Animator Alfred Eugster, whose career started in the silent era and ended doing animation for TV, passed away the night of January 1, 1997 at the age of 87. The following memoir and biofilmography was prepared by his friend and sometime colleague, Mark Mayerson.Left to right: Otto Englander, Shamus Culhane, and Al Eugster at Disney in 1935. From Shamus Culhane's Talking Animals and Other People (St. Martin's Press, 1986). Collection of Bernie Wolf.I first met Al in 1975 when I was researching an article on cartoons released by MGM when he let me interview him about the Iwerks studio.
Animator Alfred Eugster, whose career started in the silent era and ended doing animation for TV, passed away the night of January 1, 1997 at the age of 87. The following memoir and biofilmography was prepared by his friend and sometime colleague, Mark Mayerson.
I first met Al in 1975 when I was researching an article on cartoons released by MGM when he let me interview him about the Iwerks studio.
When I went up to Kim and Gifford, I had no idea what to expect. Al was 66 at the time, and I guess I expected to see a balding, white-haired old man. Instead, I saw someone who could have been in his 50s. He had a full head of brown hair and an upright posture and he energetically waved me into his office and answered all my questions, and even lent me a staff photo of the Iwerks studio.
In 1976, I had finished school and started working in film as a production assistant at J.C. Productions, one of the many small commercial houses in New York. At the same time, I was animating as a hobby and was able to use the studio's facilities to shoot my animation on 16mm. I showed it to Al and asked him if he thought I was good enough to work professionally in animation. He told me I was. Coming from someone who had worked for Disney and Fleischer, his opinion meant a lot to me. Shortly after that, I took my first animation job at Teletactics.
I worked with Al on two occasions. In January 1978, I helped out on the Science Rock episode about gravity. It was a short freelance assignment, and I always thought that I got the job out of pity. Al knew I wasn't working steadily and I believe he convinced Kim and Gifford that he needed help hitting a deadline. The second time was from May until October 1980. Kim and Gifford was doing the TV series Drawing Power, created by George Newall and Tom Yohe, the people behind the Schoolhouse Rock series.
It's All Production
The studio's work was very flat in design and limited in animation, but Al was an expert at breaking up a character into separate cel levels to keep it alive. His work was far superior to anyone else's on the series and his exposure sheets were an education.
Al gave every scene his full attention. He never felt superior to the material or hacked something out to get it off his desk. Within the limitations of budget and schedule, he worked hard to get the maxiumum entertainment out of every scene.
I hadn't been animating for many years, and the show was being made without pencil tests. If I was having a problem with one of my scenes, Al would always take time to help me out with it. "It's all production," he would say, meaning that it was as good a use of his time as his own work.
Al was very regular in his habits. I've heard stories that people could tell time by when he lit up his cigars. He kept all his papers meticulously filed, and anything he wasn't sure how to classify he put in a file marked "limbo."
Al Eugster was always generous in helping people professionally. Assistant animator Ed Cerullo told me that when he worked with him in the 1950s, Al gave him opportunities to animate. Joe Funaro, who worked at Famous Studios before entering the priesthood, remembered Al fondly in an article that appeared in the New York Daily News.
A Very Private Man
After Drawing Power, I moved to Toronto and kept in touch with Al mostly by phone and mail for the next 12 years. I have to admit that our conversations grew awkward after he retired. We didn't have a whole lot in common except animation and I'm sorry to say that I let our contact lapse in 1992.
In 1996, Bill Lorenzo threw a memorial tribute to Shamus Culhane, and mentioned that Al's wife had passed away and that he was in a retirement home and gave me his address. I wrote to him, but many weeks went by without a reply, so I called the retirement home. I had no idea what condition Al was in, so I was afraid that he might be too ill to communicate. I was told he was okay and I phoned him directly and reestablished contact. I called him regularly after that and visited him twice, in October and on December 28, just days before he died. During the first visit I gave him a copy of the new book on the Schoolhouse Rock series, and the last visit I gave him a copy of David Gerstein's Felix book, Nine Lives to Live. While I got it backwards, I'd given Al material that reflected the start and end of his career.
Al had definitely aged since I had last seen him. He had heart trouble and failing eyesight. He had given up his cigars due to doctor's orders. He was bent over and moved very slowly. He also had lost strength in his hands and complained that some books were too heavy to hold. Because of his eyesight, reading and writing were difficult. When I found this out I communicated with him by phone. I'd always call him Sunday nights and he'd always be watching 60 Minutes. He got a kick out of Andy Rooney, so I timed my calls so they ended well before Rooney's segment.
While Al was very pleasant and easy to talk to, he was a very private man. It was only in the last year that I learned that he had no children. I started asking him questions about his background. While he'd answer them, he wouldn't volunteer any extra information. I found out that his father played the French horn with John Phillip Sousa and Toscanini. His father died young, in his 40s, but Al did not give a cause of death. I also found out that he had a brother who worked as a soundman in the New York film industry. After Al's death, his niece told me that Al also had a sister and a half brother and half sister. Over the years Al had dropped various bits of information, such as ghosting at least one Felix Sunday comic strip page for Otto Messmer or the fact that he'd done comic book work under the name Eugie. He also told me that his first Fleischer animation was not Swing You Sinners, but an industrial film made for Westinghouse. Al may have meant Finding His Voice made for Western Electric, but I'm not sure.
I was shocked to hear of Al's death. He seemed the same in December as he had when I saw him in October and he was scheduled to have cataract surgery on January 8.
Al was the first veteran animator I ever met, and one of the nicest. He was genuinely interested in helping me out and took an interest in what I was doing. I'm really, really going to miss him.
Al Eugster (1909-1997): An Annotated Biofilmography
(The filmography proper for Eugster's theatrical films was compiled in collaboration with Dave Mackey and remains incomplete--Mark Mayerson.)
Al Eugster was born on February 11, 1909 and began his animation career in 1925 at the Pat Sullivan studio, working for Otto Messmer on the Felix the Cat series. His first job there was blackening in drawings of Felix. While at Sullivan, he attended Cooper Union at night to study art.
In 1929, Al moved over to the Fleischer Studios, where he did his first animation.
Swing You Sinners (1930; Talkartoon)
Strike Up the Band (1930; Screen Song). Eugster was the sole animator.
Sky Scraping (1930; Talkartoon) The Grand Uproar (1930; Talkartoon) The Bum Bandit (1931; Talkartoon) Russian Lullabye (1931; Screen Song) A-Hunting We Will Go (1932; Talkartoon with Betty Boop)
Stopping the Show (1932; Betty Boop). Al remembered animating Betty Boop imitating Maurice Chevalier and Fanny Brice.
In 1932, Al went West to work for Mintz on Krazy Kat cartoons, where he was teamed with Preston Blair on many films.
Lighthouse Keeping (1932; Krazy Kat) Prosperity Blues (1932; Krazy Kat) The Minstrel Show (1932: Krazy Kat) Wedding Bells (1933; Krazy Kat) Wooden Shoes (1933; Krazy Kat) Bunnies and Bonnets (1933; Krazy Kat) Antique Antics (1933; Krazy Kat)
Whacks Museum (1933; Krazy Kat) Eugster is credited as co-writer, not animator.
Al worked here from May of 1933 to 1935,where he co-animated several ComiColor shorts with Shamus Culhane.
Jack and the Beanstalk (1933; ComiColor) The Little Red Hen (1934; ComiColor) The Brave Tin Soldier (1934; ComiColor) Puss in Boots (1934; ComiColor) The Queen of Hearts (1934; ComiColor)
He joined Disney in 1935 and became a Duck man as well as working on Snow White.
Moving Day (1936; Mickey, Donald and Goofy)
Hawaiian Holiday ( 1937; Mickey, Donald and Goofy). Eugster anmated Donald doing the hula.
Clock Cleaners (1937; Mickey, Donald and Goofy). Eugster animated the the sequence of Donald on the mainspring, as well as the final shot of Mickey, Donald and Goofy doing the shimmy.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937; feature). Most of Al's work was on the bed building sequence, which was cut, but one of his remaining shots includes birds and animals pulling on Dopey's robe to warn him that Snow White is in trouble.
Fleischer Studios (Miami)
Al rejoined Fleischer to work on Gulliver's Travels in Miami and stayed at the studio until 1943, when he went into the army. During his stay, he had a chance to work Shamus Culhane again on Popeye Meets William Tell and A Kick in Time.
Gulliver's Travels (1939; feature). Eugster did work on Gabby, including a shot where Gabby and King Little are covered with stones on the balcony near the start of the film.
A Kick in Time (1940; Color Classic)
Way Back When a Razzberry Was a Fruit (1940; Stone Age) Popeye Meets Willian Tell (1940; Popeye) The Dandy Lion (1940; Animated Antics) Two for the Zoo (1941; Gabby) Baby Wants a Bottleship (1942; Popeye) A Hull of a Mess (1942; Popeye)
Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1942; feature). Eugster animated Mr. Beetle, Swat and Smack. One scene that's his is where Swat and Smack are dancing in imitation of Hoppity and Honey. Al originally animated the dancing to be faster, but Dave Fleischer told him that it would be sexier if he slowed it down.
In 1945, Al joined Famous as a head animator and stayed until 1957. He worked on a lot of Screen Songs and Popeye cartoons, as well as Little Audrey and the Noveltoons.
The Enchanted Square (1947; Noveltoon) The Wee Men (1947; Noveltoon) Naughty But Mice (1947; Noveltoon) The Baby Sitter (1947; Little Lulu)
Butterscotch and Soda (1948; Little Audrey). An an interesting parody of Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend.
Sing or Swim (1948; Screen Song) Camptown Races (1948; Screen Song) Spinach Vs. Hamburgers (1948; Popeye) Readin', Ritin', and Rhythmetic (1948; Screen Song) Winter Draws On (1948; Screen Song) The Emerald Isle (1949; Screen Song) Stork Market (1949; Screen Song) Hot Air Aces (1949; Popeye) Farm Foolery (1949; Screen Song) Our Funny Finny Friends (1949; Screen Song) Win, Place And Showboat (1950; Screen Song) Gobs Of Fun (1950; Screen Song) Lunch With A Punch (1952; Popeye) Fun At The Fair (1952; Kartune) Friend Or Phony (1952; Popeye) Shuteye Popeye (1952; Popeye) Hysterical History (1953; Kartune) Ancient Fistory (1953; Popeye) Baby Wants A Battle (1953; Popeye) Popeye, The Ace of Space (1953; Popeye) Made in 3D. Crazytown (1954; Noveltoon) Popeye's 20th Anniversary (1954; Popeye) Mister And Mistletoe (1955; Popeye) Assault And Flattery (1956; Popeye) Parlez Vous Woo (1956; Popeye) A Haul In One (1956; Popeye) The Crystal Brawl (1957; Popeye) Dante Dreamer (1958; Noveltoon). Features a Little Nemo-like character.
After Famous, Al freelanced for various commercial studios in New York, including Anim Cent. He also worked on the Joe Oriolo Felix the Cat TV cartoons.
In 1964, he rejoined Paramount, working under Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi before the studio closed in 1967.
The Story of George Washington (1965; Noveltoon) Poor Little Witch Girl (1965; Noveltoon) Shoeflies (1965; Honey Halfwitch) Baggin' The Dragon (1966; Honey Halfwitch) A Balmy Knight (1966; Modern Madcap) The Defiant Giant (1966; Honey Halfwitch) Potions And Notions (1966; Honey Halfwitch) A Wedding Knight (1966; Modern Madcap) The Blacksheep Blacksmith (1967; Modern Madcap) Think Or Sink (1967; Merry Maker) My Daddy the Astronaut (1967; Fractured Fable). Shamus Culhane's highly praised film done in the style of children's drawings.
The Squaw-Path (1967; Go-Go Toon) The Stuck-Up Wolf (1967; Fractured Fable) The Opera Caper (1967; Go-Go Toon) The Fuz (1967; Fractured Fable) The Mini-Squirts (1967; Fractured Fable) Marvin Digs (1967; Go-Go Toon) Mouse Trek (1967; Fractured Fable)
Kim and Gifford
Al joined Kim and Gifford in 1968. Ironically, at a time when the animation business rarely offered full-time employment, he began his longest uninterrupted stay at a single studio. Kim and Gifford did commercial work and also the Science Rock series, which is still being rerun on ABC. Al animated Science Rock segments on gravity, bones and the nervous system, among others. In 1978, he did intersititals for NBC's Saturday morning lineup, based on the theme Saturday Morning Fever. In 1980, Kim and Gifford produced work for Drawing Power, a live-action and animated Saturday morning series for NBC. Al animated all the Professor Rutabaga segments. (Rutabaga was a carnival pitchman who extolled the virtues of fruits and vegetables.) During much of this time, Al worked without an assistant or inbetweener and did all the pencil artwork himself.
Eugster made perhaps his sole on camera appearance in John Canemaker's documentary Otto Messmer and Felix the Cat.
He retired from Kim and Gifford and animation in September of 1987, ending a 62 year career.
In 1995, Al's wife Hazel, known as Chick, passed away, ending a marriage of 61 years. They had no children. He is survived by a niece, Joan Bell and a half-brother, Charles.
Mark Mayerson works for Catapult Productions in Toronto. He recently directed and co-wrote Monster By Mistake, a computer animated half hour TV special that ran on Canada's YTV. Mark can be reached by email at mayerson@SIDEFX.COM