We’ll all die, the goal is not to live forever,
The goal is to create something that will
An Oscar Winning Illustrator, animator and Director of thousands of celebrated cartoons and movies, this post is a tribute to none other than Mr Gene Deitch for his special contribution in the field of creativity.
From Tom and Jerry to Popeye the sailor man, Twitter is flooded with posts tributing Gene after his sudden demise, for his unparalleled direction in two of these acclaimed classic cartoons of 90’s. Surprisingly none of them are best of his works, Infact his work in Tom and Jerry is more than often cited as a downside of his career.
So, let’s dive into the life of the legendary Gene Deitch and explore some interesting and less known facts, particularly his major contribution in the world of copyright.
Deitch’s first encounter with artistry was at the tender age of eight when he created a projector out of a shoebox. Being born in Chicago and growing up in California, Deitch soon came into the thrall of Hollywood and developed a keen interest in movies, especially animations. Unlike others of his age, his dream toy was a real motor driven 16mm movie projector which at that time was much beyond his means. But Gene didn’t give up, he satisfied his yearning by making a one for himself.
This was just the beginning!
With the passing years, his love for animation grew more and more intense. Gene went to the extent of naming his first child in the memory of his cartoon projector, Kim. It was this pressed metal, green crackle enamel finished wonder projector that introduced him to the magical world of animation. For no reason, it had an imprint of Kim, famous character from Rudyard Kipling’s novel.
Today Gene’s son, Kim Deitch, is a famous cartoonist himself, and bears this name with pride.
Gene’s career in animation took off as a creative director in a famous American studio of that time, United Production of America (UPA) in the year 1951. Prior to this he was struggling with different roles from drawing aircraft blueprints for North American Aviation to audio engineering for one of the earliest singers cum songwriter, Elizabeth Eaton Converse.
Amongst many of his creations during his tenure at UPA studio, the most prominent was Bert and Harry Pidls commercials for Peils Beer, the first ever to be shown at Newyork museum of Art in 1954.He also won gold medal at NY Art Directors club for his work. This commercial played a major role in boosting sales, even though in reality the beer was terrible in taste. Hence the company collapsed soon after they switched to a different add campaign.
Later he joined Terry Toons studio as “Creative Director” which turned out to be his greatest failure and also success in disguise
Well Let’s explore what actually happened at the famous Toon studio????
Just before Gene joined, the ownership of studio had changed and it was performing drastically. Gene, basically had to revitalize the studio. It was his chance to remake the worst to best, a dream project for every young animator. He was so dazzled by the offer that he ignored the fact of not being offered a written contract of employment.
Gene received a lot of resentment from staff members. Well, they were not very happy about an outsider been chosen above many other long serving members. Fueling it further was the fact that the studio was running into losses and the staff was being underpaid. Investment into new project was inevitable for revival of studio. Gene remodelled the studio, created new logo and directed many new cartoon characters. He genuinely believed that the investment would pay off in long run but much before that he was fired on ground of pushing the studio into further loss.
But every cloud has a silver linning. During his tenure at terrytoons he directed the first ever animated serial for network television, titled Tom Terrific which was a huge success. It was a five-minute black and white episode debuted on captain kangaroo children show. It was based on his prior work, a comic strip by same name. Gene hereby transformed the world of animation for television.
Later Gene moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia and joined Rembrandt Films, one of the few studios to export films from Europe to United States, though such a practice was not very much appreciated and was infamously called as runaway animation. He received immense criticism from the cartoonist union but the beauty of Mr. Gene was that he never really cared about this and that’s what made him different.
Moving to Prague was one the best thing that ever happened in his life. Prague brought immense fortune to Gene. Here he met the love of his life, his second wife Zdenka and also directed two of his personal favourite and Academy award nominated cartoon series ‘Munro’ and ‘Nudnik’. Munro also won Oscar in 1961 but Gene didn’t get it.
But Why??? Umm the reason was ‘Money’, Yes Money, it doesn’t spare anyone, not even Gene
The Oscar award was given to Mr Snyder, the producer of the film just for putting few bucks when the story, graphics, sound tracks were all done under the direction of Gene in his own company. The rules back then provided for the award for Short Film Oscar to be given to the producer but the understanding of producer was not the person holding this nomenclature rather the person responsible for making the film. Gene was tricked by Snyder. He had filed the nomination in his own name
Gene, in futile, raised objections to the Oscar Academy. They acknowledged the unfairness but the deed was done. It was not within their policy to retract the award. However few years down the line such protests forced the academy to remove the ambiguity in the rules. Now the rules clearly state that “the recipient of the statuette will be the individual person most directly responsible for the concept and the creative execution of the film”.
Meanwhile Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera the creator of Tom and Jerry characters were fired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. There was no way that they could close down their prime animation series, Hence Tom & Jerry got its new Director and animator, Gene Deitch. Gene, was not a big fan of this cartoon back then, Infact he found it to be a bad example of senseless violence and racism. Yet overriding personal and financial consideration made it imperative for him to sign for this opportunity. He directed 12 episodes but was not very successful in it. This was the dark age of Tom and Jerry. Not to forget that none of the successors of Hanna and Barbera were actually successful with Tom & Jerry. They had worked on it for 20 years and knew the characters better than anyone, It was obviously difficult for anyone to get hold of them the way they did. Yet Gene made a fair attempt.
Gene was a prolific Director and animator. He had many more achievements up his name. Later in his career he also developed a keen interest in directing animated children books. He also wrote two famous books firstly; his Autobiography titled the love of Prague (2002) and another book which was also nominated for Harvey awards; The cat on a hot thin groove.
In 2003 he was honoured with Winsor McCay Life time achievement award by ASIFA Hollywood
Gene taught the animation world the magic of simplicity. He always had reservation against excessive use of special effects which in his opinion were not even supposed to get noticed. He believed that with the availability of modern tools of filmmaking and YouTube, anybody can be a filmmaker but very few can be an artist who tell a story worth telling. The role of technology is only to assist the process, one must not get carried away.
What did Gene leave behind???
Besides beautiful animation series and immense learnings for the world of motion pitcures, Gene’s life teaches all of us about the love and dedication for one’s work.
He was UnStoppable!
I am sure you’ll be astonished to read one of his messages from a conversation with his old friend Heidi ,quoted below (Source: https://genedeitchcredits.com/)
October 1, 2015 at 4:58 pm
Heidi, guess what? I’m still here at 91, and a brand-new 6th edition of For The Love of Prague as just come from the printers and will soon be on Amazon! It has a new cover and lots of added stuff inside, both new photos and new text.
Best wishes. Gene
Gene left us for heavenly abode on April 16, 2020.He touched thousands of hearts during his lifetime. His journey and work will continue inspiring young minds.
No amount of words could ever be enough to thank him for making our childhood memorable.
To Know more about him and his glorious career, visit his website https://genedeitchcredits.com/