American Animation Pioneer (1903-1992)

The partnership of Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising was one that changed the world of cartoons forever, nurturing and influencing the careers of many of the giants of American animation and producing some stories and characters which would be loved by audiences for many generation. It all started with a local movie theatre chain in Missouri in the early 1920s.

A local entrepreneur/artist named Walt Disney was contracted by the Newman Theatres in Kansas City to create a series of animated advertisements for local businesses. These short pieces were shown in their cinemas, under the title Newman's Laugh-O-Gram. Disney's wit and wonderful sense of style made the Laugh-O-Gram cartoons fantastically popular leading to a series of non-advertising cartoons in the same style. Disney had to scramble to keep up with demand. In 1921, Disney ran a classified advertisement in the local newspaper, calling for inkers and painters. Harman and Ising were two of the members of Mr. Disney's new team, and together the men contributed to a style which became the characteristic of the classic Disney cartoons.

After a move to California, the two men worked with Disney until the late 20s, when they went to work for Charles Mintz. In 1929 they set out on their own, as Harman-Ising. It was at this point that the men created Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid, widely hailed as the first sound cartoon with dialogue. Producer Leon Schlesinger sold the piece to Warner Brothers and the men went to work creating cartoons for the studios brand-new animation department, where Ising was given charge of Merry Melodies, a series of short, musical cartoons.

Harman and Ising parted ways with the notoriously miserly Schlesinger in 1933 after numerous battles over budget. They worked with Van Beuren Studios briefly before MGM took an interest in the Bosko character. The pair created a number of properties for that studio, including a popular series called Happy Harmonies. In 1938, Ising created a new cartoon star for them, Barney Bear. With self-effacing good humour, the artist said that he had based the lazy, sleepy-eyed character on himself.

Rudy Ising's work was always gorgeously realized, with painted backgrounds and an abundance of colour and light. Most of the shorts he did without Hugh Harman lacked the silly jokes that were the pair's trademark—Ising's stories tended toward charming and sweet plots.

In 1940 he had some big triumphs, first winning an Oscar for Milky Way, which is a delightfully silly little re-telling of the Three Little Kittens. This short was the first non-Disney piece to win an Academy Award.

That same year, he helped to create a cat-and-mouse pair along with William Hanna and Joseph BarberaTom and Jerry. The cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot, received an Academy Award nomination and is considered a classic of the period. With two nominations and a win, 1940 was a great year for the prolific artist.

In 1942, Rudy Ising took a break from his career to join the U.S. Armed Forces, where he made a series of training cartoons, among other materials. Over the next years, his output slowed, but he never quit. Ising teamed up with his old friend Hugh Harman several more times.

Through the course of a career that spanned many decades in the cartoon world, Rudolf Ising got the opportunity to work with many of the great pioneers of that industry. From Disney, to Warner Brothers, to MGM he saw the beginnings of the most influential animation houses in the early days of American cartoons.

Thomas, Bob, "Walt Disney: An American Original" (New York, Hyperion, 1974).
Beck, Jerry, editor, "the 50 Greatest Cartoons" (Atlanta, Turner, 1994).
Harman and Ising at

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