Saturday, 31 October 2020

Cartoon's Cavett

One of the many fun sidelights of watching Warner Bros. cartoons from the ‘30s and ‘40s is to spot gags that are not designed for the theatre audience. They were made by the artists for their own self-amusement. Paul Julian especially seems to have liked scrawling staff members names on backgrounds he painted for Friz Freleng. In other instances, staffers appeared in caricature, such as in Page Miss Glory (1936), where we see part of Tex Avery’s unit as farmers.

These were never meant as actual gags except in one instance that I can recall. In Hollywood Steps Out, the panning camera stops at a table where Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger are sitting. The Merrie Melodies theme plays in the background. A rough cut was screened for Schlesinger on April 23, 1941, and The Hollywood Reporter of the next day suggested the gag was done solely to surprise and kid their boss.

There’s a really obscure in-joke in Fagin’s Freshmen, a cartoon from the Hardaway-Dalton unit released in November 1939. Observe the name in these backgrounds (artist unknown).

The reference is to Louie Cavett. I don’t know whether he was an assistant animator, an in-betweener or another kind of artist, but I do know one thing about him—the poster reading “Do you need money?” was on the mark.

“He was a loan shark,” the late Martha Sigall recalled. She revealed he would loan money and charge interest. Her comments came on a commentary track over a Schlesinger gag reel which features a voice saying “Do you need money? See Louie Cavett.”

Here’s what little we can tell you about Cavett (accent on the last syllable; it’s not pronounced like Dick Cavett). He was born on April 2, 1914 in Los Angeles. Where he went to art school is yet to be found, but he’s listed on the 1934 city directory as a commercial artist. The 1936 Voters List gives his occupation as “cartoonist.”

He was married in July 1939 and still working at Schlesinger’s. But he didn’t stay much longer after that. He was gone by late January 1940. His 1940 draft card reveals he was employed by Norris Stamping. Cavett was called up in 1943 and died in a military training exercise in North Carolina on January 6, 1944. His death certificate states he died instantly and accidentally of a fractured skull after parachuting.

He never received screen credit; by 1939 the only artists who got their name on a title card were animators and even then it was one and on a rotating basis. But we are happy to point out that Louie did get his name projected in theatres thanks to this cartoon.


  1. Eric O. Costrllo31 October 2020 at 09:00

    (Apologies if this is a duplicate.) has an interesting bit about Cavett; apparently, he died during a night-time jump, as a result of the way he carried a particular item of equipment. The unit's newspaper ("The Thunderbolt") lists him in August, 1943 as a member of the art staff -- that newspaper is available online.

  2. Not sure exactly why, but this is absolutely fascinating. Thanks for posting.

  3. One item worth noting is that has information noting that he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1933. Not much of a gap between that and the '34 listing.

  4. Oh, and here's his high school pic: