This week, we look into the career of one of the most notable animators of the East Coast, Myron Waldman!Born on April 23, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York, Myron Waldman received his first job in animation before he graduated from New Utrecht High School. He first worked as an opaquer at the Associated Animators studio, which produced Mutt and Jeff cartoons, in the summer of 1925. Wanting to continue his high school education, Waldman chose to work at the studio only to the extent of his vacation. He applied for the Fine and Applied Arts program at Pratt Institute, drawing pictures for telephone books, lingerie ads and newspaper cartoons for a Long Island publication to pay for his tuition. After Waldman graduated from Pratt in 1929, he worked as a counselor at a boys’ camp during the summer, painting stage scenery and drawing cartoons for their newsletter. During his time at the summer camp, a nurse suggested a meeting between Waldman and her next-door neighbor, Dave Fleischer. She took his drawings to Fleischer, which led to an interview with studio manager William Gilmartin. However, Waldman was not hired directly.
Waldman joined the Fleischer studio in October 1930 where he went through the ranks at a brisk pace. He started as an opaquer, which led to his promotion as an inker. Two months later he became an in-betweener. When the studio gave him a chance at animation, they offered him the same salary as an in-betweener. Waldman refused and wanted to prove he could perform the task. He recalled to Mark Langer in 1979: “I went home over the weekend and worked all Saturday night and all day Sunday. On Monday morning, I put a scene on Dave Fleischer’s desk. It was Bimbo falling through the sky on a parachute or umbrella, and a vulture that was flying along grabbed him as he went by and saved him. On the strength of that, they put me in animation.” By April 1931, he served as an animator in Seymour Kneitel’s unit, but shifted to Willard Bowsky’s crew a year later.
By 1934, Waldman was given his own unit as “head animator,” performing duties such as timing, layout, character designs, and on occasion, if the schedule allowed, animation of different scenes in his own cartoons. One of the artists in his unit, Lillian Friedman, became the first American female artist designated to the position in the animation industry. One of his earliest credits as a head animator was the 1934 Popeye short Can You Take It—certainly one of the more brutal entries. Waldman seldom handled cartoons in the Popeye series and primarily worked on the Betty Boop cartoons during the 1930s. (He is later credited as head animator on Problem Pappy and Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle, both released in 1941.)
For Betty Boop’s Little Pal, also released in 1934, Waldman created and designed Pudgy, Betty’s little puppy in the film. Pudgy became one of Betty’s supporting characters throughout much of the series’ run until its end in 1939. On the Color Classics, Waldman was head animator on several entries, such as Hawaiian Birds (1936), Peeping Penguins (1937), and All’s Fair at the Fair (1938). Two of his films in the series, Educated Fish (1937) and Hunky and Spunky (1938)—a mother donkey and he young son created and designed by Waldman—were nominated for Academy Awards, but both lost to Disney’s Silly Symphonies.
During the Fleischer studio strike in 1937, the lower echelon of studio production—in-betweeners, inkers, opaquers—formed a picket line in front of the studio, due to their working conditions and low pay wages. Waldman acted as a proponent of the strike, leading a committee to negotiate with Max Fleischer, along with fellow head animator Dave Tendlar and fifteen other artists, to convince him to settle their dissention since he had previously declined to consult with the Commercial Artists and Designers Union (CADU). He promised to hire all of the artists fired, but later reneged to half, hiring “scab” artists to replace the strikers. A few months later, in October, Fleischer recognized the CADU’s agreement of a 20 percent raise—along with one week’s vacation, holidays and sick leave—and signed a deal to hire back all fired personnel and dismiss the “scabs.” By January 1938, the Fleischers announced they would move their studio to Miami to prepare for their first animated feature Gulliver’s Travels, and from an executive standpoint, due to the weak labor movement in Florida that would minimize such costs.
While much of the key Fleischer staff worked on Gulliver’s Travels as sequence directors or as regular animators, Waldman became busy handling the production duties of the studio’s black-and white Stone Age cartoons and Animated Antics. He animated on different sequences in Gulliver (Waldman recalled his involvement with the spies Sneak, Snoop and Snitch, where the three load the lead pellet into Gulliver’s pistol), but did not receive credit. With the exception of the Popeye series, the quality of the Fleischer output began to decrease overtime, mainly with the Stone Age series, as Waldman recalled: “With the caveman shorts, we knew right away that they were stinkers… We wanted to discontinue them immediately, but Paramount wouldn’t let us. They had sold an entire year of them to theaters and had to deliver, no matter how bad they made us look.”
Originally intended as a feature, Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy eventually became a two-reel animated film, with Waldman as head animator. He was credited on two 1942 Superman cartoons, The Billion Dollar Limited and The Magnetic Telescope. Waldman worked as a sequence director on the studio’s second feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, which he felt was a “risky proposition.” Waldman stated, “In Gulliver, you had a classic and even if it wasn’t good, people would see it… Mr. Bug was an unknown property and would depend on word of mouth.” The film did not perform well financially, and the two Fleischer brothers had their studio seized by Paramount. The studio was renamed Famous Studios, and was officially incorporated in May 1942. Waldman was only at Famous for a few months before enlisting in the Army’s Combat Camouflage Engineers in October, where he painted trucks.
While in Miami, Waldman conceived the idea of an illustrated, wordless story about a plump New York secretary who travels to Miami in search of love. He drew the story of Eve: A Love Story Without Words during his military service. After he was reassigned to the Signal Corps in New York, he sent around the manuscript of Eve to publishing agents. Annie Lauren Williams, a literary agent who previously sold Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind, managed to sell Eve, ultimately published by Stephen Daye in 1943, and the book was well received in the press. Waldman also moonlighted in funny animal comics, with only one known credited story entitled “The Missing Lynx,” issued in Coo Coo Comics #12 (July 1944).
After World War II, Waldman turned down an offer to animate at George Moreno’s studio in England on a series starring Bubble and Squeak, an anthropomorphic taxicab and his driver. He returned to Famous Studios on November 1945, with his first credit as head animator on the Little Lulu cartoon Musica-Lulu (released January 1947). Waldman helmed two significant Noveltoons that led the way for future star characters at Famous. He is credited on Santa’s Surprise (1947), the first appearance of Little Audrey, an original character intended to replace Little Lulu. He was also the head animator of There’s Good Boos To-night (1948), a Noveltoon featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost. The character debuted in 1945’s The Friendly Ghost, but Waldman’s film ignited his popularity, and the studio continued producing cartoons with Casper.
Writer Steve Carlin partnered with Waldman on a children’s book, Happy the Humbug, a character with a unique design—a giraffe’s neck, monkey’s tail and a turtle’s shell on his back. The book never saw publication, but Carlin pitched the show to NBC Radio for the Christmas season. Happy the Humbug evolved into a syndicated Sunday comic strip by the New York Post Syndicate, written by Carlin and drawn by Waldman, spanning from November 17th, 1946 to April 3rd, 1949. In between his regular employment at Famous and the Happy the Humbug comic strip Waldman married Rosalie Solocov on May 30th, 1948, a young woman in the checking department whom he met four years earlier upon a visit to the studio during his time in the Army.
As a head animator at Famous, he continued to implement sentimentality unlike the brutal violence of the Dave Tendlar unit’s cartoons (Herman & Katnip and Baby Huey). Waldman became the principal director on the Casper the Friendly Ghost series throughout the 1950s, denigrated by his colleagues as “ooh-ah pictures.” He paraphrased his reaction to Mark Langer: “I’ll bet you any money you want that a few years from now, you take any kid and ask him what pictures he remembers, he’ll remember these pictures because they have little stories, but you take a picture that’s only gags, they don’t remember them! They only remember a story more, and they can relate to a character more.”
In the fall of 1950, he partnered with Steve Carlin again, billed as “Skribble Kabibble” for a children’s puppet-show program Carlin wrote and produced, The Rootie Tootie Luncheon Club. The show later became The Rootie Kazootie Club, but Waldman’s part was excised from the finalized program. As television became more prevalent in American households during the 1950s, Waldman made public appearances in other local New York children’s shows, such as The Herb Sheldon Show and The Merry Mailman, where he would often draw characters on an easel.
In November 1956, Waldman left Famous Studios to work as an animation director in television commercials and cartoons at the studio of former Fleischer animator Hal Seeger. He worked on a revival of Out of the Inkwell (1960-61) with Koko the Clown when Max Fleischer formed a partnership with Seeger for 100 5-minute episodes. The pilot itself, animated by Waldman, was intended as a live-action/animation combination, much like its silent-era counterpart. However, it wasn’t feasible to continue these practices, given the studio’s lower budgets. Waldman also worked on The Milton the Monster Show (1965-68) and Bat-Fink (1966-67). In an unusual assignment, he directed/animated the opening and closing credits of The Porky Pig Show (1964) at Seeger’s studio. In 1968, he left Seeger to work for a company called New Dimension Films, Inc., a firm that specialized in animated films and special effects, where he became executive producer and shifted to vice president the following year.Waldman soon left New Dimension Films to freelance on commercials and various projects throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He worked as an animator on two television specials produced by the studio of former Fleischer colleague Shamus Culhane, Noah’s Animals (1976) and King of the Beasts (1977). He also worked on a film sponsored by the American Heart Association based on L. Frank Baum’s Oz character The Tin Woodsman, The Adventures of a Man In Search of a Heart (1984). As many of the figures in classic American animation gained recognition, he toured the country and gave lectures in retrospective screenings. During the 1990s, he created paintings and limited edition cels for the animation art gallery circuit featuring Betty Boop and Popeye. In 1997, he was awarded with the Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to animation, while he continued drawing and attending galleries. Waldman passed away on February 4, 2006, at the age of 97.
(Thanks to Robert Waldman, Yowp, Dave Gerstein, Steve Stanchfield and Mark Newgarden for their help.)