ART HELD BY ANIMATOR’S SON CONSIDERED ONE OF THE HOBBY’S BIGGEST DISCOVERIES
Norm Chaney always knew his dad Rev was an animator. Only recently, however, did he discover that his pop worked during the early days of what’s known as the Golden Age of American animation.
And he took art home with him.
“This Norman Chaney collection is one of the biggest finds in the hobby,” says animation historian Jerry Beck, author of The 50 Greatest Cartoons. “This is similar to finding the Maltese Falcon or Dorothy’s ruby slippers.”
Why the excitement?
The animation art Rev Chaney took home dates to the early 1940s, and pieces of Warner Bros. animation art from that time are extremely rare.
“Warner Bros. did not have an archive,” Beck says. “They stored artwork but sometime in the late ’60s and early ’70s, they considered it worthless … and the stuff was destroyed. So cel setups from Warner Bros. cartoons, historians like me, we never dreamed we’d see this stuff.”
As a result, most original art from early Warner Bros. cartoons does not come from the studio. “It’s whatever was saved,” Beck says, “by the artists at the time. This Norm Chaney collection is one of those things … great images from classic cartoons, priceless historical material.”
Revalee “Rev” Chaney, a native of Los Angeles, was an art student at the ArtCenter College of Design when he accepted a position in 1937 at Leon Schlesinger Productions, which later became the Warner Bros. Cartoons studio.
It was the birthplace of animation’s most popular characters – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd and Sylvester the Cat.
For $20 a week, Chaney worked as an animator, a “gag man,” and story developer. “He worked with all the great animators and directors at Warner Bros.,” Norm Chaney says. “Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Virgil Ross. My dad worked there when Bugs Bunny was called Tex’s Rabbit because he wasn’t Bugs Bunny yet, and Elmer Fudd was still Egghead.”
In 1951, Chaney left Warner Bros. to work at United Productions of America (UPA), a studio founded for former Disney artists and best known for producing the Mr. Magoo cartoons. Before leaving the animation business in 1958, Chaney had taken home nearly 200 pieces of vintage Looney Tunes production art, including cels, original backgrounds, animation drawings, model sheets and studio production notes.
“He just brought stuff home because they were going in the trash,” Norm Chaney says. “And I think he was proud of what he did. He certainly didn’t bring them home to display them. He didn’t really hoard other stuff, but I think he saw this as part of his history, part of his life that he felt was important.”
For decades, the art has been carefully stored at Chaney’s home (his father passed away in 1985). Chaney gets excited when he talks about sketches, model sheets, cels and backgrounds for cartoons such as 1944’s Plane Daffy, 1944’s Hare Ribbin’, or 1946’s classic Baseball Bugs. There are also pieces of art from his dad’s work on Porky Pig, Horton Hatches the Egg, and the UPA-produced Mr. Magoo.
As Warner Bros. prepares to release new Looney Tunes cartoons, Chaney says the time has come to part with his dad’s treasures. “I don’t have children,” says Chaney, 66, a foreman at a New York-based architectural arts company. “So I’m not going to pass this on to anybody. It’s been in boxes for 60 years. That’s long enough.”
This article appears in the Fall 2019 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.