Monday 12 December 2022

The Cat Man

Newspaper cartoonist Feg Murray had a daily syndicated feature where he drew and profiled a celebrity.

Who would have guessed one of his subjects was cartoon writer Mike Maltese?

Here is the drawing from the Brooklyn Citizen of May 15, 1941 when Maltese’s cartoons were released by Warner Bros.

Yes, Ray Katz never directed a cartoon (though he was in charge of contracts for his brother-in-law, Leon Schlesinger, at the time), it’s debatable whether cats were a Maltese speciality, and I suspect he never used a typewriter to write a story, but it’s surprising to see a cartoon writer get recognition. Especially since Maltese didn’t work for Disney, and especially since Maltese had to fight his way into the Schlesinger story department (he related to historian Mike Barrier how Bugs Hardaway and the older writers tried to freeze him out in 1940).

Coincidentally, Variety reported on May 9, 1941 that Schlesinger had signed Maltese to a five-year contract as a story and gag man.

The Cat’s Tale was released March 1, 1941.

Maltese remained at Warners, writing some terrific cartoons for Chuck Jones, until 1953 when the cartoon studio was about to close and he jumped over to Walter Lantz Productions. When Warners re-opened the following year, Jones managed to get Maltese re-hired, and with a $50-a-week raise (“Unheard of,” remarked Mr. Maltese in a 1976 interview). He left for Hanna-Barbera in November 1958 as paisano Joe Barbera offered even more money. In his first year, he wrote all 78 cartoons on the Quick Draw McGraw Show, along with a Huckleberry Hound cartoon and another starring Yogi Bear.

The rest of the story is fairly straight-forward. Maltese worked for Chuck Jones off and on for the rest of his career, finally leaving Hanna-Barbera for good in 1971, indignant over interference by the networks in his stories. His last series for the studio was (I think) Funky Phantom (Didn’t the teenagers in that one own a sand buggy named “Looney Dunes”?).

His pre-Warners career at Fleischer and Jam Handy is related in Barrier’s fine book “Hollywood Cartoons” and Joe Adamson indispensable “Tex Avery: King of Cartoons.”

Maltese remains my favourite cartoon writer. He passed away in Los Angeles on February 22, 1981 at age 73.


  1. Unrelated, but there is another Murray drawing that claims that Tex Avery was the brainchild behind Porky Pig.

  2. The Cat's Tale,as most know, closed with an early variation on the 1941-55 Merrie Melodies.theme.😉