Hollywood’s Men of Action

1935 Everyweek article
(click for large version)

Shane Glines of the indispensable Cartoon Retro has sent over a fascinating 1935 article, titled “Hollywood’s Men of Action,” from Everyweek Magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement. The Depression-era piece plays up the high salaries possible by working in animation.

There’s some interesting things about the article. For one, it has the only photo I’ve ever seen of Lantz animator LaVerne Harding. (I think the male animator at top is Norm Ferguson; does anybody know for sure.) Also curious, it mentions Flintstones designer Ed Benedict as one of the top Lantz animators. This was still relatively early in his career so it’s interesting that he got top billing over more experienced Lantz animators like Bill Nolan.

Of particular note is this section where Walt Disney explains why women don’t make good animators:

Ordinarily Disney keeps from 30 to 40 men in his apprentice room. The apprenticeship lasts from six months to a year.

As a rule this class is composed entirely of young men. Seldom is a girl found among them. For some inexplainable reason, women don’t make good animators. At the present time there is only one in the entire business—Verne Harding who works on Oswald at Universal.

“I don’t know why girls should be poor animators but they are,” Disney declares. “Very frequently they are better artists than men but for some reason they lack the knack of getting smooth action into their drawings.”

This quote from Walt is also amusing:

“I’ve often been told how lucky I am not to have any stars to go temperamental on me,” Disney remarks. “It’s true I never have any trouble with Mickey, the three pigs or any of my characters. But don’t ever think animators can’t be temperamental. Say, they can be just as bad as any star you ever saw.

“Occasionally one will have an off day on which he can’t draw anything worth while. Then he has to be pampered and pulled out of his slump with all the diplomacy that would be used on a star.”


  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/ Michael Sporn

    The picture is definitely Norm Ferguson. I have several other printings of this image with him identified.

  • drone

    I hope 1935 is too early for that quote to be about Fred Moore! Sounds like Babbitt or Tytla. Or actually any of the “top men”.

    Very interesting article. I would love to have seen Walt pressed on that stuff about women’s animating abilities–did he really believe it? Did George Drake relate that ‘factual’ info to him? Or was it more of a cover for the plain old staus quo as regards the inherent bias of the times(which, by the way, one couldn’t hold against Walt any more than against any other employer in 1935)? Perhaps the seeming compliment of the women “frequently” being better artists than the men was a bit of a boast about his inking department’s superior skills–since that’s where he put them.

  • Brad Constantine

    I read once that Walt liked the guys as animators better because they were more willing to work overtime without pay and argument and were more easily negotiated with when money ran low..hehe..He also mentioned that the distraction of the women in the male dominated animation department was not something he wanted to deal with..I also remember him saying that he felt that women were more adept at the cleanup work required for the cel inking and painting. which probably meant that the men sucked at it. If you see the cels up close they are all incredible and have a delicate quality that some of the original animation drawings don’t have.. I know when I had to ink and paint cels a few times it was much harder than anything I had ever tried, including the animation itself. I like to think Walt knew that the final art up on the screen was most important and that he trusted his women with that final look over and over again. They deserve more credit. I do think that more women should have been animators and it doesn’t appear if Walt really held any back if they were good…look at Retta Scott.

  • http://blackwingdiaries.blogspot.com Jenny

    Brad, I think all those things you mention have a lot of truth in them as reasons. But at the end of your comment you contradict yourself a bit. IF Walt didn’t want the distrations of women working alongside men to be a problem(and he’s on record, I believe, as saying that he didn’t), and IF he felt there were disadvantages to women as a larger part of the animation department, further up the ladder–then it doesn’t follow that “it doesn’t appear that he really held anyone back if they were good”. I think he probably(or per his edicts his management) discouraged any women from trying–remember that letter to the girl who wanted to be an animator, and was flatly told “forget it?”.

    Retta Scott was an exceptional case–in fact she was a singular one. And while I am glad she got her chance, I really wonder if she was *the* most talented potential for animation among the women at that time or if she was rather the women who got the best breaks(who also had the talent), and made the best alliances/connections. Perhaps she was both.

    The bottom line overall is that these were just plain different times. And whether it’s PC or not, the facts are(from my reading of the media every day)that women today in the 21st century, after all the changes we’ve had, still grapple with the issue of how to do a frankly grueling job with loads of OT with having a family that includes children…many have managed to do it–it’s not easy for anyone, even with all the positive workplace differences now–but think of trying for that back in 1935! It just wasn’t done much in our society.

    I’d also question whether women are better suited to ink & paint than men…I’d say every cleanup/assistant at Disney had to be just as precise with their line as the old-time ink & paint girls…and I’ve witnessed studios where the precision of the cleanup expected–from the guys–is staggering.

    And finally-yes, that’s definitely Ferguson. Michael Sporn is always right!

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    I recall at Disneytoons Sydney the ration of men:women in Cleanup and Ink & paint was dead even. No bias either way there.
    Personally, once I got past that ‘penny-dropping’ moment when all the rules go from written theory to clicking in your head, I took to animation like a duck to water. Loved it, had no end of encouragement and coaching.

    Yeah, Walt had his personal prejudices against women animators, but that had to have been partly borne out of not many women already working the industry to show him otherwise.
    As Jenny said, that’s just how it was back then.

  • Jacques Tati

    Thanks for posting this!

  • http://2danimationstudentphotos.blogspot.com 2D Animation Student

    Wow, a photo of the reclusive LaVerne Harding ! I’ve been searching high, I’ve been searching low …

    LaVerne certainly showed that Walt Disney was wrong in his way-too-broad assertion about women’s capabilities as animators. I read on the ASIFA Animation Archive blog that Walt Lantz , hearing of LaVerne Harding’s death in 1984 , remarked:

    “most producers thought women could draw only birds and bees and flowers. They were wrong of course.”

    (I wonder if Walter Lantz , when he said “most producers” had Walt Disney in mind ? )

    I posted photos of Retta Scott and some other women animators here : Retta Scott photo, etc

  • http://www.nancybeiman.com Nancy Beiman

    Frank Thomas told me that the women were preferred in the story department at Disney’s because they were seen to be more interested in children, and ‘they worked for less’. By that logic, all Disney’s animators should have been women.

    Retta Scott was by no means the only woman working at Disney as an animator in those days. She was merely the only one to receive credit. There is a difference.

    When the men were drafted during the second World War, a lot of women (perhaps twenty) were promoted to animating assistants, Retta Davidson once told me. An animating assistant (at that time) was allowed to do up to 70 feet of animation under the direction of a supervisor before receiving screen credit as an animator. Davidson said there was considerable resentment toward Scott since she was given credit for her animation while none of the others received any. (Scott allegedly was in a relationship with one of the male animators at the time and this was seen as a help to her.) It was also rumoured that Eric Larson had done the ‘dog animation’ in BAMBI for her.

    Naturally when I met Retta Scott I, with the tactlessnes of the young, asked her whether she had had help on the scenes. “Eric helped me time it,” Ms. Scott told me, “But I did all the animation.”

    Ken O’Connor told me that Scott was one of the best artists, male or female, in the entire studio.

    And Selby Kelly told me that Verne Harding was promoted to animator on her first day at Lantz’s. She’d been hired as an assistant, but her start day was on the very day the studio went out on strike in 1941. Not knowing what else to do, Harding sat at an empty desk and waited. Walter Lantz came into the room. “Who are you?” “I’m a new assistant.” “No you’re not, you are an ANIMATOR!” And so she was.

    I won’t even get into discussing Lillian Friedman Astor, a terrific animator at the Fleischer studio, who was told she would have to take a job as an inker at Disney’s because ‘all the animation positions were held by men’. Sounds like a reasonable argument to me. But for some reason, 50 years later, Ms. Astor was still mad about it.

  • http://www.davemackey.com Dave Mackey

    For the record, there was a picture of Walter Lantz and LaVerne Harding in Joe Adamson’s biography. It had to have been taken in the late 1950′s or early 1960′s.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    Nancy, you say “…Selby Kelly told me that Verne Harding was promoted to animator on her first day at Lantz’s. [...] Her start day was on the very day the studio went out on strike in 1941.”

    Forgive my nitpicking, but the article Jerry reprints makes it clear that Harding was working as an animator with Lantz in 1935—note the references to Universal and Oswald.

  • Brad Constantine

    Thanks everyone for all of the great info about all of the women in animation past and present. That’s what makes this such a great forum. Sorry for my ignorant comment back there. I know Walt was a product of his generation and even in his want ads for artists specifically asked for “trained male artists”. I guess that would be pretty discouraging right up front. I don’t think there are any art jobs better suited for a man than a woman. I assumed because Retta Scott got screen credit, that there were many more woman in the department that we didn’t know about. Now I know that there were some, but not as it should have been, especially at the top end. And as for those dogs in Bambi, those dogs rock!! Retta was really good!! So who was the Asian gal in The reluctant dragon drawing the elephants? Was she an animator as well?? First answer gets a lollypop…