In some ways, the career of Sadie Friedlander Bodin was not very remarkable; however, her picketing of the Van Beuren Studio in 1935 to protest her dismissal for union activity was a minor landmark in animation history. And it was for this role that I interviewed Bodin a year before my 1987 Golden Awards video chat as part of my research on union history. In addition, when she returned to the industry after her divorce after World War II, she successfully expanded the boundaries for women by taking managerial positions in a number of New York studios.
Born and raised in New York, she had several jobs after studying art at Washington Irving High School. When things slowed down while was doing batik work on silk scarves, she applied for and was accepted for a job at Fleischer at the suggestion of a co-worker. There, Bodin “started as an opaquer and … rapidly became a planner and a checker and an inker.” After four years, Bodin was let go after coming back a week late from a vacation due to illness. Before going over to Van Beuren, she briefly worked as a librarian at The Bronx House, a settlement house.
When she got there, Van Beuren was in the midst a long-standing management turmoil which had led to an early attempt to form a union. This situation was aggravated when Burt Gillett was hired as studio head fresh from directing Three Little Pigs, as he was in the throes of alcoholism. The situation proved ripe for organizing by the Animated Motion Picture Workers Union, which Bodin joined and became its Recording Secretary. Gillett then fired her and the union filed a complaint with the first version National Labor Relations Board (established under the Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration); but the Board was put out of business by the Supreme Court before it could issue a decision. (NLRB records indicate she would have lost.) It was during these hearings that she and her husband Paul (who was a painter with the Federal Arts Project) did their picketing, which was meant to be informational more than anything else; in any case, it marked the first time anyone picketed an animation studio.
Bodin then left animation and went “home to have a baby.” When she returned, she recalled, “I kind of thought I would get remarried; after a while I didn’t find anybody I wanted to do that with, so I began to get a little bit more serious about my work. That’s when I went into the Background Department, because that was paying a little more money, and I needed to make money.” She did this at Joe Oriolo’s studio on Felix the Cat and The Mighty Hercules. “That’s where I broke out of the kind of work that they expected women to do; women did mostly the inking, coloring and matching. I decided I wanted to advance myself and I asked if I could go into the Background Department.”
She added, “It’s funny, when [Oriolo] was interviewing me for a job, I didn’t remember him, but when I saw him, he said, ‘Don’t you remember me?’ I said, ‘No, not really.’ So he said, ‘That’s because you were a big shot and I was an errand boy at the time [at Fleischer].’”
“When I got the job as an assistant background artist,” Bodin said, “the men there were interested in me because I was kind of good looking; and one of the men who became friendly with me said, ‘You know, if I were Joe, I would never give you a job like that.’ I said, ‘How come?’ ‘Because,’ he says, ‘women are not as reliable as men.’ I was shocked at that. And here’s a guy who was making passes at me.”
Subsequently, as an animation coordinator, Bodin opened up a number of small studios. She “was in charge of the inking, the opaquing, the planning, the checking and the contacting all the animators and the camera people, the storyboard, pulling the whole thing together.” It was this part of her career, in which she developed a creative side she didn’t realize she had, that Bodin was most proud of.
Other studios she worked at included Zander, Hal Seegar, IF Studios, Phoscine, Film Graphics, Cinefffects, Tripix and Famous. She suffered a heart attack in 1972 but found it hard to take the stress and retired in 1974 or ’75, eventually moving to Delray Beach, Florida. She passed away in 1995.
Tom Sito relates a slightly embellished version of the circumstances surrounding Bodin’s picketing of Van Beuren in his book, Drawing the Line, which was reprinted on The Animation Guild’s blog; he seems to have based his telling on my PhD dissertation, “Popeye the Union Man.”
Next week: Brice Mack