Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sharing a birthday with James Stewart

Leon Schlesinger, 1884-1949You may not recognize the face on the left, but it's the face an important name in Hollywood history: Leon Schlesinger, who was born on this day in 1884. Schlesinger got his start in Hollywood in 1919, with the Pacific Title and Art company, which at the time produced title cards for silent pictures (somebody had to produce them), mostly for Warner Bros. With the advent of talking pictures (the legend goes that it was Schlesinger who provided a lot of the financial backing for The Jazz Singer), Schlesinger realized there wasn't going to be as much of a need for title cards, and decided to get into a new field: talking animated pictures. So, he started Leon Schlesinger studios independently, although, like Pacific Title and Art, its biggest client was Warner Bros.; the Schlesinger studio was in fact housed in building on the Warner lot.

If you've seen Warner Bros.' animated movies of the earlier period, you'll probably recall Schlesinger's name appearing prominently in the opening credits. Indeed, it was Schlesinger who was the money man behind both the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoon series, as well as hiring the men who created the most prominent characters -- director Chuck Jones, voice man Mel Blanc, and names like Friz Freleng that you've definitely seen in smaller print in those classic old cartoons.

Schlessinger sold his studio to Warner Bros. in 1944, and died five years later a wealthy man. Of course, the Looney Tunes characters all live on, being very fondly remembered today. However, Pacific Title also lives on, not only making titles from classic movies like the original version of Cape Fear to movies of today like the most recent X-Men movie, but also restoring pictures as well. If you watched the James Stewart birthday tribute, you'll note that Pacific Title did some of the restoration work.

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