Tuesday, May 1, 2012


In 1933 Lillian Friedman, while working at Fleischer Studios, became the first woman EVER to work as an animator at any studio.

From the early days of animation—and up until 1933—women were generally hired only in the lowly role of inker or opaquer. If talented and lucky they might advance to the position of inbetweener. But they NEVER worked as animators.

It was accepted thinking in the industry that women were not capable of the creativity required to be an animator, plus there was resistance to women entering this male dominated field. The article below from a Paramount 1936 promotional booklet includes the statement “Nobody knows just why, but women generally are not successful as cartoon animators.”

There’s also a telling 1938 letter that can be found online, typed on beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs stationary. It’s a response to Miss Mary V. Ford who wrote Walt Disney Productions concerning a job… the reply states “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school....The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions."

(click to enlarge for viewing)
Article from Paramount promotional booklet for "Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor"  1936     Collection: Virginia Mahoney       
Popeye copyright 2011 King Features Syndicate, Inc. TM Hearst Holdings, Inc.

In 1933 Lillian Friedman, an employee of Fleischer Studios, became the very first female to be hired as a commercial animator at any animation studio. She had joined Fleischer Studios as an inbetweener in 1931 at the age of nineteen. Animator Shamus Culhane recognized that she was highly talented and advocated for her advancement to animator. It was no easy job to convince the other animators to accept a woman working in that position. In addition, Shamus points out in his book Talking Animals and Other People, he had to devise tricks to make her accepted in the all male environment… and even though Lillian achieved animator status she was paid considerably less then her male counterparts.  

The film below, Pudgy and the Lost Kitten, gives screen credit for animation to Myron Waldman and Lillian Friedman. This copy of the film has German sub-titles which I always thought reflected how popular these films were overseas- but 'The Crazy HR' has corrected me... "This was for many years a 'lost film,' meaning nobody knew about the existence of any copy of the cartoon. This has subtitles because it aired on the Channel ARTE during their show "Cartoon Factory." (ARTE is a German Channel)

                            Film: Pudgy and the Lost Kitten  

                                     Betty Boop and Pudgy copyright Fleischer Studios, Inc.

The Internet Movie Database (online) credits Lillian with animation work on 11 films made with Fleischer Studios between 1934 and 1938—and shows she received screen credit on seven of these films, and was uncredited for her work on the other four. However,  IMDb did not include her animation on Sindbad the Sailor which the above article attests to—or a reference elsewhere to her animation on Betty Boop’s A Language All Her Own.  So Lillian animated on a total of at least thirteen films, with six of them uncredited. The lack of screen credit is not unusual since generally, although several animators may work on a film, no more than two animators received  on-screen credit. Lillian remained at Fleischer’s until 1939 when she resigned to be with her family full time.

For work purposes animators at the time were assigned to ‘units,’ each unit run by a head animator. While working as an animator at Fleischer Studios Lillian worked in three different units, each headed by a different animator… Shamus Culhane, Myron Waldman, and my dad… Seymour Kneitel.

(When giving credit to trailblazing women  animators I should also mention Laverne Harding who in 1934 went to work for another famous studio, Walter Lantz, becoming only the second women animator in the industry.)


Book: Talking Animals and Other People by Shamus Culhane
Popeye Paramount Promotional brochure for Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor 1936
Ray Pointer online comments
Disney rejection letter:
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) 
Book: Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons by Jeff Lenburg


  1. did your father have a favorite animator to work with?

    1. Interesting question-- he may have had a favorite, but I'm not aware of who that might be. My only other thought is surely one of his favorites was probably himself, since he loved animating. Even when he was in positions of management he'd come home, eat dinner, and spend hours virtually every night animating at his home animation desk.

  2. In our modern era we might not even think of women in animation as anything more than run-of-the-mill but Lillian Friedman certainly deserves recognition as a pioneer in the animation industry. A Fleischer News gag cartoon indicates she sat in the bull pen with 'the boys' - that couldn't have been easy! I've read of a strange contraption used by Max to flip drawings but never knew Max animated at home. Wonder what he animated? Illuminating post!

  3. thanks for the answer! it really brought a smile to my face; it's nice to know that your father really cared about his work (especially since i care so much for it as well. famous studios is my favorite of the classic animation studios).

  4. "(This copy of the film, with German sub-titles, reflects how popular these films were overseas as well as in the U.S.)"

    Actually, no. This was for many years a "lost" film, meaning nobody knew about the existance of any copy of the cartoon. This has subtitles because it aired on the channel ARTE during their show "Cartoon Factory".

    1. Wow I love doing this blog- I'm always learning-- thanks for the correction-- nxt week I'll go to the site and correct that--I'd like to credit you with the update-- would you have any idea about what year the German sub-titles were added?
      Thanks again, Ginny

  5. Wonderful article! Thank you so much for making it!