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GDA, Inc.: Fate Comes Calling — Part 2

In last months excerpt, Gene Deitchs life was turned around when animation producer William Snyder made Gene a deal that sent him to Prague.

Read Part 1 of Gene Deitchs meeting with fate.

An excerpt from Gene Deitchs How To Succeed In Animation (Dont Let A Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).

So it was arranged for William Snyder to visit the animation studio. It was called the Brothers in Trick studio, and still is today. This strange name is a play on the European tradition of calling animation films trick films. Playing with this, one of the leading animators of the studio, Zdenek Miler (pronounced Mill-air) drew three little curly-haired boys wearing striped T-shirts as the studio trademark. In case youve ever wondered why T-shirts are called T-shirts, its because they are made of cotton tricot. So the tricot brothers formed a visual pun for a group who made trick films!

On the big day William L. Snyder with his self-assured American bearing, his bright blue eyes and his incredible seersucker suit was to visit the Klárov studio, waves of whispered excitement pulsed through the temporary wooden structure. (The building actually had a sign on it, TEMPORARY STRUCTURE, though no one there could remember when it had been put up.) After the grand tour, he took a long puff on his cigar in the office of Vojen Masník, the studio manager. OK he announced, if youll set up a unit for me, Ill guarantee a minimum of eight films per year at $5,000 each. Very big deal.

These people had never met anyone like Snyder. With no idea whether or not he was kidding, they promptly appointed a young woman named Zdenka Najmanova as head of the Snyder unit. She picked the best people for her crew, and three floors were commandeered in a building on Maxim Gorky Square that once housed the Prague stock exchange, long since abolished by the Communists.

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Producer William Snyder demonstrated his business acumen by optioning classic childrens literature like Madeline and Many Moons before Hollywood showed interest adapting such books.

Back in New York, Snyder now needed stories to produce. So from his East 59th Street office he ducked around the corner to the Doubleday Bookstore, at that time on 5th Avenue. He happened to have very good taste. He bought three Madeline books and Fifi by Ludwig Bemelmans, Many Moons by James Thurber, The Smiling Prince by Crockett Johnson, Anatole by Eve Titus, and several other childrens picture books of equally high quality.

In those days there existed only a minuscule 16mm school and library market for films based on childrens books, so acquiring the film rights was a simple matter. Snyder simply opened each book to its title page, noted the publisher and gave them a ring. They were thrilled that some fool was willing to invest money in a film version of their books. Realizing that a film could increase book sales, they were naturally eager to give Bill the rights, often for as little as 50 bucks each!

He sent the books back to Zdenka in Prague, where she and her staff set diligently to work. When the filmed results started coming in, Snyder saw that it was indeed beautiful work. The animation was smooth, graphically following the style and color of each book, and was accompanied by lovely original music. There was, however, one unexpected problem. The films lacked pace, timing, rhythm. They were ponderously slow. At that moment it dawned on Snyder that he had forgotten one thing, to hire his own director.

While I was away in Prague, my GDA staff reassured me that they were working hard, by sending me these Polaroids. Thats Al Kouzel brandishing the GDA flag, Ken Drake, my production manager, on his back guzzling a water cooler-sized tequila and you can spot George Singer leering at a girlie magazine. All in good fun, but the sad part for them was that my trip to Prague signaled the end of my studio...

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To read more about Genes new life in Prague, visit Genes online book.

Gene Deitch is one of the last surviving members of the original Hollywood UPA studio of 1946 and the instigator of the CBS-Terrytoon renaissance of 1956-1958. He was also: animation department chief of the Detroit Jam Handy Organization; 1949-1951, creative chief of UPA-New York, 1951-1954; director at John Hubleys Storyboard, Inc., New York, 1955; president of Gene Deitch Associates, Inc., New York, 1958-1960; creative director for Rembrandt Films, 1960-1968; and star director for Weston Woods Studios, Inc., Weston, Connecticut, 1968-1993. He has worked for more than 40 years with the Prague animation studio, Bratri v Triku.

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