The careers of animation veterans Lew Irwin and Betty Brenon were similar in that both worked at Leon Schlesinger’s during the 1930s and both ended up in supervisory positions.
Irwin originally went to New York to study art and ended up breaking into animation working briefly for Ted Eshbaugh. He then went out to Los Angeles and submitted his portfolio to Schlesinger, where he was taken on as a inbetweener trainee at $6.00 a week; after 4 weeks, he was officially hired at $12.00 a week.
He went into the Army during World War 2, and after 5½ years ended up as a first lieutenant in the Signal Corps. He returned to what was now the Warner Bros. cartoon studio and soon became the Assistant Animation Supervisor until the unit closed. He later took similar positions at Hanna-Barbera (4 years) and Filmation (where he spent his last 10 years in the business). After H&B, he spent 2½ years at the Ed Graham Studios as a production manager on the Linus the Lionhearted TV series -and several theatrical shorts like Funny Is Funny (embed at right). In addition, he had gigs at DePatie-Freleng and Krantz.
He seems to have especially treasured his time at Warner Bros. and talked fondly of knowing such animators as Ken Harris and Ben Washam, and counted Mike Maltese as one of his closest friends. Perhaps because of his position in the industry, there seems little if anything written about him, though I’m sure he would have had some interesting stories to tell.
Brenon’s work in ink and paint might also have consigned her to obscurity in terms of animation history, but fragments of her life and career have happily survived. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at the age of 8. At 16, while going to Manual Arts High School, a girlfriend arranged a screen test that got her a contract as one of the Fox Sunshine Beauties in the Fox Sunshine Comedies, a series of shorts produced from 1917-25; the Sunshine Beauties were meant to compete with the very popular Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties. If we can believe her profile in the Schlesinger Exposure Sheet in-house newsletter, her mother’s faith in the wisdom of an Ouija board led Brenon to abandon her acting career.
Before being hired as a painter by Schlesinger on June 22, 1933 at $16.48 a week, she mostly worked at art-related jobs, including for the A.E. Littles Art Company and the Buzza-Cardozo greeting card company. After about a year, she was made a supervisor. She left in 1943 to go to the Army Air Corps’ First Motion Picture Unit at Fort Roach. Martha Sigall wrote in Living Inside the Lines that, as a result of internal politics, her leaving may have not been voluntary; Sigall also pointed out that her sister, Ann Almond, worked alongside Brenon. She subsequently worked for Lantz, Disney, MGM and Jay Ward, as well as running her own company, Betty Brenon Ink & Paint Service.
Next week: Betty Smith and Jean Selby Thorpe.