Saturday 13 May 2023

Keith Darling

Keith Darling had a surprisingly lengthy career working on Warner Bros. cartoons. His name can be found on credits for cartoons by the Bob McKimson unit in 1963, but Devon Baxter mentioned in a post on Cartoon Research that he had been an assistant animator at the studio (then owned by Leon Schlesinger) as far back as 1937.

He was never an A-list animator so very little has been written about him. We’ve cobbled together some odds and ends; as we’ve said in similar posts, this is neither a complete biography or a filmography.

To the left you see his birth certificate. The penmanship isn’t the best, but this document claims his first name was “Niram” (short for Adoniram, I imagine). Elsewhere, it’s given as his middle name. There are also conflicting birth dates, but most sources agree he was born on Nov. 24, 1914 in Kokomo, Indiana. (You can click on it to read it).

The Schlesinger studio newsletter, The Exposure Sheet, provides a short biography of Darling in its October 20, 1939 issue. He moved to Tampa, Florida in 1925. A hurricane and a boom that went bust put him in Milwaukee in 1927, then in Los Angeles in 1929. A classified ad in the Los Angeles Times that year has him selling a Florida bungalow—as a teenager! The 1930 census lists him, age 15, living with his father. The return claims his father was widowed, but that wasn’t true at all. Keith’s mother was quite alive and living back in her home town in Burlington, Wisconsin.He graduated from Inglewood High School, as you can see by this 1932 picture to the right; Darling told The Exposure Sheet it was one of six high schools he attended.

He “bought a motorcycle and spent about six months above Stirling City, California, placer mining. . .camped most of the time in an old abandoned hotel. However, with the bar still intact, it wasn’t bad. . .After that I came back to Los Angeles, and got a job at Northrup Aviation, working on fuselage assembly, and after this I worked in a bakery. Then came some more mining east of Big Pine, California, and also for a short while on a mine belonging to a friend between Tonopah and Mina, Nevada.”

He moved on to college. The Burlington Free Press of June 6, 1935 reported: “Keith Darling, son of Mrs. Ruth Darling of Burlington, won second place last week in a poster contest sponsored by the Los Angeles chamber of commerce for the most effective symbolic picturizations of the national foreign trade week program. Keith, student at Los Angeles Junior college, won his prize with his second attempt at poster design.”

He shows up in the Los Angeles City Directory for the first time in 1936, occupation “cartoonist.” Schlesinger didn’t pay junior staff terribly well; the 1940 census shows he made $1,800 in 1939 (he was living in a boarding house on North Wilton Place, about six blocks from the studio at Van Ness and Fernwood).

1940 is also year Darling registered for military service; he was still employed by Schlesinger. He was called for duty in September 1941. The Free Press published portions of letters to his mother. He was a Master Sergeant with the Army stationed in London in Sept. 1942. In August 1943 he was 2nd Lieutenant with the Signal Corps and spent time censoring outgoing mail. He had just finished a brief leave in Cornwall. That December, it reported he was to head back to the U.S. to instruct soldiers; his picture was published by the Associated Press. After the war, he was promoted to Captain and was in Los Angeles by early January 1946 in the Officers’ Reserve Corps.

He also seems to have brought back something from England—a woman. Ynys Rosemary Applin and he were married on June 14, 1946 in Los Angeles; she was 11 years younger than him.

Devon’s research has found that Darling animated on Chuck Jones’ first directorial effort, The Night Watchman, released in 1938, but got no screen credit. He didn’t for years, even though drafts show Darling provided footage for cartoons. Among them are Rabbit’s Kin (a scene of his with Pete Puma walking up a tree was deleted), The Turn Tale Wolf (Darling scene to right) and Fool Coverage (all McKimson, 1952) and Of Rice and Hen and Muscle Tussle (both McKimson, 1953). The first cartoon on which Darling receives screen credit is Beanstalk Bunny (Jones). It was released in 1955 but seems to have been put in production before the studio’s six-month shutdown starting in June 1953 (the McKimson unit was out of commission almost a year).

When normal operations resumed, Darling returned in March 1954 and shuttled between the Jones and McKimson units. He also animated for Abe Levitow who took over Jones’ unit when Charles M. was assigned to other duties, then stayed for a bit. These cartoons must have been on the shelf for a while. Who Scent You? wasn’t released until April 1960. The writer was Mike Maltese, who left Warners for Hanna-Barbera in November 1958. The Club News reported in April 1956 that Darling had left the studio. The word “terminated” is used; I’d hardly think an in-house publication would report a firing.

The Club News of April 1960 mentions his return. It would appear the first cartoon he animated when he came back was What’s My Lion? (McKimson, 1961, frame to left). His final Warner’s short was Aqua Duck (McKimson, 1963).

We run into another mystery. What he did after this isn’t known. Unlike just about everyone in animation, he didn’t go into television. He isn’t found in any newspapers in the 1960s which I can access. Los Angeles directories don’t exist on-line for that decade. He would have been 49 at the start of 1964, which is awfully young to retire. There is no obituary for him in the Times. So, more digging is required. The information is likely out there somewhere.

Darling died in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 1974.


  1. I'm guessing he returned to the studio and left again between his 1956 departure and 1960 return, accounting for his appearance in the credits of Jones and Levitow's 1958-1960 releases (from December 1958's "Hip Hip Hurry" up to April 1960's "Who Scent You").

    It was a surprise seeing him on the drafts for those 1952-1954 McKimson cartoons, and shows that Bob didn't have a *completely* new team of animators after the shutdown. He seems to have had less footage than the credited animators, though. I don't know if he was just slower, or if he was dividing his time between animating for McKimson and something else (for example, animating uncredited for the other directors).

    1. In the uncredited scene above from The Turn Tale Wolf, the wolf isn't animated, just the stars around his head are. It's not very elaborate and it looks like he, initially, was given pretty basic scenes to do.

  2. I liked his work, though moreso when he was given elaborate scenes. When he did dialogue-heavy work, especially for McKimson's unit, he had a tendency to keep the characters' bodies mostly stationary while moving their heads around. Not very interesting.

    Thank God for Warren Batchelder who would join McKimson's unit in the late '50s.

  3. I'm pretty sure Darling provided uncredited work in more Jones cartoons, other than Beanstalk Bunny and Double or Mutton. For example, Guided Muscle, To Hare Is Human and Gee Whiz-z-z feature some Harriseque scenes, which differ considerably from Harris'. Guided Muscle has a few strange bits, like the 2nd part of Coyote chasing Road Runner at the beginning, the cannon and the grease bits (latter of which I believe there's a switch from Darling to Harris, given the different smears) or the vacuum cleaner scene from To Hare Is Human, in which Bugs looks quite McKimsoneque.

  4. thsts my grandpa