Known for ‘Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids’, ‘Animaniacs’
Veteran animation director, filmmaker, and writer Leo Sullivan passed away on April 1 at Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center from heart failure. He was 82. During a career spanning over 50 years, he contributed to such children’s classics as “Animaniacs,” “Flash Gordon,” “Iron Man,” “Taz-Mania,” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.”
A native of Lockhart, Texas, Leo Dan Sullivan settled in Los Angeles in 1952. Breaking into the industry under the legendary Bob Clampett (“Beany and Cecil”) in the early 60s, he was one of perhaps five African-Americans working in the “cartoon business” at the time. One of his contemporaries (and later a business partner) was “Disney Legend” Floyd Norman.
Norman and Sullivan indirectly made history later, during the Watts Riots/Rebellion of 1965. As White reporters courted disaster if they dared venture into these volatile areas. Using a 16mm Bolex movie camera Norman had purchased from his boss, Roy E. Disney, the intrepid duo ventured into harm’s way, where mainstream media would not go, they’re only protection being their complexion, to capture the turmoil which was televised later on NBC.
Later, Norman and Sullivan were referred to Bill Cosby, then riding high on the success of his “I Spy” television series, and eager to start development on a project based on material from his best-selling comedy albums. They became part of the team designing characters based on jokes from the comedian’s routines, which eventually became “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.”
Another referral, this time to budding music impresario Don Cornelius, secured them the opportunity to animate the title sequence to his groundbreaking “Soul Train” musical variety show.
Sullivan’s expertise led him to work on animation projects in Jamaica, the Philippines, and in China, where he witnessed the tragedy of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. His commitment to providing positive content for minority youth led him to form his own production company, Afro Kids (https://afrokids.com/). In recent years he published a video game based on the exploits of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. His accolades include an Emmy, recognition by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, teaching tenure at various vocational schools, and he became a highly sought-after college lecturer.
Sullivan is survived by his wife Ethelyn, his son Leo Jr., and daughter Tina.