Chapter 12: Don’t Give Your Right Name!
I finally got a real professional animator into my department, Rudy Zamora, possibly the only mainstream animator who ever worked at the place. He was a touchy heavyweight whom I dared not cross. Nobody dared rile Rudy! But we got along fine, and had a good time working together. He animated my second important JHO film, "Roger Windsock," which featured a little boy who was so gaga over airplanes that he actually sprouted wings. That one was more than a little influenced by UPA's "Gerald McBoing Boing," another little boy with a physical problem. The movie extolled the wonders of the Age of Flight.
Just at the moment I was flying highest at JHO, I was suddenly called into the personnel office. A lieutenant colonel of the United States Navy was standing there in full uniform, and he handed me an envelope. On it was written, "Eugene Merril Deitch, For His Eyes Only." What the hell???
While he and the JHO personnel chief patiently waited, I carefully opened the envelope.
Inside was another envelope, and on it was also written,"Eugene Merril Deitch, For His Eyes Only."
Inside that, a crisp letter unfolded, bearing the seal of the United States Industrial Employment Review Board, declaring that I was to be denied access to work on films the United States Navy had in production at the Jam Handy Organization, because "it has been determined" that I was a member of the Communist Party, an organization dedicated to the overthrow of the government of The United States of America by force and violence.
One moment I had been the fair-haired boy, (I had gorgeous hair then), of JHO, and the next moment I appeared to be finished. There I was, with my career just taking off, and suddenly faced with a forced landing.
"This is absolutely not true!" I implored.
The officer spoke dryly. "Your case has been thoroughly investi-gated. We are not saying you should be fired from your job here. We are simply saying, that as a customer with security priorities, we refuse you permission to work on our films."
How neat. They weren't asking JHO to throw me out, they were just making it impossible for me to be fully useful to my employer, and this was 10 years before I got to the land of Franz Kafka!
"I will appeal this decision. It is a terrible mistake!"
"You may appeal if you want to, but you will have to pay your own expenses to Washington for a hearing. However, it will be useless. These decisions are never reversed!"
Right. The true McCarthyist approach to democracy! But I did manage to get through to the JHO leadership, and they graciously agreed to withhold any mention of this to other members of the staff. They found a way to have my assistant handle the "secret" stuff, and gave me a month to attempt a reversal.
I did get an address from the officer, and wrote for a hearing. "The Industrial Employment Review Board," was located in the Pentagon, in Washington D.C.
It was a gloomy train ride to Washington, and this is getting to be a gloomy tale for a book about movie cartoons, yet there is a large lesson in it.
The average animator doesn't usually get invited to the Pentagon, at least not these days. Being led through this 5-sided center of warriors is suitably cheerless. It is not just one pentagon, but several, one inside the other, something like - you should excuse the simile - a set of Russian dolls - anyway a labyrinth, and my first thought was, "will I ever find my way out of this place?" After being locked behind layers of security doors. I was led into a rather small room, filled to the brim with high-grade military officers from all branches of the U.S. armed forces, all sitting around a long table, the same shape as, and only a tad smaller than the room itself. This was the Industrial Employment Review Board. What startled me the most was the high stack of documents on the table in front of each member. "Could all of those papers be about me?"