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A Tribute to Jerry Smith (1936-1997): World Ambassador

Friends and colleagues say goodbye to a pioneer of international television production.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Jerry Smith started in animation as a cameraman in 1956 at Cartoon Camera. In 1957 he began as a cameraman on Hanna-Barbera's first series, Rough and Ready. In 1972 he began to do what would make him famous, creating television animation studios. He began by setting up Hanna-Barbera, Australia and went on in 1978 to set up and supervise Cuckoo's Nest (James Wang Films) in Taipei. He then set up and operated Hahn Ho for Steve Hahn in Korea. Take One Animation Photography in Burbank was the next studio which he created and operated. In 1981 he created another full production facility in Korea that operated until 1985 producing shows for Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears, Sepp and others. In 1986 Jerry was sent by Mr. Hanna to Manila, Philippines in order to establish Hanna-Barbera's own production facility, Fil-Cartoons, Inc. and he ran this facility of over 800 employees until 1994.

Jerry Smith.

Besides, this incredible career, Jerry also lead an adventurous life. He flew planes. He raced cars. He was a true entrepreneur, having even started a prawn farm. Married at seventeen to Delores Detzler, Jerry had three children, first a daughter Kathy and then two boys, Terry and Larry. Both sons work in animation and were trained by their father. Jerry married four more times. When he passed away he left his wife, Madieline "Madie" who resides in the Philippines, his three children and six grandchildren.

Following are a collection of thoughts and remembrances from Jerry's closest friends and colleagues.

"One of our cartoon industries 'Greats' is gone. Jerry Smith passed away Monday morning, April 28, 1997. Jerry was with his family in Tennessee when he died. I have certainly known, loved and respected Jerry for many, many years. We worked together in our camera department here at Hanna-Barbera Studios many times. Not only was he one of the best cartoon camera-men that ever lived, he knew the cartoon business from A to Z. Jerry worked with me in Australia and Manila.

Jerry was a great guy to work with, intelligent, hard working and fun. He was always my good friend and truly a decent human being.

Jerry contributed so much to our cartoon industry, that he will be missed one way or another by every remaining person in this industry."

-Bill Hanna Co-Chairman, Founder - Hanna-Barbera Cartoons

One of Jerry's favorite pastimes was sportscar racing.

"Jerry will be missed by a multitude of friends and associates throughout the industry and around the world, for Jerry was a pioneer in what we now call international production. Over the years Jerry established studios in Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines as well as building several stateside operations. Most of the overseas studios were true startups when these countries did not have an established industry in place. Not an easy task, I assure you. No man worked harder and very few understood the business of animation production as well as Jerry Smith. Others of us who were in the same line always felt that we were a few steps behind and we constantly feared that he would out-work us or out-fox us -- and he usually did.

Jerry was a man who knew what he was about. He had vision and strength and was from the old school. He believed 'If you want something done right, do it yourself!' I remember attending a party a number of years ago that Jerry had given at his home in Manila. The home was large and perhaps several hundred people were having a wonderful time. A band was playing as people danced and drank cold San Miguel beer and talked around the pool. As the evening wore on I noticed that Jerry and a group of young men were resolutely sober and serious despite the evening's gaiety. At eleven o' clock Jerry announced that he had to excuse himself as he and the group of men had to return to the studio to finish camera on a show that had to be shipped. I asked Jerry before he left why he felt compelled to desert his own party. Didn't he trust the crew to finish the show? He smiled and told me that as he had to ask his camera crew not to drink at the party, he promised them he would also abstain and go with them to shoot camera. I thought, 'This is pure Jerry Smith', in charge of probably the largest animation studio in the world at that time and he's going to personally shoot camera all night to insure a show gets out on schedule

Dozens of stories come to me now about Jerry, and I wish I had time to tell each and every one of them. We used to say that if Bill Hanna wanted to open a studio in the Amazon rain forest, he would parachute Jerry in with a screwdriver and a roll of camera tape and the place would be set up in a month -- two, if he wanted layouts done there!

He was a rare kind of fellow, a competent and honest man who lived his life on his own terms. He left us too soon and I, along with many others, will miss him."

-Milt Vallas Independent Animation Consultant, who has known Jerry for the past forty years as both friend and competitor

Jerry in his first sportscar, 1939.

"Jerry Smith - one of the enduring characters of animation and one of the first worldwide ambassadors. Jerry was without a doubt one of the key people in taking American animation to the world and finding ways to produce in many countries. Over the years he became the adopted son of Bill Hanna. It was Jerry who often led the charge for Bill or followed behind to make it work for Bill whether it was Spain, Australia, Korea, Taiwan and eventually the Philippines.

Jerry will be long remembered for his never ending commitment to the industry, his entrepreneurial flair in many countries, often in difficult circumstances, lead him to produce a product for a worldwide audience. The legacy of Jerry lives on in his children. It has been my pleasure to work with his son Terry who is every inch his father's son. Jerry will be missed but his contribution lives on."

- Neil Balnaves Southern Star Group Limited, ACN

"One does not run into a person like Jerry Smith too often. He was very unique. Although Jerry was quiet and calm, he was one of the most energetic men I have ever known. He lived five lives in his lifetime, because he lived life to the fullest.

Many people would be happy to accomplish a fraction of the things Jerry did in his lifetime. Among Jerry's achievements, he owned and operated prawn farms, as well as an air cargo/courier service. He also drove racing cars, but his greatest accomplishment was being the co-founder and operator of Fil Cartoons, one of the world's largest animation studios. Based in the Philippines, Fil-Cartoons employs hundreds of talented people and has produced over a 1,000,000 feet of animation.

Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Fil-Cartoons were partners, and as a producer and through this association, I had the privilege to know and work with this gentleman. Although the two studios were separated by an ocean, it was really one studio. Jerry was loved and respected by everybody on both continents. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him."

-Davis Doi Supervising Producer, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons

Jerry's first trip from Los Angeles to Tennessee in his own plane.

"I must admit that I was happy and proud to be asked to write this piece on Jerry Smith, but the responsibility and the recognition of the difficulty in representing the essence of the man quickly sobered the moment. It is important to understand that Jerry was a very private person. a quiet achiever.

It is the animation part of Jerry's and my life that crossed and it is from this aspect that I hope I am qualified to comment and trust that Jerry would agree and approve.

It was only three months ago that Jerry, his wife Madie and I were sitting in a hotel bar in Manila over a few drinks. Jerry was successful by any definition of the word, yet the unassuming qualities of the man would never allow him to wear the trappings of that success. Jerry was the one who would travel economy class when he could easily afford first class, he would drive the oldest car in the fleet (very fast I might add), and would always prefer beer to champagne.]

Above all, the thing that I remember most about Jerry is his wicked sense of humor. I think his sense of humor and timing put everything in context for him. You could be in the most stressful and dramatic situation and then, Jerry would save the moment with a throwaway comment and that cheeky Jerry Smith smirk.

I am assured by those that were close to him in his final days that his sense of humor stayed until the endI wouldn't have expected it any other way! Jerry will long be remembered around the globe by literally thousands of people and their families that have him to thank for their careers and their livelihood; he has given them a future and this is the legacy that will assuredly live on.

We take our hat off to you Jerry, you'll be sorely missed by many!"

-Wayne Dearing CEO, Philippine Animation Group

Left to right, Jerry with his sons Terry and Larry, both of whom were trained in the animation industry by their father.

I met Jerry Smith in the Philippines in 1985 and my life has never been the same since. He told me his life story and it inspired me. He taught me everything I needed to know about animation and this experience paved the way for me and my family to live in California. So I can say that I am where I am because I met Jerry.

Jerry worked hard and played hard. He made a choice to be positive with life. He never turned away from hardship and any obstacle. He had focus, intelligence, and vast knowledge of the animation business. He recognized everyone's effort and was compassionate to his employees. He loved his job.

He also had good business sense. Some say he earned too much. I say, he should! He worked hard for it. He was from the working class. He rolled up his sleeves, got his feet wet and worked late nights shooting camera or viewing retakes with the production crew. He didn't just delegate. So yes, he did earn a lot. He earned a lot of friends, loyalty and respect.

I thought that I could not write a tribute for Jerry because when he died, a big chunk of me died with him. Then I remembered how I used to tell Jerry that someday I will be able to repay him for all the things he's done for me. And I think this is the right time to do that. I love you, friend."

-Jo Harn

A young Jerry Smith (1946).

"I first met Jerry Smith in the late `80's when I began as Senior Vice-President of Production for Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. Jerry was running Fil-Cartoons at the time and we immediately hit it off. Jerry was a real pro. He could tell you the exact situation, what the problems were, where they were, how to solve them and how long it would take. There were no politics, no games, just answers with Jerry. He would always deliver by finding resourceful ways to solve problems. Sometimes in Manila there will be power outs, so Jerry hooked up a diesel generator so the studio would always have power and he is famous for using the motors from normal household drills to use in automating animation cameras!

Jerry was special because he didn't forget his roots. He started as a cameraman and even when he was running the entire studio if a deadline was in jeopardy he would roll up his sleeves and shoot until midnight to get the show got done. Then he'd go home for a few hours, take a shower and show back up at the studio a few hours later. That to me is a true professional. As you grow you tend to forget about the people in the trenches and Jerry never did that. That's what Jerry Smith stands for in this business.&quot

-Paul Sabella Executive Producer, MGM Animation

"Jerry Smith. I called him a 'humanoid' upon witnessing a night of filming one of my shorts--all 98 scenes shot with the precision of a Swiss watch, rolling his chair from a stack of cels to camera -click!- back to cels, to camera, -click!- back to cels It was like watching a fine choreography of a ballet. And he did all of that without a single mistake! I hope God puts him to good use within the chaos of the Universe."

-Marija Miletic-Dail Producer/Director, Universal Cartoon Studios