ASIFA-San Francisco president Karl Cohen forwarded a note to let us know that UPA co-founder and one of the last of the truly great animation legends, David Hilberman, passed away on July 5. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1911, Hilberman began his animation career at Disney in 1936. In a little over a year, he had advanced to the layout department where he worked on shorts such as Farmyard Symphony, The Ugly Duckling and Beach Picnic. In 1939, he became the first production layout artist to begin working on the feature Bambi but it wouldn’t last long.
Unhappy with the precarious job situation of some of his friends at the studio, like Zach Schwartz, Hilberman became involved in union organizing efforts and eventually became one of the artist leaders of the 1941 Disney strike, along with Art Babbitt. Six years later, in a HUAC hearing, Disney singled out Hilberman for instigating the strike and claimed that he was “the real brains of this and I believe he is a Communist…I looked into his record and I found that, number one, that he had no religion, and number two, that he had spent considerable time at the Moscow Art Theatre studying art direction, or something.”
Hilberman told John Canemaker in a 1980 magazine interview that “up to the war, for about three years, I was a Communist. Once the war came along everybody plunged into the war effort, everybody’s on the same side, and I of course went into the Service. The strike itself was not Communist-led. I was floored when some obviously Communist-inspired material was put up on the bulletin board.” Disney was also correct that when Hilberman was 21, he had spent time traveling through Russia, and worked backstage at the Leningrad State People’s Theatre and attended classes at the Leningrad Academy of Fine Art.