Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Lah Land

Mike Lah was quoted in Didier Ghez’ Walt’s People, Vol. 11 that he was freelancing at Quartet Films in 1957 after the MGM cartoon studio closed and “was supposed to be a part” of the ownership group of Hanna-Barbera when it began in July that year. Presumably he didn’t have enough money to invest in it. But he ended up doing layouts and animation, sometimes uncredited, on the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Show and, I suspect, on Ruff and Reddy. Animator Mike Kazaleh says Lah did inserts in some of the cartoons, sometimes up to 90 seconds of animation taking up one or two gags.

Lah’s animation is distinctive. Compare these two drawings. The first is by Carlo Vinci, the second is by Lah.

Granted, the head positions aren’t the same, but you can see Lah preferred rounder eyes with rounder pupils and more whites (he liked drawing a big nose on Yogi).

Both the above frames are from “Big Bad Bully.” Lah sometimes liked to animate in profile with most of the head stationary with the mouth moving around on the side of the face. Occasionally, there are two or three upper teeth, generally no tongue and a long upper line to indicate the top of the mouth.

The drawing of Boo Boo above is from “Pie Pirates,” the first cartoon put into production for the Huck show. Lah animated from his own layouts. Boo Boo has kind of a goofy look; some of Lah’s characters are either a little cross-eyed or one eye is a different shape or size than the other. Here are a few more from that cartoon. He drew conjoined eyes (I don’t believe anyone else did), or had them overlapping a bit. He animated characters the same way at MGM, including characters running off screen at the same angle you see below.

These frames don’t show off Lah’s best work at Hanna-Barbera. He seemed to get more of his share of pain and shock takes and the drawings are very funny.

For whatever reason, Lah didn’t animate any more cartoons for the studio after 1958. He continued freelancing and at some point, set up his own company called Cinema Ad.

There’s misinformation on some web sites that Lah was one of the founders of Quartet Films. He was a part-owner of the company, but that came in 1960. A story in Back Stage magazine marking the studio’s tenth anniversary stated Quartet was founded on June 14, 1956. Here’s a story from Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine from the following July 16th.

Quartet Films Organized, Will Use Storyboard Space
ALTHOUGH Storyboard Inc. closed its Hollywood doors to business today (Monday), key West Coast executives of the tv commercial film production firm have taken over the entire facilities to offer the services of a new company they have formed, Quartet Films Inc., 8480 Melrose Ave., with Arthur Babbitt as president. Mr. Babbitt is former Storyboard animation director of the Snowdrift tv spot "John and Marsha," which took a Gold Medal at the Art Directors Club of New York [BT, June 4].
He is joined in formation of Quartet Films by Arnold Gillespie, who directed the award winning Diamond Crystal Salt commercial; Stan L. Walsh, whose Speedway gasoline and National Bohemian beer spots won awards in the eastern competition, and Les Goldman, former Storyboard production manager. Mr. Gillespie is vice president and secretary of Quartet while Mr. Walsh is vice president in charge of production. Quartet has hired members of the former Storyboard creative staff in Hollywood, Mr. Babbitt announced last week. Storyboard Inc. continues its New York office with John Hubley as president [BT, June 25]. Broadcasting July 16, 1956
As Keith Scott’s book The Moose That Roared relates, Lah set up Shield Productions with Bill Hanna, MGM background artist Don Driscoll and Don McNamara to make some “Crusader Rabbit” cartoons on spec; the U.S. Government Catalog of Copyright Entries shows Ruff and Reddy were copyrighted by Shield on May 25, 1956. Evidently, ownership was transferred to H-B Enterprises from Shield (McNamara formed his own company in October 1956 with Driscoll as his art director).

Lah’s early background in a nutshell: he worked at Disney and Harman-Ising (assisting Mel Shaw) and animated for both the Hanna-Barbera and Tex Avery units at MGM, in addition to briefly co-directing with Preston Blair, then returned to the studio after being let go when the Avery unit disbanded in 1953, first as a freelancer and then as a director. He died on October 13, 1995.

He had another connection to the Hanna-Barbera studio besides being an employee. Alberta and Violet Wogatzke were twin sisters. Vi married Bill Hanna. Alberta married Mike Lah. The Wogatzkes’ brother Roy Wade was a cameraman at Hanna-Barbera, and MGM before that.

I wish I could supply some anecdotes about Mr. Lah (especially since he animated on the first Yowp cartoon) but I never knew him. Perhaps some readers can add something. You can read his interview in the Ghez book HERE.


  1. The budgets for Lah's CinemaScope Droopy cartoons at MGM seem to be a little lower than what Bill & Joe were doling out for their contemporaneous Tom & Jerry efforts, which probably helped him with the early TV animation, since several shortcuts that became part of the early H-B efforts (such as Spike 'popping' from one position to another without an in-between) show up in Lah's widescreen cartoons

  2. I did know Mike Lah, and I always found him to be friendly and good humored. The one time I spoke to him about Shield productions, he'd indicated that they had actually completed several Crusader Rabbit cartoons. I wonder what the might've looked like...

  3. Mike, I got that impression from Keith Scott's book.
    I'm curious about why Joe Barbera wasn't part of Shield, considering Hanna went into business with him soon after Shield folded.