Friday, September 8, 2017

Interview with Jymn Magon, Writer/Producer for Disney's DuckTales, Gummi Bears & More


(This interview was originally published March 27, 2015 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Jymn Magon. You might not recognize the name, but he helped bring some of the most beloved Disney animated series to television in the mid '80s through the mid '90s. This includes Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop and more. Depending on the series, he has been a creator, developer, story editor, writer, producer and more. He brought Disney's very first major serialized animated television series to the small screen and helped set the tone for Disney television animation for decades to come. Find out a little about him, Gummi Bears, DuckTales and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Jymn Magon...

Q: When and why did you know you wanted to be a professional writer? When and how did you get your own start in that industry?
Jymn: My original dream was to be an actor, but it seemed that every theater major I knew wound up teaching high school drama - and that's not what I wanted. So in college I chose the next best thing - an English major. (Yeah, like their prospects are any better!) That kept me around literature and writing, so I guess that was the seed. However, what really catapulted me into entertainment (besides amateur theater work and making 8mm films in high school) was writing and producing a series of "Old Time Radio" spoofs for my college radio station. That experience of creating stories with dialogue, music and sound effects is what got me my job at Walt Disney Music Company where I produced story records for eight years. The Disney record company gig started in 1976 (the Bi-centennial!). When Michael Eisner took over the Disney Company in 1984, I moved over to the new Television Animation Division.

Q: What attracted you to animation in particular?
Jymn: Well, I was a toon geek since I was a kid, watching Ruff and Reddy, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Popeye re-runs. I continued that geekiness into college, still watching Saturday morning cartoons in my dorm. So the love was always there, but a desire to work in the animation industry wasn't. I mean who says as a kid, "I want to be an animation writer!"? No one. Everyone wants to be a cartoon artist - not a writer. Yet I wound up working on my first television series with none other than Rocky (June Foray) and Bullwinkle (Bill Scott). "Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!"

Q: How did you get hired by Disney? Seems like that would be the dream job for any animation writer.
Jymn: I started with Walt Disney Music Company, spending eight years there. Then I moved over to TV Animation, spending another nine years. I guess the amazing thing is that I didn't follow any set career path for either job. I had never produced a record before 1976, and I had never worked in television before 1984. No audio classes, no screenwriting classes, nuthin'.

Yes, it was a dream job. However, I wasn't an animation writer when I started in TV. I actually began as a show developer, working on both The Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles. When we sold Gummies to NBC, the head of their children's programming said, "OK, so who's going to be your Story Editor?" (That's like a head writer.) My boss Gary Krisel pointed to me and said, "We thought Jymn would do that." So my first journey into animation was as a story editor. That meant I was creating story lines (with producer/director Art Vitello), hiring writers, giving guidance and notes, and then cleaning up the scripts (sometimes re-writing heavily). However, I never actually wrote a Gummi Bears script with my name as sole writer. It wasn't until DuckTales that I wrote my first official animation script ("The Status Seekers").

Q: You are listed as co-creator of Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears. What can you tell us about your role in bringing those little gummy candies to life in a Disney way? Of all of the possible subjects, why were Gummi Bears chosen?
Jymn: I've told this story numerous times, and I still can't believe it happened this way. When Michael Eisner took over the company, he asked to meet with a bunch of "creative types" to talk about his new TV animation department. Gary Krisel (as president of the Music Co.) was known as a young hotshot at the Studio. (He and I had kinda overhauled the sagging department with lots of innovative music albums - like Mickey Mouse Disco, Goin' Quackers, etc.) So Gary was invited to Eisner's house and he brought me along. A bunch of us (six or eight, I think) met at Eisner's Beverly Hills home on a Sunday morning (because it was his only free time, having just taken over the studio). Michael told us about his desire to start a new division, and we all kicked around some ideas. Eisner mentioned that his kids had eaten this great new candy at summer camp - gummi bears. Then he turned to me - a total unknown - and said, "Make me a show about that."

Q: How long did Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears take to develop? What did you use as inspiration? What obstacles did you face?
Jymn: Well, afterward we all thought Eisner was crazy. Who the heck makes a show about characters that get eaten? So it sat fallow for a couple weeks until I got a phone call: "Where's my show?" It was Eisner. I quickly started typing up some ideas about a candy-centric world. (The villain was Licorice Whip, and his sidekick was Scummi Gummi. Yes, it's sadly true.) Fortunately, that slowly gave way to sanity, and we started thinking of the classic Disney movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. These were set in a European, medieval, fantasy world. That seemed like a safe route to go (because we had never made a TV show before) and so castles and knights crept into the development. I'm guessing it took a few months to get the show developed and sold. Then we jumped straight into production, putting the show on the air in the Fall of 1985. Other than those Disney classics, I used my love of Tolkien's work as inspiration. Art Vitello introduced me to Hayao Miyazaki and Vicente Segrelles - and you can see that influence in a couple of episodes.

You must remember, we were a brand new division, so there was NOTHING in place. We had to build the structure and the work force for the department from scratch. So finding a strong team was the biggest obstacle. Art did a fantastic job pulling together that first core group of artists (Thom Enriquez, Hank Tucker, Rob Laduca, Ed Wexler, Gary Eggleston, etc.). I think they really set the tone of what a "Disney TV Animation" show looks like.

Q: Then what was your ongoing role with that show? Was there any added pressure creating what would become Disney's first major animated television series?
Jymn: I was co-creator and story editor. Art and I were the key players. We did everything from create stories to hiring and directing the voice talent. I was hiring writers, dealing with NBC notes, and teaching myself how to put together 11 and 22 minute episodes. I stopped working on Gummi Bears after the second season.

I don't remember there being an edict from On High stating, "You'd better not screw up!" But we all knew we were stepping into an arena that was dominated by studios like Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, and such. As it turned out, we ended up raising the bar for what Saturday Morning shows looked like.

Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears premiered in September of 1985 and went on to run for 65 episodes. It ran for four seasons on NBC Saturday Mornings and then moved to a syndicated 2-hour block of cartoons called "The Disney Afternoon" for two more years. Here is the opening theme for Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears...



Q: What were your feelings about the show that you created back then and have those changed at all over the years?
Jymn: I hold it very near and dear. At the time, I thought I was never going to work on anything that good again, so it was really special to me. The theme song still chokes me up a bit when I hear it. I'm very proud of that show. It set the tone for everything that was to come.

Q: Then you went on to develop DuckTales which debuted in 1987. What can you share with us about the process of creating this series?
Jymn: My involvement with the development was minimal, because I was working on Gummies at the time. Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron were hired to develop and story edit that series, so the bulk of that show was on their shoulders.

Q: Do you know why Scrooge McDuck and Donald's nephews were chosen to build a series around?
Jymn: Carl Barks, as most everyone knows, created practically everything that became DuckTales. He was a comic book writer/artist who created Scrooge McDuck, the Junior Woodchucks, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell, Gladstone Gander, and others. He was the genius behind the whole Duckburg experience. (Sadly, Mr. Barks was never given on-screen credit for his vast creation.) So it was very handy to start a series that had a library of 500 duck stories already created. Of course Donald was in most of those tales - but the Studio wasn't ready to put one of their superstars into a TV series yet. So Donald disappeared from DuckTales, and new characters like Launchpad McQuack, Webigail and Mrs. Beakley were added.

Q: Tell us a little more about your responsibilities over the course of the series?
Jymn: I was brought onto DuckTales after I left Gummi Bears, so the series was already up and running when I arrived. My role was quite specific. Buena Vista Television wanted a "pilot movie" to kick off the series premiere. So even though I was a late-comer to the show, I was given the task of "introducing" the audience to our characters. The five-part series that I spear-headed was called "The Treasure of the Golden Suns," and it was written separate from the regular series production. The mini-series set up: a) How Donald left to join the Navy, b) How nasty old skinflint Scrooge got stuck with Huey, Dewey and Louie, and c) How the nephews and Launchpad became ongoing members of Scrooge's adventure entourage. I was involved with about seven mainstream episodes after that, but was again assigned another five-parter (Bubba Duck in "Time is Money") and a 4-parter ("Catch as Cash Can" sometimes referred to as "The Firefly Fruit Contest.") Looking back, I wrote on about 10% of the DuckTales scripts and story edited almost a quarter of the series.

DuckTales premiered in September of 1987 and ran for four seasons and 100 episodes through November of 1990. It was the first Disney cartoon produced specifically for syndication. Many kids who grew up in the late '80s hold DuckTales close to their hearts considering it one of their favorite cartoons of the time. It received Outstanding Animated Daytime Emmy nominations in 1988 and 1989. Here is the opening theme for Disney's DuckTales...


Q: After the success of Gummi Bears, was there any more or any less pressure working on DuckTales?
Jymn: Gummi Bears was a #1 show, so we wanted DuckTales to do just as well... and it did. The same was true for Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck... we wanted to keep topping ourselves. But, by far, DuckTales was the most popular and successful series. Buena Vista Television even ordered extra episodes, so it topped out at 100 shows.

Q: Did you have any feeling at the beginning that this show would become such a hit and go on to last 100 episodes like it did?
Jymn: I don't think any of us thought in those terms. Like with all shows, you receive an order for a set number of episodes (13, 65, whatever) and then you try your best to get it done in a timely and professional manner. You can't really concern yourself over how it will be accepted or remembered in the future.

Q: What were your feelings about your show back then and, again, have those changed at all over the years?
Jymn: It was a delight to work on DuckTales, and it was my first taste of "a feature length" project. (Each mini-series was cut into a 2-hour TV movie.) It was comedy-adventure done on a global scale. Lots of fun to work on, especially with Bruce Talkington, Mark Zaslove, Len Uhley, David Weimers, and Ken Koonce.

Q: Any other interesting stories or facts about making DuckTales that you can share with us and let us in on?
Jymn: Three things come to mind. 1) When working for a network, you must deal with a department called BS&P (Broadcast Standards and Practices). They determine any "copyable behavior" that must be avoided because of the young, impressionable audience. DuckTales, however, was our first syndicated show, which means there's no network to deal with - so we had to be our own censors. I've always been very mindful of being "Disney", so I rarely run into problems. However, I realized I made a major faux pas in my VERY FIRST EPISODE! You can see Huey, Dewey and Louie swinging on a rope and smashing face first through a chocolate factory window! Yipes! 2) On the "Time is Money" mini-series, I brought in my friend Bruce Coville to help write the script. Bruce is best known as a book writer (e.g. "My Teacher is an Alien" series), so TV was new to him. I remember him saying, "How do you guys work at this pace?!" - which made me chuckle. 3) I didn't invent Launchpad McQuack, but I was responsible for introducing him in the pilot. Mark, Bruce and I went to go see the film Big Trouble in Little China [1986] and we realized that the Jack Burton character (played by Kurt Russell) was Launchpad! Big-ego'd Jack saw himself as more important and talented than he truly was, and did heroically stupid things (like firing a gun in the air then having the ceiling fall on his head). Terry McGovern (the perfect voice for Launchpad) was not recorded as part of our Burbank ensemble. He lived up in San Francisco and was directed (via phone) at a studio up there.

Q: The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh debuted in 1988. What role did you play in bringing that show featuring such beloved classic characters to television?
Jymn: That show belonged to Karl Geurs (director) and Mark Zaslove (story editor), and they did a fantastic job with it. (Won two Emmy's in fact.) I was involved with some early development discussions and then wrote a few episodes. The thing I remember most was management's decision to put Christopher Robin in today's world, a concept that Karl balked at and that lasted for only one episode. ("Pooh Oughta Be in Pictures" in which Christopher Robin and the animals go downtown to see a horror film.) Then it was back to the 100-Acre Wood.

Q: Then Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers was next debuting in 1989. What can you tell us about that show and what role you played on that?
Jymn: This series belonged primarily to Tad Stones. He was the producer/story editor throughout. My involvement was at the development stage. (Tad can draw, so I mostly typed.) Tad and I started off with a mouse detective named Kit Colby who headed a team of animals to solve crimes. There were Camille the chameleon, Billabong the Australian kangaroo rat, mystic cricket Chirp Sing and a far-sighted eagle with glasses. (Here is an early drawing of that crew. As far as I know, this is the first time I've shared Tad's painting with anyone.)



Eventually we added a second mouse to the team, Colt Cheddarson. None of these pitches were a "home run" with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Then at one of our pitch meetings, Eisner suggested replacing Kit and Colt with Chip and Dale. The rest is history. Tad ran with the show and did an amazing job. I had some return involvement when Mark Zaslove and I came in to touch up the pilot mini-series Rescue Rangers: To the Rescue.

Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers debuted in March of 1989 running for 3 seasons and 65 episodes. It ran on in syndication on afternoons after school until 1993 and was another of the most popular cartoons of its time.

Q: What are your feelings at including positive messages in the cartoons especially aimed at children? Was that something you consciously considered when writing those shows? Did Disney make it a priority at all to try including positive messages or positive reinforcement in those shows back in the '80s?
Jymn: That was simply the formula back then (and pretty much still is). Stories had a little moral attached - a lesson learned. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it hit you over the head (like He-Man). Shows, especially pre-school ones, usually have an educator involved who will look for the pro-social messages or the educational content in each episode. But my personal feeling is that stories stem from characters and you can't tell a story if the character doesn't go through some personal change or revelation. And I feel that children should see a positive spin on that change.

I think it's part of our Judeo-Christian mindset to tell these kinds of stories. Even the controversial horror stories found in the 1950's EC Comics were nothing more than European fairy tales with "bad-punished/good-rewarded" morals.

Again, there were no written or verbal guidelines handed down From Above. It was simply how stories were told then on television... and how the Disney tone was handed down unconsciously from the early films. (Based on Walt's turn-of-the-century mid-Western upbringing, I suppose.)

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of '80s animated television (or pop culture in general)?
Jymn: Wow. That's a big topic. It's been said that "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there." I suppose (for me) the same can be said of the '80s - I don't remember it because I was there working the whole time. And, yes, I was a workaholic. I knew what kids watched simply because I had three kids, and they told me what they liked... Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, Garbage Pail Kids, Ninja Turtles, etc. I also think the '80s was a good time in music. (We had just survived the Disco '70s.) All in all, the '80s were a fun time to be a kid, methinks.

Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the '80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Jymn: I was still at Disney in the late '80s and early '90s. That's when I create and produced TaleSpin with Mark Zaslove [65 episodes 1990-91], story edited Goof Troop [1992-93], and co-wrote A Goofy Movie [1995]. I was also teaching toon writing at UCLA-Extension. It was a golden time for me. Then Disney started getting weird (for me anyway) and I left in November of 1993 - beginning my freelance career. Fortunately, I had tons of success as a freelancer and I've been in that role ever since. My goal now is to enjoy life... I've worked hard in the Entertainment field for almost 40 years. And while I don't see myself ever retiring, I hope to take things easier now.

Q: What else is Jymn Magon up to nowadays? Writing and otherwise?
Jymn: I'm still freelancing, working primarily for overseas companies. The reason for this is: In Hollywood, you're "past it" if you're over 40. But in other countries they think, "Wow, look at this guy's credentials and experience!" So it's easier to find work. I've worked for England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, India, Australia, China, Korea, and Finland... all from the comfort of my home office. Nice, huh?

Q: What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Jymn: My plan is to start a series of memoirs about my time at Disney plus writing several young adult books. Ambitions: Do more live theater. Travel more. I'd also like a shot at being involved with the new DuckTales series [scheduled to return to television in 2017]. Regrets: I wish I'd taken more photos during my time at Disney. Wish I'd spent more time with my kids when they were growing up. I also wonder what my life would have been like if I'd continued studying Art.

I am so honored that Jymn was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with him on his Jymn Magon Presents Facebook page.You can remember all of those great Disney shows at the Disney Afternoon Forever website at DAFradio.net and DAF Radio Facebook page.I want to take this occasion to again thank Jymn Magon for his contributions to '80s pop culture through those Disney animated series and, even more, for going back to that awesome decade with us here for a little while as well.

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