Al Brodax

Active - 1968  |   Genres - Fantasy

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Al Brodax specialized in animated entertainment during his three decades in the entertainment business as a producer, mostly making cartoons for the small-screen -- the best known of these, at least to viewers born after 1952, were the early 1960s incarnations of Popeye, Snuffy Smith and Barney Google, Krazy Kat, and Beetle Bailey. But Brodax was also one of the businessmen who recognized a good thing when he saw (and heard) the Beatles in 1964 -- and in doing so, he ended up earning his sole big-screen credit as a producer, for the animated feature Yellow Submarine (1968). Brodax was born in New York City in 1926. He served in the army during World War II and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he went to work for the William Morris Agency, where he became involved with television production on series such as Omnibus. Brodax joined King Features Syndicate in 1960 as head of their film and television development division, utilizing the company's array of print cartoons from the newspapers in cartoons intended for the small-screen.

His first project was Popeye, which -- as a cartoon character -- had previously been in the hands of Max Fleischer and Paramount Pictures for a combined total of 25 years. In the economic and entertainment world of 1960, the was no chance that Brodax could match the quality of the cartoons that Fleischer or his successor, Seymour Kneitel, had delivered to theaters in previous decades. Rather, he aimed for quantity and variety where quality was impossible to achieve. Brodax released 200 cartoon shorts (made at five different studios) over the next three years. These Popeye cartoons were distinctly different from the previous on-screen incarnations of the spinach-eating sailor, reaching back to elements of the comic strip that had been dropped by Fleischer and his successors. And while they weren't groundbreaking in technical terms -- the animation was severely limited, and the pacing, especially when compared to the 1930s and 1940s Popeyes, was downright leaden -- they proved popular enough with younger viewers to justify more efforts with other King Features characters. During the years 1962-64, Brodax produced further series devoted to Snuffy Smith and Barney Google, Beetle Bailey, and Krazy Kat -- these were paced far better and showed some genuine satirical flashes that made them much better received than the Popeyes. And the Krazy Kat cartoons, in particular, have an enduring appeal due to their stylized look and bizarre, grating characterizations, akin in some ways to the work of Jay Ward (Crusader Rabbit, Hoppity Hooper, Rocky & Bullwinkle etc.).

In 1964, Brodax signed what proved to be the most important contract of his career, this time on behalf of King Features with Beatles manager Brian Epstein, to produce a series of cartoons built around the Liverpool rock quartet. At the time, no one had ever created a cartoon show built around a rock & roll performer -- Elvis Presley had merchandising rights out on various paraphernalia and souvenirs, but this was a wholly new notion in television programming. The resulting cartoon shorts were built around the images and music of the band and its members, which included the rights to use their songs in the narrative. Though the characterizations and voicings -- apart from that of Ringo -- were sometimes very strange, these were immensely popular on American television. They aired on Saturday mornings and were in production until 1966, and appeared in reruns right into the early 1970s. And silly as the plots were, they've since become favorites in the collector's market in unauthorized VHS and DVD editions.

Brodax was busy with these and other projects -- including the animated series Cool McCool, and a failed live-action vehicle, a half-hour Marty Allen/Steve Rossi program called Hello Dere -- over the next few years. In late 1966, however, he began developing an idea for a full-length feature film for the Beatles. This notion especially appealed to Brian Epstein, who -- in the wake of the group's decision to cease doing concerts -- was casting about for projects in which the group could participate in some respect; and Epstein was also eager to fulfill part of the group's four-movie commitment (signed in 1964) to United Artists. The resulting film, Yellow Submarine -- the script for which underwent extensive writing and revision -- was one of the last projects that Epstein approved before his death in the summer of 1967. And while the movie was never marketed as effectively as hindsight says it should have been, Yellow Submarine was popular with younger audiences upon its release. Additionally, the movie had a long life in midnight shows on college campuses, right into the 1980s (where, as an artifact of the psychedelic era, it was often paired with the Beatles' own, failed effort in that direction, The Magical Mystery Tour, or with the 1930s drug hysteria classic Reefer Madness). Those showings, plus a lot of television exposure -- particularly on holidays with a lot of kids at home -- extended the reach of the group's music to wider audiences and venues over the next several decades than it might otherwise have reached. And at the time, as a late 1968 release, the movie also extended the glow of the summer-of-love and the group's psychedelic era into 1969, long past the point where they were making that kind of music (or much music together).

By the time Yellow Submarine was reaching theaters, however, Brodax was busy as executive producer of the television series Blondie (based on another King Features property), starring Will Hutchins, Patricia Harty, and Jim Backus. He was involved with the series Make A Wish, Between Time And Timbuktu, and Animals, Animals, Animals during the 1970s, and Brodax's last credit as a producer was for Sunshine Porcupine (1980), starring the voices of June Foray and Chuck McCann. He officially retired in 2004, and apart from the Krazy Kat cartoons, much of his legacy has been forgotten -- but in 2012, there was yet another upgraded DVD reissue of Yellow Submarine released.