Thursday, December 22, 2011


Another original card from Seymour and Ruth, who are yet again facing the Christmas season waiting for the birth of a baby. At the time Seymour was working for Fleischer Studios.

Christmas was a hugely important holiday for the Fleischer Studios people. Staff came from many different backgrounds, many of them were first generation Americans... and they represented many different religions. But no matter their background or religion, they all seemed to think Christmas was yet another great way to have a good time together.

They had a really big and crazy Christmas party in a rented theater or restaurant, exchanged these hand made and personalized Christmas cards with each other… and had a rousing good time. To see more about how Fleischer Studios staff celebrated Christmas, including more of the original Christmas cards created by staff... plus rare footage of a home made movie during one of these 1930’s Christmas parties….

Click on the word 'Museum' near the top of the page (under Fleischer Studios).  This will take you to the Fleischer Studios Museum site where you can click to enter the exhibit, entitled 'Christmas.'

Enjoy and Merry Christmas… 
and watch this Blog in early 2012 for the next postings on some of the interesting ‘technical’ things Seymour was involved with. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Love Story...

My parents were married on December 24, 1931. They met while both were working at Fleischer Studios. They remained completely devoted to each other through raising three children and dealing with the sometimes-challenging politics of the animation business.

My dad had married Ruth Fleischer, the boss’s only daughter. When they met, my father Seymour was a young animator at Fleischer Studios. Another Fleischer animator, Shamus Culhane, in his autobiography, Talking Animals and Other People, notes: “The marriage made no difference in Seymour’s status in the studio: he was never given, nor did he ever ask for, special handling from the management.”

In another post I’ll share more about my mother. She was in some of Max Fleischer’s very early films, including roles in his short-lived and little known completely live action series ‘Carrie of the Chorus.’ Before working at the studio she had been dancing ‘on the road’ in an all girl troupe. In the late 1920’s she joined the staff of Fleischer Studios as an inker, progressing to head of the Coloring Department- and then to head of the Inking Department.

In an interview with historian Mike Barrier my mother talked about working at the studio “When I met Seymour, everyone became involved in the romance…It was a family; everybody knew what everybody was doing. The great part of it was, after work, we didn’t just all go away and forget each other.” This was a close-knit staff that spent considerable time together outside the office .

As they started life together it was with the background of the Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash of October 1929. Although many bussinesses closed or struggled to survive, this was not true of the movie business. Films and animated cartoons were an inexpensive escape from the troubles of daily life. In fact, there was so much creativity and technical progress during this time (at a number of animation studios) that the 1930’s is often referred to as “The Golden Age of Animation.”

Seymour’s Letter of Contract from Fleischer Studios (below) shows the typical salary of an animator in the early1930’s….eighty dollars a week. The second letter reflects the huge success and popularity of Fleischer films that allowed a bonus to be distributed to employees Christmas 1931.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bachelor Dinner for Seymour Kneitel...

December 1931

This photo of Seymour Kneitel’s bachelor party was taken exactly eighty years ago, in New York City at the Blue Ribbon Restaurant, December, 1931. Seymour (front row center) met his future wife, Ruth Fleischer, while both were working at Fleischer Studios. Max Fleischer, Seymour’s soon to be father-in-law is in the front row, far left.

The staff at Fleischer Studios during the late 1920’s and 1930’s often celebrated occasions like this together. Staff also joined the studio sports teams (bowling, baseball etc), played cards and gambled together, partied together, and the men held these bachelor dinners.

Fleischer Studios was a training ground for animators and other animation specialists.While many worked their entire careers with Fleischer Studios (and it’s successor studio Famous Studios) others went on to work at any number of other emerging animation studios…. sometimes even returning later to work again at Fleischers. Many of the men in this photo went on to become prominent and well known figures in animation.

It’s interesting to note that, as with Seymour, virtually all these men would have begun their careers in the early days of silent black and white film…. worked through the introduction of sound, color, and 3D…..and by the end of their careers where producing animation for Television!

Seated front row left to right are Max Fleischer, Seymour Kneitel, Roland (‘Doc’)Crandall. Standing behind them are Frank Paiker, Willard Bowsky, Al Eugster,Ugo D'Orsi, Reuben Timinsky, and possibly Dave Tendlar (present but not visiblein this copy of the print). Back row: Sam Stimson, Charles Shettler, SamBuchwald, unknown, Izzy Sparber, Tom Bonfiglio (who later changed his name toGoodson), Ralph Sommerville, Myron Waldman. Collection of Ginny Mahoney.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Start to Finish!

A Christmas Card
Start to Finish!
Since it’s interesting to see how a concept progresses from the first glimmer of an idea to the final printed piece… thought you’d enjoy this card Seymour did for Christmas, 1935, when son Tommy was almost age two.

The first sketch, was done on Fleischer Studios 8 1/2” x 11” animation paper and is just the beginnings of a idea.

The second image is the more developed final artwork, 7 1/2” x 11” and on thin board. The gray color is an overlay of two different acetate dot screens laid over the black inked drawing.
The last image is the final printed card, 4 1/4” x 5 1/4,” and ready to be hand colored!  Gee , I wish I had one of the hand-colored ones... BTW: the dot screens on the middle image are slightly out of register but can't be fixed without damage to the artwork.
Collection of Virginia Mahoney

Friday, November 18, 2011

Merry Christmas!

1932 Christmas Card
Drawn by Seymour Kneitel in 1932 while he was working at Fleischer Studios, this Christmas card celebrates not only Christmas but the impending birth of Seymour and Ruth’s first child, son Tommy, born January, 28,1933. Animation staffers exchanged these unique personalized cards for Christmas, weddings, surgeries, and any number of other events!  Exchanging these personalized Christmas cards was a wide spread practice at the studio.

Shown here is the original art for the card as well as the final card. These cards were usually printed with only one color ink, usually black, and color was added by hand. Also, there was usually a space left on the card to personally fill in the name of the recipent.

Collection of Virginia Mahoney

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Famous Studios
On May 25, 1942, an agreement was signed transitioning the former Fleischer Studios into the new Famous Studios. Shown on the left is the original agreement between the three principals (click to enlarge).

It states: "THIS PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT, made and entered into this 21st day of May, 1942, between SEYMOUR KNEITEL, ISIDORE SPARBER and SAM BUCHWALD, for and in consideration of the sum of Ten Dollars and other valuable considerations paid by each of the partners hereto to the other,..."

Item 1 states: "This partnership will hereafter be known and operated under the name of FAMOUS STUDIOS and its object and purpose is to produce motion picture cartoons under a management contract with Paramount Pictures, Inc."
Partnership Agreement- 4 pages- Collection of Virginia Mahoney

"Paramount News" 
March, 1951

This cover from “Paramount News,” an in-house Paramount publication shows Seymour Kneitel, in the foreground, and Izzy Sparber, examining a reel of film, surrounded by some of the studios famous characters. (click to enlarge image)

All character images are the copyright and trademarks of their respective owners.

"How a Cartoon is Produced"

“How a Cartoon is Produced” on page 6 of "Paramount News" (Volume III No.11 March 12, 1951) shows the basic steps in the process of creating a cartoon (click to enlarge image)… the accompanying text is as follows…

“Our cameraman spent all last week with Producers Isadore Sparber and Seymour Kneitel photographing the various steps necessary to make one of the popular Paramount cartoons. Little did we realize the amount of hard work that goes into the making of the ‘exhibitor’s best program builder.” But suppose you join us on a personally conducted tour of the cartoon studio. First, let’s meet Irving Spector as he completes the last sketch of a Popeye story in preparation for a final story conference. With the story approved, Animator Nick Tafuri is shown 2. as he strikes a pose for the action he is about to draw. His pencil sketches are photographed by Matthew Gentilella 3. for reviewing by head animator and director, who will assign the work to assistant animators and “fillers-in” 4. Now, with the animation well under way, Bob Owen, Bob Connavle and John Zago prepare the backgrounds. 5. Aftr the animators pencil sketches are traced in black ink, Alice Rehberg, Ruth Gorman and Joan Saracina match the transparent acetate sheets for the next step which is the coloring. 6. Here Peter Ignatenko, Eugene Babitchev and Maria Serianni prepare the colors in the paint laboratory. 7. As an added precaution, Alice Ament matches the colors as she test-paints some of the transparent sheets. 8. It is at this point that Music Director Winston Sharples creates and arranges special music as 9. Morris Manne and Bernice Steinberg edit the cartoon for sound effects and dialogue. 10. The completed cartoon is screened for the staff and with the approval of Producers Sparber and Knitel (sic), Leonard McCormick photographs the main title and another top-notch Paramount cartoon is ready for selling and booking. It’s just as easy as that!"

"Paramount News" Vol. III No.11 March 12, 1951: Collection of Virginia Mahoney

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A brief Autobiography....

In the mid-1950's Seymour wrote a short autobiography...

"I graduated P.S. 10 in Manhattan where I won a gold art medal, the results of a contest for graduates. I attended the High School of Commerce taking their commercial art course, and studied at the National Academy of Design, where I took evening classes.

"An annex of Commerce was close to the Bray Studios, and I worked there after school and Saturdays coloring drawings for, Colonel Hezaliar, an animated cartoon they were producing. On leaving school I worked for various commercial artists, but was anxious to do animated cartoons. I managed to find employment in a small company, L.F. Cornwell, producers of a series called Ebinizer Ebony, which was being made in color in a now extinct process called Kelly color. I worked there from 1924 to 1925. I started as an office boy and within the year was one of their three animators.

"About this time I heard of an opening for an Inbetweener at Max Fleischer's Out of The Inkwell Studios, which was one of the largest Studios. I was fortunate enough to be able to join their staff and work under animators who were the top men in the industry. I was there for two years when I was offered an opportunity to go to MGM Studios in California as a junior writer. I had been with Fleischer from 1925 to 1927. I spent six months at MGM writing sub-titles to silent pictures, but when sound arrived there was no longer a need for titles and I was let go, along with the other writers.

"Sound was a great shot in the arm to the animated cartoons. After leaving MGM, I came back East and worked with an outfit that produced cartoons based on a popular comic strip called Joe Jinks. The pictures, unfortunately, never got out of the projection room. From there I worked as an Inbetweener at Loucks & Norling, producers of industrial pictures and the famous characters, Mutt & Jeff. The pictures got to the screen but fell short of enough excitement to make a series. I was with this studio for 6 months, in 1928, when I left and returned to the Fleischer Studios.

“Due to my former experience with the Inkwell Studios, I was able to secure a position as an Inbetweener at the Fleischer Studios, where I remained for 14 years, from 1928 to 1942. I was at the studio for about six months when I became an animator. About a year later I was appointed a head animator, a position I enjoyed up to the time the studio embarked on its first feature length cartoon, Gulliver’s Travels, which was made in the Fleischer’s Florida Studios. With a group of writers I worked on the development of the screen adaptation, and when the picture went into production, I was made director of animation. When the second feature length cartoon, Mr. Bug Goes To Town, went into production, I worked in an advisory capacity and took over the direction of the shorts that were being produced concurrently with the feature. Included in the shorts were the tremendously popular Superman pictures.

“As a director I made Talkartoons, Bouncing Ball screen songs, Betty Boop, and commercial cartoons, and government animated pictures for the army and navy. The studio entered into an agreement with the King Features Syndicate to test their newspaper character, Popeye the Sailor, for an animated cartoon. I made the first Popeye which was incorporated into a Betty Boop picture. When it was screened in the theaters, it was a bomb-shell and overnight success. That was the start of the Popeye series which eventually resulted in over 300 pictures.

“When the Fleischer Studios closed, Sam Buchwald, Isidore Sparber and I formed the Famous Studios, which we ran from May, 1942 to May, 1953---11 years."

NOTES: After the death of Sam Buchwald in 1951, Famous Studios continued to be run by Seymour and Izzy. In 1956, Paramount Pictures assumed fuller control of the studio, renaming it Paramount Cartoon Studios, with Seymour and Izzy remaining in management positions. Izzy died August, 1958. Seymour was still working at Paramount Cartoon Studios when he died of a heart attack in 1964 at the age of 56.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Famous Studios entry hall display, circa 1950.

In 1943 the newly formed Famous Studios completed it's relocation to New York City. Virtually all of their staff, which consisted of many of the original Fleischer Studios New York staffers, made the return move with them.  Famous occupied space in two buildings in the heart of New York City, at 25 and 35 West 45th Street.

If you had walked into the offices of Famous Studios in the 1950's you would have been been greeted in the entry hall by these cells (shown in the post below) depicting their most well-known characters. These are scans of those actual cells.

Famous Studios character cells, circa 1950s

All character images are the copyright and trademarks of their respective owners.

Cells on background: Collection of Virginia Mahoney