Thursday, 24 November 2022

The Sheepish Wolf Backgrounds

A new background artist for the Friz Freleng unit was announced in the February 1940 edition of The Exposure Sheet, the Leon Schlesinger studio’s internal newsletter. But his name never appeared in the credits of any cartoons.

Lenard Kester was born in a horse-drawn streetcar in New York on May 10, 1917. He was hired as an opaquer at the Fleischer cartoon studio when he was 17 and eventually worked up to becoming a background artist, but with no raise in salary.

Graham Webb’s “The Animated Film Encyclopedia” has a list of cartoons directed by Freleng for which he supplied the backgrounds. What Graham’s sources are, I don’t know, but one of the cartoons he mentions is The Sheepish Wolf, released on Oct. 17, 1942.

This cartoon has never been released on DVD (see note in comment section). It came out some years ago on laser disc, meaning it’s a little murky. It’s tough to appreciate Kester’s use of light and shade in the frames below. The action is supposed to set in a sheep-filled meadow, but much of Kester’s work shows twisted, bare tree branches and caves.

Kester’s successor, Paul Julian, also juxtaposed light and shade. One thing he did that Kester doesn’t do here is toss an inside joke into the mix. Julian would have some reference to Freleng, layout artist Hawley Pratt or one of the animators somewhere in the background. Here, Kester just has stage posters, as the wolf is a ham stage actor (a character type brought back by other units later in the decade).

How long Kester stayed at the Schlesinger studio is unclear. The June 1944 edition of Town and Country magazine based in New York calls him “a former draftsman from the Walt Disney studios whose impressionist painting has real distinction.” Indeed, all references I can find about him after this date are in connection with art shows. One showing in New York in 1952 was not his doing. His ex-wife sold off a bunch of his paintings.

One of his pieces, “Beach Picnic,” was displayed in all its glory in Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s home in the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, much to his surprise. He wasn’t credited there, either.

Kester (born Leonard Kestecher) died in Los Angeles on January 13, 1997.


  1. It's been recently restored and remastered.

    1. Maybe they'll release these on a home video format without TV bugs.

  2. Hans Christian Brando27 November 2022 at 07:09

    I never cease to marvel at the (relatively) unsung artistry of animation backgrounds.

  3. Yowp, I heard Paul Julian did not care for the work he did for Freleng's cartoons. Is that true?

  4. That's what I gather, that he felt there was more opportunity for creativity at UPA. I haven't seen an actual interview with him, though.