Saturday, 14 August 2010

Mike Lah and His Cousin Tex

Since the modest beginning of this blog, a startling number of people have decided to drop in here for a look, thanks in part due to quite unexpected (and unsolicited) write-ups on Jerry and Amid’s must-see web site ‘Cartoon Brew,’ Mark Evanier’s always-interesting ‘News From Me’ and, more recently, one of John Kricfalusi’s blogs. Readers are going back and exploring old posts made when we were younger, so much younger than today. And we’ve needed help from people to identify artists and fill in bits of information that we simply just don’t know.

Bill in Buenos Aires recently commented about the early Pixie and Dixie cartoon Cousin Tex so a link was provided for a early post on the blog about it. Reader David has responded by commenting a whole chunk of the cartoon appears to have been done by Mike Lah and, in looking at it again, though I’m no expert on this kind of thing, I’d say he’s right.

Lah seems to have done a scene or two in some of the first cartoons that he didn’t animate himself. You can see his thick-lined work in the Yowp debut Foxy Hound-Dog, as well as The Stout Trout, High Fly Guy and others. Anyone who has arrived on this blog must know Lah’s history. He was at Disney before moving to MGM, getting his own unit with Preston Blair in the later ‘40s, then animating for Tex Avery before taking his unit when Tex left to direct at Lantz. When MGM closed, he went on to a lengthy career at Quartet Films, where he eventually took over as president. Steve Worth of ASIFA tells me he simultaneously worked at Hanna-Barbera; Lah did some work for H-B on Ruff and Reddy and The Huckleberry Hound Show. Let’s look at some of Lah’s work from Cousin Tex; David says Lah picks up the scene after Jinks is hog-tied (at the 4:54 mark if you’re watching at home).

Tex gets out a hot branding iron from who-knows-where, and announces he’s going to use it on Jinks. “Back home, we brand all strays.” If Lah’s got dialogue when the head is in three-quarter view, the head generally stays stationary. No nose bobs like Lew Marshall or angular ticks like Carlo Vinci. He animates the mouth movements around the side of the face. You can see this same shape for the letter “o” that Tex has below on Yogi in Pie-Pirates.

Jinks looks horrified. “Well, stay away from this cowboy!” Then he turns to make his escape. The pose below is held for three frames.

The cat tip-toes away, with wooden clattering on the sound track. I love the tail bend. Jinks, in defiance of a cardinal principle of Hanna-Barbera animation, passes by the same chair only once. What a rebel, that Mike Lah!

A wooden crate is used to catch Tex. Jinks sits on it. “How do you like them apples, Wyatt Burp?” he sneers, with his eyelids going up and down when he says “Burp.” Here’s the end of that sequence slowed down, five drawings on twos. It starts with the smirk and the almost closed eyelids and ends with the smirk and the half-closed eye-lids.

Jinks is pleased with himself. The bulldog in Pie-Pirates had the same type of jagged teeth.

But then he smells burning. Tex is inside the crate, using the branding iron to make a hole.

The branding iron does its job. It burns through to Jinks’ fur. He takes off into the air.

There are eight drawings on twos. Here they are slowed down. Notice that Lah has the branding-iron on a little glowing cycle, like a neon light.

Lah takes it into the next scene when Jinks is cooling off in the sink. Then everyone’s favourite meece-hating cat gets a brain-storm and rushes off scene. Does this pose remind you of something in a Tex Avery cartoon?

Carlo Vinci picks up the scene at the telephone; the enlarged head when Jinks shouts and the wide mouth are giveways.

By the way, here’s a drawing of Jinks in the previous scene just before he’s hog-tied.

Lah was from Hammond, Indiana. On June 14, 1934, the Hammond Times had this front page story:

Three years ago during his school days at Hammond High, Michael “Mike” Lah used to tell his friends that he hoped some day to work for “Mickey Mouse,” the most comical animal on the silver screen.
They laughed and scoffed then, and retorted that the leading cartoonist of the high school would probably end up digging ditches as seems to be the lot of most artists these days.
Mike’s ambitions came true, however. Today he has a position as one of the assistant animators at the Mickey Mouse studio in Los Angeles, and he has every reason to believe that a wonderful future lies ahead of him.
Lah was graduated from the Hammond High school in 1931. In high school he drew cartoons for the Calumet Herald, the students’ weekly newspaper, and for The Dunes, the yearbook. He was also a member of the high school’s swimming team.
After graduation he worked for the E. C. Minas company as an assistant
show-card writer. About a year ago he went out to Hollywood.
Mike’s present address is Bimini Lodge Hotel, 155 Bimini Place, Los Angeles, Cal.

Judging by the paper, Mike wasn’t exactly in touch with the folks back home too often. From the Times of October 10, 1937:

RECENT word of the whereabouts of MICHAEL LAH...has come the way of this column. A fair Hammond visitor to Hollywood this summer reports that Michael, who is an artist superior, has been working as an animator in the Harmonizing studio in Hollywood.

Big plans were made for Lah’s 30-year High School Reunion in 1961, but the Times notes that no one had an address for him. Perhaps the organizing committee should have checked the Van Nuys Valley News of September 28th that year. You won’t be able to see this well, but Lah is the guy with the thin moustache, second on the left.

Hey, doesn’t “Little Sam” look like a close relation to the Snap, Crackle and Pop?

So thanks to David for commenting about Mike Lah’s work in this cartoon. Yes, I know it doesn’t measure up to the stuff he did for Avery (or the hilarious puppet dance sequence in the Barney Bear cartoon Impossible Possum for Dick Lundy), but he shows with limited animation, he can come up with some funny moments adding to an enjoyable cartoon.

P.S.: We’ll have a Quick Draw cartoon on the blog tomorrow. No Lah animation there, I’m afraid.


  1. And thanks to you, Yowp, for a terrific blog.

    I think two of the best examples of limited animation is Lah's work on "Pie Pirates" and especially "Lion Tamer Huck", my nominee for the best-looking Huckleberry Hound cartoon of all time.

  2. The sick lion is great in that one. I love how it does a hunched walk out of the scene.
    "Limited" is right. Seems to me there was no animation for the first little while; it was all camera work and stills.

  3. I guess a lot of the H-B cartoons start this way, but it's nearly a minute before we get to actual animation! I always thought of this technique as Avery-like, a series of dissolving establishing shots to begin the cartoon, but what a money-saver it must have been.

    Yes, love that puny lion! And the ridges on his curved spine!

  4. Ben Hardaway seems to have developed a reputation for writing the same pan after pan opening at Lantz; Shamus Culhane complained about it in his book.

    If you watch Norm McCabe's 'Confusions of a Nutzy Spy," there's no animation until the 1:28 mark (the time includes titles).