It’s time for another episode in our special film series “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” This week, we’re presenting Building Friends for Business, an industrial film for Swift & Company. The 1949 film is among the first projects that Deitch ever directed. He made it far away from the Hollywood animation hub at Jam Handy Organization in Detroit. We apologize in advance for the poor quality of the print.
As customary, we’re going to let Gene tell you the rest of the story himself:
Getting my start in the mid-1940s with UPA, at that time the most exciting animation studio in America, which to me seemed like Heaven stocked with gods, and was a hot bed of political liberals, Leaving there after less than three years to take up an offer from probably the most boring studio in America, The Jam Handy Organization, a massive Detroit sales film factory and booster of conservative capitalism, was a risk. It had nothing to do with politics, but was purely a career opportunity. My wartime boss at the Lockheed Aircraft Visual Aids department had become a live-action director at Jam Handy, and remembered me. Being stymied by an animation department still grinding out rubber hose retro stuff, he sold the JHO bosses on hiring me, without realizing that I had never actually animated, let alone directed anything!
At UPA in Hollywood, surrounded by titans, I was assured that I could possibly make director within ten years, but here was a chance, in a studio still in the animation stone age, to flash my UPA reflected glory and fake my way into an immediate director’s slot. No sooner had I moved in and managed to learn-by-doing on a short TV commercial, I met the nineteen-year-old Cliff Roberts, who was decorating Detroit restaurant menus with his brilliant graphics. I found him just in time to help me break new ground at the studio. I was handed a stock script, a paean to idealized capitalism, from the JHO story department, along with a recording by one of their typical announcer/narrators, and their typical stock documentary music, leaving the new-boy team of Deitch and Roberts to pep up the hack material with a saucy new look, trying to put into practice some of what I’d learned from Bill Hurtz, John Hubley, and Bobe Cannon. The final film, with its simplified UPAish style, was an internal sensation, and I was launched in 1949 as a genuine animation director and soon to be chief of the JHO animation department. Sixty years later, I’m still doing the same sort of thing.