Saturday, 14 May 2016

Lillian Friedman

Lillian Friedman was the first woman to receive an animation screen credit on a cartoon, having worked at the Fleischer studio during the 1930s. This enjoyable piece by historian Harvey Deneroff outlines her career and contains a brief interview. We’ve taken the liberty of borrowing this self-drawing of Friedman from Harvey’s site, where there’s even more on her in this fine post. In our comment section, Harvey also straightens out when she left the studio.

Someone at Paramount and/or Fleischer realised the novelty of a female animator was worthy of publicity. Several stories mentioning Friedman found their way into print in the mid-1930s. I suspect they were Paramount handouts. This one is in part of a story in the Tarrytown Daily News, October 12, 1934. The first portion is a puff piece for the Paramount film “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” Then it continues, giving a unique explanation of the lack of female animators:
For 25 years the cartoon department of the film business, a veritable industry in itself, has hired only men animators. Women artists have been unable to crash the field. Of the hundreds who made the attempt none seemed able to stand the strain of drawing the same caricature over and over thousands of times, in a room filled with men.
But now the old order has changed. A young woman, only 22—and it takes at least five years to make the average cartoon animator—has proven that she can draw Betty Boop and Popeye as well, and as consistently, as any of the better masculine artists.
Max Fleischer, father of screen cartoons, who has given an army of women artists an opportunity to pull themselves up to $250 a week, which is the better animators salary, found it difficult to believe that this conservative girl, who had never joined even in office conversation during the three years she has been on the lesser personnel payroll, had actually made the grade.
She is Miss Lillian Friedman of New York, and she now has a long term contract with full screes credit.
Friedman found her way into a story about the making of the first Popeye two-reeler, still an impressive cartoon today. This was published in the Syracuse American on May 10, 1936.
When "Sinbad Meets "Popeye"
Popeye, the spinach-eating sailor man in Max Fleischer's film cartoons, is today an institution in himself. Even producers of rival cartoons concede that Popeye leads in popularity, that he has about 75,000,000 weekly readers. On the screen, Popeye has many more millions in theater audiences.
Max Fleischer, father of screen cartoons, promises a new setting for Popeye very soon. In filmdom's first two-reel cartoon, which is called "Sinbad the Sailor Meets Popeye the Sailor," the sailor man will introduce that mysterious quantity—third dimension—which has been puzzling motion picture producers for the last quarter of a century.
Ordinarily cartoons today are drawn, and the drawings are photographed. With the method which Fleischer has introduced for Popeye, the cartoon studio looks like a duplicate in miniature of a regular Hollywood production camp.
Sets are built and scaled down so that they will fit on a revolving turntable. This "set" is within six feet of a special lens and camera. The machinery entailed in the new process weighs some three tons. It has trusses, movable tables, cranks, steel framework, gears and gadgets enough to make a mechanical engineer dizzy.
That hard-boiled sailor man has to be drawn and copied about 18,000 times before one of his escapades is ready for the screen. And, until the last few days, he and all other cartoons were the work of men artists only. For some reason or other, Fleischer still can't advance a reasonable prognostication, no woman could make the top grade of animation. Hundreds have tried during the past 20 years, but only one, out of all the hundreds of aspirants, is now a full-fledged animator—and she got her degree in the Fleischer cartoon college in the form of a long-term contract, and with screen credit, only recently. This woman animator is Lillian Friedman, a 22-year-old girl. She is very quiet and reserved.
Now Miss Friedman sits in a studio with 33 artists.
This story was published in the Rogersville Review (Tennessee) on December 3, 1936 and gives us an idea what Friedman did in the two-reeler.
Only one woman has ever been able to make the grade in one of the most specialized of artistic jobs in the motion picture industry, that of "animator" for movie cartoons.
She is Lillian Friedman, 22, quiet New York girl who has been employed for three years in the Max Fleischer studio, New York, where the amazing three-dimensional, full color super-short, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor," was made. The picture opens Monday at the Palace Theatre. Miss Friedman is responsible for much of the creative work that went into "Sinbad." Her hand made Popeye wind up to give Sindbad his famous "Twisker" punch, and her pen animated sketches of the two-headed giant, "Boola."
Nobody knows just why, but women generally are not successful as cartoon animators. Artists at the Fleischer studio number more than 200; they are divided into the classifications of animators, "inbetweeners," "inkers" and "opaquers."
Many women hold jobs as inbetweeners, inkers and opaquers; only Miss Friedman has attained the top spot of animator. She works in an office with 29 male artists, all of them specially skilled.
The animator actually creates the movement which Popeye and other Cartoon characters go through; he draws one out of ten of the pictures. "Inbetweeners" fill in with the other nine drawings; inkers transfer the sketches to celluloid in ink. and opaquers add the color or black, depending on whether the film is in color or black and white.
Lillian Friedman passed away on July 9, 1989. Bob Jaques has a little more about her in this blog post.

1 comment:

  1. Two things. Friedman did work in Miami, although her stay was rather brief. Second, her own records don't indicate she worked on the Sinbad film as an animator — though she might have been involved in some sort of all hands on deck situation.