“When the team at MGM saw what Disney was doing, and what the audience response was to what Disney was doing, they went right out and hired his best guy, Ub Iwerks, the artist who actually drew Mickey Mouse.” On Wednesday, October 16th, at 7 p.m. animation historian and CalArts professor Jerry Beck spoke to the Culver City Historical Society about Tom and Jerry, Hanna and Barbera, Tex Avery, and many others, reflecting on the history of cartoons at MGM Studios.
The room was crowded with animation fans, and Beck, the author of many volumes on cartoon history, gave the audience a short talk, and followed by screening several of the cartoons he had discussed. He also spoke briefly about Martha Sigall, a long time Culver City resident who had been a colorist at MGM and Warner Brothers, working on Bugs Bunny cartoons. “Martha and I shared a lot of great laughs over some of those stories, she was a unique artist.”
The success of Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” series gave rise to a host of imitations; both Merry Melodies and Happy Harmonies were attempts to create a similar style., but of course, Mickey Mouse was the guy to catch up with. MGM struggled to create characters that would be ‘stars’ and finally came up with the cat and mouse team of Tom and Jerry. They were so successful they were featured in more than 114 cartoons, and a won seven Academy Awards for Animated Short Film.
The cartoons screened for the meeting got just the kind of big laughs from the audience that they may have gotten at their original presentation in a movie theater many decades ago.
This was the last program of the year for the Culver City Historical Society. President Hope Parrish noted that there were many positions coming open on the board, and interested parties should get in touch. “If you have some family photos, or souvenirs, that are part of Culver City history, we want to share them. Please let the Historical Society know what kind of treasures you find, in an attic, in a closet; don’t let that unique local history get lost or overlooked.”
Photo credit – Tom and Jerry title card from Jerry Beck