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    Renegades of Animation: Pat Sullivan

    Pat Sullivan became famous worldwide for his creation of Felix the Cat. What most animation histories gloss over is Sullivan’s checkered past and longtime standing as a wildcat renegade. He didn’t follow the rules. And he made damn sure to fully protect his intellectual properties.

Renegades of Animation: Pat Sullivan

Discussion in 'The Animated Word' started by sidestreetsam, Jan 26, 2014.

  1. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    pat_sullivan.jpg Pat Sullivan became famous worldwide for his creation of Felix the Cat. What most animation histories gloss over is Sullivan’s checkered past and longtime standing as a wildcat renegade. He didn’t follow the rules. And he made damn sure to fully protect his intellectual properties.
    Sullivan was born in Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, in 1885. He arrived in America in 1910 apparently one-step ahead of his miss-adventures in Australia.

    Sullivan worked for William Marriner, a newspaper cartoonist whose comic strip detailed the adventures of a little black boy character named Sammy Johnsin. Marriner was a tortured soul, a desperate alcoholic who become progressively erratic. Finally deserted by his wife in 1914 he committed suicide while burning his house and studio down.

    Sullivan then created three or four forgettable strips that often featured a little character based on Sammy Johnsin. Times were changing and in the 1910’s and a more enlightened atmosphere prevailed in regards to racial tolerance. The old stereotypes of blackface minstrels and obviously over-caricatured African Americans were beginning to be weeded out of the children’s comic pages.

    Sullivan had meanwhile entered the fledging animation industry by joining the newly formed Barré-Nolan Studio (1914) which was probably the first of its kind dedicated 100% to animation. The main title produced by the new studio was a series of inserts for the mostly live-action Animated Grouch Chaser series, distributed by Edison.

    Interestingly enough this is also how Barré’s partner, Bill Nolan, entered the animation business, later originating “rubber-hose animation” while becoming one of the fastest animators who ever lived. Nolan had previously been working as a live-action shorts director in Edison’s own studio.
    The two worked together for a year putting out animated and live-action commercials for various companies. Most likely the first ever use of animation for advertising purposes.

    In 1916, William Randolph Hearst, multi-millionaire and newspaper magnate, started a rival animation studio called International Film Service and hired most of Barré's animators, including Bill Nolan, by paying them more money than Barré could provide. Sullivan decided to start his own studio and made a series called ‘Sammy Johnsin’, based on a Marriner strip on which he had worked, even though he had no clear ownership rights to Marriner’s work.

    The continuing controversy over the creation of Felix the Cat rages on unabated. Otto Messmer first joined Sullivan’s studio in 1916 after working with Henry "Hy" Mayer, a well-known cartoonist. Mayer and Messmer collaborated on the successful animated series The Travels of Teddy, which was based on the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Messmer subsequently worked for Sullivan, who handled the business side of the work, while Messmer handled the creative responsibilities.

    In 1917, Sullivan was convicted of rape in the second degree of a 14 year old girl. He spent 9 months in prison,during which time his studio went on hiatus. While Sullivan served his prison sentence, Messmer briefly returned to work with Mayer, until Messmer was drafted into World War I. When Messmer returned stateside after the war in 1919, he returned to Sullivan's studio, and was hired by director Earl Hurd of Paramount Screen Magazine for a cartoon short that would accompany a feature film. Sullivan gave the project to Messmer, whose end result, Feline Follies, starring Master Tom, a black cat, who was a prototype to Felix, which brought good luck to people in trouble. Sullivan's involvement in the project is disputed, although handwriting in the animation has been identified as his.

    Felix was the first cartoon character created and developed for the screen, as well as the first to become a licensed, mass merchandised character. Sullivan took the credit for Felix, and though Messmer directed and was the lead animator on all of the episodes he appeared in, Sullivan's name was the only onscreen credit that appeared in them. Messmer also oversaw the direction of the Felix newspaper strip, doing most of the pencils and inks on the strip until 1954.

    Felix the Cat starred in over 150 cartoons until 1931, when animation studios began converting to sound films. Although it is disputed that Felix the Cat, the first cartoon superstar, was Sullivan's creation, as studio head he was responsible for naming him Felix, and for producing and promoting the series. He was a pioneer in character marketing and a tenacious fighter for his intellectual properties.

    Sullivan was the deal-maker, wheeling and dealing the whole time. He liked living and eating well and preferred partying with chorus girls as opposed to doing any real animation work. He left that to master animator Otto Messmer. Sullivan was the boss and as such reaped the biggest financial gains from the Felix franchise. He paid his employees the typically low wages prevalent at all the animation studios of the era. One thing was certain; it was the Sullivan name alone that would be associated with the Cat known as Felix.

    Sullivan died on 15 February 1933 in New York City at age 47 from health problems brought on by alcoholism and pneumonia.
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