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Biography

Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trivia (5)  | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (3)

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Died in Los Angeles, California, USA  (viral infection)
Height 5' 7½" (1.71 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Leon Schlesinger occupies an odd niche in Hollywood history. He was every bit a studio mogul but occupied a narrow, if extremely lucrative corner of the industry, an animation company. He might have shared this corner with Walt Disney but the two men couldn't have been more different in their professional outlook, yet at one time or another each employed many of the same people, shared rabid anti-union attitudes and paid their talented staffs poorly. Unlike Disney, Schlesinger didn't set out to become a producer of animated cartoons, he owned the immodestly-named Leon Schlesinger Productions, which had evolved out of Pacific Art & Title, which was Warner Brothers' title card outfit back in the silent days. The company was not exclusive to Warner's, but Leon developed a particularly close friendship with Jack L. Warner and as legend has it, when the studio was up against the financial ropes, it was Schlesinger who helped finance The Jazz Singer (1927).

In 1929, Leon was approached by two unemployed 25-year old ex-Walt Disney animators, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, who had produced a novel 3-minute talkie cartoon, 'Bosko The Talk-ink Kid,' a plotless exercise made to demonstrate something Disney hadn't accomplished with his talkie-toon Steamboat Willie (1928): Bosko's voice was lip-synchronized. Harman and Ising had shopped the character and technique around town without any bites until they approached Schlesinger, who feared the vast majority of his rapidly dwindling title card business was about to be completely wiped out as studios converted over to sound. Animation was a natural move. On January 28, 1930 Schlesinger signed a contract with Harman and Ising to deliver a single cartoon within 60 days (!) with options for additional cartoons amounting to a year's production based on monthly delivery (!!). Leon then went to work on Jack Warner and landed a distribution deal and exercised his options. This middleman arrangement was to define Leon Schlesinger for the remainder of his career: unlike Disney he was no visionary -- Leon was simply out for money.

At the beginning of his career as a cartoon mogul, he also found time to briefly act as a producer for Warner's B-western unit, devoted to John Wayne low-budget oaters (these films featured plots and canned shots from earlier Ken Maynard films, complete with matching horses and wardrobes). Back on the animation side, with no small amount of conceit, he wanted his name on everything, despite having no creative input. Leon was simply, and often ruthlessly, committed to making the most money based on the artistic genius of others. And to Schlesinger, the obvious way to accomplish this was to keep his overhead costs to an absolute minimum.

Harman and Ising frequently clashed with Schlesinger over production budgets and color production. Leon predictably balked at cutting into his profits for the sake of art. By 1933, the boys had enough of Leon, quit and quickly signed Bosko to a distribution deal with MGM. Leon was left, except for certain copyrights (the names Looney Tunes, and Merrie Melodies, for example) virtually high and dry -- but not without a plan. Schlesinger, free of partners, quickly rallied. He got Warner's to lease him out a suitable space (the claptrap building was nicknamed 'Termite Terrace') and formed his own studio.

At the depth of the Great Depression, talent came cheap and Leon went about poaching select ex-Herman-Ising staff members such as Friz Freleng and Robert Clampett, along with hand-picked former Disney personnel, arguably the most important early key member of the team was Earl Duvall. Duvall created the first identifiable character of Schlesinger's new studio, a bland Caucasian Bosko-like kid named Buddy, who would appeared in 23 cartoons until 1938.

Schlesinger finally caved to color in 1934 with the 42nd Street (1933)-inspired Honeymoon Hotel, starring a variety of bugs. Schlesinger was acutely aware of Disney's domination of the animation industry -- they had 3-strip Technicolor locked up exclusively through 1936 and it was an open secret there was a Disney animated feature in the works. He countered with every asset cheaply available: Warner's excellent music library and outstanding orchestra and his staff was not bound by Disney's rigid policy of realism. By comparison, Schlesinger's individual production units (each headed by legendary directors like Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin and Chuck Jones) could be positively outrageous.

1936 saw the fortuitous hiring of ex-KGW Radio 'Hoot Owl' announcer Mel Blanc (hired to an exclusive contract some 4 years later) and an increasingly popular roster of new animated stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and, especially Bugs Bunny (formally introduced in 1940). Fiercely anti-union, Schlesinger had few qualms over shutting his newly unionized studio down twice in the early 1940's balking at his animator's demands for higher wages.

Surprisingly, Leon didn't work for Warner's exclusively; he assigned units to work for animated segments of films for Paramount, RKO (Disney's distributor!) and Republic. Schlesinger himself remained as arrogant and egotistical as ever, decidedly non-creative while continuing to rail against spiraling costs, so this early golden age essentially happened despite his presence. Leon decided to sell his company to Warner Brothers in July, 1944 for $700,000.00 and in a measure of true Schlesinger generosity, he rewarded each of his directors a gold pen set and invited them to dinner at his mansion for the first and last time to celebrate their years together. The retired mini-mogul died on Christmas Day, 1949, his public reputation forever cemented by the words, 'A Leon Schlesinger Production' plastered on a multitude of classic cartoons.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jack Backstreet

Spouse (1)

Bernice K. (? - ?)

Trivia (5)

Was the inspiration for Daffy Duck's lisp.
Left an estate worth $904,700.00
As bad as Schlesinger could be to work for, his replacement, ex-Warner Bros. publicity director Edward Selzer, was worse. Schlesinger simply ignored the creative process, while Selzer was annoyed by it. Chuck Jones recalled Selzer admonishing his directors laughing in a hallway saying, 'and just what the hell does all this laughter got to do with making animated cartoons?'
From its creation in August, 1931 through the end of the decade, Schlesinger's 'Merrie Melodies' (the second series created after Looney Tunes in May, 1930) were contractually obligated to contain at least one song out of the Warner Brothers licensed catalog. This requirement often resulted in the story lines being stopped dead in their tracks; his unit directors hated this requirement.
Withdrew his cartoons from Academy Award consideration in 1938 as a protest for perceived preferential treatment afforded to Walt Disney.

Personal Quotes (2)

His usual statement before he saw the cartoons in the the showing room: "Roll the Garbage"
[His initial response to "Snow White & the Seven Dwarves] I need animated features like I need two assholes.

See also

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