Margaret J. Winkler (or M. J. Winkler, the name she used to survive in the sexist world of American movie-making) was one of the key figures 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 also the first woman to produce and distribute animated films.
Winkler began her career as personal secretary of Harry M. 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. In 1917, Warner Brothers started distributing cartoons starting with the states-rights distribution 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 Out of the Inkwell Films) 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 got Pat Sullivan (of Pat Sullivan Productions) to sign the hot property Felix the Cat. This act cemented her reputation as the top distributor in the cartoon world. It was a good thing, because at the end of that same year the Fleischers, flushed with success from Winkler's work, left her to form their own distribution company, Red Seal Pictures.
However much he helped her business, Pat Sullivan soon became a nightmare to Winkler. The two were constantly bickering. In September of 1923 the renewal of his contract came up, and his unrealistic demands meant for a while that Winkler Pictures might have to survive without its biggest star. She was therefore particularly open to a pilot reel submitted by neophyte animator Walt Disney called "Alice's Wonderland". 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. Nevertheless, Disney formed a new studio, Disney Brothers (the first cartoon studio in Hollywood and soon to change its name to the Walt Disney Studio) and was able to fulfill the terms of the contract largely through the tutelage of Winkler, who insisted on editing all of the Alice Comedies 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 Pat Sullivan, who signed with rival distributor Educational Pictures in 1925.
In 1924, Margaret married another distributor, Charles B. Mintz, who had been working for her since 1922. Soon after she had her first child and retired from the business.
- 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)