October 1st, 2019 is the publication date for my new book through the Minnesota Historical Society Press. It’s called Slavery’s Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State, and I think it’s my best book yet. While balancing work and home with book-signings in the immediate future, I thought I’d go back to sharing some more letters I received from animators of the Golden Era.
As for this column, I’m going back to how my postings began — with letters from animators. Today, from 1997, I’m offering up the reply Myron Waldman sent to my question about Bimbo.
When I wrote to former Fleischer animator Waldman in 1997, I asked him about whether Bimbo the Dog was African American, the caricatures of African American jazz musicians, and where sources for African American caricature originated. Here is his response from July 28th, 1997.
“Dear Christopher Lehman,
In answer to your questions–
You must realize all the early animation until the ’30s was done in black and white and shades of gray–giving the impression that Bimbo might have been a blackface character. I don’t think this was the case in Bimbo–either [in] drawing or [in] voice.
The studio using Cab Calloway & Louis Armstrong – Paramount owned Famous Music. So their use in the Bouncing Ball series was a natural marriage. The performers jumped at the chance to appear on screens all over–coverage they could not get before. Remember–no television.
Why, in my opinion, were black characters depicted stereotypically in cartoons?
It seemed to stem from every comedy stage-wise — Irish characters, Dutch, etc., & blackface minstrels, later–Eddie Cantor & Al Jolson. At the time the animated cartoons used blackfaced characters
[In answer to whether he could direct me to other ex-animators,] I don’t know any people left to help you out. There are historians of the animated cartoons. You’ll find their books available in any good-sized library.
I’m sure you’ll do well on your dissertation.
To his credit, Myron Waldman himself did few – if any – cartoons containing black stereotypes. Embed below is one of Waldman’s first Betty Boop cartoons, I Heard (1933), which features a soundtrack by black jazz musician and songwriter Don Redman.