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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Performance, Page 60

The hand of the animator often appeared in the frame of early commercial
animation, a reminder of the performative roots of the craft. Here, a photograph of a hand, presumably that of Otto Messmer, draws Felix the Cat, who impatiently awaits his completion as a highly mutable animated minstrel, capable of metamorphosis and transformation.

The hand that drew Felix was like the hand that applied the greasepaint to the minstrel's face. In the final production number in the 1934 Warner Bros. film Wonder Bar, Al Jolson, in blackface, plays an old field hand who goes up to heaven and discovers it filled with stereotypical wonders such as a pork-chop tree, an endless supply of fried chicken, and public transportation that runs directly from an all-black heaven to Harlem and back. This is one example about the way the color line was extended beyond the physical world to its representational equivalent. (Note also that at one point Jolson's character reads a Yiddish newspaper...a nod to audiences about the Jewish performer under the burnt cork.
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