Saturday 14 November 2020

We Want Quackenbush

Buried on the page of The Animator newsletter for April, 1945 is this line about the doings at the Walter Lantz studio: “Stan Qwackenbush back from European theatre”.

The fact Quackenbush, to correctly spell his name, was at Lantz is news to me. He never received screen credit. In fact, he rarely received screen credit anywhere else. Quackenbush was one of many animators who toiled in the Golden Days in obscurity, at least to the general public.

Fortunately, after he retired to Arizona, a newspaper printed a feature story after interviewing him. It doesn’t say a lot, and it certainly doesn’t contain a full filmography or studiography, but it’s nice to read about someone who contributed to theatrical cartoons way-back-when.

Louis Stanley Quackenbush was born on November 14, 1902 in what’s now Bellingham, Washington. His family moved to San Diego when he was young and returned to Bellingham where Quackenbush went to high school. In college, he was an unusual combination of a boxer and an artist.

The feature story will get more into his biography, but he was married in 1928, divorced and married again in 1937. He headed to Florida in 1939 before returning to California not long after. The story skips whole swaths of his career but he worked in Vancouver, likely at Canawest which had a subcontract with Hanna-Barbera. Among the shows animated there were the Abbott and Costello cartoons that ran in syndication (including on Canawest’s parent operation, KVOS-TV in Bellingham) and Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. Canawest had offices on Burrard Street south of Davie Street, but former Canawest manager Vic Spooner remembers the animation was done in six rented houses along Pacific Boulevard, which I suspect are the lovely wood-frame homes that have been restored west of Burrard.
This story appeared in the Arizona Republic on August 21, 1977.

Former Disney animator still draws smiles from children
Story and photo

When Stan Quackenbush of Mesa recently took neighborhood children to see the original movie version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," he had a special interest in seeing how well the animated characters have weathered the last 40 years. Quackenbush happened to be at the other end of the pencil when many of the seven dwarfs came to life on paper.
And today, at 74, Quackenbush is still drawing regularly, using much of his cartoon work to delight children in the Mesa Public Schools.
When he went to work for Walt Disney Studios, he was "at a loose end". He had been in the advertising business in San Francisco until the Depression closed all of his accounts overnight. He had returned to Berkeley, Calif., where he had graduated from the University of California in 1925, to plan his future.
Quackenbush and his wife Marjorie had decided if they had to sit around for a few years, it might as well be in Europe where the money they had saved would get a better exchange rate.
"I had wanted to study modern art anyway, so we went to Munich, Paris and Florence. I particularly liked the Louvre—you can go there every day for months and always see something new and beautiful," he says.
Because his money finally ran out and he and his wife had drifted apart, Quackenbush returned to his hometown of Bellingham, Wash., where his parents were still living. "I didn't want to go back to San Francisco and fight the battle of advertising again," he stresses.
A year later his brother in Oakland, Calif., sent him a newspaper clipping stating that Walt Disney was recruiting animators to work on a feature-length animated movie.
"They only had seven or eight animators, and for a full-length movie, my goodness, you need 30 animators or more. So a lot of people came to Hollywood to apply—about 20 of us, and they eliminated all but three of us.
"They took us on full-time, but before we could get to work on 'Snow White' the story people and those making the characters had to finish working. How are you going to animate a character that you can't see?
"So while we were waiting I worked on some shorts — I did a lot of Mickey (Mouse). Mickey was drawn by Walt in 1928 just after sound was added. I worked on the first one that combined sound and movement, called 'Steamboat Willie', and it was a fair success. Of course, in those days a short only got about $25 for every showing.
"By the time I went to work for Disney, we'd already started on what they called the 'Silly Symphonies.' They were all in color, and I worked on one of the first ones — 'Flowers and Trees'. It had flowers and trees swaying to the music," he recalls.
Quackenbush says Walt Disney knew "Snow White" had to be in color, leaving a big job for the inkers and painters. In those days inkers had to trace the animators' pencil sketches onto sheets of transparent celluloid called cels, then painters added colors on the reverse side.
The movie, over four years in production, was released in time for Christmas in 1936. While the number of individual drawings it required is countless, Quackenbush estimates that he did 5,000 sketches for just one three-minute sequence of the dwarfs bathing in a stream, because even the, drops of water falling had to be drawn separately.
"At a film speed of 24 frames per second, you could use one drawing for two frames if there wasn't much action, but with fast movement, each frame had to have a separate drawing," he explains.
"To draw an animal, I was given a model sheet showing the character I was going to animate in profile, back and front views. I copied it many times until I was completely familiar with the little guy and how he moved. After a while I got so I could see his proportions and was able to make him move the way he should," he recalls.
It was a bit of a letdown for Quackenbush when the "Snow White" project was finished. "I was used to animating 50 feet (of film) every two days, but after that I'd sit around for two days a week with nothing to do," he says.
He then joined the Fleischer brothers in Miami, Fla., to work on another full-length animated film—Gulliver's Travels. But World War II interrupted any further pursuits for him in animation. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1940 and stayed through the Korean War, becoming discharged finally in the summer of 1954.
Quackenbush then spent five years in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, working part of that time for Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. on shorts with Abbott and Costello and Moby Dick characters.
"Then on May 3, 1972, I looked out the window and it was snowing—and I said to myself, 'Oh no. I do not live like this.'
"My sister-in-law lives in Mesa and she had been telling me how great Arizona was, so I came here four years ago," he says.
Since his arrival here, Quackenbush has been active in volunteer work and in cartooning for a community newspaper. He has over 650 hours of volunteer work on record with the Tri-City Retired Senior Volunteer Program based at Mesa Community College.
His projects have included caricatures of children at Franklin Elementary School jn Mesa, posters for RSVP, Mesa Public Library, Scottsdale Blood Services, Mesa Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he has just started preparing a brochure for Phoenix public schools.
People in animation padded their resumes in the day before historians started digging around to find the facts. I sincerely doubt Quackenbush ever worked on Steamboat Willie. The 1930 census has him living in Carmel and employed as a commercial artist.

I am baffled by Quackenbush’s claim about snow. Vancouver rarely gets snow, and any snowfall in May would be a real quirk of nature. Furthermore, the local papers of the date in question show the weather was sunny with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the mid-40s. Incidentally, around that same time, I read a biography of W.C. Fields where it said he and some of his drinking buddies would go to football games and incongruously shout “We want Quackenbush.” Hence the title of this post.

Stan Quackenbush died in Mesa, Arizona on September 10, 1979.


  1. Quackenbush did apparently earn head animator/de-facto director status briefly at the Fleischer studio. His "Snubbed by a Snob" is probably the most watchable of the Hunky & Spunky series -- mainly thanks to Pinto Colvig's turn as the annoyed singing bull -- but it also seems to contain a little social commentary on the racial situation in the deep South of 1940 which the Fleischer staff encountered when they arrived from New York, or joined the studio from California.

  2. Also working at Canawest as a cel painter was Lynn Johnston, creator of the "For Better or For Worse" comic strip.

    It appears 1967, like 1972, was a heavy production year at H-B, as most of their animation work was farmed out to other studios.