Gene Deitch: The Great Pollyanna

Thank You for Tom and Jerry, Popeye and Millions of Memories!

Gene Deitch, 8 August 1924-16 April 2020

A few days back many of us woke up to the news of the demise of legendary Gene Deitch, the creator of characters like “Tom & Jerry”. The one and only, Gene Deitch, Oscar-winning illustrator and animator who entertained the world with his illustrations and animation. Animated cartoons are an embodiment of a fantasy world which can be remembered repeatedly at any time and place. Having recently started “ToonLogs” to use the medium of cartoons and blogs for science communication, this “ToonLogs” is for paying tribute to Gene Deitch, one of the great communicators through the medium of cartoons.

ToonLogs by TasKaSai

The world is going through a crisis of identifying itself and finding out what matters. Everyone is busy in pursuit of success with the presumption that it would bring happiness. With the passing of time and achieving either what one aspired for or what one could do, the reality daunts and the quest for happiness gets reoriented. During this journey, many go through highs and lows and your search for external stimulation for happiness continues. More so when you are a child. Gone are the days when children used to go out for playing, not so uncommon to return with soiled clothes and get a good scolding from the parents. Not that with time, the bashings have reduced, they continue but the form and reasons may get changed.  When one is stressed up, one would look for recouping by listening to a story, soothing music or watch a cartoon. 

Cartoons play an important role in our lives. The way to display their expressions through art has been going on since the Palaeolithic age when humans used to draw on the walls of the caves. Over a period, humans have greatly increased the ways of expressing their feelings and imaginations. The word “Cartoon” came from the Italian word Cartone. The use of cartoon to mean a “humorous drawing” began in the 1800s. There was evidence recorded about a crude drawing of animals in which the illusion of motion given by drawing several pairs of legs, on the walls of caves near Altamira, Spain.  In the beginning, the cartoon characters were drawn by using pencil or ink. With the growth of the movie industry, the animated features became box office hits and went on to win Oscars. Cartoons such as Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry, Road Runner, Looney Tunes, Mickey Mouse and many more have left their mark in the field of entertainment. But behind these developments are the highly gifted and talented people like Walt Disney, Chunk Jones, William Hanna, Walter Lantz and the one and only, Gene Deitch, Oscar-winning illustrator.  

Born on 8 August 1924 in Chicago, Deitch shifted to Prague in 1959 after he fell in love and married Zdenka Najmanova, a fellow animator. Gene Deitch had directed around 113 popular cartoons like ‘Munro’, ‘Tom Terrific’, ‘Nudnik’ among many others. He started his career by writing and drawing the comic strips “The Real-Great Adventures of Terr’ble Thompson!, Hero of History”, starring a courageous child in fantastical adventures. Won the Oscar for his best-animated short subject “Munro”, Czechoslovak-American comedy in 1960.  During 1961 to 1962 Deitch directed around 13 episodes of most famous ‘Tom & Jerry’ for MGM Studios and multiple episodes for ‘Popeye the Sailor’ for King Features Syndicate TV between in 1960 and 1963. “Nudnik”, one other animated series caught the attention of people across the world and aired on Cartoon Network in 1996.

Deitch in his memoir “For the Love of Prague” shared his experience of being what he called “the only free American living and working in Prague during 30 years of the Communist Party dictatorship”. 

For many of the elder generation, exposure to cartoons is restricted to what used to come in newspapers. Many watching “Tom&Jerry” with children (perhaps more intensely), favourite amongst them are the characters Tom and Jerry, the intelligent “Jerry”, apparently dumb “Tom” and ever-threatening and guarding “Spike” or “Butch”.  Maybe it is our psyche that led to many adoring the weak but intelligent “Jerry” and enjoying the troubles caused to “Tom”. While the creation of drawings and animation are outstanding, the building up of the characters and the life lessons it conveyed are many.    

The greatness of the people is reflected in all what they do. How else we can reconcile to (what was reported as) Gene Deitch telling one of his friends that he is not affected by COVID19 and wanted it to be conveyed to the world. Interestingly one of his last FB postings (reproduced below) is about social distancing.

Gene 11 April 2020 at 20.23

Glad to Meet You! I agree! It’s a deal! I just watched Smrconish do a survey on a germ-free substitute for the age old HANDSHAKE. Here is my selfie suggestion, closely related, easy to learn. Palm up as in giving. Thumb up as in good wishes and high hope. Flick your wrist downwards as you do it.

A broader smile would be better.

Thank You for Tom and Jerry, Popeye and Millions of Memories!

Gene Deitch, you would remain in the hearts of many.

Toons by Taskeen Bhat
Logs from: Karthikey Shukla and M. Sai Baba

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