Eugene Merril Deitch (August 8, 1924 — April 16, 2020) was an Academy Award-winning American animator and director born in Chicago, Illinois.
He got his start in 1953 at the New York branch of UPA, which primarily produced commercials and industrial films. It was there that he made his directorial debut with Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat, a pilot short for a scrapped theatrical series based on the Howdy Doody TV show. It was also there that he began his association with voice artist Allen Swift, who performed all the voices for the cancer PSA Pump Trouble. He and Swift would be best friends up until the latter's death in 2010.
In 1956, Deitch took his talents to the Terrytoons studio, where he became supervising director. There, he was known for bringing some well-needed creative punches to the studio; among his notable works a series of made-for-TV shorts starring Tom Terrific, as well as shorts featuring new characters like Sidney the Elephant, Clint Clobber and Gaston Le Crayon. Among the films he supervised was Sidney's Family Tree, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1958. His tenure at Terrytoons was short-lived however, and that same year, he was fired from the studio.
In 1959, he started his own studio behind the Iron Curtain in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he resided till his death. He started a partnership with William L. Snyder of Rembrandt Films to make films for him; their first project was "Munro", a story by cartoonist Jules Feiffer about a four-year-old boy drafted into the Army. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1960. In the 1960s, Deitch directed shorts featuring characters from a variety of clients, such as some TV shorts starring Popeye and Krazy Kat for King Features Syndicate, and, perhaps his most widely-known work, a series of 13 theatrical Tom and Jerry shorts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Among his independent projects included "Self Defense...For Cowards" and a theatrical series of shorts starring the character Nudnik, which Ditch considers his most personal work.
From 1968 until his retirement in 2006, Deitch adapted children's picture books for Weston Woods/Scholastic. He was awarded the Winsor McCay Award in 2003 for his contributions to the animation industry.
Gene Deitch on TV Tropes:
- Flebus (1957)
- Tom Terrific (TV series, 1957-59)
- Munro (1960)
- Tom and Jerry (1961-1962), revival of series discontinued in 1957
- Self Defense...For Cowards (1962)
- Here's Nudnik (1964)
- How To Avoid Friendship (1964)
- Alice of Wonderland in Paris (1966)
- The Three Robbers (1972, adaptation of the children's book)
Tropes associated with him:
- Compilation Movie: His 1966 feature Alice of Wonderland in Paris, which combined previously-made shorts with new linking material.
- Limited Animation
- Missing Episode: Several of his works have been lost and found...
- His directorial debut Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat was missing for many years; Howdy's creator, "Buffalo" Bob Smith, felt it was unfaithful to the source material and ordered all prints to be destroyed. Deitch managed to keep a 16mm print for himself, but he lost in in Prague. A 35mm print was found at the Library of Congress in 2010, and was presented to the public for the first time on Cartoon Brew.
- His short-lived satirical comic strip Malý Svet (translation: Small World) was cancelled after the editors at Květy magazine caught on to the anti-Communist messages, and remained hidden and unknown for years until they were republished (and translated) on Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research website.
- A twelve-minute version of The Hobbit, created with practically no budget, was only shown once, as it was made so William Snyder can keep the film rights to the Tolkien stories as per his contract with his estate. The film was rediscovered by Snyder's son and posted online in 2012.
- Old Shame: Deitch considers his Tom and Jerry shorts to be this, mainly because he and his staff didn't quite get the gag-driven nature of the original shorts.
- Production Posse: Even after his move to Prague, Deitch still had (long-distance) help from his posse in New York, including storymen Larz Bourne and Eli Bauer, and voice artists Allen Swift and Lionel Wilson.
- What Could Have Been
- In 1958, he collaborated with Jules Feiffer on a TV pilot called '"Easy Winners'', about a group of feisty kids. A pilot film was created, but Deitch was booted from Terrytoons before the series could get off the ground.
- In 1960, he and Allen Swift created a TV pilot titled Samson Scrap and Delilah and caught the eye of distributor Screen Gems. They turned down their offer to buy it after reading the contract, which said that Screen Gems would own the rights to it and other properties they might create, and it was instead released as a theatrical short by Paramount Pictures.
- In 1966, he produced a pilot called Terr'ble Tessie (a Gender Flipped version of his short-lived comic strip Terr'ble Thompson), about a girl who could travel back in time to help historical figures. Detch himself voiced the title character.
- He was originally to write a feature-length version of The Hobbit for Snyder while he still had the film rights, but the plans fell through.
- Deitch also wrote a treatment for a feature based on Charlotte's Web, working closely with author E.B. White. According to him, the package with the storyboards he sent to the producers was returned unopened.