Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Living in Hollywood's Cartoon Golden Age

I recently finished reading a fascinating new book called Living Life Inside the Lines, Tales from the Golden Age of Animation by Martha Sigall (University Press of Mississippi) . This is an autobiographical account written by a wonderful lady who had the glorious fortune to play a significant role in the animation industry during its Golden Years.

Imagine being 14 years old and living practically next door to Pacific Title and Art Studio which eventually evolved into Leon Schlesinger Productions the birthplace of the Merrie Melodies and the Looney Tunes cartoons. Leon Schlesinger hires you at 17, fresh out of high school, to work on those cartoons where you spend the next 50 plus years at the heart of the Hollywood cartoon business working with literally all of the great writers, animators, and directors at Warner Bros. and MGM, and Hanna Barbera and on and on. You're on a first name basis with Chuck Jones , Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Bob McKimson, Michael Maltese, Frank Tashlin, Tedd Pierce, and so many more of the legendary figures of Hollywood's Cartoon Golden Age. That's Martha's story.

Martha Goldman Sigall started painting cels at Schlesinger Productions in 1936 and by 1941 she was inking some of histories funniest Toons. I could write pages about this book, but you don't need me to do that, because you can read the entire account for yourself. If you have read all the great histories and interviews from this period, you are going to love Martha's book. There is no ego to get in the way. She was a worker in the trenches of animation and she remembers how it really was from a totally fresh point of view. This isn't a "how to" book, although I bet Martha could write a great one of those too, this is living history. Thankfully, Martha was passionate enough to remember and record so much. She saved tons of memorabilia and additionally she became an amateur historian after she retired and continues to work to preserve the history of the period on film.

I highly recommend that if you have an interest in animation's history that you get your hands on a copy of this book. There are hundreds of inside behind the scenes stories that Martha tells, one of my favorites is about Ken Harris, who is acknowledged as one of the all time greatest animators, known as Mr. Bugs Bunny. Ken Harris actually had to pay the studios to let him work when he first started. You might have thought they would have let him hang around and just do stuff for free. Brings a whole new meaning to being an intern.

It's all there in Martha's book. You'll enjoy it as much as I did.


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