David Hilberman, an animator who started his career at Disney and went on to help form the United Productions of America animation studio, died July 5 in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 95.
Hilberman was blacklisted during the 1950s after helping to unionize colleagues in the animation business.
Born in Cleveland, he graduated Case Western Reserve U. and studied in Leningrad before moving to Los Angeles. He landed a job at Disney through a national talent search and worked on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Bambi” before WWII theater closures caused layoffs at the studio. Hilberman and other organizers encouraged employees to join the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild, which led to the animator’s strike of 1941.
Hilberman left Disney and joined with ex-Disney artists Zachary Schwartz and Stephen Bosustow to create Industrial Films and Poster Service, which created political and public service cartoons such as “Brotherhood of Man,” and “Hell-Bent for Election,” supporting President Roosevelt’s campaign. The company became United Productions of America in 1945, and Hilberman sold his share to Bosustow to travel to the Soviet Union and establish animation studios. But postwar changes in the Soviet Union put these plans on hold, and he moved to New York and formed commercial studio Tempo Productions. UPA went on to create the Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing characters and became known for its distinctively modern style of animation.
Testimony from Walt Disney before the House Un-American Activities Committee and commentary by gossip columnist Walter Winchell alleged Hilberman was a communist, forcing closure of Tempo. Hilberman never testified, but turned to freelancing in Europe before returning to the U.S. where he attended UCLA and taught film at San Francisco State from 1967 to 1973.
He is survived by two sons; a daughter; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.