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Animated Characters: Sequence 2 – My New York Times Part 1

Animator, director, character designer, teacher, and writer Nancy Beiman shares her introduction to 'commercial' animation, when she snagged her first job, at Jack Zander’s Animation Parlour in NYC, while still managing to graduate Cal Arts, in the second of an ongoing series of articles - and eventual blog - she’s penning for AWN.

If You Can Make It There

In 1978, Jack Zander's "Animation Parlour" was located at 285 Madison Avenue, New York. This was, and still is, the Young and Rubicam building, named after one of the biggest advertising agencies in New York that was located there from 1926 to 2011.

Zander’s Animation Parlour was known at that time as “The Disney of the East.” This was partly due to Dean Yeagle, who was lead director and character designer.

Dean’s appealing character designs appeared in many of the studio’s projects and made the Zander reel look like no one else’s. Many other designers worked for any studio that hired them. Dean only worked for Jack.

I visited Zander’s Animation Parlour during my holiday break in my final year at Cal Arts. My hometown, Cranford, New Jersey, had train and bus connections to New York City.

Jack Zander told me years later that he started animating in 1929 when someone named Rohmer Gray asked him whether he knew how to do it. He said “Yeah!” and got the job even though he’d never animated in his life. This was possible in 1929 because artistic standards were fairly elastic in most studios. Jack learned fast and became a very good animator.

At MGM, Jack animated Jerry Mouse in the first six Tom and Jerry cartoons.  He animated his first television commercial in 1947 and co-founded Pelican Films, one of the most successful production houses in New York, in 1954. Zander’s Animation Parlour succeeded it in 1970.

I arrived at the studio on interview day wearing my one good dress and carrying a mildewed briefcase that contained my reel and portfolio. The receptionist told me to wait. I sat on a Craftsman settle in the reception area and looked around.

Parlour Tricks

Jack deliberately named and decorated his studio so that it would annoy the Mad Men in the Y and R building. The Mad Men all dressed in grey suits and their offices and even the elevators were grey.

“Parlour” is an old term for a high-class whorehouse and the metaphor was expressed in the décor. The reception area was a riot of color and texture, with red velvet flocked wallpaper, potted palms, and Tiffany lamps, including a florid tabletop number with prominent, drooping lilies.

I thought that it looked nice.

The Mad Men hated it.

But what Lily Tomlin would call the “piece of resistance” was in Jack's private bathroom. There was an 18th century American Primitive portrait painting hung on the wall directly over the toilet. Any man using the facilities would have to meet the woman’s disapproving gaze.

Some of the Mad Men were absolutely furious when they were invited to use Jack’s private bathroom.

I waited for about a half hour watching people passing to and fro until the art director noticed me and said that no one could see me that day. He told me to come back in a week.

I showed up on the following Tuesday wearing the same dress and carrying the same mildewed briefcase and sat in the same place as people passed rapidly to and fro. The art director noticed me and was preparing to usher me out again but stopped, made a face, and probably decided that he'd better get this over with. It would not take long. I was a student and student films back then were not the stuff of television commercials.

He ran my 16mm reel on their projector. It began with my third-year film, featuring rough animation of  two cats, with sound.

He seemed bored. Then incredulous. He said, "WHO did this?"

“I did.”

Disbelieving look at me. "YOU did this?"


"ExcusemeIthinkI'dbettergogetJack!" The man ran out of the room and left the projector running.

Quick on the Draw

He returned quickly, accompanied by a small, neat man with a white Van Dyke beard and moustache. This was Jack Zander. He stood there in the doorway watching the film for two minutes, and loudly said "STOP THE PROJECTOR. I'VE SEEN ENOUGH. SIT DOWN. DRAW ME SOMETHING! DRAW A SHEEP!"

I was directed to an inker’s desk where I sat and drew a small sheep in a few different poses as Jack stood by and watched.

"GET IN MY OFFICE" he said when I had finished. I sat in a chair by his big office desk.

Jack seated himself at the other side of the desk,  looked me in the eye and said, "NOW, why do you want to go back to school? TO HELL WITH SCHOOL! I NEVER went to school! You’re hired! Start now, we'll  pay you!"

I replied, "Mr. Zander, if I don't get my diploma, my mother will be standing on the front doorstep with a blunderbuss!"

“Can you work for us for a week? There are some scenes in a commercial!”

And I said yes, because as luck would have it, I needed precisely the amount of money that Jack offered to pay me.

"You were 21 years old, you looked 14,  you animated like a 50-year-old man, and no one had ever heard of Cal Arts!" Jack told me later.

He never did watch the rest of my reel.

In “Hamm’s Baseball” I animated the rabbit pitcher and the fox outfielder missing a line drive. Dean Yeagle animated the remaining scenes and designed and directed the commercial. (Note the video has no sound).

Jack was about to start production on a 45-minute-long television special called The Gnomes and he offered me a position as staff animator. I had expected to work as an assistant animator after graduating from Cal Arts, so I said Yes, I’d take it.

Jack Zander contacted Jack Hannah (“Everyone in animation seems to be named Jack!” Dad commented) and they arranged it so that I could go back to Cal Arts in January, finish my senior film, obtain my remaining credits, and graduate early. I started full time at Zander's Animation Parlour in April 1979 and the Cal Arts graduation ceremony proceeded without me in June. They mailed me my diploma.

Shortly afterwards, Young and Rubicam refused to renew Jack’s lease, and the studio moved to the seventh and second floors of another skyscraper at 18 East 41st street. That's where they found the body in a window seat.

But that's another story.

(to be continued)

Nancy Beiman's picture

Nancy Beiman has been animating, directing, storyboarding, designing characters and writing while female for nearly 50 years. She likes cartoons.