BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
January 31, 2018 posted by Devon Baxter

Moonlighting Animation Artists in Comics: OWEN FITZGERALD

Layout drawing from DAFFY THE COMMANDO (1943), presumably drawn by Fitzgerald

To wrap up this month’s theme, here’s a real favorite among cartoonists and animators—Owen Fitzgerald!

Born in 1916 at Cardwell, Missouri as Everett Owen Fitzgerald, he developed an artistic interest in childhood. As a teenager, he secured a job in his father’s lumberyard and drew architectural plans for houses and churches. Fitzgerald strived to become a political cartoonist, and his brother James submitted his work to Walt Disney’s studio. After receiving an invitation to the studio, his father scrapped together the bus fare and sent Fitzgerald to Hollywood.

He started as an in-betweener at Disney in 1937, and was promoted to assistant animator to John Lounsbery on Pinocchio before he left in 1939 to work at the Fleischer studios in Miami. Though Fitzgerald’s duties or the duration of his stay at Fleischer isn’t fully documented, it seemed relatively brief. He moved back to the West Coast in the early 1940s. Around 1942, he joined Warner Bros. and became a layout artist for Friz Freleng. After being drafted into the Army Signals Corp in 1943, Fitzgerald arrived back at Warners but left the studio around early 1944. He recalled his last cartoon in layout for Freleng was Life with Feathers (released March 1945), finished by his successor Hawley Pratt.

Gag drawings intended for a Navy magazine, circa 1944

After his departure from Warners, Fitzgerald worked freelance on “funny animal” stories in James Davis’ comic shop. By 1948, he began to showcase his talent in drawing human characters with Starlet O’Hara in Hollywood. By 1949, he worked for DC and became a mainstay artist for their humor magazines, drawing and inking stories based on Ozzie and Harriet, Bob Hope, and the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis throughout the 1950s. He also drew stories of the teen magazine Here’s Howie, Winnie the WAC and a few stories with the Fox and the Crow for Real Screen Comics.

Near the end of the 1950s, Fitzgerald went back to Warner Bros. as a layout artist, where he worked on The Bugs Bunny Show and is credited on two theatricals, A Witch’s Tangled Hare (Abe Levitow, 1959) and The Mouse on 57th Street (Chuck Jones, 1961). He returned to comics when he replaced Al Wiseman as the regular artist of the Dennis the Menace comic books, and assisted Hank Ketcham on the daily strips in the early 1960s. By the end of the 1960s, according to Fred Toole (writer of the Dennis comic book stories), Fitzgerald developed a nervous condition that rendered his drawings unusable. After being sent for treatment, he decided to move back into animation.

Throughout the 1970s, Fitzgerald worked steadily as a layout artist in several animation studios, including DePatie/Freleng and Hanna-Barbera, with occasional comic book work, though he only penciled the stories. He drew comics with Disney characters intended for foreign markets, and a series based on the all-star Hanna-Barbera show Laff-a-Lympics, with scripts written by Mark Evanier and mostly inked by Scott Shaw.

With no plans of retirement, Fitzgerald continued in television animation in the 1980s and the early 1990s, working for Ruby-Spears, DiC, and Warner Bros. Animation. (Here is an example of his work on Tiny Toon Adventures, courtesy of Kent Butterworth.) He passed away in 1994 at the age of 77.

Here is a random sampling of Fitzgerald’s comic book work. So revered is his work that readers can find other stories on different blogs with a simple Google search. The scripts for much of his 1950s output based on popular entertainers were penned by Cal Howard, who left animation to become a television writer for Red Skelton and Abbott and Costello.

“Francois Feline”Happy Comics #16 (November 1946)

“Starlet O’Hara in Hollywood”Starlet O’Hara #1 (December 1948)

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet #5 (June-July 1950)

Here’s Howie #5 (May-June 1952)

“The Fox and the Crow”Real Screen Comics #111 (June 1957)

“Barney Beagle and Buster”Peter Porkchops #55 (April-May 1958)

Buzzy #77 (October 1958)

“Everything’s Beachy”Dennis the Menace #62 (September 1962)

As a special bonus, here is a documentary clip of Fitzgerald drawing Private Snafu, courtesy of Thad Komorowski:

A new batch of Radio Round-Up will arrive next month, so be sure not to miss it!

(Thanks to Shane Glines, Michael Barrier, Thad Komorowski, Joe Campana and Steven Hartley for their help.)

4 Comments

  • Being the buttinski I am, I looked Owen up on ancestry.com. A few nuggets to be gleaned:

    Born on November 30, 1916. As of 1935, was still living in Cardwell, Missouri (according the 1940 census record). As of census day in 1940, was living in Dade County, Florida, and employed at the Fleischer Studio, making $1,300/year. His draft card, filled out on October 16, 1940, still lists him at the Fleischer Studio (the card was behind a paywall, so I couldn’t look at it closely). According to the records available, he enlisted in the Army on January 14, 1944, which likely ties in with his departure from WB in “early 1944.” The enlistment record indicates he came from Civil Life, so it’s not clear what his role in the Army Signals Corps would have been in the 1943-1944 period; perhaps he did work at the FMPU at “Fort Roach?” He also lived at 1632 North Hobart Boulevard in Los Angeles, as indicated by his voting registrations in 1944, 1946 and 1948. Died July 23, 1944.

    • Eric, thanks so much! I’m just sorry I didn’t ask you about this info earlier…

  • Great post (as usual ). The info you (and your contributors) always provide really broadens my knowledge of the people whose names i’ve been seeing on cartoons forever (66 years so far). Keep up the 5good work! DJA

  • Mark Evanier has added some info: https://www.newsfromme.com/2018/01/31/the-incredible-owen/

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