Schlesinger, Leon

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Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, 1884. Education: Attended local schools in Philadelphia. Career: Worked as an usher in Philadelphia, then in the box office of a Chicago theater, and was later appointed as its cashier; also held jobs as a press agent, agent for opera libretti, manager for road and vaudeville shows, as salesman for Metro Pictures, and various positions in the import/export aspect of the film business; 1923—came to Hollywood as west coast manager for AGFA Films; 1925—founded the Pacific Title and Art Studio, a business in which he later sold his interest; 1930—entered the cartoon business at the suggestion of Jack Warner with whom he became associated; 1934–44—produced cartoons for Warner Bros. and Vitaphone; 1944—sold out to Warner Bros.; worked briefly as a producer for Columbia Pictures. Died: In Los Angeles, 26 December 1949.



World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, New York.

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Leon Schlesinger was an important member of that group of east coast promoters, businessmen, and hustlers who transformed the American film business into a well-established, respectable, and profitable industry, with the American middle-class as its paying customers. After a number of different jobs at the margins of the industry, he found himself at the beginning of the sound era working in a field—title design—which was likely to be less lucrative now that a different kind of film was beginning to be produced. Fortunately for him, Schlesinger took friend Jack Warner's advice and became involved in animation, then a relatively new field just beginning to establish its wares—first and most important the musical cartoon—as an essential item on the theatrical bill.

Schlesinger himself was a somewhat rough customer. A devotee of racetracks and an ardent gambler, he was also interested in sports, particularly deep-sea angling, at which he excelled. Though Disney had established the popularity of animation and pioneered the methods by which a successful animation studio could be run, Schlesinger was anything but an imitator of either the Disney style, with its often saccharine appeal, or management technique; he ran his studio in a loose, good-natured, and flexible style that nurtured the talents of artists who probably would not have been happy under Disney's authoritarian rule. The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons he produced for Warner Bros. and others were distinctly more adult in flavor than those done by Disney. The wisecracking, often sophisticated humor of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, two series which began under his direction, owe much to Schlesinger's personal style and taste. Even if he was seldom involved directly in the production of cartoons, unlike Disney, who exercised a firmer hand, Schlesinger was smart to hire and nurture the careers of artists who were able to tap into the national popular taste for almost twenty years. These included Hugh Harman, Rudolph Ising, Fritz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, and Chuck Jones, all of whom were greatly influential on the development of animation in America (Tashlin even went on to become a director of note in "live" productions). Not all his projects enjoyed the success of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series; the Buddy's Show Boat series for Vitaphone was less popular.

But, even though he was never quite the creative equal of Disney, who molded his productions much more in the image of his own taste and obsessions and pushed for prestige projects such as Fantasia, Schlesinger must be credited with having exercised an important and formative influence on screen animated comedy.

—R. Barton Palmer