Obituary: Harry Love

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Before moving mice dominated the world of cartoon films - Mickey, Minnie and even Mighty, to name but three - there came the cats.

First off the drawing board was Krazy Kat, a newspaper strip cartoon by a genius called George Herriman, whose feline filled the bottom layer of his comic strip called The Family Upstairs, back in 1910. Krazy's rise to popularity was later echoed when he became the first feline to star at William Randolph Hearst's animated cartoon film studio in 1916. Next came Felix the Cat, created by Otto Messmer in 1919, whose signature song, "Felix Kept On Walking", set the world singing even in those days of the silent cinema. Even Walt Disney starred a cat called Julius in his 1924 series Alice in Cartoonland some years before he took to mice and alliteration.

Krazy Kat had almost as many lives as Felix: from comic strip to cartoon films (1915) to more cartoon films (1925) to talkie cartoons (1929) to cartoon films for television (1960). His longest run was produced by Charles Mintz Studio and totalled no fewer than 193 one-reelers over 16 years. To the Mintz Studio in New York City in 1927 came the young cartoonist Harry Love, so young he could not legally sign his contract.

Love was born in Brooklyn in 1911 of a poor working-class family. His natural talent for drawing soon showed itself, and when he was 14 he won the first of several gold dollar prizes presented by local department stores. When he graduated from school at 16 he received a medal from the mayor, the famous Fiorello La Guardia. The first job he ever applied for was at the Ben Harrison and Manny Gould Studio on 42nd Street. He was taken on condition that he reject the scholarship he had won to the Cooper Union Art School and attend instead the Industrial School of Art. "Life drawing is more important to an animator than copying plaster casts," said Manny Gould, and when Love learned that his boss was in fact the brother of Will Gould, his favourite newspaper strip cartoonist, he quickly acquiesced.

To the New York studio from the West Coast came the animator Isadore Freleng, nicknamed "Friz", and Love was made his assistant, an important appointment, as he later reckoned that he was the first ever assistant in the expanding business of animation. Harrison and Gould were the providers of cartoon films for Charles Mintz, a producer who had already achieved some notoriety by ousting the young Walt Disney. Mintz acquired the rights to the comic strip of Krazy Kat from Randolph Hearst at very low cost, as it was by no means the most popular character in the Hearst stable. The millionaire press baron saw cartoon films as a way to promote wide public interest in the Herriman artwork he so admired. Mintz, however, had the Krazy Kat character ironed out, smoothed and rounded from Herriman's angular art work, and by the time sound films arrived, Krazy Kat had virtually become a double for Mickey Mouse.

Mintz now moved his studio to California, a problem for Harry Love who was still legally a minor, but soon his pay rose rapidly from the original $12 a week he earned as a junior to $150 plus a screen credit. His first original screenplay was called Krazy's Shoe Shop, a fantasy featuring the hero's dream of a stock of shoes springing to life: cowboy boots performing a square dance, and so on. This new musical approach intrigued Mintz who encouraged Love to develop his fancies further. In all Love wrote and directed 20 Krazy cartoons.

After the collapse of the Mintz Studio, Love worked for Walt Disney on a number of wartime animated specials including the semi-documentary feature Victory Through Air Power (1943) and Reason and Emotion (1943). After the war he went to Warner Brothers' cartoon department for some 16 years. He assisted his old friend Friz Freleng on Tweet Tweet Tweety (1951) and later Chuck Jones on the brilliant and award-winning Bugs Bunny special, What's Opera Doc (1957). Later he would return to the Jones unit to work on the Dr Seuss television special The Cat in the Hat - thus stretching from Kat to Cat. Then came the Pink Panther television series for Freleng (1964), the 1964 feature film which combined animation with live action, The Incredible Mr Limpet, starring Don Knotts, and The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1972), another feline feature film based on the underground comic by Robert Crumb.

Harry Love never seemed to retire. After a period of production work on a number of cartoon series made for television by the Hanna-Barbera Studio, he devised and ran an Animated College for a hundred of the company's younger employees beginning in 1976. He was still cheerfully at it in 1980 when, on a flying visit of mine to the studio, he was pleased to autograph a copy of one of my books for me.

Denis Gifford

Harold Love, animator: born New York 1911; died Burbank, California 27 February 1997.