I interviewed Roberta and Judy Levitow about their father, Abe. Abe Levitow was an animator at Warner Bros and UPA. He worked in the Chuck Jones unit and eventually got to direct a number of cartoons using Jones’ unit. Judy and Roberta provided me with excellent documents, photos, stories, and gag drawings (posted below). Many of these photos were recently donated to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick library. Others have never been seen before. The text in this post are excerpts from assorted interviews I’ve conducted with Judy and Roberta over the last four months. Also, I highly recommend checking out their website on their dad here.
KS: How did your dad get his start at Warner Bros?
Judy: My dad lived very close to Termite Terrace. My dad always drew as a kid and was a very good artist. He drew cartoons for his school paper and cartooning mail order classes. My grandmother nurtured his art talent and sent him to art classes. While going to art school, my grandmother sent him across the street to the studio and into Chuck Jones’ office. Chuck Jones hired him on the spot. He started working as an assistant animator.
And then the war broke out. He was in the Motion Picture Signal Core in Astoria. That’s where my dad met Stan Lee and they became lifelong friends.
KS: Do you know of anyone else your dad met in Astoria?
Judy: Sam Cobean. He was a New Yorker cartoonist. He also didn’t live a very long life.
*Cobean died in his late 30s in a fatal car crash.
Judy: In the army, my dad’s nickname was “Moose”.
KS: Why is that?
Judy: My dad was very tall and awkward. I guess people also thought he had a very large nose.
KS: Your dad then went back to Warner’s. Did your dad ever socialize with Chuck or any other animators that you can recall?
Judy: My dad went to figure drawing classes with Chuck a lot. He really enjoyed doing that.
KS: Levitow did do some directing as well after that. He used Chuck’s unit when directing.
Judy: Darrel Van Citters told me that he directed a lot more than most people think. KS: That’s true. Many just refer to them as Jones cartoons because it’s Jones’ unit. Also, your dad directed and drew a lot like Chuck did. Did you ever visit UPA?
Judy: I remember being given a tour with my sister while 1001 Arabian Nights was in production.
KS: Did you meet the animators and voice artists like Jim Backus?
Judy: I believe so, yes. When my dad left UPA and went back to Warner Bros, the staff made him a drawing saying goodbye.
KS: After your dad left Warner’s again, he went over to work at MGM with Chuck Jones. What do you remember about your dad’s relationship with Chuck?
Judy: I think Chuck thought of my dad as one of the animators that he could count on the most. That’s why my dad went to MGM. Chuck asked him to go with him. He directed Tom and Jerry shorts as well as animated them.
KS: Did your dad have any other ambitions besides animation?
Judy: I think my dad really wanted to be a live-action director.
KS: I suppose that’s why he directed the live-action segments in The Phantom Tollbooth.
I also interviewed Abe’s eldest daughter Roberta. Roberta provided me with lengthy information about her dad’s studio with Dave Hanson and her dad’s personal life.
KS: Did you ever visit any of the studios your dad worked at?
Roberta: I remember visiting UPA when I was younger. It was a fun little building to be at. I did visit the Levitow/Hanson studios a number of times while I was in college. I also got a summer job there. Levitow/Hanson was in the same building that Walter Lantz Productions was in. It was also shared by a small South African film company. I worked over the summer as an artist on the film Animals Are Beautiful People directed by Jamie Uys. We did some sound and visual effects. That was fun to work on.
Animals are Beautiful People Trailer
KS: What did your dad do outside of animation (hobbies, family trips, etc.)?
Roberta: While my dad was growing up in Los Angeles, my grandmother would take him to the Venice Beach every summer. My dad loved the beach. My dad and other family members rented a very small beach house in Ocean Beach, near San Diego. Dad loved it there. We’d play softball on the beach. He loved organizing the teams. He had a small sailboat that he’d take us out on. He was constantly drawing people on the beach.
KS: What made your dad decide to make his own studio with Dave Hanson?
Roberta: I don’t know the exact reason. I do remember my mom and dad having lengthy discussions on if he wanted to be the head his own studio.
KS: Can you recall any memories of other animators or artists that your dad was friends with?
Roberta: I remember my dad took us to visit Chuck’s brother, Richard Jones in Mexico City. This was my first time out of the country. Hank Jordan worked for our dad and was good friends with him and our mom and us kids. She worked in marketing at Levitow Hanson.
Here are a few goodies Roberta and Judy asked me to share with the readers of Cartoon Research – Enjoy!
(Thanks to Judy Levitow, Roberta Levitow, Jon Levitow, Willie Ito, Jerry Beck, Eric Goldberg, and Darrell Van Citters for their help.)
Interesting mention of Jamie Uys. He directed “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” a very funny film.
The trailer for “Animals Are Beautiful People” had some Hanna-Barbera sound effects.
I was hoping for a comment on how Levitow, as an artist with a fluid and deft line, felt about adapting to the boxy, deliberately crude UPA style — did animators feel constrained or liberated by the house style?
I do wonder who did the internal gag cartoons; you see similar gag cartoons, for example, in Jones’ memoirs, some obviously done by the same artist(s) as shown here. I get a kick out of them.
Nice profile of a great animator. Something I’ve wondered since I first noticed his name in the credits: Is Levitow pronounced “Levit-OFF”, “Levit-OH”, or “Levit-OW”? And while I’m asking, is your own surname pronounced like the word “spies”, or does it rhyme with “sees”?
Fantastic Kamden. Glad Abe’s family was so generous with their time and the art. Wonderful to see. Thanks.
I think Abe Levitow is asking Chuck Jones, “Is that one of Bugs Bunny’s carrots in your pants or are you just happy to see us?” Notice Butch Patrick is looking the other way for the sake of discretion.