He was paid $5,000 for every cover he drew for a newspaper magazine supplement, so there could only be one possible explanation why he’d accept a $300-a-week job drawing backgrounds at a cartoon studio. He was broke and needed the money.
Well, that’s not quite the explanation Willy Pogany gave at the time about why he accepted a job at the Walter Lantz studio. But’s what Lantz said in his biography, albeit published some time after Pogany’s death.
Pogany wasn’t just going through money troubles. He had marital troubles, too. Pogany’s wife Lillian got a Mexican divorce the previous year and Pogany immediately married a woman 21 years his junior. But the legality of the divorce was questioned, so the semi-former Mrs. Pogany got a California divorce and Pogany waited until July 1939 to marry Elaine Cox again just to make sure it was legal.
And Pogany had another well-publicised problem, referred to in this October 22nd United Press story about his new job at the Lantz studio.
With the Hollywood Reporter
By FREDERICK C. OTHMAN
U.P. Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD—Willy Pogany, the internationally known painter, who tangled in court last year with Miss Constance Bennett over how thick her thighs should look, has some clients who couldn’t possibly register any complaints about his art.
He was working at Universal studios, in charge of the color department of Walter Lantz’ cartoon factory, and enjoying to the fullest the painting of birds and animals and fawns, who did funny antics on the screen—but never made any kicks to the artist.
Pogany is one of the greatest portrait artists. His standard fee is $3,500 per picture. He is in the midst of decorating William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon home with murals—a task which so far has taken four years—and his portraits hang in many of this country’s largest homes.
Everything is okay, so far as Pogany is concerted, except his portrait of Miss Bennett. He spent a year working on it and when he delivered it, his client said he’d made her thighs too big, her hips too round, her mouth too wiggly, her waist too thick and her fingernails too pale. She said she wouldn’t pay a cent more than $500. Pogany sued her for the $3,000 balance. The jurors agreed the portrait was worth every cent Pogany asked, but the judge threw his suit out of court on the ground that he had guaranteed Miss Bennett satisfaction, and she most emphatically was not satisfied with his version of her thighs.
“I have her picture at home in my living room," Pogany said. “I have had several offers for it, but I have refused them all. I think it is a beautiful picture: I just try to forget that it is a portrait of that woman.”
Furthermore, Pogany said he’d rather not talk about his court appearance. He’d rather discuss animated cartoons.
“For years,” he said, “I’ve been trying to get one of the studios to hire me to make them. I talked to Walt Disney and all the others, and they thought I was fooling.
“But I finally persuaded Lantz that I meant it when I said I believed cartoons were an important segment of the artistic world, and destined to become important, Anyhow, he let me go to work on them.”
Pogany unreeled for us his first color cartoon, entitled “Peterkin.” We never saw a reel like his before. The backgrounds were painted with all the skill and detail that Pogany possesses. The colors were magnificent.
Net effect was that of the birds and beast cavorting before a series of beautifully painted landscapes. The principal character was a baby fawn, with human face, shaggy legs, and pink bottom.
“That bottom was something of a problem," Pogany said “I’ve always loved to paint fawns. The first picture I ever did was when I was 14 and it was of a fawn. Fawns don't wear pants. I was worried about the censors in connection with this one, but I took it up with the Hays office and explained what I was trying to do, and they finally said go ahead, so long as I kept it artistic. That I tried to do.”
He did, too. Nobody will take offense at Pogany’s pantless fawn.
Speaking of censorship, consider Edith Head, dress designer at Paramount, who was assigned to make 200 lava-lavas, or long sarongs, for the dancing girls in a movie called “East of Singapore.” She looked up the facts, and produced 200 lava-lavas, designed to leave the right sides of 200 feminine abdomens authentically bare.
The girls tried on their costumes. More than half of them had scars from appendicitis operations, which no amount of body make-up would cover, so Miss Head re-designed all the lava-lavas.
When you see the picture, take particular notice that the left sides of 200 dancing girls are bare; the right sides demurely covered.
Lantz said he never had more beautiful backgrounds than the ones created by Pogany for this cartoon. Pogany also came up with the character designs which were modified by Alex Lovy. Peterkin has the big two buck teeth when he smiles, just like Andy Panda.
Here are some of the backgrounds. The cartoon opens with a pan of the forest. It has trees in the foreground on an overlay that you can’t really see in a still photo.
Here’s that mischievous Peterkin.
And there’s a checking error. A couple of birds disappear for two frames. The credited animators, incidentally, are Frank Tipper (Lovy’s brother-in-law) and Hicks Lokey.
One wonders if Pogany insisted that that hiring him also meant buying film rights to his new wife’s book “Peterkin.”
Pogany didn’t last long at Lantz. There never was a Peterkin series; “Scrambled Eggs” (released in November 1939) bore production number 984. Only three more cartoons (985-986-987) were completed before the Lantz studio closed in January 1940 in a money dispute with Universal. Boxoffice announced on August 31, 1940 that the first of a series of 13 new Lantz cartoons for Universal would be in theatres on September 9th with new characters supplementing the old. In the meantime, Pogany went back to magazines. You can see some of his art HERE and HERE.