Gene Deitch has passed away. He was 95-years old. Deitch led a long career as an Academy Award winning illustrator, animator, director, and producer. He is best-known for Munro, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1960 and for directing episodes of the iconic Tom and Jerry cartoon series. Deitch passed away on Thursday, April 16th in his apartment in Prague, according to his publisher. No cause of death has been revealed at this time.
Along with his Munro Academy Award, Gene Deitch was nominated twice in 1964 for Here's Nudnik and How to Avoid Friendship. Before those projects, Deitch created the early animated Tom Terrific series, which was presented as part of the Captain Kangaroo children's television show. Tom Terrific was made as twenty-six stories split into five parts, with one five-minute episode broadcast per day. The first thirteen stories were finished in 1957, with the second set in 1958. Captain Kangaroo would go on to rerun the shorts for years to come.
Gene Deitch also co-produced Sidney's Family Tree and that was also nominated for an Academy Award in 1958. In 1961 and 1962, Deitch went on to work on Tom and Jerry, directing 13 episodes, which were not among the fan-favorites when they originally aired. He also worked on Popeye. A DVD collection of all Deitch's episodes was released in 2015, featuring documentaries and remastered content. The illustrator's unconventional cartoons are now looked at in a better light, especially when compared to Hanna and Barbera's slick Hollywood style that had come before. Tom and Jerry fans now look at Deitch's work to be among some of the very best episodes of the long-running series.
Gene Deitch was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 8th, 1924. He was the son of salesman Joseph Deitch and Ruth Delson Deitch. When Deitch was 5-years old, the family moved to California, and he attended school in Hollywood. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1942. After graduation, Deitch started off at North American Aviation where he was drawing aircraft blueprints. He was later drafted and underwent pilot training before catching pneumonia and being honorably discharged. From there, he started illustrating for jazz magazine The Record Changer before heading into an apprenticeship at the animation studio United Productions of America in 1955.
During his first year at United Productions of America, Gene Deitch started his animation career and did not look back. Success came quick, when a project that he served as co-producer on received an Academy Award nomination. This was less than three years after he got his start. Deitch traveled to Prague in 1959, with the intention to stay for only 10 days, but fell in love with his future wife, Zdenka, and stayed in the Czechoslovakian capital. He worked from behind the Iron Curtain, when he did his Tom and Jerry work, along with some episodes of Popeye the Sailor. The Hollywood Reporter was one of the first to announce Gene Deitch's death. May he rest in peace.