Tuesday, December 18, 2007

R.I.P. Jack Zander

I received an email from Margalit Fox of the New York Times informing me that Jack Zander passed away last Monday at the age of 99. The Times is preparing an obituary and I'll link to it when it's published.

I had the pleasure of working for Zander's Animation Parlour from late 1976 to early 1978, though I suffered several layoffs. If you know about the N.Y. animation business from that period, it was par for the course. The work just wasn't very steady. I was an inbetweener, and while I was a rank beginner I was treated well there and was in awe of the people around me.

As I've said before, Jack Zander had good taste. He understood the difference between good and bad animation. While his commercial studio was located in N.Y. he regularly used west coast freelancers like Emery Hawkins and Irv Spence, two animators at the top of anybody's list. He also used the cream of N.Y. talent like Preston Blair. Finally, while Zander was in his 60's, he was one of the youngest older people I ever met. He was still driving a motorcycle (and continued to for years after I worked for him) and he recognized talent in young artists and was willing to hire them to animate. His crew included Dean Yeagle, Nancy Beiman and the late Bill Railey, all of whom were excellent designers and animators and all of whom were no older than 30 at the time I was at the studio. No other union producer in town gave young talent the opportunities that Jack Zander did.

Jack got his start at the Romer Grey studio. Grey was the son of western novelist Zane Grey and I guess he wanted to own a cartoon studio. The talent there included the McKimson brothers as well as Jack, but for whatever reason the studio never released any cartoons. Zander also worked for Harman and Ising while they were at Schlesinger. He spent some time in N.Y. at Van Beuren during the Burt Gillett years and then went to Terrytoons. When MGM dumped Harman and Ising and decided to open their own studio, Jack got the call from Carman Maxwell, the MGM production manager, and spread the word at Terry. He and Joe Barbera were two of the artists who headed to MGM. Eventually Jack would animate Jerry the mouse on the first seven Tom and Jerry cartoons for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. His work on those films is still impressive.

After World War II, Jack produced TV commercials in New York at a succession of studios, starting at Transfilm, as an owner of Pelican (which did live and animation) and finally as the proprietor of Zander's Animation Parlour, where he brought his son Mark into the business as a producer.

During the period of the Animation Parlour, Zander and Phil Kimmelman were doing the best looking commercials in N.Y. Both used many famous designers and print cartoonists, but Zander always had superior animation.

One of the strengths of Zander's studio was the quality of the assistant animators. Ed Cerullo was a genius at doing clean-up with a pencil, prismacolors, marker or anything a job required. Mike Baez, Joe Gray, Ellsworth Barthen, and Jim Logan were also highly skilled themselves, able to follow Ed's lead when necessary and fully capable of producing stunning art on their own.

Besides commercials, Zander dabbled in TV specials. He directed The Man Who Hated Laughter, a special that included many comic strip characters from King Features Syndicate. He also directed Gnomes, based on the book by Rien Poortvliet. While the occasional special project came along, Jack seemed very happy working in commercials. He was not frustrated in the least. TV gave him the opportunity to own his own studio and high commercial budgets (roughly $30,000 for 30 seconds in the 1970's) allowed him to produce great looking animation. That seemed to satisfy him.

Jack left theatrical animation just when it was beginning to reach its peak. As a result, his animation doesn't attract the attention that other animators get. However, he was the real thing and it was because of the war (he was in the Signal Corps) and his entrepreneurial instincts that he moved from what we now consider the center of the business. He was a solid draftsman, a skilled animator, a successful businessman, a good boss and he contributed to the animation industry for more than 50 years. We could use more guys with his skills, his taste and his managerial ability.

Thanks for the education, Jack. I spent almost 30 years in the business and your studio remains one of the best places I ever worked.


Nancy said...

Dear Mark,
I, too, found out about Jack's passing from Margalit Fox of the New York TIMES.
Jack was one in a million, an animation producer who would hire a kid right out of Cal Arts--before she graduated. I was working for him as a designer and director literally months before I got my BFA, and well before my
21st birthday.
Jack had a terrific support staff and his studio was known as the "Disney of New York".
In addition, he was a 'front' for several blacklisted artists in the McCarthy period, giving them work anonymously (commercials did not have credits).
He had a peppery sense of humor and great love of life as well as animation. Really, I couldn't have started in the industry with a better boss.

Anonymous said...

I started working for Jack in 1973, having just got out of the Navy. I had a short reel of animation I'd done myself, and a portfolio of my character design - the rawest of raw recruits, and yet he hired me to do pretty much whatever I was able to do...he didn't pigeonhole me. He let me try my hand at animation, layout, design, and eventually, direction. I couldn't have been at a better place, under a better boss, to learn the animation business. And of course, he was a wonderful animator himself.
I talked to him a couple of months ago, and although his voice sounded a bit slower, his mind was as sharp as ever. He had, as Mark mentions above, continued to ride his motorcycle, and each year, until he was well into his nineties, he rode it out to the Harley meet in Montana. From New York. Quite a guy.
A small anecdote, that I think tells what he was like to work for. I was falling asleep at my desk one day (as often happens around 3PM), and I put my head down - until I heard Jack approaching my office. I tried to look alive, and Jack came in and we discussed the scene I was animating. As he turned to leave, he said: "Oh, and just a bit of advice from my years of experience...when you fall asleep at your desk, make sure you don't put your head down on your animation disc. You've got peg holes in your forehead."
Thanks, Jack, for the advice, and for the career.

Unknown said...

Jack Zander was a friend of mine when I lived in NY. I meet Jack through other Motorcycle friends, and we would meet every Sunday for a ride and have breakfast. I retired and moved back to Minnesota, but would call Jack now and then to see how he was doing. In 1998 I meet jack and other friends in upper Minnesota for a ride to Montana fro the BMW RALLY. Jack was 90 at the time. A GREAT MAN AND I WILL MISS HIM. Jack Elness

Fred Cline said...

Reading this, I feel like I missed out on something by not spending any of my career time on the east coast. I'm sorry never to have met the man.

Anonymous said...

Sad news. Another talent lost. Rest in peace.

Didn't Jack had a cartoon segment on Saturday Night Live? I think it was called Tippi Turtle or something.

Tom said...

Thanks Mark for breaking the news. I spent most of 1977-79 as a freelance assistant for Zander's Animation Parlour, among others. Jack stayed a friend long after I had moved on. He would call, or send me long letters by fax, he called them Jax-Fax. Then he was on the internet. Like Joe Grant and Joe Barbera, he went into his 90s with remarkable energy and clarity of mind. To take a phrase from Frederic Back, Jack was one of God's Athletes.
I wrote a piece on my blog last night- www.tomsito.com, but your tribute is much more thorough than mine.
This leaves the remaining animators of the golden age of Hollywood down to a precious few- Bill Littlejohn, Ollie Johnston, Bill Melendez. We should honor them and feel lucky to have them as long as we do.

Adieu Jack!

Nancy said...

Tom, don't forget Tissa David....

Candy Kugel said...

Dear Mark--
Jack Zander was the reason I got into animation. While at RISD studying illustration (there was no animation department then), I saw a flyer that Jack was going to speak at Brown about cartoons. It was while watching his reel I realized that animation could incorporate my two loves at the time-- drawing and theater. I asked him for a job after his talk, he told me to come by his studio with my portfolio the next time I was in New York. I did, and while he didn't hire me (it was very slow in the business at the time), he did give me a list of studios to call. I got hired by Perpetual Motion Pictures that week and he later told Hal Silvermintz that he was sorry to have let me go. He was incredibly supportive and generous with his time, and his compliments were profuse and not always credible!
He told me that I was the only person to have gotten into animation as a result of one of his talks. Once, at a party for New York animators, he asked me to marry him. When I didn't answer right away, he looked at my partner Vincent Cafarelli and said "Should I be worried that she didn't say no?"

My heartfelt condolences to his family-- all best wishes, Candy Kugel

PS--Zander's was one of the big commercial animation studios of the '70's but we also shouldn't forget Perpetual Motion Pictures, Stars and Stripes Productions Forever,and Elektra.

Dave Mackey said...

Here is the NY Times obituary...


I just like the fact that Jack kept a lot of the old guys still working in commercials.

Anonymous said...

We were next door neighbours to the dynamic Zanders in Pound Ridge when we were kids before we moved to Canada... always a lot of fun playing in the woods ;-) and down by the lake, sledding in the winter and building forts. I remember stacks of animation cells in the Zander home studio and recall a visit to New York where Jack showed me a moon landing with Frito Bandito? Life size and makes you wonder if Jack Zander was not behind the 'original moon landing' I know I saw the LEM in mock moonscape there in 1968.. sooooo hmmmmmmmmm. hehe... anyway my heart goes out to all the Zander kids wherever you are... fond memories and keep up the great work you all seem to be doing in evolving that Zander Gene Pool... 'Paul' Ralph Marcano III

Anonymous said...

It saddens me to read this news. I went out with Mr. Zander's daughter - and, as a sidenote, definitely made many mistakes and put the family and her through a lot - but I did have the honor of meeting this great guy a couple of times in his Mt. Kisco house, and he always impressed me. Great man, great work. Condolences.