(This is my contribution to the Classic Movie History Project, a blogathon being run by Movies Silently, Silver Screenings and Once Upon a Screen. Please excuse the rather hurried picture selection/editing. This offering is adapted from the essay in my 2001 book Masters of Animation. I’m hoping to get a new edition of the book underway at some stage.)
Max Fleischer (1883–1972)
Joe Fleischer (1889–1979)
Lou Fleischer (1891–1985)
Dave Fleischer (1894–1979)
Born on July 19, 1883, in Vienna, Max Fleischer was the second of the seven children of Austrian tailor and amateur inventor William Fleischer and his wife Amalia. Max’s elder brother Charles and younger sister Ethel played little part in the story of the Fleischer studio, while the youngest child of the seven, Sol, died in infancy of typhoid; but the remaining four brothers together, each to a greater or lesser extent, created an animation business that for nearly three decades rivaled Disney and, but for circumstances, might today occupy the position in our world that Disney occupies.
The story of the Fleischer enterprise is largely the story of Max and Dave. Max was a young child when his parents emigrated to New York, fleeing antisemitism in their native land. Born in New York were Joe, on February 28, 1889, Louis, on July 16, 1891, and Dave, on July 14, 1894. William’s children, as they grew up, all in one way or another inherited the inventing trait. Charles invented various devices that are well known to us today, such as the conveyor-belt system at supermarket checkouts and the first device for getting toothpaste into tubes. For Max, Joe, Lou and Dave, however, their inventive flair was to take them into moviemaking, and specifically into animation.
From Gulliver’s Travels (1939).
After a fine start in the New World, William’s tailoring business foundered, unable to compete in price with the new mass-produced clothing that flooded the market. The family had to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and once there shifted home frequently, ever in search of somewhere cheaper to live.
Max showed an artistic bent from an early age—although nothing like his younger brother Dave. He derived an education and training from the Mechanics and Tradesmens School, the Art Students League and the Cooper Union. He had high hopes of getting a job in the art department of Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle, but when he applied in 1900 there were no vacancies; instead he had to take a job with the paper as an errand boy. Over the next four years he was able to work himself up to become a staff artist, learning the techniques of that trade—mostly to do with photography, although for a short while he drew a comic strip for the paper called Little Elmo. Much more important in the long term was that he became friendly with John Randolph Bray, then working for the Daily Eagle but soon to become a pioneer of the animation industry.
Soon after Bray’s departure from the Eagle to pursue a freelance career, Max got a job in Boston as a photo engraver and retoucher with a firm called the Electro-Light Engraving Company. In 1914 he took a job as a commercial artist at the Crouse–Hinds Corporation, and from there he moved on to become Art Editor of Popular Science Monthly. It was while in this latter position that his long-standing interest in animation became a central focus; what with his love for art and drawing and the love for gadgetry that he’d inherited from his father, animation seemed to offer an ideal combination of both worlds.
From the Color Classics cartoon All’s Fair at the Fair (1938).
Nine years younger, Dave, who showed astonishing artistic flair from a very early age, had to curtail his rudimentary artistic training because the family ran out of money for tuition fees and because his penchant for cartooning rather than doing the prescribed artistic exercises maddened his teachers. His father then employed him to go around the windows of department stores, drawing the clothing he saw on display there, so that William could copy the patterns! Dave’s first job related (fairly remotely) to the movies was as Continue reading