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Myron Waldman: No Longer an Uncredited Animator

IN the early days, animation was a mostly anonymous form of artwork.

Now that animation art has become a collector's item, some of the original animators are basking in the delayed recognition of their work.

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During the 1930s, Myron Waldman rarely got screen credit for bringing such characters as Popeye and Betty Boop to life on film. Today, fans gush with nostalgia when they meet him.

"I didn't expect [fame] to come the way it's coming," Mr. Waldman says.

It was more than six decades ago that Waldman started working as an "opaquer" for Fleischer Brothers, one of the biggest cartoon-production studios. Before long, he moved from the entry-level job of filling in drawings to creating characters of his own.

Waldman created Betty Boop's dog, Pudgy, and the mother-and-son donkeys, Hunky & Spunky. He was head animator for two of the four Fleischer cartoons nominated for Academy Awards.

But many of the films Waldman worked on did not include his name in the screen credits. Cartooning requires collaboration, he says. "It's not a one-man business."

"You accepted it," Waldman says of the anonymity. "I enjoyed what I was doing."

This was during the Depression after all, and Waldman was paid $12 a week for his work. "When I started, I was ashamed to take the pay," he says. "I'm talking Depression now - things were tough."

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The studios would often save money by reusing "cels," the celluloid sheets on which the animated characters were painted. They would pay 2 or 3 cents for someone to wash each cel, Waldman says. "People would almost beg for the work."

Although Disney eventually took the spotlight with cartoons for children, Fleischer Brothers produced New York-style cartoons "slanted at adults," Waldman says.

"Max Fleischer invented every process that Disney used," he adds.

Cartoon censorship was common when Waldman worked for the studios. He tells the story of a cartoon scene in which a dancing hippo kicked her garter off into the audience. "It was censored in Philadelphia," Waldman says. "They said it was vulgar."

But things were comparatively loose at the Fleischer studio. "You weren't allowed to show cow udders at Disney," Waldman says.

Although he doesn't remember exactly who came up with the idea, Waldman says the Fleischer studio deserves credit for linking Popeye to spinach.

"We saved spinach as a vegetable," he says. "Spinach was grown a lot in Texas, and things were tough down there. But then they started selling lots of spinach. It was a lifesaver."

It wasn't long, in fact, before Texas built Popeye statues, showing the cartoon hero gulping his favorite vegetable.

What does Waldman think of the animation films and television programs of today? "I don't watch 'em," he says. "I know what the story is going to be. They're all the same."

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