Animation History
June 4, 2014 posted by Jerry Beck

A Paul J. Smith Scrapbook

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Who was “Paul J. Smith” (1906-1980)? He was a pioneering animator who started with Walt Disney on the Alice Comedies, then joined Harman-Ising on the Bosko Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies – and stayed with Schlesinger till 1939. In 1940 he began a 32 year career with Walter Lantz – graduating from animator to director, working to the bitter end directing the antics of Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy and The Beary Family.

This past weekend I met Smith’s daughter, Sheryl – herself a veteran of the animation business, having worked in ink-and-paint at DePatie-Freleng and Disney. She attended my screening of Fleischer shorts at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo California and after the show we had a brief chat about the golden age of cartoons. Sheryl said she had a few photographs she as willing to share with my readers – and here they are with her comments in italics:

I’m sure you’ve seen this photo before in all your knowledge and research. That’s my dad, Paul J. Smith, standing next to Walt Disney, 2nd from the right. This was taken in 1926 during the Alice Comedies (little “Alice” is in front). This was Dad’s first animation job, and he would have been only 20 years old. The other guys, from L to R are Walker Harmon, Friz Freleng, Rudy Ising, Roy Disney, Hugh Harmon, Ub Iwerks, Norm Blackburn, then my Dad and then Walt. ( I’m sure you know who’s who, but in case you don’t! )

When I was working on the Disney lot in the late 1980s I went into Archives and talked to Dave Smith, and told him about my dad. He carefully removed an old ledger volume from the shelf and opened it up to show me my Dad’s name on the payroll, all handwritten in columns all the employees there in 1926, and showing their pay. I somewhere have it written down, but I’ve forgotten off hand, but I think my dad was making something like $25 a week, and Disney was paying himself $100 a week, and I think Roy was getting $75 a week. Don’t quote me but that’s what I’m remembering! Also, on the ledger my dad was on line 17, and Dave Smith said Dad was Disney’s 17th employee. (ever!)

disney-staff-alice

Not work photos, but nice photos of my Dad in the early days. The woman is my mom, whose real name was Mildred but was called Dixie. She was a cel painter at Warner Brothers in the late 1930s and that’s where she met my dad who was an animator then. She was Dixie Mankameyer before she became Dixie Smith. They married in 1941. My mother’s cousin, Raynelle Bell (married name Day) was a cel painter at WB too, and she also worked on Gulliver’s Travels in Florida (so did my dad’s brother, my Uncle Frank Smith, who is the father of Charles Martin Smith, (the kid in American Graffiti.) Raynelle also worked on the Beany and Cecil cartoons. She worked in animation all her life too, and got the 50 year award. (The Cartoonist Union’s Golden Award)

By the way, my cousin Charlie (Charles Martin Smith), is still acting and directing. He’s living in Vancouver now because that’s where his work is. You can google him and see what he’s been up to if it interests you. He directed a real interesting film a few years ago called “The Snow Walker”. It was only released in Canada, but can be gotten on DVD here in the US. At the end there’s a lot of footage of the “making of” and interviews with Charlie.

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This photo was taken at a Warner Bros. party in 1939, my parents, Paul and Dixie are in the front. They won first place for their costumes. I’m wondering if my dad was supposed to be Rhett Butler, since that’s the year Gone With The Wind was released. This was taken while they were still dating, in 1939, they married in 1941. I don’t know who the other people are but you probably do!

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Paul J. Smith in 1943

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This is my mom, Dixie (Mildred Mankameyer) taken at WB, late 30’s probably, because she quit working when she married in ‘41. This was probably taken in the Ink & Paint Dept.

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My dad Paul Smith, at Walter Lantz Productions in 1953.

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The photo above shows Smith directing possibly his first film at Lantz – a theatrical Coca-Cola commercial called Ali Baba and The Theives. Note the bottle of Coke at his side. The scene he’s checking is at :54 in the video below:



And finally, before we go, here is my favorite Paul Smith cartoon. From around the short time Tex Avery was at the studio and his influence rubbed off on all the artists – Arts and Flowers (1956)

27 Comments

  • Jerry:
    Paul may have fallen into a rut doing the Woodys,Chillys and Bearys,but he did have the talent and ability,not to mention the experience..I have to go with Arts and Flowers as a favorite,too.

  • Jerry, please thank Sheryl Smith for us; these are some wonderful photos, and her comments really add to them.

    A little Googling reveals that the girl in the first photo is the final Alice, Lois Hardwick. So, can anyone identify the others in the costume party photo?

  • Oh wow….that IZ great. Thank you, and thank Ms. Sheryl!!!

  • When DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID premiered I saw it in a 2,000 seat theater. There was a Paul Smith Woody Woodpecker on in front of it. At the site of Woody the place went wild. “They will be screaming,’Take it off!’ in two minutes,” I said to my friend.

    In two minutes they were.

    Had it been one of the great ones, like BARBER OF SEVILLE, that expectation would have been surpassed. Too bad Smith made those films at the lowest moment of the Lantz Studio. This is the first indication I have seen that he was capable of better. Thank you.

    • When DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID premiered I saw it in a 2,000 seat theater. There was a Paul Smith Woody Woodpecker on in front of it. At the site of Woody the place went wild. “They will be screaming,’Take it off!’ in two minutes,” I said to my friend.

      In two minutes they were.

      Had it been one of the great ones, like BARBER OF SEVILLE, that expectation would have been surpassed. Too bad Smith made those films at the lowest moment of the Lantz Studio. This is the first indication I have seen that he was capable of better. Thank you.

      Certainly they could’ve picked a better cartoon there, though I had to see SMOKED HAMS precede PROBLEM CHILD 2 on the big screen myself, I should’ve left after the cartoon finished!

  • Nice story. Thank you.

  • I feel that “Real Gone Woody” was Paul’s best.

  • Charles Martin Smith helped make Universal a lot of money in 1973 in “American Graffiti”. Too bad Lantz’s output didn’t survive for one more year or he and Paul would have been on the studio’s payroll at the same time.

    “Niagara Fools”, the cartoon just prior to “Arts and Flowers”, was my personal Paul Smith favorite, though most of the shorts from Smith’s first couple of years as director at the studio have their moments (i.e. — If his output had been cut off then, the way Don Patterson’s was at Lantz, we’d probably be saying it was a shame he wasn’t allowed to direct more cartoons).

    • Charles Martin Smith helped make Universal a lot of money in 1973 in “American Graffiti”. Too bad Lantz’s output didn’t survive for one more year or he and Paul would have been on the studio’s payroll at the same time.

      Lord knows how long they could’ve milked the potential for a few more years had that happen.

      “Niagara Fools”, the cartoon just prior to “Arts and Flowers”, was my personal Paul Smith favorite, though most of the shorts from Smith’s first couple of years as director at the studio have their moments (i.e. — If his output had been cut off then, the way Don Patterson’s was at Lantz, we’d probably be saying it was a shame he wasn’t allowed to direct more cartoons).

      Could we be saying the same for Patterson too (not that he would’ve staled as well but it’s an interesting theory). Arguably you have your good period and your bad period, and no doubt those first few years are often the best in some cases.

  • So was Sheryl the Smith daughter who filled out her dad’s exposure sheets for him at Lantz when Paul J.’s eyesight deteriorated to the point that he was legally blind? (1969? 1970?) I’ve always wanted to verify this story, and perhaps Sheryl can do it!

    • Yes, it’s true. I wonder how you knew that. I drove him to work and assisted him all day and went with him to recording sessions etc too. It was fun.

    • Still at least there was a nice family-oriented business going on during those years.

    • Thanks Sheryl, for confirming the truth about this Paul Smith legend. That Walter Lantz would keep Mr. Smith employed despite his handicap, shows us how loyal Mr. Lantz was to his long-time employees. I’ll never forget Mr. Lantz’s comment to me on one of the many times I tried to find employment at his Seward Street studio: “You’ll have to wait until these guys DIE before I’d ever hire YOU!”

    • “Thanks Sheryl, for confirming the truth about this Paul Smith legend. That Walter Lantz would keep Mr. Smith employed despite his handicap, shows us how loyal Mr. Lantz was to his long-time employees. I’ll never forget Mr. Lantz’s comment to me on one of the many times I tried to find employment at his Seward Street studio: “You’ll have to wait until these guys DIE before I’d ever hire YOU!”

      Also “Let the old man go back to his spaghetti!”

  • She was Dixie Mankameyer before she became Dixie Smith.

    That maiden name sounds familiar. I think there was a Beary Family cartoon where Bessie mentions some other girl that Charlie was out with in the past he bothered to bring up (the name was Nellie Mankameyer). Wouldn’t surprise me if Paul threw that in the script just to have a name there, or else the coincidence the name was used at all.

    • Yes, my dad just threw that in there for fun. It really surprised our Mankameyer relatives in Kansas City who just happened to see that cartoon in a theater one night. They got a big kick out of it.

    • I think he used the name Millie Mankameyer, as his wife’s ( my mom’s) real name was Mildred, and Mankameyer was her maiden name. I haven’t seen that cartoon in ages but I’m thinking the line was something like “that floozy Millie Mankameyer” We’ll, my mom wasn’t NOT a floozy but my dad thought that was pretty funny to put in the cartoon! We did too.

    • I haven’t seen that cartoon in ages but I’m thinking the line was something like “that floozy Millie Mankameyer” We’ll, my mom wasn’t NOT a floozy but my dad thought that was pretty funny to put in the cartoon! We did too.

      You’re probably right Sheryl, this was the scene I was talking about by the way (I guess I couldn’t hear it too well on my end)…
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G1xzLI913E&t=2m53s

    • I remember that cartoon…and I had always thought “Millie Mankameyer” was the result of some writer trying too hard to come up with a goofy-sounding name! Little did I know!!

  • I can TOTALLY see the resemblance between Paul J. and Charles Martin Smith!!

    THANK YOU Ms. Sheryl and Jerry. This CR entry really brightened my day!

    - William Carroll in Denham Springs, Louisiana

  • I grew up on those Cartoons that Smith directed while in the late-’80s to early-’90s. To be honest, some of his cartoons were funny; others, not so much. Then again, there were cartoons that were much worse.

  • Paul Smith has taken a lot of flack for the cartoons he directed, and I’ve taken some myself for admitting to liking them. Some of my favorite Smith pictures include Private Eye Pooch, Niagara Fools, Helter Shelter, Woodpecker From Mars, and the first Chilly Willy (aka The Cold Penguin, aka aka The Deep Freeze.) If nothing else, his cartoons were usually energetic, rarely standing still for long before moving on to the next gag. My friend Dave Kirwan (Alex’s proud papa) says he enjoys Smith cartoons for the reason that he seemed to pretty much shoot the storyboards as written, and because of this there’s always one or two gags in any given Smith cartoon that you’ve never seen anywhere else. (Whether they “worked” or not…) If Walter Lantz was considered a “B” cartoon studio, then Paul Smith deserves to be thought of as a journeyman “B-picture” director; if the script was lacking, the best he could do was grind ‘em out, but with a solid script, he could deliver the goods.

  • For anybody who’s interested, here’s a quick breakdown of the animators in “Arts and Flowers”…

    Opening sequence: Don Patterson

    First sequence in desert: Bob Bentley

    Woody paints a cactus: Don P.

    Woody paints an oasis: Bob B.

    Woody paints girl with vase: Les Kline

    Woody paints bulldog then railroad: Don P.

    Inside Museum. Herman Cohen

    Herman Cohen also did some of the character models, including Woody here.

    Also, the story for this cartoon was “borrowed” for a KFS Popeye cartoon (From TV Spots)!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RONUFe59_i8

  • NIAGRA FOOLS is one of my favorites as well. Great stuff.

  • Apropos of nothing much really, I wish they had adopted that black dry-brush “Walter Lantz” signature logo permanently instead of the familiar (and bland) yellow logo used from the late 50′s on. Much more striking, IMHO. The dry-brush logo appeared on only a scant handful of cartoons I can recall; Arts and Flowers, Woodpecker From Mars, Room and Wrath (I think) and maybe one or two others.
    I assume Raymond Jacobs did the superb hand-lettering seen in many 50′s Lantz backgrounds as well as title cards. He worked on at least one TV Popeye for Jack Kinney (Pest Of The Pecos) that showed off his lettering skills as well.

  • I’m surprised no one’s mentioned “Bunco Busters”.

    • A very good one indeed! Most viewers now mistake this cartoon for a spoof of Dragnet (which had already been parodied in “Under The Counter Spy.”) In fact, it was a take-off on another 1950′s TV crime show, then popular, now forgotten, called Racket Squad. The detective narrator of “Bunco Busters” is a caricature of Racket Squad’s star Reed Hadley, who played ‘Captain Braddock.’ The caricature’s name, ‘Captain Haddock,’ is a pun on this, perhaps created by combining the actor’s name with the TV character’s. (Hadley + Braddock = Haddock.) And remember, if Woody had gone right to the police, this would never have happened…

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