Mark Mayerson

Writer, Cartoonist, Sculptor

R.I.P. Jack Zander
(December 18, 2007)

I received an email from Margalit Fox of the New York Times informing me that Jack Zander passed away last Monday at the age of 99.

I had the pleasure of working for Zander's Animation Parlour from late 1976 to early 1978, though I suffered several layoffs. If you know about the N.Y. animation business from that period, it was par for the course. The work just wasn't very steady. I was an inbetweener, and while I was a rank beginner I was treated well there and was in awe of the people around me.

As I've said before, Jack Zander had good taste. He understood the difference between good and bad animation. While his commercial studio was located in N.Y. he regularly used west coast freelancers like Emery Hawkins and Irv Spence, two animators at the top of anybody's list. He also used the cream of N.Y. talent like Preston Blair. Finally, while Zander was in his 60's, he was one of the youngest older people I ever met. He was still driving a motorcycle (and continued to for years after I worked for him) and he recognized talent in young artists and was willing to hire them to animate. His crew included Dean Yeagle, Nancy Beiman and the late Bill Railey, all of whom were excellent designers and animators and all of whom were no older than 30 at the time I was at the studio. No other union producer in town gave young talent the opportunities that Jack Zander did.

Jack got his start at the Romer Grey studio. Grey was the son of western novelist Zane Grey and I guess he wanted to own a cartoon studio. The talent there included the McKimson brothers as well as Jack, but for whatever reason the studio never released any cartoons. Zander also worked for Harman and Ising while they were at Schlesinger. He spent some time in N.Y. at Van Beuren during the Burt Gillett years and then went to Terrytoons. When MGM dumped Harman and Ising and decided to open their own studio, Jack got the call from Carman Maxwell, the MGM production manager, and spread the word at Terry. He and Joe Barbera were two of the artists who headed to MGM. Eventually Jack would animate Jerry the mouse on the first seven Tom and Jerry cartoons for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. His work on those films is still impressive.

After World War II, Jack produced TV commercials in New York at a succession of studios, starting at Transfilm, as an owner of Pelican (which did live and animation) and finally as the proprietor of Zander's Animation Parlour, where he brought his son Mark into the business as a producer.

During the period of the Animation Parlour, Zander and Phil Kimmelman were doing the best looking commercials in N.Y. Both used many famous designers and print cartoonists, but Zander always had superior animation.

One of the strengths of Zander's studio was the quality of the assistant animators. Ed Cerullo was a genius at doing clean-up with a pencil, prismacolors, marker or anything a job required. Mike Baez, Joe Gray, Ellsworth Barthen, and Jim Logan were also highly skilled themselves, able to follow Ed's lead when necessary and fully capable of producing stunning art on their own.

Besides commercials, Zander dabbled in TV specials. He directed The Man Who Hated Laughter, a special that included many comic strip characters from King Features Syndicate. He also directed Gnomes, based on the book by Rien Poortvliet. While the occasional special project came along, Jack seemed very happy working in commercials. He was not frustrated in the least. TV gave him the opportunity to own his own studio and high commercial budgets (roughly $30,000 for 30 seconds in the 1970's) allowed him to produce great looking animation. That seemed to satisfy him.

Jack left theatrical animation just when it was beginning to reach its peak. As a result, his animation doesn't attract the attention that other animators get. However, he was the real thing and it was because of the war (he was in the Signal Corps) and his entrepreneurial instincts that he moved from what we now consider the center of the business. He was a solid draftsman, a skilled animator, a successful businessman, a good boss and he contributed to the animation industry for more than 50 years. We could use more guys with his skills, his taste and his managerial ability.

Thanks for the education, Jack. I spent almost 30 years in the business and your studio remains one of the best places I ever worked.