Thursday, June 05, 2014


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Ernest Smythe

Ernest Smythe was born “William Ernest Smythe” according to the England and Wales Birth Index at Smythe’s birth was in Ipswich, England, on April 9, 1874, according to his naturalization application, filed June 4, 1926, which also stated that he arrived in New York City on May 25, 1909. That date, I believe, represents his first time in the United States.

A family tree at said Smythe married Amelia Ellen Sage, March 8, 1897. They were recorded in the England Censuses of 1901 and 1911.

The Biographical Sketches of Cartoonists & Illustrators in the Swann Collection of the Library of Congress said: “[Smythe, a] British illustrator and watercolorist, contributed to The Sketch in 1896 and The Illustrated London News in 1899. He specialized in hunting subjects.” Smythe was a frequent contributor to Chums magazine from 1910 to 1919. For a time he performed on stage according to Variety, July 15, 1911:

Ernest Smythe, the London black and white artist, who distinguished himself during the Boer War by his realistic drawings, is going into vaudeville. He works on life six figures and draws with both hands at the same time. His opening was fixed for the Croydon Hippodrome this week.
Smythe’s second trip to the U.S. may have been his arrival September 5, 1916. According to the passenger list, he was going to visit his friend, “F. Bishell, 214 Bay 7th Street, Brooklyn NY.” A search of the census and passenger records show Frank E. Bishell, a freelance artist, arriving in the U.S. in 1910. The 1915 New York State Census had the same address that Smythe planned to visit. Bishell’s early death merited mention in Editor & Publisher, January 1, 1921. Bishell may have been one of the reasons why Smythe decided to stay in the U.S. Another reason was cartoonist Pat Sullivan.

John Canemaker, in Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat (1996), said Sullivan met Smythe in Britain. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Sullivan sailed “to London in 1909 to further his ambitions….He worked for a time on the comic strip ‘Ally Sloper’ but, his earnings meagre, tried music-hall work, failed as a motion picture exhibitor and was reduced to being an animal handler in trans-Atlantic ships. Reaching New York by early 1910, he boxed for prize money.” So, Smythe and Sullivan met in 1909 or early 1910.

Smythe is credited with animating Monkey Love (1917) for Sullivan. How long Smythe worked for Sullivan has not been determined.

Smythe has not been found in the 1920 census. At some point he moved to California. Smythe’s address was 843 North Magnolia Avenue in Burbank, which was listed in city directories from 1923 to 1936, 1940, 1942 and 1946. He was found in a 1939 and 1944 directories in Van Nuys, North Hollywood, at 6722 Lemp Avenue.

The 1930 census recorded Smythe’s Magnolia address in Burbank, where he worked as a commercial artist. The census said he emigrated in 1916.

Some of the work he produced in the 1930s included: set decoration for The Land of Oz (1932); pre-production art for King Kong (1933); book illustration for The Sportsman’s Hornbook (1933); animation for Walter Lantz cartoons Confidence (1933) and Chicken Reel, The Candy House, The County Fair, The Toy Shoppe, and Kings Up, all from 1934; and Don’t Laugh—Superstitious Beliefs for the Van Tine Features comics page.

The Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), August 8, 1931, said Smythe, “English water colorist”, was scheduled for a one-man show at the Fine Arts Gallery.

Smythe’s address changed slightly in 1940: 843A North Magnolia Street in Glendale, California. His occupation was painter and portraitist for a motion picture studio. He had five years of college; in 1939 he worked 52 weeks and earned $4,500. On February 9, 1940, he, as Ernest William Smythe, became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Smythe passed away August 22, 1950, in Los Angeles, according to the California Death Index. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

—Alex Jay


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Great post! I've always been interested in Smythe's work. According to Lantz animator Fred Kopeitz, Smythe was the studio's key layout man for a little while before being replaced by Willy Pogany. I don't think he did much animation, if any.
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