Fleischer, Max

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FLEISCHER, MAX (1883–1972), cartoonist and producer. Born in Vienna, Austria, Fleischer immigrated with his family to New York City at an early age, studying art at Cooper Union and the Art Students League. He worked as a commercial artist and cartoonist, but his interest in mechanics led him to animation. With his brothers Dave and Joe, he founded Fleischer Studios, one of the first animation studios. They turned out some of the most inventive films of the period.

Looking to find a method to produce animation more efficiently and economically, the brothers invented the rotoscope, a device used to trace movement from live-action film. With Dave working as his live model, Max Fleischer inaugurated his own cartoon series, officially titled "Out of the Inkwell" but more popularly known as "Koko the Clown." These short cartoons ingeniously combined animation with live action, usually in the form of an on-screen Fleischer drawing Ko-Ko before the viewers' eyes. Another innovation of Fleischer's was the sing-along cartoon. By "following the bouncing ball," theater audiences sang popular tunes together as they read the printed lyrics on the screen.

When the movie industry evolved from silent films to talking pictures, the Fleischer Studio was one of the few animation producers to survive the transition. When "the talkies" were permanently established in 1929, Fleischer began releasing his cartoons through Paramount Pictures, an association that continued for more than a decade.

At the end of the 1920s, the studio's top artist Grim Natwick came up with a new, seductive female character, Betty Boop. Fleischer also created Popeye the Sailorman and other popular cartoon characters. In 1941, Max and Dave launched the expensive Superman cartoon series. However, when the box office did not respond well, the two split up, and their animation staff was taken over by Paramount. Dave went to work at Columbia Pictures, while Max went into the industrial cartoon field.

During his career, Max Fleischer produced more than 600 cartoons and held 15 patents that were used in the motion picture industry. His feature cartoons include Gulliver's Travels (1939) and Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941). Books by Fleischer are Noah's Shoes (1944), Betty Boop (1975), Betty Boop's Hollywood Chronicles (released in 1990), and Betty Boop's Sunday Best: The Complete Color Comics, 1934–1936 (reprinted 1995).

His son is film director richard fleischer (1916– ).


L. Cabarga, The Fleischer Story (1976).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]