Frank Tashlin: The Scribe Who Escaped From Toontown

Writer came from animation to pen classic Hollywood comedies

Bob Hope The Pale Face

In the past few years, thanks primarily to the extraordinary string of creative and commercial successes rolling out of the Pixar Studios, animated films and writing honors haven’t been mutually exclusive terms. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” garnered a best picture nomination back in 1991, leading to new respectability for the animation world’s contributions and the eventual addition of an animated feature category at the Oscars.

Over the last several years there have been Oscar nominations for the writing of animated features including “Wall-E,” “The Incredibles,” “Up,” “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 3.”

Decades before this hard-won respect became a semi-regular aspect of awards season, there was a writer named Frank Tashlin who made the move from the then-relatively disreputable field of animated shorts into the big leagues of feature film writing. A prolific director and scenario/gags master for Warner Bros. cartoons, Disney, Hal Roach, Ub Iwerks, the Marx Bros. and more, Tashlin became one of film comedy’s most distinctive writing and directing voices in the late 1940s and ’50s. Tashlin penned the zeitgeist comedy “The Girl Can’t Help It” and also wrote and directed legendary funnyman Bob Hope to one of his biggest hits, “The Paleface” in 1948.

Tashlin never got the Oscar love, but he did score a pair of Writers Guild nominations, one for “The Paleface” and another for “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and paved the way for critical appreciation of the writers toiling fruitfully in the comedy and animation fields.