John Sparey R.I.P. 1927-2010


See that laughing maniac up there? That’s a caricature of me drawn by John William Sparey back in 1969, more than 40 years ago. Here John is comparing my laugh to the sound of a cackling chicken. We were working for John Wilson on the animated feature “Shinbone Alley”. It was my first real job “on staff”, doing inbetweens. It was on that picture that my friend the animator Frank Andrina gave me my first professional scenes to animate on the Archy Declares War sequence, layouts by Sam Cornell.  I also met among many others, the one-of-a-kind gent, John Sparey. John had been an assistant animator at Disney, animator at Hanna-Barbera, and worked on the original “Crusader Rabbit” TV cartoons in San Francisco in 1950 before working for John Wilson. My pal, James Tim Walker was also working as an inbetweener for Wilson that summer. The studio was in a ramshackle wooden building right across from the Colorvision studios lot, formerly Monogram Pictures, now it’s the home of KCET. Our wooden building was torn down years ago, the beat-up old animation desks were supposedly from the Disney Hyperion studio. Life there was a many-splintered thing. (John would have groaned at that one.) John, Bob Bransford and some of the other guys took great amusement at J.T. Walker and myself as we bumbled our way through the studio in our naiive fashion. I was an easy laugher in those days and used to laugh really loud, so John got a lot of gag cartoon material out of that (see above).  John loved to draw gags about his fellow workers, but had excellent work habits himself and stayed at his drawing board most of the time. His drawings were very precise, and we marvelled at his effects animation as well as his character. He did a snow storm cycle for “Shinbone Alley” that looked very convincing, every drawing had the path of each snowflake closely delineated. John had what might be called a “closely-held” personality, he looked at animation as a profession and he seemed to derive little joy from it. His amusement came from a rather detached attitude of an observer and critic of his fellow animation toilers. He loved to draw gag cartoons, and would proudly walk through the studio with his latest cartoon held out before him at eye level. It behooved you to laugh at the cartoon!  Sometimes, if you crossed the line, John’s temper would flare up. John roomed with my old friend, Mike Sanger at Wilson’s. Mike was a very non-serious person, and John was a very serious one. Mike told one too many funny stories on a few occasions, and one morning, Mike came in to their room to find all his pencils broken, papers torn and his desk in total disarray. It was pretty clear who smashed the art supplies.  John Wilson had to put Mike Sanger in a different room. Here’s a cartoon John drew before the broken pencils started flying: sparey-sanger-cartoon.jpg That’s me, and I think, James T. Walker lurking outside John’s room, John on the right, Mike Sanger on the left. If anyone is interested, I have quite a few more of John’s cartoons of the goings-on at the Wilson studio I could post. John Sparey passed away on December 15th, 2010 at the Motion Picture Country House in Woodland Hills, aged 83 years. Here, in John’s own words, is an overview of the start of his career, beginning at Jay Ward’s, through his Disney years:

In the summer of 1950, I stayed in Berkeley between spring and fall semesters for a chance to work on an animation project that was to be called the first animated series done for TV: “Crusader Rabbit”, by Alex Anderson (a nephew of Paul Terry) and Jay Ward, a real estate agent. They had two Disney veterans, Gerry Ray, who did storyboards pegged to serve as layouts, and Chuck Fuson, an animator. Bob Mills, a local boy, also animated. Joe Curtin was the writer. He had left a job at Terrytoons in New York by way of a window in the men’s room.

Come January, I graduated and went home to Indio. I hadn’t begun preparing my assault on the Hollywood animation industry when I got a phone call from Jay saying that the studio was moving south and asking would I join him. But of course! Coming with Jay were Alex, Gerry, Bob Mills, Joe Curtin, and their cameraman. Bob Bemiller was hired as an experienced animator. Ted Bemiller was a second cameraman. For the rest of the crew, Jay placed an ad in the classifieds. Among others, he got Dean Spille, Jerry Bowen, Jim Scott and Ed King. I’m fairly certain about those last two names. Dean made a career in the industry. Jerry stayed in the Screen Cartoonists Guild long enough to become business agent before stepping out of a high window. Jim was a compact Marine veteran with a hearty, easily triggered laugh. Once, he got pleurisy, which caused him a sharp pain when he laughed—which made him laugh again. The last time I might have crossed his path was in the Pantages theater once when I heard what might have been his laugh carrying across the width of the theater. Ed surfaced a few years later with some sample newspaper comic panels he had split with three other artists, each tackling the topic of the day. One of the artists was Roy Williams. The title was something like “Four in a Square”. I don’t know if it ever reached publication.

When the Crusader Rabbit shoestring broke in August, the Navy had already reminded me of my Inactive Reserve status. My last job for the studio was restyling the stock walk cycles to fit their evolution. We were helping Alex pack up everything when we took a break to watch Jay and his family and their St. Bernard take off for Berkeley in his MG convertible.

A season of watching civilians testing guided missiles out in China Lake carried me through 1952. I figure that the name China Lake tricked the Navy into thinking that there must be a body of water somewhere around.

I must have applied by letter to Disney, I got a meeting with Andy Engman, showed my college cartoon scrapbook, did test inbetweens of D. Duck and Snow White, and was accepted. A telegram asking me to start in March, 1953, made it official. Disney was no longer handling classified material, but new employees were still fingerprinted. “Melody” was being converted to 3D, and we were given an explanation in a tour of camera of how it was to be shot. Each frame was shot three times on B&W film stock using three color filters for three consecutive exposures. The Technicolor lab then used the film strip of three exposures with color filters to unify them in one image. That was how all Disney color animation was shot. But for 3D, art work had been split onto several levels, using as many peg bars as necessary. It was shot with one set of peg bar settings for one eye, which were then shifted by varying increments, to be shot three more times for the other eye. I filed all that info for possible future reference. The studio also shot a Chipmunk short in 3D: “Working For Peanuts”. But it wasn’t given much thought. A rear end view of an elephant drawn on one depth level fell–so to speak–flat.

We beginning inbetweeners honed our talents working on shorts. One specific I remember is “The Lone Chipmunks”, in which Chip and Dale faced “Peglegless” Pete. For their final triumphal scene they were astride a rearing steed. For that, a scene from “Ichabod” was destructively “borrowed” from the morgue. I erased the Headless Horseman from the saddle and some animator substituted the Chips. On “Lady and the Tramp”, I had no specific assigned position; I took whatever work was needed, moving up to temporary Breakdown during production. At some point around this time, I had my first specific connection with a picture. Bob Bemiller had joined Disney for the first time–not as a full animator, but essentially animating. The short was “Social Lion”, using the cat designed for “Lambert, the Sheepish Lion”. Bob tried introducing some limited animation techniques, but without much success. Perhaps he had asked for me to work with him.

Before “Lady” was wrapped, artists with specific talents were siphoned off to begin developing projects for Disneyland. I forget the order of events involving the end of Feature layoff, the planning of Disneyland the park and the TV show, the winding down of the theatrical shorts program, the Mickey Mouse Club, the highly stylized Disney characters turned commercial pitchmen for TV. I was off for only about six weeks from Oct. ‘54 to Jan. ‘55 before joining Esta Haight’s Art Props Dept. This was essentially a clearing house for locating model sheets, cutting BG overlays to mount on cels, dry mounting various art materials. Some times Esta actually found props for the M.M. Club. I developed a project to refile all of the model sheets by production numbers rather than by subject matter. As a reward, Esta let me take all the copies of models that I wanted for my personal collection and gave me property passes to remove them from the lot. But you know about all of that.

By July, I was back in the Animation pool, as an inbetweener. I was assigned to the Jack Kinney unit, which soon became the Woolie Reitherman unit. We started with doing bridges connecting old cartoons for the TV show. “The Great Cat Family” had a story of sorts of domestic cats from Egyptian times and on through Medieval ages with some inclusion of witchcraft (I think), and I forget what shorts were used. “The Goofy Sports Story” used a Spirit of the Greek Olympics to introduce various Goofy sports shorts, and “The Goofy Success Story” covered his movie star career, beginning with his discovery as a Extra in “Orphans’ Benefit” through getting his ears tied atop his head and hidden under a hat for the character parts of Mr. Walker and Mr.Wheeler in “Motor Mania”. I was in to see head of personnel, Andy Engman, and came back from another chat with Andy to say I was now an Assistant Animator. Somehow, “The Truth About Mother Goose” fit in to the transition to “Sleeping Beauty”. Woolie’s group got “London Bridge is Falling Down”. Bill Justice had a couple of segments, one of them being “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”(a.k.a. Mary Queen of Scots). I then began assisting with and cleaning up after, Eric’s dragon. I had enough loose time to turn out a lot of my personal color works during that time, as well as some personal pencil tests. (Which were encouraged, camera shot them.) One of these was of an abstract artist (i.e. the artist was abstract). Who would take slashes and slices with his brush at an easel turned away from the viewer. He would get excited by his work, do a little dance, trip, and tumble from the easel. He picked up his painting, looking shocked and dismayed. Sadly, he turned it toward the viewer, revealing Sir Joshua Reynolds’ “Pinkie”. This got shown around a bit. I had hoped it might show Ward Kimball something of what I could do with abstractions. Instead, Frank and Ollie saw something in it they liked: I had given my character a convincing body weight. I got a scene of Merryweather sitting on her bed ineffectually shaking her fists as she says: “OOOOO! I’d like to turn her (Maleficent) into a big old hop toad!”, lifting off the bed to accent “hop”. I thought I did a decent cleanup job. I must have had other scenes; I had reason to ask if the fairies’ wands should be part of character cleanup or left for effects. A simple decision, but in called for a Committee decision. Those two ruled lines should be done by effects. Anyhow, I soon found myself back tending Eric’s dragon. But there was one other distraction. By the time “How To Have An Accident In The Home” was completed, Walt decided that he didn’t like the new stylized look given to the Duck. So I got the job of rekeying the short in conventional fashion. I don’t know how much difference it made. I segued from following Eric’s dragon roughs to doing key cleanup, at which time I could give accurate counts of the plates down the Dragon’s throat, neck, chest, belly and tail. For scenes of the Prince slashing his way through the thorn forests and battling the Dragon, Ed Kemmer, starring as Commander Corey of “Spaaaace Patroool” for several years, was called in to perform astride a wooden sawhorse being rocked on a long handle by Woolie himself. I was surprised that a TV actor should be called in for such a function. Little did I know that he had provided live action of the Prince for the entire feature. Ken Hultgren, a specialist in animal action, did the horse. He needed no Rotoscope.

Bob Bemiller had left the studio prior to this. Another Assistant Animator, Ed Solomon, left the studio in late ‘57/early ‘58. Anyone who chose to leave the studio in those days had to write a Letter of Resignation, explaining why he was leaving. Ed’s excuse was that (he) would be helping his brother-in-law sell used cars. Along about March of 1958, work on the Dragon was beginning to wind down. Copies of “101 Dalmations” were going around the studio to familiarize animators with the next project. I got a call from Ed Solomon. He and Bob Bemiller were at a studio called TV Spots, which was starting a new Crusader Rabbit series in color. Would I like to join them? What? Leave Disney? I politely said no and hung up. I told Eric about the call. Noncommitally, he made some response equivalent to “It’s something to think about.” I could stay at Disney, expecting perhaps to become a career assistant. All. Those. Dalmatian. Spots. If I jumped, my base pay would automatically increase from $103.82 per week to $145.00 with built-in raises to follow. Within the hour I had called Ed back and said Okay. I had a chat with Andy. I wrote my letter of resignation. Janey, Andy’s secretary, typed it out. I signed it. In two weeks, I switched jobs on the weekend.

Bob was head of the animation unit. He was one of three Directors. I had to unlearn such animation niceties such as softening changes of dialog poses with inbetweens. My new walk cycles (from 1951) were used through the entire new series. I usually worked with Bob, but sometimes picked up from others. One scene I got from Paul Sommer showed a bird on a tree branch suddenly grasp his chest, as with a heart attack, and topple from the tree. Paul gave me specific instructions not to animate the action but use just one pose and provide positioning guides for that drawing. That’s what I did, but I handled the guides like animation, flipping them like drawings to work out the action. Paul said he had to study the scene very carefully afterward to determine that I had actually followed his specific instructions.

Now if he had said to make the action look fake, that might have been more of a challenge for me.

June 22, 2007

Are you there, Mark? When I began my brief career summary, I hadn’t realized how it would expand when I got into it. When continuing events began crowding around me, I broke off to write the enclosed family letter. Then rather (than) edit it or rewrite the pertinent parts of it, I decided to send it as is.

It’s my plan to continue my story after I have cleared up some of my other involvements. Libba’s book comes first, then the Bakshi book. Then back to my story. Unless you say “no more!!” It’s my intention to send you further installments as I get them done. Rather than send pieces of it to Mark Evanier or Jerry Beck or whoever for column fodder, anybody who is writing any responsible work on animation will be in touch with you, and you can distribute the material as you see fit. You can be my “agent”. I’m sure you can find a file folder for it. I have found memorabilia from all of my Bakshi films but “Wizards”. I’m hoping that it just got buried deeper in my storage unit and I am still awaiting delivery of that 24 pound pack of goodies salvaged from the Auction house. One of those nicknamed blogger buddies expressed the hope that they would be downloaded on the Internet for general availability. And it was suggested that whoever got them should eventually donate them to the ASIFA archives. Are ASIFA and the Animation Guild in competition for Archive collections? They should join forces.

I get the feeling that moving into a retirement home can enhance one’s reputation almost as much as being dead.

And it’s more fun.

John S. (Sparey)

Here is John’s Resume from his animating years:

John Sparey (Resume)
















1982 HEY, GOOD LOOKIN’ (final version?)







1950-51 CRUSADER RABBIT (B&W)Television Arts Prods.

1958-59 CRUSADER RABBIT (Color) TV Spots


First Season-TV Spots

1960-BEANY AND CECIL –Bemiller (Snowball), 3 months

1960-61 FRACTURED FAIRY TALES, TV Spots (Jay Ward)


1963-64 THE FUNNY COMPANY–Sam Nicholson, Mattel

1964-69 The Final Prime Time Flintstones-Jonny Quest-Atom Ant-The Impossibles-Space Ghost-Dino Boy-Laurel and Hardy-Birdman-The Herculoids-Moby Dick-Mightor-Abbott and Costello-The Three Musketeers-The New Adventures of Huck Finn-It’s The Wolf-Scooby Doo-Where’s Huddles?-Josie and the Pussycats-You name it and I probably worked on it-Hanna-Barbera

1988-89 U.S. ACRES (GARFIELD AND FRIENDS) Film Roman, CRO-Film Roman



1953 MELODY -3D


1955-56 (?)Bridging old Goofy shorts for TV

(?) The Great Cat Family for TV



FIRSTS1950-51 CRUSADER RABBIT-First Animated TV series1973 FRITZ THE CAT-First X-Rated Animated Feature

1985 STARCHASER; THE LEGEND OF ORIN-First 3D Animated Feature



1969 ARCHIE LAYOUTS-Filmation


1971 BIG YELLOW TAXI-Video-Fine Arts Films


1972 NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR-Sat. Morn. Specs.-Fred Calvert


1987 HARLEM SHUFFLE-Video-Ralph Bakshi



1993 NICK AND NOEL-Toys R Us-Film Roman

                                                            John wanted me to spread the story of his career around, but he never sent me any further installments. By the time he sent me this letter, 2007, he was in the Woodland Hills Motion Picture Home, and in pretty bad health. If there is any interest, I will print a few other letters he sent me, where he analyzes recent Disney features and gives me a little career advice.  It’s hard to believe that more than two months have gone by since John died, and I learned about it from the TAG website. The last time I saw John, was in 2006, at a screening Jerry Beck and I hosted  of some “Calvin and the Colonel” TV episodes, a series John animated on. We showed them at the AFI screening room, and John Sparey, Frank Andrina, Mark Evanier, Earl Kress and a few other people attended. John was already pretty feeble at that point, and walked slowly and talked more slowly than that. Some of his wry humor about the show seeped though the gloom, however. I shall miss his letters, John was a pro to the end. 

felix-4-20-36.jpg felix-4-21-36.jpgfelix-4-22-36.jpgfelix-4-23-36.jpgfelix-4-24-36.jpgfelix-4-25-36.jpgfelix-4-26-36.jpg

Felix, from 4-20 to 4-26-1936, continues the extortion plot. Felix escapes from his kidnappers, and Mr. Dooit, forgetting that Felix put the Dooits on Easy street, offers the catnappers $1000.00 to take Felix off his hands! In the Sunday, Felix is once again kicked out by the Professor, and Messmer shows that he can draw funny goats in the last panel.


In Krazy, from 10-7 to 10-12-1940, Ignatz tosses bricks that do curves in the air like a baseball, and Ignatz does a perfect imitation of Krazy’s Yiddish accent in the 10-12.  He even fooled Offissa Pupp. I wonder if John Sparey would have liked these strips?   




I’m playing “Catch-Up” with Patrick this time, from about 7-8 to exactly 7-16-1966. On the 7-13 episode, I began to include the by-line, so it makes the strips a little larger. Patrick makes a fine art out of cheating at croquet, and is ecstatic about making Suzy hate him. It seems very obvious that it’s Godfrey Snodgrass hiding in the trash can in the 7-16 strip. John Sparey never really got into computers very much (lucky him), but lived to see a lot of his collection of his drawings go up on Ebay without his consent! If I get any comments on this post, I’ll print more of John Sparey’s drawings and letters. I guess there wasn’t much interest in my Mother’s song from last time, it’s OK.



14 Responses to “John Sparey R.I.P. 1927-2010”

  1. Reading John’s letter was great (even if his shaky handwriting made it hard to read). Interesting details on Crusader Rabbit. And reading his resume, wow! From Disney features to “Calvin and the Colonel” to “Garfield”.

    “Calvin and the Colonel” seemed to be what caused the downfall of Creston, formerly TV Spots. I talked to Dale Case a month ago and he said that he saw “the writing on the wall” when this show went into production (he was working on “King Leonardo” at the time), but that story’s for another time.

  2. Mark says:

    OK, Charles, I re-typed the entire letter and resume. Hope you can read it more easily. This post was a great deal of work to put together. Charles is a great responder and regular reader, I appreciate that. However, I need more than one response to an effort of this size. If I don’t hear from any more readers, I won’t continue anymore John Sparey material. I’m not having a cow like Eddie Fitzgerald does when he gets no response on his blog, I’m just tailoring the blog to please it’s readers, including me.

  3. I hope there is more interest. The letters are a great read (and I can’t believe you typed all that. Much thanks for all the trouble)

  4. Daryl Boman says:

    Thank you! I really enjoyed the post. It was worth the effort. I was hoping that you were going to conclude it with an offer of a new book featuring the biography of Mr. Sparey. Too sad that it can no longer be. It would have made a great read as well as an outstanding primary source document on animated film.

  5. Mark says:

    Thanks Charles and Daryl,
    I cannot write books, haven’t the patience or the ability to truly write well. I’m glad at least one other person responded to this post. I can’t write a biography of John because I know nothing about his early life, or anything very personal about him outside of work. In many ways, he was a troubled person, although he played the wry clown. Even his hand writing is tightly held, small, careful printing, very precise and well-worded. I’m very sorry he’s gone, but we weren’t really close friends. I really don’t know how close anyone was to John, or if he would have permitted closeness. That’s the mystery.
    Thanks for reading and writing back, Mark

  6. Bob Jaques says:

    I was sadden to hear of John’s passing. He was truly an original – a very dry wit and an amazing caricaturist. I don’t believe many know how talented John was – when I worked with him (on 3 occasions) he kept a low profile and I only learned of his great skill when he brought in his work to show me. I was floored by his caricatures of the Disney staff.

    He sat on the other side of the wall from me at Bakshi’s during Mighty Mouse. He would wander over on occasion, pudding cup in hand, and we’d get into great talks about old cartoons.

    Thanks for dedicating a post to John.

  7. Bob Jaques says:

    Count me in as another who would love to see more of what John had written.

  8. Tim Walker says:

    Hey Pal……Thanks for the wonderful post on John Sparey. It’s great to see the caricature of us outside of Sparey and Sanger’s room waiting for the DAILY BLOWUP.I went out to the Motion Picture Home with Frank Andrena to visit John when I found out we shared the same disease Parkinsons.We shared some old stories and looked at each others new artwork, John was very complimentary .I’m saddened by his passing. Keep up the great blog Kaus. I read and enjoy it. best…James TIMMIE THE POOH Walker

  9. Bruce Woodside says:

    Hi, Mark –

    I was also saddened to read of John’s passing, a month after it had occurred. Thanks for posting this and, please, if you can, continue to publish some of John’s other correspondence.

    I got a kick out of seeing the sketch of Mike Sanger (my animation mentor) sharing a room with John on “Shinbone Alley”. I think your assessment of both John’s temperament and talent is right on the money. I especially liked your accurate description of his proud walk “through the studio with his latest cartoon held out before him at eye level.” Many was the occasion when, buried in my headphones, I’d suddenly sense his presence, standing there beside my desk with a cartoon (or a photo-roto for LOTR or “Fire and Ice” on which he’d penciled in some acerbic caption) thrust out in front of him. It was something that, by that point, he seemed to need to do to relieve the serious tedium of the work, and they were generally pretty damn funny.

    John’s passion for precision stood him in good stead for calculating the movements off those photos to mimic Ralph’s handheld live action camera moves on an animation stand. I still marvel at his ability to do that – and to keep his temper in check in the hothouse of the Bakshi studio. He was, as you say, a very “contained” kind of guy.

    Reading his account of his time at Disney, I am reminded of something he did for me on LOTR, when he was serving as Ralph’s AD, checking photo-rotos and handing out scenes. I’d gotten hired as an animator on the project, but was floundering with the rotoscope process. Ralph made it clear that he hated my work, took me off the scene I’d been given, and assigned me to do inbetweens for Marty Taras. I liked Marty, but I hated doing his inbetweens; and after a couple of weeks of that, dropping off a completed scene, I complained to John about being denied the opportunity to animate. He listened politely, but without giving me much in the way of a response. Yet within the hour, I was animating again (or, you know . . . doing what passed for animation on LOTR).

    Apparently, after I’d left his office, he’d gone directly to the boss and asked to have me reinstated as an animator, which was lucky timing: later, Ralph told me that he was getting ready to fire me. A decade or so later, when I was performing a similar function on “Cool World” to the role John had occupied on Ralph’s other pictures, I tried to serve as the same kind of advocate for the artists, and I had John’s exemplary behavior to thank for that.

    The last time I encountered him was at a meeting held at the Guild building last fall to discuss the closure of the long-term care unit at the Motion Picture home. Though it had cost him a lot physically to attend (he’d always been a big guy, but time had done its work on him), he felt it was important to be there and speak out. After the meeting, we chatted a bit – he’d brought along a short scene he’d been working on at the home, and he flipped it for me. In his rather low-key way, he seemed not only pleased with it, but actually excited. He was looking forward to seeing it in color.

  10. Scott O. says:

    Absolutely fascinating, Mark! Thanks for taking the time for typing all this stuff up!

    It’s always interesting to read about the inner workings of the Disney studio in the 50’s from a perspective outside of the Nine Old Men. I had no idea how people were simply put on project to project and there wasn’t a specific feature-only crew/ tv-only crew/ shorts-only crew/ etc. Even the little details about what he thought about the Space Patrol actor doing reference work is interesting and cool to document.

    I loved this!

  11. RodneyBaker says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. Thanks for posting it!

  12. Keith Scott says:

    Mark – Keith Scott again – great to talk briefly with you last week on my lightning trip to LA. I love this Sparey stuff – I regret he was one I couldn’t reach while researching my Jay Ward book. However I quoted him from a Cartoonist’s Annual that I recall you photocopied for me. We must catch up on my next longer trip to LA. And thanks so much for the nice comments on my website videos. Hope they made you chuckle – I was on Stu’s Show this last week doing a show devoted to the great impressionists who influenced me. Cheers and hi to Kathy

  13. Bronnie Barry says:

    Hey Mark!
    Wonderful John Sparey tribute.. Bruce and I were reading it together the other day and wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed and appreciated it. 🙂 Great stuff– as always!

  14. Mark,

    Count me as another who would like the read more of your correspondence with John Sparey. It’s very interesting . Sorry I’m one of your infrequent commenters on the blog, but I do appreciate what you post.

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