Saturday, 2 May 2009

Some Notes About Ken Muse

When Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna got their studio rolling, and started their first major effort with the half-hour Huckleberry Hound Show, they relied on three main animators to handle the bulk of the work. Ken Muse and Lew Marshall had come with them from M-G-M while Carlo Vinci was imported from Terrytoons, where he had worked with Barbera a little over 20 years earlier.

(Yes, I realise Ruff and Reddy was H-B’s first television project, but I’ve never really considered it a “major” effort).

The internet may not be the best source of information, because anyone can post anything, but I’ll cobble together some of the stuff I’ve read here and there about Mr. Muse. If any of it is incorrect, please weigh in with the facts.

First, we can turn our attention to Ken’s obit. The Associated Press actually did a little story on him, which appeared in papers of July 29 and 30, 1987.

TEMPLETON, CA.—Kenneth L. Muse, a Hollywood animator who drew Mickey Mouse for Walt Disney, Tom and Jerry for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the Flintstones for Hanna-Barbera, has died. He was 75.
Muse, who had lived in this San Luis Obispo County town since March, died Sunday, said Jay Sarbry, an animator at Hanna-Barbera.
“Walt (Disney) really liked him. He liked anyone who drew Mickey,” said Sarbry, who worked with Muse in drawing Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney Studios. Muse was paid $22 a week to draw Disney's most famous character, said his granddaughter, Deborah Delcoure.
Muse later moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he worked on the movie “Anchors Aweigh,” starring Gene Kelly. In one extraordinary scene, the 1945 film combined live action and animation as Kelly danced with a cartoon mouse drawn by Muse.
When William Hanna and Joseph Barbera left to form Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1959, Muse went with them. At Hanna-Barbera, Muse worked on a variety of characters, including the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear and numerous others.

The respected Mark Mayerson, in Apatoons No. 44, discloses here that Muse worked under the wonderful Preston Blair on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice;” both later ended up at M.G.M. A discussion on the Toonzone site awhile back states that Muse left Disney in January 1941, but he is first creditted at Metro on “Fine Feathered Friend” which was released on October 10, 1942. One would think he therefore worked uncredited for a bit, or the 1941 date is incorrect. As for his Disney work, Thad Komorowski’s blog mentions a couple of Mickey scenes by Muse identified by David Gerstein.

As for Muse’s work in the Hanna-Barbera unit at M-G-M, I’m not one of those people who can wax on about who did what scene in which cartoon, but Mark Kausler, in a Film Comment piece from 1975, is quoted in Mike Barrier’s Hollywood Cartoons describing a scene from Tom and Jerry’s “Tee For Two” where Muse did a scene of Tom with angry bees in his mouth (anyone who has seen this cartoon will surely remember it).

Muse worked at M-G-M until the cartoon studio closed, including on the unentertaining final cartoon “Tot Watchers.” Then came his work at Hanna-Barbera on Huck, Yogi, and the Flintstones. Various web sites insist one animator did each H-B cartoon in the early days, though Mike Lah would jump in and do a scene or two on someone else’s cartoon. Still, the ASIFA Hollywood site reveals Muse did the entire Flintstone episode “The Swimming Pool,” which first aired on October 15, 1960.

C.D. over at the Big Cartoon Database Forum very aptly describes Muse’s work in the early H-B cartoons as “basic straightforward animation, nothing fancy....when the mouth moves, you see one set of top teeth (like one long tooth) and tongue shows a slit in the middle.” Here’s Muse depicting Mr. Jinks in “Pistol Packin’ Pirate” (at the top of this post is a Muse frame from “Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie”).

Alas, like many fine animators of the Golden Age of Animation, he was stuck working on television dreck, like innumerable Scooby spin-offs, The Smurfs, and The Trollkins. Not all his time was at Hanna-Barbera; he jumped to Depatie-Freleng in the early ‘70s on Roland and Ratfink and Hoot Kloot cartoons, and something abyssmal-looking and inexcuseably talent-wasting called Bailey’s Comets.

Muse had a hearing problem. And you can see Muse in this photo with a hearing aid.

The most bizarre claim about Muse I’ve read is in a Washington Post story from 2006; it’s a re-quote from a Rolling Stone article about Muse’s step-daughter, Judee Sill, singer, battler of personal demons and ultimately suicidal:

Sill hated Muse from the start: She called him “mean, dumb, narrow-minded -- he used to beat dogs.”

I’m presuming she’s not referring to Spike or Doggie Daddy on screen.

Muse is not to be confused with newspaper cartoonist Ken Muse, who worked at the Jam Handy studio in Detroit for a time, and had a strip syndicated through McNaught in the 1960s called Way Out. His name was Kenneth Howard Muse, born in Detroit on April 28, 1925 (late note: he died on June 19, 2010).

Kenneth Lee Muse was born in North Carolina July 26, 1912 and died on July 26, 1987.


  1. Worthless information, but Ken Muse was also one of the worst chain smokers ever. A friend saw his empty desk at H-B (Muse had left for the day) and it was covered with cigarette burns and had a heaping ashtray of butts on it.

  2. My data for Muse on Mickey comes from Disney studio drafts. Aside from the awesome dance in BIRTHDAY PARTY, Muse's Mickey scenes include many of the best-conceived moments in CANINE CADDY and A GENTLEMAN'S GENTLEMAN.
    Pity Mickey was so rarely the star of his own cartoons at this point—he was still capable of being drawn with such character.

  3. Ken Muse was born the same state as Huck Hound, and as his voice Daws Butler's neighbors - thus the influence - and died on his birthday.

    Steve C.

  4. Muse has "easy" animation only in early HB cartoons (by me probably in fullfishment of HB's rules about limited animation). But Muse animated also in 70s and 80s in late Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry Show and Smurfs (1st and 5th season) - in very lively animation: his characters' eyes, mouth, poses, running seems very like in old TJ cartoons. Ironically, In these times Muse was drew better smooth draws than other animators at Scooby or Smurfs. Always I get laugh from enjoying, when I am seeing Muse's animation at Scooby-Doo etc. - it looks alike old Tom and Jerry. Although I didn't knew his name until 2007, I knew his drawing style as well. Probably one of my favourite HB animators

  5. Judee Sill's neice spoke about her aunt telling her about muse molesting her, but she didn't realize how true the abuse stories. Years later, after judee's mother's death, he remarried. His new wife was missing the tips of two fingers, so she asked about it. She informed her that her grandfather, muse, cut her fingers off one night when he was drunk. It's all in a rolling stones article that the niece helped with.