For The Love Of Cartoon Animation
September 23, 2019 posted by Gene Deitch

For The Love of Cartoon Animation #1

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of an on-going, hopefully long-running, series of posts reflecting the life and career of animator Gene Deitch. These posts may be written by me or by Gene himself (I’m hoping it will be the latter), and we hope to post one or two (or even three) per month as space allows. I think our readers will enjoy what is planned in weeks to come. – Jerry Beck

This new semi-regular column is titled: “GENE DEITCH: FOR THE LOVE OF CARTOON ANIMATION.”
I would like the sub-title to be: “CENTERED PRIMARILY ON THE THE FIRST 95 YEARS OF MY LIFE.”

This is an on-line wide-ranging graphic and verbal review of my creative lifetime, mainly connected to the cinematic form I carefully refer to as “Cartoon Animation.” I have to be careful because nearly everyone assumes they know what movie cartoons are, but you will be surprised to find that I am finicky about labeling them.

But before we start flipping through the words, drawings and videos I’ve collected and attempted to organize and present to you, I think I should tell you why I have given this column an illiterate title. You’ve noticed that the words, “for the love of cartoon animation” are not by themselves an actual English sentence! They might be part of a sentence, but the missing part is what I have been working on for over a period of 55 years!.

That form of words, which I first copyrighted in 1995, for my printed book, “For The Love of Prague,” has since been mimicked by many others. Should I sue? No one has so far pointed out to me that “For The Love of Prague” in itself is not a true sentence. It is just a phrasal fragment! But its implication for me is strong. Even if you don’t ask, or don’t object to the puzzling title on this book I will tell you of it’s true roots, as if you haven’t figured it out already:

When I was in a kid in grammar school, gazing out the window, daydreaming, my teacher shouted at me, “FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, EUGENE, WHY AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION???”

Maybe the teacher didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t, but I later learned that this vehement expletive, “For The Love of Mike,” originated with religious Irish immigrants who really wanted to ask, “For the love of God, you idiot, what the fuck are you doing???”

So that is the true story and the masked power of my auto biographical book title, “For The Love of Prague,” and now for this column “For The Love of Cartoon Animation,” only slightly masking my suspicion of “Mo-Cap,” which I will explain as we go along.

But as nothing is perfect, you may find yourself shifted to another stream. This may lead to serendipity. So don’t panic, if it’s in the lore of movie animation, or Deitch lore, these posts will lead you to either within or without the specific pixels of F-T-L-O-C-A.


I was born dazzled, on August 8th 1924. 32 years later I got kicked out of the best job I ever had, being judged as over-dazzled. I dangerously had it in me to be constantly pushing my limits, just as any dazzled lover does, and I often paid the price for that. But actually, I’d been an extremely lucky animation lover, just chancing in 1946, into the very lair of other dazzled animation lovers; the newly hatched UPA Hollywood studio. These top dogs of animation impressed me as barking up the right tree. I was taken in by the leaders of the pack, who were nipping at the heels of the movie cartoon norms of the time.

MUNRO storyboard panel – click to enlarge

I was trying new things that film animation barely allowed, leading up to now, nearing the 2020s, when that it seemingly allows everything! A time of explosive change, as the technology bar is raised ever higher, to the point of confusion between animation and live action. The Twain Meet, but should do so in mutual respect!

In spite of my realization that I could never match those original alpha pointers, doing it my way got me a modicum of attention. I was constantly given work. I was often written up in the press and listened to when I spoke. I’ve never been unreasonably modest, so I squirreled away many articles about me or by me. I brought a lot of scrapbook stuff with me when I moved to Prague in 1960, over a half century ago, and it’s mega-multiplied during that time, covering 65-years of work in many forms and fashions of animation, Gaggy, Gross, Garish, Ghoulish, Grungy, Grandious, and Godawful, my own seven dwarfs. Well not quite. Negative clients politely used the term, “Too much ahead of it’s time.” Hell, I just wanted to be on time!

In 2014, my 90th year, when producers finally gave up the idea of hiring me anymore, I had time to sweep up my little personal studio. I’ve gathered tons of long hidden stuff, representing what I was doing or trying to do during that revolutionary period in animation history, when the upward spiral of animation experiments meshed with the rocket powered lift-off of digital technology.

Nudnik nominated for an Oscar – click to enlarge

At the time of my personal space/time/shift/ in 1946, landing a job at the nascent UPA studio in Hollywood, it dawned on me that animation was the greatest art/entertainment/information format ever devised, combining all existing creative forms into one! drawing, painting, graphic design, writing, prose & poetry, theater, acting, comedy, drama, mime, music, song, dance, even sculpture and architecture… all rolled up into what was then just thought of as just silly movie cartoons, a tiny side car of the mighty movie machine, but now it’s the sparkplug of the engine!

That animation potential underpinned everything I wished to do. Even though I rarely achieved the art I believed was inherent in animation, the goal was always before me.

So after 65 years of trying every which-way to achieve it, I am now in the age of trying to sum up; to see if anything I’ve done, tried, or thought about can possibly be useful for you to know about. I have handed to Jerry – to forward to you, dear readers – a personally constructed database made up of photos, drawings, videos, career documents, publicity, film reviews, correspondence, even complete color storyboards for planned but un-produced feature-length animated movies, as well as for shorts, articles written by others and by me, my opinions, obsessions, histories, and creative adventures, covering the first 90 years of my life, primarily related to my career in animation.

Many of the documents, especially newspaper articles, date from my early age, and are up to 80 years old, I’ve use my computer to make them readable, but everything in this stuffed data-base is 100% authentic. It has all been assembled by me, from my personal collection of private mementos.

It may be fairly claimed that this collection of writings, drawings, and photos is nothing else than my obsessive-compulsive-self- aggrandizement. But I am not Donald Trump; I have not omitted negative comments. There were a few. The nature of film criticism is that if someone is doing substandard work, he or she is simply ignored. So for whatever reason, media revues of my work have been positive. I’ve been amply honored and rewarded. I’m no longer poor, but I’m also not rich by today’s standard of richery.

click to enlarge

If I have any importance at all in the history of film animation, it may simply be that my 65-year professional career spanned a period of cosmic change in the artistic status, technical development, and mass public acceptance of animation. My main claim to fame is that I strived, in each project that came my way, to take maximum advantage of what was technically available to me at the time. I was hired to tell stories. If I haven’t actually done big, I’ve tried to think big, and to write big.

I must make one major admission, to put my work in perspective: I have never personally financed a single one of my hundreds of film projects; never bet my own money on anything so risky as movie-making! Others have always optimistically risked their money on me. That of course meant that they owned my films, and would get all of the profits. I was paid my fees. Period. With the single exception of my Weston Woods films, profits usually shivered below zero.

For 65 years I worked strictly as a hired-hand. My backers took the financial risks. Oddly, they eagerly went for that. They rarely profited, but I was paid my up-front US dollar fees. Yeah, I also took home a hundred or so gold plated statuettes, but mainly, as an American citizen, and a bona fide foreign resident

I qualified for a signifiant IRS tax deduction. That, and the fact that this was an incredibly cheap place to live, and Zdenka was well enough paid by socialist standards, it all added up to mean I that I had landed an amazing chance to bank most of my dollar earnings! So there, folks, is the answer to those who thought I had become a communist!

Zdenka and Gene in 1963

I grew up in a way of life nearly beyond imagining by the youth of today. I can clearly remember when my mother bought fruit and vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon, clopping through our Chicago back alley. An organ grinder’s monkey tipped its hat, begging for her coins, and an iceman climbed our back stairs, his iron tongs holding a massive chunk of frozen water on his back, and dropping it into our “icebox.”

Not even the pulp fantasy magazines of the time predicted that everyone above the age of 6 would one day carry or wear on their wrists,a tiny slab of plastic, glass, and microscopic chips, combining a telephone, information center, camera, calendar, notebook, timepiece, map, encyclopedia, library, shopping center, book shop, newspaper & magazine stand, movie show, and animated games…all in a device the size of a graham cracker! There’s no point in my listing the things we have and depend on that didn’t exist when I was a kid, but it was pretty much everything we own.!

Our work in cinema animation has been vastly transformed even in the past decade. Its methodology bears little resemblance to its previous century of development, yet its goals are exactly the same; to inform, entertain, and advertise. So I’m comforted that what I’ve managed to do in the 65 years of my career still has some validity, and has contributed in at least small ways to the new horizons now coming into view.

In this life-size on-going personal data-base I’m presenting to you, I hope you’ll find many things interesting and useful. I’ve organized it all into bite-sized hunks, to make it easy for you to get at, and to guide you to discover some surprising stuff.

As long as I’m able, I will be steadily adding, updating, and responding to your thoughts, questions, and requests. There are in fact many weird background stories that go with nearly every item! If boredom sets in, don’t hesitate to tell me about it!

The entire project is under the management of Jerry Beck. You know where he is!

It is not presently monetized. IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS, IDEAS, QUESTIONS OR SUGGESTIONS, BRING THEM ON! Gene 2019

42 Comments

  • What about Paramount? Tell newcomers your opinion on them,, since either logo fanboys like Paramount’s cartoon division from the 30s-60s, then you have the Sonic (the Hedgehog) fans who HATE Paramount.

    Also was it intentional that you knew of any people in the 60s and before who were afraid of the MGM lion, or was the gag in your Tom and Jerry cartoon “Switchin’ Kitten” just a coincidental joke?

    You told on how snoopy the Japanese visitors who took close pictures at Terrytoons of a Kia-Ora ad, which resulted in a stolen mascot who they STILL use to this day without your permission. It p—sed me off to no end.

    • My gag of Jerry doing like the MGM was purely a coincidental. I hadn’t anything abut a Metro lion fear. As for Paramount, I was invited to contribute by Shamus Culhane. Your Kia-Ora ad reference baffles me. I know zero about that. How can I see it?

    • Shamus took on some of our best spots at the time, including our “Self-Help” series, SELF DEFENSE FOR COWARDS, HOW TO LIVE WITH A NEUROTIC DOG, HOW TO WIN ON THE THRUWAY, HOW TO AVOID FRIENDSHIP….

    • I meant to say “doing like the MGM lion” of course, but I was unable to correct my comment.

    • TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE WRITTEN ME HERE, WITH INTERESTING QUESTIONS, I AM EXTREMELY GRATEFUL! You have surely figured out that Jerry Beck who has long proclaimed to be my “greatest fan,”has graciously offered to keep alive my creative legacy, for whatever value it may have. I am fully aware that I am no longer any kind of a pioneer. At age 95. I am extremely lucky to still be alive, when both of my younger brothers are dead. I can still walk fast; so far no cane, no crutches, and I eat everything. But not many teeth left,. My once velvety voice is gone, but I can still play my drum. My hands do not shake, and I can still draw. Most importantly, I can still think, and I’m not so dumb as to think I can go on forever, even though I wish I could, because I firmly believe that drawn animation, cartoon animation, rules, and will rule, for the simple reason that it is endless. Digitally created animation, motion-capture – mocap, whatever, may be the perfect way to save the lives of stuntmen, but drawn animation knows no limits, just as all graphic arts know no limit., I’m not at all embarrassed by the title “cartoonist.” Leonardo da Vinci was a cartoonist .The earliest cavemen were cartoonists! As long as people, rather than robots will create movies, drawn animation knows no limits. I fully realize that I was never able to do what I preached, I was never able to finance a single one of the many hundreds of short films I made, I went as far as I could get away with, using other people’s money, and I was thrown out Terrytoons by scaring shit out of a luddite Bill Weiss. But who remembers him?
      So go ahead, and ask me anything!

  • I’m lovin’ it. My heartfelt thanks to Jerry Beck.

  • This is a magnificent series of posts – – and believe me, I am hoping is a series of posts! As far as my comment, for the next four weeks, please be kind if I make too many mistakes as I am dictating this into my iPhone. I normally like to type on my desktop as it leaves much fewer errors. At any rate, I loved your leader Terry tunes work, very stylized and very interesting from what I visually remember it as I have gone blind many years since. However, I do have very vivid memories of these classic cartoons. Kevin

  • correction; I hadn’t heard anything about the Japanese visitors’ specific photos of the Kia-Ora ad or the stolen mascot! How can I see it?

  • Longtime “Deitch Digger” here. Sorry, Gene, but the good folks at Fawcett beat you to the punch by some three decades with one of their “Peanuts” comic strip paperback collections, For the Love of Peanuts! (Also the title of an upcoming coffee-table book). Similarly, cartoonist Hank “Dennis the Menace” Ketcham penned a volume regarding his 1959 tour of the Iron Curtain, I Wanna Go Home! in 1965. You even omitted an exclamation point in your title. Oh, well. So, how soon do we get columns on your “Krazy Kat” and “Popeye” cartoons?

  • Three Robbers was one of the films that most deeply impacted me as a child. I’m excited to read this series. Going to start looking for a copy of For the Love of Prague as well.

  • Welcome Gene!

    This opening post is a fun read. Really looking forward to future installments, especially your time at Terry.

  • Welcome, Gene! Your writings are always welcome, and am looking forward to more!

  • Mr. Deitch, in your career, did you ever work for Disney or come close to?

    • No. I never wanted to work in a cartoon factory. I was instantly attracted to the UPA idea. Obviously, that’s why I’m not rich.

  • Wonderful, wonderful stuff!

  • Gene, as a long time fan of your art, your animation and your writing, I look forward to your take on the world of animated cartoons. Jerry is lucky to have you as a contributor. Welcome.

    • Thank you, Steve. This is a grand experiment by Jerry, I hope he will be as happy as I am to have my history safeguarded, Be sure to ask him what you want to know and see, so this experiment will have meaning! amount of stuff here is frightening!
      \\

  • Hey Gene, love your work. When you get around to writing about Nudnik I have several questions for you. In the meantime, I look forward to reading whatever you have to say about your experiences and contributions to “cartoon animation.”

  • welcome to the Blog Gene!

  • i have a Plethora of Questions to ask about you! :)) at least you’ll always be with us in the future maybe. i’m trying to find my gig as a cartoonist/director as well too after i graduate High school.

    • Ask and I will reply!

  • Hey, Gene, I got a question regarding your memorable time at Terrytoons (my dad enjoyed Tom Terrific as a kid). In the short “Old Mother Clobber” where Clint keeps an eye on a little girl that lives in the apartment building, after the girl squabbles all over the hallway walls, Clint cleans it up while grumbling that the walls have been perfect for forty years and now someone wants to add something new. If you recall, was this a riff to some of the older Terryoons employees who weren’t too happy of the new exciting changes at the way old fashion studio? Thanks. You are a true legend.

  • Gene,

    If you don’t mind me asking, I’m very curious about the production of the “Popeye” and “Krazy Kat” cartoons you worked on. From your relationship with King Features to how you would produce a large number of television cartoons compared to theatrical cartoons.

  • Eugene, your terrytoons were modern and hip, and as a kid that’s exactly what I wanted to be. Congratulations on a life well drawn!

  • Thank you Deitch, very cool. Been enjoying your cartoons recently

  • How fortunate we all are to have you and your lifetime of cartoon animation at our fingertips!! Thanks for sharing with us. I/we will be looking forward to each installment.
    Long live Tom Teriffic/Terrible Thompson,
    DJA

  • I have your Tom and Jerry cartoons on DVD. It’s a shame you got death threats by some fans. The cartoons, though not as good as the originals, are never ever bland. Neither are the Popeyes either (since multiple studios also joined in).

  • Great to read you again Gene! I hope a lot of goodies appear in your newly compiled treasure Trove!
    Also tales of your love of Jazz and its connection to your art style.

  • Welcome, Mr. Deitch!
    This was a fascinating first post and we look forward to reading more.

  • I have tremendous admiration for your work, Mr. Deitch. They inspire me a lot and fill my heart with joy!
    I would like to ask you something: did you have any involvement with the UPA production “Dusty of the circus”?
    Did you really work on the pilot? Any memories of the script, the design, the concept, etc? The pilot was different from what the series became?

  • WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG????????
    In any case, welcome, Mr. Deitch!
    I grew up with “Tom Terrific”. And I LOVE “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit”!

    THANKS.

  • I remember watching and loving Tom Terrific on Captain Kangaroo weekday mornings. What a pleasure it is to read about your long and fascinating career. I look forward to more! So glad to have you here, Mr. Deitch!

  • Dear Mr. Deitch, What was it like working with Jim Tyer and with the Terrytoons staff; was Ralph Bakshi there? And what was it like working on the czechoslovakian Tom and Jerrys? If you dont want to answer… then Jerry Beck please do!

  • TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE WRITTEN ME HERE, WITH INTERESTING QUESTIONS, I AM EXTREMELY GRATEFUL!

    You have surely figured out that Jerry Beck, who has long proclaimed to be my “greatest fan”, has graciously offered to keep alive my creative legacy, for whatever value it may have.

    I am fully aware that I am no longer any kind of a pioneer. At age 95. I am extremely lucky to still be alive, when both of my younger brothers are dead. I can still walk fast; so far no cane, no crutches, and I eat everything. But not many teeth left,. My once velvety voice is gone, but I can still play my drum. My hands do not shake, and I can still draw. Most importantly, I can still think, and I’m not so dumb as to think I can go on forever, even though I wish I could, because I firmly believe that drawn animation, cartoon animation, rules, and will rule, for the simple reason that it is endless. Digitally created animation, motion-capture – mocap, whatever, may be the perfect way to save the lives of stuntmen, but drawn animation knows no limits, just as all graphic arts know no limit., I’m not at all embarrassed by the title “cartoonist.” Leonardo da Vinci was a cartoonist. The earliest cavemen were cartoonists! As long as people, rather than robots will create movies, drawn animation knows no limits.

    I fully realize that I was never able to do what I preached, I was never able to finance a single one of the many hundreds of short films I made, I went as far as I could get away with, using other people’s money, and I was thrown out Terrytoons by scaring shit out of a luddite Bill Weiss. But who remembers him?

    So go ahead, and ask me anything!

  • As I may have mentioned once or twice on these blogs, I always marvel at the longevity of animators. (Disney, of course, is the notable exception, although in the last decade or so animation took an increasingly smaller role in his life.) It can only be because they’ve spent their lives doing what they love. But 95 must be some kind of record. And Prague must be a much different place since the Wall came down 30 years ago. Was it very difficult to maintain a studio in the old days? You’ve mentioned in an earlier post you never wanted to work in a factory, which belies the Cold War-era cliche of Eastern European workers in nothing but factories.

    Along with the others, I extend a hearty welcome to these pages. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from future posts. And personally I find your work with William Snyder on Tom and Jerry and Popeye to be generally underrated. (I shudder to think of the budgets and deadlines you must have had to work around, particularly for the TV stuff.) It was simply a different style, and certainly not the easiest thing to work with characters which already had strongly established personalities and formulas.

  • Hey Gene, I hope you’ll live long enough to write all the posts at that point in time.
    Also, I was wondering if you would kindly explain your earliest memories of the cartoons that you’ve seen in the next post.

    • I hope you’ll live long enough to write all the posts at that point in time.

      Me too!

  • Mr. Deitch, I can’t express how good it is to find you here, ready to share your vast adventures in the cartoon medium. Years ago, I bombarded you with questions- the more I learned, the more curious I got! Eventually I made a rude pest of myself (for which I’m truly sorry). I have the highest respect for you and your work, and look forward to all you have to share with us.

  • Hey, Gene:
    What ever became of the SFX used in your Popeyes and Tom and Jerry cartoons? One of my favorite aspects of your cartoons.

    By the way- glad to see you on the site, and I’d like to hear more from you.

    • I’m afraid that the reels of 35mm sound effects we built up with my two longtime Czech film editors, Zdenka Navratilová and Jiřina Pěčová, have probably been dumped. I might have some reels of my original quarter-inch tapes I made myself, years ago, but the fact is there are now vast libraries if every imaginable basic sound built into the modern editing consoles, which I always .fiddled with; speed changes, loops, echo, combo elements,overlapping.loops.. Working with thes, I never used them outright in my productions, but olly as elements, which we wove together to make special, funny. or atmospheric sonic elements. As I’ve written,.and every filmmaker knows, the sound track is certainly considered half the movie, ever since they`overtook the live pianists and organists of the early years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *