Margaret J. Winkler

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Margaret J. Winkler
MJ Winkler.jpg
BornApril 22 1895
DiedJune 21 1990 (aged 95)
OccupationFilm studio executive, film producer and distributor, animator
Known forM.J. Winkler Pictures (film company)
Spouse(s)Charles B. Mintz

Margaret J. Winkler Mintz (April 22, 1895 – June 21, 1990) was a key figure in silent animation history, having a crucial role to play in the histories of Max and Dave Fleischer, Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer, and Walt Disney. She was the first woman to produce and distribute animated films. [1][2] Winkler was the subject of a feature film Walt Before Mickey.

Early life and career[edit]

Hungarian-born of German descent, Winkler began her career as personal secretary of Harry Warner, one of the founders of Warner Brothers. Through most of the silent era, Warner Brothers was strictly a film distributor, and Harry Warner was the man who made the deals.[3] In 1917, Warner Brothers began distributing cartoons of Mutt and Jeff in New York and New Jersey. Warner was impressed with Winkler's talents, and when Max and Dave Fleischer, owners of Fleischer Studios, came to him with their series Out of the Inkwell, he gave it to Winkler and encouraged her to form her own distribution company, Winkler Productions, on a state's rights basis.

In 1922, she signed a contract with Pat Sullivan Productions to produce Felix the Cat cartoons. This established her reputation as the top distributor in the cartoon world. It was a good thing, because at the end of the same year the Fleischer brothers, flush with success as a result of Winkler's work, left her to form their own distribution company, Red Seal Pictures. However much Sullivan helped Winkler's business, he and Winkler were constantly fighting. In September 1923, the renewal of his contract came up, and his unrealistic demands meant Winkler Pictures might have to survive for a while without its biggest star. Winkler viewed a pilot reel, called "Alice's Wonderland", submitted by then neophyte animator Walt Disney, the first entry in the "Alice Comedies" series.[4] Winkler was intrigued with the idea of a live-action girl in a cartoon world, and signed Disney to a year-long contract despite the fact that the studio that made the cartoon was now bankrupt.[5] Disney subsequently formed a new studio, Disney Brothers, which was the first cartoon studio in Hollywood and eventually changed its name to Walt Disney Productions. Disney was helped by the tutelage of Winkler, who insisted on editing all of the "Alice Comedies" episodes herself. One of her suggestions was the addition of a suspiciously Felix-like character called Julius. This was apparently the "straw that broke the camel's back" for Sullivan, who signed with rival distributor E. W. Hammons of Educational Pictures in 1925.[6]

Winkler was the first female member of the Motion Picture Producer's Guild. To disguise her gender, she would sign letters "M.J. Winkler."[7]


In 1924, she married Charles B. Mintz, a film distributor who had been working for her since 1922. Soon after she had her first child and retired from the business, turning her company over to her husband. The couple had two children, Katherine and William.[8]The company was eventually renamed to Screen Gems.[9]


Margaret Winkler died on June 21, 1990 in Mamaroneck, New York. She was 95 years old.[10]


  1. ^ Merritt and Kaufman. pg. 15-16
  2. ^ Maltin. pg. 23
  3. ^ Canemaker, pg. 60
  4. ^ Austin, Daryl (2019-12-21). "The story of the Hungarian immigrant who funded Walt Disney". Newsweek. Retrieved 2019-12-21.
  5. ^ Merritt and Kaufman. pg. 50-53.
  6. ^ Merritt. pg. 56-57;63
  7. ^ Johnson, Mindy (2017). Ink & paint: the women of Walt Disney's animation. p. 39. ISBN 9781484727812. OCLC 968290213.
  8. ^ U.S. Government Census, 1930
  9. ^ "History of Gems". Los Angeles Times. June 12, 1999. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  10. ^ Margaret Winkler obituary, L.A. Times. June 24, 1990


  • John Canemaker; Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat; Pantheon Books; ISBN 0-679-40127-X (1991)
  • Donald Crafton; Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928; University of Chicago Press; ISBN 0-226-11667-0 (2nd edition, paperback, 1993)
  • Denis Gifford; American Animated Films: The Silent Era, 1897-1929; McFarland & Company; ISBN 0-89950-460-4 (library binding, 1990)
  • Leonard Maltin; Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons; Penguin Books; ISBN 0-452-25993-2 (1980, 1987)
  • Russell Merritt and J. B. Kaufman; Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney; Johns Hopkins University Press; ISBN 0-8018-4907-1 (paperback, 1993)