Obituary: Henry G. Saperstein

THE PRODUCER and distributor Henry G. Saperstein helped bring the classic science-fiction thriller Godzilla to English-speaking audiences over 40 years ago when he formed an alliance with the Toho Company of Japan, and he served as consultant on the remake issued this year. A high- powered executive in the world of film and television, Saperstein owned or presided over several production companies from the mid-Fifties on. As the owner of UPA Productions, he was the producer and distributor of such animated television shows as Mister Magoo, Dick Tracy and Gerald McBoing Boing, plus the cartoon feature Gay Purr-ee. He was also the executive producer on both the Woody Allen comedy What's Up, Tiger Lily and John Boorman's powerful anti-war film Hell in the Pacific.

Born in Chicago in 1918, Saperstein was educated at the University of Chicago, and in 1943 bought the first of several theatres he was to own in that city. He moved to Hollywood in 1955 as the president of Television Personalities Inc and the following year began a profitable association with Toho Films when he successfully marketed in the United States an artfully adapted version of a monster movie they had produced. Gojira (1954), directed by Inoshiro Honda, had been Japan's answer to the previous year's American hit The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms, and its tale of a prehistoric reptile awakened by an underwater nuclear explosion and wreaking havoc with its radioactive breath and monstrous proportions had been a huge success. The American version, vigorously publicised, had linking footage directed by Terry Morze featuring the actor Raymond Burr, was re-titled Godzilla and scored a great hit, spawning several sequels as well as the current remake.

Saperstein followed the same formula on further Japanese monster films including Honda's Kaiju dai Sonso (1965), given new footage starring Nick Adams and released as Monster Zero, and Honda's Furankenshutain no Kaiju- Sanda tai Gailah (1966), released as War of the Gargantuans with new material featuring Russ Tamblyn as a monster expert.

A different approach was taken with Senkichi Taniguchi's Kagi No Kag (1964), a Japanese imitation of a James Bond movie, which Saperstein turned over to Woody Allen, allowing the comic to have a cinematic field day (as Allen puts it in the film's foreword). By editing and redubbing, Allen converted the film into a Bond parody, with the hero tracking down Shepherd Wong, the villain, who is after a vital egg salad recipe ("He who makes the best egg salad can control the world"). Entitled What's Up, Tiger Lily (1966), and with songs by the Lovin' Spoonful to bolster its sagging moments, the modest production (it cost Saperstein around $66,000), made a big profit.

In 1968 Saperstein was executive producer on the two-character war film Hell in the Pacific, shot on islands in Micronesia and starring Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin as opposing soldiers in the Second World War who form an alliance when separated from their units on a Pacific atoll.

Saperstein entered television as a producer of sports shows, including All-Star Golf (1958-62) and Championship Bowling (1958-60), and bought the prestigious animation studio UPA (United Productions of America) in order to produce cartoons for television. UPA had been formed in 1943 by a group of young animators who had broken with Walt Disney during a 1941 cartoonists' strike. Initially producing industrial and government shorts, UPA pioneered a lean, modern graphic style with flat stylised characters totally unlike Disney's.

Their first theatrical cartoon, Robin Hoodlum (1948) was Oscar-nominated, and the following year they created their first original character for the screen, the near-sighted Mister Magoo (given voice by the actor Jim Backus) in Ragtime Bear. A popular success with critics and public, it was followed by an even greater hit, Gerald McBoing Boing (1951), which had Time magazine hailing the film's fresh style: "Everything about the film is simple but highly stylised: bold line drawings, understated motion, striking colour and airy design in the spirit of modern poster art."

With their flat style - the sense of depth coming from perspective - and sophisticated scripts which often appealed more to adults than to children, the UPA cartoons revolutionised the industry and were the start of a lineage that flowers today in The Simpsons. Just as the latter show frequently takes its inspiration from the movies, Gerald McBoing Boing included a staircase scene directly inspired by a sequence in Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol.

With UPA's success, though, came inner conflicts and by the end of the Fifties only one founding member, Stephen Bosustow, remained. According to the historian Leonard Maltin, when Bosustow sold the studio to Saperstein in 1959, UPA "discarded its reputation for quality in one fell swoop". A little unfair, perhaps, considering the speed with which shows for televison had to be made - Saperstein produced 130 Magoo cartoons between 1960 and 1962 plus the same number of Dick Tracy episodes at the same time, and children loved them. The studio also maintained its flair for innovation, evident in such original series as The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo, in which the character starred in serious adaptations of classic stories from Don Quixote to Moby Dick. Abe Levitow, who directed that series, also made the studio's feature-length cartoon Gay Purr-ee (1962), which, despite the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulot and Hermione Gingold, and songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, failed to satisfy adults or children. "There seems to be an effort," said Newsweek, "to reach a hitherto undiscovered audience - the fey four-year-old of recherche taste".

Last year Saperstein served as executive producer of a live action Disney film, Mister Magoo, but the film for which he will be best remembered is the animated television feature Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, which has become a perennial family favourite in American homes.

Tom Vallance

Henry G. Saperstein, film producer and distributor: born Chicago 2 June 1918; married (four children); died Beverly Hills, California 24 June 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine