Pat Sullivan, Australian/American (1885 - 1933)
Patrick "Pat" Peter Sullivan (22 February 1885 or 2 February 1887 – 15 February 1933) was an Australian cartoonist, pioneer animator and film producer, best known for producing the first Felix the Cat silent cartoons.
Sullivan was born in Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, the second son of Patrick Sullivan (cab proprietor) originally from Ireland, and his Sydney-born wife Margaret, née Hayes. Sullivan arrived in the United States around 1910, after spending several months in London. He worked as assistant to newspaper cartoonist William Marriner, and drew four strips of his own. When Marriner died in 1914 Sullivan joined the new animated cartoon studio set up by Raoul Barre. In 1916 William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, set up a studio to produce animated cartoons based on his paper's strips and hired Barre's best animators. Sullivan decided to start his own studio and made a series called ‘Sammy Johnsin’, based on a Marriner strip on which he had worked.
It is a matter of some dispute whether Felix was created by Sullivan or his top animator Otto Messmer. American animation historians have accepted Messmer's claim without question, as he was the principal animator on the Felix series. However, it is not proven that Messmer invented the cat and a satisfactory answer has not been given for the matches to Sullivan's lettering and art in work after his opponents had gone to great lengths to exclude him from. After the airing of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Rewind episode on the dispute in 2004, supporters of Pat Sullivan have suggested that his 1917 film called The Tail of Thomas the Kat (3Mar17 MP866) might be a prototype Felix, and have demonstrated that the handwriting in Feline Follies, the 1919 film that triggered the Felix series, was Sullivan's rather than Messmer's and despite the lengths taken to exclude Sullivan from the creation of Feline Follies there is a poignant scene where small kittens welcome their mother with Pat Sullivan's Australian accent, 'LO MUM! 'LO,MA!.
A sketch for fan by Pat Sullivan, samples such as this were used to match Sullivan's lettering in the initial works of Felix
However, Sullivan was drawing cartoons for Paramount Magazine by 1919 and later when he signed a contract as an animator with Paramount Studios in March 1920, one of the subjects specified in his curriculum vitae was a black cat named Felix who had first appeared in Paramount Magazine as a character named "Master Tom" in a cartoon series named Feline Follies, tending to support Sullivan's claim definitively.
First hand accounts were recorded in print. Notably a recollection from 1953 by Australian writer Hugh McCrae who was sharing an apartment with Pat Sullivan just before Felix was created. 'It comes properly as a postscript that in New York McCrae shared a flat with Pat Sullivan, the famed creator of "Felix ,the Cat." When a film about Felix was being planned, Sullivan suggested that McCrae should do the drawings while he (Sullivan) supplied the ideas. McCrae refused and has regretted it ever since.'
As Mickey Mouse was gaining popularity among theatre audiences through sound cartoons by late 1928, Sullivan, after years of refusing to convert Felix to sound, finally agreed to use sound in Felix's cartoons. Unfortunately, Sullivan did not carefully prepare to convert Felix to sound, and put sound in cartoons that the studio had already completed. By 1930, Felix had faded from the screen.
Sullivan relented in 1933, and announced that Felix would return in sound, but died that year before production began.
Sullivan died on 15 February 1933 in New York City at age 46 (or 47) from health problems brought on by alcoholism and pneumonia. (At the time, newspapers attributed his death to only pneumonia). He is buried in Cathedral Cemetery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.