Monday, December 10, 2012


Collection: V. Mahoney

That’s my mom, Ruth (Fleischer) Kneitel--- born December 28, 1906 in Brooklyn, New York. It’s always amazed me that when she was growing up women in the United States did not have the right to vote. That wouldn’t happen until 1920, when she was 19 years old.

Since this is the month of her birthday I thought I’d share some of the interesting things about my mother’s life in animation. She was the daughter of an important animation pioneer, and in 1931 she married an animator! She even worked in early animation…
Ruth, Essie, Richard (Dick), Max.
Collection: V. Mahoney

At the time Ruth was born, her father Max had not yet begun his work in animation. (To learn more about Max Fleischer’s amazing career read Out of the Inkwell by his son, Richard Fleischer). Max had a vision that he could improve on the existing crude animation of the day. 

In 1915, when Ruth was nine years old, Max patented the Rotoscope… an invention that created more fluid movement of animated characters. Working together with his brothers, Max created the very first films using that Rotoscope. This event marked the beginning of his career in animation. Since Max had meager funds, he routinely used family in these early films…. aunts, uncles, kids… including Ruth and her younger brother Dick. From these modest beginnings the Fleischers became one of the many immigrant success stories. 

On the way to that success my mom didn’t miss an opportunity to be involved. 

Ruth testing some dance moves.
Collection: V. Mahoney
It was natural that Ruth, a fun loving gal, would want to be part of this exciting theatrical life. Trained as a dancer, by her late teens she was dancing on stage in vaudeville chorus lines. In 1925 Max even created a film, Ko-Ko Steps Out, that was built around Ruth and her dancing. In the film, Max is on screen while Ruth appears first on the screen with Max and then appears to jump from the screen to the stage where they interact. It was a combination of film and vaudeville! Here’s a newspaper review that tells a bit of the story. (Red Seal was a film company Max started in 1923 that produced live action comedies as well as animated films.) BTW- I’ve never found a copy of this film.
Newspaper report for Ko-Ko Steps Out
Collection: V. Mahoney
At the Studio, any event of note was worth a hand drawn cartoon—here’s one (below) they gave to my mother when she was appearing live with Ko-Ko Steps Out at a Rialto Theater in New Jersey. 
Drawing by FS staffer for Ruth, Jan. 1926
Collection: V. Mahoney

Below are some other photos of Red Seal pictures Max made that Ruth appeared in.
Max in center talking to Ruth who is wearing a coat and hat.
The reverse of this publicity photo from about 1924 reads: “Max Fleischer and a group of the prettiest chorus girls in New York, all of whom are engaged for his new series of two reel comedies, Carrie of the Chorus.” Ruth can be seen in this photo- she's wearing a coat and hat, and talking to Max. In this Carrie film Ruth plays the part of Carrie’s best friend. 

Ray Bolger photo with inscription to Ruth.
Collection: V. Mahoney

Ruth met Ray Bolger when they were both dancing on the same bill at the Paramount Theater. Bolger (later to become famous as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz) became a close friend and occasionally Ruth’s on stage dancing partner. Bolger earned his very first film credit when he appeared in this Carrie of the Chorus film.
Publicity photo from Morning Judge. Collection: V. Mahoney'

Publicity photo from Morning Judge. Collection: V. Mahoney
The two photos above are from another of Max’s Red Seal films, Morning Judge, that was released in 1926. Ruth is on the left side of the first photo. In the second photo Ruth is in the middle, standing in front. I’ve never found a copy of this and have no idea of what is going on in this film!
Article about Rayburn troupe in St. Louis Star.
Collection: V.Mahoney
By 1926, when Max’s Red Seal venture was floundering, Ruth joined the Ned Rayburn traveling dance troupe as a chorus girl. Ned Rayburn was famous at the time for producing dancing stars. In the photo above Ruth is standing in the back row third from the left. When appearing on stage she sometimes used the name Ruth Dix…likely a play on the name of her younger brother Dick, who she adored. The Rayburn troupe danced in theaters all over the U.S. Ruth would have been about 20 years old at the time, and her parents, Max and Essie, were not at all happy to have her leading what they considered a wild and questionable life. 
Telegram from Ned Rayburn to Ruth forbidding her to smoke! Collection: V. Mahoney
(Click to enlarge for viewing)

Just how racy life was on the road is reflected in the 1927 telegram (above) from Ned Rayburn to Ruth.

When Ruth returned home from a Wayburn road tour her mother made it clear that she was NOT to go on the road anymore! But Ruth had no interest in sitting idly home, so she proposed that she’d consider staying only if she could work at Max’s Studio. Max reluctantly agreed….reluctant because he knew the Studio had a staff of basically crazy, wild people, and he worried Ruth might contribute too much to that craziness.
Lower portion of 1930-31 Fleischer Studios staff photo. Ruth (Fleischer) is far left, second row up from the bottom. (Click to enlarge for viewing) Collection: V. Mahoney

Much to Max’s surprise and delight, Ruth became a valuable asset. She worked her way up first to Head of the Opaquing (or painting) department and later she became Head of the Inking Department. She also wrote stories for a number of cartoons. Aside from her success in the office, she was still a girl that loved to party, so she was equally popular with the fun-loving staff.

The studio is where my parents met, my dad was an animator at the time. They were an unlikely pair since Ruth loved to dance and Seymour couldn’t dance at all. But he was such a nice guy. Ruth at first thought he had a sweetheart since she’d hear him on the phone saying.. ‘hello dear’… I’ll be home soon dear.’ Turned out he was talking to his mother! My dad was in his late teens when his father died, at which point he became the main support of his mother and sister. Animator Shamus Culhane wrote
…"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."
Family photo showing (l. to r.) Ruth, Kenny, Tommy, Ginny, Seymour.
Collection: V. Mahoney
My mom and dad married in December of 1931. Ruth continued to work at the studio until late 1932 while awaiting the birth of their first child, Tommy.  Two more children followed, myself in 1936 and Ken in 1941. In the photo above (circa 1945) we're all together in one of those fake photo set-ups. 

Although Ruth became a stay-at-home mom, she continued to write stories for cartoons and comic books, many of which were used! After my dad died in 1964 she became more active in the animation industry, working to promote a novel 3D process… but that’s another story!


  1. Great post. Your mother was very kind to me when I first started my research on the Fleischer Studio.

    1. Thanks MIke for writing and remembering her-- Best, Ginny

  2. One thing I've wondered:

    Your mom has a co-writers credit with Shamus Culhane in the 1967 Famous cartoon, "Keep the Cool Baby".
    Culhane mentions in "Talking Animals and Other People" how during his time running the studio, he of course finished some Howard Post stories that were already into production, but that he also picked up at least one story from when your dad was still alive. Was "Keep the Cool" another example, or was your mom participating in the studio's overhaul at the time?

    1. Hi Bradley--While my dad was alive my mother had written a number of cartoon concept ideas that were bought and used at Famous (though often the final stories were altered some). After he died she continued to write for both magazines (on a variety of topics) and since she still had many contacts in the animation area, she also wrote some cartoon proposals-- which is how 'Keep the Cool' came to happen. She probably wrote the concept and Shamus elaborated or adapted it. She also was involved for awhile in marketing a novel 3D animation process. But after my dad died she never was involved in the business of the studio or it's overhaul. Only writing.