Directed by Jeff Hale
Produced by John Magnuson
Written by Lenny Bruce
Starring Lenny Bruce
Editing by Tom Bullock
Release date(s) September 28, 1971
Running time 8 min.
Country United States
Thank You Mask Man is an animated short film based upon a comedy routine by Lenny Bruce involving The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The film was produced by John Magnuson, and directed by Jeff Hale.
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. He stays, and finds that he likes hearing the phrase "Thank you, Mask Man". When asked what the community could give him in return for his services, The Lone Ranger points to an Indian, Tonto, and says that he wants him. Asked why The Lone Ranger wants Tonto, he replies that he wants to have sex with him, 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, 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 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 a in-person showing of Blazing Saddles. Magnuson and Newland appeared to answer questions about their films. -- Wikipedia
Lenny Bruce on UbuWeb Sound