John McDermott was a man of many talents who accomplished a great deal over the course of his career. Born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1919 and raised in Hollywood, CA, McDermott showed interest in …
John McDermott was a man of many talents who accomplished a great deal over the course of his career. Born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1919 and raised in Hollywood, CA, McDermott showed interest in illustration and animation in his youth. After his graduation from high school in 1936, and despite having no formal art education, McDermott secured a job at Walt Disney Studios as an inbetweener or “tweener.” In a large animation studio, a lead artist would create the principal frames and poses. The job of the inbetweener was to create the necessary action in between these principal frames, connecting and making the animation flow. McDermott worked as an inbetweener and effects animator on several Disney productions including Pinocchio and Fantasia.
In 1942, McDermott enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was assigned to the III Amphibious Corps as a “Pistol and Palette” Combat Artist. Documenting the war in the south Pacific was an experience that honed McDermott’s skills as an artist. In his own words:
“In the Marines, as a combat artist, I traveled with the troops and for three years got all the drawing opportunity anyone would want. My work changed dramatically during this time and I’m sure it was due to constant drawing, every single day, from life, just putting down what I saw around me. In a few instances, it was a dangerous kind of scholarship.”
McDermott’s wartime work was published in Leatherneck magazine and several other newspapers and publications. Today his work is displayed in art museums, The National Museum of the Marine Corps, and the Pentagon.
After the war, McDermott moved to New York where he worked as a freelance illustrator. He quickly became known for his dramatic illustrations of various action and adventure tales. His work appeared in many magazines including Argosy, Blue Book, and Outdoor Life, as well as the covers of many pulp fiction novels.
In the 1960’s, McDermott began writing novels under the pen name J. M. Ryan. His first novel, Brooks Wilson, was adapted into the movie Loving, starring George Segal and Eva Marie Saint. His novel The Rat Factory was a satirical story based upon McDermott’s experiences during the 1941 Disney animators’ strike.
Another activity pursued by McDermott was amateur film making. Armed with a 16mm movie camera, and using friends and family members for the cast, he would create reenactments of historical battles. One of his films, Pickett’s Charge, was used by PBS in their Odyssey TV series, and in 1958 it was aired on CBS with an introduction by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Sir Bernard Law Montgomery.
McDermott, a tall man with piercing eyes, was well liked and people enjoyed being around him. Always a beehive of activity, he was referred to as “an ongoing fireworks display.”
John McDermott died in 1977 at the age of only 57, leaving a wife and two daughters. Editorially, he was remembered as “a creative genius of wide-ranging talent.” If you are interested in collecting some of his work, we’ve got many available in our Illustration Art Auction on October 14th!
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