Why isn't there an Animation Hall of Fame that acknowledges the people behind our favorite animation? Martin Dr. Toon Goodman defines the hypothetical voting process and possible honorees in this month's column.
As I began to compose this months column there were 256 legends ensconced in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Basketball Hall of Fame held only ten fewer enshrinees. The Pro Football Hall of Fame boasts 150 busts representing the greatest who ever played the game. The Animation Hall of Fame, on the other hand, is graced with nary a hallowed name. This is primarily because there is no Animation Hall of Fame in existence. It is true that as of this writing a Cartoon Hall of Fame is being designed by ASIFA Hollywood. This is a most worthy project that deserves our accolades, but preliminary plans appear to indicate that enshrinement is being limited to cartoon characters. What about the people behind the toons? Are they not part of the story as well? Where there should be monuments to the magnificent men and women who made animation one of the most popular cinematic art forms on the planet, there are only informal listings and varying opinions on far-flung Websites.
The Ground Rules
A Hall of Fame for animation greats does appear in Jerry Becks classic book The 50 Greatest Cartoons. Mr. Beck, one of our premier animation historians, writers and producers, came up with an unofficial list of those to be enshrined in a hypothetical Hall of Fame. It is difficult indeed to quibble with his choices. To wit: Winsor McKay, Max Fleischer, Otto Messmer, Walter Lantz, Walt Disney, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. Any dissent? I wouldnt think so. Still, these exalted names are only 11 in number, and so many more are deserving of a place in the animation hall of heroes. Therefore, taking Mr. Becks estimable list as a starting point I humbly propose, for the enjoyment of my readers, an Animation Hall of Fame.
Where to put this monument? Hollywood is a fine choice, as the industry thrived there, and so is New York, as the birthplace of what is likely the first animated film (Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, 1906). However, the coasts have their share of cultural glory and film history, so I propose putting the Hall of Fame in the Heartland Chicago, which also claims the birthplace of Walt Disney. Having cleared space in the Windy City for the Hall, I then consulted another Hall of Fame for rules of procedure and protocol The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Their rules for enshrinement are as follows: The Baseball Writers Association of America selects a screening committee of six members (two new members are voted in every three years). The committee prepares a ballot of no more than ten nominees for the Hall, and these candidates must have been nominated by at least two of the six committee members. The ballots are distributed to eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America; one must have been a baseball writer for at least ten years. Any nominee garnering 75% of their vote then joins the hallowed Hall. No write-ins are permitted. There are separate rules for a veteran's (or, old-timers) enshrinement, but to keep things simple I dispensed with them.
Lets substitute the entire professional animation community for the Baseball Writers Association of America, including animation writers as well as artisans. To keep the number reasonable, the same ten-years-as-a-pro rule applies. (This leaves me out; Ive only been writing since 1997. I obviously need more flexible rules!) Since I cant contact Americas entire animation community and make a deadline, I give you my version of the ideal screening committee: Mike Barrier, Jerry Beck, John Canemaker, Karl Cohen, Leonard Maltin and Charles Solomon. I am going to usurp their jobs just for this year and present...19 stellar nominees for the Animation Hall of Fame. If there is disagreement with my picks, well...theres always next year!
First Ballot Nominees
Animation greats born mostly in this century who were not generally considered to be part of the Golden Age of theatrical cartoons. Their careers flourished from the mid-1950s on.
Ralph Bakshi (1938- ) Animator, producer, director, studio chief and outrageous auteur. Bakshi launched the careers of many cartoon stars, revived the careers of others, and along the way made several feature films drenched in biting social commentary. Among the latter was Fritz The Cat, the first X-rated animated film in general release.
Don Bluth (1937- ) Bluth could have had a brilliant career at Disney but walked out on principle, determined to do classic animation the way he felt it should be done. Although critical acclaim such as that lavished on Disney never quite came, Bluth did what he set out to do admirably. The Land Before Time series was his gift to millions of preschoolers; The Secret of NIMH was a promise he kept to audiences and himself.
Gene Deitch (left image: pointing) made stylized animation accessible to the masses. Here he's seen with producer Zdenka Deitchova and background artist Miluse Hluchanicova in 1976 at Kratky Film. Courtesy of and © Gene Deitch. Ray Harryhausen created magic with his stop-motion work. Here he works on The Clash of the Titans. © Animation Art Gallery London.
Gene Deitch (1924-) If the UPA studio made stylized animation an art form, Gene Deitch made it accessible to the masses. Deitch was ahead of his time at Terrytoons, and he led even the studios lifetime stalwarts such as Jim Tyer and Connie Rasinski into uncharted territory. The oppressive studio management at Terrytoons couldnt entirely quell the spirit that gave us Tom Terrific.
Ray Harryhausen (1920- ) During his tutelage under stop-motion effects wizard Willis OBrien, Harryhausen achieved such genius that he soon surpassed his master. The secret was Harryhausens ability to display emotional foibles and reactions in his fantastic stop-motion creatures. If Jason and the Argonauts doesnt convince one that a magician is at work, then one simply doesnt believe in magic.
John Hubley (1914-1977) Creative, contentious and controversial, John Hubley was the epitome of the temperamental artist and what an artist he was. While in his role as the guiding spirit of the UPA studio, Hubley produced some of its most notable shorts. His release due to suspicions of Communist connections fazed Hubley not at all; he simply went on to become one of Americas most notable independents. The versatile Hubley could give audiences the sassy energy of Rooty Toot Toot or the gentle rhythms of Moonbird.
Jay Ward (1920-1989)/Bill Scott (-1985) The second team to make the Hall. Ward and Scott countered creaky animation and tiny budgets with wit, verve and stellar voice artists. Rocky and Bullwinkle set patterns for political and cultural satire that are still followed today. This hilarious duo followed up with characters like George of the Jungle and Super Chicken, raising animation to new heights of pure silliness. Even the characters they created for advertising, notably Capn Crunch, were probably strong enough to carry a series had Ward and Scott been so inclined.
Nominees who were contemporaries of the original eleven. They are nominated for significant contribution to the field and art of animation.
John Randolph Bray (1879-1978) Animation was a crude and painstaking process before J.R. Bray applied the lessons of industry and the production line to the infant art. Bray designed dozens of major and minor inventions to speed and improve the animation process, and without his imagination and practicality it is doubtful that animation could ever have become mass entertainment. Virtually every important patent that pushed animation into maturity was at one time or another in Brays hands.
James (Shamus) Culhane (1908-1996) It would be easier by far to list the major animation studios where Culhane did not work at one time or another. This outstanding animator left the impressive stamp of his style and artistry across the broad history of American animation. Disneys first four features showcased his talents, but this was just one step in a career that included directing, producing, advertising, management and authorship of one of animations most inclusive training manuals.
Norm Ferguson (1902-1957) Fergie was not one of Disneys Nine Old Men, nor was his draftsmanship exceptional. Ferguson, however, was perhaps the first at Disney to truly grasp animation as the illusion of life. Fergusons characters had weight, volume and shifted under the influence of gravity as no other animated figures had before. Ferguson assured his lasting fame when he began depicting the inner life of his characters by revealing their thoughts, personalities and individual foibles through his energetic animation.
Dave Fleischer (1894-1979) It is doubtful that Dave Fleischer, credited with directing over 600 cartoons, truly directed them all. It is definite that the younger Fleischer brother possessed a talent for gags, timing and direction matched by few of his contemporaries. The Fleischer studios had many talented artists over the years, and nearly all of them worked under Daves direction in some of the most successful series ever produced in animation. Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman were some of the indelible characters that came to life under his overall supervision.
Ub Iwerks (1901-1971) It has long been known that Iwerks was the designer and seminal animator of Mickey Mouse. History is finally acknowledging this great figure as an inventor, artist, special effects wizard and contributor to the artistic and technical perfection of the animated arts. Iwerks also had his own studio, contributing characters such as Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper to cartoon history.
Ollie Johnston (1912- )/Frank Thomas (1912- ) No team in any Hall of Fame boasted batterymates like these, and it is impossible to consider one for nomination without the other. Friends since the 1930s, Thomas and Johnston defined Disney animation as much, and perhaps more, than any other talent at the studio. Teammate and confidante Johnston worked side by side with Thomas on many of the same films, and complemented his friend perfectly: Whether it was Johnstons Thumper and Thomas Bambi or Thomas Captain Hook and Johnstons Mr. Smee, the team-up was always spectacular. Frank Thomas clarity at depicting melancholy, pathos and heartbreak brought unprecedented depth to animated films; he was equally adept at portraying exuberance, innocence and joy. If you wept with the dwarfs at Snow Whites demise, watched Bambi explore his world for the first time, or sighed at Lady and the Tramp kissing over a strand of spaghetti you were touched by some of Thomas special magic. Johnston, always an expressive animator, actually got stronger as the years went on; his work in Fantasia, 101 Dalmatians and Pinocchio were stunning enough, but Johnston continued to hit his stride with creations such as Baloo the bear and Rufus the cat. Thomas and Johnston animated together, published together and triumphed together; their influences are still strong in Disney animation to this day.
Ward Kimball (1914-2002) Another of Disneys legendary Nine Old Men, Kimball animated on the wild side and enjoyed a creative freedom at Disney that few others could claim. There was a good reason for this: Kimballs manic animation was technically perfect, exquisitely drawn and wildly exuberant, even as it flew in the face of Disney realism. Kimball was the creator of Jiminy Cricket, the animator of the surrealistic title song in The Three Caballeros, and an Oscar winner for Its Tough To Be A Bird, a Disney short animated in UPA style. Only Kimball could have pulled it off.
Robert McKimson (1910-1977) Perhaps Warner Bros. finest draftsman and fussiest animator, every character McKimson drew looked uncannily right. This ability led to McKimson designing most of the studios model sheets and the Warner house style was strongly set by his fine hand. McKimson also left his stamp on that venerable studio as a director for three decades. Still, he found the time to create characters of his own; Foghorn Leghorn and the indecipherable Tasmanian Devil are just two of the stars that flowed from his intuitive pen.
Myron (Grim) Natwick (1890-1990) One of the countrys earliest animators, Natwick enjoyed challenges from which other animators shied away. His ability to animate the female form turned Betty Boop into a major cartoon star at Fleischer. Walt Disney was quick to nab Grimmy when it was time to consider seriously how Snow White would be designed and brought to life. Other characters animated by Grim included Woody Woodpecker, Flip the Frog, Popeye and Andy Panda. In all, Natwicks facile pen traced memorable characters for over sixty years at eight major studios; he worked beside every veteran nominee with the exeception of J.R. Bray.
Paul Terry (1887-1971) Terrys early cartoons were the envy of Walt Disney. By the mid-1920s, when most studios were struggling to produce a single cartoon on time, Terrys studio was cranking them out one per week. Terrys cartoons were always an uneasy balance between economy and creativity with the latter often the loser, but characters such as Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Gandy Goose still became animated stars despite formulaic scripts. Terry was the first theatrical producer to sell his cartoon backlog to the television market, yet another example of the sharp business sense that marked his entire career.
Vladimir (Bill) Tytla (1904-1968)
Tytla was known as a true artist even among his awesome peers. Tytlas knowledge of anatomy, movement and perspective was matched only by his ability to make his characters act with a startling inner life. An intense and emotional perfectionist, Tytla brought a single-minded fanaticism to his craft, making history along the way. Tytlas rendering of the Seven Dwarfs made one believe that they actually existed outside of the screen. Tytla also animated the demonic Tchernobog in Fantasia and, in a signature moment, the melancholy trunk-touching scene in Dumbo. Once separated from Disney, Tytla wandered to lesser studios, a misplaced giant. His legacy, however, lives on in some of the finest animation ever done at Disney...or anywhere else.
And there you have it: The first round of nominees. Future first ballot and veteran choices are now up to the animation community. Glen Keane? Eric Goldberg? John Pomeroy? John Kricfalusi? Bill Nolan? Milt Kahl? Art Babbitt? Raoul Barre? I leave it in your hands. See you at the Grand Opening in Chicago.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.
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