Shamus Culhane - animator, director, producer, and author - died on February 2, 1996, at the age of 87.
Culhane began his career at the Bray studio in New York in the 1920's, when Walter Lantz hired him to be an office boy. After Bray shut down, Culhane went to Harrison and Gould, where he was an inker on silent Krazy Kat cartoons. When Harrison and Gould went to California, Culhane became an assistant animator at the Fleischer studio, where he was promoted to animator on the cartoon Swing You Sinners. Other cartoons that Culhane worked on at Fleischers include The Herring Murder Case and Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle.
Culhane went to California in 1932 to work for Ub Iwerks. By 1934, Culhane was co-directing Color Classics with Al Eugster for Iwerks, including Jack and the Beanstalk, The Little Red Hen, Puss-in-Boots and The Brave Tin Soldier. When Culhane's contract expired, he returned to New York to work at Van Beuren under the direction of Burt Gillette. The period was not a productive one for Culhane or the studio, and Culhane returned to the west coast to work for Disney.
Disney was not interested in Culhane, but Culhane realized that Disney's cartoons were so superior to other studios that he couldn't afford not to learn Disney's methods. Instead of going in as a director or animator, Culhane went in as a trainee. There, he got his first real art education under Don Graham. Culhane was shunted from department to department until he requested the opportunity to animate Pluto. Culhane was assigned to animator Bill Roberts, where he started out doing Roberts' corrections. Eventually, Culhane became one of the studio's Pluto expert, with excellent animation in cartoons like Hawaiian Holiday and Society Dog Show . Culhane animated the sequence of the dwarfs marching home singing "Heigh Ho" in Snow White and animated the fox in the inn sequence in Pinocchio. Health problems forced Culhane to leave California, and he headed for Florida to work for the Fleischers.
On arrival, he worked on the end of Gulliver's Travels, the Fleischers' first feature film. After that, he headed a shorts unit which did A Kick in Time, starring Hunky and Spunky, and Popeye Meets William Tell, one of the best animated Fleischer cartoons. Culhane was a sequence director for Mr. Bug Goes to Town, the second feature, where he was responsible for the opening sequence introducing all the characters. When his contract with the Fleischers expired, Culhane headed west again. After a short stint at Warners, where Culhane animated on the Chuck Jones short Inki and the Mynah Bird, Culhane was hired as a director by Walter Lantz.
At Lantz, Culhane did some of the best work of his career and directed some of Lantz's best work. These cartoons are hard to see today, as they are not available on home video and the Lantz cartoons are not well represented on television. Cartoons like Abou Ben Boogie, The Greatest Man in Siam, The Barber of Seville, Mousie Come Home, The Pied Piper of Basin Street and The Painter and Pointer show off Culhane's ability to work with music, his excellent sense of timing and his willingness to experiment. Culhane is one of the most under-rated directors of American theatrical cartoons. At Lantz, Culhane also directed several films for the military, such as Enemy Bacteria.
After the war, Culhane was a pioneer in TV commercials. He did the successful Ajax Cleanser campaign as well as campaigns for Muriel Cigars and Halo Shampoo. Shamus Culhane Productions also did live action commercials, titles to shows like Playhouse 90 and contributed animation to a series of science films made by Bell Telephone and directed by Frank Capra. At one point, Culhane had facilities in New York and California. Cash flow problems and a downturn in the advertising business caused the studio to go bankrupt.
For a while, Culhane freelanced for various companies. He animated on the Hubley film The Hat. He worked on TV animation for Hal Seeger Productions.
Culhane became the head of the Paramount cartoon studio in the '60's, producing the last of their theatrical shorts, like The Opera Caper and My Daddy, the Astronaut, as well as TV animation like episodes of The Mighty Thor.
In later years, Culhane worked in Milan, Italy, with a company called Erredia 70 and also spent some time in Toronto working at Cinera. Later projects include three TV specials (Noah's Animals, King of the Beasts and Last of the Red Hot Dragons) and TV series like Professor Kitzel and The Spirit of '76.
Culhane was the author of an autobiography, Talking Animals and Other People, and a book on animation production called Animation From Script to Screen. His wide ranging experience make both books excellent and informative reads.