STUDIO: UPA / Warner Bros.
PRODUCTION NUMBER: Unknown
PRODUCTION DATES: 1961 – 1962 (Judy recorded her vocals in November 1961)
PRODUCTION COST: unknown
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
RELEASE DATE: December, 1962
INITIAL BOX OFFICE: unknown
23 years after collaborating on The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland, Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg were brought together to work on another children’s musical fantasy, of sorts. This time, the project was an animated film from UPA (United Productions of America) titled Gay Purr-ee.
UPA had purchased the story from and screenplay from Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones and his wife Dorothy (who came up with the original concept). For the casting, Gene Kelly is reported to have wanted the role of Jaune Tom, but UPA went with Robert Goulet who had recently become a sensation on Broadway in “Camelot” and in guest appearances on TV. The producers had wanted Maurice Chevalier to provide the arrogating, but were unable to obtain his services, so Morey Amsterdam (of TV’s “The Dick Van-Dyke Show” fame) provided both the narration and the voice of the sleeping cat in the train station.
For their leading lady, UPA was able to obtain the services of Judy Garland. In 1961 Judy was enjoying a career renaissance. Her “Judy at Carnegie Hall” concert and album from the previous April had already become legend. She was hot – with movie and record album deals in the works,plus a few TV specials (including one in 1963 that would reunite her with Goulet).Judy and Goulet also made a memorable appearance on “The Jack Paar Show”, with Judy giving a now classic and hilarious interview with Paar, and she and Goulet sang several songs from the upcoming Gay Purr-ee. The songs were still so new to them, Paar jokingly held up cue cards for them to use while duetting on “Mewsette”. It was all in fun and helped create advance buzz for the upcoming film.
With Garland on board, UPA was able to obtain the services of Arlen and Harburg. The two created several new Garland standards including “Little Drops of Rain” which was intended to be a sort of adult “Over the Rainbow” and “Paris is a Lonely Town.” Judy’s arranger and conductor Mort Lindsey also came on board to help out, creating his usual genius arrangements. With the additional services of Red Buttons, Hermione Gingold and Paul Frees rounding out the voice cast, Gay Purr-ee was sure to be a big hit. It wasn’t.
When the film was released in 1962, it confused critics and audiences. The score, although it received kudos, was thought to be above the heads of children. The animation was very stylish and modernistic (much like UPA’s “Mr. Magoo” series), which went against audience’s expectations that animated feature films look like the more traditional Disney films. The film was tough for reviewers and critics to categorize. Many thought it was too adult for children, while still too juvenile for adults. The film wasn’t the big success it should have been.
Likewise, the Warner Bros. Records album (WB had secured the distribution rights to the film), although heavily promoted to capitalize on Judy’s red hot status, also failed to do well and went out of print until it was finally re-released on CD in 2003 by Rhino Handmade.
Today, the film is a sort of cult classic. Thanks to TV and home video, animation fans can appreciate the film for the stylized animation, some if it ahead of its time, while Garland fans can appreciate the film for her vocals and the Arlen/Harburg songs – and the fact that she and the rest of the cast were willing to take on a project like this. Back in 1961 it wasn’t the “in” thing for celebrities to lend their voices to animated movies like it is today. It was a bit daring for such big names to voice a “cartoon”, and a testament to Judy’s foresight and love of a good project that she agreed to become involved, giving us some of her best songs. In addition to the $50,000 she received for her work, she was also given 10% of the gross profits, another unusual move for the time that is now standard for most stars when negotiating film contracts.
In later years Judy would sometimes state that “Little Drops of Rain” was her personal favorite song. She certainly loved it, making it a minor Christmas classic when she performed it in 1963 on the Christmas episode of her TV series.
Judy Garland – voice of Mewsette
Robert Goulet – voice of Jaune Tom
Red Buttons – voice of Robespierre
Paul Frees – voice of Meowrice
Hermione Gingold – voice of Mme.
With: Morey Amsterdam – Narrator and voice of Sleeping Cat at train station; Mel Blanc – voice of Bulldog; Joan Gardner; Julie Bennett; June Foray; The Mellomen (vocals)
Executive Producer: Henry G. Saperstein
Associate Producer: Lee Orgel
Production Manager: Earl Jonas
Directed by: Abe Levitow
Written by: Dorothy & Chuck Jones
Additional Dialogue: Ralph Wright
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E. Y. Harburg
Music Arranged and Conducted by: Mort Lindsey
Vocal Arranger: Joseph J. Lilley
Production Design: Robert Singer, Richard Ung, “Corny” Cole, Ray Aragon, Edward Levitt, Ernest Nordli
Art Director: Victor Harboush
Animation: Ben Washam, Phil Duncan, Hal Ambro, Ray Patterson, Grant Simmons, Irv Spence, Don Lusk, Hank Smith, Harvey Toombs, Volus Jones, Ken Harris, Art Davis, Fred Madison
Sequence Director: Steve Clark
Music Editors: George Probert, Wayne Hughes
Camera: Roy Hutchcroft, Dan Miller, Jack Stevens, Duane Keegan
Filmed in Technicolor
Editorial Supervision: Ted Baker
Editors: Sam Horta, Earl Bennett
Gay Purr-ee Overture
(“Take My Hand, Paree” (Judy Garland) / “Mewsette” (Chorus) / “Little Drops of Rain” (Judy Garland) / “Paris Is a Lonely Town” (Judy Garland) / “Roses Red, Violets Blue (Judy Garland and Chorus)
Take My Hand, Paree
Roses Red, Violets Blue
The Money Cat
(Paul Frees and The Mellow Men)
The Horse Won’t Talk
(Robert Goulet, Red Buttons and The Mellow Men)
Little Drops of Rain
Paris Is a Lonely Town
The Mewsette Finale
(Robert Goulet, Judy Garland and Chorus)