Gordon Parks’s Animation connection

japanprincess.jpgThe passing of legendary American photographer/filmmaker Gordon Parks reminds me of an interesting fact I learned while researching my upcoming book CARTOON MODERN. Parks’s first film, the documentary FLAVIO (1964), was produced by the animation studio, Elektra Films, in New York. The studio was one of New York’s most well regarded commercial animation studios in the late-50s and early-1960s and pretty much anybody who was somebody on the East Coast animation design scene worked there at some point. It was started by former UPA artist Abe Liss, who had done layout on a number of the early Mister Magoo shorts in LA. He had also been the creative director of UPA-NY and Transfilm prior to starting Elektra in 1956 with business partner Sam Magdoff.

It’s unclear how Liss and Parks got connected though they shared similarly tough Depression-era upbringings. Both of them came from working class families and had done back-breaking work in the Civilian Conversation Corps during the mid-1930s (though not together). May Liss, Abe’s wife, told me that Liss had been heavily involved in the production of FLAVIO, particularly because Parks had no prior filmmaking experience. The film was among a number of eclectic independent and commissioned film projects that Liss undertook beginning in the late-1950s. He certainly could have gone in some interesting directions both as filmmaker and producer, but unfortunately, Liss died in December 1963 from a heart attack, right around the time of FLAVIO’s completion. Parks was one of the speakers at his memorial service.