Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Pegbar Profile: Frank Tipper

This profile is an update from an old Cartoon Research profile, published in June 2017. Here is a new and improved overview on animator Frank Tipper's career!

 Caricature of Frank Tipper, published in the June 20, 1931
edition of Motion Picture Herald, when he worked as an 

assistant animator for Walt Disney.

Frank George Tipper, the first child of English parents Frank Tipper and Lillian Marrion, was born on August 19, 1909, on the Isle of Man.1 The following year, Frank’s parents shared a residence in Worcester with his grandparents, George and Charlotte—Frank Sr. worked there as a taxi cab driver.2 While still in England, the Tipper family added two daughters: Lillian Margaret was born in 1913, and Joan Eileen in 1915.3 On March 23, 1921, Frank and his family emigrated to the United States. They landed in Los Angeles on April 1, having made the voyage on the S. S. Adriatic from Southampton. Frank Sr. secured a position in the States in the transportation department of the Richfield Oil Corporation.4 

The adolescent Frank first pursued an artistic career by submitting cartoons to the “Junior Times” supplement of the Los Angeles Times as early as November 1925.5 Apart from cartooning, Tipper admired the animation business; he frequented Walt Disney's studio to show Walt his new work.6 Frank graduated from Belmont High School in 1928, where he drew illustrations for Campanile, the school yearbook. Soon after Tipper left high school, his cartoons for the “Junior Times” disappeared.7 Frank then enrolled in the University of California at Los Angeles, Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute, and the Frank Wiggins Trade School.8

Frank's early work from the March 18, 1928 edition of "The Junior Times."

In 1930, Tipper lived with his parents and sisters, and worked as a sign painter for Foster & Kleiser, then touted as “the leading billboard company on the West Coast.” His youngest sister Joan remembered, “That was the only way you could make money as an artist in those days.” One day, Walt Disney arranged a screening of his cartoons at the Vista Theater at Sunset and Hillhurst and recognized Frank, now employed as an usher. Walt recalled Frank's teenage visits and offered him a job at his animation studio.9

Disney studio records have no definite date for Tipper’s official hiring. By 1931, Frank became one of three assistants to Norm Ferguson, one of Disney’s leading animators.10 Later that year, Ben Sharpsteen recruited Tipper as a junior animator; he handled scenes under Sharpsteen’s tutelage on the Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons. A year later, Frank shifted to Dave Hand’s crew of junior artists, where he settled during the remainder of his tenure at Disney. One production that Tipper animated, under Hand’s supervision, was Flowers and Trees, the first commercially released film in three-strip Technicolor.11 While still employed at Disney, Frank married Mary Elizabeth Dotzler in Glendale on August 8, 1932.12

Layout drawing from Bugs in Love (1932). 
Note the stamp that credits Frank Tipper for the animation.

In late 1932, Frank left Disney to work at a studio run by Ted Eshbaugh, a producer-director who experimented with color cartoons, which began with a pilot cartoon that starred a character named Goofy Goat. Filmed in the Multicolor process, “Goofy Goat” caught public attention as the first full-length animated film in colorits March 1932 release predated Disney’s Flowers and Trees by four months.13 Tipper joined the Highland Avenue studio while Eshbaugh was busy on his second Multicolor cartoon, The Snow Man; its production finished by the end of January 1933. Tipper involved himself in Eshbaugh’s The Wizard of Oz. Though it never had a theatrical release in the United States, Eshbaugh’s Oz adaptation was the first short subject filmed in three-strip Technicolor.14

Production drawing for Ted Eshbaugh's The Wizard of Oz (1933).

Eshbaugh’s studio went bankrupt after work finished on Snow Man and Oz, leaving Frank unemployed again. Tipper soon found work at Leon Schlesinger’s new animation department, founded after producer-directors Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising broke off their contract with Leon. Tipper received credit on Schlesinger’s first color cartoon, Honeymoon Hotel (1934), filmed in Cinecolor. During his time at Schlesinger’s, on November 11, 1934, Frank was involved in an auto collision with actress-dancer Joan Dix. The actress suffered headaches and dizzy spells after Tipper’s car crashed into Joan’s vehicle. (Joan filed a $7,000 lawsuit for the damages, but Tipper failed to appear for the trial months later on September 1, 1935; she won $2,725 in the settlement.)15

Production background for Honeymoon Hotel (1934), Warner Bros.' first cartoon in color.
Image courtesy: Mike and Jeanne Glad Collection.  

Opportunity called from Frank's home country. On January 8, 1935, Frank and his wife Mary landed in England, where they resided at the Regent Palace Hotel.16 Tipper worked on animated commercials, likely on sponsored films produced by early British animation artists Laurie Price and Christopher Millet.17 Frank’s stay in England was momentary—Frank and Mary returned to Los Angeles four months later, on May 17.18 Frank soon took a job at Harman-Ising; Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising now produced a color series, Happy Harmonies, for distribution by MGM. Surviving production drafts list scenes attributed to Tipper in at least three Happy Harmonies, each directed by Ising: Honeyland (1935), Alias St. Nick (1935), and The Early Bird and the Worm (1936).19 

Harman and Ising often exceeded the budgeted amount of their cartoons and violated their contract with MGM. The studio terminated its agreement with H-I in February 1937, which created chaos for the employees that year. That September, following an altercation with Metro, Harman-Ising went into a three-week shutdown and laid off a few of its animators, including Frank.20  By the end of 1937, Tipper found an open spot at Walter Lantz’s studio.

Months after Frank joined Lantz's studio, he and Mary settled into a new home on Longridge Avenue. Soon, the couple welcomed their only child, Kim, on October 13, 1938.21 At Lantz’s cartoon factory, a rowdy camaraderie amongst the young artists flowed inside and outside work activity, especially during parties and social functions, often fueled by liquor. One day after a studio Christmas party, Frank (who was, as his sister Joan described, “quite a heavy drinker”) sat at his desk with a terrible hangover and placed his eyeglasses atop his desk to take a brief rest; a practical joker swiped Frank’s spectacles and painted red and purple spots on the lenses. When the bleary-eyed Tipper awoke and put on his glasses, he shouted at the sight of these strange flecks: “Oh, my God! What’s happened to me?”22

As an independent producer who sold cartoons to Universal, Walter Lantz's was a risky business. In late 1939, Lantz's weekly advances from Universal (his primary source of capital) ended, so Walter had to fund the cartoons himself. However, Lantz could not provide the necessary finances to keep his studio functioning and closed its doors on February 24, 1940. Lantz's animators volunteered to produce an Andy Panda, Crazy House, for free. This provided Universal with the collateral to bankroll more cartoons.23 Frank received screen credit in Knock Knock (released in November 1940), the film that introduced movie audiences to the zany antics of Woody Woodpecker. Later, in December 1941, Lantz released the first in a series of "Swing Symphonies," $21 A Day (Once A Month), for which Frank also was credited. His last screen credit was on the Woody Woodpecker cartoon, The Loan Stranger (released October 1942), directed by Frank’s brother-in-law Alex Lovy.24

The United States’ involvement in World War II triggered a flurry of government films that illustrated military objectives and instructions through animation. In October 1942, Hugh Harman Productions, formed in 1941 after Harman left Metro, hired Tipper to work on a new series, "History in the Making." These animated government films, intended for release by United Artists, centered on the global battle of the United States and its allied nations in the Second World War.25 Tipper was inducted into the Army in July 1943he remained part of Harman's creative team.26 The Hollywood Reporter, in September 1943, announced a deal between the U. S. Office of Education and Hugh Harman Productions to produce a series of ship-building films. Frank was tasked with an investigative trip to the California Shipbuilding Corporation (CalShip) in San Pedro, acquiring knowledge of the details of ship construction.27

In 1945, Frank volunteered to take his craftsmanship on tour with a USO-Camp Shows troupe to the Pacific area and the Far East—he left for duty that July.28 Frank visited military bases, combat zones, and camps. There, he sketched caricatures of troops and servicemen and painted murals; he also painted portraits of patients housed in neuropsychiatric hospitals during the six-month excursion. On January 19, 1946, Frank sailed on the U. S. Heritage from Nagoya, Japan. He landed in Seattle, Washington on February 5 and verified the government work for his visa so he could retain his legal status.29 A few weeks later, he was back in Los Angeles.30 Frank and his wife Mary divorced earlier on an unspecified date; she married her second husband on January 9, 1946, a few weeks before Tipper returned home.31

Details on Frank’s professional career in the mid-1940s are fragmentary; he dabbled in comic book work for James Davis (The Fox and the Crow), who had a stable of moonlighting animators who wrote, penciled, and inked funny-animal stories for $15 a page ($239 in 2024 US currency).32 Frank signed his work on a trio of stories with humanized fish and mollusks aptly named “Fishy Follies,” each issued between April and October 1946. 

A sampling of Frank's comic book work, from Goofy Comics #14 (June 1946).

Not much is known of Tipper’s career in 1947 and 1948; we can assume he stayed busy on jobs that were unreported at the time. We next hear from him at the end of February 1949, when The Los Angeles Evening Citizen-News reported the following:

“When the Painters and Sculptors Club meets Tuesday night [March 1] at 8 at the Los Angeles Art Association galleries, Frank Tipper, formerly official cartoonist with the occupational forces in Japan, will give a talk on Japanese artists, past and present...”33

Later that fall, Frank helped break new ground in television when Filmtone Studios hired him in their commercial art and animation department.34 The Life of Riley, which first aired on NBC on October 4, 1949, was shot in Hollywood when most sitcoms in New York were broadcast live on kinescope. (The show also featured Jackie Gleason in his first TV role.) A few months later, Frank became the series’ art director.35 The network axed Riley after one seasonits final episode aired in March 1950.

A new studio in Beverly Hills, Century Television Productions, took on Frank as an art director for a television pilot starring popular Western actor Wild Bill Elliott. In mid-June 1950, its first episode “Marshall of Trail City,” was shot at Cudia City in Phoenix, but the pilot never sold.36 In August, Filmtone struck a deal with NBC to produce an upcoming program, You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. Frank was called in again for its art direction.37 It is unclear if Frank stayed in live-action television between 1951 and 1953. However, 1954 gave Frank a chance to work on a major motion picture.

Universal-International’s elaborate Technicolor science-fiction project, This Island Earth, went through much of its principal photography in February 1954. Tipper was brought in to create special animation effects of saucer rays and neutrino rays. The most significant contribution occurred moments after its two protagonists, Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) and Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue), were abducted and taken into a spaceship by an alien species from the planet Metaluna. Moments later, the two humans are sealed in converter tubes to acclimate to the planet’s atmospheric pressure. The viewer watches as their bodies transform, and reveal the layers of their anatomical structure. Frank worked closely with the film’s effects director, David S. Horsley, to supervise the optical effects for this sequence.

John “J. J.” Johnson, author of Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, described how Tipper achieved this effect:

“After photographing the conversion tubes alone, then with Reason and Domergue inside them, Tipper went to work on the individual matching dissolves. With the aid of anatomy books, Tipper made several layout drawings of muscles utilizing chalk on black cards. These were then photographed in black and white and used as mattes. Once the dissolves with differing parts of human anatomy were organized, Tipper gave them to [optical printer] Roswell Hoffman to have them colored so each dissolve would possess its own unique hue. In the final composite, when the different colored anatomy layers dissolved in and out, it gave the conversion sequence a sensational X-ray effect.”38

The matching cross dissolves, as shown in This Island Earth (U-I, 1955).

Frank (and Horsley) utilized the same technique during the disintegration of the insect-like Metaluna Mutant when it succumbs to the spacecraft’s intense pressure. This Island Earth had a matinee preview for press reviews on April 9, 1955, at the Victoria Theatre on Broadway—the film saw its general release in Los Angeles on June 15.39 This seemed to be Frank’s only foray into live-action features; Phil Monroe remembered Frank working on commercials at Cascade, one of many outfits that provided animated television ads, in approximately 1954, presumably afterhis assignment on This Island Earth.40

Meanwhile, British animation in the 1950s flourished when John Halas and Joy Batchelor’s studio in London produced Animal Farm (1954), Britain’s first color animated feature based on the allegorical novel by George Orwell. Halas & Batchelor offered Frank a position as an animation director. On January 3, 1956, he returned to England. The Daily Film Renter and Moving Picture proclaimed Frank’s “wealth of experience should certainly make its mark on the already high standards of Halas & Batchelor productions.”

Tipper took on a few sponsored films at H&B, including The Candlemaker (1956) for the United Lutheran Church and The First 99 (1958), a history of whiskey distillation sponsored by Seagram that combined live- action and animation.41 Frank served as animation director on The World of Little Ig (1957), involving a caveboy on a mythical planet. Intended for American broadcast on NBC, who funded the short, Little Ig was, instead, shown in British cinemas. The film received a first-prize award at the Venice Film Festival. Tipper planned to stay abroad in England for two years, but changed his mindhe boarded the S.S. Liberte in Southampton on April 2, 1957, and arrived in New York on the S.S. Liberty six days later.42

In the summer of 1957, Frank joined the staff of Le Ora Thompson Associates, a commercial house in Hollywood established by Leora Thompson (formerly a sales director for Playhouse Pictures) and animator Carl Urbano.43 A year later, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera enlisted Frank at their production company for the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Shownot in their animation staff, but as a background painter. Tipper received credit on only four segments: three installments featuring Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks and Pie-Pirates, the first Yogi Bear cartoon in production; presumably, Frank may have only worked at H-B as a freelancer.

In 1958, Frank secured work on more TV commercials at Swift-Chaplin Productions, run by Howard Swift, a former Disney/Screen Gems animator, and Charles F. Chaplin.) He remained at Swift-Chaplin until his passing on September 20, 1963, at 54.44

Special acknowledgments to Jerry Beck, J. B. Kaufman, Hans Perk, Michael Barrier, Mark Kausler, Eric Costello, Tom Samuels, and Frank M. Young for their contributions to this post. 


(1) Frank George Tipper, California, County Marriages, 1850-1953. Courtesy: FamilySearch.

(2) Census of England and Wales, 1911, schedule no. 19, rows 1-5. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(3) Lillian May Tipper. California, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(4) New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger, and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957. Frank Sr.’s occupation is listed as a “motor mechanic.” Courtesy: Ancestry. Los Angeles Evening Citizen-News, Nov. 19, 1958, p. 17.

(5) The Los Angeles Times, “The Junior Times,” November 8, 1925, p. 6. “The Junior Times” fostered other young cartoonists who later developed their talents in animation: Bob Clampett, Fred Moore, Ed Benedict, Cal Howard, Izzy Ellis, Phil De Lara, and Manuel Moreno, among others.

(6) Joan Eileen Pabian, interview conducted by Martha Sigall, November 28, 1998. Published on March 13, 2017, on Cartoon Research: https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/a-chat-with-joan-pabian-and-al-pabian/

(7) The August 26, 1928 publication of “The Junior Times” supplement in The Los Angeles Times is the last known mention of Tipper’s name.

(8) 1947-48 International Motion Picture Almanac, ed. Terry Ramsaye, p. 412.

(9) Pabian, 1998 interview. The 1930 Los Angeles census lists Frank’s occupation as a “commercial artist.” 1930 US Federal Census, Los Angeles, Assembly District 55, lines 91-95.

(10) Larry Silverman, interview with Milton Gray, December 3, 1977. Unpublished.

(11) Frank Tipper’s production credits originate courtesy of Hans Perk’s A. Film LA blog (http://afilmla.blogspot.com), JB Kaufman and Russell Merritt, Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series, and an email sent to author by Kaufman, May 18 and June 6, 2023.

(12) The Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1932. Frank’s naturalization record, date-stamped November 28, 1962, curiously lists their marriage taking place earlier on August 14, 1931. Frank George Tipper, California, County Marriages, 1850-1953. Courtesy: FamilySearch. Frank George Tipper, California, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(13) While Ub Iwerks’ Fiddlesticks (1930) predated Eshbaugh’s “Goofy Goat” cartoon as one of the first sound color cartoons, Flip the Frog’s screen debut was released in color only in Britain, while black-and-white prints were distributed in the United States.

(14) The Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, Jan. 30, 1933. The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News, April 7, 1933. Coincidentally, former Disney junior animators Bill Mason and Andrew “Hutch” Hutchinson animated scenes in Flowers and Trees and both Eshbaugh films. JB Kaufman and Russell Merritt, Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series.

(15) The Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, Sept. 2, 1935, p. 4C; The Chicago Tribune, Sept. 3, 1935, p. 6. Joan Dix appeared uncredited as a chorus girl in Warner Bros.’ 1933 musical 42nd Street (1933). She landed herself in a main role in Dwain Esper’s exploitation film Narcotic, released the same year.

(16) Frank George Tipper. UK and Ireland, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(17) 1947-48 International Motion Picture Almanac, ed. Terry Ramsaye, p. 412. Details on Laurie Price and Christopher Millet’s animated commercials “Following Up on Gifford: The 1930s.” The Lost Continent: Exploring the Art and History of British Animation. August 12, 2010. https://ukanimation.blogspot.com/2010/08/following-up-on-gifford-1930s.html

(18) Frank Tipper. New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger, and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(19) Production drafts of Honeyland, Alias St. Nick, and The Early Bird and the Worm. Courtesy: Michael Barrier.

(20) Michael Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age (2003, paperback edition), p. 603 n19. A handwritten employee sheet from Harman-Ising mentions that background painters Don Schaffer and Art Riley were loaned to Disney until November 1 (for the Silly Symphony Merbabies). Frank’s name appears on the roster, but his name is absent in a typewritten personnel record dated December 23, 1937, implying he was no longer employed at Harman-Ising. (A small, handwritten note on the December sheet reads, “Lay off all in 2nd period [of contract], which started 9-1-37 - layoff started 9-11-37.”) Courtesy: Mark Kausler.

(21) Kim Tipper. California Birth Index, 1905-1995. Courtesy: Ancestry. San Fernando Valley Times, October 20, 1938.

(22) Pabian, 1998 interview.

(23) Joe Adamson, The Walter Lantz Story, p. 111-112.

(24) Frank’s wife Mary had a sister, Florence, who was licensed to wed Alex Lovy in Yuma, Arizona, on November 1, 1940. (Florence was also the spouse of animator Carl Urbano from 1932 to 1937.) Florence Burslem. Arizona, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1865-1972. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(25) Daily Variety, Oct. 22, 1942. The Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 22, 1942.

(26) Daily Variety, July 6, 1943.

(27) The Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 13, 1943.

(28) Daily Variety, July 11, 1945. The Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 20, 1945, confirmed that Tipper was stationed in the Philippines as “a USO sketch artist.”

(29) Frank Tipper. Washington, U.S., Arriving and Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1965. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(30) Daily Variety, Feb. 25, 1946. Alec Geiss, a Columbia/Screen Gems animation director, also traveled with Tipper on tour. 

(31) Mary E. Tipper. California, U.S., County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(32) “Excerpts from Jack Bradbury’s Autobiography,” The Comic Art of Jack Bradbury. http://jbrad.org/autobiog.html Every month, after the stories were fully inked, Davis then packaged and mailed the artwork from California to  Benjamin Sangor, owner of the American Comics Group (ACG), in New York.

(33) Los Angeles Evening Citizen-News, Feb. 29, 1949.

(34) The Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 8, 1949.

(35) Daily Variety, Jan. 18, 1950. Frank replaced John DeCuir on Riley, who would later earn eleven Oscar nominations for art decoration (The King and I, Cleopatra, Hello, Dolly!)

(36) The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1950. Broadcasting Telecasting, June 26, 1950.

(37) Pabian interview, 1998. Variety, August 1950, p. 34. You Bet Your Life’s pilot episode was filmed at Hal Roach Productions, but Roach was underbid by Filmtone.

(38) John “J. J.” Johnson, Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties (1996, McFarland & Company, Inc.), p. 99.

(39) Tom Weaver, David Schecter, Robert J. Kiss, and Steve Kronenberg, Universal T errors, 1951-1955: Eight Classic Horror and Science Fiction Films (2017, McFarland & Company), p. 261.

(40) Phil Monroe, interview with Michael Barrier, Oct. 29, 1976, published on Barrier’s official website, June 7, 2012. <http:// www.michaelbarrier.com/Interviews/Monroe/Monroe1976.html> Monroe mentioned joining Ray Patin’s studio in 1954 after leaving Cascade.

(41) Though Halas and Batchelor both received onscreen director credit on The Candlemaker, period-era film trade stories affirm Frank’s involvement as a director. The Daily Film Renter and Moving Picture (London, England), March 27, 1956. The Hollywood Reporter, April 3, 1956.

(42) Frank’s naturalization petition, date-stamped November 28, 1962, notes the travel dates from his departure to England and return to the United States. Frank George Tipper. California, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1888-1991; Frank Tipper. UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960; Frank G. Tipper. New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger, and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957. Courtesy: Ancestry.

(43) Broadcasting Telecasting, June 17, 1957. The news piece mentions Frank’s previous association with Anigraph Films, an obscure company that produced short educational films about the Social Security program. Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare and Related Agencies Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1976, pp. 2238, mentions Anigraph Films and its filmmaking objectives.

(44) Frank’s death certificate mentions Swift-Chaplin Productions as his last employing company. Frank George Tipper. California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994. Courtesy: FamilySearch.

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