Noble Origins

steppingincover.jpgWhile I wasn’t looking, Bob McKinnon’s Stepping Into the Picture: Cartoon Designer Maurice Noble was published by the University of Mississippi Press. As you may know, I interviewed Maurice in 1991 for Animato (the published piece was also titled “Stepping Into the Picture“), and we then became good friends. But during the many happy hours we spent together over the last decade of his life, we spent far more time talking about the current state of animation than Maurice’s long and illustrious career. So I’m looking forward to reading Bob’s book and learning new facts, when my copy from arrives later this week.

In the meantime, though, I’ve read the excerpt of the first chapter that’s available on Amazon. And I believe that Bob McKinnon has one of the most basic possible facts about Maurice Noble’s life wrong–because it doesn’t jibe with what Maurice told me.


On page one of Stepping Into the Picture‘s first chapter, McKinnon has Maurice being born on May 1st, 1910 to Almon and Lena Noble. Which was certainly the official version of things, and perhaps the one that Maurice himself believed for most of his life. But sometime in the late 1990s, he told me that his older brother–yes, as he approached his ninetieth birthday, he still had one–had recently informed him that Maurice had been adopted.

Maurice, according to his brother, was kin to the Nobles–but he was the out-of-wedlock offspring of someone else in the family. Back then, that was something that nobody would have wanted to talk about, so hewas taken in by Almon and Lena. It was typical of Maurice that he took this news with poise and good humor–he said that it actually explained why his mother always seemed a little more distant with him than with his siblings. His brother told him all this to get it off his chest while they were both still alive.

Even before he told me he’d learned this, Maurice told me that he didn’t know for sure what day he was born on–but had chosen to commemorate his birth on May 1st. So–combined with McKinnon’s mention of Social Security records that have Maurice being born in 1911, not 1910–it seems reasonable to come to the conclusion that no living person may know much about the exact timing or circumstances of Maurice Noble’s birth.


(Wikipedia maintains that Maurice was born in 1911, which may well be true. But I’m glad that he chose to celebrate his ninetieth birthday in 2000, when he was in astonishingly good health and surrounded by friends, including me, rather than in 2001, when an unsuccessful operation led to his death on May 18th.)

I don’t, by the way, blame Bob McKinnon for not recounting this in Stepping Into the Picture. I know his research for the book dates at least back to the early 1990s–and I presume that Maurice didn’t tell him about the adoption story. Actually, I don’t know how many people Maurice shared the information with at all, though I suspect he told some or all of the Noble Boys about it. (And I don’t think he’d have any problem with it being more widely known now, almost seven years after he left us, which is why I’m sharing it with you in this post.)

If by chance you know more about Maurice’s parentage and birth than I do, I’d love to hear more…

Anyhow, I loved Maurice Noble as a human being, and there aren’t many things in the whole world of animation I love more than his work. So I’m hoping that Stepping Into the Picture is good. And since it apparently doesn’t have much in the way of illustrations, I hope we get a lavish book of Noble artwork someday–at least one other Noble book is in the works, incidentally, and we may need several to cover every aspect of this exceptionally interesting person and artist.

(The photos of Maurice above don’t have anything specific to do with this post, but I thought you’d enjoy them. The top one was taking during his military service, perhaps during his work with Dr. Seuss on Private Snafu cartoons; Maurice proudly displayed it in his home. The bottom one was taken by me in the Summer of 2000, in Los Angeles’s Chinatown, a favorite Noble haunt; it shows a happy, healthy guy who’s as close to being in his prime than you could possibly imagine a ninety-year-old–or, maybe, an eighty-nine-year-old–being.)

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