Saturday, 30 January 2021

The Eyes of Don Williams

Even those of you who have trouble figuring out who animated what in the days of yore should have no trouble picking out the work of Don Williams once he was put into Art Davis’ unit at Warner Bros.

Williams developed a habit of stretching a character up, then dropping him down leaving a trail of multiple eyes.

We’ll talk a bit about Williams in just a moment. Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about.

From Mouse Menace, released Nov. 2, 1946 (Porky’s head looks like Davis’, bald and jowly).

The Goofy Gophers, released January 25, 1947.

The Foxy Duckling, released August 23, 1947.

More Williams in just a moment. But first a brief look.

To the right you see Williams’ draft card from October 1940. It shows that Donald Harold Williams was born on April 21, 1906 in Rochester, Minnesota. But you’ll notice the name “Murphy” written in the side margin. That’s because his birth name was Donald Harold Murphy. His father James Murphy was a “laborer” when he was born, but soon opened a crockery shop with a Jonathan J. Miller. The City Directory for 1913 shows that Murphy and Miller had moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan. It’s not clear when or where his parents divorced, but his mother Susie was living in Long Beach in 1919 when she married George A. Williams.

Don Williams worked as a clerk in 1925-26, then got a job as an usher in 1927. The 1928 City Directory refers to him as a “commercial artist” and in 1930, the Census reveals he’s working at a film studio. Presumably, it was Walter Lantz’s; he was a witness at Sid Sutherland’s wedding in 1931 and both worked for Lantz at the time. He was married the following year.

Williams told historian Mike Barrier of being approached in 1933 to jump to the brand-new Leon Schlesinger studio, and he did. His first screen credit were on Those Were Wonderful Days, released in April 1934. Williams moved over to Disney from August 1936 to February 1938.

The MGM Studio Club News mentions him in its edition of December 23, 1937—but in the art department, not in the cartoon department. His draft card puts him at Paul Fennell’s Cartoon Films in October 1940, but the MGM newsletter has him at the studio again and promoted to the production department in May 1941. He ended up back in animation, possibly because the studio was losing too many animators to the draft, and he’s credited on two sorts, Wild Honey, released Nov. 7, 1942 and The Stork’s Holiday, released Oct. 23, 1943 (Metro had not begun crediting animators on every cartoon yet).

We then find him at Columbia, where he got an animation screen credit for The Playful Pest, released December 3, 1943. By then, he had been working at Walter Lantz again for almost a month. His last credit there was on Woody Dines Out, released May 14, 1945; he used the cascading eyes effect when he was there.

A Warner Club News montage photo puts him at Warners no later than April 1945; Davis became a director a month later. The Club News says little about him, other than he was thrown by his pet horse once and dropped 20 pounds before fall of 1947.Williams’ first screen credit came in Hollywood Canine Canteen, released April 20, 1946. He lasted until the dismantling of the Davis unit by the start of 1948 and was let go.

How he made a living during the ‘50s is unclear. He did some work for the Kling studios, as his name appears on the industrial short The Butcher, the Baker, the Ice Cream Maker. He did have exhibits of his watercolours at a number of galleries around Los Angeles. The Hanna-Barbera studio threw him some work in 1959 on its two syndicated shows, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw. His name surfaces on the Q.T. Hush series in 1960. When DePatie-Freleng formed in May 1963, Williams was among the first animators hired and he remained with the studio until his death on June 17, 1980. He was 74.

There’s great animation and dialogue in What Makes Daffy Duck, released February 14, 1948. Bill Melendez gives Daffy a pile of expressions as he sways his head during dialogue. And here’s Williams.

Dough-Ray Me-ow, August 14, 1948.

And, finally, The Pest That Came to Dinner, released September 11, 1948. Notice the last two consecutive frame. Dry bush is added to mimic movement. The only thing moving is Sureshot's mouth.

Davis had an excellent unit, but I gather he was more comfortable animating than directing. On top of that, he had to deal with studio politics. He only got to direct Bugs Bunny once. He got two rookie writers (who went on to better things) after George Hill was fired over a drunken escapade and never seemed to mesh with them. Williams was no stranger to alcohol and it seems to have waylaid his career for a bit. Still, he survived in the business and turned out entertaining animation. And quirky eye streams as well.

1 comment:

  1. I had gotten familiar with the work of Don Williams through his comic work such as for Coo Coo Comics and Goofy Comics. I imagine he had grown fond of ducks in particular over time, as evidenced by his work on Theo and such:

    - Daniel