Sunday 27 December 2015

You Can Be The Next La Verne Harding

There was a time, I suppose, when young men dreamed of wearing a tilted fedora, a bottle of gin in their desk drawer, inking out their characters that’ll be as popular as Maggie and Jiggs and then head out for an afternoon at the racetrack.

Way-back-then, I imagine there was plenty of competition for work as a newspaper cartoonist (judging by piles of ads for cartoon schools). Jobs must have been few; it wasn’t like Chester Gould or George McManus (photo, right) were going to be quitting any time soon. But there was a more lucrative option, as Weekly Variety pointed out in its issue of February 12, 1935.

Animated Cartoon Prod. Is Now The Big Coin for Sketch Artists
Hollywood, Feb. 11.
No longer do American youths, who save their pennies for a correspondence course in cartooning, aspire to become newspaper strip artists or India ink commentators on current affairs. Their ambitions now are to get in with one of the cartoon comedy outfits where salaries are several times that paid by newspapers.
Aspirants for jobs in the various cartoon producing studios are as plentiful as contest winners trying to crash Hollywood's gates. They come here with their correspondence school sheepskins and samples of their work, neither very artistic, but the embryo artists are filled to the brim with hope.
Salaries for animators in pictures are way up. Walt Disney has animators on his stuff who draw up to $300 weekly. Walter Lantz at Universal, Harmon-Ising [sic], Leon Schlesinger, Charles Mintz, Paul Terry and others have artists who receive up to $250 weekly. Lowest salary for an animator is around $75 weekly. That's about average for a newspaper drawing board athlete.
Top salary goes to the animator, who draws the master figures, perhaps one out of every six figures. Lad who fills in the middle figures is lower in salary and lowest paid man is the chap who draws figures in between the other two, necessitating little change in action or position of the subject being drawn.
Though it would seem that draughtsmanship is the most essential requirement in making cartoons, it is not. Most important is the ability to get feeling into the drawing. If the feeling is there and the drawing poor, a good artist can take the rough spots out. No matter how good the artist, if he’s short on feeling, i. e., acting ability with a pencil, he is less valuable to his employers.
Kids who feel that they have the knack to become animators usually start as tracers, tracing the original drawing onto isinglass at $20 a week. From there they work up, or out, as the degree of ability might be.
Background artists are in a different category. They have nothing to do with animation, draw only the backgrounds. Their salaries run around 150 weekly. They are usually better artists than the animators but lack imagination.
Only one femme has made good as an animator, Laverne Harding at Universal. An art student and later a teacher of art, she joined Lantz’s outfit and made good. Usually women are too artistic to become animators. However, they are often keen producers of backgrounds.
In Hollywood about 300 artists work on animated cartoons. About a third of them have come from newspapers. Rest are graduates correspondence echo is, a few from art schools. All studios making cartoon subjects maintain their own school to wise up the youngsters on what is necessary for animation.

What the writer means by “too artistic to be animators,” I’m not sure. A number of animators studied fine art or sculpture; Carlo Vinci and Bill Tytla immediately come to mind.

Despite the “look at the money!” aspect of the story, it was only two years later the Fleischer studio was crippled by a strike over pay, and six years before Disney was ripped apart by the same thing.


  1. Fascinating article. Gives a good overview of the state of the animation industry in the 1930's in Hollywood. Interesting to see what the various artist's were making in salary. 300 artists total seems a little low. Disney had at least 200, didn't he? Warner had about 150. Lantz 80. Of course there are other smaller shops. My numbers are probably off...but I would have thought the number would be higher...500-600 artists.

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