CoviDiaries: J.J. Sedelmaier’s Delightful Digital Ephemera Grab Bag

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By J.J. Sedelmaier

So much related to the area of the animation industry we inhabit has switched to the computer … and as a result, I spend the majority of my time in the world of digital devices, or online in one way or another. Through the course of the day, as I’m held captive by this domain, I download images of all kinds as reference. Years ago, artists accumulated filing cabinets full of clippings and pictures that were collected in a “Morgue.” Today these collections consist of .jpgs, .tiffs, .gifs, .pngs, and .mp4 files. I’ve chosen to use this “Period of the Pandemic” to shovel through all the files I’ve downloaded, and try to collate them into some sense of order. Many of these grabs ultimately end up on the different social media platforms I dance around in. I have a personal Facebook page, but our studio, J.J. Sedelmaier Productions Inc. also has its own group, as does the “History of Animation” group I established while teaching at New York University. (If what you see here tickles your fancy, I hope you’ll join both the JJSP and History of Animation groups!) I also contribute to the endless other groups that specialize in stuff I dig.

The whole social media experience has been nothing but exhilarating for me. By participating in the process of sharing material, it’s expanded both my acquaintance base as well as our studio’s identity and brand. There’s very little I enjoy more than being approached by someone I’ve never met before, and them saying, “I follow you on Facebook and love the stuff you post!”

Below are some of the grabs that I’ve decided will provide some fun and maybe even expose some folks to things they’ve never encountered before.

Robert De Niro’s mid-’70s taxi driver license

Brazilian print ad for Manix gel

East 86th Street, New York City, 1914

Lee Remick, New York City, 1960. Photo by Sam Shaw

Colorized shot of Broadway and 53rd Street, NYC, circa1928. What I found fascinating about the view is it shows the elevated railway that connected the 6th Avenue and 9th Avenue “Ls.” A rare view!

Martha Stewart on the NYC subway, 1960s

Times Square construction crater, 1982

35mm color motion picture film frame of Gloria Swanson, 1925

Cartoonist and comic artist Jerry Robinson with his son, Jens, Jan. 4, 1968. This is from a set of color transparencies I purchased on eBay and later sent to Jerry.

Billy de Blasio

I have a thing for Harpo—especially unusual vintage shots like this color one from the mid-1930s

In the mid/late 1980s, the theatrical publisher Samuel French moved from its longtime office at 25 W. 45th St. in NYC. I worked in the area, and on my way to Grand Central I passed an endless row of mini-dumpsters in front of their building. I didn’t have my waders with me but proceeded to rummage through the contents. It was all their files, filled with correspondence and other ephemera. Had I been a car owner back then, I would’ve filled my vehicle to the brim. Alas, I had to grab what I could. The letterheads alone were to die for …

This is a shot Jerry Siegel and Jack Liebowitz at the New York World’s Fair July 3, 1940. In 1938, Liebowitz was greatly responsible for bringing on Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as their character Superman, at National Comics (later DC Comics) for their new “Action Comics” title.

Here’s the check that bought the boys and their Superman

Macy’s 1966 Superman balloon and Halloween costume

666 S. State Street, Chicago

A few years ago I sold the animated title sequence of the “Sgt. Bilko Show” to the Phil Silvers Museum in the UK. I knew I’d never find a better home for it. Before shipping the artwork off, I did high-resolution scans. The final product can be found here.

This is a film can label from William Tytla Productions Inc. Tytla was an animation legend. Although known primarily for his work on classic Disney features (he animated characters like Stromboli in Pinocchio, and Chernabog, the devil in Fantasia’s “Night On Bald Mountain” sequence), he also had his own commercial animation studio in New York City.

In the 1960s, the cool animation studios had posters designed as giveaways. If you were really cool you had Pushpin Studios and Seymour Chwast produce them for you! This poster was for Peridot Films Inc. Jack Dazzo was the animator/director. While at Elektra Films, Jack animated the classic Alka-Seltzer “Talking Stomach” commercial designed by R.O. Blechman. Elektra also has a poster designed by Seymour and Pushpin.

Any good animation studio generates a healthy quantity of cartoons depicting the people that work within in funny gags and scenarios. In this drawing by Jon Lopez (circa 1981–82), Production Manager Extraordinaire Nancy Lane scolds me for enjoying my coffee too much. We all were working at Perpetual Motion Pictures on the 8th floor of 545 5th Ave., known for producing half-hour TV specials like “The Berenstain Bears.”

J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc. is located in The Bar Building, 199 Main St., Penthouse, White Plains, NY. When the building was built in 1926 it was the tallest structure between NYC and Albany. My studio space in the office is in what used to be the super’s apartment. In the early 2000s I received a call from an elderly woman who was the daughter of the building’s original Super. She wanted to visit and she had pictures to show of the space when she was an infant. The picture on top is from 1926, and she’s in the carriage. The photo below it is her with her grandchildren in the same location, 75 years later.

A marvelous animated spot by Ed Seeman, with sound design by Frank Zappa. 1967.

An animated spot by the Hubley Studio, 1955. John and Faith Hubley had what was arguably the most influential animation studio in the industry. They also did short films like the Oscar-winning Moonbird (1959). Their soundtracks were fabulous because they often used non-actors, lending an authenticity to the films not often seen in cartoons back then.

Ten years ago I received a Facebook message from a Jason Fleischer in Florida. Jason and his family were going through old possessions and realized that much of what they had needed to find a home where it could be both appreciated and available for research. As you’ve probably deduced, this family of Fleischers are the relatives of Max, Dave, Lou, Joe and Charlie. They all helped establish the Fleischer Studios, and were responsible for characters like Betty Boop (celebrating her 90th birthday!), and the Popeye and Superman cartoons of the 1940s. As of October 2019, I’ve become the keeper of The Fleischer Archive—mostly material from Joe and Lou’s descendants. It consists of hundreds of photos, including prints, negatives and glass plates that range from 19th-century Poland to 1970s Miami. There’s also motion picture film and negatives in 35, 16, 9.5 and 8mms. I’m continuing to spend this Time of COVID stabilizing and restoring all this material. The plan is to use it for curatorial purposes, and then, with the help of my pal Karen Green, Curator of Comics & Cartoons at Columbia University, establish an archive there—all with the blessing of Jason, Glenn, Steve and Joel Fleischer. I couldn’t be prouder and more honored.

Below are a couple images from 35/16mm motion picture film too fragile to transfer conventionally, but possible to scan.

Max Fleischer setting up a shot, 1920s

Unknown New York area baseball game/park, 1930s

And finally …

… my dad and I goofing around, mid 1960s.