Thursday, January 31, 2013


Craziness at an animation studio went beyond what the public would see!
Small drawing from border of 1930-31 FS staff photo
Collection: V. Mahoney

Of course there were gags galore on screen. It’s said that Dave Fleischer, who would oversee Fleischer Studios film production, wanted a gag in EVERY scene. According to animator Shamus Culhane: “Dave was a gagman with a flamboyant disregard for story structure and character motivation. His motto was a gag in every foot, and he would cram one into a scene regardless of the fact that it had very little or no connection with the story line…

Off screen—nuttiness also invaded the work day!

New staff hires were ‘tested.’ A typical new staffer was given a bucket and directed to a room to fill the bucket with ‘film sprockets.’ Or they would be sent into a dark room with a female employee –who would close the door and a few minutes later run out screaming!

In 1938 Fleischer Studios re-located to Florida where flies would abound. When the windows were open staff would catch these flying invaders, one by one, and glue tiny paper airplane wings to their backs--- after which they’d be surrounded overhead by these tiny buzzing airplanes. 

Card by Fleischer animator Rudy Zamora
Collection: V. Mahoney
Whether in New York or Florida, Christmas was a big event—for all, no matter what religion you were! Staff made Christmas cards they exchanged with each other. These cards were usually handmade- they might feature someone’s family, or characters from the studio. They might be a bit nutty or even off-color. But the highlight of the year was the party Max and Dave would give for the whole staff, usually in a large restaurant. As the staff grew- the party got bigger since by 1939 there were over 700 employees. These parties were usually wild bashes that included Santa, gag gifts, vaudeville acts by staff, plus the usual eating and drinking (for a full description of one of these wild parties and some actual film footage go to Fleischer Studios Christmas!).

The 1933 Christmas card above is by animator Dick Huemer. Huemer, ( recalled one nutty string of events. It... "started when I drew big teeth on Koko… Dave started kidding me about it, baring his teeth at me every time I looked at him. Or he would draw an enormous tooth on my drawing paper when my back was turned. Then finally one night on my way home, I put my hand into my pocket and fished out a handful of teeth. Human ones. He’d gotten them from a dentist friend of his. I forgot what my next move was—probably slipping one or two into his dessert at lunch, or some other disgusting thing. And then came the morning when I raised my drawing board to switch on the light and my hand touched something slimy. There, draped over the light bulb, was the lower half of a cow’s jaw, replete with great big yellow teeth and shreds of unhealthy-looking flesh. Naturally I couldn’t let him quit while he was ahead. So I sneaked down to the street when he wasn’t looking and placed the cadaver on the motor of his Ford. I was only sorry I wasn’t there when he started to smell the roast beef on his way home. That kind of ended the whole rib."

The Christmas card above was to Seymour, from the studio group that hung out together and called themselves 'the gang.' 

Gambling was a big activity for all….my mother said that when she worked at the studio (1929-31) no one went out for lunch – they played poker instead! Going to the race-track together was common—especially after the studio moved to Florida where there were dog races as well as horse races. In the New York studio someone even had a direct wire to the race-track in his office where staffers would routinely gather to check winners and losers. 

They were such big betters that when the studio moved from New York to Florida their bookie moved with them! Max’s wife, Essie, was said to have had a direct wire to her bookie installed in a palm tree on their Florida property…. and Max, although greatly disturbed by the betting that went on during office hours, held a patent on a betting ‘wheel’ (above) he devised for the dog races. Below, Seymour in the middle, at the races.

Animator Shamus Culhane notes that (in the NY Fleischer days) a brownstone rooming house on 44th St. was completely taken over by Fleischer animators and became the site of the weekly gathering of card playing, drinking, and activity with ladies from the local bordello, who among other things, liked to play bridge. (Of course there were some staffers who led more conventional lives!)

Personal events—whether surgery or a wedding— usually warranted a hand made card… below, part of a get well card for Max drawn by 'Doc' Crandall.

And milestones in the business of the studio were fodder for cartoons in their in-house publications…. Their first feature film "Gulliver's Travels" was produced in an incredibly short time frame, and in the midst of the studio move from New York to Florida... their jokes below speak to the insanity of that time... (the top one by Willard Bowsky, the bottom one by Bob Little).

Here’s one more from the the April 1935 copy of their in-house Fleischer Animated News…. about Fleischer and ‘Bisney’ merging. This includes an interesting prediction, likely a far-fetched joke at the time, about their move to Florida... since it was May 1938 before Max and Paramount signed a contract to finance that new Florida building and move!

Seems like they knew how to have fun both on and off screen! If you know of any great stories that  have been passed down please post and share in comments below!

Misc. References
Talking Animals and Other People by Shamus Culhane


  1. I can already imagine the kind of place I'd like to be working in that studio for Max Fleischer.

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  4. thanks for the wonderful posts on a talented couple. I'm a fan of Max Fleischer's work which led me here. It's an honor to Ruth and Seymour to have this blog and share all these lovely personal aspects of their lives.

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