A tribute to Gene Deitch …and Creator meets his Creator

Sunny Dua
Well before the age of video tape or live streaming, 16mm projectors were all that people flaunted. Those were the times when we for the first time saw Tom & Jerry on a vintage projector. These projectors supported a supply reel that after passing in between a lens and a lamp besides sound drum used to get winded up on a take-up reel. Walls of homes were screens where this animated illustration was projected after drawing the curtains that lasted for just a few minutes but used to create memories for a lifetime.
All we knew about Tom & Jerry animation was that the animated lion that roared before beginning of every movie belonged to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera animation studio that created it and the same was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Warner Bros. Animation, Turner Entertainment. About 114 Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM were created between the year 1940 to 1958 that are still replayed for multiple times on different TV channels especially those that run animated series and films 24X7.
Decades after when we came to know that real illustrator, animator, comic artist and film director behind these fancy and attractive cartoon characters Tom and Jerry and also Popeye was Eugene Merril Deitch commonly known as Gene Deitch who belonged to America but settled in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he was gone. Those who have grown up watching these series or films, I am sure would recall sitting in front of TV non-stop for hours for the simple reason that the Tom’s untiring chase besides Jerry’s skills and other characters were so attractive that they created a bond with the viewers.
Now that we lost Gene Deitch on April 16, 2020 at the ripe age of 95 what seems uncertain is fate of Tom and Jerry. Already a number of cartoon characters and series have taken over these cartoons of yesteryears and it seems little impossible whether the MGM studio will continue to produce Tom and Jerry series or this will also come to an end with the death of Deitch. Gene has already met his creator and if his characters will also meet their creator then this surely will be an end of that era in which we all grew up watching Tom & Jerry.
From amongst our generation there’s hardly anyone who didn’t grew up watching Popeye open a can of spinach, gulp it down the throat into his stomach and take sea pirates head on. This is the generation that also stood witness to endless chases of Tom to get Jerry and eat it but all in vein. While Tom didn’t leave any stone unturned to get Jerry for his meal, the later also ensured that Tom is beaten black and blue not to repeat his craving for mouse and even ducklings. Despite the fact that these series had violence in it yet it continued to be most favourite of kids of yesteryears.
The main plot of Tom (Cat) & Jerry (Mouse) was to have the best, be it sleeping bed, food, ride, house comforts, parties and friends. Their unending chase many a time ended up creating disaster in the home with the owner that was never shown firing the cat. Gene, while building the story made Tom develop several innovative ideas to get Jerry but it was Jerry who outdid Tom in his tricks. It was because of Jerry’s small size and helplessness that always earned him friends in the shape of a Dog, other mice and ducklings and even the house owner. The music in the films and series where characters used to speak very less played an important role to keep the audiences glues to their idiot boxes. Hearty laughs, signs, gestures on hitting each other and making faces were all awesome but whenever one character was cornered another, despite an unending rivalry, saved him.
Gene was also known for creating the animated cartoons Munroe Tom Terrific and Nudnik but his creation Tom & Jerry won many hearts especially when he made these characters travel around the globe, visit several iconic structures and landmarks and had an endless chases in their home and backyard. These characters were so lively that they travelled into the space, dived into the sea, drove fast cars, flew planes, swam, ran and let the hell loose only to blow up even their home many a times.
Deitch spent most of his life in Parague where he relocated back in 1959. Since hearing about his passing, artists from all over the world including film actors from India flooded social media sites with touching artworks and messages besides narrating their experiences as a tribute to the late illustrator. Many created cartoons depicting Tom, Jerry, Popeye Munro, Tom Terrific and Nudnik halting their unending chases only to get on the shoulders of Gene Deitch and paying their respect to their Creator who met his Creator on April 16. In one of the cartoons Gene was depicted in his coffin and these characters surrounding him for his burial that moved their fans around the globe.
It is said, “the purpose is not to live forever but to create something that will” and Gene fitted himself well into this adage by creating Tom and Jerry besides Popeye that are going to live forever. Now that Gene, the creator of Tom & Jerry has met his Creator – the Almighty, a void is being felt in the world of animation and amongst his fans. Gene had directed 13 episodes of Tom and Jerry in 1961 when MGM revived it without the original creators Hanna & Barbera who started it in 40’s.
Born in Chicago Deitch did his schooling from Hollywood, graduated from Los Angeles and began working for North American Aviation only to be discharged after he caught pneumonia. It was in 1955 that Deitch took an apprenticeship at the animation studio United Productions of America (UPA), and later became the creative director of Terrytoons but was fired in 1958 to start his own studio in New York called Gene Deitch Associates, Inc., which primarily produced television commercials.
It was only when his client Rembrandt Films promised to fund Munro, an animated theatrical short that Deitch wanted to create, he moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia. He established his studio there shot several films. He was recipient of Annie Awards’ Winsor McCay Award, an honour conferred upon him by ASIFA-Hollywood for his lifetime contribution to the art of animation.
Tom and Jerry an American animated film series always fascinated kids until the arrival of many other cartoon characters. The love and hate relationship between the Tom & Jerry besides other characters in the series were so simply designed that they became a household name. After the closure of MGM studio that produced 114 shorts, it was gene who added another 13 episodes to the series. Later animated film series featuring Tom & Jerry were produced that included The Mansion Cat, The Karate Guard and A Fundraising Adventure bringing the total animated series number to 164.
Their other series that caught the kid’s attention and were also dubbed in many languages included The Tom and Jerry Show, The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show, Tom & Jerry Kids and Tom and Jerry Tales. Now that Gene is gone tributes to him pouring in from around the globe not only expressed their sadness but also thanked him for creating their childhood what they believe as magical, amazing and awesome. Many also thanked him for giving joyous laughter! RIP Gene Deitch.


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