The first animated film had the perfect title: "The Enchanted Drawing."
Made in 1900, it was the creation of the remarkable J. Stuart Blackton, a journalist-illustrator for the New York World. He collaborated with Thomas Edison and also dabbled in vaudeville, doing "lightning sketches."
A lightning sketch, as the name implies, was a quickly drawn cartoon incorporated into a comedy act (which Blackton, I'm told, often performed in drag). In "The Enchanted Drawing," his lightning sketch seemed to come to life.
Blackton would go on to establish Vitagraph Pictures, which would later evolve into Warner Bros. He would also write his memoirs--without a single reference to "The Enchanted Drawing."
"He didn't even mention, 'Oh, by the way, I invented animation,' " says Tom Sito, animator and history buff.
But if Los Angeles establishes its own Museum of Animation--located, perhaps, at the old Hanna-Barbera Productions studio--let's hope J. Stuart Blackton gets his due.
It's fitting, in a way, that animation would be shrugged off even by the first animator. We're talking about cartoons, after all, and cartoons are by and large supposed to be fun. Oh, there are serious works of animation--but none come to mind. We're also talking about popular art, collaborative art, not the rarefied stuff you'd find in the new Getty. Why bother with a museum? Why not just rent a video or catch the Saturday-morning 'toons?
It so happens, however, I once visited the International Museum of Cartoon Art. It's a swell place, even if it is located in Boca Raton, Fla. Whereas that museum--founded by "Beetle Bailey" creator Mort Walker--emphasizes comics and print cartoons, ours would emphasize film and TV animation.
And now, animation is big, revived especially with Disney's string of recent hits, as well as the popularity of TV cartoons such as "The Simpsons" and "Beavis and Butt-head." Animation is getting more respect.
"There's no question a museum will happen," says Antron Manogian, president of the Hollywood chapter of ASIFA, a French acronym for the international animated film society. "It's just a matter of time, of just finalizing how we're going to do this. . . . You just can't go at it half-cocked."
ASIFA-Hollywood expects to formally announce its museum plans next year. Some details need to be finalized, Manogian says. But they are awfully big details.
"I can't speak of financing at this point," he said. "But a number of major donors have expressed an interest in supporting such a project."
The museum, he says, would probably be located "in the Hollywood-Burbank area. We're considering a number of possibilities."
The distinctive old Hanna-Barbera (H-B) studios, located between Studio City and Hollywood, might make a fine temporary if not permanent quarters. The city Cultural Heritage Commission last week voted unanimously to deny H-B's three distinctive green-and-yellow buildings official status as a cultural-historic landmark.
Time Warner Inc., which now owns H-B, opposed landmark status, suggesting it would kill plans to sell the 3-acre property to Universal Studios, which says it plans to use the buildings for offices. Despite Universal's assurances, preservationists fear the buildings will be torn down.
Tom Sito, president of Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Local 839, and animator and historian Jerry Beck, author of "The Fifty Greatest Cartoons," agree that the time is right for a museum honoring one of Hollywood's home-grown art forms.
Many animators worry, however, whether the studios--Disney, Time Warner, Fox and others--would be willing to cooperate in such a venture, because all are so protective of the copyrighted images they own.
Disney is especially notorious. A few years ago, you may recall, Michael Eisner's company forced nearby Walt Disney Elementary School to stop using a letterhead that depicted schoolkids in mouse ears.
ASIFA-Hollywood could probably establish a museum using works of animation donated by private collectors. Still, they could have a better museum if the studios could play nice with each other.
Think of what enchantment could await at a museum devoted to enchanted drawings. Imagine exhibits devoted to classic cartoons, of displays devoted to the history of the form, of a gallery of original cels--the 10 1/2-by-12 1/2-inch celluloid frames that Beck has described as "a single heartbeat" in an animated film.
Imagine a theater reserved for special showings, retrospectives, seminars. And an Animators' Hall of Fame for such figures as Walt Disney, Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner), Friz Freleng (Sylvester and Tweety Bird), Bill Tytla (Dumbo, Grumpy, the Devil in "Fantasia"), Grim Natwick (Snow White and Betty Boop), Otto Mesmer (Felix the Cat).
The lore of animation goes on and on.
"Felix the Cat was the third-highest grossing celebrity in 1926 after Chaplin and Valentino," Sito says. "Lindbergh had a Felix the Cat in his plane and Groucho may have copied his walk." (Or did Felix imitate Groucho?)
And as for J. Stuart Blackton, the man who started it all, he made $1 million selling Vitagraph. He lost all that money long before the day in 1941 that he was struck by a bus on Pico Boulevard and died. In the end, Sito says, Blackton was penniless.
Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times' Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311, or via e-mail at email@example.com Please include a phone number.