Irven Spence is one of my all-time favourite Golden-Age animators that has ever lived. Why? His animation is very loose and makes very funny drawings. His animation is often very off-model but has a great amount of movement. Now; he may not be the WILDEST animator that's ever lived but certainly is one of them. He gives his animation juicy elements to it and real charm when animating even though it may not be very fancy or even on-model but he really makes his animation in a cartoony form that it ought to be.
From watching children's shows - we've all encountered cartoon characters from many shows where they would stretch the character's arm or any part of the body or even see a character exit the screen with swish lines like you'll see in Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the 1960s and beyond. Irven Spence was one of those animators who pioneered those even though other animators used it before.
In this post I will present a biography account of Irven Spence with all the information I've gathered that I know of which I will present in this post; this will include animator IDs from his work at Warner Bros. and MGM. Spence will turn 103 on April 24 if he were only still alive; and before this happens - I'd like to dedicate my post to him. The family info was provided by Joe Campana.
|Courtesy of Michael Sporn Animation - Splog.|
|Courtesy of the Filboid Studge.|
Irv Spence's earliest work in animation was working at the Ub Iwerks Studio (I think) as an inbetweener at least until 1931 where he worked as an animator on the 'Flip the Frog' series but sorry; I don't know animated scenes he worked on. I believe in-between that time he was working at the Mintz Studios in 1932 and left early in 1933 before returning back to Ub Iwerks. Correctly if I'm wildly wrong about this information. Iwerks recruited animators from the East Coast and brought them to Iwerks down in Los Angeles such as Grim Natwick, Berny Wolf, Al Eugster, etc. and Spence was working with those animators.
While animating at Iwerks; Spence got married to Alice A. Hossfeld on January 15, 1931 and they had one daughter named Darlene b. 2/5/1933 who married in 1955 to Joseph John Sangiorgio who became Spence's son-in-law. The couple divorced in 1971; and according to Martha Sigall - Darlene died at least around the 1970s and no later than the 1980s. Spence and Alice were married until Alice's death on June 6, 1984.
After Iwerks folded in 1936; Irv Spence went over to work for Leon Schlesinger Studios. around roughly late 1936. Spence was assigned to work for Tex Avery's unit where he animated on many Avery shorts in 1937-1938 but only got three screen credits. Now at Warner Bros. I definitely know what animated scenes he worked on. This is why I decided to write this Spence article on this blog (not my old blog) since Spence was at Warners and I felt it was suitable to show it here.
The earliest cartoon I can find Spence's style at Warners was on the Tex Avery cartoon 'Egghead Rides Again' which was his first credit there. During Spence's tenure there; he animated a lot of scenes that featured Egghead (prototyped-Elmer Fudd) and also animated on very early Daffy Duck cartoons for Tex. Anyway on Egghead Rides Again I saw some scenes he did throughout the cartoon particularly near the beginning of Egghead outside the store reading job advertisements. Spence's animation features at the ending where Egghead wins the job of being a sanitation worker. That's Spence all over. In his Warner's style. He was very off-model and drew big eyes that were close together and liked to draw pouty mouths. He was the most cartoony animator in his tenure at Schlesinger's and also in Avery's unit. His animation is full of life when you watch it.
Irv's animation appears in other Avery shorts of that year such as 'A Sunbonnet Blue' where he animated on these three mice singers putting on a show singing and reciting. Such as 'I Haven't Got a Hat', 'The Lady in Red'. As far as I know he did those singers but I think the scenes of the mice clapping or the mouse changing different hats to show colour of atmosphere aren't his scenes. He much all of the scenes of those three mice - I'm quite sure.
He got the whole ending to do in which the Wolf is going to eat Litle Red Riding Hood and Red whacks the Wolf. Notice how from the very preivous shot - the backgrounds were of lighter colour and it completely changes in the next shot with Spence's animation just just look terrible; but Spence's very loose and rubbery animation at least sticks out well. Irv Spence also animates Egghead telling the Wolf "I'm the hero of this picture" before whacking him. It's Spence all-over; Red looks very off-model than the other animators but lots of fine movement. Mark Kausler identifies more Spence scenes on this short in the Golden Collection DVD Commentary.
In 1938; Spence appeared to have done a lot of animation on almost all the Avery shorts - although back then the unit only consisted of Irv Spence, Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland and Paul Smith so it's no surprisement if they've all done animation in every cartoon.
Other scenes include the fat woman dropping the penny out of the ship where a native dives to catch it. The elephant shot is his scene; as well as the deer dancing. The Eskimo feeding the polar bear is definitely his scene. As well as the tribe member drinking coconut and opening it with a can opener. That's all the scenes I can find of him although he might have done a bit more. The reindeer dance is very solid movement even though it may be out of Spence's league but this was Avery's first travelogue and animators would have to animate their scenes carefully to make the gags work.
He also animated the ending scenes as well with Daffy as a director and the pig director acting all crazy like Daffy in the end - as well as the manager shouting "It's stupendous..., etc.". Spence seems to only make Daffy here look appealing; although the design of that short to me is terrible (well; on Daffy Duck anyway) since he has the body of a turkey which is just disgusting but it doesn't look so bad on Daffy at the beginning.
Just so to let you know that Irv Spence wasn't an animator that would animate straight-ahead as he always planned out his scenes carefully to what action he would use which shows that he made his action and drawings funny and awesome - as that's what Mark Kausler said.
This is all I'm going to be talking about Warner Bros. during Spence's tenure as this blog is WB related; but here I'm going to move on to his MGM career - just to let you know.
By roughly early 1938; Irven Spence left Schlesinger's as he recruited over to the new MGM cartoon studios headed by Fred Quimby where he worked there for most of his career. Martha Sigall writes in her book about Spence and the other Schlesinger animators arriving at MGM when they first met Fred Quimby:
Of course; Irv Spence was known for making pranks at MGM and one of the pranksters. There are many great stories by Joseph Barbera where he talks about the "wars" that would go on around the 1940s where it would involve Joe Barbera, Irv Spence and Harvey Eisenberg. Joe Barbera writes the accounts on what happened in his autobiography; My Life in Toons (borrowed from Cartoon Diary blog). He wrote: (Martha Sigall can confirm Fred Quimby's response to those pranks; and Jerry Eisenberg mentioned the pranks in the Yowp interview of Eisenberg posted in six parts).When MGM built their own studio, he [Spence] and the other Schlesingerites went there. They were greeted by Mr. Quimby, who told them, “I know about the rowdyism that goes on at Schlesinger’s and none of that will be tolerated at MGM”. I could picture what was in their minds upon hearing those words. If was as if there were little balloons above their heads that said “Oh yeah?” Cartoonists will be gagsters. That’s the nature of the beast.
A particularly intense rivalry developed between Harvey Eisenberg, a layout man, and Irven—Irv—Spence, an animator. This escalated rapidly until one would take the entire bottle off the water cooler and use it against his foe as heavy artillery. Thus attacked, Irv, taking note of a hole in the back of Harveys shirt, stuck his finger in it and pulled down sharply, ripping his shirt from near the collar all the way to the tails. By way of retaliation, Harvey tore off the breast pocket of Irv's shirt. Irv then ripped off Harvey's. Before the two of them were through, they were both drenched, and their shirts hung down from their belts like hula skirts. Harvey then grabbed the water cooler bottle under one arm, climbed to the top of his desk, took hold of the overhead sprinkler pipe with his free hand, and started swinging from it like an ape.Mark Kausler also told me via e-mail about some "fun" that happened at MGM Studios but it almost became a serious incident. It happened when Irv Spence and Harvey Eisenberg were wrestling in Irv's office in MGM and both of them fell right through a big plate glass window. Both of them suffered minor cutsbut luckily they were wrestling on the ground floor. Fred Quimby was furious about the incident but Joe Barbera thought it was hilarious. This hows that Irv was a rascal in those MGM days; which shows that the Schlesinger pranks and "wars" came all the way to MGM. Anyways; that's all I'll go into the pranks and shenanigans Spence would be involved in and more onto his MGM career.
At this juncture, Fred Quimby, who had been utterly unaware of our battles, walked in. The mouth opened. The jowls drooped. "Jeeezus. A bunch of goddamn high school kids." And he turned and walked out.
This hardly ended the wars. Irv Spence devised what he considered a brilliant defensive strategy. He brought into his office a pile of empty film cans, which he stacked precanously on the edge of his desk. He attached string to them, and ran it to the doorknob, so that nobody could come into his office without triggering a very loud booby trap.
At lunchtime I secured a ladder and a drill. I set up the ladder outside in the corridor and drilled through the plywood wall of Irv's office right over where his head would be. We all waited for Irv to come back from lunch. He went into his office and set up his defensive booby trap. With Irv behind his closed door, I brought back the ladder, set it up, took a big mouthful of water, climbed the ladder, put one end of the straw in my mouth and the other end through the hole I had drilled. Then I let loose with the water.
Now, we had timed all this, and we had studied the trajectories involved. The stream must have hit Irv squarely on the head. He let out a scream, and unable to figure out where the water was coming from, thoughtlessly pulled open his office door, triggering his own booby trap of some twenty empty metal film cans. It sounded like the end of the world. Of course it wasn't. But while we were throwing pushpins and developing the weapons of a water war, Europe and Asia were erupting in a very real war we all wondered how long we could stay out of.
Irv Spence spent his first two years at MGM where he was working on the new series Captain and the Kids with directors Friz Freleng, and also for Harman-Ising. Spence then went to work for Hanna and Barbera after their unit was formed as he worked on the earliest 'Tom and Jerry' cartoons and would have a career working on them. Some particular early scenes that I can tell he did can be seen like in the cartoons 'Fraidy Cat' and 'Puss N' Toots'. Back then, Hanna-Barbera's unit consisted of animators Jack Zander, George Gordon, Bill Littlejohn, Pete Burness and Irven Spence.
In 1942; Irv Spence was taken off Hanna-Barbera's unit after about a year's stay over there and he went over to join Tex Avery's new unit when Avery joined MGM in 1941. Spence was recruited with Avery again as only a few years ago they were working together at Warner Bros. Avery left Warner Bros. in 1941 over a conflict with Schlesinger; and went to MGM but his unit also recruited some new workers such as Preston Blair and Ed Love and both animators were ex-Disney animators that were laid off after the 1941 Disney strike. Spence animated for Avery at least roughly a year or shorter animating on the first four Avery cartoons: Blitz Wolf, The Early Bird Dood It, Dumb-Hounded and Red Hot Riding Hood.
The wolf enters the cabin with just exhaustion and finds Droopy already there by the wall; replying "You moved, didn't you?" I love those freak-out poses that the wolf goes into before tying up Droopy. It's typical of what Irv would do. The smears in it are very funny too. In 'Red Hot Riding Hood', Spence did some shots of the wolf whistling in the limo and Grandmother in her apartment room saying "Hiya cousin; what's buzzin'"; I think he did some scenes of the Wolf and Grandma in her apartment where there is a chase sequence going on. Of course Preston Blair animated much of the 'Red' character while Ed Love did the funny lustful takes during Red's performance.
After working on 'Red Hot Riding Hood'; Tex Avery was brought back into Hanna-Barbera's unit working on Tom & Jerries for most of his career; and probably his best animation.
I've already posted an animator breakdown on that). It's a scene of the dog in the picture presentation where he tries to distinguish military and non-military things. Spence uses a lot of very funny poses such as the dog howling like a wolf. It's all full animation in that one-continuous shot where he makes the characters move around a lot on paper. The part where the dog rips the entire poster of Hitler is just classic when the dog does into all action which is just pure Irv Spence animation - you can really feel the energy given here and like I mentioned before; Irv makes the dog more realistic than the others since he gives him the real personality of one.
Possibly one of my favourite Irv Spence scenes ever is the breakfast sequence in Million Dollar Cat. Spence's scenes begin with Tom watching Jerry jump out the window as he cheers; jumps around and sits on the breakfast table (the jumping cycles are quite possibly by Kenneth Muse surely). The shot of where Tom pulls out the tureen and then the napkin is just classic. It's probably the best part of the cartoon. I love that sense of timing and gestures Tom faces as he's about to pull the tureen out but is relieved that Jerry is around but then goes on that hilarious eye-take gesture when Jerry is under the napkins and eats all of his breakfast. I love how rubbery we drew with the mouth and also the loose movement when he pulls Tom's bib. Notice when Tom rips up the telegram; Spence gives Tom evil teeth. When you watch Jerry smack that butter onto Tom's eye; only Irv can make Tom really hurt as well as his characters. He was the only animator out of Hanna-Barbera that made his characters really look as though they're in pain (with the crashing, fighting, etc.) he would "bring on the pain".
1944 was a pretty interesting year for Spence; and as for the Cartoon Diary of 1944 we kind of know what Spence was up to every day of the year (with a few pages missing). It's a very interesting account that tells us what he was up to everyday as he was buddies with guys like Ed Barge, and all and played golf. I like the use of caricature that he brings and also caricatures himself as well as other faces like Tex Avery, Ed Barge, his assistant Tony Liggera, etc. Those were some pretty good quick sketches they made during the day and you can see a little bit of his style when it comes to drawing there like on his animation. Although what really puzzled me was that I noticed that Irv Spence seemed to have left MGM later on in 1944 (around October) and went off to Hugh Harman's studio along with Tex's unit was with Tex briefly and it's interesting on how he almost left the animation business to become a comic artist. By the end of the year; he was already back at MGM's. This is a page that I've borrowed from the blog where the pages are posted up there. You definitely should check it out.
I believe that at that time Spence was a character designer for Avery which explains why he was designing model sheets for characters in shorts like Slap Happy Lion or Henpecked Hobos. The model sheets are amazing; it's definitely Spence's drawing.
|"Henpecked Hobos" Model sheet courtesy of Kevin Langley.|
|"Slap Happy Lion" Model sheet courtesy of Kevin Langley|
Irv Spence continued to animate many great scenes for Hanna-Barbera in 1944; and 1945 although he wasn't animating on Anchors Aweigh which probably tells us he was with Tex working on model-sheets at that time. Out of the Tom and Jerry animators for Hanna-Barbera - Irv Spence was the odd one out. Why? Because he was pretty much the only wild Tom and Jerry animator in the unit; while Kenneth Muse, Ray Patterson, Pete Burness and Ed Barge were more toned down with their movement but still very fine animators. Mike Lah is another animator would be the other wild animator - although he was only with Hanna-Barbera for about a year.
Spence continued to animate for Hanna-Barbera and at MGM until around 1945. His animation still appears on Tom and Jerry cartoons in early 1946 and animated a hilarious chase sequence in Springtime for Thomas and received no screen credit along with Ray Patterson because both already left while those productions had finished. Irv Spence left MGM to go and work for John Sutherland Studios and was there for roughly a year in 1945 and up to 1946. One known short he worked on was 'The Fatal Kiss' but there's no video of it available on the Internet and I wouldn't know what he worked on. While Irv was away at MGM for a while; Michael Lah replaced Irv Spence's position at Hanna-Barbera's unit as well as "wild animator" until Spence returned in 1946 and Lah as he became a director on some Barney Bear shorts in 1948 with Preston Blair before moving to Tex Avery's unit in 1949.
Spence returned to animation in 1946 where he worked on The Invisible Mouse and The Cat Concerto. Upon his return, Harvey Eisenberg (layout man for Hanna-Barbera unit) left MGM to pursue a career in comics and his replacement was ex-Warner animator Dick Bickenbach who briefly animated before given that position who animated very similar to Spence as I can't figure the differences at times.
On one of my favourites 'Love That Pup' Irv Spence's animation on that short is a good example of how Spence brings the pain to Tom. He animated Tom playing Mexican music with Spike's teeth, Tom trying to disguise himself as a pup by whining; and also the scenes of Tom being hit by objects in the garden such as a birdbath, tree, etc. and even Spike's fist. Only Irv could smash Tom like that. He also loved to use exaggerated sock-it effects to make the pain much more realistic. The shot and poses where Tom bites Spike with those exaggerated sock-its are a great use since it looks really painful. Notice how Tom exits the screen with all those swish lines. Another trait of Spence's MGM work (well; it didn't become visible until around 1949; or perhaps earlier. That shot of Spike standing on only one pose to smash Tom with his fist is just perfect and hilarious timing as Spence made Spike's arm all squished up and then straight and it really does look painful. Tom's poses are also funny when he has the pain.
Okay; I'm going to move on a bit further here and this is the last bit of animation I'm going to go into before I go on to talk the rest of Irv Spence's career after MGM. Here in 1952 - this was sort of the era where Hanna-Barbera cartoons were starting to make a decline with their shorts and their cartoon quality. The writing in their later cartoons became rather weak and their animation were toned down a lot. Around late 1952; William Hanna toned down the timing and animation from some of the animators; and even it happened to Irv Spence. It was still loose animation here but it doesn't seem to move as freely as the earlier cartoons; where the characters are a bit more angular. This is a thoroughly entertaining sequence by Spence in the 1952 short The Dog House. Irv (I think) only got that sequence to work on with Tom trying to drag Jerry with a rope but instead grabs Spike. Look at how Spike's arm stretches; I swear Irv was the only animator in that unit who was doing that - or could be Ed Barge. I'm not sure.
Irven Spence continued to animate for Hanna-Barbera at MGM until the studio closed when he was working on Droopy cartoons directed by Mike Lah. Spence was probably the earliest animator I've been able to identify at young age; but I used to think his animation was somebody else's not knowing who it would be back then. After Spence left MGM; he went over to UPA around 1959 after MGM where he was working on the Mister Magoo series that were released to television in 1960; and also animated on the Dick Tracy series. He received screen credit and animated on the UPA animated-feature Gay Purr-ee that was written by Chuck Jones and his wife and directed by Abe Levitow since a range of Warner Bros. animators worked on that short.
In 1963; Spence went over to Hanna-Barbera studios where he went over to animate on commercials with legendary animator Art Babbitt; and also worked on the feature; Hey There, It's Yogi Bear. I don't know what he animates on that feature but I THINK he probably animated the beginning shots of Boo Boo trying to wake up Yogi Bear in his cave since it appears to move freely like Spence and that swish-line effects when the characters would exit. But I shouldn't judge on those swish-lines since it was a pretty common formula used by H-B animators at the time; but I think that could be Spence's scenes. Spence was on-and-off at Hanna Barbera in the 1960s as well as the 1970s as he was working on Scooby-Doo, Johnny Quest, A Man Called Flintstone, and also Charlotte's Web.
In 1969, Irven Spence also became an animation teacher at Hanna-Barbera in animation classes (and did that in the 1970s, too). Mark Kausler was one of the students who was taught by Irv Spence; and he told me that how Spence was a very supportive and patient teacher. He was very quiet even though he was the King of pranksters in his MGM days. Mark also spoke that his most often characteristic catchphrase was "Oh sure" when replying with his answers to questions; which was a filler. Irv spoke about how someday all of the bad animation qualities (made in the 1960s and 1970s) were declining and the Golden Age was dead but Spence was convinced that someday they'll make fresh new films - Disney would do so in the early 1990s when making The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
In the 1970s he was kept busy again since he was sort of semi-retired as he was one of Ralph Bakshi's favourite animators as he wanted the best animators on his films. Irv Spence animated on his films of the 1970s such as Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, Wizards and Lord of the Rings. It's interesting on how he worked on some serious productions that weren't particularly cartoony that much. Greg Duffell spoke to me about how he met Irv Spence at Ralph Bakshi's studio when he was working on Wizards. He was working in a huge room, with a green carpet and would sometimes get up to pick up golf balls since Spence loved golf. Duffell also spoke to me as (from his own view) that Spence appeared to be a rather religious person since he had religious artifacts, religious talks and the Bible which I thought was rather interesting.
Irv Spence retired around the late 1970s but he was brought out of retirement in the mid 1980s working for Hanna-Barbera again and was kept busy on many productions. It appeared to be a sad ending to his career since he was spent working on Saturday morning shows like 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo, Snorks, Paws Paws, Smurfs, etc. and all the lousy work at Hanna-Barbera. He was also the key-animator on The Jetsons: Movie. His last animation he ever did was in the early 90s where he was working on Tom and Jerry: The Movie released in 1992. I don't mean to sound very negative at all or even disrespectful but what was Irv THINKING of working on a horrendous production like 'Tom and Jerry: The Movie'. He's not going to have any fun on it since the pair are friends throughout the ENTIRE film which is just very disgraceful and insulting since they're the best of enemies. I guess maybe Spence just loved animating through his age and wanted his last chance to work on Tom and Jerry.
For such a great artist, a great career and a great man he truly was. Irv had a sad ending to his great life. Irv Spence re-married to a woman named Olivia Wilson (b. 6/5/1920 d. 3/5/2009). Irv moved to Dallas, Texas which turned out to be a mistake for him since he was moving away from old friends and familiar sighting in Los Angeles. Spence then suffered from Alzheimer's for the remainder of his life and would be found disappearing from the house wandering down the streets with people not knowing who he was or where he lived. Irven Spence then died on September 21, 1995 in Dallas. He was 86 years old. Greg Duffell spoke to me about how he heard the news via Tom Ray while working for Chuck Jones he shed tears since Tom Ray had been his assistant back in 1937 or '38 and knew each other very well. A sad ending to a great life he had.
I hope you have enjoyed this very lengthy post that I've written about one of my all-time favourites. I may have gone on about "Tom and Jerry" in a WB blog but don't forget that he spent most of his career at MGM and that he spent his time working at Warner Bros. in the 1930s so I felt it would make sense to include it here. Irv Spence has had an amazing career and he certainly deserves the recognition that he's received and should be looked at more often while guys like Rod Scribner and Ward Kimball have got lots of recognition but this post is showing my recognition to his MGM work but ALSO to his Warner Bros. work in which I know what he animated. I'd like to thank Irv Spence sincerely for his contribution to his work in Golden-Age animation and for the inspiration he's provided.
I'd like to extend my special thanks to the people who made this post possible. I'd like to thank Mark Kausler for his generosity on sending me some information about Spence; I'd also like to thank Joe Campana for the personal information about him which I've put together. I'd like to also thank people like Thad Komorowski who made the Irv Spence reel containing his work from Ub Iwerks as well as Warner Bros. and MGM. Greg Duffell I'd like to thank for the stories he told me about him knowing Spence and others; even Martha Sigall for writing an informative section about Spence in her book; Fulboid Studge for posting the Cartoon Diary of 1944. Another person I'd like to extend my thanks a lot is to Devon Baxter who even got me interested in Irv Spence before I would even write about it; as I've grown to like his work very much and to appreciate it.
Thank you all for reading this post that I've put together. I know that it goes on for quite a long time but I hope it was worth the time.
Irv Spence 1909-1995