Animation veteran Berny Wolf died last week at the age of 95. He had incredible success in the field, with work ranging from pioneering Fleischer silent cartoons through classic Disney features; and ultimately to a producing stint with Hanna Barbera. We asked animator and historian Mark Kausler to recount his amazing career:
Berny or Bernie Wolf started his animation career in New York City in 1924, inking on the silent Krazy Kat cartoons that Ben Harrison and Manny Gould released through Paramount. He got a job at Max Fleischer’s Inkwell Studios soon after, inking, maybe animating on the KoKo Song Cartoons, such as MOTHER PIN A ROSE ON ME (1924), GOODBYE MY LADY LOVE(1924), EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1926) and many more. He became friends with Shamus Culhane and Al Eugster at Fleischer’s. In Shamus’ book TALKING ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE, Shamus relates the story of how the three amigos broke into animation on the Talkarartoon SWING, YOU SINNERS in 1930, although it appears that Berny may have animated before that. Berny became a Betty Boop specialist in the early 30’s, working on such cartoons as MINDING THE BABY (1931), BETTY BOOP’S BIZZY BEE (1932) and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN (1933). The three musketeers then went west, winding up at Ub Iwerks’ studio and worked on the Willie Whopper series and ComiColor cartoons. Berny animated and designed characters with Grim Natwick on such cartoons as THE CAVE MAN (1934), VIVA WILLIE (1934), THE VALIANT TAILOR (1934) and SUMMERTIME (1935).By 1938, Berny, Al Eugster and Shamus Culhane had broken into the Disney Studio. One of Berny’s first cartoons there was DONALD’S NEPHEWS (1938). According to Shamus’ book, Walt made it hard for “old-timers” and ex-New Yorkers at his studio, chiding them for their “bad drawing habits” and training on “cheap productions”. Berny overcame this prejudice and animated Jiminy Cricket in PINOCCHIO (1940). Some of his scenes are Jiminy meeting the Blue Fairy in Sq. 1.5, Sc. 46, where he says “No tricks, now!”, Sq. 1.7, Sc. 59.7 where Jiminy dances with a music box doll and slyly says: “How about sittin’ out the next one babe, huh?” and Sq. 4.9, Sc. 17, where he emerges from a bird seed container in a cage and shyly speaks to the Blue Fairy (“This IS a pleasant surprise!”), tips his hat and gets a shower of bird seed pouring from the hat. Berny was one of the key animators on Jiminy, doing many such personality scenes, no doubt working closely with Ward Kimball. On FANTASIA, Berny worked on the Pastoral Symphony sequence, animating Fauns, Unicorns and the Centaurs and Centaurettes that Fred Moore designed. He animated a beautiful scene in part where the Centaurettes are dancing around Ward Kimball’s Bacchus, and a tender scene of a Centaur shielding a Centaurette from the raindrops at the beginning of the storm sequence. Berny also animated the famous scene at the end of the “romance of the Centaurs” sequence, in which the cupids close the curtains on the proceedings, leaving one cupid to peek through at the centaurs. His hovering buttocks form a heart. This scene infuriated critics such as James Agee, it was animated by Berny Wolf. By 1941, Berny seems to have fallen in estimation at Disney, he got one sequence in DUMBO, of the clowns bragging about their “coitain calls” in Sq. 14.1, all in silhouette. This is really an outstanding job of animation, though, as all the poses have to read solidly just in black, showing that Berny had good caricature and staging skills.After 1941, it appears Berny must have gone out in the famous Disney strike. He landed at MGM cartoons, doing layout and storyboard for Tex Avery. He was then drafted and wound up directing animation for the First Motion Picture Unit. After the war, Berny worked for Rudy Ising independently and headed up a company called Animedia Productions. He probably also got involved in the television commercials boom of the 1950s. In the 1980s, he produced such shows as THE FLINTSTONE KIDS, and THE SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES for Hanna-Barbera and worked as a Film Editor and Producer on a TV feature cartoon: THE LITTLE TROLL PRINCE in 1985. He would have been 74 then. I suppose Berny must have retired after that, as he disappears from the credit sheets. Evidently he kept up his artwork in his last twenty years, making many drawings and doing some painting.My only memory of Berny Wolf, is seeing him hanging out at the old Gus Jekel FilmFair studio, with his friend Rudy Zamora Sr. They probably worked at the Fleischer and Krazy Kat studios in New York together in the 1920s and 1930s.Berny Wolf obviously was a very talented animator who is largely forgotten today, due to the anti-New York, west coast prejudice, the fact that he was on the “wrong side” of the Disney strike and worked in limited TV animation. He had an amazingly long career, and by all accounts was a very nice man.
Berny Wolf holds a model sheet he drew with Grim Natwick
for the Willie Whopper cartoon The Cave Man (1934)
Photo from the collection of Mark Mayerson.
More Berny Wolf model sheets posted on the Asifa Hollywood Archive