This blog is in memory of Seymour Kneitel, an exceptional animator and director from the Golden Age of Animation.
His career in animation began at the age of 16, attending high school during the day while working after school and Saturdays for Bray Studios, an early pioneering animation studio. The major portion of his later animation career was spent with Fleischer Studios and its' two successor studios... Famous Studios and Paramount Cartoon Studios.
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….
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
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.
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.