Max Fleischer (July 19, 1883 – September 11, 1972) was an American animator. He was a pioneer in the development of the animated cartoon and served as the head of Fleischer Studios. . Max Fleischer was an artist, a writer, and an inventor of some 20 patents for motion picture production processes.
Born to a Jewish family in Poland, Max Fleischer was the second oldest of six children. His family emigrated to the United States in 1887 and settled in New York City. While still in his teens, he worked for "The Brooklyn Daily Eagle" as an errand boy, and eventually became a cartoonist. Shortly afterward he accepted an illustrator's job for a catalog company in Boston. He returned to New York as Art Editor for "Popular Science" magazine around 1912, his technique first appeared in 1914’s Gertie the Dinosaur.
Fleischer came up with a concept to simplify the process of animating movement by tracing frames of live action film. His patent for the Rotoscope was granted in 1915, although Max and his brother Dave Fleischer made their first cartoon using the device in 1914. Extensive use of this technique was made in Fleischer's of the Inkwell series.
Fleischer produced his Inkwell films for The Bray Studios until, in 1921, he and his brother Dave established Fleischer Studios (initially named "Out of the Inkwell Films") to produce animated cartoons and short subjects; Max was credited as the producer at the beginning of every cartoon as well. Koko and Fitz remained the stars of the Out of the Inkwell series, which was renamed Inkwell Imps in 1927.
In 1923, Fleischer made two 20-minute educational features explaining Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Both features used a combination of animated special effects and live action.
Into the early sound era, Fleischer produced many technically advanced and sophisticated animated films. Several of his cartoons had soundtracks featuring live or rotoscoped images of the leading jazz performers of the time, most notably Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Don Redman. Fleischer's use of black performers was bold at a time when depictions of blacks were often denigrating and stereotypical.
In the early 1930's, Fleischer Studios could not come close to matching the success of Mickey Mouse. In addition to the success of Mickey Mouse, Disney was also able to raise the stakes against Fleischer higher by significantly boosting the success of Silly Symphonies through the popular cartoon The Three Little Pigs.
Fleischer's most significant business deal came in securing the rights to the comic strip character Popeye the Sailor from King Features Syndicate. "Popeye" made his film debut in July, 1933, introduced in the Betty Boop short Popeye the Sailor. Popeye was an immediate hit for Fleischer, and his popularity would grow to outdistance Mickey Mouse by 1935.
Animated features and declineEdit
In 1937, film production at Fleischer's studio was affected by a five month strike, which kept his cartoons off theater screens through the rest of the year. The strikers represented by the Commercial Artists and Designers Union were not recognized by the IATSE, which represented the majority of the motion picture crafts. But after five months, Paramount Pictures urged Fleischer to settle. Then in March, 1938, Fleischer Studios moved from New York City to Miami. The reasons were many. While it was reasoned that the relocation removed the studio from further union agitation, they were in need of additional space for the production of features.
While at Paramount, Dave Fleischer was asked by the studio to put the popular comic book hero Superman into a cartoon series. Despite the high budgets that came from the series, Superman became the studio's most successful cartoon in the late period of the studio. However, relations between Dave and Max were also deteriorating. A feud started simmering after Dave began an adulterous affair with his Miami secretary in 1938, and was followed by more personal and professional disputes as well.
On May 24, 1941, Paramount started the takeover of Fleischer's studio. Max remained nominally in charge, but a long-simmering personal feud with his brother Dave complicated the situation further. Shortly after the release of Mr. Bug, Dave left for California to take over as head of Columbia's Screen Gems animation studio in April 1942. This action taken one month prior to the renewal of Fleischer's contract caused a breach, as Dave was in violation for taking a position with a competitor while still contracted to Paramount. This breach along with the debt to Paramount gave them the right to take control. Max was then forced out as Paramount installed new management, among them Max's son-in-law, Seymour Kneitel. On May 25, 1942, the studio was renamed Famous Studios, and it moved back to New York within eight months.
Despite the disappointing performance of serveral feature films, one of Fleischer's most successful productions, the Superman cartoons was launched during this late period. Nine episodes were completed by Fleischer Studios, with the final eight made by Famous Studios after the reorganization. Today, the Max Fleischer "Superman" cartoons are considered the final triumph of this great pioneer and his innovative studio.
After leaving his studio, Fleischer was brought in as head of the Animation Department for the industrial film company, The Jam Handy Organization'. While there he supervised the technical and cartoon animation departments, producing training films for the Army and Navy and was also involved with research and development for the war effort. Following the war, he supervised the production of the animated adaptation of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, sponsored by Montgomery Ward. Fleischer left Handy in 1954 and returned as Production Manager for The Bray Studios in New York.
Fleischer lost a suit against Paramount in 1955 over the removal of his name from the credits. While Fleischer had issues over the breach of contract, he had avoided suing to protect his son-in-law, Seymour Kneitel because of his position with Famous Studios under the control of Paramount. The lawsuit was lost because the court decided that though he had a case, the statute of limitations for his case had expired. In 1958, Fleischer revived Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc. and partnered with his former animator, Hal Seeger to produce 100 color Out of the Inkwell (1960-1961) cartoons for television. Actor Larry Storch performed the voices for Koko, and supporting characters Kokonut, and Mean Moe.
Although the rift with his brother Dave was never resolved, Max found a new friend in his old rival Walt Disney, who welcomed Max to a reunion with former Fleischer animators who were by then employed by Disney.
Fleischer, along with his wife Essie, moved to the Motion Picture Country House in 1967. He died from heart failure on September 11, 1972 after a period of poor health On the day of his death Max Fleischer was cited as a great pioneer who invented an industry, and was named by Time magazine as the "Dean of Animated Cartoons."
- Fleischer, Richard (2005): Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution, University Press of Kentucky, ISBN 0-8131-2355-0
- Review by Mindy Aloff: The Animated Life of a Film Giant", The Forward, October 14, 2005. Accessed 1 July 2006.
- Maltin, Leonard (1987): Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. Penguin Books.
- Popeye the Sailor Vol. 2 1938 - 1940, Documentary, "Out of the Inkwell, The Fleischer Story "