To wrap up this month’s theme, here’s a real favorite among cartoonists and animators—Owen Fitzgerald!
Born in 1916 at Cardwell, Missouri as Everett Owen Fitzgerald, he developed an artistic interest in childhood. As a teenager, he secured a job in his father’s lumberyard and drew architectural plans for houses and churches. Fitzgerald strived to become a political cartoonist, and his brother James submitted his work to Walt Disney’s studio. After receiving an invitation to the studio, his father scrapped together the bus fare and sent Fitzgerald to Hollywood.
He started as an in-betweener at Disney in 1937, and was promoted to assistant animator to John Lounsbery on Pinocchio before he left in 1939 to work at the Fleischer studios in Miami. Though Fitzgerald’s duties or the duration of his stay at Fleischer isn’t fully documented, it seemed relatively brief. He moved back to the West Coast in the early 1940s. Around 1942, he joined Warner Bros. and became a layout artist for Friz Freleng. After being drafted into the Army Signals Corp in 1943, Fitzgerald arrived back at Warners but left the studio around early 1944. He recalled his last cartoon in layout for Freleng was Life with Feathers (released March 1945), finished by his successor Hawley Pratt.
After his departure from Warners, Fitzgerald worked freelance on “funny animal” stories in James Davis’ comic shop. By 1948, he began to showcase his talent in drawing human characters with Starlet O’Hara in Hollywood. By 1949, he worked for DC and became a mainstay artist for their humor magazines, drawing and inking stories based on Ozzie and Harriet, Bob Hope, and the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis throughout the 1950s. He also drew stories of the teen magazine Here’s Howie, Winnie the WAC and a few stories with the Fox and the Crow for Real Screen Comics.
Near the end of the 1950s, Fitzgerald went back to Warner Bros. as a layout artist, where he worked on The Bugs Bunny Show and is credited on two theatricals, A Witch’s Tangled Hare (Abe Levitow, 1959) and The Mouse on 57th Street (Chuck Jones, 1961). He returned to comics when he replaced Al Wiseman as the regular artist of the Dennis the Menace comic books, and assisted Hank Ketcham on the daily strips in the early 1960s. By the end of the 1960s, according to Fred Toole (writer of the Dennis comic book stories), Fitzgerald developed a nervous condition that rendered his drawings unusable. After being sent for treatment, he decided to move back into animation.
Throughout the 1970s, Fitzgerald worked steadily as a layout artist in several animation studios, including DePatie/Freleng and Hanna-Barbera, with occasional comic book work, though he only penciled the stories. He drew comics with Disney characters intended for foreign markets, and a series based on the all-star Hanna-Barbera show Laff-a-Lympics, with scripts written by Mark Evanier and mostly inked by Scott Shaw.
With no plans of retirement, Fitzgerald continued in television animation in the 1980s and the early 1990s, working for Ruby-Spears, DiC, and Warner Bros. Animation. (Here is an example of his work on Tiny Toon Adventures, courtesy of Kent Butterworth.) He passed away in 1994 at the age of 77.
As a special bonus, here is a documentary clip of Fitzgerald drawing Private Snafu, courtesy of Thad Komorowski:
A new batch of Radio Round-Up will arrive next month, so be sure not to miss it!
(Thanks to Shane Glines, Michael Barrier, Thad Komorowski, Joe Campana and Steven Hartley for their help.)