Thank You Mask Man
|Thank You Mask Man|
|Directed by||Jeff Hale|
|Produced by||John Magnuson|
|Written by||Lenny Bruce|
|Edited by||Tom Bullock|
|September 28, 1971|
After years of saving a small town, its population is angered that The Lone Ranger never stays long enough to receive gratitude for his deeds. After being pressed on the issue, the Lone Ranger explains why with a hypothetical situation: a little boy tells the Ranger “Thank you, mask man.” The simple phrase resonates with the Ranger, who soon demands to hear the phrase every time he performs a deed. One day in the far future, no more “thank you, mask man” greetings come; prophets explain that the Messiah has arrived and that the Lone Ranger is no longer needed. Now addicted to “thank you, mask man,” the Lone Ranger turns evil, vowing to make trouble so that he can fix it and receive his “thank you, mask man” again. Back in reality, the Ranger explains that he does not want to fall into such a trap and that is why he rides away before accepting anything in return.
The townspeople are still annoyed at this and insist on giving the Lone Ranger some sort of gift. The Lone Ranger points to an Indian, Tonto, and says that he wants him. Asked why The Lone Ranger wants Tonto, he replies "To perform an unnatural act", explaining that he is not a homosexual, but that he had "heard a lot about it and read exposés" and would like to "try now to see how bad it is. Just once." The Lone Ranger also requests a horse. When asked why he wanted the horse, he replied "The act", suggesting that he wants to perform bestiality. The townspeople react in disgust as The Lone Ranger and Tonto ride off into the sunset. Bruce intended to deconstruct homophobia and other issues explored within the routine.
The film was completed in 1968. Its audio is derived from a recording of Bruce's routine. The short was made by San Francisco-based company Imagination, Inc. and directed by Jeff Hale, a former member of the National Film Board of Canada.
The film was scheduled to premiere on the opening night of Costa-Gavras’ political thriller Z, as a supplement preceding the main feature, but was not shown. According to a former staff member of the festival, Magnuson ran up the aisle and shouted "They crucified Lenny when he was alive and now that he is dead they are screwing him again!" The festival's director told Magnuson that the producer of Z did not want any short shown that night. Rumors suggested that the wife of one of the festival's financiers hated Bruce, and threatened to withdraw her husband's money if the short was screened.
Magnuson requested that Bill Meléndez, a chairman for the Academy Award animation nominations, nominate the film. Meléndez told Magnuson that he loved the film, and agreed to nominate it. Magnuson filled out the forms required for the film to qualify, but it was not nominated. When Meléndez asked Magnuson why it was not submitted for consideration, he learned that it was never shown for the screening committee. Magnuson believed that a member of the Academy hated Bruce, and hid the entry form so it would not qualify. Hale suggested that "the projectionist took it upon himself to act as a censor."
Screenings did not perform well enough financially for Magnuson to profit from the film, although he states that he never expected to turn a profit. Magnuson recalls that multiple theaters booked the short, and later canceled for unexplained reasons. George Evelyn, a former animator for Colossal Pictures, was working as a programmer at a theater in Texas, and booked the short without viewing it first, because the rental catalog "made it sound interesting". After several audience members complained about the film, Evelyn was fired by the theater. Initially, the gay community disliked the film, perceiving it as homophobic, but it was later shown at gay film festivals. Along with Marv Newland's Bambi Meets Godzilla, Thank You Mask Man was screened at an in-person showing of Blazing Saddles. Magnuson and Newland appeared to answer questions about their films.
The short was also shown as part of Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation in the 1990s.
- Kofsky, Frank (1974). Lenny Bruce: The Comedian As Social Critic and Secular Moralist. University of Michigan. p. 65. ISBN 0-913460-31-1.
- Cohen, Karl F (1997). "Lenny Bruce's Thank You Mask Man". Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 78–80. ISBN 0-7864-0395-0.