Gene Deitch, one of the last of the major figures who worked during the Golden Age of American animation, passed away last night in Prague. He was 95 years old. The cause of death was not related to coronavirus.
Born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, he initially worked as a graphics designer for The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. His early career experienced a seismic shift when the former Disney animator John Hubley, the true creative genius behind United Productions of America, or UPA, hired Deitch as his protégé.
Deitch first came to Prague in 1959, knowing little in the way of how his life would change forever. For the next 50 years, Deitch would live through the changes of communist Czechoslovakia, while falling in love with his wife Zdenka, the director of the Bratři v triku animation studio.
In 1960 MGM asked Deitch to revive the Tom and Jerry animated series for European distribution utilizing the production facilities in Prague. Deitch’s expatriation began then, and his involvement with many fascinating projects have taken place in this city.
Mr. Deitch had a long association with idiosyncratic writer/cartoonist Jules Feiffer dating to UPA days and was anxious to produce his story Munro, about a four-year-old mistakenly drafted into the Army.
Later in his career Deitch adapted many popular children’s stories into animated shorts, of which Munro (1962) won an Academy Award. He also created cartoons around his own creation: Nudnik (1965-1967). Little is known that Deitch actually started his career as a comics artist.
His one-panel cartoon The Cat (1948) ran in the music magazine The Record Collector. He furthermore created a children’s comic, Terr’ble Thompson (1955-1956) for the papers.
His satirical comic, Maly Svet (‘Small World’, 1962), ran in the Czech magazine Kvety and ridiculed Communism until it was banned by the censors. Gene Deitch is furthermore important to comics history as the father of underground comix artist Kim Deitch.