Saturday, 7 July 2012

I’ll Have the Mashed Potatoes De Guard

Phil De Guard will probably always be associated with the Chuck Jones unit at Warner Bros. as its background artist. Golden Age cartoon fans will likely know De Guard came to Warners from the Walter Lantz studio where he did some fine background work in conjunction with layout man Art Heinemann and director Shamus Culhane. But there doesn’t appear to be a lot of information out there about him. So let’s see what I’ve been able to cobble together from sources on-line.

The California Death Index reveals Philip Joseph De Guard was born on February 10, 1910 in New York and died November 20, 1982 in Los Angeles. Whether he was born with the last name “De Guard” is open to question. A match of names of De Guard’s mother and siblings in Census records state the family name was “Devardi” in 1910, “De Guard” in 1915 and “Degarda” in 1920. Both of De Guard’s parents were, if any of the Census returns are correct, born in Italy.

His obituary in Variety (edition of December 8, 1982), states he studied art and journalism at NYU and Columbia University, and then began his professional career as an art director at an ad agency. A story in the New York Herald Tribune mentions he was formerly with the La Rose Publishing Company. He married Marie Jacoby in 1930—they celebrated over 50 years of marriage—and became entangled with her family in a unique journey across the U.S. that began the following year. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote about it on August 31, 1932.

Arriving in Salt Lake Tuesday for a week’s stay, as a part of a 28,000-mile “traveling college” tour of the United States, Charles “Pop” Jacoby of New York City and. his wife and eight children are the originators of one of the most unusual training schools yet seen in this section.
Having obtained permission from New York school authorities to keep his children out of school for a year while giving them first-hand geographic knowledge of cities, rivers and mountains, Mr. Jacoby left New York July 5 in a special car and trailer. The last stop was for two weeks in Yellowstone national park.
The eight children, happy to have their schooling, which also includes reading, writing and arithmetic, made such a pleasure, are Mrs. Marie Jacoby De Guard, and her husband
Philip De Guard, a New York newspaper correspondent, and William, 19; Harry, 17; Ralph, 15; Bobbie, 13; Charles Jr.; 11; Gertrude, 6, and Jim, 4.
The party plans to be on the road 14 months, visiting 15 of the 16 national parks west o£ the Mississippi river, traveling approximately 2000 miles each month. Mr. Jacoby formerly was employed by the Guaranty Trust company of New York.
As guests of Salt Lake City camp grounds, the Jacobys visit points of interest around the city, a “school” being conducted by the father at each place. Besides being “whizzes” at American geography, the children are apt musicians and can play a variety of musical instruments.
They will leave late this week for Idaho and the northwest along the Columbia river highway, then down to Mexico via the Pacific Coast, and then back to New York by way of the southern route.

Variety reported he painted murals for the Pasadena Board of Education that were spotted by someone connected with the Charles Mintz studio. He began work there in 1936, drawing layouts and painting backgrounds for Scrappy and Krazy Kat cartoons. He then moved over to MGM and worked on Tom and Jerry shorts under Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera before moving over to the Walter Lantz studio, where his first screen credit was in 1944 for “The Greatest Man in Siam”. He also did war work for the U.S government under Universal. He jumped to Warner Bros. in 1946 where he worked, for the most part, in the Chuck Jones unit. He and Jones were reunited in the 1960s at MGM where, again, De Guard worked with Tom and Jerry.

De Guard has some work on the side. He wrote a syndicated column called “In Hollywood With Philip De Guard” syndicated column (also known as “Intimately Speaking” and “On the Sets”). It appeared in more than 100 papers. The U.S Government Copyright catalogue of 1944 lists “The De Guard News Service” and I’ve stumbled across a couple of his star interviews from that period.

Besides a newspaper man and artist, De Guard was also a photographer and an inventor. He got screwed on his invention, though. The Los Angeles Times of November 30, 1958 reports (my thanks to Mark Kausler for the clipping):

LIVE AND LEARN — Philip DeGuard of North Hollywood is holding the bag — two bags in fact. They are just like the one he says he designed and described in a letter to a national appliance company suggesting their manufacture.
The bag is a plastic shoulder gadget used as a marketing gimmick to help sell photographic flash bulbs. He says the firm liked his idea and sent him a waiver to sign, which he did.
That was a mistake, he thinks. The later sent him a carton of flash-bulbs and two bags. But no money.
DeGuard feels that somehow his big chance got away from him.

Well, you can add one more thing to the list: square dancer. De Guard was one of the many Warner Bros. artists induced by animator Phil Monroe into lunch-hour square dancing in the basement of the Warners’ studio in the late ‘40s. The Van Nuys News of September 13, 1951 mentions Monroe and De Guard as members of the Valley Do C Do Square Dance Club; it was that discovery that prompted this post.

In Robert J. McKinnon’s biography of Maurice Noble, Jones’ much-heralded layout man through the bulk of the ‘50s, Noble describes De Guard as a “very private guy...very sensitive, and he’d had some rough experiences in his background.” Noble relates how De Guard always carried his camera with him and won awards for his candid shots. The Los Angeles Times of June 27, 1963 mentions De Guard being honoured by the California Press Photographers Association for one of his shots called “Helping Hand.” Noble praises De Guard’s painting technique but in his mind, his background artist was not “a very adventurous soul” and, for the most part, followed Noble’s instructions verbatim about colour selection and so on. In an interview with Mike Barrier, Roger Armstrong said of De Guard when the two worked for Walter Lantz: “They called him ‘Mashed Potatoes,’ because he had almost a nowhere personality.”

Still, if that’s the worst anyone can say about you, you’re doing well. De Guard’s artistry was admired, by all accounts—his work with Heinemann in Lantz’ “Swing Symphonies” can be a real joy. We’ll leave the last word about De Guard to Chuck Jones from his first autobiography.
Phil was a quiet and gentle man: talent, technique, creativity and honesty were all his, without the necessity for comment. He was without doubt among the finest of my contemporaries in filmmaking, a man devoted to the common good. I would have been lost without him.


  1. I think you need to check your caption for the last picture, Yowp, "Knight-mare hare" is the cartoon you want.

    An excellent post, Yowp, very informative! It's great to find out more about Philip DeGuard. He had a very interesting career, especially during the 1949/1950 period at Warners.

    1. I am not computer savy. If you can get through to the gentleman who wrote this article about Philip Deguard, please have him contact me. Some of his information is incorrect. Philip was my great uncle. Kathleen

    2. Hi, Kathleen. You haven't left any way for anyone to contact you. If you click on 'View My Complete Profile' you'll get a new page. Click on e-mail and send me an e-mail.

  2. He also was on every 1950s-50s mouse cartoon. I guessed he just loved the idea of doing the mouse sixed props...Amyway, another very interesting article.Steve

  3. When my brother and I were kids 30 years ago we would always point his name out after a cartoon. Don't know why, but its a running joke whenever we see a cartoon we look to see if Phil did the backgrounds. Thanks for the post with information about him.