Sunday, February 05, 2006

I received word last night that animator and director Myron Waldman died Saturday morning Feb. 4, at the age of 97 at a Long Island hospital. A major figure at the Fleischer and Famous studios, Myron remained active as an artist until shortly before his illness and death.

He leaves his wife Rosalie, two sons and grandchildren.

Of the 120 Betty Boop cartoons, several animators stand out. Willard Bowsky worked on 11, Roland Crandall on 12 and Tom Johnson on 17. No one at the studio matched Myron's association with the series. He worked on 29 of them, more than any other animator at the Fleischer Studios.

The Fleischer Studio did not assign animators and their units to particular characters or series. So, unlike directors such as Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and the team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, few people at Fleischer's ever became identified with a single character. Waldman's track record with Betty Boop stands out, though.

Waldman, who created Betty's pet dog Pudgy for the series, was very self -effacing about his career in animation, despite the fact that he was the director of two of the four Fleischer shorts to be nominated for an Academy Award (Hunky and Spunky and Educated Fish). He did outstanding work on the Fleischer Superman (Billion Dollar Limited, Magnetic Telescope) series and directed the two-reel Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy short.

He was a director on the second Fleischer feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, and worked and the Popeye series as well.

Born in 1908, Myron joined the Fleischer Studio in 1930 after he graduated from the Fine and Applied Arts program at the Pratt Institute. At the studio, he started as an opaquer and then moved into the inking department. After winning a studio competition, Waldman was promoted to the in-betweening department and was given his own animation unit in 1933.

He once told me it was a thrill to have the chance to animate Ko-Ko the Clown in early Betty Boop cartoons as Ko-Ko had been a favorite of his while growing up.

One Boop of which Waldman was particularly proud is A Language All My Own (1935). Betty Boop was very popular in Japan, and this short was designed to appeal to the Japanese market. In the short, Betty travels to Japan and performs there. Myron wanted to make sure that none of her gestures and movements would offend the Japanese, so he asked a number of Japanese exchange students to check his work.

Waldman was in a unique position at the Fleischer Studio. On one hand he was a talented and loyal team player, but on the other, he was an iconoclast who wasn't afraid to speak his mind. Waldman championed the cause of Lillian Friedman, the studio's first woman animator, when others gave her a rough time. He attempted to persuade Max Fleischer to talk with striking artists in the lengthy 1937 strike.

He once carried in a script for one of the studio’s Stone Age short into Dave Fleischer’s office at the end of a stick. When Dave asked why he was doing that, Myron replied. “Because it stinks!”

Waldman could put a roughhouse gag across, but he frequently was put on what he described as “oh and ah” shorts, those with sentiment.
Waldman returned to animation after serving in the Army during World War II. He worked at Famous Studios on Screen Songs, Popeye, Little Lulu, and Casper shorts.

He wasn't content just with a career in animation, though. He branched out to create a "novel without words," Eve that was a critical and financial success when it was published in 1943. He was the artist on the post -war Sunday comic strip Happy the Humbug. He appeared on television during the 1950s with his "Try A Line" drawing act.

In the 1960s and '70s, he worked on a number of Saturday morning series, and was the director on the pilot for the Out of the Inkwell series produced by Hal Seeger. Seeger, a former Fleischer Studio employee, had convinced Max Fleischer not only to sell him the rights to do the series, but to appear in the pilot episode as well. For his final appearance with his silent screen co-star, Waldman recalled that Fleischer had his hair dyed for the occasion. Waldman quit from the series when the budgets would not permit him to do Ko-Ko justice.

I first met Myron in 1977 when I was beginning my research on a book about the Fleischer Studios. Myron was still employed in animation and we spoke in the mid-town Manhattan studio where he was working.

I recall wondering at the time just how old he was. So many of his contemporaries were retired at that time and he was clearly still going strong.

He later invited me to his home for dinner where I had the pleasure of meeting his lovely wife Rosalie and his two sons, Stephen and Robbie.

From that time on, Myron took an interest in me and what I was doing. His interest grew into a friendship that I treasured. Whether or not he ever realized it, he was a mentor to me and I will never forget his kindness and the support he gave me for almost 30 years.

As a kid growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s I loved the cartoons on which Myron worked. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get to meet any of the people who made them, much less become friends with them.

Because of how they were credited on their shorts, the Fleischer Studios directors didn’t get the attention they deserved. Dave Fleischer was always given the director’s credit, but it was really the head animators who directed the cartoons. Myron lived long enough to see the recognition that he deserved.

He as honored by ASIFA-Hollywood and had a special night of recognition and film retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts. He was also part of the retrospective at the Museum for Famous Studios as well.

Although Myron did eventually retire from animation, he never stopped drawing. He was part of the limited edition cel boom and produced work featuring Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman. He was very particular about this work, as he would only draw those characters on which he worked.

His greatest professional joy, though, was to simply draw original sketches for the animation art market. The cels had to go through an approval process with the character’s copyright holder and then sometimes the production process would obscure the details and feel of Myron’s original drawing.

The original sketches allowed Myron to be himself and they were highly prized among collectors.

The success of his limited edition cels meant a fair amount of travel for Myron as he made appearances at galleries in this country as well as others. He was a trooper who enjoyed meeting and entertaining people.

Myron was one of the last links to a studio that continues to influence animation. He was a great man and a great friend and I will miss him.


Chris Sobieniak said...

He will surely be missed! Used to have a thing with watching a cartoon I would see Myron's name in growing up!

SRBissette said...

Ah, Mike, I am heartbroken by this news, especially given your plans for you and Mary to visit Myron later this month. I know Myron was important to you in your life -- in his way, as much a 'second father' as Joe Kubert was/is for me -- and it's indeed sad to read this morning of his passing. But what a life the man had -- and what a legacy!

SRBissette said...

Mike, possible request for future (this week?) blog post:

If you were prepping a presentation on Myron's body of work (as I'll be asking you to do for the CCS, perhaps), which key cartoons -- shorts and features -- would you include in that lineup?

laura said...

well to tell u the truth I almost met him but he was to ill so I didn't meet him ..... rosalie his wife said he was a great man I actually got to feel and see his origanal drawings I was really amazed on what I saw based on his drawings to rosalie he really loved her.......

laura said...

my father lives upstairs to his house and I visit my father his wife rosalie showed me his oringinal drawings and I...... words just can't explain it

Rob Waldman said...

Dear Michael--
Mom, Steve and I are thrilled by the wonderful tribute you posted about Dad. Thank you so much.

We'd like to share with you two remarkable occurences that happened on Dad's final day in the hospital.

After Dad had been moved to a room for hospice care, I was talking to a friend when I looked at Dad and couldn't believe my eyes. Even though he was unconscious, his right hand had assumed the position as if he were holding a pencil. His left hand was held out as if he were steadying a piece of paper. Though his hands didn't move, he looked as if he was drawing. It was astonishing.

After Dad passed away, Mom asked Steve to notify the nurses on duty. None of these nurses haden taken care of Dad earlier in the week so they knew nothing about who he was.

When Steve arrived at their desk, he stopped cold in his tracks. The nurse he was about to
talk to thought he was about to pass out. And he almost did...for this nurse was wearing a uniform that featured Betty Boop and Pudgy all over it.

When Steve finally could talk he said, "Why are you wearing that?"
"Because Betty Boop's little dog is my favorite cartoon character,"
the nurse replied.

Steve said, "Well, the man who created him just passed away in Room B20."

It was remarkable...but as you know, Mike, so was Dad.