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HEY, WILLIAM JOYCE, DON’T EVER GROW UP! : He Believes in Santa Claus, King Kong and Kids. Now This Children’s Book Author Has Been Handed the Keys to Hollywood. Is the World Ready for This?

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Lisa Broadwater is a fee-lance writer based in Dallas

THE BEDROOM OF A LARGE ‘20S MEDITERRANEAN REVIVAL HOUSE IN SHREVEPORT, LA.--MORNING BILL, a man in his early 30s, is pacing back and forth between the bed and a large picture window. BILL’S mop of curly hair is a mass of tangles and his small round glasses are askew. On the bed is his wife, ELIZABETH, who’s reading the paper.

BILL: All he said was, come up with a story that would work as a movie. That’s it. Hell, I thought the guy was just making dinner conversation. How was I supposed to know some producer dude would come to Shreveport to make a movie. . . . And here he is, interested in “Wilbur Robinson,” and it hasn’t even been published yet. So tell me, how am I supposed to take a 32-page fugue and make it into an hour and 45-minute fantasy?

A phone rings in a nearby room, which is BILL’S studio. BILL exits. FADE OUT

FADE IN to ELIZABETH still reading the paper. Bill reappears at the doorway, looking panicked.

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BILL: OH GOD! That was so humiliating! I WILL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN! That was the worst experience of my life! OH GOD! They didn’t laugh at anything. They didn’t like me. They hated me.

ELIZABETH: It can’t be that bad. What did they say?

BILL: What did they say? WHAT DID THEY SAY? (shivers) Well, I blathered my shtick and then (pause) total silence. NOTHING. Finally they go, “So do you see this as animation or live action?” And I say, “I think it should be live action. And they say “Um humm ... okaythanksverymuchweenjoyedit.” ’ And that was that. (Begins to choke himself with one hand)

Phone rings again. BILL exits. Camera stays on ELIZABETH. A minute later BILL returns, looking bewildered.

BILL (blinking): They loved it. They want to buy it. They told me to get started on the screenplay. (pause) I guess I’d better figure out how to write one.

FADE OUT as music swells.

What we have here is a script that would never see the inside of a studio. It’s simply too riddled with good fortune. Nobody--certainly nobody from Southern Podunk, USA--gets handed the keys to Hollywood, just like that. Certainly not somebody who isn’t even asking (begging, pleading) to be let in.

Don’t tell that to William Joyce. You’ve never heard of the guy? That’s understandable, especially if you don’t have young kids. For a while, most of Joyce’s creative energy was focused on writing and illustrating children’s books. That was before his 1988 release, “Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo,” caught the attention of a couple of animation wizards. And before his 1990 book, “A Day With Wilbur Robinson,” intrigued several executives at Disney. And before his hugely popular 1993 holiday release, “Santa Calls,” charmed both Francis Ford Coppola and Saks Fifth Avenue. Coppola is poised to produce the film version, and Saks produced a popular line of “Santa Calls”-inspired products for last year’s Christmas catalogue and will do so again this year. Meanwhile, the whimsical “George Shrinks” (1985) and the incredibly sweet “Bently & egg” (1992) are all being modified for the small screen. And then there are all those other scripts Joyce is developing for various studios, the common denominator being any ole wacky idea that works its way into his brain. Here’s a partial list of other folks whom Joyce has met with and who have expressed interest in developing something with him: DreamWorks, Miramax, Paramount, Columbia, Warner Bros., Oliver Stone’s company, Twentieth Century Fox, Tribeca, Tim Burton’s company Not a slouch in the bunch.

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Joyce’s initial big break came in 1981, just weeks after he graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, when he landed a job illustrating a children’s book for Harper & Row (now HarperCollins). It was the first of several such collaborations between Harper authors and Joyce. Then, four years later, he wrote and illustrated “George Shrinks,” and Joyce the genius began to emerge.

What separates Joyce from most of his peers is that he doesn’t just tell interesting stories and paint beautiful canvases. He envisions worlds. “A Day With Wilbur” is home to an inventor, a robot, a life-size train set, a food-launching tabletop cannon and a Tarzan-yodeling frog. The young heroes of “Santa Calls” journey from a ranch in Abilene, Tex., to the tip of the North Pole in a flying canoe; they meet Santa, face off with the Dark Queen and triumph over sibling rivalry. “Dinosaur Bob” floats his adopted family down the Nile on his back, plays baseball and is partial to the hokey pokey.

“Bill is someone with a voice that I had never heard before,” says David Hoberman, president of Mandeville Films, who was co-chair of Disney during the studio’s early negotiations to do “Wilbur.” “I fell in love with his characters and his drawings. You look at his stuff and it’s great; then you meet him and he’s a great guy.”

It should be noted that the first time Joyce met Hoberman was during a pitch meeting for “Wilbur,” during which Joyce says he “got so into it that at one point I had Hoberman by the lapels.” Not a typical pitch method. But Joyce is not a typical. . . well, anything. Name another children’s book author who has expanded not only into film but also into TV and CD-ROMs--who can paint, tell stories, design toys and build stage sets with equal ease.

“There’s never been anyone like Bill,” says his longtime editor, Laura Geringer, who is vice president and editorial director at HarperCollins. “He’s more inventive than just about anyone I’ve ever met. Most people are talented either visually or verbally. But he has a vision where he can design a whole world. It’s in his head, in his home, in his lifestyle. One of his friends said he’d design his whole block if he could.”

“Everything he touches is so much fun,” says director John Lasseter, whose animated short, “Tin Toy,” won an Oscar in 1988 and who is about to release the first completely computer-animated feature film, “Toy Story.” “I’m constantly inspired by artists and illustrators whose work really has a sense of dimension to it--that you feel like you can move in and out of the objects in the painting. And Bill’s work was always so rich like that-- ‘Dinosaur Bob,’ especially.”

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Familiar references, especially from the 1930s and ‘40s, are sprinkled liberally throughout Joyce’s works, everything from Hollywood icons (King Kong’s a real favorite) to once influential but now obscure industrial designers (i.e. Raymond Loewy).

“What’s interesting,” says Lasseter, “is that he’s taking elements that are really familiar in a way--from history or cinema or design--and doing it in a way you’ve never seen before.”

Lasseter, vice president of creative development for Pixar, says that when he first came across “Dinosaur Bob,” he was so impressed that he bought all of Joyce’s books and then decided to call the artist. The two became fast friends, and Joyce was added to the roster of pre-production artists for “Toy Story.” Joyce will also provide pre-production art input on Lasseter’s second Disney project, which is in development. And don’t be surprised if the two collaborate on one of Joyce’s works in the not too distant future.

“What I love about his stuff,” Lasseter says, “is his wonderful view of life; it’s like a retro look at everything, which is really very appealing. But, in a weird way, it’s so hip. ‘Wilbur Robinson’ is so amazing in how cool it is. And ‘Santa Calls’ is so amazing in his vision of the North Pole. If it’s done right, ‘Santa Calls’ could be ‘The Wizard of Oz’ of the ‘90s.”

*

THE LIVING ROOM OF A TYPICAL AMERICAN HOUSEHOLD, CIRCA 1960--AFTERNOON

Five-year-old BILL is sitting on a rug on the floor with his knees to his chest, staring at a large black-and-white TV. The sound of gunfire fills the room as, on screen, a wounded King Kong falls from the Empire State Building. BILL looks devastated.

FADE OUT. FADE IN to the same room a few minutes later. BILL has been joined by his MOM and DAD, who appear to be consoling him.

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DAD (patting Bill gently on the shoulder): Son, there’s nothing to be upset about. There isn’t really a King Kong.

MOM : That’s right, Bill. Somebody made him up. It’s just a story, honey. Why don’t you go outside and play?

BILL’S PARENTS shoo him toward the front door as they head for the stairs. CUT TO BILL, frozen in place as he turns his head and watches his parents disappear. The look of sadness in his eyes is overshadowed by a deep, angry frown.

*

It all started with Kong.

“I believed in Kong,” he says about his fierce devotion to the great ape. “I believed in Martians, I believed in Santa Claus. It certainly looked convincing and compelling in those movies. When my parents explained it was made up, I simply would not believe that: ‘That’s bulls - - -; I just saw it on TV. It was real! I SAW IT!’ I was furious with them.

“They made everything from then on suspect,” Joyce says. “OK, so there wasn’t King Kong, and there wasn’t the Wizard of Oz, and there wasn’t a mummy, and there might not be a Santa Claus. Suddenly, everything came crashing down and I realized there were just . . . HUMANS. And that I as a boy-human was doomed at one point to be an adult-human.”

This, for Bill, was not a pleasant prospect.

“From what I could see, they weren’t having any fun. They didn’t seem to have any idea how to spend their time or their money. I’m thinkin’, ‘You guys could be blowing up firecrackers all day long and yet. . . “ he pauses, “you go to the grocery store? You go to the office? What is wrong?!’ ”

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Kong, on the other hand, Bill could relate to.

“Kong is a kid,” Joyce says. “He is a preschool kid. Here you are, you’ve got everything figured out. And all of sudden they go, ‘OK, time to go to school!’ They take you to this building where you don’t know where anything is, and the only thing that’s your size are the desks and the chairs, and, if you’re lucky, the toilets. And you are mystified and you are terrified and you don’t know what to do.

“So there Kong is on Skull Island. He knows where everything is. He knows how everything works. And they come and get him and they take him to New York and everything’s the wrong size. And that’s what leads to his demise. We can’t have him running around here: he smushes cars. He smushes trains. We have to get him under control.

“And as a kid, you watch that movie now and it’s so simple and basic. That’s what I miss about movies now . . . King Kong is about Kong, OK? It’s not about the guy and the girl. It’s about Kong. And they made the new one about the guy and the girl, so it didn’t appeal to kids. It didn’t appeal to anybody in the same primal way.”

A cynic might say you can tell Joyce is new to Hollywood by listening to the ease with which he dissects it. An optimist would say he’s a man who knows what he likes, and more importantly, what kids like--and need.

“No one tries to make ‘National Velvet’ anymore,” he says during one of many impassioned discussions about modern movie-making. “I remember going to see ‘National Velvet’ at the Strand theater in downtown Shreveport. They had to drag me. A girl and a horse? But by the time she’s running that race--I get chill bumps thinking about it. Buckets of horses go over those things and fall. You can’t tell who it is. It’s like” [he sucks in his breath] “ ‘AARRRGHHH! AHHHH!! OHH!! There she is!’ The place was going crazy. The kids were so taken away. . . . When you go see ‘The Flintstones,’ kids are talking, kids are running up and down the aisles, nobody is really paying attention ‘cause it’s just a busy movie. There’s nothing really going on.

“But here’s this little girl, Velvet Brown, and she so believes in this horse. And that’s not even what the movie is actually about. The movie is about Mickey Rooney’s character, because he’s tempted to be bad, he’s tempted to steal the money. He’s the one who has the conventional story arc. But all you really remember is Velvet’s unshakable belief in the horse. It never wavers, never changes. Kids are so unsure of everything. When they see Velvet Brown’s unwavering certainty, they hope, ‘Please don’t make her doubt the Pie.’ ”

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*

THE INTERIOR OF A PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE AT A.C. STEERE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN SHREVEPORT, CIRCA 1967--DAY

The stern-faced PRINCIPAL is staring at a fourth-grade BILL and waving a cluster of illustrations under his nose.

PRINCIPAL: And what, exactly, do you call this?

BILL (offhandedly): “Billy’s Booger.”

PRINCIPAL: Did you think you would actually get away with a stunt like this?

BILL: But I did exactly what my teacher told me to. She said we were going to have a contest to write the best story, so that’s what I did. And it is the best story. All the other kids said so.

PRINCIPAL (sighing): Bill, you and I both know this so-called story doesn’t remotely qualify as schoolwork. It’s disgusting. Now get back to class and think about what you’ve done.

BILL grabs his prized book from off the desk and marches indignantly back to class.

*

To really understand Bill Joyce, you must first understand “Billy’s Booger.” “Billy’s Booger” is the first story he ever wrote. Instead of winning him a prize--as he was certain it would--it got him sent to the principal’s office. Something about issues of taste.

That incident is indelibly etched in Joyce’s mind. He still remembers every detail--even the guy who won: “His name was David. I liked him; he was really funny. And his story was pretty clever. But I was supposed to be the best drawer in the class, and I had done my story on good paper and he had done his on notebook paper.” For a moment, Billy is back.

“I guess one reason I’m good at doing kids’ books is ‘cause I just remember all that stuff,” Joyce says. “Being a kid is like being in an opera every day, because when you’re a kid everything is life and death. The forces of good and evil buffeting you about; it is not ‘I skinned my knee,’ it’s (voice panicked and shrill) ‘MY FLESH IS RENT!’ It’s torture.”

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What Joyce remembers most clearly about the “Billy’s Booger” incident is the way it made him feel.

“For some reason,” he says. “I had a sense of injustice at an early age.”

And now it seems Bill will have the last laugh. HarperCollins is scheduled to publish “Billy’s Booger” in the spring of ’96. Its hero is a kid named Billy who enters a story-writing contest in school and gets in trouble for it. Of course, that’s only a small part of the story.

“The book is about surviving the oppressive forces of school and of growing up,” Joyce says. “I always felt this force of conformity. No one even presented the option that you could be artistic or do something a little different and be anarchistic as an adult. . . . . School’s a civilizing influence. But what ends up happening too much is that it gets overdone. All the anarchy is gone; it’s beat out of them by the time they’re in sixth grade. Certainly by college. Why people are so wild in college is they realize it’s their last chance for untethered behavior.

“I was so brokenhearted when college was over,” he says. “I dragged it out as long as I could. It was like, ‘Now what do I do?’ And luckily, children’s books said, ‘Come.’ And I was like, ‘Can I bring the anarchy with me?’ (switches to deep voice). ‘Yes.’ It was like in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when they melt the Wicked Witch. She’s gone. She’s a puddle. And they say to Dorothy, ‘Is there anything we can do for you?’ And she says, ‘Can we have the broomstick?’ And the guy says” [affecting formal British voice] “ ‘Please, and take it with you.’

“It’s such an odd thing to say. But that’s how I felt about college: Can I have the anarchy?” [switching to deep voice] “ ‘Yes, please and take it with you,’ said children’s books. So they let me take it with me, and there it’s been thriving ever since.” Which may explain why, like his favorite films, Joyce’s work appeals to both children and adults.

“Bill is so funny and appealing, but there’s a bite to it, a satirical bite,” says Lasseter. “There is something there for adults.”

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This generational cross-over is intentional. “Why does ‘Alice in Wonderland’ survive? why does ‘Through the Looking Glass’ survive?” Joyce says. “They’re not really for kids. If you read ‘Peter Pan’ as an adult, you realize it takes place in the realm of children, but the conclusions it comes to are not childish conclusions. It’s when adults try to sanitize children’s stories that they get into trouble,” he says. “If you start lecturing, they aren’t involved anymore. They feel betrayed, they hate you and that’s it. You’re done.” *

THE BOARDROOM OF A MOVIE STUDIO--DAY

Clustered around a conference table are a dozen or so movie executives and BILL. In the center of the table are several illustrations from the book “Dinosaur Bob,” whose protagonist is a friendly green dinosaur. It’s obvious from the illustrations that the story has a nostalgic look reminiscent of the 1930s and ‘40s.

The camera scans the illustrations. Meanwhile . . .

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Hey! I’ve got it! Let’s make it a contemporary story! How about a boy and a dog? Like “Old Yeller.”

Camera, still scanning illustrations, suddenly jars out of focus and freezes on BILL.

BILL (looking extremely alarmed) Uh yeah. . . right. Why not throw in some singing nuns? And just for kicks, Pauly Shore can be the voice of Bob! I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you just go make that movie and we’ll make this one?

Camera freezes on illustration of Bob. DISSOLVE.

*

This would be the ideal juncture to discuss exactly what movie projects Joyce is involved in and where each one stands. Ideal, yes, but impossible, for a number of reasons. One is that Joyce is working on so many things in such different phases of development that the status of at least one changes every 15 minutes. Even he has trouble keeping track of what he’s doing. Then there’s the Hollywood paranoia factor: Nobody wants to talk about any deal unless it’s etched in Sorrento marble.

What’s definite (for now, anyway) is that Disney is set to do “Wilbur Robinson,” with a screenplay in the works. American Zoetrope is producing “Santa Calls,” for which Joyce has written the screenplay and will direct if the budget is under $10 million. Zoetrope is also producing “Missy and Massa,” by Joyce and Caroline Thompson (“Edward Scissorhands”), based on the life of a woman who raised chimpanzees and gorillas on her estate in Brooklyn during the ‘30s, teaching them how to mix martinis, play croquet and do light housework. Meanwhile, Fox Television is developing a Saturday morning series of children’s tales, including “George Shrinks” and “Bently & egg.”

Several more projects would probably be less in flux if Joyce had met with all the studio types he had planned to hook up with during a trip to Los Angeles in early June. But he got sick and went home to Shreveport early, canceling several meetings with major studio executives.

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His initial purpose for the trip was to attend the opening of “The World of William Joyce” at Storyopolis in Beverly Hills An ambitious new production company that also houses a gallery and children’s bookstore, Storyopolis devoted its exhibition space to Joyce’s paintings and books. The company, which produced a lithograph series for the show, is also talking to Joyce about developing several movie projects and a CD-ROM.

Storyopolis co-founder Abbie Phillips has been a Joyce fan for years; she has featured his work at her well-known children’s art gallery, Every Picture Tells A Story.

“I think he’s up there with the finest contemporary painters we have around--and not just in children’s books,” she says. “He’s just phenomenal. You know the WPA artist Thomas Hart Benton? It’s like that period of work but gone berserk.

“He’s someone who through his imagination has lived throughout the 20th Century and has incorporated all these images into his artwork, and we as adults really respond to it: We love ancient Egypt and we love robots and wacky families.”

So do a number of Hollywood heavyweights: Harrison Ford, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and Mimi Rogers are a few of the high-profile types who own Joyce paintings (which sell for up to $15,000).

Jane Rosenthal, president of Tribeca Productions, compares Joyce to a more family-oriented Tim Burton. She and Joyce are hoping to collaborate on a series of holiday TV specials; they’re scheduled to make their pitch to the networks in July.

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“Growing up, both Bill and I remember wonderful children’s specials--they were perennials,” says Rosenthal, who reports that Joyce will write some of the shows as well as do some of the directing. “And they’re just not out there now. We’d like to re-create that for our kids.”

There probably isn’t a fledgling filmmaker in town who wouldn’t crawl barefoot through the Sahara to slip into Joyce’s shoes, but he has the good grace to say it hasn’t been all that easy.

“It’s been arduous. That any movie turns out good is to me a miracle,” he says. “I think any filmmaker who really loves what he does is pissed most of the time. Because there are so many battles. . . . The worst part is negotiating contracts. There’s just a lot of rights I won’t give up. As far as I’m concerned, if you guys want to make a movie, make a movie. But the book belongs to me.”

Oh, don’t bother trying to figure out just how lucrative Joyce’s many projects have become. “What a silly question,” he says when asked how much money he’s making. But when pressed, he will say that so far he’s earned $700,000 on the “Santa Calls” book.

Then there are the creative battles.

“It’s tough finding people who share your commitment to doing not fine things for children, but great things--and not just for children. I don’t want to do anything other than something really great. Crummy movies never go away. Bad books go out of print, bad plays aren’t performed anymore, but s - - - - y movies never go away.”

So why court disaster?

“I love movies so much,” Joyce says, laughing, “that I have to try--to see if I can do something as wonderful and delirious as the things I love.”

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*

FOURTH OF JULY, 1995. THE BACK YARD OF BILL’S HOUSE IN SHREVEPORT--DAY.

A group of about 20 people of all ages, from age 8 to grandparents, is clustered around a large object situated atop a massive dirt pile in the middle of the yard. Everyone is wearing safety goggles and clutching small missiles in their hands. Opera music is playing in the background. A few of the adults are drinking mint juleps. As the camera gets closer, the central object comes into focus. It’s an 18-foot Styrofoam Toyland (from “Santa Calls”) in red, white and blue, studded with thousands of plastic toy figures--everything from soldiers and clowns to dinosaurs and ballerinas. BILL is standing over it, checking it out as if for defects. Then he moves away from the castle and addresses the crowd.

BILL: Okay, everybody. Ready?

THE GROUP (at the top of their lungs): THREE! TWO! ONE!

BILL flips the switch of a remote-control toy car, which races toward the castle. As he does, several people throw smoke bombs at the castle, while others throw all sorts of other fireworks. The car reaches the castle, which is blown to smithereens by all the fireworks. Slow-motion close-up of castle blowing up.

DISSOLVE.

*

The holidays are an especially interesting time at the Joyce household. For just about as long as they’ve been together--they’ve known each other since they were teen-agers and have been married for 10 years--Bill and Elizabeth have regularly hosted extravagant celebrations at just about every major holiday. They’re best known for their Halloween party, which is one of the most highly anticipated events in Shreveport. Then there’s Christmas: Last year, Joyce had some 14 Christmas trees scattered throughout the house. All the better for the bow and arrow wars. On Christmas Eve, both their families come over and all the cushions come off the furniture and are spread through the house, and everybody attacks each other with Nerf bows and arrows. Rolled-up socks serve as hand grenades.

Then there are the neighborhood croquet games and scavenger hunts. The back-yard camp-outs. And, of course, movies--lots of ‘em.

“That’s our favorite thing to do,” Elizabeth Joyce says. “Mary Katherine’s upstairs watching ‘Peter Pan’ right now. She loved it so much she had to see it again.”

It seems Mary Katherine, 3, has a lot in common with her dad.

“She totally believes in everything imaginary,” Elizabeth says. “She and Bill run around looking for fairies at night. They go outside with their flashlights.”

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The jury’s still out on little Jack; he’s only 9 months old.

To the untrained eye, life in Shreveport might appear disappointingly nondescript. But to a native like Joyce, it’s full of surprises.

“It’s this free-wheeling, wild Southern town--slow and fast at the same time,” he says. “Full of adventure and incredibly sleepy. Elvis got his start here. One of my best friend’s father was Elvis’ manager until he signed with Col. Tom. I used to swim at the Elvis Presley swimming pool. Hank Williams used to hang out here. Johnny Cash used to hang out here.”

Now that Hollywood is beckoning, it might seem logical for Joyce to pick up stakes and head West.

“Not in a million years,” Joyce says. “L.A.’s a hysterical place. It has distinct charms, but it has a long tradition of peculiarity that is not endearing.”

“Staying in Shreveport will be his salvation,” says Bonnie Lee, former president of Geffen Pictures. Lee was first a Joyce fan (she owns several of his paintings) and then a close friend. “He’s a Louisianian and loves the South and is really appreciative of his own culture. He’s very witty and has a real genuine warmth and sweetness. I think much of what he does comes out of where he lives and who he has been brought up to be and all that.”

But there’s another less-charming aspect of this Southern influence: By and large, the world of William Joyce is a white one. This is perhaps where Joyce faces his toughest challenge.

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“When I was working on the new (expanded) ‘Dinosaur Bob,’ I remember thinking, ‘Put some black people on the streets,’ ” he says. “ ‘Try to keep this from just being a white-bread world.’ But it is something I have to stop and think about, because I grew up in a white-bread world.”

The same is true for the protagonist of “Billy’s Booger,” which is set in the early ‘60s.

“But that’s what I was around all the time then,” Joyce says of his dilemma. “Do I stay true to that? Or do I stick in some black kids, a Hispanic kid, an Asian kid to be politically correct? Maybe. I haven’t decided. . . . If it seems right, I’ll do it. If it seems phony, I’m not going to. And if that’s not politically correct, I’m so (expletive) sorry. I’m not going to do it just to make some people happy.”

He is, however, working on a screenplay that deals with the issue. It’s called “Neighborhood Watch” and focuses on the first black family to move into the oldest, richest neighborhood in Shreveport. That script is but one of an ever-increasing pile. Which brings us to the one central problem that Joyce confronts each day.

“I have too much s - - - to do,” he sighs.

You see, it isn’t as if he put aside his books to focus on his films. On any given day, he’s got four or five children’s books are swimming around in his head and at least three or four are taking shape on paper. One interview is cut short because he has to work on a new book idea that sprang from an impromptu story he told Mary Katherine a few days earlier. He’s so excited about it that he wants to do it right now. (Keep in mind that his books have already been scheduled for the next decade.)

HarperCollins is also producing a number of products based on his books. There’s the “George Shrinks” CD-ROM and mini-book, and the World of William Joyce note cards, which will soon be joined by a line of toys, perhaps some stationery (tied to Christmas-time Santa writing), a couple of popup books, several audiotapes and a World of William Joyce calendar.

He’s working on the Starbright Foundation’s “Progressive Fairy Tale,” which will feature chapters by (among others) Harrison Ford, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Simon, Michael Crichton, Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher. He has agreed to create a series of murals for his old elementary school, which, in all likelihood, his daughter will attend. And just before this story went to press, Joyce got word that “Santa Calls” might go to Broadway.

Yet, somehow, all of this doesn’t interfere with family life. At least that’s what Elizabeth says. And Joyce insists that he has been “taking it a lot easier this year because I want to enjoy these little people who run around my house.”

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So a day that begins at 9:30 a.m. with a quick trip down the hall to his studio is just as likely to include a detour to the video store with Mary Katherine as it is a bevy of calls to the West Coast. Of course, there will be calls from New York, a few hours of painting, maybe a little sketching, a slight rejiggering of one of the toy designs and the fleshing out of a brand new idea. But you also might find him weeding in the breathtaking garden he’s created or interrupting an interview to photograph Jack lounging in the summer sun with Mom.

Joyce is philosophical about the chaos that is his reality.

“Either you have a life and you do this madness so you’re half mad all the time, or you simply go entirely mad or entirely normal,” he says. “I’m like a kid in a candy store: Oooh, all these pretty, neato things--which are now within reach. The mature thing to do would be to flip the bird and stay home. But I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m still a creative pre-pubescent. My creative hormones are out of control.”

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