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Out of the Inkwell

Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution

Richard Fleischer

Publication Year: 2005

Max Fleischer (1883–1972) was for years considered Walt Disney’s only real rival in the world of cartoon animation. The man behind the creation of such legendary characters as Betty Boop and the animation of Popeye the Sailor and Superman, Fleischer asserted himself as a major player in the development of Hollywood entertainment. Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution is a vivid portrait of the life and world of a man who shaped the look of cartoon animation. Also interested in technical innovation, Fleischer invented the rotoscope—a device that helped track live action and allowed his cartoons to revolutionize the way animated characters appeared and moved on-screen. In the 1920s, Fleischer created a series of “Out of the Inkwell” films, which led to a deal with Paramount. Their character KoKo the Clown introduced new animation effects by growing out of Fleischer’s pen on-screen. As the sound revolution hit film, the studio produced shorts featuring the characters interacting with songs and with the now-famous bouncing ball that dances across lyrics projected on the screen. Max Fleischer’s story is also one of a creative genius struggling to fit in with the changing culture of golden age cinema. Out of the Inkwell captures the twists and turns, the triumphs and disappointments, and most of all the breathless energy of a life vibrantly lived in the world of animation magic.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-x

Max Fleischer is animation’s unsung hero. If Walt Disney is the most celebrated and chronicled producer in the history of the medium, Fleischer is his polar opposite. Animation fans love his work and revere his cartoons’ uniqu,...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-15

The phone in my office in Los Angeles got out no more than two rings before I answered. “Hello,” I squeaked, pretending to be wide awake. The phone responded with: “Can you tell me if . . .” “MAX WILK,” I shouted. “It’s MAX WILK!” “How did...

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1. They say that it’s difficult being a famous man’s son

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pp. 1-8

They say that it’s difficult being a famous man’s son, that you live in his shadow, that comparisons with him are always odious. Well, I grew up as a famous man’s son, and I didn’t find it difficult at all. In fact, it was great. My father, Max Fleischer...

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2. Two years after joining the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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pp. 9-12

Two years after joining the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Max Fleischer was probably the youngest major-newspaper staff cartoonist in the country. Not only was he drawing editorial cartoons for the paper, but he had two regular comic strips of his own, Algy and...

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3. If ever a job was tailor-made for anyone

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pp. 13-22

3If ever a job was tailor-made for anyone, the Popular Science job was it for Max. As Max writes in his 1939 unpublished autobiography: “I realized I was not only artistically inclined, but had a very keen and instinctive sense for mechanics. I liked them both....

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4. Brimming with pride and high hopes, Max

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pp. 23-30

Brimming with pride and high hopes, Max couldn’t wait until he could show his creation to a film distributor. This is the way my father remembered that event: “I took the film to a distributor and in the blink of the eye, it was run off. He said,...

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5. Late in 1920, the Bray organization

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pp. 31-38

Late in 1920, the Bray organization began to fall apart. It seems that, a year earlier, Bray had made a contract with the Goldwyn Company to produce and distribute all Bray’s short films. Goldwyn capitalized the new venture to the tune of $1.5 million...

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6. There were three movie “palaces” in midtown

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pp. 39-44

6There were three movie “palaces” in midtown Manhattan in the 1920s that hold a special place in my heart: the Rivoli, the Rialto, and the Criterion. They were what could be called a minicircuit since they were all under the supervision of Dr. Hugo...

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7. Taking a page from his former employer

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pp. 45-48

Taking a page from his former employer J. R. Bray’s book, Max put the studio into high gear when, in 1923, he formed his own distribution company, Red Seal Pictures, with the plan to make all sorts of films other than cartoons. He hired Edwin Miles...

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8. The addition of sound to the Fleischer cartoons

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pp. 49-52

The addition of sound to the Fleischer cartoons also brought another addition to the roster of Fleischer brothers working at the studio. A highly talented, dedicated musician, my Uncle Lou was a perfect fit as head of the Music Department. Since...

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9. Clearly, Max was riding the crest of a wave

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pp. 53-58

Clearly, Max was riding the crest of a wave. Who would have thought that the sassy, ugly mutt from Dizzy Dishes would metamorphose into America’s sweetheart, and Europe’s, and the rest of the world’s too? But it turned out that an even bigger wave...

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10. The fortunes of the Fleischer family

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pp. 59-62

The fortunes of the Fleischer family seemed to run counter to the times. Wall Street laid an egg in 1929, and the Great Depression overtook the country and the world—but not Max. The Depression was the period of his greatest successes, and...

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11. Several times during the writing of these pages

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pp. 63-76

11 Several times during the writing of these pages I have quoted from my father’s unpublished autobiography. A reader may wonder why I’m going to all the trouble of writing a biography of Max Fleischer when an autobiography already exists. Well,...

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12. Although this book is primarily about Max

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pp. 77-82

12 Although this book is primarily about Max Fleischer, there was an Essie Fleischer too. When Max and Essie took their marriage vows in 1905, they really meant it—especially the “until death do us part” promise. Death parted them sixty-five years later....

Photo insert Contains Image Plates

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13. Fleischer Studios prospered

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pp. 83-86

13 Fleischer Studios prospered. In a couple of years after leaving the tiny, cramped quarters in Long Island City, with a minuscule staff, it occupied four floors at 1600 Broadway with a staff of about 250. New and exciting things were happening in the movie industry. By the mid-1930s, “talkies” had long taken over...

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14. Because of Max and Dave’s personalities

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pp. 87-92

Because of Max and Dave’s personalities, Fleischer Studios was a wonderful, happy place to work. Max brought it great paternalistic warmth. He loved the studio and everyone in it, and they loved him back. Dave supplied the fun, the laughter, the...

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15. Max was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker

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pp. 93-96

15 Max was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. He rarely traveled outside the city. His out-of-the-country experience, not counting his first four years in Austria, amounted to three days in Canada and one night in Mexico. He didn’t do much better...

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16. Work at the New York studio continued

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pp. 97-100

Work at the New York studio continued at full force on the Betty Boops, the Popeyes, and other shorts during the five or so months it took to build the Florida studio. The greatest concentration, however, was given to deciding what story to use for...

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17. Paramount insisted on a Christmas release date

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pp. 101-106

Paramount insisted on a Christmas release date for Gulliver’s Travels, which was fine, except that it had to be Christmas of 1939, which was a year and a half away. Snow White took four years to make, so the challenge was intimidating, to say the...

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18. The studio’s move from New York to Miami

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pp. 107-112

The studio’s move from New York to Miami was an apparent success; the and Superman series were going great guns; Gulliver’s Travels was breaking attendance records at box offices everywhere while another feature-length cartoon, Mr. Bug Goes...

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19. Max opened the contract, read the first paragraph

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pp. 113-118

On May 29, 1941, Dick Murray, the liaison man between Fleischer Studios and Paramount in New York, arrived at the studio in Miami and handed Max a large manila envelope. It contained a sixty-five-page, closely typed contract, dated May 24, between Paramount and Fleischer Studios. Max was completely....

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20. After the initial shock of the Paramount takeover

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pp. 119-124

After the initial shock of the Paramount takeover, things at Famous Studios went on much as they had at Fleischer Studios. The films were still being released under the Fleischer Studios’ banner. The name change would not be made public until May...

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21. Almost before the news of the studio’s sudden

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pp. 125-130

Almost before the news of the studio’s sudden demise had had a chance to travel, Max was paid a visit in Miami by an old friend and alumnus of the J. R. Bray days, Jamison Handy. Max and Handy had been good friends in those early days, and now Handy was offering a helping hand to his old friend Max. Handy...

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22. It seems that Max’s aim in life was to be

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pp. 131-140

It seems that Max’s aim in life was to be fully occupied and challenged all the time. He had an enormous capacity for creative work. However, his mind reached out in so many different directions that I don’t believe he could ever be completely satisfied...

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23. Leonard Miltonberg ran a company in

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pp. 141-146

Leonard Miltonberg ran a company in Manhattan called Inventors Intermediaries. Inventors would come to him if they had something that they thought was marketable, and he would try to find an outlet for their work. Early in 1956, Max paid a visit to Miltonberg’s office. He had with him a new type of slide...

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24. He wrote myriad and lengthy memos

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pp. 147-150

Max was kept busy. He wrote myriad and lengthy memos, trying to remember as many details of past events as he could. With Handman he arranged, prepared for, and attended the depositions of the many parties involved in the case. Both he and Handman worked long, long hours. And still no smoking...

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25. The lawsuit against Paramount et al

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pp. 151-154

The lawsuit against Paramount et al., the possibility of somehow negating the ruinous 1941 contract, the chance of telling how he had signed the contract under duress, all this was something of a tonic for Max. It seemed that the tide was turning. It even seemed that the tide might be turning into something of a...

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26. The whole thing was incomprehensible to me

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pp. 155-162

The whole thing was incomprehensible to me. My folks broke? How was that possible? Money was never an issue in our family. Anything I wanted I got, without question or hesitation. When I graduated from public school and wanted to go to an expensive prep school, Peekskill Military Academy, because a friend...

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27. The article concerned a new copyright law

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pp. 163-168

Our family was not one that regularly read the business pages of the newspapers, so we all missed an article that would change our lives forever. But Stanley Handman read the Wall Street Journal, and he didn’t miss it. Thank God. The article concerned a new copyright law that Congress had just passed. The old copyright law stated that, if the origi...

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28. The year 1972 turned out to be

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pp. 169-172

The year 1972 turned out to be a most significant one for everyone connected with the Max Fleischer story. It started with two very bright young ladies who worked in New York for King Features Syndicate, one of the largest merchandise-licensing companies in the world. It was the same King Features that had licensed Popeye the Sailor to Fleischer Studios in the 1930s,...

Index

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pp. 173-184


E-ISBN-13: 9780813172095
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123554

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2005