Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Bill Schipek

“Bill and Joe trusted him implicitly with running their studio.”

That’s what cartoonist and animation layout man Pete Alvarado said about Bill Schipek, who spent a number of years as the production boss at the Hanna-Barbera studio.

I started writing this post because of a neat little fact I discovered and because I wanted to write about one of the behind-the-scenes people connected with the first Hanna-Barbara cartoons. But it turns out he may not have been connected with the studio in the beginning.

The Los Angeles Times had a short squib on Schipek in its edition of August 29, 1969.

Schipek Appointed to Hanna-Barbera Post
Bill Schipek has been appointed general production supervisor of Hanna-Barbera Productions. Schipek rejoined Hanna-Barbera five years ago, after working with them during the late 1930s when the producers created the Tom and Jerry cartoon series.
It turns out Schipek worked with Hanna and Barbera for a number of years past the late ‘30s. We’ll get there in just a moment.

Victor Oswald Schipek was born in Chicago to Victor Alexander Schipek and the former Bertha A. Hesselbacher; Oswald was the name of an uncle. Why he went by “Bill” is unclear, but he used the name as a boy; the 1920 census lists him as “Billy Schipek.” His parents divorced when he was a child and he lived with his mother and her parents.

Schipek graduated from Hyde Park High School in January 1930. Where he received art training, I haven’t been able to determine. He was still in Chicago in 1935. His name surfaces in Boxoffice magazine in 1937 in connection with a new cartoon studio Fred Quimby was ordered to start on the MGM lot. The June 26th edition tells how Quimby closed a deal to produce cartoons based on “The Captain and the Kids” newspaper strip. The story adds: “Already signed as story writers are William Hanna, Robert Allen, Fred McAlpin, H. Allen [Heck Allen], Charles Thorson and Victor Schipek.”

There’s a pretty good chance that Schipek got along well with Quimby. That’s because he married Quimby’s daughter, Elizabeth. When and where the wedding took place is to be discovered; the Quimbys had divorced and Elizabeth had been living with her re-married mother in Chicago at the same time Schipek was there.

Schipek moved from writing into animation at one point. Then his animation career was interrupted. Variety reported on August 24, 1942:

Eight members of Metro's cartoon department go into various branches of the service this week. Gene Moore, cameraman, has a second lieutenant's commission in the Army. William Schipek, animator, goes into the Navy [sic]. William Tracy, artist, goes into the Navy as a submarine radio operator, same post he held in previous war; Jack Zander, animator, becomes a master sergeant in animation division of Signal Corps. Julius Engel and Dan Karpan, animators, go into the Army and Navy, respectively. Robert Anderson and Karl Kahmann [were the other MGM cartoon employees shipped out].
Variety, again, on November 9, 1945:
AT LIBERTY Tech. Sgt. V. O. Schipek, honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after 37 months' service, checked into the Metro cartoon department as animator.
MGM brought romance as well. Schipek and the former Miss Quimby had divorced and in 1946, he married one of the young ladies in the ink and paint department. They remained married until his death. Along the way, he seems to have taken over the supervision of the in-betweeners at the studio. Dan Bessie, in his book, Reeling Through Hollywood, reveals how Schipek hired him and gave him some instructions on how to make drawings move properly. Bessie calls Schipek “kind,” even though his boss moved him away from the other in-betweeners for talking too much. Schipek also began to get on-screen credit as an animator, bouncing from the Hanna-Barbera unit to the Mike Lah unit.

In 1952, members of the Screen Cartoonists Guild voted to join IATSE. Variety reported on June 5th that Schipek had been elected the first president of the local. He carried on in that post for four years when he ran for business agent and lost to incumbent Don Hillary. That was reported on November 2, 1956. Within seven weeks, MGM announced it was closing its cartoon studio, leaving Schipek, Hanna, Barbera, Lah and the rest of the staff unemployed.

Schipek’s obituary in Variety of May 31, 1977 reads: “Services for Victor O. (Bill) Schipek, 64, production supervisor for Hanna-Barbera Prods., who died May 24, will be held today, 10:30 a.m., at Church of the Hills, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. He had been associated with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera since 1937, when all were at MGM. He joined the partners when they formed their own studio in 1957.”

This doesn’t quite jibe with the Times story above which states he rejoined Hanna and Barbera in 1964. It could be he was at H-B Enterprises in 1957 and left; there are no credits on the Ruff and Reddy cartoons made that year. But there was no in-between department at Hanna-Barbera at the beginning, so there wouldn’t have been a need for a supervisor of one. It very well could be he worked for a commercial/industrial studio like others who were left jobless by the MGM closure. The first time I’ve spotted his name on-screen at Hanna-Barbera is in 1966 on “The Man Called Flintstone.” Howard Hanson had been the studio’s production supervisor since 1957. Schipek is credited as Hanson’s assistant in 1966, then after Hanson’s departure, receives the title “production coordinator” in 1968 before taking over as production supervisor until his death.

Schipek was also involved with a non-profit group that administered a number of programmes involving the movie and TV industries. Here’s Variety again, from August 16, 1968:

Animators Workshop At DePatie-Freleng
The first of a series of instructional workshops for young animators will be held at DePatie-Freleng Sept. 10, with the classes to rotate to other studios in subsequent sessions. Workshops are sponsored by the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund's Animation Workshop Committee, chaired by William Schipek.
I’m sorry you’ve been left with a pretty dry post. It would be enlivened greatly by some anecdotes of Schipek working with those great veterans of animation like Irv Spence or Carlo Vinci (not to mention two guys named Joe and Bill) but I don’t have any, except in the Bessie link above. I imagine being in middle management, some people might not have gotten along with him. Pete Alvarado had the first word in this post, so we’ll let him have the last one. He called Bill Schipek “a very nice guy” and that’s the way I’d like to think of the people who worked at Hanna-Barbera.

2 comments:

  1. Bill Schipek was an ex-Marine and was considered by many to be formidable, intimidating an dkinda a"tough guy". Yet he treated me with kindness and class when I interviewed with him for a n H-B job. I didn't get hired then, but he gave me a lot of valuable tips that got me hired there within two years. Unfortunately, the man wasn't around so I could thank him, The poor guy had died while using one of H-Bs bathrooms, That became his "story" around the studio, It's good to learn some actual accomplishments of the man, Thanks, Don .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bill Schipek had three children. He had a son, Leigh Schipek from Elizabeth Quimby, and had two daughters, Debra Coy Schipek and Victoria Coy Schipek from Margaret Lucretia Coy.

    ReplyDelete