June 19, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #217


Recreating Gertie. Last year (2014) marked the 100th anniversary of Winsor McCay’s still wonderful animated short Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).

A pantheon of legendary names that represent early animation including Paul Terry, Max and Dave Fleischer, Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer, Dick Huemer, Shamus Culhane, I. Klein and Walter Lantz among many others have publicly admitted many times over the years that seeing McCay’s vaudeville performance with the film inspired them to get into animation.

The extended live-action and cartoon version continued to be shown sporadically over the following years and sometime around 1919, the teenaged Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks saw it in a Kansas City, Missouri movie house and were awestruck.

With the help of McCay’s son Robert and Disney Legend Dick Huemer who had seen McCay perform the act several times on stage, McCay’s original stage routine was recreated for a segment of the Disneyland television series entitled “The Story of the Animated Drawing” (November 30, 1955).

“I saw McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ at the Crotona Theater in the Bronx and I was therefore able to re-create it later on a Disney television show, wherein we reenacted McCay’s performance,” Huemer told animation historian Joe Adamson. “We didn’t have the expression back then, but if we had, I would have said, ‘I flipped’ when I first saw it.”

During the work on the reenactment segment, Walt Disney came up to Robert McCay, gestured to the Disney Studio and said, “Bob, all this should have been your father’s”.

Whoever Owns the Studio Wins. In a 1986 interview, animator Doug Wildey recalled working on the first episode of Jonny Quest “The Mystery of the Lizardmen” that took place in the Sargasso Sea: “Actor Clark Gable had an almost sardonic, throw-away approach to his lines. That’s what I wanted for Race Bannon: bigger-than-life dialog.

“In the pilot, the kid’s in trouble; frogmen are jumping on him; Race Bannon is swinging down from a rope and the line that I originally wrote was ‘Hang on, kid! Here comes the cavalry to the rescue!’ It wasn’t included. That was (Joe) Barbera’s choice. He had ‘Hang on, Jonny, I’m coming’ or something. It’s simply the way two people see how a piece of dialog would work. It was a disagreement and the loser, of course, was me because this guy owns the studio.”

Amusingly, while Wildey seems to remember this incident clearly and with great detail, in the actual episode that was broadcast, it is Wildey’s original dialog that is heard. That’s one of the reasons historians have to be careful even if they are getting the information from a first hand source.

Gilliam’s Top Ten. In The Guardian newspaper April 27, 2001, filmmaker and animator Terry Gilliam was asked about the ten best animated films of all time. His list was “The Mascot” (1934), “Pinocchio” (1940), “Red Hot Riding Hood” (1943), “Out of the Inkwell” series, “Death Breath” (1964), “Les Jeux des Anges” (1964), “Dimensions of Dialogue” (1982), “Street of Crocodiles” (1986), “Knickknack” (1989) and “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” (1999).

Lillian Friedman, Girl Animator. When people complain that Walt Disney treated women in animation badly, it might be good to remember that other animation studios were much, much worse including the Fleischer Studio.

As animation legend Shamus Culhane recalled it, “If Max Fleischer could be called a Victorian boss, the staff in general was just as Victorian. So when I decided to pick Lillian Friedman out of the inbetweener pool and make her an assistant animator, the animators rose up in wrath.

lillian-friedman_bw“Their main complaint was that she would inhibit the raunchy language which was the lingua franca of the all-male department. Obviously, there was more to it than their need to use bad language. There was the fact that women were inferior artists, and should be relegated to the inbetween department forever, to do what everybody recognized as non-creative work.

“When I suggested that all the inbetweeners who wanted the new job of assistant animator be given the same scene to clean up and inbetween, Lillian’s scene was selected from the group of anonymous work.

“Lillian Friedman went on from assistant animator to being a full-fledged animator with a salary significantly less than the male animators were getting, but with a drawing ability that competed successfully with their best efforts.”

Lillian ended up receiving screen credit on six films, although she contributed animation to well over five times that number: “Betty Boop’s Prize Show” (1934), “Be Human” (1936), “Pudgy Takes A Bow-Wow” (1937), “The New Deal show (1937), “Honest Love and True” (1938) and “Pudgy and the Lost Kitten” (1938).

After a brief stint with Seymour Kneitel’s unit, she joined a new unit that she liked better headed by Myron Waldman. “This was a much happier group for me because they were all younger and newer animators and they accepted me as one of them, whereas in Kneitel’s group they were all hardbitten and they would make these sarcastic remarks about the girl animator,” she stated.

Her animation career was cut short in 1939 when the Fleischer Studio moved to Miami, Florida to try to break the union. Friedman, a strong supporter of the union, quit to become in her words “a housewife and a mommy”.

Disney Paralyzed Animation. In a 2008 interview at the San Diego Comic Convention, animation legend Ralph Bakshi explained how he felt Disney paralyzed animation for decades.

Bakshi stated, “The thing I fought very hard with Disney was the idea that ‘you can only do it this way; you can only do it with the best animators; you need a million pencil tests to do something right; you only need the most money in the world…’ That thinking paralyzed the industry. Disney paralyzed the guys by saying that unless you have of this, you have nothing. All the animators bought into it.

“And I said, to hell with that. I don’t care if the animation is good or bad. I’m going to animate with what I got and try to make the stories better which I felt I did. So what I am saying is you guys are sitting here with the world in your hands, an entire studio in one box (the computer). The ink and paint department, plus special effects, Xeroxing and more is all done in a box. Everyone here could make their own movie but nobody does it except Bill Plympton.”


  • Culhane’s book also notes head animator Willard Bowsky was the most vociferous one in his opposition to Friedman’s elevation to animator, and it’s interesting to see the difference between his unit and Waldman’s on the screen — Myron’s cartoons where the most Disneyesque in terms of characters and gentle subject matter, while Bowsky’s were the hardest-edged of all the Fleischer units (Kneitel’s Bluto might want to beat Popeye to a pulp, but Bowsky’s also had no problem throwing Olive out of an airplane or smashing her around a dance floor if he didn’t get his way).

    • Culhane also mentioned that Bowsky was very right-wing and an anti-Semite, despite working for and with many Jewish people. (Culhane certainly wasn’t, as he married Maxine Marx–Chico’s daughter.) Lillian Friedman was both female and Jewish, which was probably a double-whammy for Bowsky.

    • Bowsky had a unusual history, since the other thing Culhane accused him of was blatant sucking up to Max — who was very obviously Jewish — at the Miami studio., as well as complimenting him on being the studio’s expert in doing their jazz/swing cartoons with the African-American musicians of the day.

      He also was the one who enlisted shortly after Famous Studios was formed and ended up being killed by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. But he definitely comes across as the most opinionated of the Fleischer head animators/directors of the 1930s on politics or gender equality, but at the same time, arguably directed the best cartoons of all the Fleischer units (if nothing else, Bowsky’s Bluto was such a psychotic misogynist audiences got more pleasure seeing Popeye beat him up at the end of his cartoons than they did with Kneitel’s efforts).

  • I love how Ralph claims he had better stories than Disney, when he made most of his features, such as “Coonskin”, without storyboarding the entire picture, and often not even writing the dialog until it was time to record it. His stories always feel scattered to me and not as powerful as the best Disney stories. He haphazardly threw sequences into his features not necessarily to advance the story, but because he liked the idea. Thus two sequences that I boarded and “animated” (pose reel style) were made, “Maybelline” and “Malcolm De Cockroach”.

    • “Malcolm De Cockroach”? You mean the George Herriman sequence? You did that? That’s wonderful Mark!

  • And to this day “Gertie The Dinosaur” lives in retirement in Jurassic World.

  • Is that how Walt Disney wanted to go into animation business? By watching the famed cartoon short by Winsor McCay?

  • Well, to an extent, I agree with Ralph Bakshi’s impressions and way of thinking, but I don’t discard either school of thought. Disney was an animation director with a vision and, perhaps, did not want anyone detracting from that vision. There are live action directors like that and sometimes their untouched vision works well in the end, sometimes it doesn’t! Ralph must have directed a different way, preferring animators to come to the table with ideas to enhance the original vision. Also, let’s face it, but you’re talking about two animators who looked at the world through radically different eyes. I doubt that Walt Disney would have created anything as seemingly subversive as “HEAVY TRAFFIC”, but I’d love to see the fluidity of the Disney technique applied to something that wild!

  • Bakshi said it himself: “I don’t care if the animation is good or bad.” That strongly affects how an *animated* film is going to turn out. There are lots of ways to go against the Disney formula without chunking out the bare idea of quality.

  • I don’t mean to say Bakshi brought nothing to the table. It’s just hard for me – a guy who really loves great animation and recoils from mediocre animation – to watch Bakshi for long. The more I look at so-so animation, the harder it is to keep that from coming out of the end of my pencil when I draw.

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