Today in Mark Kausler’s closet we found a real piece of gold: a vintage reel of Otto Messmer animation that was originally shown as animated lights in Times Square.
As most of you know, Felix The Cat master animator Otto Messmer began working for Douglas Leigh (“the Sign King”), the major architect of animated neon signage in New York’s famed Times Square. So famous was Leigh’s work, Warner Bros. made a cartoon parody of his moving signs in Lights Fantastic (1942).
As John Canemaker stated in his 1991 book Felix: the Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat:
“It must be considered something of a miracle that this particular job should find its way to Messmer, for he and (Leigh) were obviously perfect match. Here was work incredibly similar to what Messmer did when he first joined Pat Sullivan’s studio nearly a quarter century before; thinking up silent visual gags for black silhouetted characters”.
Messmer worked in his classic style for another 35 years (1937-1973) and it seems, by viewing this video, he never lost his unique storytelling touch. But first – another associated bonus. Kausler also had this rare kinescope of a local New York TV talk show featuring Douglas Leigh himself talking about his Times Square accomplishments.
The 15 minute program, Elosie Salutes The Stars, hosted by Eloise McElhone, which aired September 28th, 1951 on the Dumont network (thank you Don Yowp for helping track down that data) doesn’t mention Messmer or show any of his work, but the stop-motion animation of the deer in the Doeskin tissue commercial is by Lou Bunin.
And its great to see and hear Leigh talk about his work in such a relaxed way.
And here is the Otto Messmer reel. My only other note is to observe how Messmer utilized Max Fleischer’s rotoscope; and to admire his craft. Messmer was a one-of-a-kind animation genius.
(Thanks, Mark Kausler and Don Yowp for making this post possible)