Frank Cavalier Braxton Jr. (1929-1969)

Frank Cavalier Braxton Jr (
Frank Cavalier Braxton Jr.

The African-American animator and director Frank Cavalier Braxton Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 31, 1929, to Frank Cavalier Braxton from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Mignon A. Callaway Braxton from Atlanta, Georgia. As a child, Frank had a gift and talent for drawing and painting and was often seen with a sketch pad and pencil in hand. He graduated from Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School (MAH) in 1947, where he was active with the school’s art projects and dominated his class yearbook with his caricatures of classmates and events at MAH. Afterward, he studied art and music at Los Angeles City College.

In 1948, at 19, Braxton became the first African American animator hired at Walt Disney in LA. However, he resigned ten days after beginning this position. The reason for leaving Disney was never disclosed. He went on to work as an assistant animator at Shamus Culhane Productions in LA.

Growing impatient with race relations in the United States, which Braxton believed impacted his job prospects, he left for a year to manage Estudios Moro, an animated cartoon studio in Barcelona, Spain. Five years later, in 1954, Warner Brothers hired Braxton, upon the request of the highly respected Ben Washam, the senior animator in Chuck Jones’ unit at the studio where Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were produced. Braxton immediately became an “inbetweener,” and Washam’s assistant and later served as a journeyman animator, making him the first and only Black animator working in Hollywood at the time.

Braxton left Warner Brothers in 1956 and began working for Jay Ward Productions, Inc., an animation studio based in Costa Mesa. While with Jay Ward Productions, his work was aired on NBC-TV starting in 1959. That work included directing the network’s cartoon shows, Peabody’s Improbable History and The Bullwinkle Show. The following year, in 1960, Braxton produced the Mr. Magoo animated television series. That same year, he was elected president of the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild, thus being the first Black person to be president of any film union in Hollywood. Four years later, in 1964, he directed Linus the Lionhearted.

In 1967, Braxton animated on the Charlie Brown TV specials You’re in Love, Charlie Brown and He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown, and worked as a director for Jay Ward on Ward’s last TV series, George of the Jungle.

Frank Cavalier Braxton Jr. animated the project A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1969. He died from cancer in Los Angeles on June 1, 1969, soon after completing the project. He was 40.

In 2019, Braxton was posthumously awarded the International Animated Film Association’s Winsor McCay Award for his “recognition of lifetime/career contributions to the art of animation.” He was also posthumously awarded the “Animation – Annie Awards” for excellence in animation.