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Animator gained fame for 'Living Dead' roles

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

For years, Leland “Lee” Hartman never closed his door to fans of the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead” who wanted the autograph of the man who played a reporter and a ghoul in the 1968 movie shot in Western Pennsylvania.

Those fans likely never knew Hartman was a prolific animator with a home studio filled with thousands of drawings of cartoon characters he sketched for Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and local production companies.

“I think he grew to really respect and love that there were people who had appreciation for one aspect of his art form,” said Joe Wos, executive director of the ToonSeum, Downtown. “They knew him as an actor, but they didn't know he was this remarkable cartoonist.”

Leland “Lee” Hartman, of Castle Shannon, died on Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, in Kane Regional Center in Glen Hazel after battling dementia for six years. He was 82.

Mr. Hartman, who had no children, would draw sketches for his four nieces and make up stories, said one niece, Kerra Penn of Chicago. He wrote, animated, produced and later sold a movie, “The Story of the Christmas Toys,” with characters based on his nieces.

“He was an amazing storyteller. He was a really extraordinary genius of a man,” Penn said Friday.

From 1955-60, Mr. Hartman was an animator for Walt Disney Studios, Penn said, helping animate films including “Sleeping Beauty,” “Paul Bunyan,” and the “Disneyland” television show.

At home, Mr. Hartman animated characters for commercials featuring the Pirate Parrot, Willi's ski shop and local car dealerships, Wos said. In the early 1990s, he helped animate characters for Warner Bros.'s “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

“It's a very solitary art form,” Wos said. “He'd be in his basement, plodding away on thousands and thousands of drawings. You don't get that immediate recognition.” His family gave many of the drawings to the ToonSeum and also to the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

Mr. Hartman was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Hartman, who died in 2006. Along with his niece, Kerra Penn, he is survived by a sister-in-law, Ann Malloy, of Chicago, brother-in-law Arthur Quinn and his wife Lois, of Pittsburgh, and three other nieces.

Arrangements are being handled by John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood. A public memorial service is being considered at the ToonSeum. Family asks that instead of flowers, people send donations in Mr. Hartman's name to the ToonSeum or the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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