William Littlejohn 1914-2010

Posted by on Sep 22, 2010 in International Update | No Comments

Fini and Bill Littlejohn (photo courtesy of Tom Sito)

by Tom SitoTom Sito of ASIFA-Hollywood wrote the following obituary of Bill Littlejohn for ASIFA Magazine. Our thanks to Tom and to ASIFA-Hollywood president Antran Manoogian for kindly sharing it with ASIFA-East (ed.).Bill Littlejohn, an American animator who was one of the pillars of the International ASIFA movement and a founder of the International Tournee’ of Animation, died Sept 18th in his home in Los Angeles. He was 96 years old.Bill was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1914. He began his career in animation in 1934, washing off acetate cels for re-use at the Van Beuren Studio in New York City. At Van Bueren he worked his way up to animator. By the mid 1930’s he relocated to Los Angeles where he could animate as well as pursue his other passion, aviation. He studied to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering and earned his pilot’s license. But he quickly tired of his more-technically minded colleagues, and resumed his career in animation at MGM Studios. He animated on shorts for directors Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Milt Gross and Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.Bill Littlejohn was politically active and was an early supporter of the rising trade unionist movement in Hollywood Animation.”I just saw too many people getting away with a lot, and too few with nothing, and I had to get involved. So we formed a union.” He was at the founding of the first Screen Cartoonists Guild in 1938, and so aggressively lobbied his friends at MGM that they overwhelmingly voted to go union in 1941. Bill was a strike leader in the big strike at Walt Disney Studios and was President of the Guild for many years. During World War Two, Bill was kept stateside to train pilots, and, after the War, he was a test pilot for the Air Force. While he flew bombers and supersonic jets, he continued to freelance for MGM and Walter Lantz. During this time he met his wife Fini Rudiger, an actress and model designer for Disney’s Fantasia. She became his life partner for 61 years, until her death in 2004.In the 1950s, as the TV commercial industry grew, Bill Littlejohn became one of its most prolific animators, creating numerous spots, including the UniRoyal TigerPaws commercials. He also did some of the best loved animation of Snoopy dancing in the classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas and Snoopy’s pantomime air duel with the Red Baron in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. But his most well known association was with John and Faith Hubley. During a thirty-year association with them, he worked on their award-winning short films. He was the primary animator of the Oscar-winning short The Hole, and animated on The Hat; Zuckerkandl; Voyage to Next; Of Stars and Men; People, People, People; Everybody Rides the Carousel; Sky Dance; Enter Life; Amazonia; and  A Doonesbury Special, among many others.Bill and Fini were supporters of the ASIFA since its creation. In the early 1960s they helped found ASIFA-Hollywood with June Foray, Carl Bell, Bill Hurtz, Steve Bosustow and Bill Scott. For years they were regulars at the festivals at Zagreb, Annecy, Ottawa, Hiroshima and Varna. The maintained lifelong friendships with artists such as Fyodor Khytruk of Russia, Emile Luzzatti of Italy and Yoji Kuri of Japan.Bill Littlejohn was a member of the Board of Governors of Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences, representing short films and animation between 1988-2001. He was a recipient of ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Award for life achievement known as the Winsor McCay Award in 1987, and in 1996 Fini and Bill were awarded the first annual June Foray Award for a lifetime of service to the animation community.Ludwig von Beethoven once wrote: “Just as a good days work brings forth a good nights sleep, so a life well lived earns a good death.” Adieu, Bill Littlejohn. Your body may become dust, but your spirit lives on, so long as Snoopy and Tom & Jerry continue to dance across our screens.Tom Sito is Vice President of ASIFA/Hollywood, an animator and President Emeritus of the Hollywood Animation Guild. Thanks to historian Jerry Beck for his help.