Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Frustration of Cartoon Research

No, the title of this post has nothing to with Jerry Beck’s wonderful web site, which is putting up a lot of fine historical information about various cartoon studios you probably haven’t seen before. This post has to do with dead ends and missing links while trying to learn a little more about the Golden Age of Theatrical Animation and the people involved in it.

Some time ago, I became curious about Mickey Batchelder, one of the cameramen at the Walter Lantz studios and whether he was related to Warren Batchelder, who animated at Warner Bros. and, later, DePatie-Freleng. Batchelder isn’t a common name and it would seem more than coincidental that two Batchelders worked in Hollywood animation, especially considering studios were not unknown to have various combinations of family members employed. And I thought there was a bit of a family resemblance between Mickey, who you see above in a shot from The Woody Woodpecker Show from 1957, to Warren, the fellow with the glasses in the bottom left corner of photo you see to the left of the Friz Freleng unit from 1940. Warren finally became an animator in the later part of the ‘50s after being an assistant for many years, part of the time to Virgil Ross.

Sitting in front of a computer far away from Hollywood isn’t the ideal place to do Hollywood cartoon research. And I can’t draw on personal recollections as I am not an old-time animator who knew the people who worked in the Golden Age. But some information is available on line and you have to put it together. Occasionally, it’s like the old game show “Concentration” where you couldn’t see all of the puzzle but had to try to guess what it was anyway. Let’s start with Warren. The Social Security Death Index reveals he was born April 18, 1917 and died in Malibu on February 12, 2007; a posting on the Big Cartoon Database (likely a reprint of a union news item) at the time confirms it. He’s easy to track down in the 1940 Census. I’ve edited the picture below to take out unnecessary information.

You can see that he’s living at home with his parents, J. Lloyd and Zana Batchelder. It shows his mother was born in California and his father was from Illinois. Specifically, J.L. was from Batchtown, named for his father William Warren Batchelder (obviously Warren’s namesake). The 1930 Census again has the three of them together. I can’t find them in the 1920 Census. But I have found the Marriage Certificate for James Lloyd Batchelder and Zana Cushing. It’s dated August 5, 1916 (note that Warren was born 8½ months later). It was the first marriage for both, so neither of them previously had children.

So how does Mickey fit into this? A check of Census records doesn’t show any Mickey or Michael Batchelder, so I wondered if it was a nickname. And that seems to have been the case. Michael Broggie’s book Walt Disney’s Railroad Story (2006) is one of several sources which points out Mickey Batchelder worked in the camera department at Disney (Mickey? Disney? Aha!). And an edition of Walt’s People by Didier Ghez reveals C.W. Batchelder wrote The Multiplane Manual for the Disney Studio in 1939.

There’s only one Batchelder who fits Mickey’s description. Here’s the 1940 Census record for Clyde W. Batchelder.

It seems safe to assume Clyde and Mickey are one and the same. But something doesn’t add up. Clyde is listed as 33 years of age, and Warren’s parents had only been married 24 years. So Warren and Clyde of them can’t be brothers. In addition, Clyde’s Death Index entry reveals his mother’s maiden name was Husted, and earlier Census reports show his parents were named Nathan and Laura. Yet I received a note this week from reader Charles Brubaker quoting both Mike Kazaleh and Mark Kausler as stating the two were brothers. Both are unimpeachable sources when it comes to animation, having worked in the industry for quite a number of years.

So I’m not quite sure what to think. Unfortunately, newspaper obituaries for Clyde (who died in 1960) and Warren are inaccessible, at least to me. Such is the burden of a researcher and the limits of the internet.

At any rate, Warren Batchelder gets credit by some critics as being the best animator in the Bob McKimson unit after the Warners studio moved into gear again following the 3-D shut down in 1953. And Mickey’s part of a fun “How Cartoons Are Made” series seen on the Woody Woodpecker Show which was more interesting and entertaining than some of the cartoons themselves.


  1. Could be the West Coast version of the Seymour & Abner Knietel situation -- family tie that led the second one into the animation business, but not a tie via the same parents, despite the uncommon last name.

  2. I've gone back an extra generation and can't find a tie that would make them cousins. And neither appear to be related to another Batchelder in L.A. at the time, a tile artist named Ernest.
    The Kneitels are a little easier. The 1905 NY Census shows Abner's dad and Seymour's were brothers.