June 24, 2016 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #268


The Mintzes. Margaret Winkler Mintz passed away in a nursing home in Mamroneck, New York at the age of 95 in June 1990. Funeral services were held at Beth Olam Cemetery in Hollywood (where her late husband Charles was also interred in January 1940).

She was the first woman to produce and distribute animated films including Felix the Cat by Pat Sullivan and the Alice Comedies from Walt Disney. She left the business in 1930 after having two children and told a reporter on her 90th birthday that she “never really thought about it again”.

mintzobitShe and her husband Charles, who famously clashed with Walt, moved to Beverly Hills in 1931 and lived at 717 North Linden Drive (a five bedroom house built in 1927). She was survived by a son and a daughter, William and Katherine, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

While many places state that her husband Charles Mintz died in 1940, his actual passing was December 30,1939 according to an obit (at right, click to enlarge) in Variety January 2, 1940. The obit stated that Mintz “was born in York, PA in 1889, was educated at St. Lawrence University and began his career as a lawyer, later becoming a jeweler. During the war, he became interested in films. He started as a booker with Warners in NY in 1915, later producing medical shorts. He left WB in 1920 to start his own Felix the Cat animated cartoon series.”

To me it is interesting that his obit doesn’t mention Margaret by name (just survived by “his widow”) even though he took over her business after marrying her in 1924 and being her employee before that nor are the names of Pat Sullivan or Walt Disney referenced. In 1939, Mintz was in debt to Columbia (where two of the cartoons he produced were nominated for Oscars) and was forced to sell his studio to the firm, which terminated him and put his production manager, Jimmy Bronis, in charge, followed by Mintz’s brother-in-law, George Winkler. Then, Charles died of a heart attack later that year at the age of 50.

Where No Man Had Gone Before. In the December 21, 2015 issue of TV Guide magazine, actor and writer George Takei paid tribute to the recent demise of actor and writer Leonard Nimoy who played Mr. Spock in the television series Star Trek.

suluAmong other things, Takei wrote: “When Star Trek was turned into an animated series, he refused to voice Spock unless Nichelle Nichols and I were also hired to play our characters. (James Doohan (Scotty) and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel) were first tapped to voice Sulu and Uhura, respectively. ) He (Nimoy) said, ‘Star Trek is about diversity, coming together and working in concert as a team, and the two people who most represent diversity are Nichelle and George. If they’re not a part of this, then I don’t think I’d be interested in doing it either.’ He knew what Star Trek stood for and had the guts to stand behind that too. Leonard was integrity.”

Filmation’s Star Trek: The Animated Series ran for twenty-two half hour episodes in 1973-74.

Prince of Egypt Character Design. Animator William Salazar who worked on Dream Works’ Prince of Egypt (1998) said that the production strived for “nearly anatomically correct” designs for such figures as Moses and Rameses. “The Egyptians have a hieroglyphic look. The Hebrews are designed organically with more curves,” stated Salazar.

5d8185e32aca887be3d05a6b947409daFinding The Real Pocahontas. Shirley “Little Dove” Custalow McGowan is a descendant of Virginia’s Powhattan Indians. James Pentacost, the producer of Disney’s Pocahontas (1995), first saw her in June 1992 while visiting the Native American Festival at Jamestown with a couple of Disney writers. McGowan works occasionally at the Jamestown Festival Park and traveled all over Virginia and along the East Coast, presenting programs on the history and culture of her Algonquin ancestors who included Pocahontas.

“We didn’t meet her then,” stated Pentacost to the Daily Press in 1993. “But when we came back in October I brought a larger group – about eight or nine artists and writers. We met her then and talked. Glen Keane photographed and videotaped her and the re-created Powhatan village at Jamestown.”

Pentacost said that research for the movie also included a visit to the Pamunkey Reservation, across King William from the Mataponi, and interviews with historians such as ODU’s Helen Rountree who has written several books about Virginia’s Indians, and Tom Davidson, curator of the Jamestown Festival Park museum.

“We’re attempting to keep the history as accurate as we can and be entertaining at the same time,” stated Pentacost.

Dennis Marks. How did Dennis Marks get started writing animated cartoons? From a much longer 2002 interview on the website Marks stated, “My agent asked if I could do cartoons and I said ‘sure’. I was a big comic book reader as a kid. Went in to see Al Brodax, head of King Features TV. King Features handled all the Hearst comic strips and Brodax was trying to promote them onto TV. The first one I wrote was a six minute “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.” It sailed through. I was all at once a cartoon writer.

beatles-cartoon“I wrote several Snuffy Smiths and then went on to write several Beetle Baileys. I got married and left the morning after with my bride for Miami Beach. This lasted till the following February. I returned to NYC and immediately heard that Al Brodax wanted me for his new series, The Beatles.

“In the 60’s I wrote a lot of cartoons including “Batman,” “Aquaman,” “Justice League of America,” and half of the 100 Batfink 4 1/2-minute syndicated shows for Hal Seeger, and for Ralph Bakshi, Max, the 2000 Year Old Mouse, an educational series.

“By 1971 writing cartoons in NYC had dried up. I went out to LA for a few months in the spring or summer and landed episodes at Hanna-Barbera and with Ruby-Spears and DePatie-Freleng, things like “The Chan Clan,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” and “The Barkleys.” All this just to pay the rent.”

Dennis went on to write for many other animated series including ones for Filmation and becoming the Story Editor on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. He passed away of pancreatic cancer at the age of 73 on January 10th, 2006. A service was held at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles where he had performed regularly.


  • I remember Star Trek the Animated Series very well. I also remember that they had non human characters as part of the Enterprise’s crew that they never had in the live action version series.

    Also there was one stand out episode in the series, entitled How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth about mysterious alien vessel approaching the Enterprise and was shaped like a large feather serpent. Ensign Dawson Walking Bear (a Comanche and I believe the first Native Anerican Indian ever to serve on the Enterprise) recognize the serpent as Kukulkan, a God of the ancient Mayan and Aztec people who descended from the heavens. The episode was written by Russell Bates, a Kiowa Native American Indian, who’s now residing in Oklahoma. This episode won the only Emmy Award for entire Star Trek animated series in 1975 for Outstanding Entertainment Children’s Series.

  • There isn’t a whole lot that I like about King Features, but I do like those golden age cartoons, and I bought the BEETLE BAILEY collection that came out a while back. I have to admit, though, that my favorites are the KRAZY KAT cartoons, despite it not being exactly the same as the cherished comic strip.

  • Jim, I’ve noticed a trend on Cartoon Research for the past year to highlight “Women’s Firsts”. 

    “First woman to do this, first woman to do that..” I’m not suggesting the writers are working in concert but it seems to be a trend that pops up at least once a week. I value all the info I get here on animation history, and the gender aspect can sometimes be interesting as in the case of Mintz. Nor am I complaining that potential “the first man to..” articles are practically nonexistent, since male innovation in animation is a no-brainer.

    But at some point you guys are going to be grasping at straws with these pieces. If you don’t spread these articles out a little, pretty soon we’ll be reading about “the first woman to accidentally mistake dark blue paint for black paint” or “the first woman to sit on a pillow in her chair” or “the first woman prop open the fire exit to have a smoke”. These accounts of historic firsts are in danger losing their impact, in much the same way as say Mrs. Mintz’ story is important while a random female getting an award for participating in some new garbage really isn’t important, even if it is a “historic” election year.

    • Huh?

      As editor of Cartoon Research I hadn’t noticed any particular bias toward “women’s firsts” – but if we are doing so, I’m glad. In fact, I’m damn proud of it.

      The traditional histories of animation are filled with the exploits of the male pioneers and innovators. In more recent years, the contributions of women and other minorities have finally come to light – and rightfully so. Thank you for noticing that Cartoon Research’s writers – Jim in particular – are recognizing that.

      “Grasping at straws”? The truth is the truth – and its our job to find the facts, name the names, and set it all straight. To my contributors all I’ll say is: “keep grasping”.

    • Jerry, I refrained from saying it was bias because I don’t believe it is. Male contribution is self evident, with names like Disney, Lantz, et al. I also said that I learn from all the pieces. Your website is a more important record of human culture and society than most people probably recognize. I think that eventually historical accounts of truly meaningful contributions by women is simply going to dry up simply because of numbers. I don’t look forward to that day any more than I anticipate it, and it won’t diminish the educational value of Cartoon Research when it happens.

    • The fact is that woman executives, until relatively recent times, were rare in the film industry. Margaret Winkler learned the business as a secretary to Harry Warner of Warner Brothers, who encouraged her to start her own company, and made himself available as an advisor. Though she was strictly a businesswoman, it cannot be denied that she was a good judge of talent, being the first to see potential in Felix the Cat and Disney’s earliest cartoons. And not to overlook that she, either by choice or lack thereof, concealed her female identity behind the credit line “M.J. Winkler.”
      I’ve always felt that her husband’s wrangling with Disney over Oswald the Rabbit was the “big bang” that created much of the cartoon industry that followed, resulting directly in the development of Walt Disney Productions and indirectly in the formation of the Harman-Ising studio (which led to both the Warner Bros. and MGM cartoon operations) and Walter Lantz’s crew at Universal.

    • In my book “Mickey Mouse: Emblem of the American Spirit,” I make mention, of course, of Margaret Winkler Mintz. Without her, Walt Disney’s career, first with the “Alice” films, then with “Oswald,” might never have taken off. And if her husband, Charles Mintz, hadn’t screwed Walt over about Oswald, Mickey almost certainly would not have happened. That is vitally important.

      I also make mention, in several cases at some length, in my book of six important early champions of Walt and Mickey in the early going, between 1929 and 1935, all of whom “happened” to be women:

      1. Carolyn A. Lejeune, one of the first (if not the first) film critics in England. In 1929, C. A. Lejeune, as she was known in print, wrote what may be the first serious review of Mickey in the London newspaper, The Observer.

      2. Dorothy Grafly, a Wellesley graduate and art critic, reviewed the first art exhibition anywhere devoted to Disney art, at the Art Alliance of Philadelphia in 1932, in the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

      3. Eleanor Lambert, a press agent for several New York art galleries and the Whitney Museum of American Art, authored a pamphlet titled “The Art of Mickey Mouse and His Creator Walt Disney” that accompanied a second exhibition of Disney art which kicked off in New York at the Kennedy Galleries in May 1933 and, in December 1933, opened at the Art Institute of Chicago, before touring the country.

      4. Elisabeth Luther Cary, the first full-time art critic for the New York Times, lauded Walt and Mickey on at least one occasion.

      5. Iris Barry, a former English film critic, who became the founding head of the film library at the Museum of Modern Art, convinced Walt to donate a batch of his early films to MOMA. She must also have been instrumental in getting Walt named to the Board of MOMA in the 1940s.

      6. Jean Laury, the pen name of Nicole Boré-Verrier, a writer for “Le Figaro,” covered Walt’s triumphal visit to Paris in 1935

      That’s quite a roster. And when I say all six of these people “happened” to be women, that’s because I’m convinced there’s more to it than pure coincidence. It’s my guess that as “outsiders” in a male-dominated world of “serious” literature and criticism, writing about a lowly, “outsider” medium like animation gave them a chance to exercise their critical skills and to get published. I also suspect they brought a fresh sensibility to what Walt was doing and what Mickey Mouse signified.

      Perhaps what upset ÖH is a perceived playing of the “gender” card by contributors to this website with their occasional, anecdotal mentions of “firsts” by women. What’s needed eventually, of course, is a more sustained, unified, fact-based and contextualized examination of women’s links to Disney, to animation, and to popular culture in general. Alas, intellectuals invariably pooh-pooh all things Disney, and pop culture too, though they will not admit it. Gender studies specialists in Academe are more concerned with “critical” takes on, say, the sexuality of Tinker Bell or the Little Mermaid, than the historical role of women as critics where, say, cartoons or Disney are concerned. I don’t think any feminist scholar has ever tackled such a topic.

      Pending an in-depth study along these lines by somebody, male or female, at least, as Jerry Beck indicated, the posts that appear to trouble ÖH are putting solid facts on the table.

      Research about women’s connections to Disney, at least the classic (“pre-postmodern”) Disney of 1923-1966, ought to address deeper issues like the things I’ve just talked about … along with equally important, though less intellectually weighty aspects of Walt’s life and career: namely, the important role played in Walt’s personal life by women, including his mother, wife Lillian, niece Dorothy Disney, Phyllis Bounds, Hazel Sewell, and daughter Diane, just to name the first few that come to mind … plus, of course, the contributions made to the Disney operation by the Ink & Paint ladies, and women like Retta Scott or Mary Blair.

      Surely, amidst the avalanche of books flowing out of Disney Editions and Theme Park Press these days, there’s room for one single volume, if only in the form of a thought-provoking essay, along these lines!

      p.s.: Texts by four of the women listed above are reprinted in my anthology, “A Mickey Mouse Reader,” published by the University Press of Mississippi.

  • That Barney Google cartoon was worth checking out for the totally demented Jim Tyer animation. Barney’s eyes were never Googlier than when animated by Tyer. Speaking of Barney Google, was he ever the subject of a Google doodle? He’s a natural.

  • I wonder if Margaret Winkler inspired the boss of the fictional Buddy Winkler cartoon studio (Buddy’s widow) in the Jim Carrey sitcom “The Duck Factory”?

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