Oscar-winning animator, illustrator and filmmaker known in part for his work in Tom and Jerry and Popeye cartoons Gene Deitch has died. He was 95.
Deitch passed away unexpectedly last Thursday night at his home in Prague, according to his Czech publisher, Petr Himmel. No additional details or cause of death were provided. Deitch is survived by his wife and three sons from his first marriage.
Eugene Merrill Deitch was born August 8, 1924 in Chicago and moved to California as a child. After graduating from high school, Deitch worked as a draftsman for North American Aviation. He was drafted and entered pilot training for the military but was discharged for medical reasons in 1944 after which he went back to work in the commercial art world. Soon after, his animation career took off, marked by a continuing chain of prestigious awards. He also served as creative director of Terrytoons under 20th Century Fox and created several characters, including Sidney the Elephant, Gaston Le Crayon, and more.
Deitch was nominated for an Academy Award in 1958 for Sidney’s Family Tree and later won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short film in 1960 for the film Munro. He was nominated for the same award twice in 1964, once for Here’s Nudnik and once for How to Avoid Friendship. In addition, Deitch worked on Popeye television cartoons and many Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM.
In 1959, Deitch moved to Prague after meeting his future wife, animation producer Zdenka Najmanova. While living in the city, Deitch created more than 70 animated films and seven television series. In his memoir, For the Love of Prague, Deitch wrote about what he described as being “the only free American living and working in Prague during 30 years of the Communist Party dictatorship.” According to Deitch, despite this status, authorities never interfered with his work, though his 1969 short film, The Giants (Obri) was banned in the country for perceived criticism of the 1968 Soviet invasion.
In addition to his Academy Award, Deitch received the Winsor McCay Award for his lifelong contribution to animation in 2004, an honor which he said he valued more highly than his Academy Award.
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