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Rudolf Ising; Founded Cartoon Studios

July 22, 1992|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rudolf Ising, one of Walt Disney's original artists but better known for creating animation studios than animated characters, is dead.

The co-founder (with the late Hugh Harman) of the prolific Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon factories was 88 when he died Saturday in Newport Beach where he had retired in the 1970s.

Ising's beginnings in animation dated to his youth in Kansas City, Mo., when he answered a newspaper advertisement for a cartoonist in the early 1920s. He met Disney about that same time and Disney hired him to ink the drawings for "Newton Laugh-O-Grams," Disney's initial attempt at animation named for the Newton Theater in Kansas City where they were shown.

That marked the beginning of a five-decade career.

Ising followed Disney to California a few years later to work on "Alice in Cartoonland" and the "Oswald Rabbit" series, and with Disney, Harman and Ub Iwerks churned out the Laugh-O-Gram Films.

He and Harman separated from Disney to pursue their own careers. Their first cartoon was "Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid" in 1929. Their work, like their mentor's, featured appealing characters and animation that was sophisticated and sensitive--for its time. Bosko was an ink-blot tyke who signed off by saying "That's all, folks," a phrase later made immortal by Porky Pig. "Bosko" came in the infancy of sound pictures and was the first animated film to synchronize movement to speech. Disney's "Steamboat Willie" a year earlier had music and sound effects but no dialogue.

The film's success brought Harman-Ising to the attention of Warner Bros. where their first Looney Tune was released in 1930. It also starred the cheerful Bosko and his enthusiastic girlfriend, Honey.

By 1931 the two men had added an additional cartoon line, Merrie Melodies, which originally featured a character called Foxy who bore some resemblance to Mickey Mouse. Ising began to concentrate more on the Merrie Melodies, which were structured around music, while Harman produced the Looney Tunes segments. Among the directors of those early films was Fritz Freleng, the five-time Oscar winner who brought Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig to the screen.

The Merrie Melodies were based on songs, Ising told The Times in a 1985 interview, primarily because Warner Bros. owned three music publishing companies and some of their new songs were promoted by the cartoons.

Warners and Harman-Ising parted company when the studio's animation chief, Leon Schlesinger, resisted their demands for bigger budgets.

In 1934 they moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where the characters they introduced included Barney Bear, a languid soul who is considered the forerunner of Yogi Bear. Barney was said to have been based on Ising, who had a tendency to fall asleep during meetings.

In 1940 Ising's "Milky Way," about three coy kittens, became the first non-Disney cartoon to win an Academy Award.

Ising left MGM to head the animation division of the Army Air Corps' First Motion Picture Unit, worked on a postwar animated treatment of the King Arthur legend that was never completed because of a lack of financing, and spent the rest of his career on commercial and TV projects. In 1976 the International Animation Society of Hollywood gave him its Annie Award for distinguished contributions.

Survivors include his wife, Cynthia, and their son, Rudy. A funeral service is scheduled today at 1 p.m. at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach.

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