An American Oscar-Winning producer, director, animator, and illustrator Gene Deitch passed away at the age of 95. The beloved creator breathed his last on Thursday Night in Prague where he resided with his wife and fellow animator Zdenka Najmanovaon. The Czech News Agency was informed about the news by Garamond publishing house owner Petr Himel. The company published Deitch’s memoirs in 2018, For the Love of Prague.
Born as Eugene Merrill Deitch on August 8, 1924, in Chicago, five years later he relocated to California with his family. Upon completing his graduation from Los Angeles High School, he started working for North American Aviation as a draftsman. Deitch was drafted and set foot in pilot training but was dismissed in 1944 because of pneumonia. He then re-entered the commercial art world and began illustrating the cover and interior drawings to the jazz magazine – The Record Changer.
His animation career picked up rapidly. In the late 1940’s – the early ’50s, Deitch became a two-time Gold Medal winner of The New York Art Directors Club for best commercial. These works then got displayed at the Museum of Modern Art collection in New York. Prior to becoming creative director of Terrytoons (under 20th Century Fox), Deitch even worked at the famous mid-century studio UPA and made characters like Gaston Le Crayon, Terr’ble Thompson, Clint Clobber and Sidney the Elephant.
In 1958, Deitch was nominated for an Academy Award for Sidney’s Family Tree – his stage caricature even though he released from Terrytoons in that very same year. He moved on and started his own New York studio under the name of Gene Deitch Associates and mainly produced commercials. In late 1959, he moved to Prague in communist Czechoslovakia with the word of finance for Munro – his theatrical short concept. Initially, he planned to stay there only for 10 days, but after meeting his future wife, animation producer Zdenka Najmanova, he decided to shift base in this city.
In 1961, Munro won the Oscar for Animated Short Film and thus became the cartoon created out of the U.S to earn the honor. Through the ’60s, he worked with Rembrandt Films – the movie’s financier’s to create a few Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM and even sketched Popeye TV illustrations with King Features. Deitch worked as a co-producer and a director for a TV series of King Features’ called Krazy Kat shorts with William Synder. Together with William, they created The Bluffers- their new kids’ series and they even directed Alice of Wonderland in Paris in 1966.
Thereafter, from 1968 till his retirement in 2008, Deitch worked for Weston Woods Studios of Connecticut as a lead animation director. Although he was a non-native, he candidly communicated his love for Prague and affirmed that the Czechoslovak authorities never intervened with his work and made it easy for him to create around 70 animated movies and seven TV series. In spite of this, The Giants (Obri) his 1969 short was prohibited in the country owing to some perceived disapproval of the 1968 Soviet Invasion.
At the 2003 Annie Awards – Deitch was honored for his lifetime contribution to the animation industry with the Winsor McCay Award – an honor which he personally respected more than an Oscar, he once notified an interviewer.