David DePatie, producer behind the Pink Panther, dies at 91

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David DePatie, producer behind the Pink Panther, dies at 91
He and the animator Friz Freleng created the cool feline character he called “the James Bond of the animation world.” The character’s first cartoon won an Oscar.

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK, NY.- David DePatie and Friz Freleng, the celebrated former Warner Bros. cartoon director, had just opened their animation studio in 1963 when filmmaker Blake Edwards hired them to design an animated character for a comedy starring Peter Sellers in his first foray as bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

The character Edwards wanted was a pink panther.

“We took all these drawings over to Blake’s house and laid them all on the floor and he walked around and said, ‘That’s the one I want,’ and the character was born right there,” DePatie told the Kitsap Sun, a newspaper in Bremerton, Washington, in 2010.

Edwards did not know exactly how he wanted to deploy the pink panther until after he finished the film when he cast it as the star of the opening credits. The nearly 4-minute title sequence for “The Pink Panther” (1964) created by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, in which the cool feline interacts comically with the names in the credits over music by Henry Mancini, became a hit with audiences.

DePatie quickly saw the potential to extend the character’s life and negotiated a deal to create dozens of “Pink Panther” cartoon shorts. They were shown in theaters into the late 1970s — more were later made for television — and helped define the company’s work, which included cartoons, opening sequences for television shows, titles for other feature films and commercials.

“The Pink Panther is the James Bond of the animation world,” he told The Valley News of Van Nuys, California, in 1965. “The series is designed for the adult intellect.”

Their first cartoon, “The Pink Phink” (1964), the story of a painter continuously thwarted from painting a house blue by the mischievous panther with his pink paint, won the Oscar for best animated short subject.

DePatie, who ran the business side of DePatie-Freleng, died Sept. 23 in a hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington. He was 91.

His son David DePatie Jr. confirmed the death.

David Hudson DePatie was born Dec. 24, 1929, in Los Angeles. His father, Edmond, was a top executive of Warner Bros. who received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1966. His mother, Dorothy (Hudson) DePatie, was a homemaker.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied English literature and creative writing, David DePatie started his Hollywood career as a sound and film editor at Warner Bros. He worked on several films for the studio, including “Them!” (1954) and “Jump Into Hell” (1955), but left to be a film editor on the Mike Todd production “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), which won the Oscar for best picture.

He soon returned to Warner Bros. to run the studio’s commercial and industrial film division; in 1960, he took control of its cartoon division, home to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies and to animators like Freleng and Chuck Jones. But Warner shut down cartoon production in 1963. Turning down an offer to become an executive producer in Warner’s television division, DePatie started his studio with Freleng.

The studio quickly plunged into various animation projects in addition to the “Pink Panther” job. It produced the title sequences for films like “Sex and the Single Girl” (1964), “How to Murder Your Wife” (1965) and “A Shot in the Dark,” the first “Pink Panther” sequel, which was released in 1965.

It also created the opening sequences for several television series, including “The Wild Wild West” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” in which a Gemini-like capsule lands on a beach, the astronaut inside opens the hatch, and the hatch knocks over a bottle from which a female genie appears.

The studio produced commercials, including the Charlie the Tuna campaign for StarKist, which had originally been handled by Warner Bros. It did work for Esso (now ExxonMobil), Kool-Aid and Burger Chef as well.

But it was best known for theatrical cartoons. DePatie-Freleng produced other series in addition to the “Pink Panther” shorts, including “The Inspector,” based on the Clouseau character, as well as “The Ant and the Aardvark,” “Tijuana Toads” and “Hoot Kloot.”

As the market for theatrical cartoons dried up, DePatie and Freleng focused on television.

They made more cartoons starring the Pink Panther, as well as Warner Bros. characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and Marvel Comics characters like the Fantastic Four. The studio also made “Here Comes the Grump,” a series about an ill-tempered wizard, voiced by Rip Taylor.

At the time, DePatie-Freleng’s main rivals in television were Hanna-Barbera and Filmation.

“Friz and David were near the top because they had done theatrical cartoons for so long,” said Mark Arnold, author of “Think Pink! The Story of DePatie-Freleng” (2016). “They tried to put a slightly higher quality to their cartoons.”

In addition, they produced several episodes of the “ABC Afterschool Specials” series. One of them, “My Mom’s Having a Baby,” which mixed live action with animation, earned DePatie and Freleng a Daytime Emmy. They also won Emmys for outstanding animation for their collaborations with Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) on two shorts: “Halloween Is Grinch Night” (1977) and “The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat” (1982).

After DePatie and Freleng ended their partnership in 1980, DePatie joined Marvel Productions as its founding president. He worked with Stan Lee, the writer and editor synonymous with Marvel’s comic book heroes, on animated series and films until retiring in 1984. He and Freleng reunited briefly that year to bring the TV series “Pink Panther and Sons” to Hanna-Barbera. Freleng died in 1995.

In addition to his son David Jr., DePatie is survived by his wife, Marcia (MacPherson) DePatie, and two other sons, Steve and Mike. His marriages to Ann Stevens and Beverly McKay ended in divorce.

DePatie recalled that after making the deal with United Artists and the Mirisch Co. to make the cartoon shorts that included the Pink Panther series, he demanded 25% of the copyright to the cartoons, which would prove critical to his company’s success. DePatie approached Harold Mirisch, one of the three brothers who owned the Mirisch Co.

“He jumped up and down and screamed and said, ‘Get out of here,’” DePatie said in 2010.

But a week later, Mirisch relented. The Pink Panther factory was open for business.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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