Animation mogul Lou Scheimer died a few days ago at the age of 84. For most people, even rabid fans of the man’s work, his name remains pretty much unknown. In fact, for the most part, his death was pretty much under the radar, which is a bonafide shame.
Lou Scheimer was one of the original founders (along with Hal Sutherland and Norm Prescott) of Filmation, which for most children of the 1970s like me, saw as an absolute assembly line of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Fat Albert, cartoon adaptations of the Archie comics series, and the original Star Trek Animated Series (which almost had the entire original NBC-TV show cast voicing the characters) among them. For a generation weaned as youth in the 1980s, He-Man and The Masters of the Universe was the order of the day. Lou Scheimer was an executive producer on these aforementioned shows, and there’s a certain pop culture chill one gets when remembering seeing these programs as a child, accented by the instantly recognizable rotating circle logo, which was the Filmation visual brand.
While the cartoons themselves suffered from cookie-cutter budgets and corner-cutting animation techniques, they still had a sort of style of their own, in which the low-rent productions on these cartoons actually made them seem endearing and charming. This is especially evident in the case of the Fat Albert series, in which the titular character, a rotund, conscientious, and warm teenager with his motley crew of wannabe Juvenile Delinquents and do-no-gooders, were actually an innocuous gang who existed in ghetto surroundings and experienced the temptations of many negative factors, which always culminated in a lesson learned at the end of the program, something which co-creator Bill Cosby had always promised in the funky, memorable theme song that “you might learn something before it’s done.” For most inner city children growing up in a real, much more barren version than what was portrayed by Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids, they probably learned more about life lessons from watching the program than any of their parents could have ever taught them. This kind of style became the key to Filmation’s success, and Lou Scheimer was a huge part of that, guiding writers, animators, and voice talent (Scheimer himself even voiced a few of the Filmation stable of characters, Fat Albert’s dumb yet irresistible buddy “Dumb Donald” to name one), to create a sundry amount of programs, which ran the gamut of styles, genre, and emotion.
And Scheimer and Filmation didn’t just tether themselves to animation only. They also produced a flurry of live-action programs, the bulk of which also aired during those 1970’s Saturday Mornings, Ark II and Shazam being the highlights. It all culminated in a presentation of worlds that were at once based in reality and fantasy, and millions of children watched those programs hunched over bowls of Sugar Corn Pops (as they were known then), as the mornings crept into the afternoons, each and every Saturday. The body of work left behind remains a curious scrapbook of animation while not at its best, at least it held its own due to the fact of most of the aforementioned elements included therein.
So while Lou Scheimer might remain the golden unknown to most of the fans of his and Filmation’s work, that immense body of work is what will keep his legacy alive. He and Filmation certainly have their place in the annals of animation, and again, while he never achieved the heights of a brand name who ran an animation studio like a Walt Disney, Lou Scheimer still was one of the heavyweights. Just try to think of that turning Filmation circle and not smile as you remember your youth. That alone means that Lou Scheimer and Filmation, achieved what they set out to do, in spades.
RIP Lou Scheimer
October 19, 1928 – October 17, 2013