Obituary: Lou Scheimer / Pittsburgh native who founded TV cartoon studio Filmation

Oct. 19, 1928 - Oct. 17, 2013

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Lou Scheimer, a Pittsburgh native who founded the Filmation animation studio that became a Saturday-morning cartoon powerhouse with characters such as Fat Albert, He-Man and the Archies, died Oct. 17 at his home in Los Angeles' Tarzana neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. He was 84.

He had Parkinson's disease, said his wife, the former Mary Ann Wucher, who grew up in the Presto neighborhood of Collier in suburban Pittsburgh.

Mr. Scheimer's company, which in the early 1980s was the largest animation operation in the country based on its number of employees, was lauded for being one of the last holdouts against shipping work overseas. But Filmation television cartoons were roundly criticized by movie buffs for lacking the artistry and full motion of theatrical cartoons of a bygone era.

In November 2011, the ToonSeum in Downtown Pittsburgh dedicated a gallery to Mr. Scheimer. "From the time I was a kid, I drew and I wanted to keep drawing," he said in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview at the time. His first job involved drawing houses. "Why I was there was beyond me. I couldn't draw houses. I kept waiting for them to get rid of me."

"Lou shaped the childhood of multiple generations," Joe Wos, executive director of the museum, said Monday. "His work was infused with storytelling guided by a strong sense of morality and responsibility to educate children. It is a great honor for the ToonSeum to preserve his lasting legacy in the Lou Scheimer Gallery. What a rare opportunity I was given to call my childhood hero my friend."

Louis Scheimer was born Oct. 19, 1928, and grew up in Homewood. He graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1946, served in the U.S. Army and studied art at what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), graduating in 1952. One of his college classmates was Andy Warhol.

In 1955, Mr. Scheimer moved to Southern California to work in the animation industry.

He founded Filmation Associates in 1962 with a $5,000 loan from his mother-in-law and set up shop in a one-room office. An early series turned out by the company was the futuristic "Rod Rocket," featuring a space-traveling boy who battled with a pair of bumbling, Russian-accented enemy explorers. The action was so stilted that in some dialogue sequences, the only thing moving in the frame was a character's mouth.

Filmation wanted to do a series based on a far more high-profile character, Superman, but DC Comics -- which owned the rights -- wanted to visit the studio to see if it could handle the work. The problem was that at that point, Filmation had almost no staff.

"I called everybody I knew," Mr. Scheimer said in a documentary about the cartoon series, "and we filled the place up with people doing fake drawings."

The ruse worked and "The New Adventures of Superman" was Filmation's first big hit.

Eventually, the Los Angeles company had hundreds of animators working on series such as "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" and "The Archie Show." Mr. Scheimer won a Daytime Emmy as a producer of the 1974-75 season of the "Star Trek" animated series.

There were also misses. In 1975, Filmation produced "Uncle Croc's Block," which featured live sequences with Charles Nelson Reilly dressed in a crocodile suit. It lasted less than a season. And the 1987 animated feature film "Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night" also bombed.

Filmation was sold in 1969 for stock to a cable operator, TelePrompTer, that was in turn bought by Westinghouse in 1981. Mr. Scheimer remained as head of Filmation, but he was pressed to cut costs, and in 1987 he angered workers and their union with the announcement that some work would be shipped overseas.

In 1989, Filmation was bought by a French investor group that closed the Los Angeles plant, firing almost all the employees.

Mr. Scheimer had been retired for the past several years.

At the 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego, he appeared on a panel that discussed the effect Filmation had on the business, and he was given the Inkpot Award, which honors individual contributions to animation and other fields.


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