Jack Dunham, 1910-2009

I’ve learned that American animator Jack Dunham passed away a couple weeks ago at age 98. I’d written about Dunham back in 2006 after a story was published in the Montreal Gazette about how he and his wife had become homeless in Canada.

Born in North Dakota in 1910, Dunham worked at Universal on Oswald shorts in the early-1930s before moving to Disney in the mid-1930s. After Snow White, on which he was an inbetweener, he moved into management where he worked as a unit manager until 1947. There’s a fascinating series of videos on YouTube that offer short interviews with Dunham from a couple years ago. The memories aren’t very specific, likely because he wasn’t being challenged with specific names or events, but it’s still a treat that these videos exist. Here’s one of him talking about encounters with Walt Disney:

A couple photos of Dunham exist online. The first one comes from Michael Barrier’s website and shows Dunham (right) with Tex Avery at Universal.

Jack Dunham and Tex Avery

The second photo, from the Animation Guild blog, shows Dunham (left) at the infamous Snow White wrap party at the Norconian Club in Norco, California.

Jack Dunham at Disney

The description text in the YouTube videos offers an account of Dunham’s post-Disney career:

Jack later moved to Canada in 1955 by invitation of the Canadian Government to manage Associated Screen News (ASN) of Canada in Montreal. After his mandate at ASN Jack continued to live in Canada where he mainly produced animated and live action commercials in Montreal and Toronto, Canada. He was the original artist of Montreal’s famous St. Hubert BBQ Chicken cartoon character and produced their first television commercials among many others.

[In 2006] Jack and his wife Dorothy were evicted from their Montreal appartment and placed against their will under Quebec Government care. Because they were now homeless and his wife was highly dependent on alcohol they were locked up indefinitely in a psych wing of an all-French old age residence to prevent them from trying to escape. While in a wheelchair at 96 years old, Jack and his wife Dorothy (seventy years old) successfully planned and executed an escape to Ottawa by bus from Montreal where they were found by police in an Ottawa hotel a few days later and returned to the Montreal facility against their will. I just received word two weeks ago that he passed away [around March 15, 2009]. He was a real great guy with an incredible history spanning nearly a century. He never gave up hope and is finally free.


  • http://deleted OtherDan

    The man behind the “scene stacker”. That was interesting-thanks!…I didn’t know that Joseph Merrick went to the Snow White wrap party.

  • Bugsmer

    Why were they evicted? Did they run out of money? This sounds like quite a strange adventure. What happened to him and his wife is indeed unfortunate.

  • Nathan

    Had he been an American citizen, Mr. Dunham could have experienced eviction from the Motion Picture Retirement Home and avoided crossing an international border.

  • Saturnome

    It’s weird to me that I’ve been familiar all my life with the St-Hubert’s chicken, but little did I knew the man behind this also worked on Snow White … ! There must be only a few people who worked on this film now, sad…

  • Bobby D.

    Terrific article and video, Amid. There’s so much to be learned from the guys who blazed the trail in all aspects of show-business. This is why I come to the site…thanks.

  • Pedro Nakama

    One thing you have to say about the animation industry after reading a lot of these obits…

    We do live to a ripe old age!

  • gabriel Paliotti

    Mr Dunham and his wife were not evicted; because of the wife’s heavy addiction to alcohol it was necessary to petition the Rental Board and place them in an institution. Mr. Dunham was no longer as mobile and his wife required a geat deal of constant care. I was the unfortunate person who had the task of petitioning the Rental Board.

  • SK

    Very cool..Never have seen those 2 photos before. Jack apparently was Tex Avery’s best man for his wedding. – Be interesting to find a public record of that somewhere. Slight error with Jack’s history, but really happy it’s being covered. Thank you Amid.

    After leaving North Dakota to study architecture in Chicago, Jack then moved to California and was hired by Walt Disney Productions in 1932. His first job was learning what animation was while working as an in-between artist. He worked on Walt Disney’s classics such as the first Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs feature and the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit character, who later became Mickey Mouse. (after Walt lost the rights to the character and took him back by switching his old rabbit ears into mouse ears…) Jack also did in-between drawings for many other 1930s Disney characters for Walt’s animated shorts and features.

    Jack then left Disney 2 years later in 1934 and went to work for Universal where he continued to work on the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit character under Walter Lantz. It was at Universal that Jack learned to be an animator. (see his animator credits from Universal 1936/37 on imdb.com) Jack then returned to Disney where he taught animation for 4 years and worked his way up to Unit Manager. Here he was in charge of handling the production details for a number of feature films filmed under the auspices of the US Gov Inter-American Affairs Dept (run by Nelson Rockefeller) such as Disney’s feature films, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros in Mexico. He was also Unit Manager for Victory Through Air Power.

    Walt Disney took all producer credits back then and after Jack moved to Canada and became a Canadian citizen, he never joined the class action law suit(s) filed against Disney in the 1950s for all the production artists and animators that were left off the credits from the 1920s, 30s and 40s … hence why all Jack’s work from Disney is uncredited and he didn’t receive any residuals.

    After Jack left Disney in 1947, he began working on commercial projects in San Francisco, then later moved to New York where after a “referral from another Disney producer” was invited by the Canadian Government to Montreal in 1955 with the mandate to run Associated Screen News, producing news reels and commercials for the conversion to private enterprise. The mandate was apparently extended for another couple years and then Jack went on to produce private commercials and industrials work, animating, producing and drawing for printwork.

    He managed to obtain a couple executive jobs after this point such as VP of sales and marketing for the Bronfman family’s ExecAir Aviation , Senior Executive to Maurice Dubois, the Director General of Laronde (before and during Expo ’67), and Head of Reinic Films, a film production company on the 34th floor of Montreal’s Place Ville Marie 1 building being financed by Mrs. Gilles Sicotte (alleged wife of then CDN Transport minister) and an ousted European Count, Count Reinic (or Reinick). Mrs. Sicotte was apparently arrested on drug trafficking and suspicion of murder.

    In between these VP positions, Jack designed the St. Hubert BBQ chicken character, produced all their first commercials, as well as a number of others including Coca Cola’s first french commercial (where they misspelled it Koke)

    I have seen letters and a check written from Roy to Jack up until Roy passed in 1971. Roy asks Jack to write to Card Walker about coming back to work at the studio. Jack did write Card, but Card never replied as he wanted nothing to do with Jack. ..Mr. Walker, Disney’s then CEO had married Jack’s old secretary and apparently believed Jack had relations with her prior to their marriage. Jack claims he and his old secretary had a professional relationship only, but this was clearly never believed by Mr. Walker.

    Roy Disney was financially supporting Jack’s Canadian film and advertising projects up until his passing in 1971. Jack was 61 years old at the time and his last link to the Disney Studio was now gone. Jack continued getting whatever contracts that he could get through the 70s, 80s and 1990s . He lost many of the best paying contracts as Disney Studios had left him off the records and send replies to those inquiring about him that he never even worked there…(See one such letter in Jack’s Disney Dust video on Youtube.) Finally in 1994, Jack acquired his Social Security Administration records proving that he certainly did work there for many years and was paying taxes from his management level salary when he left.

    In Jack’s 80s and 90′s he was still hustling what work he could get..Often seen doing caricatures for people at the Peel Pub and for private Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

    So much more details for a live spanning “almost” 98 years. He died August 16th,2008 (one month and 3 days before his 98th Birthday)

    I only found out from the public curator in mid March 2009. ..hence the mixup in reported dates of his death.

  • Ralf hawkins

    Hello SK, I work in the nursing home where Dorothy (Jack’s widow) lives.
    She is trying to locate Courtney J. Dunham, her son. Do you have any information about him and her grandson Yvan?

    • bluehaven

      hello, i was wondering if the Dunhams lived on ridgewood (3620 , the 4 thousand) in the early seventies. If so I was a childhood friend of Courtney and would also like to know where he is. I have looked around on the internet but cannot find him
      thankyou