Shamus Culhane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shamus Culhane
James H. Culhane

(1908-11-12)November 12, 1908
Ware, Massachusetts, United States
DiedFebruary 2, 1996(1996-02-02) (aged 87)
New York City, United States
Other namesJames Culhane
Jimmie Culhane
Jimmy Culhane
Years active1925–1996
Employer(s)Bray Productions (1925-1928)
Screen Gems (1928-1929)
Fleischer Studios (1929-1932, 1939-1942)
Ub Iwerks Studio (1932-1934)
Van Beuren (1934-1935)
Walt Disney Animation Studios (1935-1939)
Warner Bros. Cartoons (1942-1943)
Walter Lantz Productions (1943-1945)
Shamus Culhane Productions (1948-66)
Famous Studios (1966-1967)
  • Maxine Marx
  • Juana Hegarty
AwardsWinsor McCay Award, 1986

James H. "Shamus" Culhane (November 12, 1908 – February 2, 1996) was an American animator, film director, and film producer. He is best known for his work in the Golden age of American animation.


Shamus Culhane worked for a number of American animation studios, including Fleischer Studios, the Ub Iwerks studio, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Walter Lantz Productions. He began his animation career in 1925 working for Bray Productions on the Dinky Doodle series, produced under the supervision of Walter Lantz. After Bray he served as an inker on Ben Harrison’s and Manny Gould’s Krazy Kat cartoons before moving to Fleischer Studios in 1929 after producer Charles Mintz did not retain him upon transferring the studio to Hollywood.[1] Culhane is known for promoting the animation talents of his inker/assistant at Fleischer in the early 1930s, Lillian Friedman Astor, making her the first female studio animator.[2] After serving as director on several Talkartoons and early Betty Boop shorts, Culhane moved to Hollywood to animate at the Iwerks Studio, operated by influential former Disney alumnus Ub Iwerks, under which he directed, alongside his longtime colleague and friend Al Eugster, several ComiColor Cartoons. On departing Iwerks's studio, Culhane briefly returned to New York to direct at the reorganized Van Beuren Corporation, then supervised by Burt Gillett, before opting to apply to Disney in 1935.

While at the Disney studio, he discovered while working on Hawaiian Holiday's crab sequence an animation method that involved stewing[clarification needed] for multiple days, before drawing the entire thing in rough sketches all at once, straight ahead.[citation needed] He was a lead animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, animating arguably the most well-known sequence in the film, the animation of the dwarves marching home singing "Heigh-Ho". The scene took Culhane and his assistants six months to complete. During this time he developed his "High-speed" technique of animating with quick dashed-off sketches.

He also worked as an animator on Pinocchio, where he worked on Honest John and Gideon. However, he was left uncredited on the film. During the production of the film he left Disney to work at Fleischer Studios.[3][4] While there, he worked as an animator on several crowd scenes in Gulliver's Travels and as the uncredited co-director on Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Following the completion of Gulliver, Culhane was assigned his own unit, which he attempted to instil with the artistic principles and ethos he had acquired at Disney, yielding shorts such as Popeye Meets William Tell, notable for their unusually fluid and expressive character animation relative to much of Fleischer's previous work.

A year following his departure from Fleischer, Culhane worked briefly in the units of Chuck Jones and Frank Tashlin at Warner Bros. Cartoons, before moving on to being a director for Walter Lantz. At Lantz, he collaborated on The Greatest Man in Siam with the layout artist (and former Disney and Chuck Jones alumnus) Art Heinemann. In that animation, "the king of Siam bolts past doorways that are distinctly phallic in shape and peers at another that mimics a vagina."[5] Later the same year he helmed Woody Woodpecker's classic The Barber of Seville. The cartoon debuted a new streamlined design for the woodpecker, and is also known for featuring one of the first uses of fast cutting, after taking the idea from Sergei Eisenstein. At Lantz, he sporadically introduced Russian avant-garde influenced experimental art into the cartoons.[5]; one example is briefly visible during an explosion in the Woody Woodpecker short The Loose Nut.

Culhane departed Lantz in October 1945 following a pay dispute. Following a succession of aborted projects, he returned to New York in 1948 to found Shamus Culhane Productions (Culhane had gone by his birthname of James up until this point, before going by its Irish variant Shamus), one of the first companies to create animated television commercials, among them an iconic Muriel Cigars commercial featuring a Mae West caricature stylized as a cigar. It also produced the animation for at least one of the Bell Telephone Science Series films. Shamus Culhane Productions folded in the 1960s, at which point Culhane became the head of the successor to Fleischer Studios, Paramount Cartoon Studios. He left the studio in 1967, ceding its creative supervision to a young Ralph Bakshi, and went into semi-retirement.

Post-animation career[edit]

Culhane wrote two highly regarded books on animation: the how-to/textbook Animation from Script to Screen, and his autobiography Talking Animals and Other People. Since Culhane worked for a number of major Hollywood animation studios, his autobiography gives a balanced general overview of the history of the Golden age of American animation.

At his death on February 2, 1996, Culhane was survived by his fourth wife, the former Juana Hegarty, and by two sons from his third marriage,[6] to Maxine Marx (the daughter of Chico Marx): Brian Culhane of Seattle and Kevin Marx Culhane of Portland, Oregon.[1]


  1. ^ a b Van Gelder, Lawrence (April 2, 1996). "Shamus Culhane, a Pioneer in Film Animation, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  2. ^ Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film & Television's Award-Winning and Legendary Animators, by Jeff Lenburg, p. 95-97
  3. ^ Perk, Hans (February 23, 2007). "A note on Pinocchio..." Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  4. ^ Perk, Hans (March 4, 2007). "A Quick Culhane/Tate note..." Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Cieply, Michael (April 10, 2011). "That Noisy Woodpecker Had an Animated Secret". New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  6. ^ Maxine Marx, Growing Up With Chico, p. 168: "... Shamus, who was twice divorced" when he married Maxine.

External links[edit]