Happy Birthday, Max!

Click to enlarge

Max and me in Miami, Florida
Circa 1940. Collection: V. Mahoney

MAX and Me
by Ginny Mahoney
Granddaughter of Betty Boop’s creator, Max Fleischer

Since tomorrow — July 19th — is Max’s birthday, I thought I’d celebrate by sharing some fun facts about the man himself.

Max was born in 1883, the second eldest of Wilhelm and Amelia Fleischer’s six children. From a very early age, he had a restless, inquiring mind always eager to learn, understand and explain the world around him, and growing up in New York offered fertile ground for his active and adventurous imagination. He loved to draw, was fascinated by machines and for a time he even considered becoming an engineer. Max was also greatly influenced by his father’s love of music. All six of the Fleischer children played instruments and growing up, Max and his siblings enjoyed many evenings at home playing music together. Click to enlarge

Remarkably, Max managed to combine all of these interests in his work as an animator, inventor, writer, producer and storyteller. Today I’d like to share a few of Max’s amazing and inspiring accomplishments. Some of them you may already know… and some may surprise you!

  • Some of Max’s early films focused on teaching concepts such as “Relativity” and “Evolution” to the general public.
  • Max made the U.S. Army’s first training films during World War I.
  • Max’s first attempts at animation were created in his own living room, in 1915… after he got home from working his day job!
  • In 1921, Max and his brother Dave established their own company which would go on to become Fleischer Studios, eventually employing more than 700.
  • In 1926, Fleischer Studios produced the very first cartoon with synchronized sound, “My Old Kentucky Home.”
  • Max was a life-long inventor, holding over 15 patents in the film industry alone, including:
    • The Rotoscope – an animation technique, still in use to this day, in which animators trace live action footage, frame by frame, to create realistic movement.
    • The Bouncing Ball – a device used to visually indicate the rhythm of a song, helping audiences to sing along in time with the music.
  • Max created Betty Boop, as well as Koko the Clown and Bimbo; and brought already established characters Popeye and Superman to the Silver Screen for the first time. This year, his classic full-length feature Gulliver’s Travel enjoys its 75th anniversary!
  • Max was also a novelist! His book “Noah’s Shoes” was published in 1944.

It was many years before I learned about all those accomplishments! For me PopMax was simply the best granddad ever. We lived in an apartment close to theirs, and I often wandered over to see what project he had in the works. What once had been a dining room table was always occupied with an invention in progress… it might be a never-wind clock, or a new soap powder, or a children’s miniature projector! Whatever, he always found a little job for me to do as part of the project—and if I ever asked a question, about anything, he’d stop whatever he was doing and search for an answer through his shelves of encyclopedias. Best of all he was addicted to jelly beans and ice cream- both of which he generously shared.