Saturday, 17 November 2012

Emery Hawkins

Many of the great names of theatrical animation parked themselves at one studio, and then stayed there for years. They left when the studio died.

Then there’s Emery Hawkins.

Animators love Hawkins’ work. But you can’t associate him with any studio because Hawkins never stayed in one place for too many years before he’d move on. That’s just the way he was.

Hawkins was born in Jerome, Arizona on April 30, 1912 to Charles T. and Francis Bruce Hawkins (a young brother, Elmer Iman Hawkins, died in infancy 1914). He died in Taos, New Mexico on June 1, 1989. Between those dates, Hawkins ended up working at seemingly every major cartoon studio in Los Angeles, even directing cartoons for Walter Lantz, then moved into commercial animation at John Sutherland (where he met his second wife Odette) and Storyboard (where he animated Maypo commercials). He continued to work after moving to Taos in 1963. He received universal praise for his work on Greedy in Richard Williams’ “Raggedy Anne and Andy.”

Incidentally, Hawkins’ babysitter when the family lived in Kingman, Arizona was Andy Devine, according to Lovell Norman, who credited Hawkins with getting him into animation at Lantz in 1934.

The local weekly paper didn’t publish an obituary for some reason. Hawkins had been stricken with Alzheimer’s; a benefit at the International Tournees of Animation at the Nuart in West Los Angeles was staged for him in September 1988. But the paper did print this feature story about Hawkins on January 7, 1982.

Taos cartoonist animates life

Emery Hawkins shuffles quickly through a sketchpad of drawings. It is the only way he can bring to life the dozens of successive drawings—each different of a withered witch with a hairpin for a wand.
“It’s hard to show what I do just by looking at this,” mumbles Hawkins in his Taos workshop.
Anybody who wants to learn what Hawkins does needs only to flip on the television and see Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck or Woody Woodpecker.
Emory Hawkins, whose career in animated cartoons has spanned almost a half-century, was drawing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck before television was born.
And, after the television was introduced, Hawkins commenced a career in commercials that found him drawing cartoons to accommodate voices belonging to a couple of characters named Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
TODAY, Hawkins, who has lived in Taos for 18 years, is well into a third stage of his career: he is working on a feature-length, animated film called “The Cobbler and the Thief.” (Hawkins’ first feature, “Raggedy Ann,” played at the Plaza Theater in 1977.)
By working in Taos, Hawkins is proving that an animator can make a living away from the bright (and sometimes distracting lights) of Hollywood.
Hawkins has been at the forefront of the animation world ever since he went to work for Walt Lantz in Hollywood back in the Depression.
He started drawing cartoons when he was eight years old, growing up in Los Angeles. By the time he was 14, Hawkins had been published in the cartoon section of the Los Angeles Times.
His first job was with Walt Lantz. “I was made an animator when I shouldn’t have been,” Hawkins recalls. “I never had an apprenticeship today, animators come in trained, and they don’t skip steps like I did.
“But Walt Lantz had to get rid of me. I was changing their animation, so they canned me and I went to work at the Mintz Studios.”
THUS BEGAN a leap-frog career that found Hawkins working for just about every Hollywood studio that produced cartoon shorts.
He did Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam at Warner Brothers; Woody Woodpecker at Walt Lance [sic] and five stints with Walt Disney.
“Disney’s was a great organization, but I wasn’t a company man. I was a loner, and I worked better by myself. But I’d take my work to Walt, and he’d later use some of it.”
Hawkins, who says he also “worked in the crummy studios, where it was more fun because you could experiment more”, quickly learned what most of the studios wanted.
“They wanted footage, not Rembrandt drawings. They wanted quantity, not quality,” says Hawkins. “In fact, at Warner Brothers we made one six-and-one-half minute short a week; the other studios made maybe ten a year. Warner Brothers told us: ‘we don't want chicken salad, we want chicken s—.’ Disney and Harmonizing [sic] were the two studios that made quality pictures.”
In 1950, Hawkins, like the rest of the world, discovered television. For Hawkins, who had made $18 a week during the Depression in Hollywood (“that was a good salary then,”) TV was a creative and financial gold mine.
“I was tired of drawing Bugs Bunny running up and down the road, getting hit on the head,” recalls Emory. “When TV started in 1950, I started with it. Commercials gave me the opportunity to go my own way, to be creative. As corny as a lot of animated commercials were, they were something fresh.”
So, from 1950 until 1963, when he moved to Taos, Hawkins juggled his work between Hollywood and New York, where he drew television commercials.
“When you did commercials, all the characters were different. In the movies, there were models you always had to follow, like for Bugs Bunny,” recalls Hawkins.
There was a successful commercial for Lucky Strikes, and one for Jack’s Beer, which Hawkins drew for seven years.
“Then the beer went to bubbles, and that was that.”
IN 1963, Hawkins and his wife moved to Taos after passing through town on their honeymoon.
In 1975, Hawkins’ career changed direction —for a third time. He started working on a feature film titled “Raggedy Ann,” which was released in 1977 (it played in Taos) and is “the most enjoyable project” Hawkins has worked on.
“It was released, but not with a big bang,” he says. “The trouble was that it was a musical, and kids don’t care for sophisticated musicals. Also, I don’t think people cared for it because it wasn't ‘modern.’”
For the past four years, Hawkins has been working in Taos—and in Taos only—on “The Cobbler and the Thief.” The film’s director is Richard Williams, who has a studio in Hollywood as well as London.
“He’s kind of a fantastic guy,” says Hawkins. “The only person I’ve known as creative as he was John Hubley, whom I worked for in Hollywood. Hubley was the guy who led the revolt against the Disney-style studio, and one of the most talented people I’ve known.
“Animation is really a very talented business. There’s a certain modesty in the field, because most animators would rather draw cartoons than anything.”

There's a post-script to Hawkins’ death, published in the local paper in the issue of June 5-11, 2003.

Human leg bone puzzles authorities
By R. Scott Gerdes
The Taos News
The human femur bone resting inside one pant leg discovered Thursday (May 22) morning by groundskeepers pruning bushes at the Sierra Vista Cemetery on State Road 64 in El Prado is perplexing authorities.
The thigh bone and the pant leg have been sent to the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) in Albuquerque, said Taos Police Investigator Barry Holfelder. The size of the bone indicates it is that of an adult. Blood stains were also found on the pant leg.
The pant leg might give Holfelder some of the best clues, he said. “I think the pants might be Native American because of the uniqueness,” Holfelder explained.
The pant leg appears to have the crotch cut out, similar to leggings worn by some Native Americans.
According to Holfelder, OME has looked at the pant leg and reported that the material is polyester. Also, the name E.O. Hawkins was printed on a pocket.
Holfelder said he searched the cemetery Wednesday (May 28). One hundred feet away from where the leg bone was found, he discovered the undisturbed graves of Emery and Odette Hawkins. Emery Hawkins was buried in 1989 and his wife in 2000.
“I’m stumped,” Holfelder said. To compound the mystery, Holfelder said there are no missing persons reports for anyone from the area.
One thing Holfelder is fairly certain of is the Albuquerque Journal’s report that stated he believed prairie dogs could be responsible is untrue.
“I noticed some holes around some of the grave sites in the cemetery and one comment led to another,” Holfelder said.
“Prairie dogs are not suspects. I don't know how they'd even get into a coffin.”
He added that exhuming Emery Hawkins’ grave was an idea “being thrown around” but, it's unlikely that will happen due to the “thousands of dollars” it costs for an incident he doesn’t feel warrants such an extravagant move.
“At this time I don't feel like I have any crime,” he said.

Want some examples of Hawkins’ animation? Who better to compile it than Thad Komorowski, who also transcribed John Canemaker’s interview with Hawkins that you can find HERE.


  1. Emery Hawkins worked for some years on a freelance basis for Jack Zander (animator of Jerry in the oldest - and best -Tom & Jerry cartoons) at Zander's Animation Parlour in NYC. He lived in Taos, NM at the time. I had the honor of working with him on a number of animated commercials in the 70s. I directed a spot for Cracker Jacks that had a big production number involving fish and seals and sailors and dolphins...when his animation of this scene came in, one of the assistant animators told me Emery must have made a mistake...on the exposure sheets he'd exposed the action of the dolphins jumping out of the water, and at the top of their arc, he'd reversed the action so they backed up into the water again. I thought it looked very odd, too...but this was Emery Hawkins, so I decided to pencil test it that way. And it worked! The dolphins followed the musical beat up, back and up through the entire arc. Only a terrific animator would have pulled off a stunt like that, and the client probably didn't realize what was happening. Great guy, great talent.
    Dean Yeagle

  2. Cool, Dean. Thanks for the story.

  3. Definitely my favorite Golden Age animator. He worked for all the big studios and did great work at them. I especially like his work under Dick Lundy at Lantz's and ARt Davis at Warner's.