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Who Is Gene Deitch?



One day in October 1959, William L. Snyder, the one-man Rembrandt Films, walked into the office of Gene Deitch. Deitch had recently hung out his own shingle after a stint as Creative Director of CBS-Terrytoons, where he had created Tom Terrific for the Captain Kangaroo Show. Puffing on his signature Cuban cigar, Snyder proceeded to give Deitch one of the great snow jobs of the Cold War. “I’m told you’re the best animation director in New York,” Snyder told him. “I want you to go to my studios in Prague for ten days to take care of a few things for me.”

Deitch laughed, wondering how someone could have an animation studio in Prague, Oklahoma. He was remembering his basic training at Camp Gruber in Muskogee, Oklahoma, when he and his buddies would go to a bar in a nearby poke town named Prague.

“No, not Prague, Oklahoma,” said Snyder. “Prague, Czechoslovakia.”

Deitch had never even had a passport before. The last thing he wanted to do was travel to a Communist country on someone else’s lark.

But Snyder, who had been importing films from Prague since the early 1950s and had just begun making cartoons there, turned on the charm. He soon persuaded Deitch to go to Prague, although at Deitch’s insistence four words were added to the contract -- “for ten days only.” But within the first week Deitch fell in love with a producer at the Czech animation studio and he stayed. In the 1960 he directed dozens of cartoons for Rembrandt Films, including five Academy Award nominees and the Oscar-winning Munro. Almost a half-century later, Deitch continues to live in Prague, directing animated children’s films for foreign clients.

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