Last year, I was contacted by the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry on Lillian Friedman Astor, the first woman animator in a major American studio. Much of the information was erroneous and she wanted to correct it. I then realized that there was little out there that a Wikipedia author could rely on to be factually correct. (Wikipedia does not take kindly to original research and tries to rely on previously published material.) I did refer her to Shamus Culhane’s memoir, Talking Animals and Other People, a scholarly article I wrote for Film History on the 1937 Fleischer strike where she is mentioned in passing, and most importantly a program book for the May 20, 1988 tribute by ASIFA-East (which admittedly was hard to find).
Culhane, who first discovered her talents when he was at Fleischer, interviewed her for his book and gave me her contact information. I then spoke to her for my PhD dissertation, “Popeye the Union Man,” and The Animation Guild subsequently honored her at their 1987 Golden Awards Banquet for her efforts on behalf of unionism. However, she wrote me that she never understood what all the fuss people were making over her was about until the ASIFA-East tribute, where Culhane and Myron Waldman (the two most important men in her career) were present.
I should add that on Monday, March 28th, Cartoon Research will be posting the Golden Awards video interview I did with her the morning of the banquet, at which time I will also making some more comments.
Anyway, I thought it appropriate at this time to post an Adobe Acrobat version of the ASIFA-East program book. It includes a brief biographical sketch I wrote, along with an even briefer note by Shamus Culhane. It also includes an invaluable “Filmography & Animation Index of Lillian Friedman Astor” compiled by William Lorenzo based on her meticulous personal records.
For those who don’t want to bother with the Acrobat version, below can be found my biographical sketch (with a few typographical corrections) and Culhane’s comments, and a skeletal version of Lorenzo’s filmography, as well as some post-tribute material from the ASIFA-East Newsletter.
Lillian Friedman Astor: A Brief Biographical Sketch
By Harvey Deneroff
In 1939, Lillian Friedman Astor wrote in her diary that one of the most important things that happened to her in the last few years was “my joining and working in the interests of a Union.” In fact, Lillian Friedman’s commitment to unionism was one of the main reasons for the premature termination of her career as an animator. However, despite the real difficulties this caused her, the key to her leaving animation was the fact that she was a woman.
Born in New York City on April 12, 1912, the youngest of six children born to Daniel and Ida (Beitch) Friedman, Lillian started drawing at age 12 and later studied commercial art at Washington Irving High School. In July 1930 she and a classmate, Lillian Oremland, got work at a small animation studio doing inking, coloring and inbetweening on a pilot film for a series (“a lovely little fantasy to the music of Mendelssohn’s ‘Spring Song’”). (This was a time when women rarely got to be more than inkers and opaquers.) She and Oremland then became inbetweeners at Frank Goldman’s Audio Cinema, and through Goldman’s friendship with Max Fleischer, were hired as inbetweeners by Fleischer’s in July 1931.
After a few months, Shamus Culhane, “a very fussy animator,” liked her work so much that he made her his assistant in February 1932. “This required,” she recalls, “some very strong persuasion, or as he put it, yelling and screaming. Culhane taught me a great deal about animation, but his greatest contribution was that he encouraged me for the first time to aspire to become an animator.” In April, Culhane’s idea of having assistant animators was abandoned and she went back to inbetweening. However, he continued to encourage Lillian’s aspirations to become an animator. In 1933, Nellie Sanborn, head of the Timing Department, gave her a chance to redo a scene in a Betty Boop film, showed it to Max and Dave Fleischer “without telling them at first that it was done by a girl inbetweener,” and, as a result, in July, she was signed to a three-year contract as an animator.
After a brief stint with Seymour Kneitel’s unit, she joined a new unit led by Myron Waldman. “This was a much happier group for me because they were all younger and newer animators and they accepted me as one of them, whereas in Kneitel’s group they were all hard-bitten and they would make these sarcastic remarks about the girl animator.” Although Culhane was her initial mentor as an animator, it is apparent in talking to her that Lillian Friedman was and is very much a Waldman protégé.
Like other animators in the 1937 Fleischer strike she crossed the picket line; however, her open stand for the Union nevertheless caused her to suffer “all sorts of abuse directly or indirectly at the hands of the company, from catcalls from hooligans to being told I could expect no increase in salary as long as I chose to belong to the Union.” After she failed to find another job after the Studio decided to move to Miami to break the Union, she stayed on only until her husband found work. Thus, in February 1939, she quit to become “a housewife and mommy,” and moved to Troy, New York.
After Shamus Culhane contacted her about his book, Lillian renewed some old friendships in the field. These colleagues all seemed to deplore the fact that she had dropped animation. But the deplorable fact is not that she dropped animation but that animation had dropped her.
Shamus Culhane on Lillian Friedman
If Max Fleischer could be called a Victorian boss, the staff in general was just as Victorian. So, when I decided to pick Lillian Friedman out of the inbetweener pool, and make her an assistant animator, the animators rose up in wrath. Their main complaint was that she would inhibit the raunchy language which was the lingua franca of the all-male animation department.
They adamantly refused to allow women into their domain. Obviously there was more to it than their need to use bad language. There was the fact that women were inferior artists, and should be relegated to the inbetween department forever, to do what everybody recognized as non- creative work.
When I suggested that all the inbetweeners who wanted the new job of assistant animator be given the same scene to clean up and inbetween, Lillian’s scene was selected from the group of anonymous work.
Lillian Friedman went on from assistant animator to being a full-fledged animator with a salary significantly less than the male animators were getting, but with a drawing ability that competed with their best efforts.
Lillian Friedman Astor Filmography
Compiled by William Lorenzo
The 42 films which Astor animated on, based on her own notes, are listed by year of release and not necessarily when she worked on them. For instance, she did the animation for the first 2 films in 1933 and the third in both ’33 and ’34. This, I should emphasize is only a skeletal version of Lorenzo’s original filmography, which includes descriptions and length of each scene she animated, the total footage for each film and each film’s working title.
Can You Take It (1934) (Popeye)
Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame (1934)
Betty Boop’s Trial (1934)
Love Thy Neighbor (1934) (Screen Songs)
There’s Something About a Soldier (1934) (Betty Boop)
Betty Boop’s Little Pal (1934)
Betty Boop’s Prize Show (1934) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)
Keep In Style (1934) (Betty Boop)
When My Ship Comes In (1934) (Betty Boop)
Baby Be Good (1935) (Betty Boop)
Taking the Blame (1935) (Betty Boop)
Stop That Noise (1935) (Betty Boop)
No! No! A Thousand Times No! (1935) (Betty Boop)
A Little Soap and Water (1935) (Betty Boop)
A Language All My Own (1935) (Betty Boop)
Judge for a Day (1935) (Betty Boop)
Making Stars (1935) (Betty Boop)
Betty Boop with Henry, the Funniest Living American (1935)
Little Nobody (1936) (Betty Boop)
Betty Boop and The Little King (1936)
Not Now (1936) (Betty Boop)
Betty Boop and Little Jimmy (1936)
Hawaiian Birds (1936) (Color Classic)
You’re Not Built That Way (1936) (Betty Boop)
Training Pigeons (1936) (Betty Boop)
Be Human (1936) (Betty Boop) ((Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)
Making Friends (1936) (Betty Boop)
Bunny Mooning (1937) (Betty Boop)
Pudgy Takes a Bow-Wow (1937) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)
Pudgy Picks a Fight (1937) (Betty Boop)
The Candid Candidate (1937) (Betty Boop)
Peeping Penguins (1937) (Color Classic)
The New Deal Show (1937) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)
Educated Fish (1937) (Color Classic) (Academy Award Nominee)
Riding the Rails (1938) (Betty Boop)
Honest Love and True (1938) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)
Pudgy and the Lost Kitten (1938) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)
Hunky and Spunky 1938 (Color Classic) (Academy Award Nominee)
All’s Fair at the Fair (1938) (Color Classic)
The Playful Polar Bears (1938) (Color Classic)
Always Kickin’ (1939) (Color Classic)
Rhythm on the Reservation (1939) (Betty Boop)
Barnyard Brat (1939) (Color Classic)
The ASIFA-East Tribute
The tribute was held on May 20, 1988, at 6:00pm, at New York University’s George Barry Theatre and was hosted by Howard Beckerman, who later wrote me that,
After several months of arranging it came about last Spring. We brought Lillian and her husband [Nat] down from Albany and put them up for a night at the Gramercy Park Hotel. We had an excellent attendance at the NYU auditorium where the screening was held. We were able, through Bill Lorentz, [to] get films that she had worked on including one with screen credit. Shamus Culhane and Myron Waldman were some of the oldtimers in among many young enthusiastic fans and some people that came through an announcement in the Village Voice. It was a fine evening. After the screening we had some wine and cheese and people who had never been to an ASIFA meeting before went away all warm and excited about animation.
The Anymator: The ASIFA-East Newsletter, in its report on the evening said:
SPECIAL ASIFA-EAST AWARD: LILLIAN FRIEDMAN ASTOR
The May 20 Tribute to Lillian Friedman Astor was standing room only! A wonderful crowd greeted our special guest with great warmth as she shared her memories of the early animation studios of her time.
ASIFA EAST presented LILLIAN FRIEDMAN ASTOR with a Special Award certificate: AMERICA’S FIRST WOMAN ANIMATOR – A TRUE PIONEER.
When accepting the award Lillian reflected: “I really must thank ASIFA for doing this. It’s been a very special occasion for me, but I feel a little as though I don’t deserve it, but, I think that, that young girl…who did work hard and try to succeed…and for both of our sakes, I gratefully thank you very much.”
Other special guests that took part in discussions were Shamus Culhane, producer, director, animator, and Lillian’s early ‘mentor’ and Myron Waldman, Director, animator and Lillian’s director.
The Anymator also published this letter:
May 25, 1988
I’ve been on CLOUD 9 since last Friday night, and I don’t know when — or if — my feet will touch ground again. But I didn’t want too much time to elapse before I thanked the Board of ASIFA EAST for arranging such a memorable evening for me.
A combination of “Queen for a Day,” “This is Your Life,” and “Oscar Night” comes close to describing it. In my wildest dreams I never expected there would be such a large turnout and such an outpouring of warmth and enthusiasm.
The beautiful certificate will find its place on what I call my WALL OF FAME. So far it consists of a couple of my own works, and a representation of each of my seven grandchildren. I think they will enjoy seeing it and knowing where they come from, just as I enjoy seeing them grow up and turn out well.
Nat joins me in thanking the ASIFA Board.
All in all, it was well worth waiting 55 years for something I never expected to happen………………………… to happen!
The drawings are all by Astor and are taken from the ASIFA-East tribute book. The photo is a frame grab from the video interview I did the morning of the 1987 Golden Awards Banquet.