The Annie Awards is ASIFA-Hollywood's most glamorous event. Each year we dress up and get together like the other academies to honor our stars. In fact, the Awards are so much a part of our organization, we tend to forget there was a time before the Annies.
That we have an awards celebration is due to longtime ASIFA-Hollywood standout June Foray. In Hollywood lingo, the Annies were “June's baby.” It was she who conceived the idea and proceeded to make them a reality.
The Birth of an Animation Award Show
It was a simple enough beginning. “It started in 1972,” June recalls. “I said, 'I think we should give animation awards. Everybody else has awards but animation doesn't. Max Fleischer had just died, and of course he was such a founder of animation, creating Betty Boop and Olive Oyl and Popeye and so forth, and he invented rotoscoping. And so I thought it was a splendid idea to honor him and Dave Fleischer, his brother, who directed so many of the films.”
With the blessings of ASIFA-Hollywood president Nick Bosustow, June proceeded to organize the event. First off, the event needed a name. For this she did not search long. “My husband said,” June recollects, “As long as it's an animation award, why not call it the Annie?” Thus, Hobart Donavan, June's husband created the award's famous title.
The Annies now had a name but no place to go. “So,” June says, “I called the Sportsmen's Lodge, because it was in the Valley and most of us at that time lived there.” She rented the Lodge's banquet room, but then began to feel a little nervous about the fledgling ceremony. “We didn't know how many people would come — you're always apprehensive about things like that. But then all of the cards started coming in. “Yes, I will be there,” and a couple of checks started coming in, and over 400 people showed up...With people in animation you think, 'Oh my, they're not going to come to a dinner.' But for $8.50, it was not an impossible dream,” she concludes with a laugh.
So, the Annies had a name, two legends to be honored, and a large room for the festivities. All that was missing was the host. June had ideas about this as well. “I called Grim Natwick. He had created Betty Boop, of course, and was quite a mover and a shaker in the Max Fleischer Studios, and so I got him to be the MC.”
June's apprehensions were thankfully unfounded and the first Awards were an undeniable success. “We had dancing,” June remembers fondly, “We had a live orchestra and everybody was just enthralled. It was something that had never happened before, especially here in Los Angeles. Maybe at the film festivals in Europe they had things like that, but we never had anything in Los Angeles, and here we are, the hub of animation. So it was extremely encouraging. Also, I knew a lot of television people and we were covered by television, which I think was pretty good for an unknown organization.”
Could the success be repeated? “The following year we only had one nominee and that was Walter Lantz. We had just as many people there. It had steadily gained respect.”
The Annie Award trophy, a handsome brass prize shaped like a zoetrope, made its debut the second year. “The first (trophy) we had,” June remembers, “was made out of wood and plastic and was really not befitting anything. It was inferior. It didn't have any association with animation, which the zoetrope does of course.” So (the next year), Tom Woodward came up with the current design.
The new trophy, unfortunately, did not have a smooth premiere. “I think Walter Lantz dropped his,” June laughs. “The top came off and it broke. A lot of people weren't aware and we should have warned them that the rotating part of the zoetrope was removable. So they carried it offstage and WHAM! We did a lot of repair work on it.”
Recognition for the Masters
The following year, there was a new addition to the Annies: the Winsor McCay Award. June says she created this prize “because I felt that people who were deceased or people who were very old certainly should be thanked for their contribution to the young people in animation. We have all learned from our masters who preceded us.” The award, named after one of the most legendary pioneers of animation, had been a regular fixture of the ceremonies ever since.
Over the years, the Annies have evolved from an inspiration to an honored tradition in the world of animation. June Foray brought the award to life in 1972, and with the help of so many dedicated members of ASIFA-Hollywood, the Annies have played a vital role in recognizing animation's biggest and brightest stars.