MichaelBarrier.com  - Exploring the World of Animated Films and Comic Art - banner by Michael Sporn

"What's New" Archives: January 2018


January 23, 2018:

Lutz Redux...


January 14, 2018:

Unfinished Business


January 23, 2018:

Lutz Redux...

E. G. LutzThe name E. G. Lutz should be familiar to you if you're at all acquainted with the early history of American animation. If it's not, turn to the indexes in my books Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age and The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. Lutz was the author of Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development (1920), the first book-length treatise on how to make cartoons. This was the book that Walt Disney got from the Kansas City Public Library soon after he went to work for Kansas City Film Ad, and that he and his earliest co-workers and employees, like Hugh Harman and Friz Freleng, used as a guide when making their own cartoons.

Lutz has always been a shadowy figure, but now his great-nephew Frank Lutz has put up a website that explores Edwin's life as not only the author of Animated Cartoons but of many other books as well: "He pursued many aspects of art, and between 1913 and 1936 he wrote 17 instructional 'how-to' books on drawing, art anatomy, cartoon animation, lettering, landscape painting with oils, watercolor painting, engraving and etching, and memory drawing.  Many of these books had multiple printings"

The new website, titled Illustrating Edwin: A Bio of Edwin G. Lutz, is at this link, and it's well worth a visit if you're at all interested in what was happening in American animation almost a hundred years ago.

...and Lutz in Milwaukee

The Lutz website is, for most of us, more accessible than the Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee, and that's a shame, because Lutz is represented there now in an exhibition that I'm sure opens up animation's remote past even more comprehensively than the new Lutz website. It's titled The Art and Mechanics of Animation: The J.J. Sedelmaier Collection. Here's a description of the exhibition from the museum's website:

"From its very beginning, the art and craft of film animation has been as much a part of movie history as motion picture film itself. The motion picture industry had its beginning in the 1880s, but animation production actually pre-dates this launch by a half century with devices such as the Phenakistiscope (1833) and the Zoetrope (1834). These simple mechanical wonders allowed the viewer to experience moving images through the use of sequential exposure of a short series of registered drawings or even photographs.

"As the motion picture film industry advanced, so did the invention and development of animation equipment. The Art and Mechanics of Animation chronicles more than a century of the development and use of various devices and equipment key to the production of animated films from their beginning up to the 1990s. Fortunately, studios like New York’s Terrytoons and Fleischer Studios and, of course, The Walt Disney Studios, documented much of the behind the scenes activity in newsreels and promotional films. Some of these are included in this exhibition."

J.J. Sedelmaier is, as many visitors to this site know, the proprietor (with his wife Patrice) of the White Plains, New York, animation and design studio that bears his name.

The exhibtion runs until April 29, and I'm still trying to figure out if I can make it. I hope so.

It has been just over four years since Michael Sporn died, and this is one of the many occasions when I wish I could have his company again. If I could have lured him from New York, what fun it would have been to visit the Sedelmaier exhibition with him.


January 14, 2018:

Unfinished Business

Thanks to the holidays, minor but enervating illnesses, and family obligations this website has again been dormant for too long a time. But I've accumulated a lot of notes for post-worthy items, so let's get started.

Interviews. V. Martin writes: "I have a couple questions about the transcripts of the interviews with the animation veterans you and Milt Gray conducted. How do you determine which interview(s) to publish on your site? Do you intend to release all the transcripts on your site or book form? As an animation fan and researcher, it would be something I would enjoy reading and consulting."

Good questions. As for how I choose interviews, that's partly a question of demand, although there's rarely clamor for me to post interviews with particular animation or comics people. I posted the Wilfred Jackson and Jack Kinney transcripts when I did because Pete Docter wanted to read them, but that was mostly a matter of moving those interviews up on the list of candidates for publication; I already knew that the interviews, with Jackson in particular, were very strong and would be well received by people who take the time to read such things.

Another consideration is how difficult it may be to prepare a transcript for publication. Many interviews exist only as typescripts that must be scanned and corrected—typically an arduous proecess—before they can be posted. Others exist as computer files, but many of the printouts have been edited and revised, in some cases substantially, by the interviewees, and incorporating those changes in the digital files can be a lot of work. In a few cases I've scanned and begun correcting an interview only to throw up my hands in despair at finding some way to make it publishable. The interview with Milt Kahl's assistant John Freeman falls in that category (I may yet go back to it, although I cringe at the thought), and I have a couple of Ward Kimball transcripts that I've never even tried to make publishable, because Ward marked them up so heavily..

Other transcripts may be perfectly coherent in and of themselves, with minimal changes by the interviewees, but still cry out for supplemental material like frame grabs to be fully understandable; I think of a wonderful interview that Milt Gray did with McLaren Stewart, Wilfred Jackson's layout man on some of the great Disney features. When I can con someone into helping me with such refinements, that interview will be near the top of my to-be-published list.

As I've posted interviews on this website, Didier Ghez has been reprinting them (along with a lot of other people's interviews and similar material) in his book series called Walt's People. That series, now published by Theme Park Press, is up to twenty volumes all together. Didier's books don't foreclose the possibility of a book (or books) devoted solely to Barrier-Gray interviews, but I haven't tried to interest a publisher in such a project.

Adriana and friends

Who Dat? Over the years I've accumulated a lot of photos, some with people I can't identify, as in this (still unresolved) case. Robert Lughai is trying for a definitive identification of another mystery man, this one at the left in the photo above with Adriana Caselotti (the voice of Snow White), Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck), and Roy Williams (who surely needs no introduction). Robert writes: "I recently came across a photo [the one you see here] on the Heritage Auctions site which comes from the Adriana Caselotti estate.I think it might be from a promotional tour, possibly for the 1958 re-release of Snow White (or maybe the 1957 Cinderella reissue)." And from a later message: "I'm feeling maybe 65-70 percent confident that the man on the left is Dickie Jones. He's a little fuller in the face than how he appeared in his earlier cowboy days [when he starred in the Buffalo Bill Jr. TV series, among other things]. Yet, he seems to have the same hair. Maybe I'm just reaching. Yet, with him being the voice of Pinocchio, it would make sense for Disney to ask him to come back to do a promotional tour along with the voice of Snow White. The group photo is probably from 1957-58. His TV career was sort of wrapping up then and it wouldn't have hurt him to take advantage of this opportunity. Anyway, that's my guess."

That makes sense, although the man in the photo looks to me a little older than Dick Jones would have been in the late fifties (he was born in 1927). But he was indeed winding down his TV career by then. So, the photo may have been taken (on the Burbank lot) later than 1957-58; or could the man in the photo be someone else who resembles Dick Jones? Tell me if you know.

[An April 25, 2018, update: Howard Beckerman has come to the rescue! "The man standing next to Adrianna Caselotti is animator and director Ken Walker. He was at Disney on several films. I worked with him at New York commercial studios. I remember him drawing some of the characters from Song of the South." Well, that's a relief. Now I need to pull out some other photos with mystery men (no women, so far).]

Walt and Zermatt. I've posted several times about Walt Disney's visits to Zermatt, the lovely village in the Swiss Alps that was the setting for one of his best live-action films, Third Man on the Mountain. (A Google search of this website for Zermatt will bring up several substantial items.) As I observed when I visited Zermatt in 2004, although Zermatt was important to Walt, he did not seem to be at all important to Zermatt and its residents, many of whom didn't even recognize his name when I asked about him. Benjamin Morris writes about his own more recent and more fruitful visit: "No one does seem to know Walt came to Zermatt. I did however find two pictures of him. One in the entrance vestibule of the Hotel Walliserhof [the bottom photo below] and the other inside the Matterhorn museum [the top photo]." I suspect both photos were up when I visited in 2004 and I simply missed them; I'm glad that Benjamin was sharper eyed.



O-Zell Lives! One of the pleasures of historical research is visiting the locations where something significant happened, even or maybe especially when that signficance doesn't involve great battles or other stupendous events. I've loved visiting the ranch in Oregon where Carl Barks was born, and the buildings on the Warner Bros. lots where the Looney Tunes were made, and the house in Marceline where Walt Disney lived as a boy. Some historic buildings are gone, of course, like the Disney studio on Hyperion, and one such building that you might think by rights is surely gone, after more than a hundred years, was the O-Zell plant in Chicago. O-Zell was the bottling company in which Walt's father, Elias, owned a stake, and where Walt himself worked, briefly and unhappily. But no: Dave Mason, whose researches into the more obscure corners of Disney history I've commended here before (do a Quick Google search above for his name) has produced strong evidence that O-Zell's premises still exist, even though the company is long gone.


Dave explains:

An "ah-ha!" moment... in understanding the original location of Chicago's O-Zell Company... and the significant investment made there by Elias Disney and his family (including Flora, Roy and Walt). In 1916, O-Zell's street address was listed on all correspondence as 1301 - 1317 West 15th Street (immediately adjacent to the Chicago Junction Railway)... but as Chicago changed many of their street numbers in the early part of the 20th century... the current street address for what was once the O-Zell factory, offices and laboratory... is now known as 2401 W. 15th Street (at S. Western Avenue). It was at this very site where Elias Disney once worked and where Walt Disney briefly took employment as well. Needless to say, factory work was not for Walt Disney and he soon moved on to other pursuits.

One reason that O-Zell is often overlooked in the city's Building Department records is that O-Zell only leased space in a new warehouse facility constructed in 1915 by the Midland Warehouse and Transfer Company. The new building replaced a prior warehouse also owned by Midland at the same location. The Midland Warehouses remain in operation today (east face of building has been remodeled) and the listed street address for the facility is now referenced as 1500 S. Western Avenue. Until 1916, all communication with O-Zell was carried out at their downtown business offices (Fred W. Webb, financial agent) once located in Suite 1108 in the historic Borland Building at 105 S. LaSalle (at Monroe). The Borland Building was demolished in 1975.

O-Zell continued to operate on W. 15th Avenue until approximately 1920 when the name was changed to the No- Peer Packing Company (shortly before it ceased operations).

 You can find more images of today's Midland Warehouses at this link. And here, also courtesy of Dave Mason, is an earlier Midland photo, showing the building when it probably looked more like what Elias and Walt saw.

O-Zell SiteA

Further from Dave Mason:

Incredible that this took so long to find.  But now it makes more sense… in that O-Zell wouldn't have been the only occupant in these buildings.  It appears that Scrogin [O-Zell's disreputable proprietor] was prone to exaggeration here as well… in making every communication sound as if O-Zell owned the property and was the only enterprise on the site (and never mentioning the Midland Warehouse & Transport Co.)  and also explaining the lack of available photos for the O-Zell headquarters.  It appears that O-Zell operated from Midland's "A" building (and only a portion of the five-story building)… with other enterprises using the "B" and "C" buildings.

And here, also from Dave, is a link to a YouTube tour of the Midland facility at it exists today, home to a cluster of small businesses. Exactly the sort of place where an O-Zell sort of company would rent space.

Politics. As some of you know, I once worked on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to a Democratic senator and then for a Republican congressman. After that I worked for many years for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest business lobbying organization. Mercifully, my work there had almost no ideological component. Mostly I traveled all over the country (I missed Idaho, somehow) interviewing business people for features in the Chamber's monthy magazine. That was a fun job. The travel could be grueling (you really don't want to drive a few hours each way to spend some time in La Junta, Colorado), but the business people were mostly great, warm and enthusiastic and eager to tell me about their companies. I spent time with some recognizable names, like Sam Walton and Dick Clark, but, saints be praised, I never crossed paths with Donald Trump. I've been tempted occasionally to vent on this page about the unfolding disaster in Washington, but there are lots of other places you can read about that. Let me recommend Mark Evanier's website, which several times a week offers a "Trump Dump" with links to some of the best political commentary, alongside Mark's posts about the saner worlds of comics and show business.