Zander's career began on a bluff. As the story goes, a receptionist at an animation studio asked Zander and a friend if they were animators, and the two said yes, despite fine art training and a lack of animation experience. Soon Zander was working in New York and Los Angeles, animating Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Brothers in the '30s and RKO shorts. Along the way he met Joe Barbera, and the two went to MGM in 1937 to build up the studio's animation department. In 1940 Zander brought Jerry the mouse to life as the lead animator for the character on the Tom & Jerry film "Puss Gets the Boot." He spent the next three years working under Barbera and Joe Hanna on classics including "The Night Before Christmas," "Fine Feathered Friend" and "Sufferin' Cats" before World War II arrived and he turned his pen to films for the U.S. armed forces' First Motion Picture Unit.
After the war, the pre-delivery options connected with animating commercials made the genre popular compared with the day's live TV commercials and in 1947 Zander, head of animation at Willard Pictures, directed and animated what some consider the first fully-animated TV commercial for Chiclets gum. As the format gained acceptance, Zander worked for clients like Gulf Oil, Camel and Shell as director of Transfilm Inc.'s animation department.
After founding production company Pelican Films in 1954, Zander animated the massively popular Bert and Harry Piels beer commercials for Young & Rubicam. In 1970 he founded Zander's Animation Parlour, known as the "Disney of the East," creating spots for Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer, Crest, Colgate, Raid, Vlasic, Schick, Green Giant and more. He directed over 5,000 spots in his career.
In 1980 he completed a full-length directorial project with the TV movie Gnomes and in 1984 animated shorts for Saturday Night Live. He retired in 1986, having received the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists' Golden Award. He would later be awarded the Winsor McCay award, animation's most respected prize. Late in his life he continued his hobby, motorcycling, completing a cross-country ride in his 80's and a solo ride from New York to Montana at 91.
Zander's advertising legacy is rich—his son Mark now runs the animation business, known as Zander Productions. David, who began as a rep at Z.A.P. is now partner/executive producer at production company MJZ. Son Peter works as a photographer and dabbles in advertising. Grandson Chris Zander is a rep at NY's The Family.
Zander's wife, nee Beth Wasem, died in 1978 after 37 years of marriage. Zander is survived by six children: Kathryn Muller, Pittsburgh, P.A.; Mark Zander, Pawling, N.Y.; Maggie Zander Orling, North Salem, N.Y.; Jane Sussman, Cambridge, M.A.; Peter Zander, Katonah, N.Y.; David Zander, Pasadena, C.A., 12 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.
Read an interview with Zander conducted earlier this year by Animation World magazine.
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