The Olympiad of Animation: An Interview With Fini Littlejohn
Original Poster created for the Olympiad of Animation by Emanuele Luzzati.
In a professional sense, Fini's involvement with animation has always been peripheral at best, but remains no less passionate about the medium. Born in Vienna, Josephine (Fini) Rudiger attended the Institute of Arts & Crafts there, initially studying fashion design, then illustration, publicity and stage design. However, it was as an actress that her talents first came into demand. She appeared in a number of stage productions, participated in the city's "literary cabaret" and had a part in Wily Forst's classic film, Maskerade, starring Anton Walbrook.
In 1937, at age 22, she realized that, as a Jew, her career options in Austria were limited and managed to get to the United States, where she had a uncle. She left rather suddenly and afterwards always felt awkward about leaving in the midst of a stage production. She recalls that, "It took me a long time to get over that, because in the theater [everyone was] very friendly and warm." It wasn't until she was invited back with other emigree artists to participate in the 1993 Viennale that she learned that, "They fired everybody two months [after I left], including the director. So, I wouldn't have had much hope for a future there. I didn't know that. If I did, I would have been less homesick for Vienna."
Handicapped by language in New York, she fell back on her art training, got an assignment as a book illustrator, but mostly painted window backgrounds for major New York department stores. She moved to Los Angeles in 1938, where she briefly wound up working at Disney's, doing incidental character design for Pinocchio, as well as "design, research and story for Cinderella, Dumbo and other future projects." (In this, she was probably one of the first women the studio used in any sort of official creative capacity.) However, she again mostly earned her living as a commercial artist for department stores, as well as doing two other children's books.