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JERRY BECK INTERVIEW – WRITING ABOUT ANIMATION’S RICH HISTORY (2003) February 24, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in animation, Interview.
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First off, I wondered what got Jerry specifically interested in the history of animation.  “When I was a comic book addict teenager,” he replied,  “I noticed that the Bugs Bunny cartoons on TV seemed funnier than I thought they were when I was a kid. The more I watched, the more I couldn’t believe how great these cartoon masterpieces were.”  Jerry later decided to make a career out of documenting the medium’s rich history.  “After falling in love with the Looney Tunes in my teenage years, I tried to read more about them. How many were there? Who made these? There were no books on the subject. So I started to research them myself. I began by compiling a master list of all old Hollywood cartoons… I met up with Leonard Maltin, who was teaching a history of animation class in New York (around 1975). We became friends and I became his associate on his book OF MICE AND MAGIC (which was published in 1980).”

Jerry’s first book, The Warner Brothers Cartoons (1981), came about when he “expanded my list of Warner Bros. cartoons with my associate Will Friedwald into a book for Scarecrow Press.”  He continued, explaining that, “Scarecrow is a bottom of the barrel, institutional & library books mainly, publisher. We sent them a sample of our filmography. They agreed to publish it. We couldn’t get permission to use pictures of Bugs Bunny, so we published it without any images. That book is still in print!”
“Most commercial book publishers are not that interested in animation books unless it’s tied into a very famous character, movie, or gimmick,” Jerry noted when I asked, in his experience, what the demand for this kind of material seems to be,  “hence my books like THE 50 GREATEST CARTOONS or OUTLAW ANIMATION.”  As far as what’s involved to research a book like this, “for any book about history, you have to love the subject and be enthusiastic about the smallest details of its history.”  In Jerry’s case,  “I love the 1930s and 1960s Warner Bros. cartoons, thus I enjoy researching them. Sometimes you have to spend days and weeks researching the tiniest details, like release dates. Maybe no one will notice, but I’m proud of the small things… I spend a lot of time at the Academy library (in Beverly Hills ) looking at newspaper clippings and digging up trade magazines.”  Jerry’s passion about animation history extends beyond the page.  “I do screenings locally with ASIFA HOLLYWOOD and other groups. I’ve been collecting 16mm cartoon film prints and videos and I love to show films and discuss them with audiences. I’ve also taught at the AFI, UCLA, NYU and the School of Visual Arts . I think showing animation is the best way to communicate about it. I also started my CARTOONRESEARCH.com website to further the knowledge.”

When I asked Jerry what he enjoys most about documenting animation history: “The more people know about animation history, the more people want to see more and know more. It encourages more interest and enthusiasm in the subject.”  However, as far as challenges, he notes that “it’s not a very well paying career, I’m sad to say, I’m an animation historian out of the love of it. I make a living by doing freelance writing, and occasionally write and produce animated films. I previously worked in film distribution, as an animation executive (at Nickelodeon & others), and was a journalist for a trade mag, KIDSCREEN.”

Jerry feels animation history is an area that other writers can still break in to.  “There is plenty of opportunity. As long as animation continues to be made, there will always be stories to be told about their creation. And the whole story of animation’s 100 year history has not been completely covered yet. I want to read more about Terrytoons! I want to see books about Fleischer, Bill Tytla, John Hubley and many others.”

I greatly appreciate your time, Jerry, for giving readers a glimpse into ways to keep animation’s rich heritage alive as non-artists.

(originally published 2003)

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