their website appears to be in full color), the book is littered with screenshots, promotional artwork, storyboards, and presentation art. This, in conjunction with the magazine-size format, means that having the book in full color would have been highly impractical-and costly. What is interesting, however, is that some of the images in the book clearly come from screenshots of Filmation productions that are believed lost due to the mismanagement of L’Oreal and Hallmark. In particular, there are screen shots from Uncle Croc’s Block and Web Woman. Furthermore, Lou never discounts the existence of either program (both of which are considered lost in fan circles), or that of the live action segments of The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty or the other unreleased segments of The Super 7Manta and Moray and Superstretch and Microwoman. The legal challenges behind these shows are also fully laid out, and to be honest, there’s not any reason why any of them could not see a DVD release, though Waldo Kitty‘s full release is more dependent on the cooperation of the Thurber estate than the Super 7 remnants are on DC (as Marvel never challenged Filmation on these elements).

Also interesting is that the book validates my little shit fit about the history of He-Man‘s airdates. The UK premiere of the show is treated as strictly unofficial (as well it should be), with the premiere being pegged at September 26th, 1983. Additionally, Scheimer calls Season 2 “a split season”, which sounds eerily like Christy Marx’s comments on Jem‘s many broadcast seasons versus the one production season. She-Ra‘s “second season” is similarly officially declared as really being a second and a third season, supporting the airdates I have for that series.

This brings up the big problem I have with the book, and it’s not even in the book! On the second page, with the publishing information is a url for a list of Filmation shows and airdates. The problem is, the address still does not work. With the body of the book (primarily in the ’80s) disputing the word of “respected” fandom, not having promised access to Lou Scheimer’s own records drives me wild. I keep hoping that it gets put up, but to no avail.

Ultimately, though, the best part of the book is the end, from the closure of Filmation to the many failed projects of Lou Scheimer Productions, and the renewed attention of the DVDs that I generally loathe with a passion. Without laying the whole book bare, the closure of Filmation and the struggles of the ’90s are sadly predictable given the secondary details laid out in earlier chapters. Lou treats the recent attention as miraculous, but the hard times after L’Oreal’s purchase of Filmation, coupled with the death of his wife, Jay, has really tempered his optimism. And, given that the industry didn’t so much pass him by as much as shove him aside at a moment of weakness because of bruised egos, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Lou.

For the many people who harbor an irrational distaste for Filmation’s output, Creating the Filmation Generation is not going to win them over. But for those with an open mind, and especially for the dedicated fans, the book is an essential tome, both on one of the great animation studios of the past century and the man who fought so hard to preserve animation in America.