2. Roger Sterret – Art teacher at Venice Jr. High in the 1930s

“If there’s no art in your life you’re not really alive!”

Roger Sterret, “Mr. Sterret” to us, was the art teacher at Venice Junior High School when I attended, from 1936-8. Mr. Sterret set me on my future path. He was said to have been the sculptor of the famous semi-nude statue of Myrna Loy which graced the front of the school when I attended, and has recently been replaced. Whatever; he had the innovative idea to introduce young wannabe artists to the idea of animation. He invited some Walt Disney studio talent scouts to his class to give us a chance to make a short cartoon film. They brought a supply of punched paper, a set of animator’s pegs, a light-board, cels, paints and other supplies, and gave us rudimentary instructions how to use them. I was picked to create a short cartoon film. I had already annoyed several of my other teachers by decorating my math and history books with crude flipbook animation. I made a story about a parrot astronaut, “Pol Parrot Flies To Mars” My first hilarious film gag was having Pol Parrot landing his rocket ship on Mars and seeing a sign there, reading, “LOS ANGELES CITY LIMITS.” A real zinger!  The Disney guys took my space epic film to their studio for developing, but I never saw it.  Were they so stunned by my brilliant 13 year-old skills that they must have feared for their own jobs, and decided to destroy the evidence of my young genius?  (My theory, anyway. See the images below.)

This is the present statue of Myrna Loy (neé Williams), Gracing the front yard of Venice High School. Not nearly as sexy as the original during my time there!
My first actually filmed animation project, sponsored by The Walt Disney studio. I was 10 or 11 years old. It was actually titled “Polparrot on Mars.”
I had earlier prepared myself for this opportunity with homemade attempts to make projected cartoon movies. In Popular Mechanics Magazine I saw a diagram showing how to make a simple projector out of a shoe box. I successfully made one, and have saved it to this day! With one of Midge’s bedsheets hung on the wall to serve as a screen, I projected my crudely drawn stories dimly onto it.
The “KIM” two-phase paper animation projector.

As a special treat in the mid-1930s, Midge took me to downtown L.A. at Christmas shopping time.  I spotted a toy projector of a magic type in a shop window,  It was made of tin, painted in green baked enamel,  It had a decal on it, a picture of Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim,” riding an elephant. It had twin lenses at the front.  A hand crank pulled a wide strip of thin paper through a slot at the side.  The upper and lower areas of the paper strip had rows of color cartoon printed across its length, the upper images were slightly different than the lower. Inside the store a sales clerk showed that by slowly turning the crank, not only was the paper pulled through the slot, but some inner mechanism alternately opened the upper and lower lenses.   The effect projected on the little demonstration screen was magical.  The cartoon images seemed to move back & forth, back & forth, in a hypnotic rhythm!  I had to have it, and it became my1934 Christmas present.  My “Kim” projector became my most beloved possession.  I soon found where to buy thin white paper, which I could cut into strips, paste together into long rolls, onto which I could draw my own, 2-phase animation figures.  Even though a couple of years later I got a real 16mm hand-cranked film projector, the “Kim,” for which I could draw my own cartoon stories, remained my favorite.  I have it still today, here it is.  I gave its name to my first son, and he is himself now a famous cartoonist, surely the only person named after a toy projector!

Mr. Sterret told us all, that “if there’s no art in your life, you’re not really alive.”  I don’t know about some of my bored classmates, but I believed him!

9 thoughts on “2. Roger Sterret – Art teacher at Venice Jr. High in the 1930s

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  3. I like to think after reading this that I too influenced some young whippersanpper! What a nice tribute to Mr. Sterret. Don’t you wonder how many of his students went on to careers at Disney?

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