Bill Littlejohn, Celebrated Animator, Officer of ASIFA, Animation Guild, Dies at 96

Posted by on Sep 21, 2010 in International Update | 3 Comments

ASIFA is grieved to report the death of veteran animator and former ASIFA vice-president, Bill Littlejohn, who died September 18. He was 96.Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1914, Bill Littlejohn began his career as a cel washer at the Van Beuren Studio in the early 1930s. Later that decade, he moved to the West Coast where he studied aeronautical engineering and worked, briefly, for Lockheed aircraft company in Burbank, before returning to the animation industry. In a career spanning seven decades, Mr. Littlejohn would animate for many theatrical, TV, commercial, and independent studios on both coasts including MGM; Jay Ward; Bill Melendez Productions; and John, Faith, and Emily Hubley’s studios. Littlejohn also co-founded ASIFA-West (now ASIFA-Hollywood) and the International Tournée of Animation, served on the Academy’s Board of Governors, and was president of the Screen Cartoonists Guild (Local 852).

Animator Bill Littlejohn

Bill Littlejohn was the perfect example of a man devoted faithfully both to the craft of animation and to ASIFA. He was, in the animation world, a little famous, but not nearly as famous as he might have been had he indulged in the sort of relentless self-promotion as many artists with only a fraction of his dedication and talent. Mr. Littlejohn was more interested in working.He worked hard on animation of all kinds and was, his entire career, a true journeyman, content to let others take the bows, while his beautiful work was an unfailing engine behind countless and enduring works. Whether animating a Charlie Brown TV special, an internationally celebrated award winning film for the Hubleys, or a TV commercial, Mr. Littlejohn simply pushed up his sleeves, sharpened his pencil, and did stellar work. Like any character actor with a broad range, Mr. Littlejohn was not easily typecast. I think there is no character or style he would not happily have tackled and done well.He worked substantially in commercial for-profit animation but through it all cared intensely about the art of animation. In a letter to Dick Rauh (then ASIFA-East president) following Annecy ’72 he wrote: ‘Incidentally, the Frank film [by Frank Mouris] won top prize and Noyes’ Sandman [another artistic, independent production] took one too. So much for fun and games.” Years later, in the 1990s, I heard Mr. Littlejohn speak on a panel at a festival, probably Annecy or Pasadena, where a moderator asked the panelists’ opinion about “outrageous” animation. Mr. Littlejohn, ever vigilant over the dignity of the art form as well as his own, very gently said he did not think “outrageous” animation a valid classification.He worked hard for ASIFA and was ready to express, in a gentler way than we sometimes remember, his frustration when ASIFA stumbled. “The Ex[ecutive] B[oar]d meets in Zagreb this Sept., when they will take up the agenda they didn’t do anything about at Annecy, which is the whole thing.” In a 1970 letter to Mr. Littlejohn, world renowned producer, and International ASIFA president John Halas gives a hint of Mr. Littlejohn’s significance to the Association: ” As the General Assemby of ASIFA to be held in Mamaia is rapidly approaching, it would be helpful if you would kindly give me some indication as to whether you will be attending the Festival….As in the past, your forthright thinking would be of great help, especially since none of the promises which have been agreed on during the last meeting have been fulfilled.”If nothing else, these 40 years later, we see that ASIFA still depends on the tough love of a few of its members to ensure its business be done. Mr. Littlejohn, with his forthright thinking, was clearly one of these all-important tough-love people. For this , too, ASIFA owes him a world of thanks.–Ray Kosarin


  1. Luda
    September 22, 2010

    A memorial site was created for Bill Littlejohn! Honor his memory by contributing to his memorial site

  2. Tom Sito
    September 26, 2010

    Nice tribute Ray. Just in the interest of keeping the record straight, Bill was never president of Local 839, he was President of Local 852, the Screen Cartoonists Guild of the CSU, later the Teamsters affiliate. He was an activist who stood up to employers, blacklists and even professional gangsters to win artists rights.When I became President of 839, Bill was a help and inspiration. Indeed, as you said, he proved how much good can be done in this business by even one person who cares to think about more than just himself.

  3. AE_Int_Blogger
    October 29, 2010

    Tom, many thanks for the clarification (I have corrected the text).And thank you, again, for your fine article.Ray