Wednesday, April 14, 2021



That storytelling is a mark of our humanity is not, I believe, a debatable concept. We humans love to tell stories; we love to be told stories.

Early humans lived in a world that must have been quite confusing and, frankly, disconcerting. Big, fiery ball flying overhead every day; bright shining orb doing the same thing at night. And that damn orb kept de-orbing, then re-orbing, then completely taking a powder for a few nights every now and then.

And then there was the heat of the day and the cold of the night, how was one supposed to dress? Once one began dressing at all. And dangerous predators. And rough terrain. And certain foods made you sick and didn't even taste good. And big fluffy things in the sky that sometimes were happy and sometimes were mad. There was also the fact that some of our fellow early humans were nuts. Or wise. Or lovely. Or just stinkers. Not to mention that there were two kinds of us, alike yet different, the difference sometimes being a joy and at other times an annoyance. How did anyone make sense of all this?

By telling stories, of course. By making the best guess as to the reasons why, and hopefully amusing the family—later tribe, later village, later city, later nation—along the way.

After 200,000 to 300,000 years of experience and experimentation, we don’t really need to tell stories to make sense of the physical world anymore. But the world within, the landscape of us humans, some of whom are still nuts, or wise, or lovely, or just plain stinkers, is still great fodder for stories we tell and stories we like being told.

Stories, as you know, were first told orally, as there really was no other choice. Humans had discovered that their voice was a helpful instrument for more than just screaming out warnings of impending danger. It created sounds of not just rhythm and tone—like beating on stones and trees did—but when formed into words, it created sounds of meaning, of sense, of drama, and, I hope, even of comedy.

Then writing came along, scribbling on clay tablets, papyrus, or stone. At first, such scribbles merely noted trades and inventory. Then one day, or series of days, one individual, or series of individuals, possibly got bored with recording an inventory and decided instead to tell a story. Perhaps a well-known one the scribe first heard as a child. 

Despite the efficiency of the written word, which I happen to love, there is something special in being told a story through the human voice. Indeed, the best writers, it is said, are those whose writing has a “voice” unique to them. And the best readers, I’ve always maintained, are those who “hear” that voice when they read—and not just concentrate on the dialog and action as if they were watching a film. This is why I have always strived to write prose—despite it being destined for the printed page—for the human voice. I want my words to sound in your head while hopefully making sense out of something. I hope I have succeeded more often than not.

There is one way to assure that your “voice” is heard by some people, at least. Have an actual sonic voice read or narrate or perform (take your pick) your book for an audiobook edition. Three of my past novels have audiobook editions. Traveling in Space, published by Bluroof Press and performed by Jeff Cannata. And Blood is Pretty (read by Jonah Cummings) and By the Sea (read by David Gilmore), both published by Crossroad Press. All three were a joy for me to see done, enhancing not only my experience as an author but the reach my novels had in finding an audience.

As some of you may know, I am now publishing my novels under my own imprint, Magpie Press (see my blog entry, DON'T HATE ME BECAUSE I AM ECLECTIC). My first novel under Manfred M. Magpie's wing was Creature Feature: A Horrid Comedy, published last September in ebook and print editions. Once it was launched, I immediately began thinking about an audiobook edition. I knew what would be the ideal if I could have waved a magic wand and bring it to life instantaneously. I wanted the clever Mr. and Mrs. Dever to read or narrate or perform (take your pick) my horrid comedic tale of monsters and creatures and grassroots politics. 

That's Seamus Dever and Juliana Dever, of course. If you were a fan, like I was, of ABC's Castle (2009 - 2016), starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, you know Seamus as Detective Kevin Ryan, part of the crime-solving team on the show.

And you'll remember Juliana Dever as Lt. Ryan's girlfriend, later wife on the show.

I first met Seamus when I directed a staged reading of Ray Bradbury's one-act play, "The Better Part of Wisdom," at the Writers Guild of America.

Seamus Dever with Jeff Cannata, Steven Paul Leiva,
James Cromwell and Ray Bradbury

It was one event in a series for Ray Bradbury Week in Los Angeles, a celebration of Ray's 90th birthday in 2010 that I created and produced. "The Better Part of Wisdom" is one of Ray's Irish plays, and Seamus had been recommended to me by a casting agent—and not just because he's of Irish descent. I was thrilled, having seen the first season of Castle and enjoying his performance as Lt. Ryan. Seamus performed in the one-act with the great James Cromwell, both doing flawless Irish accents. Jeff Cannata joined them, doing a just as flawless English accent. 

James Cromwell and Seamus Dever

In subsequent years Seamus joined in another Bradbury tribute I organized. And My wife Amanda and I have enjoyed a number of his performances on stage here in Los Angeles.

Seamus Dever and Luisina Quarleri in “The Abuelas”
at the Antaeus Theatre

Seamus is a dedicated actor who loves not only performing on film and especially, I believe, in live theater. And, quite wonderfully for my purposes, is also active with L.A. Theater Works, the leading producer of audio dramas in the United States.

So I knew Seamus not only as a fine actor but one who really knew his vocal way around a mic.

I only knew Juliana from her appearances on Castle. That is until I checked out some of her videos on her travel blog CleverDever Wherever.

I then saw some of her Virtual Pub Happy Hour Instagram videos with Seamus made during the lockdown.

What was clear from both was that she was a bright, funny, energetic performer and that she and Seamus had great chemistry together. Which is a good thing, seeing how they are married. But for my purposes, it meant more to me that they would be perfect together, bringing their voices and performances to Creature Feature.

The audiobook of Creature Feature demanded not just to be read or narrated but also performed with style, wit, comedic timing, and a playful sense of fun. And as the lead protagonist of my novel—Kathy Anderson/Vivacia the Vampire Woman—was a woman, she had to be voiced by a woman. Yet, the novel's narrator had to be not only a character and not just an omniscient voice from above but male. Why male? Because that's the way I saw it, and I am the author, therefore the authority. 

To have Seamus and Juliana recording the audiobook, playing all the characters that matched their particular genders, was my ideal. Not to mention my birthday wish and my fondest hope.

The problem was that I was planning on publishing the audiobook through Amazon's Audio Creation Exchange or ACX program. ACX allows an author to receive auditions from audiobook narrators from here, there, and everywhere. Especially narrators who are their own producers and editors and recording engineers with in-house recording booths. Which allows for one-stop shopping, and eases the path from print to audio. Audiobooks have grown in popularity over the last decade or so, and there are hundreds of narrators listed under ACX. Despite how excellent many of them are, though, I already knew who I wanted. But neither Seamus nor Juliana was on the ACX list of narrators. I assumed they had probably never done audiobooks. And that they probably didn't have a way to professionally record. Nor the wherewithal to produce and edit.

Which didn’t mean I couldn’t call and ask. Maybe, just maybe, Seamus and Juliana had at least an audio recording set up at home. Many actors do these days to remotely audition for animation, video games, and commercial voice-overs.

But I balked. A rare moment of shyness hit me. Did I really want to bug Seamus and ask him? Especially if asking would be implying that if he didn’t have a setup, maybe he would set one up in his home just to accommodate me. Horrible, horrible chutzpah, I thought that would be. 

But then the wonderful writer Jean Rabe,

who had encouraged me to start publishing my work under my own imprint, set me straight. “Call him,” she said. “You never know, maybe he has a recording booth, maybe he would set one up if he doesn’t. The worse he could do is say no.” “But-but…” I said. But Jean would hear of no “Buts.”

I’ve learned to listen to Jean. She held my hand and gave me sage advice all through creating Magpie Press and publishing Creature Feature.

Manfred M. Magpie looks over his first publication

Indeed, you might say that she is the mother of Manfred M. Magpie. Why would I not listen to her now?

So I picked up the phone to call Seamus despite knowing full well that the ideal rarely happens. That usually birthday wishes only extinguish tiny flames on little candles. And that magic wands are nothing but props in fiction.

“Hi, Steven,” Seamus said. And from that moment, the ideal became real. The wish was granted. The magic wand demanded that I retract my slander.

Seamus was interested. He was used to doing remote video auditions from his home. And had actually been thinking of having an audio recording set up. As part of his performing arts education in college, he had taken an audio engineering course, so he felt that he could produce the audiobook himself. He loved the idea of Juliana recording with him as well. He cautioned me, though that she was very busy with her travel blog and arranging for post-COVID tours she would be leading. But well, first things first, he would read the book.

As you can guess, I would not be writing this blog if all did not work out wonderfully well.

Juliana and Seamus at the mic!

Seamus had an early suggestion that Juliana only voice Kathy/Vivacia. He would handle all the other characters, male and female. It was utterly the right idea as Kathy/Vivacia is the dominating presence in the novel. She demanded her exclusive interpreter.

Seamus created a setup to professionally record at home. But not without having to solve several technical problems which he strived mightily to overcome. Which I feel some guilt about—putting him through all that. But the results have assuaged my guilt. 

Seamus has produced, directed, and edited the audiobook. He suggested having original music, which I happily agreed to. He recruited a friend, Ray Zigler, a bandmate of Seamus' from years past, to compose the music.

Ray created a witty, creepy, jazz score that I just friggin' love. It has been released on Spotify as a mini-album under the title of Suite for Le Cinema De Créatures (Music from "Creature Feature - A Horrid Comedy").

Seamus applied his innate fine sense of comedy timing to the directing and editing, giving all the right colors to the piece. 

But most of all, Seamus gives a delightful and funny performance narrating Creature Feature, voicing Gerald, the nerdy/genius male protagonist, the demon Quntirextionkeedumtemgar, and all the other characters and creatures in the book.

And Juliana! Juliana is the perfect as Kathy/Vivacia, giving distinct voices to the two sides of this character, matching and complimenting Seamus in wit, comedy timing, and fun.

This ideal which became real has been a most satisfying experience. 

You can purchase it on Amazon, Audible, or iTunes.

Happy listening, folks!



Sunday, April 11, 2021

THE LOST BLOG RECOVERED ‘The Spirit’ movie that could have been

In 2008 as Frank Miller's live-action feature film based on Will Eisner's "The Spirit" was being released, I wrote a relevant piece for the Hero Complex bog on the Los Angeles Times website. It detailed the time, back in 1980, when I became involved with animator Brad Bird and Gary Kurtz (producer of the first two Star Wars movies) in trying to get into production an animated feature based on "The Spirit." In that piece, I spoke of a pencil test "trailer" for our proposed film that was made by Bird along with several classmates from Cal Arts, most of whom were working at Disney at the time. Quite a few people who read the article contacted me about seeing the film. I did have it on an old VHS, but it was deep in storage at the time plus as I did not really own the film, I told them they would have to look elsewhere to find a copy. Later, I found the VHS and put it aside. In 2015 Andrea Fiamma, an Italian journalist writing on the subject for the website "Fumettologica," asked again if the film could be seen. As it is a small piece of animation history, I decided to post it on YouTube. As of this date, it has been viewed 85,841 times. I had put in a link to my LA Times article so people viewing the video could get the whole story. Recently I discovered that that link is no longer good as the LA Times has taken the piece out of their archive, and you can no longer access it. But thanks to information from that kind gentleman, Geoff Boucher, who edited Hero Complex blog, and is currently writing and podcasting for Heavy Metal Magazine, I was able to recover the webpage the blog appeared on, and you can see it below, exactly as it appeared in 2008. At the end of this blog, I've put in a link to the video on YouTube, if you care to see it.



‘The Spirit’ movie that could have been

Dec. 12, 2008 | 7:55 p.m.

For every movie that makes it to the screen, there are a thousand projects that fall to the wayside. Later this month, "The Spirit," finally, hits theaters after plenty of failed attempts. Steven Paul Leiva was a key figure in one of those failed attempts and in this guest essay for Hero Complex he talks about the film that could have been. This photo below shows Leiva, Brad Bird, and the late Will Eisner at the comics icon’s White Plains, N.Y., home in 1981.

Sprit_1Frank Miller’s film version of Will Eisner’s innovative 1940s comic book, “The Spirit” opens on Christmas Day.  It will be stylistic and hyper-visual, a hoped-for perfect melding of film and “sequential art,” a term coined by Eisner.  What it will not be, however, is revolutionary.  Comic book movies are now the meat and potatoes — not to mention several side vegetables — of Hollywood.  And even its green-screen, scene-simulation style is just part of a Miller continuum that started with “Sin City.”

But if the world had turned a little differently, if fate had been a little kinder, a “Spirit” feature film would have debuted in the 1980s that would not only have been revolutionary but — those of us involved in it were convinced — a huge hit, possibly the first $100 million-grossing animated feature.  And the futures of such filmmakers as Brad BirdGary KurtzJohn Musker, and John Lasseter might have taken alternative paths.

In 1980, I was a freelance publicist specializing in animators I admired.  My clients included Chuck JonesBill Melendez, and Richard Williams.  However, I was not particularly happy with the state of animation itself.  Previously I had been executive secretary of the animation society ASIFA-Hollywood and an animation programmer for the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FILMEX), and so had been exposed to a lot of great, classic American animation and exciting foreign animation.  I had become frustrated that animation in Hollywood had fallen into the doldrums of sub-standard Disney, awful Saturday morning TV cartoons, and too-cute-to-stomach exploitations of brightly colored bears and other sugarcoated creatures.  And I had become tired of anthropomorphic animals as the dominant fauna of American animation.  Not that there was anything intrinsically wrong with them, it’s just that I was a Homo sapiens chauvinist and felt that American animation as an art form would never mature (as Japanese and European animation had) until it learned to tell human stories directly, and not through the filter of talking animals.

Miller_spirit_posterGiven all this, I knew I had to move from publicity to producing, with an eye out for projects that could alleviate my frustration.

It didn’t take long for one to fall into my lap.

I was at a FILMEX screening at the Cinerama Dome when a fellow Filmexican, as we were called, David Konigsburg, who owned an animation camera service, told me that I just had to see an animation pencil test he had shot for two friends of his, ex-students from the animation program at Cal Arts.  He said it was brilliant, but I was skeptical.  Ever since I had let it be known that I was looking for projects, I had been shown a lot of proposals, all of them just variations on the same old, same old.  But as David’s camera service was just a few blocks from the Dome, it was easy to go over there after the screening and take a look.

What David showed me was a black and white pencil test in the form of a movie trailer for an animated feature based on Will Eisner’s superhero noir character, “The Spirit.”  At the time, “The Spirit” was as obscure as any item of pop culture could get.  But I recognized it as I had read Jules Feiffer’s “The Great Comic Book Heroes,” in which he had devoted a chapter to Eisner’s creation, reprinting one of the original stories from the ‘40s.  Even with having seen only this one story, it was obvious to me that Eisner was an incredible artist and draftsman, far superior to most comic book illustrators of the time.  His humans were not awkward and stiff, but were fine and fluid renderings of form and personality.  If any comic book humans begged to be animated, these were they.  His layout of panels, his use of cinematic techniques, only added to the case that “The Spirit” was perfect for the screen.

But how had these young animators done in bringing Eisner’s characters to life?  David had not misled me.  The pencil test mock trailer was brilliant.  Not only in its form and execution — it quickly told the origin of The Spirit and displayed clearly the tone of the proposed film — but it was the finest human character animation I had ever seen.  Like Eisner, it was fluid and full of personality, each bit of movement communicating exactly what needed to be said about the characters and the situations they were in.  It was not stiff and unreal like Saturday morning limited human character animation, nor weirdly “real” like rotoscoped human animation.  It was an exaggerated, pushed, caricatured movement that seemed perfectly real, or, better said, perfectly true. It was the best example I could imagine of a point I had been making to anyone who would listen, that good character animation was not a graphic art, but a performance art.  It was great acting expressing a range of emotions.

“Who are these guys?”  I asked David with a dropped jaw.  “I’ve got to meet them as soon as possible.”
The test was conceived and directed by a guy named Brad Bird, he told me, and animated by him and other ex-Cal Arts students, some of whom were now working at Disney.

David managed to set up a meeting with Brad for the next day.  Brad came with Jerry Rees, who had been integral to the making of the trailer.

We talked. It was obvious we shared a philosophy about the direction we thought animation should go.  I told Brad and Jerry what I thought of the trailer, that “The Spirit” was exactly the kind of project I wanted to be involved in, and asked what I could do to make it a reality.


Brad (who would later draw this "Spirit"-inspired cartoon on the left)  was very direct and clear in what he wanted.  He was only interested in pitching the project to four people: George LucasSteven SpielbergFrancis Coppola or Gary Kurtz, who had produced “American Graffiti” and the first two “Star Wars.”

Because of my work with Chuck Jones and FILMEX I had met Gary Kurtz, and, more importantly, I had dealt with his assistant, Bunny Alsop.  I told Brad and Jerry that I could try to get them to Kurtz.  Great, they said.

I called Bunny up at Gary Kurtz’s production company, Kinetographics, in Marin County.  It was the kind of call she was used to getting and usually ignoring.  But I said some magic words — Eisner and “The Spirit.”  Gary Kurtz, it turned out, was a huge fan.

A meeting was set up during Gary’s next trip to Los Angeles.  Brad, Jerry, and I met with him at The Egg Company, George Lucas’s camouflaged L.A. headquarters across from Universal Studios.  We showed him the trailer.  He was impressed, but barely showed it, which was not unusual for Gary.  He said he would think about it and get back to us.  I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but not too soon after I got a call from Bunny saying that Gary had decided to option the film rights to “The Spirit.”

An exciting time began for us.  Gary asked me to work with his lawyers in negotiating the option deal with Will Eisner, while Brad and Jerry began crafting the story that would eventually become the basis for Brad’s screenplay.  We also had to give considerable thought to how we were going to produce the film.  At that time Disney had the only viable feature animation studio in town, and Disney was not an option for many reasons, not the least being their own internal problems.

Disney was not in the best shape.  The era of the famous Nine Old Men was passing and a new generation needed to take over.  The problem was, which new generation?  There were two, divided into camps, fighting for the privilege. One, headed by Don Bluth, was the generation that sat right behind the Nine Old Men.  The other was the “Young Pups,” mainly Cal Arts graduates, who were nipping at Bluth’s heels.  The Bluthies felt it was their time to take over the reins and continue the fine tradition of Disney Animation.  The Young Pups wanted not only to continue the Disney tradition, but expand it creatively as well, and thought that the Bluthies did not have the talent to pull it off.  The Young Pups were a bit arrogant in this thought, but not without the talent to justify it.  Both camps were frustrated: the Bluthies because the Young Pups showed them little deference, and the Young Pups because they saw the Bluthies as standing in their way.

Spirit_5In the meantime, nothing really good was being produced at Disney, and, indeed, people in Hollywood swore they could hear the death knell.

Brad and Jerry felt that this gave them the opportunity, once we secured the financing for “The Spirit”, to raid Disney of many of the Young Pups, most of whom had been classmates of theirs at Cal Arts, some of whom had animated, on their own time, scenes for the mock trailer.  They would form the core animation staff for a new studio to be called Visions Animation + FilmWorks.  Brad, in fact, had worked out a dream scenario wherein, once we could offer secure jobs, he would walk onto the Disney lot with a bunch of newly printed Visions Animation + FilmWorks T-shirts, and walk off with as many of the Young Pups as he could, all wearing the shirts, the Visions slogan printed boldly on their backs: ANIMATION’S BACK.  As melodramatic and naive as that was — we all looked forward to it.

To get there, Brad called a secret meeting of a select group of the Young Pups.  As I was still doing publicity for Chuck Jones and maintained an office at his small studio on Sunset Boulevard where there was a screening room, we held the meeting there one evening.  We screened the mock “Spirit” trailer, and explained our deal with Gary Kurtz and our plans for Visions.  All were impressed with the trailer.  Some were excited about our plans.  Some weren’t.  Those who weren’t, despite the diminished creativity at Disney, were determined to stick with the studio and work to turn it around.  The clearest voice for this point of view was John Musker, who, indeed, later was a key player in the resurrection of Disney animation when he co-directed “The Little Mermaid.”

Nonetheless, Brad felt that he had got enough positive response to feel confident that we could staff an animation studio when we were ready.  Until then, we committed to keep the interested Disney animators updated as to our progress.  Jerry was our key voice there, as he was still working at Disney, although not in feature animation.  He was working each day in a trailer on the lot breaking ground being one of the first computer animators on a major Hollywood feature film named “Tron.” It was an exciting project that had caught the attention of many in the animation department, especially a young animator working on “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” who would drop by the trailer whenever he could to look over Jerry’s shoulders and ask intelligent questions.  His name was John Lasseter.

All our preparations for the future, though, would be for naught if we didn’t secure the film rights option from Will Eisner.  He was intrigued, but very protective of his creation.  He had no particular objections to a film version of “The Spirit,” he had just always assumed it would be a live-action film, with, he had hoped, James Garner starring as The Spirit.  He needed some convincing.  So Brad and I flew to New York, where Eisner lived, and had two meetings with him.  One was a creative meeting at his home in White Plains where we showed him the mock trailer.  He was impressed.  The other, a few days later, was a business meeting at the Princeton Club in Manhattan, where Gary Kurtz would join us.
While Brad and I stood on the sidewalk in front of the club waiting for Eisner and Gary to arrive, a good omen suddenly pulled up that convinced us — in our youthful enthusiasm — that not only would we seal the deal with Eisner, but that we would go on to make a great film.  It was a produce delivery truck for a company called — so the sign on the side of the truck proudly declared — B. EISNER. Brad even snapped my picture in front of it …


Our “Spirit” was in development for a number of years.  During that time, Brad moved up to Marin County to work on the screenplay out of Gary’s offices at Kinetographics.  After Jerry finished his work on “Tron” he left Disney and moved up as well to work on storyboards with Brad. I joined Kinetographics as director of Animation Development and as associate producer on another animated film Gary had gotten involved in, “Nemo,” an adaptation of Winsor McKay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” he was producing in Japan with Tokyo Movie Shinsha.  And Brad, Jerry, Gary and I formed Visions Animation + FilmWorks, and started to build a slate of both animated and live-action films to develop.

Unfortunately, what we failed to do was secure financing for “The Spirit.”  Why?  Although it has been close to 30 years and I don’t remember the details, I do know that Brad’s script was wonderful.  It had all the action, humor, and revelations of character that he later put into “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles”, and “Ratatouille.”  Brad and Jerry’s storyboards were exciting and thrilling.  They had personally illustrated several stunning pieces of conceptual art.  How could this film not get financed?

Well, it was the early ’80s.  The death of Disney animation was being predicted daily.  Most non-Disney animated features in production tended to be pastel kiddie toy movies like “The Care Bears Movie.”  And we had a sexy superhero noir film of action and adventure, thrills and humor, featuring beautifully illustrated humans and not one talking animal.

Gary shopped the project to all of the Hollywood majors.  The screenplay was praised, but they couldn’t understand why we wanted to make it an animated film.  There was no magic, no young and yearning fairy tale royals, no funny animals.

Hollywood was filled with the sound of executives scratching their heads.  At least one offered to make it as a live-action film — an option Brad would not consider and the rest of us would not support.  The whole idea was to make an animated film so different, so revolutionary, it would alter forever the art form.

Stupid us, thinking Hollywood would ever back an artistic revolution.

Eventually we lost the option to the film rights.  “The Spirit” — at least our “Spirit” — was dead.
But if our “Spirit” had lived and had been as successful — both creatively and commercially — as I remain convinced it would have been, just think how things might have been different.

Hollywood would have discovered the genius of Brad Bird 20 years before John Lasseter and Pixar finally thrust it into Hollywood’s face with “The Incredibles.”

Visions Animation and FilmWorks might have become the Pixar of its day, but with a broader mandate to do not only innovative animated films, but fantastic live-action films as well. Instead of spending most of his time as a creative consultant on “The Simpsons,” what wonderful animation and live-action features might Brad have given us?

Jerry Rees certainly would have written and directed some of the Visions films, possibly becoming a talent to reckon with, instead of a talent Hollywood has only flirted with.


Gary Kurtz (photographed above with Eisner and myself back in 1981, with Brad again snapping the picture), after the disappointing box-office returns of “The Dark Crystal” and “Return to Oz” — the last major films he produced — might have found renewed energy shepherding and supporting the influx of talent Brad and Jerry wanted to bring into Visions.

If Visions had been successful in raiding Disney of a good portion of the best and brightest of the Young Pups, how might that have altered its future and films?  Would that have relieved the pressure on Don Bluth, causing him and his Bluthies not to bolt from Disney, which they later did, and putting him into Walt’s shoes, where he really wanted to be?  Or, if John Musker had stayed at Disney, as I believe he would have, would he have become the driving force at the studio?  But instead of revitalizing Disney with “The Little Mermaid” would he — Hollywood being Hollywood where imitation is the sincerest form of competition — have been tasked to animate “The Green Hornet?”

Would Disney animation have even survived?  When Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over it was reported that they wanted to dump the animation department, but Roy E. Disney wouldn’t allow it.  But what if the department had been gutted of talent?  Would Roy Disney have carried the day?  Would Disney Studios even exist today, much less be the media giant it now is?

And what about John Lasseter?  We all know he started to experiment with computer animation at Disney, but was fired over some corporate political problem, then wound up doing rather well with Pixar.  And now — decades later — he is the chief creative officer of Disney Animation.  If Disney had been gutted of talent, would he have been one of them to leave before he had been able to start his computer animation experiments?  Or would he have stayed and used the shock of the Disney defections to really push computer animation, taking Disney in a different direction, and eventually ending up as the chief creative officer of Disney Animation?

All of the above are alternative realities, none of them necessarily any finer or better than the reality we are stuck with.  Although, selfishly, I would have preferred at least a few of them, for who wouldn’t want to have been part of an artistic revolution?

But such is life.  “The Spirit” was willing — but Hollywood wasn’t.

Leiva, a novelist and screenwriter, is currently writing, producing and appearing in “The Old Curmudgeon’s Book of Questions,” a series of Internet VidBits that will premiere on STRIKE.TV early next year.  He can be reached at