When Chuck Jones returned to directing cartoons at Warner Brothers in the mid-1990’s he brought along his friend and collaborator, Steve Smith. Steve took on the role of Talent Development Coordinator. He would scout animation programs for promising artists, give classes, and consult with Chuck about the projects. I met Steve a little while ago to talk about him Chuck.
They became colleagues when Steve invited Chuck to speak at his school. The school was the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, where Steve was the dean from 1985 to 1995. Chuck would regularly visit the school and give talks to the students. He would screen his films for them and he always insisted on showing them on film, not video. He would give students drawings of his characters.
You can see some wonderful photos of Chuck surrounded by clown students in full makeup HERE and HERE.
Steve’s professional name is TJ Tatters.
It takes more than just big shoes to fill the, er, big shoes of being Dean of the Clown College. Steve has led a distinguished career in entertainment. From Wikipedia
Steve Smith began his career in clowning as a graduate of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, Class of 1971. He then toured with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for six seasons before leaving the show and moving to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended the Goodman School of Drama and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting from the institution, now usually known as The Theater School at DePaul University. At that time, he also hosted a children’s television series called Kidding Around for the local NBC affiliate, WMAQ. The program won several Emmy Awards and was a favorite among viewers for seven seasons.
Smith was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1993. He is also the recipient of several other honors including the Medal of Merit for Notable Achievement in Performing Arts from Ohio University, the Excellence in the Arts award from De Paul University, and the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art Circus Celebrity, Power Behind the Scenes.
Steve is still building the clown community as the Creative Director of the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco. There he also teaches a course called Human Cartoon Class.
The clowns fondly remembered Chuck’s visits. In September of 2011, they held an event to kick off the “Chuck-Centennial” a celebration of Jones’ life and work. Adam Gertsacov remembers that event in a blog post HERE. The Chuck Jones blog mentions that Chuck’s granddaughter, Valerie Kausen, attended the ceremony. It truly was a strong relationship.
Clearly, Chuck Jones appreciated clowns, and for that, I love him even more. He understood that cartoon characters are just clowns in different costumes. This was the inspiration behind Comedy for Animators. In 1989 I gave a talk called Comedy, Clowns, and Cartoons at a conference at UCLA. I met Chuck at that same event, but he did not attend my talk. I very much wish he had.