Michael Maltese, like so many other giants of early animation, spent the first part of his life in New York City. Born in February of 1908, he was raised — primarily by his mother — on the Lower East Side. His upbringing was tenement-based and poor, so his prospects for a future were limited. He spent part of his teen years apprenticed to a plumber who installed pipes in new apartment buildings. One January morning, Maltese arrived at a job site to discover the coveralls he’d left there the night before had frozen solid. He vowed right then and there that whatever his life’s work ended up being it could not involve thawing out his clothing each and every day.
Information on the early lives of many cartoon pioneers is sketchy and sometimes contradictory. In his book Hollywood Cartoons, author Michael Barrier tells us that Maltese’s first job in animation (at the comparatively ripe old age of twenty-seven) was at the Fleischer Studio. Meanwhile, in his book Chuck Amuck, director Chuck Jones says that Maltese entered into cartoons via Terrytoons, another New York City outfit. Jones claims that Maltese secured the job after commenting that the rickety Terrytoons elevator should bear a plaque reading “Good to the Last Drop”. Despite the fact that Jones knew Maltese very well, Barrier makes a better accounting of Maltese’s early career so his version is probably the more accurate. According to Hollywood Cartoons, Maltese began at Fleischer as a cel painter and, during his year of employment, he rose to the position of inbetweener. Maltese was eventually fired for asking to be promoted to assistant animator — a no-no in the rigid caste system of the early animation industry. Following his dismissa...
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...ical cartoons. Most people agree that Jones’ Tom and Jerrys are not particularly good, but the better ones were, of course, written by Michael Maltese.
Chuck Jones (who died in 2002) became a beloved elder statesman of animation, and there’s no denying that his contributions to the medium were enormous. Even Jones, however, was willing to admit that his best work came about in partnership with Michael Maltese. The list of great shorts produced by these two men is both lengthy and awe-inspiring in its quality. An abbreviated version of that list (along with links to the appropriate Wikipedia pages) appears below. Beneath this list are a few of the better offerings presented in watchable form. This is, of course, the best way to appreciate the Jones/Maltese legacy — through the films themselves.
Michael Maltese died in February of 1981 at the age of seventy three.
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