Sunday, 5 January 2014

Gibson and the Elephant

How many names on the list to the right do you recognise?

These are the signatures of people who worked at the Leon Schlesinger studio who volunteered for picket duty outside Disney in July, 1941. Many of them you know if you’re an animation fan. Some, like Keith Darling and Bob Matz, later became animators and received screen credits. Other assistant animators like Murray Hudson and Rudy Zingler never did.

Number 15 is “Gibson, Jr.” It’s a name you’ve never seen on a Warner Bros. cartoon. So who is it? And what famous Warners cartoon did he work on? Don’t bother going to internet sites where people post their guesses as historical fact, because the answer’s not there (if people haven’t heard of “Gibson, Jr.” they can’t very well guess his name to put it on a web site).

Michael Sporn has a wonderful blog. Buried in it are a couple of references to “Gibson, Jr.,” who happens to be Nicholas Ephraim Gibson. Before arriving at the Schlesinger studio he worked on “Gulliver’s Travels.” He was evidently in a position of importance as he signed off on some model sheets. Here’s one of them, courtesy of Mr. Sporn.

Elsewhere on the site, there’s a drawing of the fine Irv Spector by Gibson, made in 1967 when, presumably, both were at MGM.

Nic(k) Gibson was born in Oak Park, Illinois on January 16, 1917 to Nicholas Ephraim (Sr.) and Anna Marie (Basadow) Gibson. His father worked in the Buick plant in Melrose Park. The September 28, 1961 edition of the Oak Park Oak Leaves reveals he studied at the Fontainbleau School of Fine Arts in France, the Chicago Art Institute and the Art Students League in Chicago. He was the staff artist for the Art Leaves from 1934-41 and, at the time of the story, was a TV producer and art director for Foote, Cone and Belding in New York City. He had worked for Compton Advertising before going to Kenyon and Eckhardt in 1959 as a commercial producer, then ended up at Papert, Koenig and Lois in 1963. He had enlisted in the military at Camp Grant in Illinois on December 4, 1941 and was evidently in New York by 1945 as he’s mentioned in an animation guild newsletter that year. He died in Los Angeles on July 6, 1968.

When he arrived at Warners and how long he was there is still a mystery. But the cartoon he worked on is mentioned in Daily Variety, August 4, 1941.

“Horton Hatches the Egg” is one of the Blue Ribbons shorn of all credits, although layout artists weren’t getting credit on Warners cartoons in 1941. So we can thank Variety for preserving an historical fact.

The backgrounds in “Horton” were done by Michael Sasanoff who, like Gibson, went into ad agency work in the ‘40s. You can see some of them at this post.

Just a background note: it’s interesting seeing “Horton” in production so early. The Film Daily reported on July 10, 1941 that Leon Schlesinger had suspended Tex Avery for four weeks. Here we about three weeks later and already Bob Clampett is working with the Avery unit on “Horton” (Avery’s hiring by MGM was announced in the trade press on September 3rd). One wonders whether Gibson had contributed any layouts to Tex’s cartoons.

Production on “Horton” would have ceased temporarily. Daily Variety reported the studio shut down for two weeks starting August 18th for the usual summer vacation. Incidentally, for some reason, The Film Daily didn’t announce Schlesinger’s purchase of the Horton story until October 31st.

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