While combing through an online copy of a 1920s magazine just for amateur movie makers (it’s called, in case you’re curious, Amateur Movie Makers) I stumbled across a name that seemed familiar: “Norman McLeod”. Hmm, why did that ring a bell?
He was mentioned in an article on “art titles” (title cards with illustrations) which referred to “the famous skeleton cartoons” which “were made familiar by the clever pen of Norman McLeod, who has illustrated Christie Comedy titles for a number of years.” (You might be picturing Silly Symphony-style skeletons, but they were actually stick figures.) Having seen a few of the Christie Comedies, I had a little “ah-ha!” moment of now knowing who was behind those funny cartoons.
They were simple but expressive little drawings, just white lines on plain black backgrounds, and they added extra pops of comedy to the Christie shorts. In my opinion they also had the effect of making viewers look forward to the title cards a bit more. Funny title card illustrations were pretty common in both shorts and feature-length light comedies, but I’m presuming the stick figure style was unique to McLeod.
McLeod, a Michigan native and former World War I fighter pilot, started working in Hollywood around 1920. He joined the Christie Film Company as a cartoonist, and would end up drawing his then-familiar stick figures for dozens of its shorts, right up to the end of the silent era.
Sometime in the late 1920s he also started directing. And today, we know him as the famous Norman Z. McLeod…renowned comedy director of Horsefeathers (1931), Monkey Business (1932), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), The Paleface (1948), and many more. Oh yeah, that’s how I know him.
He also has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame:
Since the Christie Comedies aren’t nearly as well-known as Keystone today, how many fans of this Golden Age comedy director know they’re hiding all these amusing little Easter eggs?
Here’s a few more of Norman’s cartoons:
Ah, silent era research rabbit holes…The More You Know!