Last month, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art imported a Fleischer retrospective from American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and curated by Mark Langer. On Friday, January 10, there was a reception in honor of animator Myron Waldman and Max Fleischer's son, Richard. Langer and the Museum took advantage of the occasion to gather all the ex-Fleischer people and/or their families they could find. It was perhaps the last opportunity to have such a gathering while some of the original Fleischer artists were still alive.
The unusual part for me was being invited not as a member of the press or as an animation historian, but because my father had worked for the Fleischer Studios. As an animation historian, this fact had many times helped pave the way in interviewing my father's friends and colleagues. Such was the small community of artists that was the New York animation industry of the 1930s and 40s, even if they did not know him, they at least knew of him. To tell the truth, it was hard for me to conceive of being the subject of being the subject of any sort of historical inquiry.
When Jerry Beck once tried to find out about my father and how it was to be the adult son of an animator, I was taken aback. Why would he want to know such things? After all, my father died when I was young and he shouldn't waste his time with me!
However, with my seven-year-old daughter, Allegra, I am not above pointing out that her grandfather Joe had actually worked on some of the Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons she likes so much. But it was not until the end of the reception, when all the ex-Fleischer people and their families were asked to pose for a group picture that she finally realized that she was, in her words, "part of the Fleischer family." It was a proud moment for me, that seemed somehow to provide a sense of closure.
When I first started doing research on the 1937 Fleischer strike, I only half jokingly said I was only doing it to have a chance to meet my father's friends. As it turned out, my researches did help me develop a clearer picture of who my father was, as well as who I was.
My feelings, if anything, were only deepened, as it was only a few days before that I heard of the death of Al Eugster. I had only met him briefly when I dropped in to see him at Kim and Gifford, in New York, back in 1979 or 80. He was also a friend of my father's and somewhere I still have the kind letter he wrote him when he was terminally ill. Yet, it was only after hearing of Eugster's death did I come to realize that after his passing, that he was responsible in a way I hadn't thought of before for my interest in animation.
You see, Eugster was one of my father's classmates in the Art program at Cooper Union, in New York, in the late 20s and early 30s. (This was still a time when Cooper Union, a richly endowed private school, was tuition free.) The class graduated in the midst of the Great Depression, when jobs, especially for an artist, were very scarce. However, as animator Eddie Rehberg recalled, Eugster was the only student who always came to class dressed in a good suit. When asked where he got his money, Eugster explained that he was working in animation. As a result, my father, Rehberg and several others followed him into the business--a decision which certainly influenced my career choices many years later.
January also saw the passing of Louise Beaudet and Renzo Kinoshita, two people who dedicated their lives to helping the animation community define itself.
When I was a budding animation historian, Beaudet was one of my heros. (It was a sentiment that I'm sure was shared by many others.) After all, she was the curator in charge of animation at the Cinémathèque Québecois, the only film archive that specialized in animation!