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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

ESSAYS

A Day in the Life: MGM, March 4, 1953

By Michael Barrier

Tex Avery

Tex Avery in his office at the MGM cartoon department.

March 4, 1953, was probably not a particularly happy day at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon department, and certainly not in Tex Avery's unit. The original 3-D craze was cresting in Hollywood then, and in sharp contrast to recent developments, animation was being left behind. Warner Bros. was on the verge of closing its cartoon studio—temporarily, as it turned out—and MGM had officially shut down the Avery unit on March 1 (although, since that was a Sunday, the staff presumably got the word on some other date). Avery himself would leave the studio on June 24, and Mike Lah, one of Avery's animators, would finish his last two cartoons, working mostly with animators from Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's Tom and Jerry unit.

Ed Benedict was Avery's layout artist, and for whatever reason, he brought his camera to work on March 4 and took 35mm color slides of his colleagues—some of them at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor of the studio, others at their desks. Ed lent those slides to me for copying when I was writing Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, and although I hoped I might be able to use at least some of them in that book, such was not to be. So I'm pleased that I can publish them here.

Perhaps Hanna and Barbera were absent on March 4; in any case, Ed photographed them two days later, in black and white. Fred Quimby may not have been available on March 4, either, but Ed photographed him in color on March 13. To cap things off, Ed took a picture of the cartoon department's building—and its less than glamorous Culver City surroundings—on March 21. (The cartoon department wasn't on the MGM lot proper, but at Montana and Overland Avenues.)

Ed himself is not in any of these photos, of course, but he continued to work at MGM, and in March 1956 he and Mike Lah, who was by then directing on his own with Ed as his layout man, posed for publicity photos with the storyboard for a Droopy cartoon, One Droopy Knight. I've appended one such photo to the bottom of this page.

Mike Lah et al.

From left, animator Mike Lah, layout artists Dick Bickenbach and Harvey Eisenberg, and animator Irv Spence. Eisenberg drew character layouts for Hanna and Barbera in the early 1940s and then became a mainstay of Western Printing's Dell comic books based on the MGM characters and other Hollywood cartoon characters. That connection probably accounts for his presence at the cartoon studio on this day.

Carr and Maxwell

Animator Jack Carr and production manager C. G. "Max" Maxwell.

Heck Allen

Avery's story man, Henry "Heck" Allen.

John Didrik Johnsen

Avery's background painter, John Didrik Johnsen.

Bullpen

The inbetween department: Bill Schipek at the left, Joe Fink at the right. The third man is unidentified.

Hann and Barbera

Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, March 6, 1953.

Fred Quimby

Fred Quimby, the head of the cartoon studio, March 13, 1953.

MGM Cartoon Department

The MGM cartoon department's building at Overland and Montana Avenues in Culver City, California, March 21, 1953. The building was demolished many years ago.

Ed Benedict and Mike Lah

Ed Benedict and Mike Lah carry on about the storyboard for One Droopy Knight in a publicity photo taken in March 1956.

[Posted November 15, 2011]

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