Happy 94th birthday to a living legend, Gene Deitch, who was born on this day in 1924.
How does one begin to talk about someone whose mentor was John Hubley and who he himself was the boss of a young Ralph Bakshi? From the 1940s onward, Gene has been a key figure in animation, his career intersecting in fascinating ways with other all-time greats. From running UPA-New York and Terrytoons to a 50-year-career as a producer/director at the Bratři v triku studio in Czechoslovakia, Gene’s career has proven to be one of remarkable longevity and accomplishment.
There’s little point in recounting Gene’s triumphs because he has already done an incredible job of documenting his numerous career highlights on his own web site. If you haven’t yet discovered it, many enjoyable days’ worth of reading and viewing material await you on his site so go there now.
It’s a bit of a cliche to characterize someone as a force of nature, but if I had to describe anyone as such, it would be Gene. I last visited him and his lovely wife, Zdenka, six years ago in Prague, when he was a mere 88 years old, and on a rainy afternoon, he decided to take me to visit a hilltop garden. As I stood at the bottom of the hill, assessing the hike to the top, Gene started sprinting up the stairs. I huffed and puffed behind him, barely able to keep pace. We both made it top eventually, as the photo below attests, yet even before I could catch my breath, he was already sprinting back down the stairs.
I have no idea where Gene gets his energy from, but I’m thankful he’s got it. And more importantly, the animation world should be thankful that it’s got him.