Paul Detlefsen

Born in Chicago in 1900, the son of a medical doctor, Detlefsen studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Academy of Fine Arts before heading to Hollywood to make a name for himself in the cartoon business. He couldn’t get a job in the animation field, so he settled for painting backdrops for films. Soon he became one of the early masters of special effects. He supervised specialized camera crews that augmented his background creations. He worked for Cecil B. Demille and Douglas Fairbanks.

He joined Warner Brothers to work on “Cabin in the Cotton” with Bette Davis and Richard Barthelmes. He stayed with the company twenty years and over those years he and Walt Disney became good friends. He was in the film industry for thirty years.

Movies fell on hard time and Detelefsen decided at age 50 to try his hand as a calendar artist. His first painting, “The Good Old Days”, scored an immediate success and was topped in popularity only by Norman Rockwell’s Boy Scout Calendar. Most of the scenes created by Paul Detlefsen were of his own creation and featured nostalgic charming turn of the century rural settings that many of us can remember from our childhood. For his models he used his daughter, grandchildren, other family members and friends. He would photograph the scene so he could paint, concentrating on realism, beauty and of course the nostalgia. He did two modern abstracts but decided that was not for him.

Detlefsen painted up to six months prior to his death on August 1, 1986 at age 86.

Bio from


- Shadow of a Woman (1946) (matte painter) (uncredited)
- Escape in the Desert (1945) (matte artist)
- The Big Sleep (1946) (matte paintings) (uncredited)
- The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944) (special effects)
- The conspirators (1944) (matte paintings)
- Cabin in the cotton (1932) (matte painting)
- Dancer of the Nile(1923) (matte painter)

Three images from “Dancer of the Nile” showing Detlefsen matte paintings.