Published on February 02, 2023
At the height of their activity, the studios disney were able to count hundreds of animators. While some have managed to go down in history and leave their names to posterity, like the Nine Old Gentlemen, others have gradually fallen into anonymity. This is particularly the case of the animator Eric Cleworth.
Walt Disney in front of his new studios in Burbank (1940)
Eric Alfred Cleworth was born on January 3, 1920. Originally from Minneapolis, east of Minnesota, he moved to California where he landed a job with disney in 1939. After the incredible success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the brand new Burbank studios are indeed in full swing. Dozens of short films are in production. The artists are also working on several feature film projects such as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp or even Bambi. As the effects of the Great Depression continue to reverberate across the United States, studios disney are then a golden opportunity and the assurance of a decent salary for dozens of artists including Eric Cleworth.
A simple intervalist animator, Eric Cleworth then shared his office with Walt Kelly. Soon, he was promoted to assistant animator to Judge Whitaker. A time involved in the great strike that shook the studios in the spring of 1941, Cleworth still retained his position but was not credited in the credits of any of the films on which he worked. In parallel with a few short films, he participated from the end of the 1940s in the production ofAlice in Wonderland. Placed under the orders of Hamilton Luske, he designs in particular certain plans of the Dodo seeking to burn down the house of the White Rabbit in which the gigantic Alice is stuck. He also collaborates in the creation of the game of croquet opposing the heroine to the thundering Queen of Hearts.
Married to Lois June, one of the studio secretaries who soon gives birth to a little girl, Susan, Eric Cleworth is quickly appointed animator. This promotion is then the reward for his perfect mastery of action sequences and his ability to skillfully identify the movements of the characters. In this position, Cleworth soon continues with Peter Pan. Obtaining his name for the first time in the opening credits, a true consecration, he animates the hero who has fun ridiculing Captain Hook during their confrontation inside the Rock of the Skull. Associated with Wolfgang Reitherman, Cleworth also draws part of the final fight and the escape of Hook pursued by the crocodile.
After Franklin and Me, Eric Cleworth continues his partnership with Reitherman during the production of The Lady and the Tramp. Masters in the creation of action scenes, both bring to life the fight between the Tramp and the stray dogs and then the pursuit of the rat in the baby’s room. He is also associated with the pound scene during which he animates Boris, among others. The artist is also responsible for part of the sequence featuring Tramp and Lady waking up on the hill in the early morning.
Eric Cleworth signs his masterpiece in 1959 with La Belle au Bois Dormant. Always with Wolfgang Reitherman who has become the director of the sequence for the occasion, but also his colleague Bill Keil, the facilitator indeed supervises the terrible duel between prince Philippe and the terrible fairy Maleficent changed into a dragon. A real highlight of the film before its happy ending, the scene is masterfully designed. Dantesque, the fight remains, even today, a model of the genre.
Associated between two films in the production of a few short films such as The Truth About Mother Goose, Donald in the Land of Mathematics and Goliath 2, as well as that of the programs Tribute to Dad and Have Pity on Your Husband for which he officiates in as sequence director, Eric Cleworth participates in the puppy abduction sequence in 101 Dalmatians. Having great fun drawing the brothers Jasper and Horace Badun, he also animates the goose Lucy and the dog Grognard then the escape of Pongo, Perdita and the puppies chased on the snowy roads by the terrifying Cruella d’Enfer at the wheel of his car.
In Merlin the Enchanter, Eric Cleworth hosts a magnificent new fight, one that sees Sir Hector struggling with the dishes in his kitchen bewitched by the Enchanter. Cleworth also animates the first scene of the film during which Arthur accompanies Kay on his hunting trip in the forest, as well as some quick appearances of Archimedes, Madame Mim, Lord Pelinore and the fight of the knights.
With John Lounsbery, Eric Cleworth is working on the elephant sequences from (The) Jungle Book. He also signs some plans with Mowgli, Bagheera, Akela and King Louie as well as the flight of Shere Khan, terrified by the flaming branch attached to his tail by the Little Man. In another register, the animation of Napoleon and Lafayette in The Aristocats alongside Frank Thomas is another part of the pleasure at the origin of beautiful moments of pure comedy. Cleworth animates at the same time Winnie the Pooh in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.
Associated with writing screenplays (The) AristocatsRobin Hood and Winnie the Pooh and the Crazy Tiger, Eric Cleworth chose to retire in 1971. Taking advantage of dividends obtained thanks to the shares of The Walt Disney Company earned throughout his career, the artist moved with his wife to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he lived for a year. Indulging in their passion for gardening, the couple then traveled throughout the United States as well as in Europe before settling in 1974 in a charming house in Los Osos, a small town located in Morro Bay, central California, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
This retreat in the sun was short-lived, however. From 1977, ABC indeed calls on him to participate in the production of the (The) All New Pink Panther Show, a new animated series programmed from September 1978 and based on the character of the Pink Panther whose channel has just bought the rights. Around the same time, Cleworth also joined Hanna Barbera who has embarked on the production of a new collection of cartoons with Popeye, The All-New Popeye Hourbroadcast on CBS between 1978 and 1983.
Back home disney in the mid-1980s, Eric Cleworth helped design and script the compilations DTV in which are collected old animated sequences associated for the occasion with songs and music in tune with the times (DTV: Golden Oldies ; DTV: Pop & Rock ; DTV: Rock, Rhythm & Blues). Particularly popular, the concept is then declined on television, in particular in Disney’s DTV Monster Hits. At the same time, Eric Cleworth participates in the launch of the series The Wuzzles and The Gummis.
In the early 1990s, Eric Cleworth finally collaborated with Richard Williams on the feature film The Thief and the Shoemaker offered in theaters in 1993. It was then the last project of the animator who died on December 10, 1999. He was seventy-nine years old.
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Eric Cleworth | Biographies » Artists and Animators
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