Obituary: Leland 'Lee' Hartman / Pittsburgh animator who once worked at Disney
Noted animator Leland "Lee" Hartman spent 10 years creating a 30-minute Christmas story whose characters were based on his four nieces. The story about toys that were delivered by Santa to the wrong homes and had to find their way to the right children was called a "labor of love" by his family because he created each of the numerous animation cells himself.
So family members took some comfort in the fact that Mr. Hartman died on Christmas Eve, at age 82, after suffering from dementia for the past six years. He had been a resident of the Kane Regional Glen Hazel Center since the summer.
"It seemed so appropriate," said Mr. Hartman's niece Kerra Penn, of Chicago.
Mr. Hartman, of Castle Shannon, was a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. His long career as an animator included a stint working for the Walt Disney Co. in California from 1955 to 1960. Returning to the Pittsburgh area, he worked on commercials for local businesses such as 84 Lumber and Willi's Ski Shop through the 1990s. He also worked as a Tiny Toons animator for Warner Brothers in the 1990s.
Much of his work was recently donated by his family to the ToonSeum and Heinz History Center, said Ms. Penn, who discovered a large amount of his animation materials in the studio of his Castle Shannon home.
The ToonSeum, the Downtown museum dedicated to the art of cartooning, noted the passing of Mr. Hartman on its Facebook page. "We are honored to preserve his legacy," the post said.
Though Mr. Hartman was known for his animation skills, he garnered a bit of acting fame in 1968, when he, like a number of other Pittsburgh area residents, received a small role in the horror film "Night of the Living Dead" and won a lottery to have his name included in the film's credits. Mr. Hartman played the role of a reporter and ghoul. Even though his parts were small, they prompted cult followers of the seminal zombie film to show up on his doorstep occasionally to request autographs, his family said.
Mr. Hartman's creative abilities were not limited to animation and acting. He also spent time building boats in his backyard, including a small replica of the Pinta -- one of three ships in Christopher Columbus' fleet.
"He and my Aunt Betty [Mr. Hartman's late wife] would take it out on local lakes and people were always asking to take pictures of it," said his niece Lauren Malloy of Chicago.
In his 60s, Mr. Hartman took up writing and self-published a collection of short horror stories called "The Darkendown Tales" in 1997.
The funeral was private. But family members are working with ToonSeum officials to plan a public memorial and display of Mr. Hartman's artwork in the near future. Arrangements were handled by the John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood.
First Published December 30, 2012 12:00 am