Saturday 27 May 2023

Animation's Vet

He was a cartoonist/illustrator/sculptor who served in the Spanish-American War and died in 1966.

Yet Vet Anderson’s animation career petered out in the early sound era after stops at Van Beuren, Walter Lantz and Ted Eshbaugh.

This is not going to be a biography or essay on Anderson. That’s somewhat way, way over my head. Someone who REALLY knows about Anderson is Charlie Judkins, and I’d urge you to read about him in this old blog post.

However, in hunting for something else, I came across this rather forlorn article in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine of June 29, 1935. I thought I’d pass it on for what it’s worth.

The City of Forgotten Men
BETWEEN the glistening shores of the blue Pacific and the great California university in the rolling hills of Westwood there Is a strange world of forgotten men.
Many of the forgotten ones have made their marks in life. During their span of usefulness they were leaders, some of them, in their fields of endeavor, which run the gamut of human accomplishment, from music to engineering. It is in no sense a sorry world, although there is pain there and suffering; but over all this these men have laid the soft, comfortable blanket of cherished memories and, thus, the driving hopes, the searing ambitions, the fierce competition that in these modern days drive men to distraction are happily missing at the National Military Home in Sawtelle.
Live In the Past
The men shuffle from barracks to mess hall, from ward to ward; or else they lie very still. All of them have the look of men whose minds dwell in the past.
Yet not all are hopeless. Some who have achieved great successes are determined to win to the heights again. Others, though, have given up.
Take Jesse Sylvester Anderson, today perhaps the fastest man In the animated cartoon field, an artist who was a member of the "big three" in the world of newspaper art in America thirty years ago, a trio composed of himself, Homer Davenport and Richard Outcalt.
"Vet" Anderson is a veteran of two wars. One was the Spanish-American conflict. He was fifteen days too old for Plattsburg when the World War beckoned to the Americans, so he went in with the British. He entered the newspaper field at the close of the Spanish-American War, beginning as a cartoonist with the Detroit Free Press in 1899. The New York Herald called him a year later. He made his first mark by caricaturing Tom Platt and Dick Croker, New York politicians.
Famed for Drawings
With John Kendrick Bangs he put out what was perhaps the first syndicate feature in American Journalism, "Who's What and Why, in America." He followed this by sketching Congress and originating a series called, "The Posthumous Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes," The Herald, Morning Telegraph and World used him in their art departments until 1909, and during this time he studied portraiture. He entered the animated cartoon branch of the movies In 1909, turning out the first of these pictures. Until his services in the World War he continued this work.
The animated movie versions of "Mutt and Jeff and "Aesop's Fables" flowed from his prolific pen. Then, when the great war ended, he went to Paris and studied in the Academie on Mount Parnasse until 1921.
"Vet" Anderson's great painting, “Memories." created a sensation in the spring salon in Paris in that year. It became known as "the talk of the salon." He was famous. He went to London and introduced the American method of producing animated cartoons for the films, then the movies called him back to New York.
He bought a farm In New Jersey, because in the beginning he had lived on a farm. He had toiled at farming as a boy in Michigan; the soil called to him. He commuted between his New Jersey furrows and the New York studios. Then tragedy came.
While he was at the seaside over a week-end with his wife and two children, fire razed his farm home, and in the dwelling were all of "Vet" Anderson's sketches, the accumulation of his life work, his credentials in art. Their value was beyond computation, to him.
He staggered up from the blow, built another identical house above the ruins, lived in it but one month.
"It couldn’t replace the other . . . you see, there was so much that I had put into the other one . . . "
Tasted Tragedy
He turned his face toward the West, packed up and moved with his family to Hollywood. At first he did well. At one studio he became a sensation, with his speed at the animated cartoon. He turned out fifteen to twenty feet of film a week, as compared to three and five feet produced by the other artists. The others organized a union, commanded him to join. He refused. Trouble came, and he left. Then he tried his luck with a man who had ideas about colored cartoons in movies. It didn't pan out and "Vet" Anderson began to taste bitter things. He was on the down grade.
He found his way into the lines before the desk of the S.E.R.A. and was given a job. At 62 years of age the artist finger muscles alone had been developed during his life of sketching, painting and sculpting bent his back at a plow, pick and shovel. It broke him.
He had never given a thought to pension or to government hospitalization during the years he was "tops" as an artist. He staggered into the National Home last January, virtually crippled. As soon as he could stand erect he gave ear to the whisperings of his genius.
Staging "Comeback"
They gave him vari-colored wool thread and some cloth screen to work with, and with a needle he began doing the things his pen, brush and modeling tools had done before.
All the skill gained from years of caricaturing and the study of portrait painting went into the makeup of the portraits in thread, as he worked. First came President Roosevelt, then Henry Ford, then Will Rogers, each faithfully reproduced on the cloth screens.
"I had to wind up in a hospital bed to find myself. I have something now. I'll be out of here in time to exhibit at the exposition in San Diego, just as sure as you live . . . "

Anderson turns up in San Francisco in the 1938 Voter Registration as an artist. He’s in the San Jose area in the 1942 Registration in San Jose as an artist. The 1950 U.S. Census for San Jose lists him as unemployed. That’s where he died on January 14, 1966.

We mentioned a blog post by Charlie Judkins. He wrote about Anderson at the Cartoon Research site. We look forward to the day Charlie has the time to compile all his research of New York’s animation studios into a book.

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