I was born in the U.S.A. in Newark, New Jersey on February 3, 1927. I became interested in cartoons at the age of seven when it was only 10 cents to see a show. I was awed by the cartoon shorts and wondered how it was done. One of the movies I remember was with Chester Morris, Walter Brennan and Louis Stone. It was called “The Three Godfathers” and was about three men who find a baby in the desert and become attached to it. Several versions have been made since but I loved the cartoons! That was about the time I started drawing. My father, Vincent Cataldi, and my mother, Ada, gave me great encouragement to keep up my interest in art. I also give credit to my teachers in school; Mrs. Hunt in 6th grade and Mrs. Carew in 8th grade. I took a correspondence course from Art Instructions, Inc. and studied at Arts High School in Newark.
I studied with John Rich at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. I’ve worked through a good part of the Golden Age of theatricals, features and shorts, the Golden Age of television commercials, the Golden age of Saturday morning cartoons and now the Golden Age of Old Age! Friends say I’ve “been around the block”. I tell them “I’ve been around the township!” In September 1943, my family and I moved to California.
I started to work for Disney Studios on November 1st, 1943 as a 16 year old in the traffic department. I worked under Violet Mosley. For three months my 9:00 a.m. pickup was at the front gate entrance on Buena Vista. I was lucky to meet Walt Disney each morning at that time and walk into the animation building with him as a starry eyed kid! At about the second week, I asked him for an autographed photo of himself. He told me I would have it for me at 10:30 a.m. I went up to his office, checked with his secretary and she told me to go inside his office. There was Walt, with photo in hand, signed; “With best wishes to Rudolf Cataldi, Walt Disney.” He then showed me around his office, which looked more like an apartment. Another week, after seeing some animation cells of Disney characters hanging in the front gate entrance. So one day as Walt and I were walking in one morning I asked Walt for a cell from one of those shows. Walt called up my boss, Violet Mosley and asked her to get me a cell from one of those shows! Violet, whose husband worked in the “Morgue”, where they kept old cells and original animation, was told to pick one out for me!! Violet told me later to go down to the morgue and see Ben Mosley. I went down to the morgue and Ben gave me an original cell from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. I didn’t know what I had been given until many years later. Thanks Walt, Violet and Ben.
Three months into my career (1944), I was given a chance to try out for in-betweens. I tried, showed promise and started picking up from Johnny Bond, (“Another gem of a person.”).
I joined and attended union meetings at Yucca and Vine in Hollywood, the south-east corner building, north of the Capital Records building in 1944. In no time I was assisting and told to work with Tom Massie. Tom did not take to animation too easily and decided it was not for him. I was later made assistant animator to George Nicholas, (my mentor who taught me all about animation). George Nicholas, Harrison Steinbeck and Ralph Huelet (Steve Huelet’s father), used to go out to lunch quite often. I still remember the first scene I worked on. It was Donald Duck hanging by the collar on the side of a cliff in a short called “Commando Duck”.
At Disney, I worked on most of the shows with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and the Three Caballeros. Working with George Nicholas I did a lot of animation on Pluto’s, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella.
The first scene I animated was a contest between eight other animators. It was a scene of Donald Duck driving in a car. I won because I added some slight bounces to Donald to make it look like the car was in motion. I got paid for that work and Disney included that animation in the cartoon.
In 1945 I joined the Merchant Marines.
In 1950 I left Disney to work for Shamus Culhane. I worked on Muriel Cigars #2, Borden milk – Elsie the cow, titles for the Colgate Hour/The Eddie Cantor Show and government films. While in New York I worked with Bill Tytla at Tempo. It was for a Wesson Oil commercial. I got to see Ben Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Isreal) drive past the 3rd Avenue tunnel at Culhane’s studio!
Also while in New York, I received my induction papers to report for the Army in Los Angeles. I was told I would be drafted into the Marine Corps. I got my basic training at the San Diego Marine Recruiting Depot. I was later stationed at the El Toro Marine Air Base. It was nice duty. I lived in Los Angeles. As time went by, my Sergeant Major and I got bored with stateside duty and volunteered to go to fight in Korea but fate had other plans. While waiting for our transfer orders the sergeant and I got into a train accident in Tustin. He was driving and hit the train broadside. We were both banged up pretty badly. I was knocked out for three days! When I woke up, there was a priest making some funny looking hand signs over me! Well, we both recovered, but since I was still not in good shape and my tour of duty wasn’t enough, I received an honorable discharge. I left as a Corporal.
Here begins the second chapter of my animation career.
I went back to New York and worked for Art Stahl and Lars Colonius on a Dick Tracy commercial. I returned to California and went to work for Raphael Wolf, then the Kling Studios and then the Fred A. Niles Studios at the old Charlie Chaplin Studios on Sunset and La Brea in 1954.
Shortly thereafter I started my own studio, Animation Associates, servicing studios and producing shows including Q.T. Hush which ran on the classic T.V. show Sherriff John.
During 1962 and 1963, things had gotten pretty slow so I went to work for Hanna Barbera. I worked there for about 23 years. It was there I met my beautiful wife to be, Consuelo. We married in 1972 and have three children; Johnny, Tommy and Tina.
A most interesting event happened to me and my wife at Disneyland. It was while we were in the Haunted house. Toward the end of the ride we came across a globe with a very small and beautiful woman inside talking to the departing guests. I looked at her and commented, “I used to date that girl!” Everyone must have thought I was bonkers. I researched as to who was this person inside the globe and as it turned out, she was Leota Wharton (Toombs). She worked in the traffic department at Disney and we used to have lunch together frequently. I found out she later went to work for W.E.D. designing characters for the Disneyland theme park which included such famous rides as the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted House and a Small World among others. Someone else must have thought she was beautiful enough, and rightly so, as to use her as the model in the globe at the end of the ride in the Haunted House.
Bill Hannah twice sent me to Korea. I directed “Yogi Bear’s First Christmas”. The first time I was there I got caught up in a student demonstration and had to run through the running students going around my hotel, the Lotte Hotel in Seoul. Tear gas was tossed at the students and I got caught in the middle of it! I managed to get to my hotel okay. The next day I called Bill Hannah and told him what had happened and asked him for combat pay, to which he replied; “Okay. We’ll talk about it when you come back.., IF you come back!”.
I enjoyed my stay there as I was treated with a lot of respect and kindness. I continued working at Hannah Barbera Studios until 1985. I worked on many shows and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Jim Henson’s “Muppet Babies” 1988-1989.
I retired May 1st, 1989 but continued to work for other studios after that including Graz Entertainment, Saban, DIC and Film Roman was the last studio I worked for on June 13, 2000.
What do I do now? I stay home and watch TV.., and recently saw “The Three Godfathers” with Chester Morris. Meanwhile I continue to breathe in and breathe out as long as I can!
Over my career I’ve known and worked with Bill Hannah and
Joe Barbera, Lou Zukor, John Boersema, Nick Nichols, Paul Fennel, Shamus Culhane, Earl Klein, Sam Singer, George Nichols, Bill Keil,
Jay Sarby, Lou Sheimer, Chris Peterson, Lionel Grover, Lou Kachivas, Ken Southworth, Volus Jones, Jim Graziano, Fred A. Niles,
Phil Roman, Ray Lee, Jerry Hathcock, Bill Tytla, Dave Tendler, Karen Peterson, Irv Spence, Eddie Barge, Celine Miles, Consuelo Cataldi, Tom Ray, Bob Kirk, Norm MaCabe and Lester Pourier to name a few.