Leon Schlesinger (/ˈʃlɛsɪnər/ SHLESS-in-jər; May 20, 1884 – December 25, 1949)[1] was an American film producer who founded Leon Schlesinger Productions, which later became the Warner Bros. Cartoons studio, during the Golden Age of American animation.[2] He was a distant relative of the Warner Brothers. As head of his own studio, Schlesinger served as the producer of Warner's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons from 1930, when Schlesinger assumed production from his subcontractors, Harman and Ising, to 1944, when Warner acquired the studio.

Leon Schlesinger
Schlesinger in 1917
Born(1884-05-20)May 20, 1884
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedDecember 25, 1949(1949-12-25) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, United States
OccupationFilm producer
Years active1919–1944
Berenice K. Schlesinger
(m. 1909)

Early life and career


Leon Schlesinger was born to a Jewish family[3] in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 20, 1884. In 1909, Schlesinger married Bernice K. Schlesinger (née Leona Katz, September 15, 1882 – May 8, 1966).[a]

After Schlesinger worked at a theatre as an usher, songbook agent, actor, and manager (including the Palace Theatre in Buffalo, New York),[4] he founded Pacific Title & Art Studio in 1919, where most of his business was producing title cards for silent films. As talking pictures ("talkies") replaced them in 1929 and 1930, Schlesinger looked for ways to capitalise on the new technology and stay in business. Some film historians, like Tom Sito, claim that he helped finance the Warner Brothers' first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927).[5][6] He then secured a contract with the studio to produce its brand-new Looney Tunes series, and he signed animators Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising to create these cartoons with their Bosko character as the star.

Schlesinger's Westerns


In 1932 and 1933 Leon Schlesinger produced six B-movie Westerns for Warners starring John Wayne.

Schlesinger spent under $30,000 each because he did not need elaborate action sequences. Instead, he used silent action footage of cowboy star Ken Maynard and his horse Tarzan.

“I later thought Leon’s cartoons were better than the horse operas he put me in,” Wayne recalled in later years. “Those westerns I made at Warner Bros. were remakes of old Ken Maynard films, and all the big scenes like cattle herds and Indian attacks were taken straight from the original Maynard films. So I had to dress up to look like Ken Maynard because a lot of the old footage they inserted had shots of Maynard in the distance. I really hated that."[7] (A few years later, Warners remade these budget Westerns with singing cowboy Dick Foran.)

Schlesinger as businessman


Schlesinger was a shrewd businessman with a keen eye for talent. When Harman and Ising left Warner Bros. with Bosko in 1933, Schlesinger set up his own studio on the Warner Bros. Sunset Boulevard lot at the corner of Van Ness and Fernwood. He wooed animators away from other studios, including some of those who had once worked for Harman and Ising. One of these was Friz Freleng, whom Schlesinger promoted to oversee production of Looney Tunes and to develop the sister series, Merrie Melodies. Former Harman-Ising animator Bob Clampett was also hired. Schlesinger's recruiting of Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Frank Tashlin further increased the quality of the studio's output. He later added Carl Stalling and Mel Blanc, and collectively these men created such famous characters as Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. Schlesinger largely took a "hands off" approach to the animation unit, allowing his directors freedom to create what they wished, provided that the resulting films were successful. Schlesinger sold Pacific Title & Art Studio in 1935 to concentrate on his animation studio.

Business practices


Schlesinger was known for his hard-nosed business practices. His animators worked in a dilapidated studio (Avery's people were briefly assigned to a bungalow they dubbed "Termite Terrace"), and Schlesinger briefly shut down the studio in mid-1941 when unionized employees demanded a pay raise. On another occasion, he boycotted the Academy Awards for what he claimed was preferential treatment for the Walt Disney Cartoon Studio. He also farmed some of the Looney Tunes out to brother-in-law Ray Katz for tax breaks.

Schlesinger was also known among his animators for his lisp. One oft-repeated story states that Mel Blanc patterned the voices of both Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat on Schlesinger. However, in Mel Blanc's autobiography, That's Not All Folks!, he contradicts that conventional belief, writing "It seemed to me that such an extended mandible would hinder his speech, particularly on words containing an s sound. Thus 'despicable' became 'desthpicable'." Daffy's slobbery, exaggerated lisp was developed over time.[citation needed]

Appearances in shorts


Leon Schlesinger appeared as himself in Freleng's short You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940), one that combines live action with animation. In this short, Mel Blanc voices Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and all other characters, except Schlesinger, who dubbed his voice because the studio did not have a sound camera. In the film the stuttering Porky is unable to pronounce "Mr. Schlesinger," eventually giving up and addressing him as "Leon". As with other Warner cartoon staffers, Schlesinger appeared in caricature form in such cartoons as Hollywood Steps Out, Russian Rhapsody and Nutty News.

Later life and career


Schlesinger remained head of the animation studio until 1944 when he sold his assets to Warner Bros. Eddie Selzer assumed Schlesinger's position as producer. He continued to market the characters and headed Warners's Theater Services unit.[8]

Schlesinger was an avid racehorse fan and was a director of the Western Harness Racing Association.

Schlesinger died from a viral infection on Christmas Day, 1949. He is interred in the Beth Olam Mausoleum inside the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.[9]


  1. ^ Bernice K. Schlesinger was born on September 15, 1882 in Mattoon, Illinois and died on May 8, 1966 in Los Angeles, California. She was interred inside The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, buried under Leon Schlesinger.


  1. ^ Ellenberger, Allan R. (May 1, 2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-5019-0.
  2. ^ Barrier, Michael (November 6, 2003). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-983922-3.
  3. ^ Ginsburg, Benjamin (June 10, 2016). How the Jews Defeated Hitler - Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 61. ISBN 9781442252745.
  4. ^ The Buffalo News, April 15, 1944
  5. ^ Sito, Tom (2006). Drawing the Line. p. 40. ISBN 9780813171487.
  6. ^ Furniss, Maureen (2005). Chuck Jones Conversations. p. 24. ISBN 9781578067299.
  7. ^ Munn, Michael (2005). John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth. Berkley. ISBN 978-0451214140.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  8. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc (February 7, 1948). "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media: 113. leon schlesinger. {{cite journal}}: |last1= has generic name (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries