Max Fleischer

Max Fleischer

Kraków, Małopolskie, Poland
Death 11 Sep 1972 (aged 89)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend
Memorial ID 7323557 · View Source
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Motion Picture Producer, Inventor. Co-founder (with his brother Dave) of the Fleischer Studios, a leading producer of animated cartoons in the years between the World Wars. Their star characters Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor made them Walt Disney's strongest competitor in the 1930s and had a lasting effect on American popular culture. Four of their films were nominated for Academy Awards in the short subject category: "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor" (1936), "Educated Fish" (1937), "Hunky and Spunky" (1938), and "Superman" (1941). The son of an Austrian-Jewish tailor (sources conflict on whether he was born in Vienna or Krakow, Poland), he was brought to the United States at age four and raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York. He studied to be a mechanic before becoming a cartoonist for the Brooklyn "Daily Eagle" and then art editor for the magazine "Popular Science Monthly". His interest in the early animation field was stirred when he saw Winsor McCay's pioneering short "Gertie the Dinosaur" (1914). In 1915 Max invented the Rotoscope (patented in 1917), a machine that enabled animators to trace live-action footage frame-by-frame to create the illusion of lifelike movement in drawings. For the test reel Dave donned a clown costume and cavorted for the camera; the clip was then rotoscoped into a cartoon. This was the origin of their first popular character, Koko the Clown. During the World War I years he made short training films for the US Army and launched his "Out of the Inkwell" series of cartoons for producer J. R. Bray. In 1921 Max and Dave founded a studio in Manhattan, Out of the Inkwell Inc., reorganized as the Fleischer Studios in 1929; from 1927 their films were distributed by Paramount. The Fleischers' silent era "Out of the Inkwell" shorts were technically ingenious and the surviving entries are still entertaining today. They typically combined live-action and animation, with the real Max Fleischer interacting with Koko and his canine sidekick Bimbo against photographed backgrounds. In 1924 - four years before Disney made a historic splash with "Steamboat Willie", often cited as the first sound cartoon - the Fleischers produced a quartet of animated talkies in collaboration with inventor Lee de Forest. Lack of interest from exhibitors caused the project to be dropped, but the experience left the brothers well prepared for the industry-wide transition to sound at the end of the decade. Racy humor and a grungy, urban sensibility set the Fleischer cartoons well apart from Disney's, and they were at their unbridled best in the Betty Boop films of the early 1930s. Created by animator Grim Natwick, Betty Boop was the first cartoon star to deal with sex, a flirtatious but innocent flapper who had some trouble protecting her "boop-oop-a-doop" from lecherous men. (Even inanimate objects sprang to attention in her presence). Increased censorship under Hollywood's 1934 Production Code forced the Fleischers to tone down their sexy little character; Betty was never the same again, though her series lasted until 1939. Luckily they landed an even bigger hit property when they brought Elzie Segar's comic strip hero Popeye the Sailor to the screen in 1933. The spinach-eating swab and his supporting cast (girlfriend Olive Oyl, nemesis Bluto, and the low-key opportunist J. Wellington Wimpy) immediately caught the public's imagination and for a time he rivalled Mickey Mouse in popularity. The Fleischers capitalized on this by producing three sumptuous two-reel "specials" in Technicolor: "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor", "Popeye Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves" (1937), and "Popeye Meets Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" (1939). Egged on by the unexpected success of Disney's feature-length "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) - and with big financial incentives from Paramount - the Fleischers expanded their operations and in 1938 moved to a new studio in Miami in preparation for making their own first feature. The result, "Gulliver's Travels" (1939), was no match for "Snow White" artistically or financially, though it did well enough for Paramount to back the Fleischers in a second feature and commission a new series, "Superman". The latter were the most visually sophisticated cartoons the studio ever made and happily free of the Disney influence that marred later Fleischer releases. Unfortunately, the feature "Mr. Bug Goes to Town" (later reissued as "Hoppity Goes to Town") was an expensive flop when it was released in December 1941. It left the company deeply in debt to Paramount, and an ongoing feud between Max and Dave caused further concerns on the West Coast. In April 1942, Paramount took the studio away from the Fleischers and moved it back to New York with a greatly reduced staff. (Reorganized as Famous Studios, it would remain active until 1967). Max remained in the animation field another two decades but as a marginal figure, turning out industrial and educational shorts for Detroit's Jam Handy studio and for J. R. Bray. His one-reel adaptation of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1944, reissued 1948) was regularly shown on television before it was eclipsed by the 1964 Rankin-Bass version. In 1960 he revived "Out of the Inkwell" as a low-budget TV cartoon series; it lasted a year. He then retired to Los Angeles, where he died at the Motion Picture Country Home. He did not live to see the publication of Leslie Cabarga's book "The Fleischer Story" (1976), an early effort to restore the family to their rightful place in the history of American animation. Max was the father of film director Richard Fleischer.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 2 Apr 2003
  • Find a Grave Memorial 7323557
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Max Fleischer (19 Jul 1883–11 Sep 1972), Find a Grave Memorial no. 7323557, ; Maintained by Find A Grave Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend.