Saturday, 18 August 2012

Lew Who?

Fans of old-time cartoons know who Warren Foster, Mike Maltese and Tedd Pierce are. They came up with some of the funniest cartoons ever made.

They’re the writers that people associate most with the Warner Bros. studio. There were others, of course, if a fan was pressed to name them. Bill Scott and Lloyd Turner went on to bigger fame with Jay Ward and sitcoms respectively. Bugs Hardaway’s name was tagged on to a certain rabbit. But the name of one writer probably doesn’t come immediately to mind.

Lew Landsman received one lonely screen credit. He wrote “Porky at the Crocadero,” released in 1938.

That begs the question—why? Why only one? Was that his only cartoon? What happened to him? And who is Lew Landsman anyway?

I’m afraid most of those questions may never be answered. Too much time has passed. But a little jaunt around the internet has produced a bit of information about him, though hardly the full story.

Landsman could be best described as a parody artist. He sold comic drawings to magazines but then took it a little further. His work was so good he had a number of showings in the 1940s and ‘50s in the Los Angeles area. One close to April Fool’s Day in 1948 attracted a lot of media coverage. It displayed his parody impressions of movie and radio artists. He drew Ed Gardner, Archie of “Duffy’s Tavern,” as a phone with a hat answering itself (the radio show always opened with Archie answering the phone). “What happens on my canvas shouldn’t happen to Picasso. It never did, either,” he joked to the Los Angeles Times.

Here’s the United Press story about the exhibit.

Screwball Artist Prepares New Show Ribbing Filmites

HOLLYWOOD, Mar. 31—(UP) — Folks who dilate their nostrils when a “modern” artist changed a carrot to a glob of paint don’t know the half of it. Wait’ll they see what a guy here is doing to “portraits” of movie stars!
This character is busy at home daubing oil on canvas. He chuckles fiendishly. He says his portraits will cause numerous crises in Hollywood.
In a couple of months, Artist Lew Landsman will hang his pictures in the ultra-modern Hall of Art in Beverly Hills. Then he’ll sit back to await the repercussions.
* * *
THE MOVIE people will rush over figuring he’s painted their likenesses from glammer photos. Most of the stars will snicker, he hopes. Some might not.
Lana Turner, for instance, will nearly pop her big, blue eyes out at the picture we saw that Landsman painted of her. It’s a candle brightly burning at both ends.
The painting of George Raft we could tell without the label. It shows a guy with big feet and a pin-striped suit His head consists of a huge hand which is flipping a coin. That trick made Raft famous in “Scarface.”
Garry Moore turned out to be a big question mark with crew-cut topknot standing before a microphone But take a peek at the painting of Frank Sinatra. He’s just a microphone, with bow tie and curly hair.
* * *
RAY MILLAND wishes people would forget that bottle-on-the chandelier stuff from “The Lost Week-End.” It’s doubtful they will now. Artist Landsman painted Ray as a big eye peering over the edge of a ceiling fixture.
It’s easy to guess which picture is Harpo Marx. A fuzzy-topped character with a huge harp for lips and teeth. Humphrey Bogart’s is even nuttier. He’s just a canvas with four bullet holes in it.
This won't be the first time Lew has stuck a wacky finger in art and stirred rapidly. He has some other paintings hung in the Hall of Art now that turned Hollywood on its ear.
* * *
LEW USED TO BE a magazine cartoonist with a subtle sense of humor. Then an artist friend suggested he turn real artist because everybody else was. Landsman daubed up a stack of canvasses and took ‘em to the Hall of Art.
This institution, being brave and new, gave him an exhibition. They called it “Landsmania.” The place drew record-cracking crowds. The customers roared. Even the art critics snickered.
“The Spike Jones of Art;” “The Poor Man’s Dali,” they called him. One horrified writer, tho, said Landsman’s paintings “shouldn't happen to a critic. They're like those little guys in the corners of a Smokey Stover comic strip only bigger."

Lewis Landsman was born in New York City on November 19, 1901; his parents were Hungarian. He was still living there in 1930, and married to his wife Elsa, who was Hungarian as well. We first find him in Los Angeles in the 1936 City Directory. The 1939 directory (which mentions both of them with information likely compiled the previous year) lists his occupation as “artist,” but the 1942 edition reveals he is a salesman for the Kater Engraving Company, a block from Jimmy Durante’s home. Unfortunately, he can’t be found in the 1940 U.S. Census. Perhaps not coincidentally, Warners animator Virgil Ross is in the census at Landsman’s address in the 1939 Los Angeles phone book. It’s the only other connection I’ve found between him and the studio. How he got hired and why he left, I don’t know.

There’s little else I’ve been able to find about him. He illustrated a parody version of the Sears catalogue, published in Los Angeles in 1962. And don’t believe any of those make-up-history sites on the internet that claim Landsman wrote a “Scrappy’s Trip to Mars” (1938) for Columbia. The U.S. Government Copyright Catalogue states the writer was Allen Rose.

The self-proclaimed “Poor Man’s Dali” died in Los Angeles on April 4, 1977.

Late note:To add to the confusion, a Louis Landsman, listed as "painter, picture studio" can be found in the 1940 Census at 5722 Harold Way, Los Angeles. However and his wife Rose are Russian, and he was born in 1888 or 1889. Both Landsmans have listings in the 1939 Directory.


  1. Thanks for the info, now we may know more thanks to you!

  2. I have one of his paintings, "The Seventh Martini." It is my prized treasure and hangs prominently above my fireplace. Thank you for all of the good information on Mr. Landsman!

  3. (sorry- I couldn't figure out how to add my name to above remark- and I'd be happy to add a photo, if I knew how...(no computer skills here.) Enid Westberg