Jack Zander, 99, a pioneer and veteran in animation who continued in his field until his 90s, died Dec. 17, 2007. His work included animating Jerry (the mouse) in the first seven “Tom & Jerry” cartoons, now considered classics, TV specials, commercials and more.

Zander was a native of Michigan and was a BMW motorcycle driver until he was 91. According to some in the field, his entrepreneurial instincts, as well as work in commercials, has resulted in Zander having less of areputation than he otherwise deserves.

zander-sito.jpgAnimator Tom Sito (above R) and Jack Zander (L) in 1997

By Tom Sito

I worked for Jack Zander, and he was a friend. Jack began at the Rohmer Grey Studio in 1930. He started at Leon Schlesinger Studio in 1933 on the day Friz Freleng threatened to take the entire staff out if Leon didn’t pay them their back wages! He was one of the last surviving animators of the Hanna & Barbera’s MGM team that animated on the great Tom & Jerry shorts. I recall Kevin Petrilak once flipped for me a Jack Zander scene of Jerry he xeroxed from the personal collection of rough animation Friz Freleng kept at his office in Depatie-Freleng. Jerry dancing about the prostrate Tom with a THE END sign. It was very good. Jack was also one of the first presidents of the Screen Cartoonists Guild, and he ran two of the most successful commercial animation studios on Madison Avenue, Pelican and Zander’s Animation Parlour.

When I got to work for him as a freelance assistant in 1978, I knew I had finally made the big time. His studio was one of the best. Jack used some of the best assistant animators in the business, including Jim Logan, Ellsworth Barthen, Ed Cerrillo and Helen Komar, plus elder statesmen like Preston Blair, Emery Hawkins and Clyde Geronimi. He gave a lot of young people a chance, like Dean Yeagle, Nancy Beiman, Dan Haskett and Juan Sanchez. Jack was a man of taste, who never forgot his roots as a studio animator. As he aged gracefully, he maintained a dry wit that was a lot of fun.

He liked to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle and rode his Hog across the U.S. to get his Annie (Animator’s) Award. This while near 90 years old. He only stopped riding his Harley when he suffered a spill on a road in South Carolina that banged him up. He was 92 then.

(In My Heart Editor: A correspondent shown in a comment below saying Zander was her uncle corrects the blogger to say Zander rode BMW’s. Very different bikes.)

He gave one of the best Annie Award speeches ever, in my humble opinion.

“Getting this award at this great age kinda reminds me of the joke about the two old men walking down a road until one encountered a talking frog. The frog said, “I am not a real frog, but an enchanted princess. Kiss me and I shall turn into a beautiful woman and do any erotic thing your heart desires!” The man pocketed the frog and they walked on. After a while the man’s companion said to him, “Aren’t you going to kiss her?” The old man replied: “When you reach my age, sometimes you’d rather have a talking frog. Thank you.

He contributed a lot about his past to my book,”Drawing the Line,” and was giving me notes up to this past spring. He used to send me long faxes, labeled Jax Fax; then he was on the Internet. My condolences to Mark and the family.

Adieu Jack. I hope you are at the celestial version of Costello’s Bar now, having a drink with old pals like Friz Freleng, Joe Barbera and Bill Tytla. Age may have finally stilled your noble heart, but on the screen, Jerry continues to dance merrily, imbued with your indefatigable spirit. New generations of children continue to laugh at his antics. And so this is the way of the animator. For in this way, you live on.

Reprinted with permission from Tom Sito.