Oscar-winning illustrator and animator Gene Deitch, best known for directing popular cartoons like Tom & Jerry and Popeye died at the age of 95, in Prague Thursday. Deitch’s death was reportedly not related to coronavirus.
In a career spanning nearly six decades, Deitch directed popular cartoons like ‘Munro’, ‘Tom Terrific’, ‘Nudnik’ among many others. He directed around 13 episodes of ‘Tom and Jerry’ for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios from 1961 to 1962 and multiple episodes for ‘Popeye the Sailor’ for King Features Syndicate TV between 1960 and 1963.
Deitch was nominated for three Academy Awards. He was first nominated for a Best Short Film (Animated) Oscar in 1958 for ‘Sidney’s Family Tree’, a six minute animated movie, which he had co-produced and directed. In 1961, he won an Oscar in the same category for ‘Munro’, a nine-minute long Czechoslovak-American comedy. He was nominated twice in 1964 in the short animated film category for ‘Here’s Nudnik’ and ‘How to Avoid Friendship’.
He is also critically acclaimed for directing the animated 1966 feature film ‘Alice of Wonderland In Paris’. In 2003, the popular illustrator was conferred with the Winsor McCay Award for his lifelong contribution to animation.
Worked in communist Czechoslovakia
Born on 8 August 1924 in Chicago, Deitch shifted to Prague in 1959 after he fell in love and married Zdenka Najmanova, a fellow animator. He created some of his best work from the the erstwhile Czechoslovakia’s capital, including Tom & Jerry and Popeye.
In his memoir ‘For the Love of Prague’, Deitch recounts living in communist Czechoslovakia as an American and then in Czech Republic, after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
In his last Facebook post, on 11 April, he wrote on the coronavirus pandemic that is wreaking havoc across the world — “Just for one thing, my own prediction is that the next fashion statement will be a revival of the middle ages face mask; this time with medicated meaning / matching shirt/ blouse/ facemask sets, the return of spangles, fluorescent, electric, color blinking facemasks, musical and saucy statement face masks, steamy statements migrating from t-shirt breasts to breathing. Wait for it! Tragedy can surely be monetized!”.
Earlier on Facebook, Deitch had explained that he was in the process of writing one more book on his life as an animator. “I’m still alive at 95, cocooned in our apartment already a month or so, cautiously assured that I don’t yet have the evil bug, and hoping I’ll be able to carry on with the documentation for one more book, recounting my life as a cartoon cooker.”
As news of the award winning animator’s death broke out, tributes poured in on social media, with sentimental and nostalgic messages about the cartoons he created.