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Happy 92nd Birthday, Gene Deitch

Happy 92nd birthday to a true animation legend, Gene Deitch, who was born on this day in 1924.

How does one begin to talk about someone whose mentor was John Hubley and who he himself was the boss of a young Ralph Bakshi? From the 1940s onward, Gene has been a key figure in animation, his career intersecting in fascinating ways with other all-time greats. From running UPA-New York and Terrytoons to a 50-year-career as a producer/director at the Bratři v triku studio in Czechoslovakia, Gene’s career has proven to be one of remarkable longevity and accomplishment.

There’s little point for me to recount Gene’s triumphs because he has already done an incredible job of documenting the highlights on his own web site. If you haven’t yet discovered it, many enjoyable days’ worth of reading and viewing material await you on his site so go there now.

It’s a bit of a cliche to characterize someone as a force of nature, but if I had to describe anyone as such, it would be Gene. I last visited him and his lovely wife, Zdenka, a few years ago in Prague, when he was a mere 88 years old, and on a rainy afternoon, he decided to take me to visit a hilltop garden. As I stood at the bottom of the hill, assessing the hike to the top, Gene started sprinting up the stairs. I huffed and puffed behind him, barely able to keep pace. We both made it top eventually, as the photo below attests, yet even before I could catch my breath, he was already sprinting back down the stairs.

I have no idea where Gene gets his energy from, but I’m thankful he’s got it. And more importantly, the animation world should be thankful that it’s got him.

Happy Birthday, Gene!
Gene Deitch in 2013.
Gene Deitch in 2013.
Gene Deitch when he was the creative director of UPA-NY, 1955.
Gene Deitch when he was the creative director of UPA-NY, 1955.
Before entering animation, Gene drew covers for a jazz magazine called "The Record Changer."
Before entering animation, Gene drew covers for a jazz magazine called “The Record Changer.”
Gene's short-lived syndicated comic strip "Terr'ble Thompson" was the inspiration for his TV series "Tom Terrific."
Gene’s short-lived syndicated comic strip “Terr’ble Thompson” was the inspiration for his TV series “Tom Terrific.”
Gene's storyboards for a "Nudnik" short. The  pilot for the series, produced in Czechoslovakia,  was nominated for an Academy Award.
Gene’s storyboards for a “Nudnik” short. The pilot for the series, produced in Czechoslovakia, was nominated for an Academy Award.

  • Happy Birthday, Sir! Let me say this:

    “I was born on 7/25/1968. I first really encountered your work in the mid-1970s, thru the “CARTOON TOWN” show on North/Middle CA’s KTVU-TV. I first learned of the man behind it, however, in the first half of 1987, at age 18, by reading Maltin’s ‘Of Mice And Men: A History Of American Animated Cartoons’. And I have continued learning about you in the years since. And before I conclude, I’d like to state that I am a Black Man who strongly feels and believe that your life story, work and all matters therein transcend race. ‘GENE DEITCH IS FOR EVERYONE!’ That said, let me tell you what I am: A totally self-taught Cartoonist who also tried to orient himself toward an Animation career during the years 1985-87, but one whose Animation dreams were crushed by my Mom (1929-2004); I wish not to discuss this disappointmental episode further, thank you. In closing, may I just say: ‘WE WANT AND NEED YOU AROUND FOR A LONG TIME!'”

  • steepertree

    Tom Terrific was my introduction to Gene’s work, and I suspect there’s more than a little bit of Tom in Gene himself: inventive, funny, and forever young. Happy birthday, Gene!

  • Tony

    Sadly, most people today are more familiar with Deitch’s Tom and Jerry shorts, which even he admits to being failures, than with the rest of his work. Hopefully the selections here will show others the true breadth of his work.

    • AmidAmidi

      Yea, it’s immensely odd that an artist can have a 70-year artistic career, and people will obsess over a project that he worked on for one of those 70 years, while ignoring his output from the other 69 years. Ironically, most animation nerds who obsess over those shorts don’t even understand the context of how and why Gene made those shorts in the first place. Thankfully, most of us know better here on Cartoon Brew.

      • That is a shame Amid. I suppose the commercial exposure of those cartoons have done their best to sidestep Gene’s more creative endeavors like with Terrytoons or even the Weston Woods shorts. I would pick the Weston Woods storybook adaptations as his true strength in creating beautiful, unique and wonderful films while staying true to the books they’re from.

  • Togotooner

    OK,..I hate to do shameless plugs,..but honestly this is not intended to be so. I want to merely share my interview that I was fortunate enough to have with Gene a few years back. He was ready to roll as he seemingly read through his answers to my questions, but as the interview went on he added much insight and color into the discussion. He is high energy and I was honored to be able to talk with him for awhile. Tom Terrific was so impactful to me during my childhood and I never dreamed that I would actually talk to him for an hour so many years later. If interested,..the link is here. You will see his name on the list of interviews.

    …… to download and access the specific interview without having to see the site and list of other artists interviewed, …just download the file from the link below.

    HAPPY Belated Birthday to a great animator!