Contents

WARD KIMBALL's introduction at the 1978 Annie Awards (Anim. P. 1)
GRIM NATWICK's Memoria (Animation Page 2)
DICK HUEMER's recollections about his career (Animation Page 3)
JOE ADAMSON's interview concerning the Fleischers (this page)
FILMOGRAPHY from Disney's (Animation Page 5)
OBITUARY from Daily Variety (Animation Page 6)
DISNEY STUDIO in WWII (Animation Page 7)

Working for the Fleischers

An Interview with Dick Huemer
by Joe Adamson

(recorded in 1968-1969 for the AFI/UCLA program)

 

 Dick Huemer made his deepest mark on
animated cartoons in the late Thirties
and early Forties, when he was story
director for such Walt Disney features
as Fantasia and Dumbo. Dumbo in par-
ticular owes a great deal to Huemer and
Joe Grant, who shared story direction
with him on many Disney projects.

 But Huemer had already seen--and made
--a lot of animation history before he
joined the Disney studio. He started in
animation in 1916, animating Mutt and
Jeff cartoons for Raoul Barre, and
worked for Max and Dave Fleischer off
and on during the Twenties. Later, he
directed cartoons for Charles Mintz,
before joining Disney's staff. With Dis-
ney, he animated on many cartoons
before becoming a director of shorts (he
directed the first cartoon in which
Goofy starred, Goofy and Wilbur) and
then a story director on features.

 Joe Adamson recorded six interviews
with Huemer in 1968 and 1969, as part

of the American Film Institute/Universi-
ty of California at Los Angeles Oral
History program. The interview that
follows is an excerpt from that Oral
History, heavily edited and with addi-
tions by Huemer. In this excerpt,
Huemer discusses his work in the
Twenties and early Thirties, when he
was associated first with the Fleischers
and then with Charles Mintz.

 Another excerpt from the Oral Histo-
ry, dealing with Huemer's earliest
work in animation, was published in
the summer 1974 issue of AFI Report,
the magazine of the American Film In-
stitute. Copies can be ordered for $1.50
from AFI, Kennedy Center, Washing-
ton, D.C. 20566.

 Joe Adamson is the author of a cur-
rent book on the Marx brothers
(Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes
Zeppo) and a forthcoming book on Tex
Avery, as well as being a prize-winning
filmmaker (Political Cartoon).

 

 
KLICK for KOKO!

Watch space at top left of page

Source: Theatre Organ Bombarde, 11(5):6-7, October 1969

CLICK this image to get "Out of the Inkwell" VHS video from Amazon.com

.
 
  Adamson: When did you start work-
ing for the Fleischers?
  Huemer: Around 1923.
  Adamson: Is this after Mutt and Jeff?
  Huemer: Yes. But I must have had
other jobs. After all, I was still an artist.
I could decorate lampshades, do com-
mercial art.
 When I came to work for the
Fleischers, Doc Crandall was their only
animator. He used to do the rotoscope,
as well as other bits of animation.
  Adamson: There were only two of
you, then, when you started with
Fleischer?
  Huemer: No, Burt Gillett had gotten
there just before me, and he got me in.
He had been sort of a shop foreman at
Mutt and Jeff. He was head man for a
while, ran the place. When it changed
hands, after both Barre and Bowers
were out, Gillett ran it for the Jefferson
Film Corporation. So when he left that
place he went to the Fleischers, then he
got me in there. It was a very small
staff. I don't think there were more than
about six people on the staff.
  Adamson: The whole thing? Includ-
ing inkers and painters and camera-
men?
  Huemer: Yes. Something like that.
Say ten at the most.
  Adamson: Not even as big as Barre's
place, then.
  Huemer: No, it was very small, a very
cozy cluttered little place. They were
on the basement floor of an old
brownstone building on 45th Street
right off Lexington Avenue.
  Adamson: They were more or less
leading the field at the time, weren't
they?
  Huemer: No, Terry was already doing
well. But actually he was the only one
we considered serious competition and
perhaps as having a slight edge on
everybody else.
 The Fleischers were doing Out of the
Inkwell. Koko the Clown and Max were
the main characters. Then we in-
troduced other characters as pro-
tagonists. For example, once we took
Koko to Mars, and he had Martians to
contend with. Those Inkwells were ac-
tually quite good cartoons, I still
believe. They were definitely to my
mind a step above the Mutt and Jeffs
They had better stories for one thing.
  Adamson: Were the animators still
making up their own gags, or did you
have a little bit more supervision?
  Huemer: As I recall, I would work
with Dave Fleischer. Max, of course,
acted in all the pictures and had overall
say in production. His brother Dave was
more or less the director of the cartoon
operation. We'd get together and talk
about what to animate. The studio, you
see, was so small that you could walk
from desk to desk. Not like the Disney
studio became, full of rooms, and where
nobody ever sees anybody or talks to
anybody. Then, I could yell across the
room, "Hey, Dave. I want to talk to you.
Suppose we do this." And then we'd sit
down and talk it over and laugh our
heads off at our great gags, and then it
would be my job to animate what we
had threshed out. But, of course, we al-
ways had a basic theme. Generally
quite clever. Did you ever see the one
about the fly? That's the surviving Ink-
well that you see around a lot. A fly is
bothering Max; gags, complications, et
cetera, et cetera. Take it from there. All
in all, it was very relaxed working with
the Fleischers.
 There was a funny non-productive
incident that started when I drew great
big teeth on Koko, something the
Fleischers never had done up to that
time. Well, Dave started kidding me
about it, baring his teeth at me every
time I looked at him. Or he would draw
an enormous tooth on my drawing
paper when my back was turned. Then
finally one night on my way home, I put
my hand into my pocket and fished out
a handful of teeth. Human ones. He'd
gotten them from a dentist friend of his.
I forget what my next move was -- pro-
bably slipping one or two into his
dessert at lunch, or some other disgust-
ing thing. And then came the morning
when I raised my drawing board to
switch on the light and my hand
touched something slimy. There,
draped over the light bulb, was the
lower half of a cow's jaw, replete with
great big yellow teeth and shreds of
unhealthy-looking flesh. Naturally I
couldn't let him quit while he was
ahead. So I sneaked down to the street
when he wasn't looking and placed the
cadaver on the motor of his Ford. I was
only sorry I wasn't there when he
started to smell roast beef on his way
home. That kind of ended the whole rib.
Neither of us could find a topper after
that. Although 30 years later, when I
met Dave accidentally in a theatre lob-
by, the first thing he did was to make
big teeth at me and look distressed.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave Fleischer
by RMH

  Adamson: How big a part did Max
play in these cartoons?
  Huemer: He would always open the
picture, then in some trick manner the
clown would come out of the inkwell.
Max would take the cork off the ink-
well, or other cleverer ways, then
Koko'd be loose, and he'd play against
Max. He'd squirt ink at him, whatever
the gags were. Then in the end he al-
ways dove back into the inkwell, and
Max put the cork back on. A sort of cir-
cular effect, to complete the thing.
 Adamson: What function did Max
have in the creation of the cartoons?
 Huemer: He had been the one to
create the Inkwell series while he was
with Bray. He even animated the early
ones. Later on, he didn't mix in much in
the cartoon production. I think brother
Dave carried that on for the most part.
Nevertheless, Max was there to render
final opinions and decisions and as
president to run the company. After all,
it had grown and he always had ideas
on expansion. He formed live-action
companies. He bought French films.
And he started Red Seal Film Corpora-
tion to release this product. For a while
he was doing, unsuccessfully I'm afraid,
what Disney finally did very suc-
cessfully -- releasing his own product.
His wasn't successful for the reason
that in establishing and maintaining
these releasing agencies and booking
offices, he paid out more than he took in
from the films. Anyway, it just didn't
work out. That's the story as I under-
stand it.
 Adamson: He spent most of his time
in the front office and as an actor.
 Huemer: I never saw him much in the
drawing rooms. I mean actively partici-
pating. Dave took over that chore. Dave
handled it. And very well. It was fun
working with Dave.
  Adamson: When you say it was fun,
do you mean ...
  Huemer: Dave had good ideas. We
laughed a lot, and said, "Hey, that's fun-
ny!" Or, "Great! Why don't we do that."
I guess that's how the business of car-
toon creation is carried on.
  Adamson: What would you say was
the major reason for these cartoons
being better than the others?
  Huemer: They had more interesting
ideas, for one thing. They had live ac-
tion, which is instantly understandable
to an audience, right away. There was
Max, a live person whom they got to
like after a while. Max was not a great
actor or comedian, but at least, if you
saw a few of his pictures, you got to
know him, and you were sympathetic
to his troubles. Another thing the
Fleischers did was something they
called rotoscope. Max used that right
from the very start. Dave Fleischer
would put on a clown suit, and they
would photograph him in some wild ac-
tion. And then they would take those
films and project them and draw over
them. A simple enough process, but it
gave astonishingly lifelike action.
 That would be only one little scene in
each of the shorts. It was apparently too
expensive to use more often. All the ac-
tion had to be first shot, photographed,
and projected, and then somebody
would have to draw each frame. That is
to say, somebody would have to change
it to cartoon form, and somebody had to
ink and fill in the blacks. All so that
when completed it didn't look too
different from the animation that was
hand-drawn and not based on human
photography.
  Adamson: Did you do any of it?
  Huemer: No, I never did any of it.
That was purely mechanical. You only
had to follow what was on the film.
 Incidentally, McCay's animation was
very lifelike, too, in some of his early
cartoons, which was an amazing thing,
because he didn't have rotoscope. He
didn't base any of it on actual live ac-
tion. He did a little cartoon about Nemo,
which was very natural, some really
very beautiful lifelike animation and
draftsmanship. It's surprising, because
he did that so long before anybody else.
And then in between his time and when
Disney came along, there was a lot of
raunchy-looking stuff -- not good
drawing or action either. McCay hit a
high peak at the very start, after which
quality went down and then surfaced
again when Disney entered the picture.
  Adamson: Winsor McCay didn't use
the in-between'system, did he? He
would go straight from one drawing to
the next.
  Huemer: That's right. We found that
out at a banquet we gave in 1928. It was
the first Animators' Banquet, and he
was the guest of honor.
  Adamson: You didn't do this every
year, did you?
  Huemer: No, we were sort of dis-
couraged, especially because after we
were through the owner of the hotel
said, "'Raus! -- and don't come back!"
The last impression I have of the night
of the brawl was somebody trying to
high-kick the crystal chandelier. Any-
way, during the after-dinner speaking
McCay got up. He had a few under his
belt, as we all did -- there were only
about 30 of us, that's about all there
were in the business, in those days.
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