Saturday, November 20, 2010

Out of the Asshole: Max Fleischer and Inaccuracies in His Wikipedia Page

I'm reading Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution. It's a book by Fleischer's son, Richard, an accomplished director himself (Red Sonja!), about nothing more than his memories and what details he was able to dig up from his father's paperwork.

It's a somewhat dry and straightforward book, which is both a plus and a minus. I would have actually liked more texture and detail to the events, but even then, the book gets its point across.

What surprised me were the extreme differences between this book at Max Fleischer's Wikipedia page. The Wiki page claims to list this book as a reference, but I'm not sure what part they referenced. The dustcover?

Most interestingly is that the story of Fleischer gives me new appreciation for Walt Disney. Disney was an asshole. He was actually a bit legendary for it. The differences lie in your interpretation of that behavior. Some people saw this as a man demanding the best, and when you produced the best, you were rewarded. Others saw it as a temperamental child ordering about people of greater skill than himself.

I lean towards the former, less assholey interpretation of Disney, and Fleischer's failure at the hands of Paramount reinforces that. As everyone knows, Hollywood in the early days may as well have been run by the mob. You could fill a book, and people have, with examples of studios' atrocious behavior. They ran a huge racket, as it were. They controlled the movie production and they also controlled all of the theaters. You could only get your movie shown if you made it through them, and they would only give your theater movies if you signed a contract to only ever take movies from them. This was known as the studio system and the reason for the formation of United Artists.

Disney knew that he had to be an asshole to survive. He had to shoot that motherfucker before that motherfucker shot him, and in Hollywood, everyone was armed. I have a feeling that Disney's opinion on this was formed when Universal did exactly what paramount would do to Fleischer to Disney in 1928 with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Basically, Disney was happy with the success of Oswald and asked for an increase in pay and budget. Universal responded by demanding a 20% pay cut and reminded Walt that they owned him. This is world-class shit and it happened all of the time. Around the same time, Paramount was caught off-guard with the runaway success of Fleischer's Talkartoons series and were upset that the contract they had was giving Fleischer an "unfair" cut of the profits. Whereas Disney became hardened, poor Fleischer was too naive; he gave Paramount more money.

From the Oswald Rabbit Wikipedia page-
"In spring 1928, with the series going strong, Disney asked Mintz for an increase in the budget. But Mintz instead demanded that Walt take a 20 percent budget cut, and as leverage, he reminded Disney that Mintz owned the character, and revealed that he had already signed most of Disney's current employees to his new contract: Iwerks and Les Clark were among the few who remained loyal to Walt. Disney refused Mintz's demand, disassociating himself from Oswald after the series first season. While finishing the remaining Oswald cartoons, Disney, Iwerks and Clark created the cartoon hero who would become The Walt Disney Company's lasting symbol: Mickey Mouse, (a slightly altered Oswald the Rabbit to avoid litigation) the most famous of Walt Disney's characters."

Why did this happen? Because the studios were run by suits-and-ties. Men who have NO TALENT WHAT-SO-FUCKING-EVER, and I think that they know it. They HATE people with talent. They surround themselves with yes-men and assume "oh, actual creation is easy. We'll just hire some animators and everything will be fine. The heavy lifting that I DO, now that's difficult work!" Pieces of shit. This isn't just Hollywood, this is all business. This disconnect between people of actual talent and the talentless pieces of shit that run companies runs rampant in industry. Look at the American automotive companies. Rick Wagoner is a moron. Look at the tech industry. Look at what happened to Apple when everyone who actually knew how to do shit left the company in the late 80's. Look at how IBM nearly collapsed under its own red tape.

Look at John Lassater's story about being fired from Disney Corp. DISNEY!!! You'd think that Disney would be more aware of its own corporate history. Ohhhh, right. I forgot. People who run companies don't actually know things.

Disney got hurt very early on. Fleischer didn't get fucked over until decades after his career had started. The Wikipedia page is wrong. If Richard Fleischer's account is to be believed, Fleischer had nothing to do with the failure of his company. It was engineered disaster from Paramount. They sound like they were jealous, they were thieving, they were terrible, horrible, horrendous human beings. We should exhume all of their bodies and burn them in effigy. I'm glad that they were all alive to see the studio system get taken down by the courts.

It's funny. The defining difference between Disney and Fleischer might have been that Disney got screwed early-on, where Fleischer only met mechanical set-backs not associated with backstabbing and other such nasty business. If Fleischer had been screwed similarly early in his career and not Disney, we might be riding giant Betty Boops at Fleischerland.


  1. You summarize it completely. In a market dominated by the 'bosses', competition is strangulated. Shoddy stuff is sold. And neither Disney nor Fleischer did shoddy. The diff is, Fleischer is largely relegated to history. Disney is still a major player...with the ironic touch of now being dominated itself by the suits. Heaven grant that the good stuff will always be made, and that in a hundred years, both Disney and Fleischer will be enjoying revivals in popularity.

    1. I think that you have reason to hope. Development of animation is continuing to get cheaper, and I think that this will cause good stuff to consistently bubble up out of the din.

      I also think that, for better or worse, this energy will keep Disney alive. Disney has a great deal of cachet, and young creators will continue to be attracted to it. We might have "boom & bust" cycles, but Disney will forevermore be producing memorable things.


All comments are moderated, so it might take me a day or two to approve it.