Saturday 18 May 2019

Squegee the Pirate, Cartoon Star

For every Walt Disney, there’s an Ub Iwerks. And for every Ub Iwerks, there’s a Tommy Hill.

Disney, of course, was animation’s superstar producer whose Mickey Mouse caused a craze for sound cartoons in 1929-30. Iwerks was a producer as well, but his cartoons really weren’t better than B-listers and his weak output resulted in his studio closing in the late ‘30s. Hill was a would-be cartoon mogul whose grandiose ideas don’t seem to have gone anywhere. His overly-ambitious scheme included Fleischer-like model backgrounds and, presumably, animation in colour.

Like Iwerks, Hill was a Disney artist. Briefly. The Los Angeles city directory lists him as an artist in 1930 and an artist at Walt Disney Productions in 1931. Iwerks split from Disney and Hill evidently thought he could do the same. He came up with an idea for an animated cartoon starring his own character, Squegee the Pirate. How far along he got is unknown, but he set out on a publicity campaign and bent the ear of a writer at the Tennessean. The Nashville paper published this story on April 6, 1931.
Cartoonist Who Has Helped Draw "Mickey Mouse" Tells How It's Done
Tommy Hill of Hollywood Is Now Working On "Squegee," an Animated Screen Pirate

People who get a bunch of laughs out of watching the queer little animated cartoon characters that cavort across the screens on almost every movie program, ought to get serious about it sometime and think of the loads of work it lakes to make those few moments of entertainment possible.
For the benefit of those who never have taken the trouble to figure out just how many gallons of perspiration are shed by the dozens of artists and creators who are responsible for this form of amusement. Tommy Hill of Hollywood, veteran cartoonist despite his limited years, was shanghaied into an interesting conversation here yesterday.
Hill, a diminutive fellow with big ideas and the artist of at least a million or more drawings in the building of the animateds, is motoring through Nashville to New York, from where he will possibly sail for England to gather material for his forthcoming new animated serial, "Squegee."
"Squegee," by the way, is a little pirate in bright red-topped boots and and bandana about his head with more colors in it than the rainbow boasts of. He is as affable as his red-haired creator, and, upon the completion of his first picture, will be presented in the theaters all over America as the most unusual of the animated characters.
But to get back to his creator, Tommy Hill, who began his cartooning career drawing foolishness about sports on the Cleveland News when he was but 14 years old, has lived the kind of interest-packed life that he intends for his pirate protege to live in celluloid and screen. Until three years ago, he was art director for the Central Press association and the McNaught Syndicate, for whom he did drawings in his own decorative and fantastic manner. And then he listened seriously to the siren call of Hollywood, where now he heads his own studio for the making of animateds.
Helped Make "Mickey Mouse."
For some time he was one of some 30 artists who drew the millions of little sketches that made "Mickey Mouse" possible. This little mouse, created by Ub Iwerk [sic], and now carried on by Walt Disney, is one of the most popular of present day animateds, as any movie fan knows. It Is the dessert on a lot of programs. "How do we make those things?" repeated Hill. "Well, one fellow originates the story and draws the first drawings. Dozens of other artists draw the many sketches. One fellow draws the first and the last sketch of a piece of action, such as the character taking a healthy swing at some other character. In between those two drawings, there are some times a few hundred drawings to represent the progress of the motion, and that's where the other artists come in. I labored that way for a spell myself and, boy, it's work."
Not so long ago, Hill had an inspiration and the result was "Squegee," the cherubic pirate which is to lead children through numerous adventures at sea, and even, like Sir Hubert Wilkins, he is to go down to the bottom of the ocean via the screen. Hill secured the old studio of Charles Ray, onetime great star in hick roles and his personal friend, to begin work on the new idea.
Miniature Settings
Unlike other such characters, "Squegee" will not have to do his stunts with a drawn background for his sets. Instead, Samuel Huntley, famous Hollywood settings builder, is making numerous miniature settings from drawings by Hill. There are castles, old ships, and a real little ocean, with a Davy Jones locker, and a little Neptune down at its bottom.
"It was my plan to make "Squegee" the 'Peter Pan of America,' " said Hill, "and I may, upon completing my business in New York, go on over to England to talk with Sir James M. Barrie, if I can, about it." " 'Squegee' is going to be a clean little fellow whose antics will stretch the imaginations of the children. His every antic will be clean and honor inspiring, and every child will be richer for having seen him in action.
"I hope for him to make enough money to use part of it to place a 'Squegee' bed for sick and under privileged children in some hospital in every town where a theater shows him. At least, some of the earnings from the feature will be used for some good work among underprivileged kiddies. I think it would be only just to do such a thing and, too, I'm crazy about kids.
"I'm planning now to erect a studio planned after a pirate's ship, and to have in it a place where visitors to Hollywood can leave their children in the care of expert nurses while they go sightseeing."
Hill, in motoring through the country on a leisurely trip from Hollywood to New York, has been visiting newspaper offices in many cities. No man can work in his studio whether he be artist, writer, cameraman or what not—unless he has had years of successful experience on the newspapers. On his trip he has run into at least a couple of fellows who are to go to California soon to join his forces. And considering that from 10,000 to 12,000 drawings are needed to make each production, there's plenty of hard work yet awaiting his artists.
Thomas Crawford Hill was born in Belfast, Ireland, on February 10, 1896 to Joseph and Mary Jane Hill. The family came to the U.S. in 1907; Hill’s mother is listed as a widow in the 1910 Census for Cleveland. Hill is listed in the Cleveland city directory for the first time as an artist in 1915 and vanishes in 1927.

After his Squegee tour, Hill was apparently back in Hollywood by 1932. The Los Angeles Times reported he had co-written a screenplay about cartoonists to be made by Universal called “Black and White Clown,” though Variety attributed it to press agent William Leyster. The New York Herald Tribune, reporting on his engagement in its edition of March 10, 1940, states: “Mr. Hill is a cartoonist, the creator of Tippity Witchett and Willie Crashitt. For many years he has been in Hollywood, drawing sketches of the actors and directing the art work in a number of films. Mr. Hill has directed a number of industrial films and is the author of several plays and stories.”

At the tail end of World War Two, he was entertaining in government hospitals and had worked out a deal with Jack London to draw a comic serial of “Sea Wolf.” He seems to have bounced around, but there’s no indication he ever worked in animation again. He died on November 15, 1951 in Glendale, California. You can read a wire service obituary to the right.

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