McCay, Winsor

Alternative names
Birth 1869-09-26
Death 1934-07-26

Biographical notes:

Winsor McCay (1867-1934) was a cartoonist, animator, and performer credited with significant influence in the development of American comic strips and motion picture animation. McCay first gained attention with two comic strips, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, which was first published in the New York Evening Telegram from 1904, and Little Nemo in Slumberland, published in the New York Herald from 1905 to 1915. These two strips both presented a dream state illustrated with fantasy art.

In 1906 McCay began performing in vaudeville shows as a "lightning sketcher", creating blackboard and chalk sketches of his comic strip characters and other creations. He quickly gained popularity as a performer and travelled with various vaudeville shows around the Northeast. In 1911 McCay began introducing animated films into his vaudeville act, beginning with Little Nemo and in the following year, How a Mosquito Operates . In 1914 McCay introduced Gertie the Dinosaur, which would become his most well known animated work. It is widely considered the preeminent animated work before the development of the Disney studio.

During the act with Gertie, McCay would appear on stage and provide instructions to the animated dinosaur, which would seem to respond to McCay's commands with a personality all its own. Gertie would misbehave and cry when scolded during the performance, and McCay himself would eventually appear in cartoon form in the animation. The unique "personality" that Gertie exhibited was a new development in animated cartoons and is considered largely responsible for Gertie's success. In addition to the innovativeness of McCay's art work, he is also credited with developing several important animation techniques, including registration marks, "inbetweening" or keyframe animation, stationary local animation, the use of thin tracing paper, and the cycling of drawings.

McCay would go on to produce only 10 animated films, the last of which was completed in 1921, but he continued to produce daily drawings and comics for newspapers until his death in 1934. (1)

David C. Bohnett (b. 1956) is a philanthropist, technology entrepreneur, and Chair of the David Bohnett Foundation. Since 2008 he has been the Chairman of the Board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. Mr. Bohnett is also a Trustee of both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. In 1994 he founded GeoCities, an internet based media and e-commerce company that was subsequently acquired by Yahoo! Inc. He currently serves as CEO of and is head of the private equity firm Baroda Ventures.

The David Bohnett Foundation's stated mission is to "improve society through social activism." The Foundation provides funding, technology, and technical support to innovative organizations and institutions and has contributed in excess of $30 million. (2)

Sources: (1) Canemaker, John. Winsor McCay: His Life and His Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005. (2) "David Bohnett Bio." The David Bohnett Foundation. Accessed February 26, 2009.

From the guide to the David C. Bohnett Collection of Winsor McCay Drawings, 1914, (© 2012 Fales Library and Special Collections)


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  • Advertising--Cigarettes
  • Animation (Cinematography)--United States
  • Scrapbooks
  • Animation (Cinematography)--United States--History--20th century
  • Animated films--United States
  • Animators--United States
  • Cartoonists
  • Editorial cartoons


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  • United States (as recorded)