Obituary: Jack Hannah
Thursday 07 July 1994
JACK HANNAH was one of the great names in animated cartoons but one little known outside the history of the art. His cartooning career was centred on work with two of the leading producers, Walt Disney and Walter Lantz, and expanded from the humble role of 'in-betweener' (filling in for other animators) to writer/director for no less a star than Donald Duck.
Born in Nogales, Arizona, in 1913, Jack Hannah moved to Los Angeles to study art and won a place in the Walt Disney Studio in 1933. As with all Disney employees he was required to attend night classes at the studio's own art school run by Don Graham. He found the experience exciting: 'Almost every day something was new,' he recalled. His day work was as in-betweener to the star animator Norman Ferguson. Gradually Hannah's talent took him via animator to story man, and he graduated to the team who produced the Donald Duck series.
Hannah made his first Duck cartoon as director, Donald's Off Day, in 1944. Then he combined the irascible quacker with another Disney favourite, the slow-witted Goofy, for a co-starring opus entitled No Sail (1945). Enjoying the change of pace, he directed a Goofy vehicle, Double Dribble (1946), one of the documentary-style shorts about sports so popular at the time. The construction, a series of 'black-out' gags, suited his creative style, and besides, as he later said, 'I got so damned tired of that duck's voice, I just couldn't stand having to work with it all the time.' He returned to Goofy again with Hold That Pose (1950).
Hannah created or developed a number of second-string characters to antagonise Donald Duck. He took two little chipmunks who had already appeared in a short, Chip 'n' Dale, and let them infuriate Donald to distraction in Three for Breakfast (1948). Then there was the tiny insect antagonist Bootle Beetle (1947), christened by Hannah's wife who knew a horse named Beetle Bootle. But the best of all Hannah's supporting stars was Humphrey the Hungry Bear, who led Donald a dance in Rugged Bear (1953). Humphrey was so oddball, yet lovable, that he was boosted to stardom in Grin and Bear It (1954). Hannah's final film for Disney was another Humphrey Bear starrer, It's In The Bag (1956), made in CinemaScope.
After 30 years on the Disney staff, Hannah was disturbed when the company cut down its product of shorts and turned to television. Hannah moved across to the new medium, directing 14 one-hour specials in which he had to combine cartoons with live action of his boss, Walt Disney. Officially retiring in 1959, Hannah could not refuse an offer from Disney's long time rival Walter Lantz. The first cartoon he directed for Lantz was Freeloading Feline (1960), following up with Hunger Strife which introduced variations on his former triumphs, Humphrey and the Ranger. They now went under the new names of Fatso Bear and Ranger Willoughby. But he was not happy with Lantz. 'The only trouble is, once you've been at Disney's, it was just a job. No extra effort was needed,' he recalled. 'And as a result, I just got bored there.' In Lantz's favour it should be rememberd that this was a time of enforced economy in the animated cartoon business.
Hannah finally retired from the Lantz studio but kept his hand in teaching animation at Cal-Arts, the California art school, and also exhibited his landscapes in oils.
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